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Home » Guides, Istria

Holidays Istria – guide to the peninsula

Istria view from church tower in VrsarThe Istrian peninsula has for decades been one of the most successful holiday destinations in Croatia. During the last 10 years the majority of the hotels have been renovated, camp sites and private accommodation are upgraded as well as the facilities. There is no doubt that Istria will attract tourist in the years to come.

I personally like Istria a lot. During the last 5 years I have traveled in Istria for several times a year. I mostly travel to Istria because of work but when possible I have also spent my holiday there with the family. During the numerous visits I have more or less seen all roads and cities in Istria, most camps and quite a few hotels. That is the main reason why I decided to make a small guide through the cities and the main sites of Istria.

Coastal cities in Istria:

If you follow the coastal road from the Slovenian boarder, you will end up in the following Istrian cities (travelling from north to south).

Umag: is for sure not my favourite city in Istria but the city do have some very nice hotels, most of them with very good spa-facilities. The old town has a bit of charm, but not closely like the old town of Poreč or Rovinj.

My personal opinion is that the best thing in Umag is the Camping park Umag (which is actually outside the town driving south direction).  I believe the camp is among the five best camps in Croatia.

Novigrad: If you follow the coastal road from Umag for about 12 km, you will end up in Novigrad, which also is not among my Istrian Favourites, although I must mention that during the last couple of years the tourist facilities has been considerably upgraded. Among others a new marina has been build and small cosy slow food restaurants have evolved. I suggest you watch the sunset from the city walls on a nice sunny day during the summer and please make sure to order a nice Istrian wine to go with it.

Outside of the city there is 3 campsites to choose between, Camp Sirena, Camp Mareda and Camp Kastanija.

Porec: If you continue on the coastal road, you will end up in Porec,

With more than two thousands years of history and the old town being situated on a peninsula, Poreč is one of the most important touristic towns on the Istrian west coast. Here you will find the Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the Historic Centre of Poreč. The Basilica is on UNESCO’s  list of  world cultural heritage and offers magnificent mosaics from the 6th cent.

Around Poreč you have 6 campsites, Camp Lanterna (one of the largest camps in Croatia), Camp Bijela Uvala, Camp Zelena Laguna, Camp Materada, and two Nudist campsites Solaris and Ulika.

South of Poreč you can find numerous large hotel complexes, like e.g. Hotel Valamar  Diamond. Recently, the first hotel in Poreč, the former hotel Riviera or today hotel Palozzo 4* were renovated and opened up for public. The hotel is situated in the centre of the old town and has a magnificent view of the harbor and town.

Euphrasian Basilica Porec

Vrsar: Is the next city along the cost, Vrsar is an old fishermen’s settlement, where the historical town part has been build on terraces from the waterfront to the hill top, if you bring camera you need to visit the church tower, from there you have a magnificent view on the Adriatic see.

Main part of the cities tourist capacity (20.000), can be found in the 4 major camps, Camp Orsera, Camp Porto Sole, Camp Valkanela and the nudist camp Koversada, Vrsar also host one of the smallest camps I have heard about, which is the camp Tina with a capacity of 33 person (here it can be recommended to reserve a pitch)

Rovinj: From Vrsar you have a 27 Km drive along the shore of the the Lim fjord, before ending up in one of the most beautiful cities in Croatia, which in my opinion is Rovinj. The old town of Rovinj were originally situated on an island, but in the 18th cent. they covered the canal and the old town became a peninsula. On top of the hill of the old town you will find the baroque church of St. Euphemia, this is a must see.

Rovinj has relative high capacity of Hotels, main part of them are situated south of the centre.

For campers there are a total of 8 camps to choose between in the Area, Camp Amarin, Camp Polari, Camp Porton Biondi, Camp Valdiso and Camp Veštar and the Nudist Camp Valalta are all larger camps, Camp Mon Paradis and Camp Ulika are mini camps.

Fažana: 30 km south of Rovinj, you find the small fishermen’s town Fažana, Fažana is the “gate” to the National Park Brijuni (Tito’s preferred spot in Croatia).

The popular camp Bi-village can be found here as well as the Camp Pineta.

Pula: 8 km from south of Fažana you find the biggest city in Istria – Pula. Pula is the place to go if you want to do some shopping, of course you should also not miss out on visiting the amphitheatre (Arena Pula) and the Forum in the old town part.

