Istria, Croatia is still on my bucket list of places to visit in Croatia and I still can’t wait to go to this interesting corner of the Balkans, even if only as a day trip from Zagreb. Fortunately, Kaila from NomList blog was kind enough to share her favorite things to do in Istria. Now I’m even more looking forward to visiting Istria!
Do you know where is the smallest city in the world located? If you said Istria, Croatia you are right! That’s just one of the many interesting facts about Istria that you never knew that you didn’t know.
Like, you might need a translator, a guide, and a language dictionary to get around this place. Its language is rooted in ancient Greek mixed with ancient Italian. Fortunately, English is spoken there too.
On top of that, Istria is part of three different countries! And, despite being in the vicinity of European and world wars for thousands of years, it has managed to avoid having their medieval towns destroyed by them.
In other words, you are stepping WAY back in time when you take a trip out of your comfort zone and travel to the Gulf of Trieste to check out these top 15 things to do in Istria, Croatia!
Where is Istria, Croatia?
Once upon a time, talking about back when Italians were called Romans and Italy wasn’t just a country but an empire, Istria used to be known as Histria. It was much bigger back then but as a result of many cultural and political changes due to war and invasion, chunks of the Peninsula have been divided among three different countries: Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia, with Croatia making up the largest portion.
It is a peninsula and in fact, the largest peninsula on the Adriatic Sea. Instead of sandy beaches like you would see in southern Italy or Greece, Istria is rocky and its shores are covered with colored rocks and pebbles. Perhaps that’s why their waters are crystal clear and clean!
Italy is just north of Istria, Croatia. You could catch a boat up to Venice in just a couple of hours or so. Yet the region is very unique even from all of the peoples that preceded today’s Istria.
For instance, just in the 20th century, the region changed hands dramatically three times. After WWI, it was part of Italy. At the end of WWII, it became part of Yugoslavia. Now it is part of independent Croatia.
All of those changes have created an unusual number of accents, dialects, and languages. Some are very ancient dating all the way back to the Roman and Ottoman Empires.
Nationally there are two official languages: Croatian or Italian – with dozens of different variations on the two.
Why Visit Istria?
Whether you are a fan of history and interested in exploring areas that are still pretty much medieval or you want to have a nice seaside vacation at a resort, there is something for everyone in Istria, Croatia. Best of all, because it’s kind of small, you can just base yourself in one of their very few “major” towns and just take day trips to around the Istria region.
If you are just hearing about Istria for the first time, here is one thing you are almost guaranteed not to know – Istria is a wine region! Yes, it’s true, you will find fine wines and olive oil tastings here that you won’t find anywhere else on earth – and some like Peljesac – are even hard to find in Croatia!
Not into wine, water fun in the sun, or history? How about lip-smacking good food? Are you into that? So are the people of Istria and with their ancient Italian and Greek roots, you can bank on the fact that the food alone is worth the trip!
Where to Stay in Istria
The best idea is to base yourself in one of the main towns of Istria and explore the region from there. Below are the best places to stay in Istria, you can find plenty of places to stay there:
- Pula – click here for the best accommodation options there
- Rovinj – click here for the best accommodation options there
- Poreč – click here for the best accommodation options there
- Umag – click here for the best accommodation options there
- and more!
How to Get Around Istria Croatia?
Don’t count on public transportation to get around teeny tiny Istria. You should rent a car, not just so you can control where you want to go and what you get to see, but because it is quite easy to get around.
You’ll visit many different cities when you try these top things to do in Istria, but if you rent a room in Rovinj or Pula (bigger towns) you can hit two or three cities in one day by car. Everywhere is like 30 minutes to a few hours away.
How to Get to Istria
In order to land in Istria, Croatia you have no choice but to fly to Pula. It is the only place in the entire region where there is an airport. Italy however is just north of Istria. It is possible to land in Italy and sail to northern Istria.
You might also fly to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, and get to Istria from there.
Best Things to Do in Istria
In Istria you’ll find plenty of places with local food that you’ll love. The waters of the Adriatic Sea are clear blue, and you’ll walk places that look virtually the same today as they did thousands of years ago!
Here are the best things to do in Istria, Croatia.
