Planning to visit Istria in Croatia? This stunning Croatian peninsular has colourful towns, Roman ruins, foodie finds and sparkling blue seas.
It’s definitely Croatia’s most picturesque destination and is full of Italian influences and history.
If you are planning an Istria holiday, there are so many things to do in this beautiful region.
You can sunbathe on beautiful stone beaches, go truffle hunting with dogs, taste Istrian wine and set sail on their many boat and fishing trips.
Croatia has a stellar reputation as a stag do destination but if you are looking for a quieter holiday, Istria is a brilliant, uncrowded alternative to Dubrovnik and is perfect as a short break in Europe.
Istria Croatia what to do
Here’s a guide as to what to do in Istria so that you can get inspired to visit this charming part of Croatia.
In this guide, you’ll learn more about Istria highlights, where to stay in Istria and the best Istrian peninsula tours.
Best towns in Istria
I would recommend spending at least one week in Istria, to make the most of your time there. Make sure to spend time visiting the popular seaside towns of Rovinj, Porec and Pula for some ‘vitamin sea’.
If you are interested in history and culture, then you will love the medieval hill towns of Motovun and Groznjan.
You can easily get to Croatia with Jet2 Holidays. You can visit the Istria region with Jet2 Holidays, or other popular Croatian destinations including Dubrovnik, Split and Zadar.
Disclaimer: Content created from a press trip with Jet2.
Istria region map
Here is an Istria region map, so that you can see what part of Croatia the Istrian peninsula is located in.
As you can see, this 3600-sq-km peninsula is located in the Northwest of Croatia, on the Italian border. I’ve pinned several of the locations mentioned in this Istria guide.
Istria’s close proximity to Italy means you can easily get from Istria to Venice on a one-day excursion to Venice.
Planning your Istria Croatia holiday
A holiday in Istria will require a little travel planning. I personally would make a list of the places you want to visit in Istria and think about what attractions and tours you want to book.
We talk more about travel planning on my weekly travel podcast – Travel Goals. Subscribe now and catch up on all episodes.
Visit the colourful streets of Rovinj
Rovinj is the crown jewel of Istria. It’s one of the most photogenic places in the Istria peninsula with colourful houses and rustic charm.
The old town is full of cobbled streets, candlelit bars perched upon cliff tops and romantic restaurants.
Its old-world charm makes it one of the best fairytale destinations in Europe to visit.
Things to do in Rovinj Croatia
Some of the best things to do in Rovinj include:
- Taking a taxi boat to the ‘Red Island’ [Crveni otok]. Here you can soak up some sun on pretty stone beaches
- Have a guided walking tour of Old Town Rovinj and learn about the town’s history
- Take a boat to Brijuni National Park a picturesque group of 14 islands of natural beauty and cultural and historical heritage.
- Have dinner overlooking the sea at Restaurant & Wine bar Puntulina.
- Visit Istrian wineries and spend a day sipping delicious local wine
Go swimming at the Red Island
Soak up some sun and swim in the aqua blue waters off the shore of the ‘Red Island’.
This area actually consists of two artificially connected islands: St. Andrew’s Island (Otok Sv. Andrije) and Maškin Island (Otok Maškin).
Island Hotel Istra
The Sun-drenched Red Island is only a fifteen-minute sail away from Rovinj.
Taxi boats depart for the Red Island every hour, from a small pier on the main town square, and from Delfin pier.
The waters are crystal clear on the small pebble beaches and are ideal for snorkelling and swimming. You can also rent kayaks or splash about on a giant inflatable.
You can actually stay on this tiny, car-free island at the luxurious Island Hotel Istra.
This super stylish hotel has outdoor pools, sun loungers and a wellness spa. It is uber relaxing and inviting.
Truffle hunting with dogs
The third generation of the Karlić family will take you truffle hunting in Istria, with adorable truffle hunting dogs.
It’s definitely one of the most fun things to do in Istria Croatia, especially if you love puppies.
A Truffle is an underground tuberous fungus, whilst that sounds a tad gross, they are actually a gastronomic delight.
This underground foodie treasure can be located by specially trained truffle hunting dogs.
