Pula or Rovinj? Where to Stay in Istria

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by Maggie Turansky


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Deciding between a base in Pula or Rovinj is a quandary for many visitors to Croatia’s delightful Isrria region. Pula is a large city and the gateway to the region while Rovinj is the picture-perfect coastal town that’s packed with history and adorns postcards sent the world over. But which town suits you more?

Istria is an incredible region and in an ideal world, you would have time to dedicate a week or more to exploring the area. However, if you only have a short amount of time to explore Istria, choosing the best base for your interests and travel needs is going to be essential.

In general, choose Pula if you’re after a more urban escape with lots of things to do, incredible history and a local feel. On the other hand, choose Rovinj for a picturesque old town, easy access to beaches and swimming spots and for a romantic escape.

Rovinj at sunset
Rovinj at sunset

Pula

The largest city in the Istrian region, Pula has been an important port in Croatia. Like the entirety of Istria, Pula has a fascinating history dating back centuries and draws a number of cultural influences.

Once under the rule of ancient Rome and the Venetians, more recently Pula has been part of Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Yugoslavia before Croatia became its own independent country in the 1990s.

From ancient Roman times until 1991, Pula was the administrative capital of Istria. Because of all of the influences, there are many layers of Pula that just beg to be discovered.

So is Pula worth visiting? Though it isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as Rovinj or some other towns in Istria, Pula has a lot to offer tourists from its ancient amphitheatre to a number of interesting museums.

Accessibility

If you’re only planning on visiting Istria as part of your Croatia itinerary, Pula is the most logical starting point as it is home to the region’s only international airport, located only about 8 kilometres outside of the city centre.

Though the airport is largely seasonal, it serves a multitude of destinations across Europe from most both major and budget airlines, such as Ryanair, EasyJet, British Airways, and Norwegian.

There is also a central bus station in Pula that has direct connections with most major Croatian cities and international cities in neighbouring countries, along with most destinations and points of interest within Istria itself.

Because it is the largest city in Istria, Pula is definitely the region’s transport hub, so it is easy to reach just about everywhere in the region. For instance, if you choose to base yourself in Pula but still want to visit Rovinj, you can easily reach the latter town by bus or car within about 45 minutes to an hour.

However, if you want to use Pula as a base and explore the rest of Istria by day trip, then it is worth knowing that some places of interest (such as hill towns to the north) might be a bit of a journey.

It can help to rent a car, but the main tourist attractions on the west coast are within closer proximity to Rovinj vs Pula.

If you want to rent a car while you’re in Istria, we recommend looking for great deals on RentalCars.com which aggregates prices from many major companies.

Pula is, however, closer to the lesser-visited east coast of Istria with picturesque seaside villages like Opatija and Rabac or hill towns like Labin or Pazin.

The imposing Pula Arena
The imposing Pula Arena

Things to do in Pula

If you’re looking for a base where you can take some interesting day trips but also enjoy a number of fun things to do within the city, then Pula is the place for you!

Pula’s most iconic tourist attraction would have to be the Pula Arena, an excellently preserved Roman colosseum built between 27 BCE – 68 CE. It is easy to spend an hour or two wandering around this impressive ancient structure.

Pula also has quite a few interesting museums, including Zerostrasse (a series of tunnels beneath the city that was originally intended for use as a bunker but is now a local art exhibition), the Istrian Museum of Contemporary Art, and the House of Istrian Olive Oil.

All of these museums will give you insight into Pula and Istria as a whole from ancient times to the present day.

Another benefit to choosing to stay in Pula over Rovinj is its proximity to the wonderful Brijuni Islands. The main island was once the summer residence of former Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito and today it is a nature reserve and wildlife park.

Spending a day riding a bicycle around the islands is one of the best things you could do on your trip to Istria.

Affordability

If you’re trying to stick to a budget and you’re struggling to choose between Rovinj or Pula, then it might help you to know that Pula, on the whole, Pula is the slightly more affordable Istrian city.

Maybe because it is bigger or maybe because it just doesn’t have quite the romantic charm of Rovinj (it is considerably more industrial, but this does not take away from it in the slightest!), but Pula hasn’t attracted the tourism numbers quite like Rovinj has and its prices match that.

There are a few more budget accommodation options, Airbnb properties (both private rooms and whole apartments) are about 10-15% cheaper, and the rooms in smaller hotels are slightly less as well.

