Istria, if you’re unfamiliar with this word, go check out the dictionary or search its synonyms. I’ll tell you everything you need to know about one of the best places in Croatia. And I’ll go even further proposing you few absolute-must things to do in Istria, so do yourself a favor – continue reading!
For those who haven’t heard of Istria, that piece of heaven on Earth, if, by any chance, you did search for its synonyms, you probably stumbled upon these adjectives: breathtaking, charming, gorgeous, greeny, marvelous, outstanding, splendid, superb… well, you get the point.
The most prominent peninsula in Croatia is called Istria, and it’s situated in the northern Adriatic. Shaped like a triangle – or as more romantic individuals would say in shape of a heart – the Istrian peninsula is naturally limited by the sea (obviously!) and on the eastern part (towards the rest of Croatia) by the mountain of Učka.
The climate in Istria is a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and warm but dry summers. However, a slight difference between the climate on the coast and in the countryside (going to the north) exists. Concerning its geography, the Istrian peninsula with the surface of 3160 km2 can be divided into two essential parts: the coast that is generally consisted of karst and the countryside with fertile plains and valleys.
Istria offers sites with numerous archeological remains, starting with the stone age and iron era. The region of Istria was named after the Illyrian tribe of Historians that had inhabited the Istrian peninsula before Romans got their hand on it in the 2nd c. B.C. With astonishing monuments of Roman architecture still preserved, Istria finds itself side by side with plenty of other famous Roman colonies.
Other strong influences on the region had Venetians primarily from 15th. c. till the end of the 18th c., Austro-Hungarian Empire during 19th c. The 20th century was an extremely turbulent time for the whole of Croatia, and Istria wasn’t an exception – the period is characterized by ethnic conflicts, political violence, occupations, and so on.
The result of such a hard but rich history is today’s uniqueness in cultural heritage, language, day-to-day living aspects, and gastronomy comparing to the rest of Croatia. It is well known that the region of Istria counts the highest number of national minorities in Croatia – Italian, Serbian, Bosnian, Slovenian, Roma, Albanian and Hungarian national minorities. It is by far the most heterogeneous region of the country, therefore the best place to visit in Croatia.
Its linguistic situation is also authentic with the presence of bilingualism of Croatian and Italian. Listing all these curiosities, it’s no wonder that this region attracts the highest number of tourists in Croatia, with numbers increasing every year.
So there you are, decided to spend your holidays in Croatia (good for you!), there are some things you can’t miss, and these are the top 10 things to do in Istria:
Table of Contents
- 1 Experiences and top things to do in Istria
- 1.1 Visit Rovinj
- 1.2 Get to see the Amphitheater in Pula
- 1.3 Visit Poreč and especially Euphrasian basilica
- 1.4 Pick truffles – one of the unique things to do in Istria!
- 1.5 Enjoy the countryside of Istria and small medieval places
- 1.6 Boškarin
- 1.7 Visit a winery
- 1.8 Višnjan observatory
- 1.9 The national park of Brijuni
- 1.10 Aquapark Istralandia
Experiences and top things to do in Istria
“Small Venice” of Istria as sometimes called, Rovinj is one of the best places to see in whole Croatia. Why? The charm of the Old town, situated on a small peninsula, is simply irresistible with its narrow streets, ancient pavement, tiny courts, and squares.
You’ll enjoy the view over the archipelago from the top of the peninsula while being refreshed by a breeze called maestral. Take your time and explore the church of St. Euphemia, the symbol of the city.
Get to see the Amphitheater in Pula
The largest city in Istria, Pula, is situated in the southern part of the region. The fantastic Arena will leave you speechless, especially if you visit it during Days of Antiquity, and you get to see shows with animals and gladiators.
By its size, it is the sixth-largest amphitheater of the Roman empire preserved – today’s emblem of the city with a capacity of 5000 people during summertime concerts and shows that are being held.
Other significant monuments inherited from Roman times in Pula are Sergi’s arch, Forum, August’s temple.
Visit Poreč and especially Euphrasian basilica
Long history witnessed by beautiful monuments standing side by side on that small peninsula will keep you entertained even though you might not like history.
The city is listed as one of the best places to visit in Croatia not just because of its cultural heritage but also the touristic offer that develops each year.
Don’t miss to check out Euphrasian basilica as site inscribed on UNESCO’s list of world cultural heritage.
Pick truffles – one of the unique things to do in Istria!
The Istrian peninsula is well known for its specific mushrooms with aphrodisiac characteristics– truffles – as an essential ingredient of delicious but expensive plates.
The season of picking truffles is from September to January; depending on a size and a quality, the price can easily reach the price of gold.
The white truffle is hugely appreciated. Don’t go by yourself, but instead ask someone familiar with the picking to join you!
Enjoy the countryside of Istria and small medieval places
It’s not accidental at all that the inner land of Istria is also called “small Tuscany”. Wherever you put your eyes upon, you see greenness, like a carpet, on red soil, small hills with medieval towns upon it with their ancient city walls.
Admittedly, it’s not just Adriatic coast to mesmerize you; don’t miss a chance to visit Hum, the smallest town, or Motovun and its Film festival during August, Grožnjan, or Boljun and feel inspired by a pure and stunning Nature.
This is indeed an amazing activity and one of the fun things to do in Istria!
If one animal could represent a region, for the Istrian peninsula, that would be boskarin – grey horned cattle primarily used in agriculture to plow the fields (not anymore!).
Its meat – boskarin beef – is a part of traditional cuisine and highly appreciated among gourmets, and producing of its meat has to be done in highly controlled circumstances.
Visit a winery
By now, you should’ve realized that the countryside of Istria shouldn’t be neglected while you’re staying on the Istrian peninsula. Rich and picturesque vineyards, one after another, expand on the fertile red soil.
If you ask them to, the proprietaries of these vineyards will kindly welcome you to their houses to taste their wine. Hopefully, you’ll come across some of the finest wines of Istria: Malvasia (white) and Terran (red).
The astronomical observatory station of Višnjan (actually today located like 3 km from Višnjan) is unique in Croatia, where a total of 1420 asteroids and two comets have been discovered.
As a public observatory, it was founded in 1992 by Amateur astronomical society. Lately, several summer programs for youth have been organized in astronomy, archeology, and marine biology.
The national park of Brijuni
One of the eight National parks that Croatia has, Brijuni, is a lovely group of fourteen islands, among which Veli Brijun is the biggest. Facing the western coast of Istria, it takes you about 15 min by boat to get to Veli Brijun.
The remains of a Roman villa, flora, and fauna (including Safari park) of the archipelago that is exquisite are just a few things to highlight in the beauty of this island.
Last but not least – why not have some fun in the first aquapark of Istria and forget everything that bothers you? This aquapark won an award for the entrepreneurial venture in 2014 in the category of new parks.
Staying with kids or not, this is the right way to relax and chill out after all the visits you’ve done, all the sweet info you retained. Istralandia offers plenty of excitement with more than 20 different slides (some with high adrenaline), with sound and light effects, the biggest swimming pool with artificial waves in this part of Europe.
Well, that’all folks… I tried to narrow it down as much as possible. With these top ten things to do in Istria, you’ll fill your holidays in Croatia with unforgettable memories, enlarge your knowledge and probably pick up some savory recipe of Istrian traditional food.