Pula – An architectural gem
Pula, capital of Istria, is located towards the southern tip of Istrian peninsula of Croatia. It is the administrative center and a important port city of Croatia. Known for the largest Roman ruins outside of Italy, Pula is an amalgamation of Italian heritage and Croatian culture.
Visit this vibrant city for its architectural charms, beachfront boulevard, cultural festivals a myriad of lovely islands and national parks.
Pula is a gateway to Istrian tourism and has direct flights from UK and other European countries. Getting a direct flight to Pula can be the easiest way to reach Istria.
Alternatively, driving to Pula from other cities like Zagreb or Rovinj is a good alternative. The route is comfortable and offers great views of coastal villages. If you want to use public transport, there are regular buses between Zagreb and Pula but is not a preferred option if you have limited time in hand. We highly recommend renting a car to explore Istria since it gives a chance to explore areas outside the main cities. If you plan on visiting any wineries or specialty restaurants located outside then city then you will definitely need to drive.
Parking in Pula
Finding a free parking spot in Pula can be a daunting task especially during the summer. Multiple paid parkings are situated at walking distance from the seafront and arena. During peak season, these paid spots get reserved quickly so we advise you to visit Pula early in the day.
Parking charges are affordable in Pula as compared to other Croatian cities, and can be about 4kn to 10kn for an hour depending on the zone and the season.
Top things to do in Pula
A lot of tourists plan their Istrian vacation with Pula as a base and making day trips to other Istrian cities. Since we were staying in Rovinj, we visited Pula during a day trip from Rovinj and combined this with a visit to Chiavalon olive oil tasting tour.
Although Pula is a busy commercial center and fairly large city, it is possible to explore it mostly on foot. We recommend renting a car if you plan to visit Chiavalon or any other custom tours.
Built in 1st century AD, Pula Arena is one of the six Roman amphitheaters in the world with its four sides intact. Much like the colosseum in Rome, Pula Arena stands tall and magnificent in the heart of Pula and is reminiscent of Roman glory. This was built as a arena for gladiator fights and is now a famous venue for cultural and music festivals held in Pula. There is an entry fee to walk inside the arena though you can get perfectly great views from outside too.
If you would like a break from the crowds that throng the arena and need a little break, then head to these cafes nestled right beside the arena – Caffe Bar San Antonio or Caffe Bar “LIPA”.
You can sip team or coffee with great views of the arena along with photo opportunities of the arena.
Historic charms around the city center
After you have explored the arena, stroll around the city center to some other historical charms.
Temple of Augustus is a part of a large triad complex with temples dedicated to other goddesses. It was built in second century BC. The temple was completely destroyed during WWII but has now been restored.
Wander about a little further and you will find the Arch of Triumph. It was built to honor the Sergii family for their heroic efforts in the Roman battles. Notice the intricate designs on the ornate columns which opens up to the old town center of Pula.
A little walk from the arena lies the Twin gates . The gates were used to welcome cheering crowds to gladiator fights and other cultural events in the city. You will notice Twin gates in many other Croatian cities like Split and these marked important entry gates to erstwhile commercial centers.
Forum is located at the center of the old town. It is reminiscent of a typical Roman forum comprising temples dedicated to Jupiter, Minerva. Forums used to be the center of cultural exchange and commercial activities during Roman reign. The Forum at Pula also has a museum which you can visit for a small fee.
Head over to the green market where you can sample the local produce and fresh catch of the day. Green market consists of two parts, closed part houses the butcheries, fisheries and other local produce. The open side has restaurants serving local Istrian cuisine and sea food delicacies.
There are a number of restaurants all along the city center and green market that offer local delicacies. The local food has a lot of influence of Italian cuisine so pasta and pizza seem to be the staple. Fresh sea food often fried or cooked with local flavors is available in most restaurants. Look out for sea food platters which serve up to two persons and are very economical. We found the food in Pula to be priced reasonably as compared to other cities in Istria. But this is not the best place to try truffles dishes, save this for your visit to Motuvun.
Day trip to Brijuni Islands
If you have time in hand or are staying in Pula, then you can plan a day trip to numerous islands and national parks off the coast of Pula. The most famous of these are the Brijuni islands, which is an archieplago of over 80 small islands.
The main Brijuni island used to be the summer residence of former Yugoslavian president, Marshall Tito. He maintained an exotic bird collection which is now a part of zoo/ bird park on the island.
Most tours to Brijuni start from Fazana, which is about 8kms outside the main city of Pula. It is possible to take a bus from Pula to Fazana. The departure point is a short walk from the bus station.
A number of local tour operators provide ferry options to tourists. This is the only way to visit the islands. Most of these operators offer group tours to the islands which include visit to the main Brijuni island bird park, along with stops at Dinosaur islands, lighthouse and spots for swimming.
Explore some of these tours offered by Viator.
Olive oil sampling at Chiavalon
Whether you are staying in Pula or visiting it for a day, we recommend a visit to the Chiavalon estate. It is a short distance away from Pula. Chiavalon boasts of one of the finest quality organic olive oils produced in Croatia. We highly recommend a guided tour to their experience center to learn about the olive production process and traditions. If you don’t have the time to take the tour, visit the estate to purchase the produce.
Read more about the Chiavalon experience in our next post.
Wine tasting at Trapan winery
Located about 10kms from the Pula city center, Wine Station Trapan is an upcoming winery run by winemaker Bruno Trapan. They offer a guided wine tasting experience where you can learn their style of wine making. This guided tour includes wine sampling along with a gorgeous meal of local produce. It is priced at 110kn per person.
Read more about Wine Station Trapan and their latest tours.