Main part of the hotels in Pula can be found in the city part Verudela

Between Fažana and Pula you have the Camp Puntižela, on the south side of Pula direction Medulin you find Camp Pomer and Camp Stoja.

Pula Arena

Medulin: is situated almost at the peak of the Istrian peninsula, the former fishermen village has been transformed into a popular tourist destination, as an Istrian highlight Medulin has a 1 km long sand beach which is hard to find in Istria.

Istria

Istria

Istria

Medulin has numerous hotels along the coast, and 9 campsites including the Camp Medulin and the Camp Kažela, Medulin has a capacity of 20.000 tourists.

Rabac: moving 55 km from Medulin direction Rijeka, you find the very nice holiday village Rabac situated in a bay where you find the nice Camp Oliva and several larger Hotels, in the peak season the population “grow” with almost 1000%.

Mainland cities in Istria:

The mainland cities in Istria are maybe not as well know as the tourist city along the Istrian cost, but I would for sure recommend everyone to visit the following cities.

Motovun:Is situated on a 277 meter high hill top in the hinterland behind Umag and Novigrad. When visiting Motovun, do not forget your camera. There is a magnificent view from the old town and please try a truffle dish in one of the restaurant. Truffles are found in woods below the city.

A few other things you should know about Motovun, since 1999 Motovun has hosted a yearly film festival with Avant-garde movies from US and Europe. The wines from the area around Motovun are excellent, so visit one of the wineries if you have time.

Groznjan: A few hill tops away from Motovun you find the city Groznjan, I normally refer to the city as the artist city, which makes sense considering the around 20 galleries, for years the city has been a popular destination among painters, sculptures and musicians.

In Groznjan several music courses and seminar are organized in the city, every year in August the city host an open Air jazz festival “Jazz is back”.

Rovinj Euphemija

Things to do and see in Istria:

Besides the cities, Istria of course also has some other attractions to offer, here is what I can recommend.

Baredine Cave: On the Istrian peninsula there is more then 1000 caves, only a few of them are open for public visitors. Around 12 km from Porec in the city Nova Vas, you find the most famous Istrian cave, the Baredine cave. The Baradine cave is covered with stalagmites and stalactites which had virtually formed an underworld of sculptures, in the cave you even find endemic animals and a human fish which only lives in the cave environment.

The cave is open from 1st of April to 30th of October, in the main season (July and August) opening hours are from 9.30 – 18.30. Remember to bring warm clothes as temperature is only about 14 degrees in the cave.

Feštinsko Kraljevstvo Cave: Close to Zminj you can find another cave which is open for public visits, a guided tour in the 80 meter deep cave system takes about 30 minutes. The caves are open from 10-18 in the main season, entrance fee is 40 kuna.

Hum: the middle age town Hum is one of the smallest towns in the world with only 17 inhibitors, live hear is still according to old traditions, so if you want to make a step back in time, you should pay a visit.

Wine roads: Across Istria you would often see a brown sign with grapes, the sign marks that you are on a wine road, on these road you can find wineries where you can buy fresh wine (in some case also bottled wines), If you like wine you should visit a few, normally prices for fresh wine if around 15-20 kuna litre, so It will not destroyed your holiday budget. The two most popular grape sorts are the Teran (red) and Malvazija (White), but you can also find wineries producing Merlot, Chardonnay and other wines.

Jurassic Park Porec: the world’s second Jurassic park, with up to 24 meter long metallic dinosaurs is the new attraction in Porec, the park which includes a children’s playroom is open whole year.

National Park Brijuni: just opposite to Fažana you find the island group Brijuni, hich is a national park today. In the beginning of the 20th century the islands were very popular amongst the European elite. Later it became Tito’s main summer residence and numerous presidents, kings and queens as well as famous actors visited him on the Brijuni Islands. Many of them brought exotic animals for his Zoo and Safari park which were built in the early 20th cent.

Events in Istria:

Histria festival: Every year in July and August, the Histria festival offers musical and other cultural events in the Arena Pula and other places in Istria, the Histria festival normally has some quite interesting artist on the program, e.g. this years program included Sir Elton John, Michael Bolton and the royal Russian Ballet, the Histria festival program is normally publish around May, where also the ticket sale starts.

