Travel Guide to Vacation in Istria
Feel Istria, feel it beating! The heart-shaped region will take your breath away with its wonderfully diverse landscapes both along the coast and inland, with its charming towns and villages by the sea and in the countryside, with a wealth of experiences awaiting you at every turn.
Istria – Terra Magica
Take a look at useful information about your arrival and expected weather conditions, learn about the history and culture devising an outline of the sights you are interested in. Also, find out about the natural beauties you can actively explore, and events to join in for those special moments on holiday. Finally, don’t miss the opportunity for pure pleasure, be it by enjoying irresistible treats of Istrian gastronomy or by indulging in well-being programs for the ultimate relaxation.
Arrival by air. Cozy and fast. Flying to Istria enables you to reach it within just a couple of hours from various parts of Europe. Pula Airport is the main international airport on the peninsula with various flight options available. Another airport is open for smaller aircraft, including private jets, in Medulin, south of Pula.
Pula Airport is located in the south of the Istrian peninsula, approximately 75 km from Novigrad on the northwestern coast or 50 km from Pazin in the heart of the countryside. However, there are also other airports available outside Istria, or even Croatia, which are close enough. For example, Trieste Airport (Italy) is 100 km away from Novigrad, just a bit more than Rijeka Airport on Krk island (116 km). The airport in Ljubljana, Slovenia, is also conveniently near (around 150 km), as are the two airports in Italy, Treviso, and Venice, both at a distance of just a bit more than 200 km.
Arrival by land. Excellent connections between towns primarily due to the Istrian motorway, the so-called ‘Istrian Y’ (Cro. ypsilon), allow you to reach your destination safely and comfortably. Should you be arriving by electric car, there are a number of charging stations available across Istria, so simply check the most convenient options for your journey and holiday.
Administrative units and towns in Istria
The westernmost county, one of twenty in Croatia. Almost the entire peninsula with islands and islets near the coast forms part of Istrian County, which has more than 200 000 inhabitants. The county is then further subdivided into 10 towns and 31 municipalities, which generally consist of several neighbouring villages joined together in a single administrative unit.
The administrative capital of Istria is Pazin, right in the heart of the peninsula. The town spans over the largest surface area in the county and it is best known for its castle right on top of the famous abyss. Still, it is not the largest in terms of inhabitants. In fact, the political and economical centre of the county is actually Pula with roughly six times more people than Pazin. With one of the most popular Croatian sights - the Roman amphitheatre Arena, Pula has been the centre of cultural life in Istria since Antiquity.
Istria also boasts the smallest town in the world - Hum! Despite its population of barely 20 inhabitants, the ‘town’ that takes 5 minutes to see has an interesting story to tell. Namely, the almost millennium-old settlement was built by giants according to the legends. It is also the final stop of the 7-km long Glagolitic Alley from Roč paying tribute to the oldest Slavic alphabet historically used by Croatians until the 19th century.
Coastal towns and villages. One more charming and special than the other. Topping the list is Rovinj with its magical historical core, which also happens to be among the most visited towns and cities in Croatia. Similarly enchanting are the towns of Umag, Novigrad, Poreč, Vrsar and Fažana, all on the western coast of Istria, as well as Rabin with Labac on the eastern coast.
Towns and villages inland. Besides being located in a beautiful countryside, there are a number of places with a very special story and setting, especially the ones located on top of a hill. Enclosed by walls and with a forest nearby, Motovun is among the most popular ones. In Momjan you can stop by a winery and enjoy amazing wines and scenery, or you can go to Grožnjan for its artistic ambiance. Why not also consider a tour of hilltop towns, including Buzet, Oprtalj, Buje, Završje, Bale, Žminj, Labin, Gračišće and Svetvinčenat, for a unique Istrian experience?
Climate and weather
Warm and temperate. Climate in Istria is generally of a Mediterranean type, even though some of its inland shows elements of a continental climate as well. It is the result of its specific geographical location and features, including the sea and rivers such as Dragonja, Mirna, Pazinčica and Raša, Učka mountain, and relative proximity to the Alps.
