Charming Towns of Istria Peninsula, Croatia

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The Istria Peninsula in Croatia has many charming towns for you to visit.

And don’t be surprised if it feels like a little slice of heaven. At times you may even believe you are in the Mediterranean.

For you history lovers, you will find the perfect example of a:

  • Roman Amphitheatre
  • Roman Gates
  • Medieval old towns

And for those who love the sun, numerous beaches are along the coastline.

Travel inland for tranquillity; the sample is locally grown olives while drinking local wine; feast on seafood, or perhaps some roast pork may tempt you.

If you plan an itinerary of Croatia, you must put the Istria Peninsula on your best of Croatia.

To help you plan a Croatian road trip or a weekend getaway in Croatia, check out these posts:

How to Enjoy Split old town, beaches, and islands

Must-See Sights of Zadar


See more of Istria when you Hire a Car

Hiring a car to explore the 3600 sq km of Istria is a popular way to see this amazing Peninsula.

A car offers flexibility that public transport doesn’t offer.

Make sure to check one-way rates before you commit to the hire.

1. A Walking Guide of Pula

Roman Amphitheater showing 3 levels
Roman Amphitheater, Pula Croatia

Our first attempt to visit Pula was thwarted by a storm we encountered in Trieste that lasted three days. So when we decided to revisit Croatia, we were determined not to miss seeing Pula.

Pula is a protected coastal harbour, which has been an ideal strategic location throughout the centuries.

It is well known for the Roman amphitheatre, which dates back to 27 BC and is one of the best-preserved Arenas in the world.

The arena has three levels with tunnels and could hold 26,000 spectators.  Tours are available, although it is said that walking the exterior is just as good.

Make sure you take an evening stroll to the arena as it’s very enchanting for sunset, especially if you book a concert.

Highlights of Pula Walking Path

4 pillars of a narrow stone temple
Temple of Augustus in Pula

Triumphal Arch of Sergius leads to the old town and a walk along a Roman road.

Enjoy a coffee at Forum Square and people-watch.

Visit the Temple of Augustus (restored after WWII). It is one of the two best examples of Roman Monuments outside Italy (the other is Maison Carree in Nimes, France).

The Venetian Fortress was built between 1630 and 1633 and has great views over the city.

Porta d’Ercole, or Hercules Gate, was built in the 1st century and is said to be Pula’s oldest preserved monument of Roman architecture.

Zerostrasse is worth a visit to walk a system of subterranean tunnels first built as war shelters in the early 1900s.


2. Wandering the streets of Rovinj

View of Rovinj Croatia
View of Rovinj Croatia

Rovinj’s seaside, hillside town draws you in with your first sight of the beautiful old town from the harbour below.

Make sure to walk along the cobblestoned streets and peek down some small lanes leading to the harbour below.

We were surprised to find a pretty silk dress shop tucked away down one of these lanes.

No trip to Rovinj is complete without a walk up to the Church of St. Euphemia, where you are rewarded with stunning views. Inside the church, you will find the tomb of St Euphemia behind the right-hand altar.

If you like people-watching, head to the harbour, which is scattered with restaurants. For a quieter lunch, the streets down from the church have an old-character feel.

If a picnic is on your list, then the large local market has plenty of local fresh produce.

3. Seafood Lunch at Porec

Seafood lunch of octopus
Enjoying Seafood on the Istria Peninsula

Porec was an administrative centre for the Romans in the 2nd century. Today, you can still walk the ancient Roman Decumanus on the main street of Porec.

Porec is 35 km from Rovinj and nestled on its little peninsula.

When the Roman Empire fell, Porec came under Byzantine rule. During this time, the UNESCO World Heritage Episcopal Complex of the Basilica, dating to the 4th century, was erected.

If you love Byzantine architecture and frescoes, the Basilica is well worth a visit as you will wander past old medieval walls and Venetian-style houses.

Porec is a great place for lunch, and many restaurants have sea views that entice you to stop and taste the local seafood. Grilled calamari is the best.

4. Casanova’s medieval town of Bale

Bale in Croatia
Walking medieval streets in Bale, Croatia

Bale is an inland medieval town and was once a Roman Fortress. So when you enter the small medieval old town, you will find the streets encircle the church of St. Julian’s. If you decide to visit inside, you will find the 8th-century sarcophagus.

Browsing the local Artisan shops and sampling the locally grown olive oil is a great introduction to Bale and its people.

The unexpected highlight for us was learning that Casanova spent some time in Bale while visiting his lovers at Palace Bembo-Soardo.


5. Staying in the village of Sveti Lovrec

Lavenders fields in the foreground of a stone village
Sveti Lovrec – Istria Peninsula

You may have guessed already our love for staying in one location to explore nearby places. And when visiting Istria, we made no exception.

We found a lovely Airbnb Apartment, Ana Radici, with a local family in the village of Sveti Lovrec.

Our one-bedroom apartment had an outlook of the garden with a terrace to relax with a coffee.


Enjoy Roasted Pork for Lunch

Roasting a pig on a spit outside a restaurant
Roasting the Pig

One of the things we often saw when driving in Croatia was a roadside restaurant with a pig roasting on the fire. Of course, we had to stop and investigate.

The aroma reached our nostrils; we were tempted.

Make sure to check out the price first before sampling a flavoursome dish.

If you arrive for lunch at around 12.30 pm, this will ensure you a seat to enjoy the feast.

Visiting Istria is very popular, and in peak season, the number of European tourists can feel overwhelming. If you are planning a road trip, be prepared for a long wait for border crossings and toll booths.

To learn more about the region, its beaches, and its history, check out this website on Istria.