Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula located in the northern Adriatic, is the most visited region in Croatia. Istria is easily accessible by car from many European countries. Unlike the rest of Croatian coast, here you’ll find plenty of things to do all year around. This region is very popular among foodies, cyclists, and history aficionados.
At the summertime, like in the rest in Croatia, Istria draws visitors in search of beach fun, water sports, and other fun under the sun activities.
Here is my list of the top things to do in Istria. If you plan on visiting Istria, here you’ll find useful information on things to do in Istria. We’ll try to cover the best experiences to look for in Istria. From cycling, winery tours to high ropes park, Istria has a lot to offer to its visitors.
Contents For Top things to do in Istria
- 1 My list of the top things to do in Istria
- 1.1 1 | Visit a winery
- 1.2 2 | Cycle
- 1.3 3 | Explore beaches
- 1.4 4 | Eat local
- 1.5 5 | Olive oil tasting
- 1.6 6 | Enjoy history
- 1.7 7 | Visit Rovinj
- 1.8 8 | Explore Istrian countryside
- 1.9 9 | Visit Brijuni Islands national park
- 1.10 10 | Hike Ucka Mountain
- 1.11 11 | Go truffle hunting
- 1.12 12 | Visit Glavani park
- 1.13 13 | Spend a day in Istralandia or Aquacolors water parks
- 1.14 14 | Paragliding, Tandem flying, and Hang gliding
- 1.15 15 | Panoramic flights and Skydiving
- 1.16 16 | Water activities
- 1.17 17 | Rock climbing
- 1.18 18 | Caving
- 1.19 19 | Visit Dinosaur Park in Funtana
My list of the top things to do in Istria
1 | Visit a winery
Istria is a very popular wine country. The most popular wine here is a fresh and fruity white wine Istarska Malvasija, followed by strong and astringent, but smooth red wine Teran. Istria has a long tradition of viticulture, and the wine has always been an important part of everyday life here in Istria.
While Croatian wine making history goes long way back to ancient times, the quality hasn’t always been in focus. Until 1990s, wine production was mostly done in big cooperatives that belonged to the state. However, a new generation of young Croatian winemakers, and especially Istrian winemakers, decided to change things some 20 years ago. Today, we can say that these winemakers are writing the most beautiful wine story that Croatia has ever had.
In Istria you can visit many family-owned wineries. Some traditional, others modern, but each of them well worth a visit. We put together a list of Istrian winemakers, but also we wrote a post on top wineries to visit in Istria, if you are interested in further reading.
Throughout the region, you’ll notice Wine Roads Signs, a small brown road signs that brings you to a winemaker if you decide to follow them. You can also check a wine map online or get a printed wine map at any tourist office once you are in Istria.
Few tips before you visit:
- Wine producers here are still first and foremost wine producers, and not sales or marketing persons. This has been changing in the last few years, so experience of visiting a winery in Istria is getting better.
- Not all wine cellars have fixed working hours. Actually most of them don’t. So before visiting any winery, make sure to call in advance to arrange a visit. This even goes for the wineries with fixed working hours. While you can taste wine in these wineries, you won’t be able to tour the cellar, unless you arrange it in advance.
- At most wineries, tasting is free of charge. However, you are expected to buy at least a bottle of wine (the more the better).
- You’ll find some of wine makers to be quite a character, sometimes moody, sometimes funny, and sometimes just talking too much. Get ready for it. Wine can help.
2 | Cycle
Cycling in Istria is extremely popular, especially road cycling followed by mountain biking. You’ll find many marked cycling trails, passing through different landscapes: from flat coastal trails to hilly hinterland. Istria is equally popular among recreational cyclists and professionals.
Cycling season starts in March, and if you happen to be here, you’ll notice many professional teams training on Istrian cycling trails. There are over twenty cycling events and races taking place in Istria from March to October. Some are professional races, while others are recreational.
The most popular professional cycling race, Istrasko proljeće (Istrian Spring), takes place in March. The most popular recreational cycling events are: Parenzana Cycling Marathon and Cube, taking place in late September, and Porec Granfondo, a recreational road cycling race taking place in April.
