The 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.
Table of content:
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.
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
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.
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%.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or send mail to us at email@example.com 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!