The Mediterranean climate basically means dry and warm summers, and mild short winters with generally no snow. When it comes to rainfall, the annual precipitation is moderate, with December as the wettest and July as the driest month. In fact, with 2400 hours of sunshine annually, Istria truly promises favourable weather conditions for a holiday most part of the year. Average temperatures rarely go below 0 degrees, and there are around 260 days with temperatures higher than 10 degrees.
Annual temperatures. The coldest month is January, while the sunniest and warmest are July and August. During those summer months you can also expect a period of hot weather with temperatures rising over 30 degrees, a period that usually lasts around 20 days. It also happens to be the time of the most popular bathing season. Fans of outdoor activities and sailing particularly like the months of May, June, September and October, since pleasant weather with temperatures between 20 and 25 are just perfect for spending time at sea and in the countryside.
Sea temperatures. Enjoying the sea is possible way beyond the summer months. In fact, the bathing season lasts from April through October. The sea is the warmest in August with an average peak of 24 degrees, although it can reach 26 within the hotter period.
Overall, Istria has excellent conditions for holidaymakers who like to explore the seaside, the countryside and all the peninsula has to offer. From spring through autumn.
Curious about the tale of Istria? The peninsula truly has a magnificent story to tell, from prehistoric times to modern era. A place where cultures have met for centuries and millennia, as reflected in the rich heritage.
From dinosaurs onwards! Long before humans found their home in Istria, it was dinosaurs who walked the lands here, as evidenced by various findings. Namely, there are dinosaur footprints more than 130 million years old, which you can see in the Brijuni National Park as well as in the protected area of Cape Kamenjak. The remains of dinosaur bones were also found at a special paleontological reserve in Datule.
Early humans. The natural environment in Istria, particularly the numerous caves, provided shelter to the primitive people living on the peninsula in prehistoric times. Most of the findings, artefacts and bones, were in fact found in caves such as Šandalja site near Pula, Romuald’s Cave near Lim Channel and Vergotino Cave near Poreč. Following the climate change from 6000 BC onwards, the first settlements started to be built. The remains of some prehistoric settlements can still be seen today: Gradina on Brijuni islands, Monkodonja near Rovinj, Nesactium near Pula, Picugi near Poreč.
Histrians. The first historically recorded inhabitants on the peninsula were the Histrian tribe, as mentioned in the Greek and Roman writings in Antiquity. They were hunters, farmers, traders and notorious pirates who lived in their hill-top forts until they were defeated by the Romans.
The Roman period. There were practically 5 centuries of Roman rule which involved the introduction of all the developments of Roman civilization at the time in the area. From urbanization and new towns such as Pula, roads and civil engineering, to culture and way of life, Istria profited from their rule. The most famous monuments of the era are the Arena amphitheatre and the Temple of Augustus, both in Pula.
The Middle Ages. Istria saw various changes both in terms of rulers and society with a number of monuments to testify to challenges of the past. For example, the Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč dates back to the rule of the Byzantine Empire. Similarly, from the 7th century onwards Slavic tribes, among them Croatians as well, began settling in the area and adapting to existing society. They also accepted Christianity, even though some pagan customs, such as carnivals, have withstood the test of time. Society and lifestyle further changed under the rule of Charlemagne and the Frankish State from the late 8th century, when feudalism was introduced in Istria as well.
The Venetian/Habsburg period. From the 10th century till the end of the 18th century the Venetians left their mark on the Istrian peninsula, particularly on the coastal towns such as Poreč, Umag, Novigrad and Rovinj. They flourished economically and kept their autonomy from the feudal lords, but were ruled by a Venetian governor. While the Venetians held power on the coast, the inland came under the rule of the Habsburg Empire from the 14th century with the Pazin Castle as its stronghold. The peninsula came under a single ruler, the Habsburg Monarchy, with the demise of the Venetian Republic in 1797.
Austrian Empire. Following a brief Napoleonic rule at the beginning of the 19th century, Istria once again became a part of the Austrian Empire. During this period, summer residences of aristocracy started to be built especially in Opatija and vicinity, while Pula became the centre for the military and administration. The century was also marked by a rising Croatian national awareness.
Istria in the 20th century. After another period of Italian rule, the territory of Istria became a part of Yugoslavia after the Second World War. When Croatia declared independence in 1991, Istria continued to form part of the new country.
