Visiting Pula, Croatia is one of the best things to do in Istria. The city is one of the main highlights of this wonderful region, most tourists come here to see the incredible Pula Arena. And while this landmark is certainly amazing, there are even more great things to do in Pula, making this place a wonderful destination.
I visited the city on a day trip from nearby Rovinj and while one day in Pula was enough for me to see all the Pula attractions, spending more time wouldn’t be so bad either (I just based myself in Rovinj in my Croatia itinerary, hence I did it that way). Pula monuments turned out to be a great mix of ancient remnants and some 19th-20th century greatness (from the time when the town was part of the Habsburg Empire) and this diversity makes Pula such a great place to visit.
Below you will find my list of the best things to do in Pula that will help you enjoy this interesting city. And if you still have any questions about visiting Pula, feel free to join my Facebook group about traveling in the Balkans where I’m sure fellow travelers will help you out.
Where is Pula, Croatia
Pula, a city of over 57 thousand inhabitants is located in the northwest part of Croatia, on the very east of the Istrian peninsula on the Adriatic Sea coast. Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is located 270 km away from Pula.
How to get to Pula
The best way to reach Pula is by bus. You can get here from Zagreb, Rijeka, Rovinj, and numerous other destinations in Croatia and abroad (I took the bus from Trieste, Italy to Rovinj that continued to Pula; I also saw there a direct bus all the way to Krakow, Poland). You can check the bus connections and buy tickets in advance (which is highly recommended especially in the high season) on this website. The bus station in Pula is located not far from the city center, near the Pula Arena.
Pula also has a train station but it only serves regional connections and you will most likely not use it during your trip to Pula.
Pula has its own regional airport too, located only 8 km away from the center. Numerous airlines from other places in Croatia as well as from Europe fly here, however many of them only in the season. The shuttle bus can take you from the airport to the bus station in Pula.
How to get around Pula
Fortunately, all of the best Pula attractions are located in the center, within walking distance from each other so you won’t have to go big distances during your Pula sightseeing. If you need to go a bit away from the center there are city buses as well as taxis that you can use.
Where to stay in Pula
If you decide to stay in Pula overnight, there are plenty of accommodation options to choose from. Here are the best ones:
- Guest House ZoNa (9.5/10 on Booking)
- Preziosa (9.4/10 on Booking)
- Polesana Rooms (9.3/10 on Booking)
- and many more!
Things to do in Pula
And finally, let’s talk about the best things to do in Pula!
Visit Pula Arena
The Roman Arena is probably the biggest of all the Pula attractions and one of the most known landmarks in Croatia. This impressive structure dates back to B.C. times, works on it started in the year 27 BC and finished in 68 AD.
Pula Arena is one of the largest and best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world and the most impressive ancient monument in Croatia. Back in the day, the Pula amphitheater was used for gladiator fights and the arena could fit up to 23 thousand people! Even if today the building is in a much poorer state, it is still used for numerous events. Some of the world’s biggest names, such as Elton John, Sting and Luciano Pavarotti performed here.
But even without the event, it is worth visiting Pula Arena inside. While the structure looks already outstanding from the outside, it’s nothing in comparison with what you can find when you enter the place. You can wander around the ruins, sit in the spectators’ seats or stand right in the center of the arena to look around and imagine how the place must have looked like all these centuries ago.
It’s easy to spend hours there, wandering around all the ancient remnants and soaking up the unique atmosphere of the place. Don’t also miss the exhibition in the lower parts of the arena where you can learn more about the wine and olive oil production in the area and see the original ancient instruments used for those.
Since the lines for the entrance tickets can get long, especially in the summertime, I recommend getting your ticket in advance – you can do it here.
See more ancient remnants in Pula
While the amphitheater is the main ancient monument in Pula, there are even more remnants of these old times that can easily compete with those you can find in Italy.
There are three ancient gates: Arch of the Sergii (the triumphal arch built in 29-27 BC, today it is a gate to the Old Town in Pula), Twin gate (from the 2-3rd century), and Hercules gate (from the 1st century BC). These are easy to find and you will surely see them during your trip to Pula. The most impressive one is of course Arch of the Sergii, with rich decorations and columns in the Corinthian style, but two other gates aren’t bad either.
Another remnant of Roman times is the little Roman theatre, hidden behind the Archaeology museum. Unfortunately, during my visit, it was going through renovations but I could see a bit through the gate and it looked pretty fine too.
Go underground at Zerostrasse
Zerostrasse is a bit different than the rest of the top Pula attractions. The complex of underground corridors dates back to World War 1 and stretches across almost the whole city. They were built as shelters in case of air raids so local people could have a safe place to hide.
Today you can visit one of the tunnels, located below the Kastel fortress, with the entrance next to the Twin gate. The length of the tunnel is around 400 meters, with the central hall and tunnels going in different directions. Only the tunnel under the Kastel could serve as a shelter for around 6.000 people while the underground complex could hide around 50.000 people, all the inhabitants of the city.
When I visited Zerostrasse there were exhibitions about trams in Pula in the first half of the 20th century (they operated between 1904 and 1934) and some interesting pictures of the city from that time. But Zerostrasse is used for different events and exhibitions so besides the tunnel itself you might find something cool taking place there.
