Istria Croatia is known for its rolling hills, rural getaways, farmhouse restaurants, and rocky coastline. The heart-shaped region of Istria is located in the northwest of Croatia and is home to numerous picturesque towns – which make great places to visit for food- and culture-lovers.
This guide covers just a few of the best places to visit in Istria Croatia including the towns of Motovun, Pavin, Poreč, Pula, Rovinj, and the Brijuni Islands.
Where is Istria Croatia?
Istria is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, where the Gulf of Trieste meets the Kvarner Gulf. Istria is shared by three countries: Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia, though this guide to places to visit in Istria is mostly focused around the Croatian part, which is the majority of the area and lies in the northwest of the country.
You can drive the full length of Istria’s coastline in around an hour. However, a more leisurely journey, stopping off in the towns that take your fancy, is highly recommended.
Charming Towns of Istria Croatia
Things to do in Motovun, Istria Croatia
The medieval town of Motovun, perched high on a hill in the center of the Istrian peninsula, was once home to ancient Celts and Illyrians, who built their fortresses here. Today, the town is known for the International Motovun Film Festival, tourism, and truffles!
1. Truffle Hunt
The white truffles found in the Motovun forest area are high-quality and fragrant, fiercely rivaling those found in neighboring Italy. Truffle season runs from April to December and it’s best to book ahead for a truffle hunting expedition with a local family, Karlić tartufi, followed by cooking with truffles and eating decadent truffle-flavored delicacies.
The Karlic Estate is located near the village of Paladini in Central Istria. Before heading out truffle hunting, you will fill your belly with everything truffle from truffle scrambled eggs topped with shaved truffle and cheese, truffle wine and truffle cheese. Head out into the forest on a truffle hunting excursion.
TIP: Wear clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty as the woods along the truffle hunt are thick and often muddy. They also have rubber boots available.
2. Jump Off Motovun’s Hilltop with Tandem Paragliding
One of the best ways to appreciate the natural beauty of Motovun and its surroundings is with an adventurous paragliding experience! Strap yourself to an instructor for a tandem glide and you’ll be treated to incredible views over Istria’s undulating landscape.
3. Stay in a Wine Hotel
Run by the Karlić family, Roxanich is a wine hotel with a staggering 55,000-bottle cellar and excellent truffle hunting excursions in season (the family has been hunting truffles in the Motovun forest for three generations). Stay overnight, truffle hunt in the early morning, then enjoy a breakfast of truffled eggs, paired with local wine.
4. Gain Some Context at Motovun: A History in Motion
This small museum can be found in the courtyard of Hotel Kaštel. The exhibition focuses on the legends of the Motovun Forest, the legacy of the Venetian rule, the truffle and olive oil industries, the International Motovun Film Festival, plus local-born hero Mario Andretti, a motor-sports champion.
Things to do in Pazin, Istria Croatia
Located in the heart of Istria, Pazin is the administrative capital of Istria. Less glamorous than its more famous neighbors, Pazin is known for its laidback atmosphere and unpretentiousness. It’s also a great base for exploring other Istrian towns, such as Motovun or Grožnjan.
1. Visit Pazin’s Castle
Pazin Castle is the largest and best-preserved castle in Istria, a medieval fort built on solid rock and located right in the center of town. Estimated to have been built in the 10th century by an unknown power, today the structure also houses the Pazin Town Museum.
2. Descend into the Pazin Chasm
Pazin’s other main attraction is the Pazin Chasm, a 100-meter-deep cave where the Pazinčica River sinks below the ground into three underground lakes. You can visit the chasm by walking a marked path inside the natural canyon, which takes around 45 minutes and isn’t too strenuous.
Things to do in Poreč, Istria Croatia
This 2,000-year-old town, perched on the west coast of the Istrian Peninsula, is known for its ancient history, scenery, and other tourist attractions – making this small municipality one of the most visited places in Croatia, along with neighboring Rovinj.
1. Visit the Euphrasian Basicilia
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the 16th-century Euphrasian Basicilia is Poreč’s main attraction. Its full name is Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of Mary and the site is one of the best examples of early Byzantine architecture in the Mediterranean region.
2. Hop Over to Venice
Venice is only 54 nautical miles west of Poreč and the two places have long been linked – between 1267 and 1797 Poreč was under Venetian rule. Today, there’s still a physical link in the form of the boats that ferry passengers back and forth, though they only operate in the summer.
3. Explore the Baredine Cave
Poreč’s other main star is the Baredine Cave. Open since 1995, visitors can descend 60 meters below ground via a 300-meter pathway to visit the cave’s five chambers. You might even spot a cave olm, an aquatic salamander endemic to this karst region.
The expedition only takes around 40 minutes and guided tours are available. The 14-degree (Celsius) temperature also makes the Baredine Cave a nice sightseeing spot to pop into during the heat of summer.
Things to do in Pula, Istria Croatia
The Romans, who conquered Istria in 178 BC, made their mark on this region and the architecture and archeology of Pula still show their power in arches, gates, temples, and the huge amphitheater.
1. Visit the Pula Arena
With an astounding capacity for 20,000 spectators, Pula’s amphitheater is the sixth-largest on the planet. Built around 27 to 68 AD, this ancient monument is also the only Roman amphitheater still standing today that has four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders preserved.
The Pula Film Festival
Time your visit right and the amphitheater lives out its glory days once more, with the Pula Film Festival (though the shows are a little less gladiatorial). Taking place every July, films, concerts and music events are held here, attracting big names such as Elton John, Grace Jones and Björk.