The same goes for restaurants — while there are certainly several restaurants in Pula that are geared toward foreign tourists with prices to match, the upcharge isn’t quite as significant as it is in Rovinj.

All in all, if you’re looking to cut a bit from your overall Croatia trip cost, then Pula might be the best option for you.

Where to Stay in Pula

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

Boutique Hotel Valsabbion – If you’re looking for a little bit of luxury during your stay in Pula, then this boutique hotel is a fantastic option. They have a range of plush rooms available, a chic, modern swimming pool and an unbeatable beachside location along with numerous other amenities.

Private Rental – This is another fantastic option if you’re looking for some privacy in a whole apartment such as this comfortable city apartment.

Crazy House Hostel – Centrally located, this hostel is a great place to stay if you’re on a tight budget or travelling solo. It has both dorm and private rooms on offer and also a nice outdoor terrace to relax on warm days.

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

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

Rovinj

Located in the middle of the west coast of Istria, Rovinj is arguably the most beautiful town in the region. The pedestrian-only old town is situated on a small peninsula, dominated by the iconic bell tower of St Euphemia’s Church and surrounded by a rocky coastline.

The town itself is undeniably picturesque and it is sure to charm you with every turn down a narrow cobbled lane.

Because of its beauty and Croatia’s increasing presence for international tourism, however, the small city can get quite crowded. Despite this, Rovinj remains a must-visit destination in Istria, be that for just a day or for a few nights.

Accessibility

If you’re arriving by plane, the closest airport is Pula International. There are bus connections from the airport to Rovinj but do make sure to check the timetable before your flights to make sure they are running when you land/take off as they don’t run as frequently as you might think.

The Rovinj Bus Station is located just outside of the Old Town so it’s very convenient to reach, as well.

If your flight arrives too early or late, it is also possible to organise a transfer with a local company, however, these will be significantly more expensive than relying on public transport.

Another popular option is to rent a car, especially if you plan to take a number of day trips from Rovinj. While a car is certainly not necessary in Rovinj itself — the Old Town is a pedestrian-only zone as it is and everything is within easy walking distance — having a car to explore elsewhere in Istria will allow you to see the sites you want on your own time without being beholden to bus timetables or expensive tour operators.

If you’re interested in seeing some sites just outside of Rovinj’s Old Town, it is also worth knowing that the town is very cycle-friendly and you can hire a bicycle for a couple of hours or multiple days at affordable prices.

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

Things to do in Rovinj

Though definitely more traditionally beautiful than Pula, Rovinj is significantly smaller and doesn’t have as many activities or things to do in the city — especially if you’re more interested in the cultural and historic side of Istria.

That being said, however, Rovinj is arguably the better option if you are after a relaxing seaside holiday in a beautiful setting. The main draw of Rovinj is inarguably its postcard-perfect Old Town and many hours can be spent just strolling around the narrow cobbled streets.

Visiting St Euphemia’s Church and braving the climb up its bell tower is one of the best things to do in the town and it can provide spectacular views over Rovinj and the surrounding areas.

There are also a number of rock and pebble beaches and swimming areas within very easy reach of Rovinj, including Monte Beach — which is located directly below the church in the Old Town.

Rovinj is also a great base for exploring some of the most beautiful parts of Green Istria and enjoying the unique gastronomy that the inland region has to offer. The charming hill towns of Bale, Buje, Groznjan, and Motovun are closer and easier to reach from Rovinj than from Pula and no trip to Istria is complete without marvelling at the beauty of these medieval towns.

Rovinj is also a great location to go wine tasting — Istria is one of Croatia’s top grape-growing regions and the wines produced from hundreds of vineyards are unique and delicious.

All in all, if you’re after a more relaxing seaside holiday, then Rovinj might be the better option for where to stay in Istria.

Affordability

As mentioned earlier, Rovinj is definitely the biggest tourist draw in Istria and it has prices to match. Therefore, it is noticeably more expensive to visit and stay there than Pula — with prices much more akin to those you will find in other, more popular European destinations.

While the prices certainly aren’t quite as high as those in, say, Dubrovnik, it’s not exactly a budget travel destination.

There are a seemingly endless amount of restaurants in Rovinj’s old town, most catered specifically toward tourists with prices to match. You have to search hard to find a quality, local eatery and often you have to walk a significant distance outside the old town or seaside in order to get there.

