Road trip in Croatia: Istria
The North-Western part of Croatia, Istria, is a perfect destination for a road trip! The area has a lot to offer even if you only have a few days to spare. On this page I’ll show you the perfect route for an Istrian road trip if you only have 3 days. If you’re there longer, than you can spend more time at the beach or swimming in the clear blue water!
You can read all about our road trip on this page, and you can also watch my video for all the highlights in less than 2 minutes.
Getting to Istria
You can fly to Zagreb in Croatia itself. Trieste in Italy or to Ljubljana in Slovenia, and rent a car at the airport. From Zagreb it’ll take you 3 hours, from Ljubljana 2.5 and from Trieste 2 to reach the North-Western part of Istria, where this road trip starts.
You can of course also drive all the way from you own house if you live in the region. Please keep in mind that there’s passport control at the border and there could be a long wait when you enter or exit Croatia by car.
Our first stop on this road trip was Novigrad, a small town in North-West Istria. Novigrad has a small harbor and nice streets to wander around in. I especially loved that several streets had an umbrella ceiling. It just adds so much color to a city. Novigrad is not as touristic as many other cities in Istria, so it’s also great if you want to avoid mass tourism.
Poreč is a very popular summer resort town on the western coast of Istria. You’ll find many tourists here and many restaurants offering the same kind of food. But you’ll also find narrow medeval cobblestone streets, nice beaches and plenty of accommodation. From Poreč you can take a boat to Sveti Nikola, an island really nearby.
Optionally you can stop in Rovinj. It’s also a bit touristic but it’s a lovely old town. What I like most about Rovinj is that it’s almost shaped like an island. The old town is in the shape of a circle, surrounded by water. Pictures taken from outside the city are especially nice because you see the shape of the town and the church in the middle. Rovinj also has several nice places to eat.
Pula is a nice old town in the south of Istria. You can find several roman ruins in Pula, including a big amfitheater. The theater is still used for performances, so check out if there’s one on when you’re there! Pula has a nice harbor and is relatively big. Because of its size Pula has many restaurants, ice cream parlors and shops. Again, most restaurants offer the same dishes; mostly pizza, pasta and meat or fish with potatoes or fries. Most of the restaurants will have some vegetarian options like a vegetarian pizza, spaghetti or risotto dish.
if you’re eating vegetarian or vegan and you’re in Pula, you might want to go to Fresh Sandwich Bar as they have several vega(n) options including salads, sandwiches and cakes.
The most Southern point of Istria
Just below the very small town of Premantura you’ll find the most Southern point of Istria, just 20 minutes by car from Pula. This peninsula has beautiful nature and several nice bike and walking paths. You pay a fee if you bring your car in, but other than that you don’t have to pay an entrance fee.
There are some beautiful viewpoints on the peninsula and a lot of flora and fauna.
From the south of Istria we went up North on the east coast where our first stop was Labin. Labin is an old mining city on top of a hill. From the hill you have beautiful views of the area, and the town itself is also nice to walk around in.
Ucka Nature Park
As you continue your way along the north-eastern coast of Istria you’ll arrive at Ucka Nature Park. If you have a spare day you can spend a day at this beautiful park, but even if you’re short on time it’s still a very nice stop. You can stop at the parking lot of Vela Draga. From here it’s just a 10-15 minute walk to a viewpoint from which you can see the Vela Draga canyon. You’ll see the green forrest and the limestone towers. If you want you can also hike further down.
Opatija is a chique seaside town. There are many beautiful houses, a small harbor and a lovely promenade. Opatija used to be called the Austrian Riviera during the Austra-Hungarian empire.
Volosko is part of the town and lies to the North of Opatija, and is a really pretty place to visit.
Rijeka was the last stop on our road trip. Technically Rijeka isn’t in Istria but in the Kvarner Gulf. Rijeka is the 3rd largest city in Croatia (after Zagreb and Split) and the main seaport. With its many beautiful old buildings Rijeka is a great town to walk around in. You can also visit Trsat Castle, a 13th century fortress. Every morning you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables at the city market, or get your fish and meat in one of the indoor market buildings.
Rijeka has several great options to eat. One of my favorites is Conca D’oro, located in a small alley of the main shopping street Korzo. They have a delicious vegetarian menu with smoked seitan, tofu, zucchini, cherry tomato and pepper on a stick and churros. Boonker is a really cool venue at the waterfront with nice pizzas and pastas (including good vegetarian options)
From Rijeka you can continue to drive to the Plitvice lakes.
From Rijeka you can drive to the Island Krk. Here you can find some beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters. In the city of Krk you’ll have some great food options. My tip: from the harbor walk up towards the tower, on your right you’ll find a ‘secret garden’, a great quiet place to have lunch.