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Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula dangles off the northwest corner of the country into the Adriatic Sea. Like much of Croatia, the coastline in Istria is the big attraction. However, the interior of the Istrian Peninsula is equally picturesque and has a storied past of its own. Although we opted to base ourselves in the coastal city of Rovinj during our stay, we planned a One Day Tour of Istria that included both the coast and the interior. Our day was spent experiencing the must-see Istria highlights – and you can follow in our footsteps!
Tour of Istria
The Istrian Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places in Croatia. Although it has a gorgeous coastline, it is often overlooked in favor of Croatia’s southern Dalmatian cities like Dubrovnik and Split. Istria, however, is a Croatian destination not to be missed!
One of the best things to do in Istria is to experience the diversity of the region. Visitors could spend days – or even weeks – exploring the peninsula. However, travelers with less time can still see the best places in Istria on a day tour.
What To See in Istria
Seaside towns steeped in history line the western shore, each exuding unique character. While it can be difficult to part with the teal blue waters of the Istrian Riviera, the region has more to offer. Medieval hilltop towns that lie inland and regional delicacies are as much a reason to visit Istria as the translucent waters of the sea.
When we were deciding what to do in Istria, we knew we wanted to create a tour that covered a range of activities. Rather than just focusing on Istria food or joining an Istria wine tour, we were also intent on seeing historic sights and villages. We created an Istria Itinerary that included the best tastes and towns in Istria.
Istria Map of Day Trip Destinations
Use this link to Google Maps for a map of Istria, Croatia destinations and driving directions.
One-Day Tour of Istria
Our full-day Istria tour began early in the morning. We had a private driver shuttle us around the peninsula to our desired places to visit in Istria so that all we had to worry about was enjoying the day!
Allow 8 hours to see all five towns – plus driving time to/from the first/last destination. Our Istria day tour is ideal for anyone already staying in Istria – but is also possible if staying in nearby Rijeka or even Zagreb (just factor in driving time, which from Zagreb is about 2.5 hours).
The first stop on our tour of Istria was for truffles – the fungus, not the chocolate. Istria Truffles are a regional delicacy. While not everyone is a fan of the pungent, high-priced nuggets, it only takes one whiff of the earthy scent to make me swoon.
Our morning mission was to accompany dogs at the Karlic Tartufi Plantation in Paladini on a hunt, but first we had breakfast. Perhaps one of the most indulgent, flavorful breakfasts to ever pass my lips; everything we consumed – cheese, meat, oil and honey – was accented with truffles, culminating in Karlic’s signature dish, scrambled eggs with truffles. It was absolutely heavenly.
Truffle Hunting in Istria, Croatia
On the hunt, with the taste of truffles still on our breath, we tramped through the forest following a guide and two dogs. Sniffing their way around the forest floor, the dogs would start digging and our guide jumped in beside them to secure the findings. Three times during our Istria truffle hunt, the dogs uncovered precious truffles.
Is it ever too early to start drinking? Well, not in Croatia, and especially appropriate when sampling traditional Istrian brandy! The second stop on our Istria tour was at Aura Distillery in Buzet. The family-run company is intent on producing products ‘just like grandma’ without any preservatives.
Istrian Rakija Tasting and Tour
Before diving into the brandy tasting, we toured the small distillery where they produce the fruit brandy, called rakija in Croatia. We were guided through Aura’s process of using traditional methods and natural ingredients to produce more than 20 flavors of brandy.
Then it was time to get serious and start sampling their product. From the smooth-not-syrupy Teranino to the herb-infused Sage to the unique Olive and Almond – we tried them nearly all despite the early hour!
Istria Hill Town: Motovun
The third stop on our tour of Istria had us heading for the hills to Motovun. The medieval town, which is perched on a hill like a wedding cake topper, was once protected by walls that included nine gates and seven towers. It has been inhabited by Celtics, Romans and Venetians – and today is home to about 1000 residents.
Motovun, Istria Things To Do
We took a guided tour of the city, tracing the remaining city walls and passing through the main square of the upper city that was once surrounded by a moat and drawbridge. While the historic city was remarkable, what really wowed us were the phenomenal views.
After spending the first part of the day in the interior, our tour of Istria moved to the coast to Porec. Like so many of the shoreline Istria towns, Porec resides on a peninsula and, today, the local economy relies mostly on tourism. Swimming in the award-winning clean waters of the lagoons attracts many holidaymakers, but we were most interested in seeing the Euphrasian Basilica.