2. Catch the Light Show at the Uljanik Shipyard
When the sun goes down, head to the docks to see the working 19th-century shipyard bedazzled in the Lighting Giants display. Light designer Dean Skira is responsible for the impressive affair, which sees the docks’ cranes illuminated in 15-minute shows that start on the hour, every hour, from sundown until 10pm.
3. Visit the Temple of Augustus
This well-preserved temple is another of Pula’s ancient Roman sites, likely built between 27 BC and 14 AD, which is when Augustus reigned as the first Roman emperor. The temple was originally part of a trio of temples, standing to the left of a larger central temple dedicated to the goddess Diana, but the other two have not survived over the centuries.
4. Marvel at Sea Life at the Aquarium
Located within a 130-year-old fort, the Aquarium Pula showcases the rich marine life of the Adriatic Sea, freshwater species from Croatia’s lakes and rivers, as well as some of the military history of Pula.
5. Learn About the Past at the Istria Historical & Maritime Museum
Visit the Istria Historical & Maritime Museum to discover more about Pula’s ancient story as a fortified town. The museum is housed within the star-shaped fortress built by the Venetians in the 1630s. The exhibitions on display feature varied historical themes and the views from here are stunning.
6. Discover the Treasure of the St. Francis Monastery & Church
This Christian monastery was built in 1285 and is noted for its artistic treasures, including a grand 15th-century altarpiece and a Roman mosaic design on the floor of a Gothic chamber, featuring a hippocampus (fish-tailed horse).
Things to Do in Rovinj, Istria Croatia
Once a rustic fishing village, the island of Rovinj is now chic and sophisticated. Many in the town speak Italian as well as Croatian, and some even speak Istriot – a Romance language once widely spoken around Istria.
1. Visit St. Euphemia’s Church
This baroque church was built between 1725 and 1736 on the site of the remains of an older Christian structure, with the current façade dating back to 1883. The relics of Saint Euphemia are preserved in a sarcophagus and the church also contains several notable works of art, including a Last Supper and Christ in the Gethsemane.
2. Island-Hop in a Venetian Boat
Take a boat trip from Rovinj to explore blue Istria. Tours can include stop-offs at multiple islands, sunset panoramas, and potential dolphin sightings.
3. Browse Art Along the Via Grisia
If you’re visiting in the summer, you might see the open-air exhibition at Grisia, a street that winds through the town, connecting St. Euphemia’s Church to the main town square. The annual art event has taken place every year since 1967 when a group of American tourists came to the town and bought 12 works of art as they walked along this street.
4. Stay Overnight in a Chic Hotel
Rovinj is the place to see and be seen, so extend your visit here overnight with a stay in one of the town’s “designer” hotels. Grand Hotel Park Rovinj is set in a pine forest on the seafront overlooking St Katarina Island and the charming old town of Rovinj. The hotel was designed by the renowned Italian architect Piero Lissoni and Croatian 3LHD Studio. The hotel is exquisite. Everything from modern rooms, spectacular views, and amenities. The buffet breakfast is one of the most impressive selections you will see.
Things to do on the Brijuni Islands, Istria Croatia
Cross the three-kilometer Fažana Channel on a 20-minute ferry boat from Fort Punta Cristo and you’ll reach a collection of 14 islets known as the Brijuni Islands (or sometimes the Brionian Islands). However, only the largest island, Veli Brijun, can be visited, unless you have your boat!
1. Visit the Roman Ruins
Head to Verige Bay, located on the eastern side of the Brijuni Islands, to see the remains on an ancient Roman villa – some of the most significant Roman ruins in the Istria region. The kilometer-wide villa complex was constructed during the 1st century AD and included a private beach decorated in mosaics, some of which can still be seen today.
2. Explore the National Park on Veli Brijun
The beautiful Brijuni Islands are a designated Croatian National Park and the best way to see all the natural beauty the little archipelago has to offer is via a national park tour, which shows off highlights such as the Tito Museum, a 1,600-year-old olive tree, St. Mary’s Church, a safari park and the Roman ruins. After the tour, explore more of the island yourself before taking the boat back to the mainland.
Other Towns to Visit in Istria Croatia
Of course, the list above is not the full list of every Istrian town that is worth a visit. Some of the one listed below may also tickle your fancy:
Around 27 kilometers northeast of Poreč, this hillside town is home to a fortress, several churches and the Fonticus Gallery, which displays recent works by Croatian artists.
The little green town of Brtonigla is known for acres of vineyards and olive groves, natural parks and caves, meadows and woods, flora and fauna – dotted with small churches and chapels.
Right by the border with Slovenia, Umag was once a walled town (the ruins of 13th to 18th-century walls can still be seen in some places). Notable attractions include secluded beaches, a municipal museum, and St. Peregrine’s Church.
Nestled on the west coast of Istria, the small fishing town of Vrsar has a beautiful marina, an atmospheric old town with a waterfront promenade, and a sculpture park with pieces by renowned artist Dusan Dzamonja. It’s said that the famous lover Casanova visited Vrsar frequently, so the town celebrates a Casanova festival every year at the end of June.
The village of Višnjan is most well-known for the Višnjan Observatory, an astronomical observatory run by Korado Korlević, a notable astronomer who has discovered a number of minor planets.
Things to do in Istria Croatia Conclusion
We hope this list of places to visit in Istria has helped you plan your Istrian town-hopping trip. Did you find any of the information here helpful, or do you have any more recommendations to add? Have you visited Istria Croatia? Let us know in the comments.