Enter the “Gateway to Europe” in Umag
There is a great stone wall as old as the Roman Empire that is considered the first city entering the Continent of Europe. It is officially called “the Croatian Gate to Europe.” You’ll find fantastic pizza, beaches, and bustling old town here.
Taste the Best Pizza in Croatia in Groznjan
The cobblestones underfoot in Groznjan are super old and the city reflects that. It has been home to artists for thousands of years, probably because it’s so pretty there. Pizza is a top choice in town while music and art gallery strolls are the top things to do.
Go Truffle Hunting in Motovun
If you like truffles, Motovun, Croatia is one of the very few places in the world where you can find them. It sits atop a mountain and is surrounded by medieval buildings, towers, and steps that still stand in relatively good shape.
Due to the high stone walls guarding the town back in the day, it has become a place to go hang-gliding from high heights!
Visit Hum – the Smallest City in the World
What is there to do in the smallest city in the world? Well, you can drink liquor made from mistletoe, eat homemade food at a local home, and walk the medieval-looking streets for like…five minutes…from end to end!
But hey, you can tell everybody that you have actually seen the smallest town in the world – that’s something.
Enjoy the Best Climate in Istria in Opatija
Despite it being very small, there are plenty of fancy places to stay in Opatija which is one of the reasons why it attracts so many visitors. But what really brings in the crowds is the nice weather year-round and the long coastline.
One of the most popular things to do is walk along the coastline and eat at the many seaside restaurants.
Long Stroll along the Lungomare Promenade
Speaking of long strolls, down the way from Opatija is the Lungomare Promenade where you can take in the shore. Another cool thing about the Promenade is the many rocks that jut out from the shoreline where people set up chairs and blankets for a picnic with their feet in the water.
Catch the Yachting Regatta in Lovran
Another of the larger towns in Istria is Lovran. It is just a few kilometers away from Opatija so you can see these places all in a row.
Here you’ll want to not just stroll but tour the old bell tower from the Roman Empire and the nearly millennium-old churches – oh and you might just catch the huge regatta full of yachts held each November.
Tour a Medieval Castle in Pazin
In the middle of Istria you will find Pazin – the coolest place in the region.
One of the best things to do and the reason why you have to go to Pazin is to tour the medieval castle that still stands there! It was built nearly two thousand years ago and looks out over the whole town. It even has a drawbridge!
Visit the Euphrasian Basilica
Poreč is comparably big and one of the best places to stay while you’re in Istria. Here, the top thing (besides the food) to do is to go out and party at the clubs at night and go out and play on the water during the day.
It’s an ancient town so you also have the option to tour some really old sites, specifically the Euphrasius Basilica – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visit Casanova’s Town of “Good Wine and Beautiful Women” in Vrsar
This amazing little wine town has been cranking out the sweet grapes for over 4,000 years!
One of the best reasons to visit Rovinj is food. You will find plenty of award-winning restaurants to choose from but that’s not all.
It is a new and growing tourist location for a reason – it is flipping beautiful! There are the castle, cave, and dinosaur tours here as well!
Snorkel in the Touristy Beach Town of Rabač
When you visit Rabač, it is because you are looking for the beach first and foremost. It used to just be a place for fishermen for the most part, but now, the crystal clear waters along the rocky and pebbled shores attract divers, snorkelers, and swimmers from all over.
See Real Mummies and Ancient Body Parts in Vodnjan
Even if touring churches doesn’t sound like something you’d like to do, what if we said that there were mummies in the churches in Istria? That’s right!
If you travel to Vodnjan while in Istria, do yourself a favor and check out St. Blaise’s Church where you get to see the mummified body parts of saints!
Picnic on Brijuni Islands
The number one reason to visit the Brijuni Islands is to see real live dinosaur footprints still preserved in the ancient grounds in this National Forest.
It used to be home to a Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito but now it is just one tourist site among many others that go back to prehistoric times.
Visit the Roman Arena in Pula
The Roman influence is most apparent in Istria’s biggest city, Pula. Here, you can see the largest Roman Amphitheater that is still in existence in its original form. To this day it is still the location for entertainment but now it’s concerts and fests and not gladiator fights!
About the author: Kaila is a former lead singer of all-girl rock band turned on-camera correspondent/expert and travel & food writer based in Los Angeles. She is the co-author of the best-selling book 30-Day Travel Challenge. She shares her best recipes around the world on her food blog www.NomList.com
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