I first visited Istria more than 10 years ago on a school trip. It was impressive, especially as it was one of the first abroad trip for most of us. The second time was a few weeks ago and I have to say that it was even better than I remembered. Istria is a combination of Italy and continental Croatia spiced with truffles, cute stone towns, a Roman amphitheater, peaceful beaches, olive groves, seafood, roses, wine and gin. There are countless places to see and things to do in Istria. And I have to say that it’s a region I’d choose for an amazing one-week holiday anytime.
Our favorite town in Istria was, both ten years ago and now, Rovinj. So, if you prefer to have a base and go on day trips around the heart-shaped peninsula, we recommend this beautiful town as a base. Distances are pretty short. If not, Istria is also a great region for a road trip.
Suggested accommodation: Hotel Lone in Rovinj, Croatia.
“Blue Istria” attracts sunseekers in summer with crystal clear waters. But it is a more than pleasant destination all year round. “Green Istria” boasts idyllic medieval villages, vineyards and many other attractions. Discover the best places to visit and things to do along the picturesque peninsula in our guide of Istria Peninsula in Croatia!
15 unforgettable things to do in Istria (Croatia)
1. See the amphitheater in Pula
Pula is the largest city in Istria. The port city in the south of the peninsula is home to a beautiful old town. Pula was founded 3000 years ago.
But the most impressive of its historical attractions is the Roman amphitheater. The Arena in Pula is one of the largest and best-preserved of its kind in the world. It was built by Emperor Vespasian in the first century. Thus, it’s almost as old as the Colosseum in Rome. One can just surround it and enjoy the views, if on a budget, or enter and immerse in history, pass through the same spots where the gladiators stood and fought. In summer it is used as a venue for festivals and performances.
But the amphitheater is not the only Roman ruin in Pula. A little farther, one can see more of it: the Temple of Augustus, the Triumphal Arch of Sergius, Hercules’ Gate and Twin Gates.
Besides the Roman ruins, culture and history, visitors can enjoy great seafood and wine in a charming square and the pretty beaches around the city.
Where to stay in Pula
Hotel Amfiteatar – located right next to the amphitheater and a 5 minutes walk from the city center. Breakfast is included in the price of the room.
Park Plaza Arena Pula – located at Hawaii Beach, it is the ideal place for a holiday by the sea.
2. Fall in love with Rovinj – best things to do in Istria
Rovinj is in our opinion the most charming town in Istria. Its old town has beautiful Venetian architecture, marble streets and medieval pastel-colored houses. Being right at the sea, its cuisine is also great.
Without any major landmarks, Rovinj simply encourages you to live the moment. Wander around the winding alleys, have a cappuccino at one of the terraces in the port, climb up the bell tower of St. Euphemia church for spectacular views and have a delicious fresh seafood dinner while enjoying a colorful sunset. As a port city, Rovinj also has some great beaches, not far from the old town.
If you rather visit in a small group, find out all the information you need and insider tips from a local, here’s an affordable walking tour: Rovinj walking tours.
Where to stay in Rovinj
Lone Hotel – an accommodation having a great location, restaurants and a pool.
Hotel Monte Mulini – a grandiose 5-star hotel on the beach, within walking distance from the old town, if you really want a very special place to stay.
3. Discover an UNESCO Heritage site in Poreč
Poreč is an ancient Roman town with a long history. Its main landmark is the Euphrasian Basilica from the 6th century with Byzantine mosaics, also on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Its lovely historical squares also hide some other tourist attractions. These include the tower of Poreč, the Temple of Neptune and Poreč Museum housed in the Baroque Sincic Palace.
The old town is surrounded by a pretty waterfront promenade and fantastic beaches. In summer, Poreč becomes the party hub of the peninsula.
Where to stay in Poreč
Hotel Delfin Plava Laguna – a hotel where visitors can enjoy both the beach and a swimming pool. Breakfast and dinner are included in the price of the room.
4. Meet some local artists in Groznjan
Groznjan was recommended to us by the cook at a truffle hunting experience. She wasn’t originally from Istria, but married there and told us that this is her favorite place on the peninsula and that, in her opinion, we should give it a try.
The tiny town is a former Venetian fortress dating back to the 14th century with small cobblestone alleys and many family-owned art galleries and shops. Groznjan was completely abandoned after the second World War, but artists settled here and gave it a new life. The old town is surrounded by defensive walls, vineyards and olive groves. It was definitely one of the most beautiful small towns we visited in Istria.
In July, a jazz festival takes place in Groznjan.
5. Visit Hum, the smallest town in the world – best things to do in Istria
In Istria lies also Hum, another place you should not miss on the peninsula. The tiny town is listed even in Guinness Book of Records as the smallest town in the world. Surrounded by medieval town walls, it only has two cross streets and 27 inhabitants. But, as any other town that respects itself, Hum has its own church, town hall, konoba and cemetery.
As per visitors, they don’t have to worry, there are several quaint shops and little restaurants with homemade dishes and local spirits. You should try homemade limoncello, aranciata and Biska, the famous mistletoe schnapps from Hum.
6. Go to Vrsar – the town of Casanova
Vrsar is a cute village of fishermen more than 2000 years old. Its charming medieval old town with stone houses set on hill is a true delight for tourists. The peaceful port with boats and yachts creates a beautiful view with the old town topped by the church of St. Martin in the background. Another place you might want to check out is the 12th century Vergottini Castle, also known as the Bishop’s Palace.