There are many cycling and walking paths along the coast, connecting popular coastal towns, for example from Porec to Vrsar, or from Novigrad to Umag. Coastal trails are usually physically less challenging. Another easy cycling route that we often take starts in Porec, then it goes along the coast to Funtana. From Funtana you cycle through Agrolaguna vineyards up to Fuskulin, and further to Zbandaj, where you take a route through villages of Jehnići, and Bačva, back to Poreč. This trail is mostly asphalted, and has very few elevations. While a good part of this route is on a car road, the traffic isn’t dense.
If you are experienced cyclist, and don’t mind more demanding terrain, then you should perhaps consider cycling the most popular route in Istria: Parenzana Trail. This trail takes you inland, and you follow the trajectory of an ancient Parenzana railway, that connected Trieste with Porec. The total length of this cycling trail is 115 Km and it passes through Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. Sure you don’t need to do the entire length.
The best part of cycling in Istria is the fact that most trails pass through villages with great restaurants or popular winemakers (OK, maybe it’s the best for us, and you don’t share the same passion). We always plan our day out cycling with a lunch stop, and sometimes a winery stop.
A detailed info on cycling in Istria can be found at Istria Bike Website.
3 | Explore beaches
While beaches in Istria aren’t maybe the most beautiful beaches in the world, they are still the number one reason to visit Istria.
You’ll find some shingle and even sandy beaches here, although for the most part, beaches here are rocky. Istria is very touristy, with large hotel complexes and resorts all along the coast. At many places, within these tourist complexes, you’ll find long piers, built to protect beaches artificially replenished with the pebbles. You’ll also find many cemented sun decks, as well as grassy areas to relax. However, a large part of the coast within resorts remains in its original form. These are in my opinion the best places to swim. The access to the sea can be a bit difficult, but these areas are less crowded, almost always surrounded by thick pine trees (plenty of shade! and a place to hang your hammock), and just more intimate.
You’ll find lots of bars, restaurants, small shops selling groceries, and beach equipment, and many water activities on offer, like jet-skis, pedalo boats, water trampolines, kayaks, SUP, etc..
Beaches out of the tourist resorts are considered wild beaches, and are mostly frequented by locals. They are mostly rocky. Rt Kamenjak near Pula is such a place, as well as Porto Bussola and Cervar in Porec.
Generally speaking, the east coast of Istria has nicer beaches than the west coast. Nice natural shingle beaches you’ll find in Rabac. There are few nice beaches along Lim Fjord, but they are difficult to access, and thus they are mostly frequented by locals.
4 | Eat local
Food, oh food in Istria! Istrian food is amazing. It is local, it is fresh, it changes with the seasons. Istria is a dream destination for any foodie, or just for anybody who enjoys good food. Truffles, pork tenderloin, bean soup for the fall and winter, asparagus, wild mushrooms, crab meat, cheese curd, scrambled eggs for the spring, fresh vegetables, anchovies, sardines for the summer. We’ve written a post on five must-try dishes in Istria to give you an idea what a typical Istrian cuisine is alike. However you’ll encounter slightly different cuisines along the coast and Istrian hinterland. Along the coast, restaurants’ naturally offer more dishes based on fish and other seafood, while ones located inland offer hearty dishes like meat stews, steaks, etc. Few dishes are equally present: pasta dishes, fritaja (scrambled eggs) and manestra (a traditional bean soup).
The best seafood restaurants are located in Rovinj, Novigrad, and Pula, while the best restaurants serving hearty Istrian dishes are located in northwest Istria. You can check our post on best restaurants in Istria. We absolutely love Batelina, according to many the best seafood restaurant in all Croatia; Stari podrum near Momjan, is a temple of Istrian home cooking; restaurant Marina in Novigrad is a perfect place to indulge in 5- or 7-courses slow food experience; at Martin Pescador we love their outdoor seafront terrace; and to Damir and Ornella, if we had lots of money, we would eat all the time; nobody makes such a good hunter’s soup as Morgan. These are just some of our favorite places to eat in Istria. But believe me when I say that there are many more. We’ve covered quite a bit of them here at our blog. Keep digging our content for more restaurants in Istria.
