Best Things to Do in Istria

A wine, foodie, and history enthusiast's dream in Croatia's northwest corner, Istria is home to stunning medieval hilltop towns, coastal cities, ancient sites, and family-run wineries. Many cultures have left traces of the past, including the Greeks, Celts, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Austrians, Slovenians, and Croats. In Pula, the largest city, you'll find a maze of pedestrianised alleyways to wander, with Pula Arena, a dramatic 1st century AD Roman amphitheatre, being the crown jewel. Your options are nearly endless throughout the region. To help narrow them down, we've put together this guide to the best things to do in Istria.
Pula amphitheatre

Visit the Roman Amphitheatre in Pula

Pula is the largest city on the Istria peninsula, located at its southern tip. It’s home to the Pula Arena, a Roman amphitheatre built during the reign of Emperor Vespasian in the 1st century AD. Once the site of gladiator battles, today it’s a venue for various events, including concerts, ballet, opera, sports competitions, and the Pula Film Festival. Every week during the summer, it hosts gladiator fights as part of the “Spectacvla Antiqva,” a historical entertainment spectacle. The amphitheatre is the only one of its kind that still includes all three Roman architectural orders and four side towers. The underground passages that gladiators once used now host a regular exhibition on olive growing and viticulture in Istria during ancient times.

Man holding a white truffle in Istria

Go Truffle Hunting

Istria is famous for its truffles, found in the peninsula’s dense forests. Although visitors can sample dishes with truffles in many restaurants and purchase truffle-based items in local shops, truffle hunting is one of the best things to do in Istria. Truffle hunting excursions are led by experts and their specially trained dogs. Tours typically include a personal guide/driver who will pick you up at your accommodation for a scenic drive through the Tuscan-like hills and valleys. You’ll join the truffle hunter and dogs on the hunt in secret places throughout the forest known for these rare treasures. After the hunt, savour the results in a sumptuous spread of truffle products and other local items paired with Istrian wine.

View of Rovinj Old Town

Explore the Old Town of Rovinj

Located along the western coast of the Istrian peninsula, Rovinj is often compared to Dubrovnik but with much smaller crowds. It has a meticulously preserved Old Town with cobbled streets lined with historic homes painted in Venetian reds and Habsburg pastels. You’ll notice significant Venetian influence throughout, including the bright wooden shutters that contrast against the vibrant, colourful walls, whilst washing is often strung from the balconies. Be sure to stroll the steep lanes that will inevitably lead to the Baroque-style Church of Saint Euphemia. Its 200-foot-high campanile is often compared to St. Mark’s bell tower in Venice and it marks the highest spot in town, providing a stunning panoramic view.

Loggerhead sea turtle

Snorkel the Underwater Trail in Brijuni National Park

Brijuni National Park is renowned for its abundant flora and fauna, spread across 14 islands, islets, and reefs. Tranquil and scarcely inhabited, most visit the largest island of Veliki Brijun on a day trip, a 20-minute ferry ride from Fazana on the mainland. Those who want to stay overnight will find several accommodation options, and once the day trippers leave on the last ferry, the island becomes even more serene. One of the top things to do is snorkel the underwater trail to observe all sorts of sea life, including a variety of fish species, sea urchins, and crabs. The trail, marked by submerged signposts, immerses snorkelers in the rich ecosystems of the Adriatic Sea, leading them past swaying seagrass and intriguing rock formations.

Dolphins at sunset

Embark on a Sunset Dolphin Watching Cruise

Sunset dolphin watching cruises are available from multiple departure ports in Istria, including Fazana, Vrsar, and Porec. Enjoy a different perspective of the Istrian coast, its cities, and beaches whilst out on the water. Panoramic tours take in numerous other sights too, including some picturesque islands as you sail further out into the sea. You’ll head toward an area known to be inhabited by dolphins. As wild animals, they can be in different locations depending on the time of year and weather, so it is not always guaranteed to see them, but your skilled captain will know the best places to go. Most excursions include alcoholic beverages so you can toast to a glorious sunset.

Baredine Cave

Discover Baredine Cave

For something different, Baredine Cave is within easy reach of Porec. It boasts subterranean chambers with stalactites, stalagmites, and even underground lakes that can be explored on a guided tour following the well-lit walkways. The friendly, English-speaking guides will lead you in, ascending around 200 feet below ground to the stalagmite- and stalactite-filled grottos on a tour that lasts about 40 minutes. Be sure to wear durable footwear like hiking boots or shoes and bring a jacket as the temperatures in the cave can be cool. The grounds also include a tractor museum and a cave-climbing centre. You can even become a speleologist for a day with training and all the necessary equipment provided to navigate vertical parts of the cave by rope.

Motovun village Istria

Visit the Hilltop Village of Motovun

Motovun is an enchanting walled hilltop town in the Mirna Valley. One of Istria’s most well-preserved hilltop settlements, it’s particularly renowned for its truffles which can be found in the mythical forest at its base. Within the walls is an atmospheric cluster of Gothic and Romanesque buildings, some of which house little shops selling truffle-based products like truffle olive oil. Others are home to artist studios and restaurants, typically with menus featuring Istria’s renowned delicacy. Truffles are woven into all sorts of creative dishes like truffle risotto and pasta with truffle sauce. The narrow, cobblestone streets are a joy to explore. The higher you go the further back in time it feels, with the original 13th-century walls being at the top.

Bale street in Croatia

Explore the Stone Town of Bale

Referred to as one of the most “beautiful Istrian pearls,” and one of Croatia’s “best-kept secrets,” Bale is a historical stone town just a few miles from the western Istrian shore. It was built on a hill surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, providing an ideal base for exploring Istria. This small medieval town has a rich history that intertwines with authentic daily life. If you ask passersby for advice, you’re likely to be greeted warmly and be given plenty of helpful tips. The taverns and restaurants all have their own courtyard gardens or terraces for relaxed dining on delicious food with locally grown products prominently featured along with fine Istrian wines. 

Vineyard in Istria

Go Wine Tasting at Local Vineyards

One of the best things to do in Istria, Croatia’s northernmost wine region, is wine tasting. A popular destination among wine lovers, it attracts enthusiasts from across the globe. Nestled in the sun-soaked rolling hills, the vineyards and wineries provide a tranquil escape with the opportunity for touring, tasting, and memorable gastronomic experiences. The region is known for its dry, fruity white wines typically made from light-skinned types of Malvasia grapes. Crisp, refreshing, and fruit-forward, you can taste them at one or more of the many local vineyards on the peninsula. The best way to enjoy tasting is to take a tour – there’s no driving after sipping, and you’ll be able to soak up the magnificent scenery along the way.

Parasailer in the sky

Try Parasailing in Porec

Porec is an ancient Roman town on the western coast of the Istrian Peninsula. Nearly two thousand years old, it sits around a harbour, protected from the sea by Sveti Nikola, a small island. There’s lots of rich heritage to explore in the historic town centre, but many visit Porec to take advantage of water sports. At the beaches here you’ll find all sorts of water activities to enjoy, including jet skiing, boating, and parasailing. If you’re looking for a thrill, parasailing should be a top consideration. It combines paragliding with the beauty of the Adriatic – you’ll be pulled by a speedboat and lifted into the air for a spectacular view of the Istrian coast and the crystal-clear turquoise water.

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