Umag beach

Giostra Porec: In September Porec hosts a historic festival where the people of Porec as well as visitors from the countries around Croatia participate in a big historical event. You will find a night’s tournament, Baroque dances, traditional food and outdoor plays. Everything is based on historical records from the 18th cent. when Istria belonged to the Venetian republic.

Tennis Umag: Every year in August, Umag host an International ATP tournament, with participation from most of the top players in the world.

Summer events: All the tourist city along the coast generally have quite extensive summer program which run from 1 of July to end of August, the programs include stuff like, fishermen’s nights, musical and dance events, Sport event like e.g. Picigin tournament etc.

My advice would be to check up the upcoming program just before leaving for holiday.

Other useful stuff about Istria:

Prices: The prices in Istria are among the highest in Croatia, but most things are still considerably cheaper then in most EU countries – take a look at our Croatia prices guide, to get an idea about prices for different stuff.

Roads: Currently there is no highway in Istria, the main road is the Istrian Y which as the name says is build like and Y, the road goes from Slovenia border in the north to Rovinj where it splits up in one road for Pula and one road for Rijeka. The road is currently being expanded into a 4 lane motorway, once this has be done, road pricing (toll) will be charged, for now only cost of using Istrian roads, is for the Učka tunnel and the Mirna Bridge.

Real Estate: Owning a property in Istria can be both an affordable and enjoyable option to consider. Facilities within the region are excellent and airports are conveniently located for travelers arriving from Europe. One bedroom apartments on the coast can be found from around EUR 110,000 and up, whilst at the other end of the scale a luxurious four bedroom villa can be purchased for around EUR 550,000.

Adventure Holiday: In Istria the is a large offer of adventure sport activities like Free climbing, Mountain bike tours, Sea Kayaking etc, so if you are planning to spicy up your holiday with some exercise, I can personally recommend the company www.sol-skin.com (sunshine) the company offer course in different types of adventure sports, the only use highly skilled instructed who has security as nr 1 priority. You can contact the company at e-mail info@sol-skin.com or send mail to us at info@solitum.hr we will then pass massage on to them.

As always feel free to leave a comment if you have any question to Istria or other places in Croatia, we will do our best to give you a useful reply!

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29 Comments »

  • Kirsty says:

    Hi
    I’m coming over to Pula in the next week and would love to kayak to the National Park islands. Can you recommend any companies based in Pula that offer sea kayak tours?
    Thank you!

  • Sire says:

    It all looks so beautiful and I especially love the architecture, from Arena Pula to the Euphrasian Basilica. In regards to Arena Pula, was it influenced at all by the Roman Empire?

    • Several of the cities on the Istrian peninsula are very beautiful, I recently read a travel magazine recommending people to visit the Arena in Pula instead of Colosseum in Rome. There is still some indirect roman influence in Istria, 7% of people living in Istria are Italians and Italian is also the second official languages, e.g. all the city signs are on two languages.

      On top of that there is large number of tourist from Italy, do to the close distance there is even lots of Italians in the winter.

  • Sire says:

    That is very Interesting. At least now I know that if I ever visit Croatia, considering that I know a bit of Italian, I would be able to converse with some of the locals.

  • Sire says:

    No, not yet but it has always been a dream of mine. Hopefully I will be able to make the trip sometime in the near future.

  • Samantha says:

    Hi,
    I’ve enjoyed looking at your site, and have found quite a bit of useful information about Croatia. I was hoping your could help answer a question… I am (tentatively) planning on flying into Venice on April 29 ( a Thursday), spending a day there, and then traveling to the Istra Peninsula. I would like to go by ferry, but have been unable to find accurate timetables and prices ( the find-croatia site says they have yet to be posted). Any info you have regarding times/ prices would be appreciated ( we are flexibe about where we arrive on the penisula) We would like to spend 2-3 days on the Istra Peninsula, and do some biking and hiking, then travel to Plitvices NP for a day. Then we plan to travel down the coast to Paklenica NP. We would like to see Zadar, Sibenik, and spend a few days on Korcula. We are mainly interested in outdoor activities sucha hiking, biking, and kayaking. Then we will take a ferry from Split to Ancona. We will be in Croatia (not including Venice) for @ one week. Questions: would it be better to rent a car, or to use buses (there will be 2 of us, and I can drive a manual, but we are on a budget)? Does this sound like a reasonable itinerary, or too much? Are we missing any ‘highlights’ that you would really reccomend? Also, on your ferry page, the timetables were all for high season- will there be a daily ferry to Korcula in early May?
    Thanks so much for taking the time to answer everyone’s questions- your site is tremendously helpful.
    Thanks, Sam

    • Hi Sam,

      I glad to here that you find our page helpful.