5 | Olive oil tasting
When we are already talking about food in Istria, we have to mention Istrian olive oil. I don’t think I am being pretentious when I say that Istrian olive oil is the best in the world. I know you have never heard of Istrian olive oil. You perhaps know about Italian olive oil (who doesn’t?!), Spanish, even Tunisian, but Istrian – I must be kidding you. I don’t!
Although Istria is the largest producer of olive oil in all Croatia, quantities that we produce here are pretty small compared with our counterparts. But the story of olive oil here is similar to one of a wine that we mentioned earlier. We planted olive trees and produced olive oils here since ancient times. The olive mills were small, they could process only small quantities of olives at time, and people picked olives when they had time. Then they would soak them in the sea, until it was their time to press them. A lot changed since. New olive oil producers emerged. New olive mills opened. And everybody started making an extra virgin olive oil. You know the rules: hand picked and cold pressed within 24 hours.
But Istrian olive oil producers didn’t stop there. After they master the process, they elevated a product. Now you’ll find in Istria, not only extra virgin olive oils of a superior quality, but you’ll find many single sort extra virgin olive oils. Even in restaurants, you’ll e offered, one, two, three or more different olive oils. There are restaurants pairing food with olive oils, just like they do it with wine.
Olive oil producers, I find, even more passionate about their product than wine producers (if that’s even possible!). We visited many olive oil producers here in Istria, but so far we only wrote about our olive oil tasting experience at Belic. We’ll cover others too. We highly recommend visiting Chiavalon in Vodnjan, Cuj in Farnažine near Umag, Ipša near Motovun, and even Agrolaguna in Poreč (this is a large producer, but the oil is good, and it’s conveniently located in Poreč, thus easy to visit).
Basic olive oil tasting is usually free of charge, or costs around 50 Kn per person at max. Call in advance to arrange a visit. You can also arrange more complex olive oil tasting paired with food. This will be charged according to the ingredients and extent of tasting.
6 | Enjoy history
Istria has always been at the crossroads of many different cultures, civilizations, and countries. History of this region has always been turbulent. Or as famous Istrian winemaker Ivica Matosevic, referring just to the recent history, said for Huffington Post, “My grandfather lived in Austria, my father was born in Italy, I was raised in Yugoslavia, and my daughter was born in Croatia yet nobody ever moved.”.
History aficionados will enjoy discovering Istrian past through many historical sites, monuments, remains, and documents. Many of them are very well preserved to this day.
The two most popular historic sites in Istria are the Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč from 6th century, an Unesco world heritage site (for more info on Things to do in Porec, check this post); and Pula’s Amphitheater dating back to the 1st century AD, the sixth largest Colosseum in the world.
Unfortunately, the Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula is closed for renovation, and will remain closed for couple of years, as well as the Heritage Museum of Poreč, However, both towns are open air museums, and all it takes to explore them is to walk their old towns. Besides, it’s free. Entire Pula, although not as well preserved as Split, is filled with historical sites. You just need to walk the town, and explore its history: from Arch of the Sergii, or as locals popularly call it Zlatna Vrata, Augustus Temple, to Small Roman theater, and many floor mosaics.
Venetian architecture, medieval hilltop towns, churches and towers are testimony of the region’s rich history.
7 | Visit Rovinj
According to many, Rovinj is the nicest town in Istria. Its pastel colored houses are rising right out of the sea. It is located on the hilly peninsula with the St. Euphemia church marking its highest point. The bell tower is a smaller replica of St. Mark’s bell tower in Venice. Streets of old town are full of lively bars, restaurants and art galleries. Its harbor is busy with small pleasure and fishing boats.
We highly recommend visiting the house of Batana, a small museum dedicated to Rovinj’s traditional boat, called Batana. The museum also organizes the gourmet evenings that start with a ride in this traditional boat, and proceed with a dinner and music in a typical Rovinj tavern, called spàcio.
You can also take a boat and visit nearby islands of St. Catherine, and St. Andrew. Both islands have wonderful parks dating back to late 19th century. On St. Andrew there is a nice restaurant with an outdoor seafront terrace.
Rovinj has also very good gastronomy, and you can plan a nice lunch or dinner in this beautiful town. We’ve written a post on the best restaurants in Rovinj, if you’d like to read further.