In the 18th century, Giacomo Casanova, the famous Italian adventurer and seducer visited the village twice and wrote about it in his memoirs. Once a year Casanovafest, a festival dedicated to love and erotica is held in Vrsar.
Around the town there are several biking, hiking trails and pretty beaches.
7. Explore the town of Motovun
Motovun si located on top of a picturesque steep hill. It’s not the most easily accessible towns, not even with a car, as it might have some issues getting up there. But it is beautiful. Surrounded by a walkable town wall, vineyards and forests, the views from up there are as good as they can get.
The main attractions is the lovely town of Motovun are its old town with winding alley, traditional restaurants and unending forests with an abundance of truffles. Inside the 16th century church of the Virgin Mary, you’ll find a wooden hand-carved Renaissance-style gold-plates altar. Motovun only has 500 inhabitants and it’s not a loud touristic towns, but it is still one of the most beautiful destinations in Istria. And this is part of its unique charm.
In late July or early August, Motovun film festival is organized, but even if you don’t get there at that time, Motovun has an artistic vibe and scenic look year-round.
Where to stay in Motovun
Apartment Motovun – is a perfect location for exploring Motovun and the area around it with a perfect 10 grade on Booking.
8. Discover mines and art in Labin
Labin is now known for it artistic vibe, having numerous ateliers and art galleries. One of them, Vinko Šhaina, is located in a former church. But in the past, Labin was the main mining center in Croatia. If you’re interested in exploring this side of the town, the city museum recreated the coal mine and opened it for visitors. Besides history and the old town that attracted numerous painters, you can find in Labin cozy cafés and inviting restaurants.
9. Visit a winery
Istria, just like neighboring Italy, is famous for its wine. While there, you should visit at least one family-owned winery. But, of course, drinking and driving don’t go well together. So, it might be better to go on an organized tour and let somebody else do the driving. This way you can taste several wines and won’t have to worry about anything.
10. Eat local
Istria is a foodie’s dream destination. Traditional cuisine includes bean soup, homemade pasta, potato dumplings, seafood, fish, pork tenderloin, asparagus, cold cuts, cheese cud and, of course, black and white truffles, the most expensive mushrooms in the world, that you definitely should try locally. You can also take a cooking class and learn to prepare some of the tastiest Istrian dishes yourself.
11. Go truffle hunting – best things to do in Istria
Istria is the place where the largest white truffle in the world, as per Guinness Book, was found. Truffle hunting has been practiced in the dense forests for generations. You can just go to a restaurant and taste some of the delicious dishes made with truffles, or you can try your luck at truffle hunting. Although, you’ll most probably be unsuccessful on your own.
It might not sound like a crazy adventure to go truffle hunting, but trust me, the experience was great. First of all, we were met by the hunter that was going to be also our guide. She told us a lot of things about the region, her family and truffle hunting. To warm us up, she also shared some Biska with us, the local mistletoe and truffle schnapps. Then we were introduced to the dogs, that were some of the cutest dogs we’ve met and we went together into the forest.
It was really nice seeing the hunter and the dogs at work. They were a good team and we found four white truffles. And although I had my own doubts at the beginning, we really enjoyed the experience. At the end, we were served a lunch with truffles, including appetizers, main dish and dessert. These people would add truffles to anything. But it sure was delicious.
This is the tour we booked and loved. It was probably the nicest morning we had in Istria and this says a lot. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did: Truffle hunting & cooking tour.
READ ALSO: BEST 25 PLACES TO VISIT IN SLOVENIA
12. Learn how to recognize a real extra virgin olive oil
Istria is one of the largest producers when it comes to the best extra virgin oils in the world. But did you know that the bottles we usually find in shops would not be considered extra virgin oil by the Istrian standards? In Pula you can go on a tour of the olive oil museum and enjoy an olive oil tasting at the end. We did it and were more than pleasantly surprised. Did you know that real virgin oil should smell like fresh cut grass and tomatoes? Or that it’s a little spicy, without anything added to it? Or that it can be combined with curd and figs to create a tasty and healthy dessert?
But how could I describe the experience in just five lines? I think you had better try it yourself at the House of Istrian Olive Oil in Pula: Olive Oil Guided Tasting and History.
13. Go gin tasting
Exploring Istria, you can’t help but see how popular gin is. Locals seem to mix it with anything. And it is even produced locally. If you want to find more about it, you can even go on a tour of a small distillery and learn how the Istrian people craft their spirit. At the end of the tour, you can try gin by itself or in a cocktail.
14. Explore some beautiful beaches – best things to do in Istria
Coastal Istria also means sun and sea. Even more so if you get there in summer. Most of the beaches are pebbly, but with the right swimming shoes you should be just fine. And the water will amaze you with its incredible deep blue. Istria is perfect for swimming, snorkeling and diving.
READ ALSO: 9 BEACHES IN THASSOS YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS
15. Try some water activities
If you like adventure or just want to try out something different, Istria is the perfect place to go on a kayak to hidden sea caves, rent a jet ski or go waterskiing. Other activities you could try are windsurfing, diving, SUP or parasailing.
As you can see, Istria is a fabulous peninsula to spend at least a few days of your holiday. It has sun and sea, but also pretty towns, hills and forests. You’ll never run out of things to do in Istria, even if you want a holiday focused on relaxation, adventure or culture. In the end, why not mix them all for a vacation that you’ll remember forever?
Travel With A Spin contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for reading!