When people think of Croatia, most of the time, Dubrovnik, Split or other Southern towns come into the picture. While that part of the country is, indeed, gorgeous, it is also very pricey and can be packed with tourists. Thus, when an opportunity came up to visit less-traveled Istria County in the North I didn’t doubt for a second. So, as usual after a trip, the Northern Itinerary presents to you the best of Istria, Croatia.
I (Erikas) have been to Croatia twice already, yet during both trips we explored the highlights of the country (located in the South, of course). So, when going to Istria region across the country of the main landmarks, I thought I knew what to expect. Well, I was wrong, as, in my opinion, the region resembled Italy much more than elsewhere. On top of that, it seemed less touristic and automatically more affordable. Well, I hope you will be able to form your own opinion after checking out the below 5 highlights of the county.
While the city is technically not within the borders of the region, it is worth a mention. Rijeka is the third largest Croatian town that has very vibrant, youthful feel to it. Perhaps, due to a heavy population of students and proximity to the neighboring countries. Additionally, the city is one of the countries biggest ports which makes it a gateway to the neighboring islands.
Other than that, the town’s highlights include Korzo – the main walking street filled with restaurants, shops and cafes. As well as Trsat castle, which you can visit free of charge and enjoy panoramic view of the city from its towers. My personal favorite, however, was a promenade at the port. Even though it is not particularly built for pedestrians, it offers you a great view of the harbor, sea and the local fishermen’ lives.
My journey began in this city, as I had a friend living there. But also due to a direct flight connection from Stockholm. Keep in mind, though, that many airlines terminate their flights for the season at the end of October. Don’t worry if you’ve missed, next year Rijeka has been announced as the European capital of culture, so the best time to visit it is still ahead.
#4 Brijuni National Park
While many national parks are highly protective and forbid car access, Brijuni is a rather different one. Firstly, it is located on an island, so it can only be accessed by ferry from Fažana. Secondly, almost no people walk there. Yes, we were basically the only ones covering rather lengthy distances by foot, while others were riding in golf carts! I was really surprised to see roads going all around the park for people to drive one. In fact, some of the visitors were even irritated to see pedestrians blocking their roads. But it is a national park, shouldn’t we all be walking?
Either way, it was an interesting experience as a park contains a variety of attractions. Such as safari where you can see zebras, donkeys or lamas. Or a coast line with dinosaur foot prints in the rocks. Not to mention, the vast forests and the sea. And obviously, gold courses all over the place.
Before visiting the place make sure to check the ferry schedule as departures vary every hour. Also, buy your tickets before getting on board at a ticket office located nearby. Lastly, take some water and snacks with you, as options in the park are limited and overpriced.
Another town, which I consider to be one of the best in Istria, Croatia is Pula. When walking there I really felt as if I was in Italy. Not only it is actually really close to the former, but also has a big Roman architectural heritage.
Perhaps, the most visited attraction is the Colosseum. It is very well kept, as it still has the surrounding towers. Additionally, it is among the six largest Roman amphitheaters in the world! If you want to feel the spirit of that time, this is the place. Not only the entrance fee is significantly lower than in Rome, but also there are no queues.
What is more, I would highly recommend to spend some time in the old town of the city. Wander around tiny streets, grab a coffee and appreciate the Italian heritage that is in a very good shape. On the other hand, don’t bother climbing up to the castle. Neither the view from up there, nor the castle itself is worth seeing.
#2 Cape Kamenjak
Perhaps the prettiest peninsula or a natural attraction in Istria region. Just south of Premantura village, stretches Cape Kamenjak offering 30 kilometers of coastline with beaches, rocks and caves.
In this place, one can just enjoy the stunning scenery or indulge in some cliff jumping, kayaking or cave exploration. Keep in mind that most of the service providers are no longer operating in October, so make sure to check before coming. However, if you are just interested in seeing a beautiful place, going for a dip or having a picnic/BBQ – it is perfect. The color of the sea, super clear water and waves splashing in the rocks make it one of the best spots in Istria, Croatia.
The positive side of visiting the peninsula in October was a very low number of people as well as free entrance. As we understood, in the peak season you have to pay to drive in. However, the park is always accessible free of charge by foot.
My personal favorite in the Istria region was the fishing port of Rovinj. Rather small, but very picturesque and cozy town really makes you think that you’re in Italy. The colorful houses, tiny streets and the whole vibe impresses you from the first sight.
While there, make sure to check out the harbor and enjoy a meal or a drink at one of many bars or restaurants. Even though it’s a little more expensive than in the surrounding cities, the view is definitely worth it. After that, wonder the tiny cobbled streets of the old town and soak in the atmosphere. You will really get a feel of a Southern European lifestyle. Also, make sure to climb up to the church of St. Euphemia. The views are great!
We spent a good couple of hours in this town, however I could easily dedicate the whole day for it. It’s one of those places where you can just wander without a plan and you’ll be sure to have a good time.