The best views of Rovinj, you’ll get from the terrace of the hotel Park. It’s well worth a walk. If you would like to find out what to do in Rovinj, check our post on top things to do in Rovinj.
8 | Explore Istrian countryside
Istrian countryside is amazing. Its rolling hills, medieval hilltop towns, vineyards and olive groves, will make you dream. Take a day out to explore towns of Motovun, Groznjan, Zavrsje, Oprtalj. Visit sleepy watermill in Kotli and Hum, the smallest town in the world.
A mystical, abandoned village of Završje is one of our favorite hilltop towns, followed by Grožnjan, a village of artists. Motovun is the largest, and perhaps the most visited inland village in Istria. It also has a few nice places to have a coffee, or a glass of wine, and a great place to eat, tavern Mondo (no kidding, even the New York Times wrote about it!).
9 | Visit Brijuni Islands national park
Brijuni islands is an archipelago of 14 small islands. It is a one of the Croatia’s seven national parks. Islands are located just off the coast of Fazana. There are boats to the islands departing from Fazana. The best way to explore Brijuni islands is to book one of the boat excursions.
A visit to Brijuni Islands include a boat transfer from and to Fazana, a tourist train ride around the island of Veli Brijun, a visit to the remains of the ancient Roman villa dating back to the I century B.C, the archaeological museum and the Church of St. Germain.
The ticket costs 170 Kn (April, May, October), 200 Kn in June and September, and 210 Kn in July and August.
10 | Hike Ucka Mountain
Ucka is the highest Istrian mountain separating the peninsula from the rest of Croatia. It is protected area and nature park. There are designated walking trails and paths. The highest peak is Vojak (1396 m). Hiking the mountain is more local than tourist activity, but it is a nice way you spend a day out, and you’ll be awarded with nice views over the Istria, the sea, and islands.
There are three main hiking trails. The educational trail Plas starts only 300 m below the Vojak Mount. The trail passes through a thick forest, and it has marked stations next to points of natural interest regarding karst formation, and flora and fauna. This trail is steep and you should be prepared for long walk. It takes two hours to reach the top, and you’ll cover around 1.5 km. Vela Draga hiking trail passes along Vela Draga canyon. This canyon has been protected since 1963 as a natural reserve and a nature monument. This is the most interesting site within the Ucka Park. Trail is around 2 km long, the hike is 2 km, and there is a nice vantage point above the canyon. Korita hiking trail is a 45-minute hike from the village of Brgudac to Korita, a fresh water spring. The trail passes through dens forest, and near the spring you’ll be awarded with nice views over the mountain Učka.
11 | Go truffle hunting
Did you know that the largest white truffle in the world was found in Istrian forests? It even made a Guinness World Record. Forests around Motovun, in central Istria, abound in truffles. From late September to early November, there is a truffle festival taking place in a small village of Livade, but also in nearby Buzet. During the festival there are organized truffle hunting tours, and they are free of charge. You basically go on a bus to a nearby fores where truffle hunter shows you the process of truffle hunting. Sure, the truffles are planted there, and a dog always finds it. But this is for demonstration purpose only.
Few local agencies also organize truffle hunting tours throughout the year. If interested in such an activity, you can check Istriana Travel, a boutique travel agency based in Vrh near Buzet. They offer half-day truffle hunting tours including a truffle based light lunch.
12 | Visit Glavani park
Glavani park is high ropes adventure park located in central Istria, near the village Barban. The park has adrenaline filled high ropes courses: 2 m high training course, 6 m high blue course and 10 m high black course, 11 m high swing and Europe’s first suspension bridge across the valley.
If you aren’t into adrenaline pumping activities, Glavani Park has also kiddie games and adventure tree house, as well as a small farm with animals. This is definitely a place for the whole family. It is voted no. 1 activity in Istria on Tripadvisor.
13 | Spend a day in Istralandia or Aquacolors water parks
Istralandia water park open in June 2014. It’s located 10 km northeast of Novigrad. Istralandia features twenty slides including a 27 m high free-fall slide, three large swimming pools, sand volleyball and badminton courses, food court, and a souvenir shop. Admission fee is 110 kn (half day), and 140 Kn (full day) for anybody taller than 1,40 m. For further reading, check our full post on Istralandia water park.