Drink prices as well are significantly higher, especially if you want to enjoy a cocktail directly on the water.

Because it is a popular tourist destination, there are a number of accommodation options in Rovinj, from high-end beach resorts to small guesthouses to private apartment rentals. This is much the same as most towns in Istria, however, you will notice that nightly rates are higher here than in Pula.

Where to Stay in Rovinj

Hotel Angelo d’Oro – Located in the centre of Old Town Rovinj, this small boutique hotel has a number of clean and comfortable rooms available and also a free breakfast for its guests!

Rooms Barbieri – Though not located in the Old Town proper, this small hotel is within five minutes walking distance of the most beautiful areas in Rovinj. The rooms are large and comfortable and it also includes breakfast in the room rate.

Private Rental – There are also a number of options in Rovinj for private rentals such as this beautiful sea view apartment in the Old Town. Click here to see the best private rentals in Rovinj!

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

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

Pula or Rovinj? The Verdict

Overall, there are different pros and cons to choosing to stay in either Istrian town. Both are wonderful places and well worth a visit even if you are staying in one or the other.

If you’re still struggling, we would recommend staying in Pula if you are travelling on a smaller budget and want to save money on potentially expensive airport transfers and accommodation options.

Pula might also be the better option if you want a wider wealth of cultural opportunities, including numerous museums and historical sites to explore, as well as a more local feel that is less geared toward foreign tourists.

Rovinj is a great option if you’re after a more quintessential Croatian seaside escape. Its stunning, romantic Old Town and proximity to some of the best beaches and swimming areas in the region make Rovinj an appealing choice for where to stay in Istria as well.

While there aren’t as many cultural activities as there are in Pula, Rovinj makes up for it in its undeniable charm. It is also a good option if your budget is more flexible and not as fixed.

Sun shining through the Pula Arena
Sun shining through the Pula Arena

You really can’t go wrong with a choice between staying in Pula or Rovinj, however, each city has its own set of advantages. Wherever you choose to stay on your Istrian adventure, there is no denying that this is one of the most underrated regions of Croatia and you’re sure to have a fabulous time!

Are you struggling to choose between Pula vs Rovinj? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments below!

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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

Comments

  1. I am really struggling between Pula and Rovinj. I have a week booked with my 11 year old daughter and have a hotel reserved in Pula but now looking at the photos of the Rovinj old town it looks so pretty and might be a better option for us. How long does a bus take to go from Pula or Rovinj? Maybe we can do some day trips there and see the beaches. Which has the better beaches? We are staying in the Park Plaza Verdula which has good reviews. Is Pula a busy city?

    Reply
    • Hi Elaine, I think that either city could be a good option for you, but I do think that Pula has more to offer that also might be of interest to you daughter — the amphitheatre is super cool, as is Zerostrasse, which is a series of underground tunnels, and the Pula market is definitely less touristy and kitschy than the one of Rovinj. Both Pula and Rovinj are close to some great beaches within easy reach. You can also easily get to Rovinj from Pula and you can very much enjoy Rovinj as a day trip. I hope this helps you make your decision.

      Reply
  2. Hi Maggie,
    Thanks for such a nice detailed post. I am planning to go there. Do you know if there is a day pass/weekend pass for the public transport in Pula or one needs to buy the tickets one at a time?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment and I’m glad that you found the post helpful! From my research, there is a transit card that you can purchase in Pula, however, it costs about €10 initially, while a single fare bus ticket only costs about €1.50. As Pula is a very walkable city, it is likely that you will only need to use the bus a couple of times if you are only visiting for a few days, so I would generally recommend just buying single-ride tickets from the driver, it will probably work out to be more cost-effective this way.

      Reply
  3. Hello, it is always quite intreresting to see what the people from all around the planet have to say about our 3000 year-old coastal town. I would just like to mention that 100 metres from famous Arena Roman amphitheatre, there’s a “MEMO – Museum of Good Memories” that I highly recommend everyone to visit. Must try foods in Pula are “ćevapi u lepinji” (minced meat sticks with special red salsa in special bread), Istrian prosciutto and “krempita” (cremeschnitte – cream cake dessert). Another info for your readers: there’s a strong reason why Pula is called Pula Rock City 🙂

    Reply

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