      The schedule for Venezialines http://www.venezialines.com/schedule but as well here, as for the ferry to Korcula, the summer schedule Is normally not available before in April, so you will have to wait a bit for that one.

      Did I understand it correctly? You want to stay in Croatia for a week?

      If so, you might need to adjust your itinerary a bit. (at least if you don’t rent a car)

      Here a few suggestion from my side. (Considering you are on a Budget)

      I would check the price for renting a car in Venice and returning it in Split or even Ancona (Returning in same country, is normally with out extra charge), The Catamaran from Venice to Istria, is about 100 Euro a person, for the 200 Euro you can rent a small car for a week. Bringing the car from Split to Ancona will cost you about 60 Euro.

      If you have car available you can go from Istria – to Plitvice and the stay overnight close to Zadar (Doing that by bus, would be very difficult), next day you can then do Paklenica and continue to Sibenik when you are finished.

      From Sibenik you have two options when you want to get to Korcula, one would be going to Split, and taking the ferry to Vela Luka from there (about 500 Kun with Car), if you rent the car, you should go to Peljecas, and take ferry form Orebic – to Korcula, if you have never been in south Dalmatia, you should for sure do the tour along the Dalmatian coast. (Both options would take you around 6-7 hours).

      Both ferries run in May.

      Kindest regards

      Morten

  • Cindy says:

    Hello,
    Useful information on this site. In June we are flying into Venice and will be departing Venice on a Monday to ferry over to Rovinj. I see that Venezia Lines has a high speed catamaran but it does not show service on Mondays. Is there another ferry line that you can recommend?
    Thanks!

  • We had a great time in Istria based near Porec staying at Plava Laguna resort which is really beautiful and great for families with plenty of sports and leisure facilities. We also loved visiting the hil towns you mentions and also Porec and Rovinj – I think this part of Croatia really has something for everyone – you might like to take a look at the video I made around Plava Laguna
    http://www.heatheronhertravels.com/plava-laguna-resort-istria-croatia-video/

    • Thanks Heather, i will have a look at it

      Morten

      • Weni G. says:

        31 Mar.2014

        Hello Morten- the Croatian expert,

        Your Croatian tips and info are truly helpful and amazing as I’ve browsed thru your blog. May I also ask for some info please? A friend, traveling from Connecticut, USA and I, based now in Switzerland, (we are both Asians) have just recently planned and improvised as of now, to visit Istria, Croatia from 17 to 20 April by bus from Venice.

        We thought of travelling by train from Venice to Trieste, then bus from Trieste to any of the 3 places, Rovinj, Pula or Porac during those 4 days. Or take the special bus from Venice to Rovinj before noontime April 17th arriving pm in Rovinj. Have overnight in a hotel in Rovijn and use it as a “fixed point” of travel and take day bus to Pula and Porec (maybe). We love seeing museums, architecture (Arena or colloseum and forum in Pula?), a traditional Easter event maybe, and of course a bit of stay on one of the sandy beaches in Rovinj?, Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in the Historic Centre of Poreč. Is this workable in 4 days on an Easter weekend holiday?

        What do you think would be the best itinerary- be based in Rovinj for overnight stays in a hotel there, then take day buse to Pula and then travel to Porec on our way by bus again to Venice?

        How do we insure that we don’t get stuck up in one town or city due to lack of bus because of Easter holiday?

        Many thanks Morten. Hope to hear from you sometime soon.
        ciao,
        Weni G.

        • Hi Weni G.

          Rovinj is a great place to use as a base for your holiday (You will love the town), and even though it is easter there should be enough local buses for you to be able to visit both Porec and Pula.

          As far as i recall the venice bus does not drive from Porec, so it is probably better you visit Porec on a day trip and then go to Pula last day any maybe stay overnight there so you can easily catch one of the buses to Venice.

          The beach visit in Rovinj? well for me the water is far to cold only about 15 degree celcius, but if weather is nice you can of course always enjoy the sun :-)

          PS: do to it being easter there will be several catholic celebration, so remember to check when you get there.