Istria Attractions: Euphrasian Basilica
With part of the Euphrasian Basilica church complex dating to the 4th century, it is the centerpiece of Porec’s history. Ancient tiled mosaics are featured throughout – as part of the floor, walls and exterior – but none are as impressive as the glittering mosaic behind the main altar. The art, most of which is still original, depicts the stories of Mary visiting Elizabeth and Angel Gabriel visiting Mary.
We ended our sightseeing in Istria in Rovinj (which is where we were staying in Istria). The charming town protrudes into the Adriatic Sea – and we think it is one of the best places to visit in Istria.
Cobblestone streets lead up to St. Euphemia Church and the bell tower, which can be seen from afar piercing the sky. Laundry crisscrosses the streets, strung between the pastel painted stone buildings. Much like Motovun, it isn’t the sights that attract visitors to Rovinj. The appeal of Rovinj lies in the car-free lanes, the turquoise sea, the magnificent sunsets, the hidden squares and outdoor cafes for enjoying amazing Croatian wine.
After our long day of exploring Istria, we sought out a seaside cafe. We sipped a glass of local Istria wine while watching fishermen prepare their nets and the sun as it sank into the sea. It was the perfect ending to our Istria day trip!
Read our complete guide of Things To Do in Rovinj, Croatia.
Istria Day Trip Tips
We have a few tips for your Istria vacation!
Planning a Tour of Istria
We think the above outline is the perfect way to tour Istria. That said, there are more things to see in Istria! It would be impossible to fit all of the Istria sights into one day, but we have a few suggestions for variations of our outlined trip. Visitors can use our following tips for planning an ideal Istria excursion!
Where To Go in Istria: Alternate Destinations
Our trip was tailored to our interests, so it included the places and sights that we most wanted to see. Other Istria towns that are top places to visit are Bale, Hum, Umag, Vrsar and Pula.
Top Tip: Ambitious travelers could squeeze in one more stop after Rovinj. For example, Pula, which features a 1st century amphitheater and other Roman ruins, is only about a 40-minute drive south of Rovinj. Visitors can use our guide of Things To Do in Pula to navigate to the city’s top sights.
How To Get Around Istria in a Day
Our outlined Istria Day Trip requires a vehicle. Visitors without a car can either get an Istria car rental or hire a driver. Because we don’t like to drive in foreign countries (and because we knew we were going to be drinking alcohol!), we opted for a driver.
Rather than self-driving (or hiring a driver), visitors can join an organized Istria Tour. There is an Istria Day Tour (read reviews!) that is similar to our outline (but misses some key activities, like Truffle Hunting). Other tours include a private Istria tour and a Hilltop and Wine adventure. Tours.
Where to Stay in Istria
During our visit to Istria, we based ourselves in Rovinj – which we think is the best place to stay in Istria! The town is dripping with charm and is only about 45 minutes from the Pula Airport. It is also well-connected to bus routes to other parts of the country.
We stayed in an awesome Airbnb Apartment right in the heart of the city. (Not already a member of Airbnb? Use this link to create an account and save money on your first stay!) However, there are many options when it comes to accommodations. Visitors can check availability and read traveler reviews of Rovinj hotels on Booking.com.
Getting To Istria
Travelers can reach Istria by plane, boat, car or bus.
The Istria Airport is in Pula, but flights are very seasonal. That said, during the summer, the airport is serviced by numerous European carriers from top European destinations, like London, Amsterdam and Milan. Check for flights to Istria on SkyScanner.
Boats are also seasonal and most only operate in the summer. However, they are useful for connections to Italy, Slovenia and Croatian islands.
Bus routes run year-round. Check bus routes on Bus Croatia (but we recommend verifying the information at the station if possible!).
When you are on the move and want to stay connected, a wifi hotspot is the way to go. When traveling through Croatia, you can stay connected with reliable wifi from Roam Free Ninja. The personal mobile wifi hotspot can be rented for days or months at a time and allows you to easily share your travel experiences with friends and family on social media.
Travelers visiting more than one country – and frequent international travelers – should consider purchasing a mobile hotspot, like GlocalMe. It’s what we use to stay connected during our travels. The device conveniently operates using both SIM cards and online data plans.
Before You Go
- Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for your trip. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia and Reef flip flops. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip – it’s such a beautiful place! Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- It’s easy to get turned around in any foreign city!
- If you are self-driving, make sure to have a good city map and/or guidebook before arriving.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
We want to know: Have you been to Istria in Croatia? Are there any activities or destinations you would add to our One-Day Tour of Istria? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments!
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