The Istrian peninsula, situated in the west of Croatia, actually belongs to 3 countries – Croatia, Slovenia and Italy.
This means there’s a brilliant blend of cultures, history and cuisine to be found in Istria.
In this guide, we’ll be focusing on the largest portion of the peninsula which is owned by Croatia. In particular, the charming coastal towns of Pula, Rovinj and Poreč.
Previously named Terra Magica by the Romans, meaning magical land, it’s easy to see why Istria was given this name.
Istria isn’t as busy as the rest of Croatia
Istria’s rolling hills, crystal-clear Adriatic sea and quaint towns attract lots of visitors each year, but not as many as other places in Croatia. The streets aren’t as crowded, the beaches aren’t as busy and local hospitality is still a centrepiece of the Istrian region.
There are plenty of things to keep you busy – exploring nearby islands, scaling mountains, discovering historical sites or devouring the multicultural cuisine. Here you don’t have to go to Italy to get a fantastic pizza. The seafood is also some of the best in Croatia!
How long should you spend in Istria?
Istria is pretty big, and it’s no small task to fully explore it. With that being said, we’d recommend doing your best to see as much of it as possible. It’s truly beautiful.
Not all of us have endless holidays though, so let’s be realistic with our timeframes. A week gives you a good amount of time to see the main cities of Pula, Rovinj and Poreč.
If you have more time, Istria is the perfect place to just laze around at the beach and enjoy delicious Mediterranean cuisine at night. Make sure to check out our list of top things to do in Istria to get an idea of how you can spend your days here.
Istria is a relatively large region that is home to a number of charming towns dotted throughout the mountains and along the coast.
When choosing where to stay, it’s completely up to you. You can stay in a number of towns, or make just one your home base.
Staying in multiple towns allows you to compare life in each of them. Whilst having a home base can be the more relaxing option. In general the drives are only short to the next town. For example Pula to Poreč takes around 45 minutes.
There are quite a few towns though, so to help you out, here are our top 3 unmissable places to stay in Istria:
Location #1: Pula – home to one of the most preserved Roman amphitheatres
Pula has been occupied by the Romans, Ostrogoths and Venetians, creating a compelling concoction of architecture and history.
Most people visit Pula for its multitude of ancient Roman buildings, including the Pula Arena, one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres. It’s incredible!
Being the largest city in the Istrian Region, there is plenty to explore in Pula. For this reason, if you can only stay in one town, we’d recommend Pula.
Accommodation in Pula
Here you will find plenty of apartments, Airbnbs, hotels and some hostels. Accommodation gets booked up quickly in peak season, so try to plan in advance.
Private rooms start from around €35 per night.
Location #2: Rovinj – one of the most popular towns in the region
Once a traditional fishing village, Rovinj is now a fascinating mixture of tradition and a modern way of living. Nowadays, it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Istrian peninsula.
The Old Town is built upon an island that wasn’t connected to the mainland until the 18th century. This means you’re surrounded on 3 sides by nothing but exquisite ocean.
Walking through the narrow cobbled streets is a charming experience. Dining in one of Rovinj’s flourishing restaurants is unforgettable.
Situated on the east coast, you’re in the middle of Pula and Poreč.
Accommodation in Rovinj
Just like in Pula, places to stay get booked up pretty quickly in Rovinj as well. If you’re set on staying here, then we’d recommend booking in advance. In Rovinj, you’ll find a selection of Airbnbs, apartments and hotels.
Private rooms start from €40 per night.
Location #3: Poreč – where you’ll find Euphrasius Basilica
Another popular spot in Istria is Poreč. This small coastal town is most famous for Euphrasius Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Old Town, surrounded by ancient city walls, is the perfect place to spend a few days. Not too far from the Old Town you can find a few beaches where you can go for a swim too.
Poreč is a great jumping-off spot for other destinations in Istria.
Accommodation in Poreč
Here in this small town you’ll find more apartments and Airbnbs than hotels. There are even a few campsites.
Similar to the other two destinations, prices start at around €35 per night for a private room.
Where to eat in Istria
The Istrian Region is quite big, meaning that there is a lot of choice when it comes to where to eat. Every town will have its own culinary gem.
To help make choosing where to eat slightly easier, here are our 3 unmissable places to eat across the region:
Backyard Pula – deliciously fresh breakfasts and dinner
Backyard in Pula knows how to do breakfast and dinner extremely well. You might love it so much that you go for both in one day. Start your day off with some delicious truffle eggs, omelete or coffee.
Then once you’ve done some exploring of Pula, head back for dinner to enjoy some incredibly fresh food. The ingredients that they use come from either their garden, or nearby organic farmers. Backyard definitely won’t disappoint.
Tutto Bene – traditional Croatian dishes with a modern twist
Tutto Bene is one of Rovinj’s most popular restaurants. Once you give it a try, you’ll soon realise why. The dishes verge on the side of fine-dining, offering incredible quality and service.
The octopus is a must try! You also can’t leave without a taste of their homemade bread paired with their premium Croatian olive oil. The traditional dishes are playful and beautifully presented.
Chilli Fusion Street Food – flavourful and filling Asian food
Poreč isn’t known for having an extravagant food scene, but Chilli Fusion does bring some excitement to the town. As you have probably guessed from the name, it’s Asian cuisine – rice bowls, sushi, wraps, gyozas.
All of the dishes are rich with flavours, texture and colour. The delicious desserts also shouldn’t be missed. This place is cash only, so make sure you have some to avoid disappointment.
How to get around in Istria
Istria covers 2,813 km², meaning it’s no small area to try and cover. However, hopping between the charming cities and towns is one of the best things to do in the Istrian Region.
Here are the best ways to get around:
Your own two feet aren’t going to get you very far when it comes to travelling between the various towns in the region.
That being said, once you’re in a town, the best way to get around is by simply walking. A lot of the streets, especially in the Old Towns are pedestrianised, so you don’t really have a choice.
Also, walking allows you to discover hidden gems and secret alleyways.
Having a car is undoubtedly the best way to explore the Istrian Region. It allows you to travel on your own schedule, plan less and have the freedom to go wherever you want.
If you don’t already have a car, you can hire one from the town that you’re staying in. You can also book a car in advance online, however a lot of the pickup locations are in Pula. Prices per day start at around €44.
If it’s possible, we would recommend hiring a car from Zagreb. Car hire is significantly cheaper here, at around €44 per day. Make sure to check their policy on drop-offs if you want to leave the car somewhere in Istria, though.
Driving in Istria
There are two main motorways running throughout the region, ranging from two to four lanes. You’ll need to pay tolls on the roads that are four lanes.
If you’re looking for a more scenic route, albeit slower, then take the roads that run along the east and west coast. You’ll be rewarded with magnificent views!
Although getting around by bus isn’t as easy and flexible as having a car, it’s still a good alternative. In particular, when you don’t want to spend a large sum of your travel budget on renting a car.
The Istrian bus system is efficient and excellent at connecting the major towns in the region. It becomes hard when you want to reach some of the remote villages. This is when you’d need to rent a car.
To give you an idea, the bus from Pula to Rovinj takes around 40 minutes and costs 40 KN (€5). You can check the routes and book your tickets online using BookAway.