7-Day Istria Itinerary: Explore Pula, Umag and Rovinj

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by Maggie Turansky

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Planning the perfect Istria itinerary can prove to be a difficult task, especially with so many visitors to Croatia flocking to the Dalmatian coast rather than to this gorgeous and historic region.

However, there is a lot more to see of Croatia and if you want all of the charms of Dubrovnik and Dalmatia, then Istria is the answer! Located in the northwestern part of Croatia, Istria is filled with charming coastal cities and medieval hill towns. So if you’re curious about how to spend 7 days in Istria, look no further!

Getting To & Around Istria

If you are travelling to Istria as a stand-alone trip and not as part of a longer Croatia itinerary, your best bet when arriving in Istria is to fly into the Pula Airport.

Though seemingly small in size, the Pula airport serves several airlines from a multitude of European cities.

If you are arriving from elsewhere in the country to begin your Istria itinerary, there are frequent bus connections from most major Croatian cities, including Zagreb, to Pula, Rovinj, and Poreč. There are also connections to Istria from Slovenian and Italian cities like Ljubljana, Piran, and Trieste.

Boats moored in Pula's harbour in Istria
Boats moored in Pula’s harbour

It is worth knowing that if you are planning on relying on public transport in Istria or Croatia in general, that the bus reigns supreme. There are very few long-distance trains in Croatia and those that do exist are generally infrequent and unreliable.

The other option for arriving and getting around Istria is to hire your own car. While it is definitely possible to get to most places you need to go relying on public transport alone, having your own vehicle gives you a lot more flexibility.

If you are trying to cut costs on your Croatia travel budget, we recommend renting a car just for a day or two in order to explore more off-the-path places on the Istrian peninsula.

If you don’t have a car, the bus system within cities (particularly in Pula) is very easy to navigate, frequent, and reliable and often times might work out to be more practical (and certainly more cost-effective) than having a rental car. You can buy bus tickets online through GetByBus.

The Istrian hill town of Buje from below
The Istrian hill town of Buje from below

7 Days in Istria Itinerary

Though it may seem like a small area, there are a surprising amount of things to do in Istria which is why we recommend spending at least a week in the area.

If you are keen to have some relaxation time by the warm Adriatic waters while also being able to get the most out of all the activities and sites that Istria has to offer, one week is the perfect amount of time.

Day 1: Pula

The most logical place to begin your trip is in Pula, the largest city in the region and also home to the international airport. Pula has a fascinating history dating back thousands of years and it is a city that is very worth exploring. Plan to spend three nights here in order to get a good feel for the city, appreciate its history, and also explore some of the surrounding areas.

Perhaps the most iconic site in Pula is its imposing ancient Roman amphitheatre, located right in the centre of town. Constructed between 27 BCE and 68 CE, it was originally used for gladiator games and had a capacity for 23,000 spectators.

Still excellently preserved today, it operates as a tourist attraction and a venue for concerts and cultural events like the Pula Film Festival.

The imposing Pula Arena
The imposing Pula Arena

A unique museum in the city centre, the House of Istrian Olive Oil is a great place to visit in Pula. Outlining the history of olive oil in Istria throughout the centuries, this museum gives great insight into the significance that olive oil has had on Istria from the ancient Romans to the present day.

There is also an opportunity to include a guided tasting of some great Istrian olive oils and we highly recommend it.

Oil Tasting at the House of Istrian Olive Oil
Oil Tasting at the House of Istrian Olive Oil

And if you’re looking for a great dinner option, heat to Pizzeria Jupiter. It has a great outdoor seating area and is located close to the arena, this place not only serves fantastic pizza but also some Balkan strongholds like cevapi and plijescavica along with freshly caught, local seafood.

Where to Stay in Pula

Pula is increasing in popularity as a tourist destination and, because of that, there are a number of great accommodation options. Here are some of our suggestions:

Boutique Hotel Oasi – this small hotel is located very close to the beach and a short distance from central Pula. They have plenty of rooms on offer, a restaurant on site, and breakfast is included in the room rate.

Crazy House Hostel – located in the centre of the Old Town, this hostel is the perfect place for solo travellers on a budget and there is a fantastic outdoor terrace to relax on.