Open the treasure chest of rich cultural heritage in Istria! From prehistoric inhabitants and Romans, from medieval times through Venetian and Austrian rules, there certainly is a lot to explore on the peninsula. So, embark on a journey of discovery and get to know the story of Istria in depth by visiting its most popular sights and learning about the customs.
Early Christian monuments. Apart from the invaluable Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, another example of Byzantine art and architecture is St. Mary Formosa in Pula. Similarly, the remains of the St. Sophia’s Church in the midst of the castle ruins in Dvigrad is a magical site to explore.
Roman heritage. One of the world’s most preserved examples of a Roman amphitheater is Arena in Pula, where you can also see the Augustus’ Temple, the Golden Gate, the Twin Gate and more. The historical core of Poreč is another example of Roman urbanization, along with the remains of ancient villas found on Brijuni island and near Medulin.
Venetian heritage. While the Venetians left their mark mostly on the coast, a number of sights from that period in history can be found across the peninsula with the historical centre of Buje as a great example. Other sights include the Soardo-Bembo Palace in Bale, the Bishop’s Tower in Umag, the town square and cistern in Vižinada, the square and parish church in Svetvinčenat, Twin Gates and the Communal Palace in Motovun, defensive walls in Novigrad and many more.
Austrian heritage. In addition to summer residences, there are many buildings that serve as a reminder of the impact the Austrian rule had on society in general. These include the Pula Market, Verudela Fortress, Punta Christo Fortress, Military Hospital, Riviera Hotel in Pula, Palazzo Hotel in Poreč, Savudrija lighthouse and more.
Istrian castles. Apart from the magical medieval Morosini-Grimani castle in Svetvinčenat and the impressive Pazin Castle, there are a number of others whose remains awaken the imagination. For example, you can explore the Momjan castle while taking a wine tour in the local wineries or stop by Dvigrad, which is roughly between Rovinj and Pazin.
Customs and cultural experiences. There are a number of fascinating cultural experiences awaiting you in Istria. Taking a walk along the Glagolitic Alley, you learn about the old Slavic alphabet that used to be used by Croatians. The trail includes various monuments along the road from Roč to Hum. Also, the former railway Parenzana has been turned into a popular trail leading through the countryside past hilltop towns. Visiting Vodnjan, don’t miss the unique photo opportunity with ‘kožuns’, a traditional dry stone shelter used for centuries in Istria.
Top sights. Discover and visit the landmarks of Istria! While the peninsula has a wealth of stories to tell about its attractions, there are a few that regularly stand out such as: the Roman amphitheater Arena in Pula, UNESCO World Heritage Site - Euphrasian Basilica in the historical center of Poreč, Church of St. Euphemia in the historical core of Rovinj, Pazin Castle and town walls in Motovun.
Natural attractions and top beaches
Take a deep breath and enjoy the beauty around you. Sea, islands and beaches, rivers and forests, hills and mountains. Istria offers you the perfect setting to get back to nature, disconnect and rest, whether you actively explore it or just find your piece of heaven in a single place.
Brijuni National Park. Two islands and twelve islets form the Brijuni archipelago off the Istrian coast near Fažana. The wonderful nature on and around them is not the only reason why they were declared a national park. Namely, the Brijuni also have rich cultural-historical heritage. Fans of boating, nature lovers and active holiday seekers immensely enjoy all they have to offer.
Učka Nature Park. The green oasis of Istria is situated along its eastern coast. Whether you hike or ride a bike along its trails, you are in for spectacular views of the peninsula, Kvarner bay and islands.
Lim Channel. Admire nature all around and enjoy delicious shellfish the area is famous for! The channel between Rovinj and Vrsar is around 12 km long with hills on both sides.
Cape Kamenjak. The southernmost point of Istria is known for its untouched landscapes, crystal clear sea, rugged coastline with cliffs, coves and caves. Just perfect for a day trip with a bit of exploring.
Caves. Take in the fascinating geomorphological shapes that took millions of years to create in various caves across Istria. The most attractive and popular ones include Mramornica Cave near Brtonigla, Baredine Cave near Poreč and Pazin Cave.