You can also have cooking demonstrations of truffles and have a tasting session of truffle products. Feast upon scented truffles lavishly shaved over scrambled eggs, it is heavenly.
Istrian wine tasting
When you think of wine, you might not even consider Croatia as a wine producer.
However, Istria has many boutique wineries and is currently developing a tourism niche based on local wine production.
Istria wine tour
There are many indigenous grapes in Istria including Malvasia Istriana, Teran and Borgonja.
You can learn more about Istria’s wine production when you book a wine tasting, wine pairing experience, or wine tour.
For a luxurious wine tasting experience, head to the Roxanich Wine and Heritage hotel.
This stylish four-star hotel has an incredible wine list as well as an outdoor pool and restaurant serving mouth-watering dishes.
If you are visiting Istria in winter, a wine tour is definitely one of the best activities for this time of year.
Visit the medieval town of Motovun
Hilltop towns don’t come more picturesque than Motovun. This remarkable walled town looks like a Game of Thrones set ready to shoot.
You’ll find beautiful Romanesque and Gothic buildings in this 11th-century town, as well as imposing town gates.
Motovun medieval walls
You can have a most pleasant afternoon wandering around the shops selling local produce and sipping wine in rustic restaurants.
If you are interested in history and snapping scenic views, make sure to take a tour of the Motovun medieval walls.
You can also buy lots of local produce in Motovun including olive oil, wine and truffles.
If you are short of time in Istria, why not book a Motovun sightseeing with truffle tasting day trip?
You can explore the town with an experienced guide and also go truffle tasting.
Ride electric cars at Brijuni National Park
Any trip to the Istria region must include a trip to the picturesque Brijuni Islands.
These are a group of fourteen small islands that make up the national park and are located in the Croatian part of the northern Adriatic Sea.
The islands are covered with pretty parklands, forests and meadows. You can look out for local wildlife and even go on a small safari here!
The entrance fee to Brijuni used to be free but now you have to visit the islands using an official excursion arranged by the park, local tourist offices or online booking.
Brijuni National Park ferry
You have to get a boat to the Brijuni National Park from the small town of Fažana. Getting to Fažana is quite easy, you can take the local bus from Pula.
When you arrive in Fažana, you can either buy ferry tickets from the ticket office in Fažana or you can book a Brijuni National Park tour online.
The benefit of booking a tour is that you can learn more about the park’s history and wildlife from a professional guide.
Electric Cars Veli Brijun
The best way to explore the islands is by electric car. There’s nothing quite like rocking around over bumpy roads in a golf cart.
Try to maintain control of the vehicle if possible. You do not want to have the indignity of being the tourists that drove into a lake. We were distracted by peacocks when driving and almost drove into a ditch.
If you aren’t keen on driving around you can always rent push bikes to see the island.
Go olive oil tasting in Vodnjan
Olive oil is one of the high-quality local products you can taste and buy in Istria. Book a tasting session at the Chiavalon estate and sample some of the incredible Chiavalon olive oil.
Here you can learn how to properly taste and identify a good quality olive oil. Properly tasting olive oil involves a kind of weird slurping action which makes for a hilarious selfie.
You can also learn more about the history of the family and the estate during a tasting.
Staff will also explain in detail the process for manufacturing olive oil and what it takes to make a bona fide high-quality extra virgin olive oil in gorgeous surroundings.
Istria Croatia beaches
The coastline of Istria is more than 540 km long including off-shore islands.
Whilst Croatia isn’t known for sandy beaches, the Istria region has rugged cliffs, secluded coves and pretty stony beaches that are perfect for swimming.
Best beaches in Istria
The stone beaches in Istria vary from small coves to pebble beaches and large stone plateaus.
If there is a small rocky outcrop, you can guarantee that there will be some metal steps attached to turn it into a swimming hole.
Some beaches are attached to hotel complexes and will have lots of facilities including sun loungers, parasols, toilets, kayak hire and cafes.
The best beaches are mainly along the west coast of Istria. The most child-friendly beach in Istria is probably the sandy strand of Bijeca. This beach is located on the southern coast at Medulin, around 10km south of Pula.
