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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Istrian Peninsula | History, Charm & So Much More!

The Istrian Peninsula is at the northern part of Croatia and technically includes parts in Italy and Slovenia, but most of it falls within the Croatian borders. Over its history has been part of several different countries, including Austria, Hungary, Italy and the former Yugoslavia. However, its original Roman and Venetian rule still has a strong influence. If you’re looking for an Italian feel without the higher costs of Italy, the Croatian Istrian Peninsula is a great destination for this! There’s Roman ruins, beaches, quaint Old Towns and vineyards!

Historical Pula

At the bottom tip of the Istrian Peninsula is Pula, an important historical city, especially during the Roman times. Due to its proximity to the sea it was a major port city and many countries coveted this access. There are also several beaches located close by.

Some of the notable historical elements include:

Roman Amphitheater

During the period of Caesar Augustus (31 BC – 14 AD) the beginning stages of construction began and later during other reigns it was enlarged or adjusted. The arena in the center of the amphitheater showcased many gladiator fights during its lifetime. A tout of fame for the Pula amphitheater is that it is one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world. We have visited a couple of others in Turkey and including, Rome, and the outside structure of the Pula amphitheater was definitely the most intact. Today it is still a gathering place with concerts or other events being held in the arena in the summertime. There was a bit of a line up to get inside when we arrived in the mid-morning, but it was quick to get in and didn't feel crowded at all (end of August 2021).

Pula Ancient Roman Amphitheater - Pula, Croatia
Pula Ancient Roman Amphitheater - Pula, Croatia

The Forum

The Forum was built during the 1st Century BC and it was the main point of city administration during the time. Originally there were three different temples, but today there is only one fully preserved – the Temple of Augustus.

Forum - Temple of Augustus - in Central Pula

Pula Castle & Fortress

Located at the top of Pula Old Town stands the Pula Castle (Kastel) and Fortress. The fortress was mainly used as a defense since its inception between 1630-1633 by the Venetians, as it was important to protect the city, bay and port. Once inside the fort you can walk along the fortress walls and climb up the tower to get beautiful views of the harbor and town below.

From the top of the Pula Castle & Fortress

There are also a couple rooms of exhibits, but it was fairly limited. While we didn’t do it, there is also the option to take one of the tunnels underneath the Fortress back to the Old Town below. In hindsight it would have been helpful to get the tunnel ticket, as we got caught in a rainstorm on our walk back to the Old Town and had to take cover. ;-)

Charming Rovinj

This Old Town ranked at the top of one of our favorite Croatian Old Towns! Around every corner and down every little alley there was something picturesque. You could definitely feel the Venetian/Italian influence - there were times where I felt like I was exploring the streets of the towns of the Italian Riviera. There were Vespas parked in the alleyways, freshly washed clothes hung from the clothes lines across the alley and cutely decorated doors/windows with fresh flowers. And LOTS of gelato shops….the kids favorite part!

This town is built right up against the ocean – on one side of it the lower wall of the patios of the houses was the ocean wall. I guess they don’t have to worry about flooding with the ocean, but I always wonder how it would fare during storms.

Building built right up against the sea - Rovinj, Croatia

At the top of the Old Town was the Church of St. Euphemia and bell tower with great views of the bay.

Church of St. Euphemia - Rovinj, Croatia

Dolphin Boat Cruise

Rovinj also offers several boat trips and is known for its dolphin excursions. There were also dolphin cruises from Pula and Porec as well, but they were a bit more expensive. (However, the one from Pula did provide a steak or fish meal as part of the sunset cruise.)

Clara was really interested in dolphins so we decided to do a pre-study of them as part of school with the end goal of seeing them on the boat. Connor had been wanting to go on one of the submarine boats so we picked one of the boats that had a glass bottom to try to fulfill both kids’ desires. However, in the end, while cruising out in the water you couldn’t see anything through the glass anyway. We were also a little disappointed that the salesperson told us that they hadn’t had a full boat for a while, but the boat ended up being jammed packed with some people standing the whole time. However, sometimes that’s what comes with doing the ‘touristy’ things.

We did get a sunset view on the 2-hour boat ride, but unfortunately, we didn’t see any dolphins. We were pretty disappointed, as some of the salespeople we talked to said there was only 1 or 2 days the whole summer they didn’t see dolphins. Clara was definitely the most disappointed and even some tears were shed. We should have prepared her better for the unknown, but it sounded like there was a REALLY good chance we'd see them, so we kind of glossed over it. However, it was a good life lesson about the uncertainties of wildlife and how we choose to deal with disappointment. After some yummy ice cream on the walk back to the car, she was in better spirits.

The night view of Old Town Ravinj from the boat was amazing though!


This Old Town had a large town square and rested up against the ocean bay as well. There were a variety of food shops, restaurants and art studios in the Old Town streets/alleys. Surprisingly this Old Town was busier and packed with more people than when we were in Rovinj!

When we visited Croatia in 2015 we visited the Dalmatian Coast and really enjoyed the spots along that coastline. However, we were equally impressed with the spots along the Istrian Pennisula. In some ways it was hard to believe that we were still in the same country. That’s one of the great things about Croatia, there is so much diversity and originality to it!


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