Aquacolors open in May 2015, and it’s the first water park in Porec. You can find more details on Aquacolors Water Park here.
14 | Paragliding, Tandem flying, and Hang gliding
You’ll find eight take-off and landing sites for hang gliders, and ten sites for paragliding. They are all located in the area of Buzet, at the Cicarija, and Ucka Mountains. All flights are coordinated with local clubs.
Paragliding is organized by free flying club Tići. The club currently has twenty paragliding pilots. More info you can find at their Facebook page. Hang gliding is organized by flying club Homo Volans, based in Opatija. YOu can find more info on their website (Croatian only).
15 | Panoramic flights and Skydiving
There are few companies offering scenic flights over Istrian peninsula. Both companies are located at the small sport airports, Delić Air in Medulin, and AeroVrsar in Vrsar.
Delić Air has flights scheduled daily from 9 am to 8 pm from June through August. All panoramic flights take off from an airport in Medulin. A 15 minute flight above Medulin, Premantura, Verudela and Pula costs 250 Kn per person; a 30 minute flight over Brijuni archipelago costs 450 Kn, and a 45 minute flight that takes you over Brijuni and Rovinj costs 700 Kn.
Contacts: +385 98 223 577 | +385 98 420 577 | Website
Aeropark Vrsar offers panoramic flights, tandem jump, and piloting programs. Panoramic flights take off from the airport in Vrsar daily from 9 am to 9 pm from April through October. A 10 minute flight over Vrsar, Lim Fjord and Rovinj costs 140 Kn per person, a 15 minute flight over Vrsar, Rovinj and Porec costs 170 Kn per person, a 30 minute flight over Vrsar, Rovinj, Porec, Novigrad and Umag costs 300 Kn, a 30 minute flight over Vrsar, Rovinj and Brijuni Islands will set you back 340 Kn, while a 45 minute flight over Vrsar, Poreč, Motovun and Grožnjan costs 450 Kn per person. Tandem jump is 1.500 kn, with additional 250 Kn for a GoPro video clip, or 600 Kn for a professional video clip.
All prices are from 2014.
16 | Water activities
In Istria you’ll find a plenitude of water activities. Jet-ski rental, boat rental, diving, pedalo boat rental, banana boat ride, and parasailing are the most popular water activities found in every coastal town, and every resort in Istria. In the last few years SUP surfing and kayaking is gaining popularity too and they can be found at many beaches.
Cable Wakeboarding & Water skiing can be found in Poreč, at Zelena Laguna Resort.
17 | Rock climbing
Nine rock climbing sites on 20-30 m high short-rocks have more than 270 equipped ascents. These sites are: Zlatni Rt Forest in Rovinj, Lim Bay, Dvigrad, Vitnjan near Pula, Rabac, Istarske toplice, Raspadalica above Buzet, Vranjska Draga near the Ucka tunnel, and Pazin.
18 | Caving
Istria has many underground caves, abysses and pits. Some are open to leisurely visitors, while others are aimed at experienced explorers with professional equipment. Popular caves in Istria are: Baredine Cave near Poreč, Pazinska Jama near Pazin, Romualdova Spilja in Lim Bay, Feštinsko kraljevstvo near Žminj, a 361 m deep Rašpor pit on the Ćićarija Mountain, a 1036 m long Piskovica Cave in the central Istria, and Mramornica cave near Novigrad.
19 | Visit Dinosaur Park in Funtana
Dinosaur Park in Funtana is a perfect place to visit with small children. Set in an ancient quarry and surrounded by thick woods, Dino Park is a nice place to visit even during hot summer days. The park has over 1.5 km of paths, a life-size electric dinosaurs, amusement rides for small children, and a small farm where kids can ride ponies. The park also has regular shows throughout the day.
The entrance fee is a bit high (100 Kn for adults, and 80 kn for children). The park is open from April through October, while the show arena within the park works from June through August.
Are you planning to visit Istria? What are your favorite things to do in Istria? Let us know in the comments below.