Some of the best beaches in Istria include:
- St. Andrew’s Island
One of the best things to do in Istria is to watch the sunset on the beach. You can perch on rocky outcrops and gaze at the sky as it blazes with orange, reds and pinks.
Dinner by the sea in Istria
Is there anything better than having dinner next to the ocean? If you are looking for romantic things to do in Istria, I would dine on the cliff tops with the ocean below.
One of the best places for seaside dining in Istria is Restaurant Puntelina.
You can sit on the steps carved into the cliff with a glass of wine or enjoy dishes from their Italian inspired menu.
It’s best to dine on the lowest tier of the restaurant as you are closer to the sea.
You can feast upon fresh seafood whilst enjoy the breeze, the water splashing on high tide and the refreshing smell of the ocean.
Sunset at Restaurant Puntelina is probably one of the best sunsets in Croatia.
The Restaurant gives a beautiful view of the surrounding area and the sea and the whole area is ablaze with colour.
Guided tour of Porec
Take a tour of the historic town of Poreč and learn more about this charming Istrian city. It’s one of the prettiest places in Istria in Croatia.
You can marvel at the 6th-century mosaics and see stunning examples of Byzantine architecture.
Most tours will take you to see the 6th-century Euphrasian Basilica. This basilica was protected by UNESCO in 1997 and is one of the most complete surviving complexes of its type.
It’s a stunning example of religious architecture and has a fascinating history.
You can also take a walk to the top of this religious complex and be treated to gorgeous views of the town. It’s a great spot for photography fans.
Walking tour Poreč
You could spend hours wandering around the pedestrianised old town of Poreč.
Here you’ll find the 2,000-year-old stone-paved thoroughfare [known as The Decumanus], full with tacky gift shops, cafes and ice cream shops.
If you do a walking tour with a professional guide you can learn more about the city’s history, see Roman ruins and find the prettiest of hidden corners.
Porec harbour is a great place for a sunset wander and an ice cream. You can also book sunset boat trips and ferry trips.
Ferry routes to and from Porec are currently served by 3 companies: Adriatic Lines, Venezia Lines and TriesteLines. Many of these lines operate a daily service to Venice.
Where to eat in Porec
There are many restaurants in Poreč serving traditional Istrian cuisine. You can feast upon fresh pasta, fish dishes and local wild asparagus and truffles.
Some of the best restaurants in Poreč include:
Istria Food Porec
If you want to learn more about Istrian cuisine, you could do a guided food tour of Poreč.
You can sample local specialities such as prosciutto, pasta, and cheeses paired with local Istrian wines. It’s a great way to get to know the region’s local food scene.
Go on Safari in Brijuni National Park
Whilst visiting Brijuni National Park you can jump on the land train and go on a rather unique safari.
The safari park has a slightly bewildering history as the Brijuni National Park was once the summer residence of the former president of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito.
Tito received guests from all around the world to this residence and they would bring lavish gifts, one of which included an elephant.
Brijuni national park animals
The collection of wild animals has grown to include zebras, Llamas Istrian ox, sheep and ostriches.
It’s a bit of a weird experience to see zebras and ostriches in the middle of Europe as you trundle past in a land train.
We couldn’t really see the elephant as we drove past but my feeling was that perhaps a small enclosure on an island isn’t the best place for an elephant. It makes for uncomfortable viewing in all honesty.
The other animals seem to have a lot more room to roam around, so this made me feel slightly better about the experience.
A trip to the Brijuni Safari park should come with your chosen excursion package
The typical Brijuni National Park excursion package comes with a guide and normally includes:
- Ride on the land train
- Safari Park ride
- Trip to the Church of St. Germain
- A trip to the Church of St. Germain
Step back in time at the Pula Arena
The Pula Arena is one of the many Roman relics that can be found in Istria.
This magnificent amphitheatre is actually the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and with all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved.
Pula Arena history
This first-century AD amphitheatre held crowds of up to 20,000, who would gather to watch ferocious gladiator fights.
It now acts as a historical attraction and as a fantastic open-air space for summer concerts.
Underneath the Pula amphitheatre, you can find a regular exhibition of olive growing in Istria in ancient times.
You can learn more about Istria’s historic olive oil production and see reconstructions of machines that would have been used to produce the oil.
