23 September 2023

What is there to see and do in Istria, Croatia?

Coastal Istria, in the north-eastern corner of the Croatian Adriatic, close to Italy, has long been a holiday destination, with the Roman amphitheatre of Pula a star attraction, and the town of Rovinj offering cool sophistication. The countryside in Istria’s interior is relatively new to tourism but its forested rolling hills, topped with fortified villages, like Motovun, are startlingly attractive.

The port city of Pula makes a good base as it has direct flights from London, but you’ll need a hire car to explore the region. Fortunately, the roads are quiet and a motorway runs south to north, right up to the border with Italy. Wine and olive oil are some of the best in Croatia and you can visit vineyards and olive farms and sample their wares.


The city offers Roman ruins, crystal-clear waters, and a historic old town. The 1st century Roman amphitheatre is surprisingly intact, originally seating 23,000, although gladiator combat has now been given way to more peaceful cultural events – in summer there’s a film festival, opera season and numerous concerts.

Other Roman remains include the Temple of Augustus, which survived as a church, and the triumphal Arch of the Sergii, from 27 BC, commemorating victory at the Battle of Actium. Built in the 6th century, the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a splendid example of Byzantine and Gothic architecture. Step inside to admire its ornate altars, frescoes, and beautifully crafted marble.

The Venetians came here in the 15th century and stayed over 400 years, leaving a significant architectural imprint on the city. One of the notable landmarks from this period is the Gate of Hercules, an ancient Roman triumphal arch that was later embellished with a Venetian-style winged lion, the symbol of Venice. They’re also responsible for the narrow alleys, quaint squares and charming streets of Pula’s old town.

In the 19th century, Pula became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was further developed as a naval base and shipyard. Buildings from this period include the neoclassical Town Hall and the Baroque Governor’s Palace. Other buildings reflect the architectural style of the era, characterized by a blend of neoclassical, Baroque, and Secessionist influences.

Cape Kamenjak

Occupying Istria’s southern tip, around 30 minutes’ drive from Pula is the protected area of Cape Kamenjak. Walking or biking trails explore its diverse coastline with numerous hidden coves, rocky cliffs, and beautiful pebble beaches. There’s even a dinosaur footprint above one of them and the crystal clear waters are ideal for swimming or snorkelling


Just up the coast, the small town of Rovinj tumbles down a hillside overlooked by the tower of the iconic St. Euphemia’s Church. Its narrow cobbled streets are filled with art galleries, boutiques, and craft workshops, the buildings painted in an array of vibrant colours. This is cool Croatia at its best, where sophisticates gather by the harbour for evening cocktails.

Limski Kanal

North of Rovinj, mistakenly referred to as a fjord, Limski Kanal is a narrow channel stretching inland for around 12km. Its sides are lined with steep cliffs clad in lush greenery, reflected in its crystal-clear waters. It’s often been used in a film location, most notably for fifties movie “The Vikings”. On its north bank is the Kontija Nature Park, with several well-maintained trails, ideal for bird watchers.