Private Rental – There are several private apartments in Pula such as this comfortable city apartment if you’re looking for some privacy.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other places in Pula!

Day 2: Pula

After enjoying some history on your first day in Pula, it’s time to enjoy more of the city on the second day.

If you want to see how locals shop outside of the international supermarket chains, then head to the Pula market. Though there are some stalls that are catered toward tourists hawking kitschy souvenirs that could be found anywhere, there are also booths selling authentic local produce at great prices and fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables.

There is also an indoor area selling meat and fish, along with an area with a number of great restaurants more catered toward locals than tourists. It is worth noting, however, that the majority of these restaurants are not open for dinner. All in all, a visit to the Pula market is a great way to stock up on some unique mementoes from your trip to Istria.

The Pula Market
The Pula Market

For those looking for a unique experience, then you will be fascinated to find out that winding underneath central Pula are a series of tunnels that were originally commissioned to be built by Tito to serve as a bunker.

Now it is possible to wander through these tunnels, called Zerostrasse, and see them for yourselves. In the present day, the tunnels serve as an art and photo exhibition where you can see photos of Pula past, mostly from the days when it was still part of Yugoslavia and it was a favourite destination of Tito.

The tunnels of Zerostrasse
The tunnels of Zerostrasse

And if you’re looking for a great way to end your second day in Pula, then consider heading to one of the many beaches that lie within easy reach of the town. Though there aren’t any sandy beaches and they’re mostly pebbly, if you don water shoes to protect your feet you should have a wonderful time swimming!

For dinner, consider heading to Kantina. Located close to the Pula market, Kantina is a great option if you’re keen to sample some of the best seafood Istria has to offer. Prices are affordable and the menu is extensive, serving up a lot of local favourites.

Delicious squid from Kantina
Delicious squid from Kantina

Day 3: Brijuni National Park

The Brijuni Islands are a fantastic day trip to take from Pula. Located just off the coast from the city, these islands were once served as the summer home for the Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito and today are a nature reserve.

While you can opt to take a day excursion around the islands directly from Pula, the only boat that has permission to actually land on the islands leaves from the nearby town of Fazana. Ferry tickets also include a tour of the island on a motorised train.

Rather than taking the packed train, however, we recommend hiring a bicycle and going around the island at your own pace. There you can see the wildlife park — including ostrich, zebras, llamas, and Shetland ponies — that Tito established, maybe hit the golf course, or find a stony beach virtually all to yourself.

Those who don’t want to go to the Brijuni Islands may also enjoy a day trip out to Cape Kamenjak which is filled with beautiful beaches, crystal clear water and gorgeous coastline and cliffs.

For dinner, head back to Pula and have a quick and delicious bite to eat at Hook & Cook, a popular casual seafood joint. They have a small menu, however, the quality of the fish is fantastic and they have some unique ingredients and presentation.

A lovely and deserted beach on the Brijuni Islands
A lovely and deserted beach on the Brijuni Islands

Day 4: Umag

After enjoying the lively atmosphere and many activities that Pula has to offer, the next stop on your Istria itinerary should be the northwestern Istrian town of Umag. Umag is much smaller and much more laid-back than Pula and is very popular amongst European tourists.

Though very small, the Old Town in Umag is incredibly quaint and very much worth exploring. There are many cafes and restaurants lining the water and a few pretty, cobblestoned streets to get lost in. There aren’t many breathtaking “sites” to see here, however, the atmosphere is one that lends Umag to be explored.

Umag from the water
Umag from the water

One of the best reasons to visit Umag is to spend some time soaking up the sun and swimming in the warm Adriatic Sea. Luckily, Umag has a number of great swimming areas absolutely perfect for this, however, the one we would recommend is the Stella Maria Swimming Area.

Located close to the Hotel Sol, this isn’t a sandy beach, however, it is still a fantastic area to lay in the sun and take a dip in the crystal clear water. There are also a couple of cafes and snack bars around should you need a bite to eat or an ice cream to take the edge off of a warm day.