          Have a nice trip,

          Brgds, Morten

          • Weni G. says:

            Hello Morten,

            Many thanks for your prompt reply. I greatly appreciate it.

            A couple more Qs please:
            1. Will there be a ferry boat from Pula or Rovinj to Venice or even from Venice to Istria in that period bet. April. 17th and 20th 2014? The Venezian Lines has not published any schedule. I thought I read online that there aren’t any until about May.

            2. Are there any other coastal towns or historical towns worth visiting in Istrian region aside from Rovinj, Porec and Pula?

            3. Is it trying too to squeeze too much if we try to get a travel day’s bus ride from Rovinj or neighboring town to a picturesque sight of Slovenia? I thought of Ljubljana but it appears too far from Rovinj or Porec.

            4. Any hotel or B&B in Rovinj & Pula that you might recommend? Not an executive nor a luxury hotel, of course.
            5. Any special do’s and don’ts for women travelers in Croatia?

            Again, thank you so much for your tips and generosity in sharing your info re traveling in istria for newbies like us.

            It would be nice to hear from you again. Thank you.

            ciao,
            Weni

          • Hi Weni

            sorry i did not manage to give you an reply earlier, have been totally busy. Hope you manage to see some great thinks

            Best, Morten

  • Cristopher Monkhouse says:

    Great information :)

  • Maxine Port says:

    I have been scanning your info on Croatia and have found it to be very useful.

    I’m planning on travelling from Trieste to Dubrovnik. I will take about 25 days in Sep. I want to ferry hop most of the way. I don’t want to drive, but would like to visit key points in Istria, Zadar, Togir, Split, Hvar and Dubrovnik. I am considering side trips to Slovenia and Bosnia. I am trying to find out ratings for local travel agents as I want to prepay my holiday as much as possible.

    Appreciate your comments by email to me direct.

    Thanks, Maxine Port

  • Helge says:

    Hey Morten,

    Thanks for all the useful information on this site! My girlfriend and I are planning to visit Croatia in September. We want to take the catamaran ferry from Pula to Zadar (Sep 29) and were wondering how reliable it usually is. Our flight will leave in the evening from Zadar and we were worried about the ferry possibly being cancelled due to bad weather. :)
    Do we need the ferry tickets in advance or can we buy them the same day?

    Greetings from Berlin!
    Thanks, Helge

  • Julie Hoezee says:

    What a great blog! A couple of questions- I’m planning to do Croatia the first part of September. Coming from the US- would you recommend flying into Venice and taking a ferry over to Istria, OR flying into Slovenia and renting a car and driving down? We have 10 days to spend in Croatia and don’t want to spend a ton of time getting from place to place. Should we pick a home base and do days trips or are all the must see places quite far? Also we would love to rent a small place from a local or do a “flat share.” Thanks for the great tips!

    • Thanks Julie,

      I would properly choose the rented car option, which you could also do by flying into Venice, then ferry to Istria, and renting a car from there. If you never have been to Croatia before, you would properly like to see some of these locations: Istria (Porec, Rovinj, Pula), the National park Plitvice lakes, National Park Krk. Zadar, Trogir Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik etc?

      Picking one spot is not easy, but you could start seeing Istria (1-2 overnight), then continue to NP Plitvice, and from there then to Split. In Split you can then set up a base, from where you can do day trips to some of the other locations i mention.

      In relation to “flat share” it is properly possible, but I am not the one to ask about that.

      Brgds, Morten

  • Christy V says:

    Hi there, great site! We are headed to Istria in mid may, driving from split on a Thursday and flying out of Rijeka on that Saturday. We love wine and food so we thought Istria is the place to go. We want to include Motovun, but should we stay around there the 3 nights or pick a more central location? Is Pula a must? And if we have an early flight out of Rijeka should we stay closer to there on Friday night? Thanks for your advice in advance, can’t wait to go!

    • Hi Christy,

      Motovun area is great for tasting some great food and wine, if you havent seen all of Istria, i would pick Porec (Close to Motovun) or Rovinj as a base for 2 or all 3 of the nigths.

      From Rovinj / Porec you have 1.5-2 hour drive to get to Rijeka / Krk airport. If you wish to be closer to the airport i can recommend you Optija.

      Best, Morten

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