Pula Amphitheatre tickets
You can visit the Pula Amphitheatre with a prepaid ticket when you book your Pula Arena Admission Ticket online.
Tickets start at around £7 online and are valid anytime during the amphitheatre’s opening hours.
If you only have one day in Pula, why not see all the Pula highlights with a Pula Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour?
You can experience the best historical and cultural monuments of Pula and choose when to get off and see them at your own pace.
Where to stay in Istria
There is a huge selection of hotels and guesthouses in Istria. You will be spoiled for choice in the tourist towns of Pula, Poreč and Rovinj.
Camping is often a popular choice with a number of large, well-equipped sites in the Istria region.
Park Plaza Histria, Pula
I stayed in the luxurious Park Plaza Histria, located on the Verudela peninsular, around 4km south of Pula.
This 368-room hotel has a huge range of facilities including access to a pebble beach, wellness centre and outdoor pools.
There’s a pretty waterfront promenade that runs along behind the hotel which is perfect for a stroll to the beach.
Park Plaza Histria Rooms & Suites
The Park Plaza Histria Pula has 368 superior and premium rooms, as well as stunning suites offering sea views.
Typical room amenities include:
- Free WiFi
- LCD TVs
- Air conditioning
- Ensuite bathroom
Park Plaza Histria Restaurants & Bars
The hotel has several dining options including a lobby and piano bar and fine dining in the Taverna.
The Yacht Restaurant & Lounge Bar serves a range of drinks on the multi-level terrace and you can also get refreshments from the pool bar and the Luna’s Lounge Bar.
Getting around Istria
If you want to rent a car in Istria it’s easy to drive from Pula to the coastal towns up the west coast or inland as far as Pazin.
You can get around the Istria region by bus. The Istria Bus Services along the coast are quite regular.
Be aware though that some of the inland towns such as Motovun are less well-served by buses. This is when car hire starts looking like a good option in Croatia.
Rail travel in Istria is limited as the only railway line links the town of Pula with Pazin and then continues north into Slovenia.
You can also take ferry services in Istria that are perfect for day trips, or onward travel to Venice.
Getting to Istria
The only airport in Istria is Pula Airport where you can get many low-cost flights direct to Pula.
You can fly direct to Pula with Jet2holidays. You can search their site to find the best deals on flights and holidays.
If you are flying from the UK, you can get flights from London Stansted with Jet2.
Flying to Istria from the UK
If you have early morning flights, why not treat yourself to an airport hotel?
You can start your holiday stress-free by waking up next to the airport and having a short journey to the check-in desk.
If you are flying from Stansted, I really recommend the brilliant Radisson Blu hotel in Stansted.
They have an incredible wine tower in their bar that is definitely worth seeing.
Have you been inspired to visit Istria in Croatia? There are so many reasons to book a holiday to Istria.
From pretty coastal towns to incredible Istrian cuisine to historic hilltop towns. There are so many things to do in Istria, that you could spend two weeks here and still not see everything.
Late summer and Autumn are really the ideal times to visit Istria, as you’ll avoid peak-season prices and crowds.
What do you think of my Istria travel guide? Would you visit this stunning Peninsula? Let me know in the comments below.
Are you planning a trip to Croatia? Where are you planning on visiting? Let me know in the comments below.
Recommended travel resources
Flights: To search for flight deals check out sites such as Skyscanner, Kayak and Travel Supermarket to compare the costs of flights. My top tip to save money is to fly mid-week and take just hand luggage if possible.
Accommodation: I love a nice boutique hotel on my travel and I regularly use Booking.com as they have fantastic flexibility and cancellation. I also recommend Trip Advisor and hotels combined for hotel browsing. Additionally, I use Airbnb and TrustedHousesitters for homestays.
Travel Insurance: I highly recommend you always get travel insurance for your trips. Check out my Travel Insurance Page to see out why. I recommend World Nomads or Post Office travel Insurance.
Group Tours: I love booking group tours as a cost-effective and convenient way of discovering destinations. I recommend booking a small group tour with G Adventures.
Travel Guides: My favourite travel guide books are Bradt Guides, Lonely Planet and Rough Guides.
For more travel tools, head to my bumper travel resources page now!
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