Spend your afternoon and evening sipping wine in a nearby vineyard. Croatian wine is not well-known internationally, however, a prime wine-growing region happens to be located in Istria. While there are seemingly hundreds of vineyards scattered all across the Istrian region, some of the best lie within very easy reach of Umag.

We recommend stopping by for a tasting at Cuj Winery, which is only a few kilometres inland from Umag. This small, family-run vineyard produces some fantastic wines and their own olive oil as well. They use the native Istrian Malvasia and Teran grape varieties in their white and reds respectively.

And not far from the winery, you can find Konoba Buscina. hey serve traditional Istrian cuisine and while it might seem like a fine dining establishment, the atmosphere is very laid back and casual. This is one of the best places to eat in Umag, but as it is quite well-known, it is recommended that you book a table in advance.

Wine tasting at Cuj Winery near Umag
Wine tasting at Cuj Winery near Umag

Where to Stay in Umag

Though not as popular a destination as Pula or Rovinj, there are many great accommodation options in Umag.

Vilola – a small boutique hotel located close to some of the best swimming areas in Umag, Vilola offers air-conditioned rooms with their own balcony and breakfast included in the room rate.

Hotel Arte Casa – another boutique hotel in Umag, this one also has a great breakfast included in the nightly rate, air-conditioned rooms, and free parking on the premises.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other places in Umag!

Day 5: Buje, Groznjan & Motovun

Another benefit to spending a couple of days in Umag is its proximity to some of the most charming hill towns in Istria. While it might be hard to draw yourself away from the stunning seaside, heading inland will let you see a side of Istria that you would never have known existed.

The towns of Buje, Groznjan, and Motovun are all within easy reach of Umag, however, it is a lot easier to get to them if you have your own car. Buje is closest to Umag and is the least visited of the three towns, however, its lack of tourists only adds to its charm.

Groznjan was our favourite town of the three, it is known for its arts and music scene. There are a number of great restaurants to have lunch — we ate at Cafe Bar Vero and highly recommend it — and some art galleries and Istrian produce shops to browse.

Make sure to stop at Agro-Millo Olive Oil just outside of Groznjan if you want to sample some of the best Istrian olive oil direct from the producer!

Groznjan is filled with art galleries like this one
Groznjan is filled with art galleries like this one

Motovun is probably the most popular and busy hill town in Istria. This beautiful medieval town is located high above the peninsula and offers exquisite views of the surrounding area from its city walls. Be aware that it does get very popular and if the car park is full in the town — and it often is — you will have to park at the base of the hill and hike up.

When leaving Motovun, make sure to head to the nearby town of Livade and go to the Medea-Jankovic honey shop. This family-run shop sells high-quality honey in a number of varieties from their own bees.

Honey from Medea-Jankovic in Livade
Honey from Medea-Jankovic in Livade

They also have their own honey rakija along with hand creams and lip balms from the beeswax. The owners are incredibly friendly and will let you sample everything and offer helpful explanations.

It’s also worth taking a detour a driving a bit along the coast to some other towns and also see the gorgeous Lim Fjord. Great towns to visit include Porec – whose historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and Novigrad. You could also head north and visit nearby Piran in Slovenia.

For dinner, head back to Umag and have a rustic meal at the lovely Konoba Istra or Restoran Mani in the old town. Both are great options for local Istrian fare.

Pljukanci pasta with truffles from Restoran Istra
Pljukanci pasta with truffles from Restoran Istra

Day 6: Rovinj

Rovinj is easily the most notable and popular town to visit on any week in Istria. This beautiful seaside town is enough to make anyone fall in love. We recommend spending two nights here in order to get the most out of Rovinj while also being able to enjoy some sun and sea.

Spend your first full day in Rovinj exploring the town. Rovinj’s Old Town is one of the most magical in Croatia. It is just small enough to be able to see the whole thing in one day, but large enough to be able to get wonderfully lost and find some narrow, cobbled lanes all to yourself.

Take the time to wander around without any sort of agenda and see where your feet might take you…it is sure to charm you around every corner! The Old Town is also a pedestrian-only zone, so you do not need to be on the lookout for cars!