Motovun Forest. Experience the mystery of the thick forest near the hilltop town of Motovun! Home to the most prized white truffle, the forest is protected due to its immense value. Namely, it is a great example of a rare alluvial hardwood forest.
Beaches in Istria. Secluded in a lovely cove. Rocky, pebbly & sandy. With various amenities, water sports and beach bars. The peninsula offers a great variety to choose for all types of holidaymakers.
Western beaches. If you are a fan of quiet sandy beaches, go to Zambratija near Umag. Not far from this town in the north, you can also have a lovely time by the sea at the pebbly and sandy beach Polynesia, which is adapted for people with disabilities. Another beach that caters to various tastes is Lanterna between Novigrad and Poreč, which offers diverse amenities and has a pet-friendly area. Naturists travelling with pets can also head to Koversada in Vrsar, the largest naturist beach in Europe. Continuing further south to Rovinj, don’t miss Lone Bay within the protected Golden Cape Forest Park (Cro. Zlatni rt) and its beautiful pebbly beaches with the perfect green backdrop of the park trees.
Southern beaches. Pula boasts a number of amazing beaches, some of which are also popular stops for kayak tours, e.g. the pebbly and rocky Cyclon’s Beach with plenty of natural pine tree shade. For a bit of a special thrill head to the so-called Hawaii Beach on the Verudela peninsula, where you can have fun with large waves or go cliff jumping. Go also to Cape Kamenjak in search of quiet, untouched beaches with the lovely sea just perfect for snorkeling and diving. And with pine trees, pebbles, sand and rocks, and cliffs some of which you can also dive off into the crystal clear water.
Eastern beaches. The eastern coast of Istria is much more rugged, steeper, and rockier as opposed to the other side of the peninsula. As a result, there are fewer beaches, but no less lovely. The village of Rabac is particularly known for the stunning beauty of the beaches. The pebbly beaches with the turquoise sea are an amazing sight and welcoming for all types of beachgoers.
Gastronomy and enology
Take your taste buds on a fabulous gastronomic journey in Istria, a true gourmet’s paradise! Namely, the healthy Mediterranean cuisine is complemented with authentic native elements that give it a quite unique flair. When enjoyed with locally produced wine of the finest quality, the well-rounded Istrian meal promises a culinary experience to remember.
Authentic flavors of Istria. Fans of fish and seafood, meat lovers and vegetarians alike can easily find their favourites in the Istrian cuisine, the food that is locally sourced and freshly prepared for the ultimate gastronomic pleasure. For example, wild asparagus in spring serves as the main ingredient in imaginative creations of modern Istrian gastronomy.
Have the Adriatic Sea served on your plate and revel in the magnificent Jacob’s scallops from Novigrad, sole fish from Savudrija and mussels or oysters from Lim Channel. Istria is also home to indigenous cattle called boškarin, the source of lovely meat-based dishes.
When it comes to exquisite delicacies, don’t miss the opportunity to try the truffle, a true gourmet gem found in the Istrian countryside. Its specific taste adds that special something to a variety of dishes, including native Istrian pasta called fuži or pljukanci.
Premium wines of Istria. With a tradition of winemaking going back to the ancient Romans, Istria indeed has ideal conditions for the production of excellent wines. Apart from international wine sorts, the vineyards in Istria also produce native sorts such as malvasia, teran and momjan muscat.
The wine is produced mostly in the western part of the peninsula, near Buje, Umag and Poreč, and central Istria, near Pazin and Motovun. Just like the picturesque Italian region of Tuscany, the wine bearing vineyards of Istria form magical landscapes that are well worth the visit. It is precisely for that reason, why the peninsula has various marked wine roads. Namely, wineries such as Kabola, Matošević, Kozlović and others offer an insight into the art of wine making along with sampling of exceptional wines. So, don’t miss the opportunity to nibble on delicious prosciutto, cheeses and other delicacies beautifully paired with Istrian wines, all the while enjoying the wonderful countryside.
Olive oil roads. Olive oil is one of the most important elements of Mediterranean cuisine and, similarly to wine, it has been produced in Istria since ancient Roman times. Istrian olive oil, especially the extra virgin kind, is well-known for its excellent quality. Apart from offering you a taste of Istria, the olive oil is also an imaginative souvenir to take home with you.
