Istria: a Guide for First-Time Visitors

Many visitors to Istria remark that it just feels…different from the rest of Croatia. 

Set in the north of Croatia, you’ll find a greener landscape and more charming, unspoiled towns which are away from the main tourist trail. The region is famed for its beautiful medieval towns, jeweled coastline, and magnificent produce – good reasons for anyone to visit Croatia!. 

Read on for our travel guide to Istria – arguably the most underrated corner of Croatia.

Motovun at sunset
Rocky coastline near Rijeka beach

Where is Istria?

The Istrian peninsula sits at the very northern tip of Croatia. The peninsula falls mostly in northern Croatia, with a thin slither just over the border in neighboring Slovenia. A three-hour drive from Vienna and just 90 minutes from Trieste, the region feels a world away from the Dalmatian resorts and islands further south. 

When to visit

As with the rest of Croatia, the best time to visit Istria is between late Spring months of May and June, through to September and early October. Given Istria’s proximity to Germany, Austria, Italy, and the Balkans it’s a hugely popular summer holiday destination for southern Europeans, with peak months falling in July and August. 

As such we think it best to visit in the shoulder months of June and September when you’ll find warm but pleasant temperatures and thinner crowds.


Amphitheatre, Pula
Selection of meats and cheeses, Istria

Why visit Istria?

Few regions in Croatia wear’s their history as vividly as Istria. The Romans turned this largely agricultural area into a center of trade and commerce, leaving their mark in particular in gorgeous Pula. The Venetians later contributed scores of idyllic villages such as Motovun and the alluring architecture of Rovinj. 

Through the 20th century, the region was fought over between Italy and Yugoslavia, at one time becoming the personal playground of President Tito, before falling to Croatia in 1991 after the conclusion of the Serb-Croat conflict. 

Aside from history, Istria is best known for its magnificent food. The region is known as Croatia’s pantry; day trips into interior Istria take in wineries, orchards, truffle forests, and medieval hilltop towns famous for their outstanding produce. 

Venturing from Pula or Rovinj, your tour will pass through olive oil groves and wine tastings taking in Croatia’s very best vineyards. We also highly recommend truffle hunting tours – a fantastic day out with a great meal to finish!


Sandy beach near Pula
Village near Motovun

Istria’s beaches may not grab the headlines as much as those further south – but they are equally magical. Zlatni Rat – known as the Golden Cape – is the most famous in the region, but you’ll find many more hidden gems which are known primarily to locals only. 

Istria’s beaches are mostly pebbled rather than sandy. As such it’s a great region for off-beach snorkeling, particularly around the southern tip of Cape Kamenjak. 

While taking in all of the above, what you will note most of all while traveling around Istria is truly remarkable scenery. A patchwork of glittering beaches, rolling hills, verdant fields, and photogenic towns make this one of the most beautiful regions of Croatia. 

Most visitors will take in Pula and Rovinj (and surrounds) alone. However, intrepid travelers should venture over to Istria’s remote east coast, where you’ll find some of its most striking, isolated beaches around the colorful town of Rabac.


Pula city centre
Rovinj old town

Highlights of Istria

The largest of Istria’s coastal towns, Pula is famous for its magnificent 2,000-year-old Roman Amphitheatre. History enthusiasts will also find Roman ruins the Arch of the Sergii and the Temple of Augustus here, as well as relics from the Ostrogoths, Venetians, and WWII Allied Forces. 

Further north up the coast is the charming historic medieval town of Rovinj. Rovinj competes with Dubrovnik as Croatia’s most picturesque town. It’s a wonderful place to simply potter, enjoying the incredibly picturesque cobblestone streets and colorful Venetian houses which spill right down to the water’s edge. 


Overview of Motovun
Sandy beach in Brijuni

The historic town of Motovun sits in the heart of inner Istria. This hilltop Venetian town is surrounded by ancient ramparts and commands magnificent views across the rolling hills and vineyards which surround. Enjoy its galleries, boutiques, and fantastic delis and restaurants. 

Situated just off the southern edge of Istria, Brijuni National Park is a collection of islets with have an unusual history to go along with their striking natural beauty. Originally a Roman settlement, the islands were later an Austro-Hungarian Fortress, a Viennese exclusive resort, and latterly the personal summer retreat of President Tito. The beaches, zoo, safari park, and theatre are best visited as a day trip from the mainland. 

You’ll find more information on Istria on our dedicated destination page

If you’re looking for travel ideas, check out our recommended bespoke tours and luxury small ship cruises which feature Istria – and elsewhere in wonderful Croatia. 

Get started on your dream trip to Croatia by contacting our specialists today


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