Have a drink with James Joyce
Next to the Arch of the Sergii, you will find the “Ulysses” bar. The name of the place isn’t random – the bar is dedicated to the famous Irish writer and the author of “Ulysses” – James Joyce. He spent a few months in Pula in 1904-1905 where he worked as a teacher to the officers of the Austria-Hungary army.
Today you can find his monument in that same bar, where Joyce occupies one of the tables outside. You can sit down next to him and have a drink with the famous writer while watching the world go by.
Wander around the Old Town
The Old Town in Pula might not be as pretty and charming as the one in nearby Rovinj but it still has its moments. Picturesque winding lanes are perfect for wandering around, the higher on the Old Town you get, the calmer the place becomes.
Don’t stick only to the main pedestrian streets leading to the Forum but every now and then take right or left to get a better feel of Pula’s Old Town.
Find the hidden mosaic
One of the best hidden (literally) gems of Pula is the ancient floor mosaic – “The Punishment of Dirce”. You can find it on the side of the parking lot, behind the buildings on the main pedestrian street (here is the exact location).
The mosaic most likely dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century and was part of the Roman house from that period. The mosaic was uncovered after the WW2 bombing in Pula and still today it impresses greatly. It is rather large, 12 m x 6 m, well-preserved, and contains 40 decorated areas, mostly geometrical patterns. Seeing the mosaic is free of charge and it is definitely a nice addition to your Pula itinerary.
Visit Church and Monastery of St. Francis
If you are looking for a small escape from the busy Old Town, head to the Church and Monastery of St. Francis, located in one of the backstreets, between Forum and Kastel fortress. This beautiful place dates back to the early 14th century and was built in the Romanesque style, with some Gothic additions.
The church is rather simple but the real reason to visit the place is to see the Gothic cloister that feels like time has stopped there. In one of the rooms there, you can find remnants of the ancient mosaic with an “interesting” motif.
Forum – the main square in the Old Town – is such a unique mix of ancient architecture and a bit newer additions. The square dates back to the 1st century BC and, as the name indicates, was built on the site of the former Roman forum and still today is the administrative and commercial center of the city.
Back in Roman times, there were three temples on the square, and only one of them – the Temple of August – survived until today. Next to it, you will find the medieval city hall (although parts of it are from the 17th century and one wall of the building comes from the remnants of the ancient temple), decorated with an old coat of arms and sculptures.
A forum is a lively place, with numerous cafes that bustle with conversation and laughter. It is probably the nicest spot in Pula to sit down and relax.
Stop at Cvajner Gallery
Of all the cafes surrounding Forum, Cvajner Gallery is the most unique one. From the outside, it looks pretty random and nothing indicates what a truly wonderful place it is inside.
The place was opened in 1998 and since then has been operating as a mix of cafe and art gallery, showing the works of local artists (both well-known and those who just start out) mixed with the original wall paintings from the Italian Villa.
The only downside is a rather slow service but the interesting and colorful interior makes up for that. If you decide to sit down here for a drink, be sure to choose the seat inside to enjoy this art extravaganza.
Admire the view from the Kastel fortress
Kastel fortress, located on top of the hill in the Old Town, was built by the Venetians in 1631 in place of the ancient Roman fort. The strategic location was the reason why the fortress has always served defense purposes for the city and the harbor.
Since the place lost its significance after World War 1 and 2, the Kastel fortress is used as home to the Historical Museum of Istria, with an impressive collection of various artifacts from the region. But the real reason to visit fortress hill is to admire the panorama of Pula. This is probably the best viewpoint in the city, with the vista of the Old Town, the Pula Arena, and the seaside.
Enjoy the maritime vibe
Pula is an important harbor and you can always feel the maritime vibe in the city. When wandering around it’s easy to spot impressive port cranes in the background, there is also a large marina just outside of the Old Town. From Pula, you can also go for a boat tour to the nearby Cape Kamenjak or the National Park Brijuni Islands.
Admire the beautiful art-nouveau architecture
In the 19th century, Pula was an important place in Austria-Hungary, the main port (together with Trieste) of the empire. That’s also when great development came to the city which resulted also in beautiful architecture typical for the lands that belonged to the Habsburgs.
Still today in Pula you can find some spectacular art-nouveau buildings, they are located near the train station. Unfortunately, I didn’t find more information about them but I assume they were built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and could easily compete with the impressive architecture of all the other major cities in Austria-Hungary.
Go for day trips
While Pula itself is a great place to visit, you can use it also as a base to explore a bit more of Istria. There are some perfect destinations you can easily go to as day trips from Pula.
Some of the best options are Cape Kamenjak, the National Park Brijuni Islands, Vodnjan, or even some awesome towns a bit further away: Rijeka, Opatija, or Rovinj.
Final thoughts on visiting Pula
As you can see above, Pula really has a lot to offer, and what makes it a great destination is the diversity of its attractions. Even if Pula wasn’t my favorite place to visit in Croatia (but I blame weather for that), I still really enjoyed the city and I’m glad I had a chance to visit Pula.
If you are planning your trip to Istria region in Croatia, be sure to include Pula in your itinerary, even if only t see the amazing arena! You will be impressed for sure!
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