In addition to presenting and celebrating various types of Istrian olive oils during special events and festivals, Istrian producers also offer tours along the marked olive oil roads. So, explore the magnificent countryside of the peninsula and learn about the art of olive oil production. Your hosts will warmly welcome you to their tasting room and olive groves, and serve exquisite samples with authentic Istrian delicacies.
Add a special touch to your stay in Istria by visiting special events! From gastronomy to local traditions, from sports to art, the events calendar is full of exciting entries. So, make sure you don’t miss out on the fun happening right at the time of your visit.
Arena Pula. It might not represent a specific event, but the ancient Roman amphitheatre is the perfect venue for a variety of performances. Whether you are there for the Pula Film Festival (in July) or a concert given by Croatian or international artists, you are in for an unforgettable experience in a magical ambiance.
Ulysses Theatre. The Fort Minor on the island of Mali Brijun turns into one large stage where Croatian, European and international artists gather for pure art in the magical ambiance of the national park. Take your pick from a number of exceptional theatre performances and concerts in July and August.
Motovun Film Festival. End of July the most famous Istrian hilltop town transforms into an open-air cinema. The festival focuses on small productions and independent movies, with the quaint town giving the screenings a special feel.
Croatia Open Umag. The town in northwestern Istria transforms into a stage for sports achievements and fun in the second part of July. Apart from participation of major tennis players and exciting matches for all fans of the sport, the entertainment program featuring musical performances by DJs and a food festival is a reason more to be there.
Music festivals. Enjoy and dance to the beat of music at various festivals held in Istria! For example, at the end of May, you can get ready for the perfect warm-up for the summer with the annual Sea Star Festival in Umag.
Art festivals. From classical music, dance to street art, Istria sets the stage for artists from all over the world to present their work. For example, the town of Labin practically becomes the Istrian capital of art with its Labin Art Republika taking place in July and August. Fans of street art can take a stroll in historical streets in Novigrad and Poreč, and watch performers work their magic in June and August respectively. If you like dancing, head to Rovinj and Opatija in June to join in the Summer Sensual Days in a Latin beat, or go to Svetvinčenat for its annual Dance & Non-Verbal Theatre Festival San Vicenti in July. Classical music fans can also expect a special experience at a concert in Euphrasian Basilica from July through November, or enjoy some jazz in the enchanting towns of Bale and Grožnjan, with festivals held in July.
Wine and food festivals. An inevitable part of numerous events, Istrian delicacies and authentic products also have festivals and fairs dedicated to them mostly in spring and autumn. For example, you can sample imaginative creations with wild asparagus from late March through April in northwestern Istria during the Days of Asparagus. In May you can try various olive oils and home-made products during the Oleum Olivarum in Buje or go on a wine tour during the Wine Day. In September head to Svetvinčentat to nibble on a selection of cheeses. Then in October you can join the hunt for the Istrian culinary treasure during the Truffle Days.
Local festivals and fairs. In a small village inland, in a town on the coast. There is hardly a place in Istria that doesn’t celebrate its special day, more often than not in the summer. Lively music, dance, customs, and irresistible Istrian food are what await you on such occasions.
Be active, feel positivity and thrill of adventure in Istria! Be it on land, at sea or in the air. Getting in shape and keeping fit cannot get better than in the breathtaking natural environment of the peninsula.
Hiking. Put on your hiking boots and walk along the walking paths in Istria! Some of the most popular trails include the 7 Waterfalls Trail, a circular route from Buzet, and the educational trails in Učka Nature Park. Still, you can take your pick from a variety of routes, be it in the historical coastal towns, along promenades, through forests, past vineyards and olive groves, uphill and through charming villages.
Cycling. Hop on a bike or an e-bike and go on an exciting ride of discovery. Get to know the beauty and diversity of Istrian landscapes, along the coast or inland. Follow the former railway route Parenzana leading through tunnels, across viaducts and bridges, past hilltop towns and lovely lookouts. For an additional cycling thrill try MTB trails on Učka mountain.
Kayak and SUP. Get a different view of the coast by kayaking or SUPing! While you don't have to pick a particular place to have active fun in a kayak or on an SUP board, there are a number of locations that add a special thrill to the activity such as Cape Kamenjak, the Mirna river, Mali Brijun, Pula area.