Rovinj's beautiful Old Town
Rovinj’s beautiful Old Town

Much like in Pula, there is a lovely market just at the entrance of the Old Town selling fresh fruits and vegetables and also local Istrian produce. Here you can browse stalls selling olive oil, truffles and truffle products, Croatian lavender, and many varieties of rakija. Most sellers will also offer you samples of their goods.

It is worth noting that there really isn’t much at the Rovinj market that you can’t find at the one in Pula, except that the prices here are noticeably higher.

Therefore, we would recommend buying any Istrian gastronomic souvenirs in Pula rather than in Rovinj in order to save some money and to cut down on your total Croatia trip cost.

Probably the most iconic landmark of Rovinj is St Euphemia’s Church and its bell tower overlooking the picturesque seaside town. This Catholic church is situated on the top of the highest hill in Rovinj’s Old Town and offers great views of the sea and Monte Beach below.

If you want the best view as possible, however, then you need to brave the climb up the bell tower. There are a number of very rickety stairs to climb (some of the worst we have encountered, so it’s not for the faint of heart — especially if you’re afraid of heights), but the views from the top are absolutely spectacular. The strenuous and harrowing climb is always worth it for views like this!

The view of Rovinj from St Euphemia's Church bell tower
The view of Rovinj from St Euphemia’s Church bell tower

And if you want to go for a swim, there are many stone and pebble beaches surrounding Rovinj, however, Monte Beach is the only one that is in the Old Town.

Located directly below St Euphemia’s church, this is more of a rocky swimming area than a beach, but it is perfect for those who want to take the edge off of a hot day with a dip in the Adriatic.

There are several ladders to help you get in and out of the water. It is worth noting that if you’re not a strong swimmer, this may not be the best beach for you as the water is deep and can sometimes get rough.

Make sure to grab a drink at Mediterraneo — this cocktail bar is one of the best places to get an aperitivo in Rovinj. Located directly on the rocky seaside near Monte Beach, it has an extensive cocktail, wine, and beer list and it is the perfect place to watch the sunset or for a romantic evening.

And for dinner head to Kantonin. An inventive Istrian restaurant, Kantinon uses local produce and traditional recipes and gives them a modern spin. The results are absolutely delicious. Located on the harbour, this restaurant is the perfect place for a romantic dinner at an agreeable price.

Or consider eating at Snack Bar Rio, one of the best places if you want a more upmarket seafood meal in Rovinj. They have a great menu with freshly-caught seafood in a beautiful location on the harbour with phenomenal views of St Euphemia’s church. The service is very friendly and they also have an extensive wine list.

Mediterraneo cocktail bar
Mediterraneo cocktail bar

Where to stay in Rovinj

Hotel Angelo d’Oro – a small hotel in the middle of old town Rovinj, this place has a number of rooms on offer and comes very highly rated. Breakfast is also included in the nightly rate.

Rooms Barbieri – located only five minutes from the old town, this charming hotel is a great option for a place to stay in Rovinj. The rooms are large and comfortable and it also includes breakfast in the room rate.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other places in Rovinj!

Day 7: Rovinj

If you’re exhausted after all of the sightseeing that has been included in this itinerary, then there is no better time to hit the beach on your final day. Luckily, Rovinj has a number of beautiful beaches in its surrounding areas. Our favourite, however, was Amarin Beach.

Part of a resort, this beach can be reached from a convenient ferry ride that leaves every half-hour near the Rovinj market. The ride is very affordable each way and takes about fifteen minutes.

The beach itself is pebbly, which makes it comfortable to lay on, and the swimming area is a lot calmer than at Monte Beach making it a better solution for families or those who aren’t as strong of swimmers. There are also snack bars and cafes where you can get drinks, food, and ice cream!

And for your final dinner, if you’re looking for a more local haunt within easy reach of Rovinj’s old town, then look no further than Torkolo. Serving up traditional Istrian specialities, this is a great place for a casual meal and affordable prices.

Sunset in Rovinj
Rovinj at sunset

Istria is an absolutely beautiful corner of Croatia and it deserves to be explored! There are so many wonderful things to do in Istria that it is close to impossible to get bored!

Are you planning to visit Istria? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie


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