Boating with snorkeling/diving. Explore the wonderful coast of Istria by taking a boat ride. Why not also complete the experience with a bit of snorkeling? For example, Cape Kamenjak and Verige Bay (Veli Brijuni) are excellent spots to do precisely that. Fans of diving can also have their share of a good time by discovering the magnificent world under the surface off the coast of Istria, with dive sites including shipwrecks and reefs.
Paragliding. Feel the excitement of seeing the beauty of the Istrian peninsula from above! If the weather conditions are favorable, you can go paragliding all year round. Simply take your pick from one of the 10 take-off sites in northern Istria and enjoy the thrilling ride.
Adventure. Get the ultimate adrenaline rush and challenge yourself to do exciting activities on holiday! Apart from the riveting zipline across the Pazin Abyss, there are a number of adventure parks all over the peninsula with rope courses, paintball, archery, buggy rides and more.
Rock climbing. Practice your endurance and skills, and admire spectacular views of the Istrian countryside. There are around 1200 climbing routes available and the most attractive ones include the crags such as Kompanji near the town of Buzet or Medveja on the eastern coast of Istria, old quarry near Rovinj, as well as great routes in Dvigrad and Lim Channel.
Golf. Disconnect and recharge on the green courses in Istria! Use the moment to work on your strokes and enjoy your favourite pastime in beautiful surroundings. From the north to the south of the peninsula there are a variety of golf courses available such as Golf Club Adriatic in Savudrija.
Spa and wellness
Leave the daily routine, work assignments and stress behind, and enter the world of relaxation in Istria! While a holiday gives you the perfect opportunity to disconnect, it is also the right moment to work on your health and regain balance between your body and mind. Apart from actively exploring the region, you can also do yoga and meditate in beautiful surroundings, not to mention make use of a wide variety of body treatments that promise glowing skin and feel-good moments. Indeed, why not indulge in pure pleasure in a stress-free zone in Istria?
The origins of wellness in Istria. The beneficial effects of the water from the thermal spring St. Stephen’s have been known and used since Antiquity. The area in Livade right next to a large rock called Gorostas (Cro. ‘giant’) is well known for its favourable climate and it represents the perfect oasis of rest. The present privately owned resort uses the therapeutic properties of water in alleviating and treating various diseases as well as offering a comprehensive wellness program.
Wellness programs. Indulge in wellbeing treatments and experience absolute pleasure to your liking! From simple, classical options to modern, special programs, there is a great selection for you to choose from. Feel like having a detox treatment with extracts of lavender and rosemary applied or a full wellness face and body ritual? Want to feel the seaweed or mud work their magic, or leave your skin completely smooth with a peeling containing Adriatic salt and lavender? Or do you wish to have your muscles relieved from any tension with special massages, be it a Mediterranean-inspired therapy, antistress or olive oil massage, Volcanic rocks massage and the like? There are a number of hotels and resorts across Istria that have special facilities, including saunas and state-of-the-art spa zones, for your pure enjoyment.
Unique wellness experience. Right in the privacy of your holiday accommodation! Having a private wellness therapist and professional come to you can be arranged, especially when staying in a luxury Borghetto villa. Just imagine it, enjoying your special time at the pool, sunbathing on a lounger and then getting a relaxing massage without having to leave the premises.
The land of the blue sea, green forests and mountains. The land of picturesque coastal towns and enchanting hilltop towns and villages in the countryside. The land of rich cultural-historical heritage and a vibrant present. The land of delicious food and premium wines. Referred to as terra magica (Lat. ’magical land’) since ancient Roman times, Istria indeed has had a special charm that will take your breath away.
So, let it cast its spell and provide you with a peaceful shelter to rest. On a beach in the cool shade of fragrant pine trees. Sunbathing on a deck of a speedboat in a secluded cove. Visiting the sights in an ancient coastal town. At the top of a mountain with spectacular views. Or on a hill, wandering the cobbled streets of a medieval town. On an outdoor terrace delighting in the local flavours. Or enjoying a relaxing massage in the privacy of your luxury holiday villa.
Simply experience it all on your holiday. With all your heart. In the heart-shaped Istria.