Written by travel writer Laura Lynch from Savored Journeys.
One of the main reasons people flock to Croatia is the beautiful Adriatic and the dramatic coastline. While most tourists will head to Dubrovnik or inland toward Zagreb, the Istrian Peninsula remains one of Croatia’s less touristy places. However, that is starting to change as more tourists discover the beautiful gems of Istria and tell their friends and family about them. Slowly, holidays to Pula and Istria are getting increasingly popular.
One of Istria’s handful of impressive coastal towns, historic Pula has one of the main airports on the Istrian peninsula. Therefore, it’s often used as a launching point for travelers looking to enjoy the peninsula, while few people actually stick around and explore Pula itself.
What To Do In Pula, Croatia: Top 10 Attractions
So, what is Pula like? As the largest city in Istria, Pula has quite a lot to offer tourists who want to get a feel for what Istria is like historically, culturally, and culinary. It’s also a great place to visit with kids as well. Here are the top 10 things to do in Pula, Croatia, one of the country’s oldest cities.
Explore Pula Arena – The 6th Largest Roman Colosseum In The World
Pula’s history has a strong Roman influence, evidenced by the largely intact Roman Colosseum that dominates the city’s center. The Arena is an assuming presence in Pula, one of the absolute best things to see in Pula, its stone walls visible from almost any point in the city.
This three-level Colosseum may be much smaller than the one in Rome, but it is no less impressive. The Arena was built in the 1st century AD and was used until the 5th century for gladiatorial fights and other mass spectacles.
More than 26,000 spectators could fit on the terraced seating inside the Arena of the amphitheater in Pula. Although some of the structures were stolen over the years, the exterior remains one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters. Below ground is a series of tunnels and rooms where the animals and gladiators await their fights.
Today, the Pula Arena, the Croatia Colosseum, is used to host events and performances, indeed one of Europe’s most celebrated music and live arts venues. You can take a Pula Colosseum tour and learn a bit about it in the attached museum. A visit to the Pula Arena is, without question, one of those cool things to do in Croatia.
Admire The Temple Of Augustus
The Temple of Augustus was built in the 2nd century BC and dedicated to Emperor Augustus and the goddess Roma. It’s been used for many purposes throughout its long history (a temple, a church, and even a granary) and used to be part of a three-building complex. The main central temple is long gone, but the back wall of one of the other structures, The Temple of Diana, survived and was incorporated into the Communal Palace.
The Temple of Augustus remains the only surviving part of the original temple triad, a major highlight and one of the best things to do in Pula. During WWII, it was hit by a bomb that almost destroyed it. It has been mostly restored to what it was like 2,000 years ago and houses Roman sculptural artifacts. You can take a quick tour of the interior for a small fee (it’s a small space).
Visit The Triumphal Arch Of Sergius
Also built in the 1st century AD, the Triumphal Arch of Sergius is a monument erected to honor the Sergii family members. They fought and died in a battle between Octavian’s Roman army and Mark Antony’s Egyptian-Roman army, a battle in which Octavian and the Sergiis were triumphant.
One of the top attractions in Pula, the Arch leads into the old town center and has an ornate decoration with fluted columns and chariots engraved along the top.
Stroll Through The Twin Gate
Not far from the Arena is one of the old city gates that were built in the 2nd century AD. It’s called the Twin Gate because there are actually two gates side by side. Rumor has it that the double gates were necessary to allow more townspeople into the city during gladiator fights and other major town events.
The gates are well-preserved and open to a central part of the old town where people still hang out. In fact, it can get pleasantly crowded during the day when tourists are enjoying the surrounding shops and locals go about their everyday business.
See The Cathedral Of The Assumption Of The Holy Virgin
Don’t expect to find an ornate interior at this church. It’s not like the intricate catholic cathedrals you find in Italy. Built by the Christians during their persecution, the church is quite minimalist in design, but the architecture is impressive, nonetheless, and it’s worth a walk-by to check it out.
Sample Croatian Wine
While Croatia doesn’t export a lot of wine – most of its production is kept in the country – the wine’s quality often parallels that of neighboring Italy. Wine tourism is starting to catch on in Croatia, too. In Pula, there are a handful of opportunities to get a glimpse into the wine-making tradition of Istria. A tasting of the wines produced in the vineyards that dot the countryside is one of the most fun activities in Pula, Croatia.
Trapan winery is located just a few kilometers outside the city, one of the best places to visit near Pula, Croatia. Taste the white varietal, Malvasia, and red varietal, Teran, both unique to Croatia. You can take an organized wine tour with EatIstria or drive to the wineries yourself.
Editors note: If you love wine, be sure to add some of these tremendous Croatian wineries to your vacation checklist.
Taste Istria’s Bounty Of Incredible Foods
The food in Croatia has primarily been influenced by its inhabitants and rulers over the centuries, imparting the flavors of Italy, Greece, and French into the local cuisine. With its proximity to the sea, fresh fish and seafood are obvious specialties. You can find some of the freshest seafood in the restaurants bordering the waterfront and occupying the Verudela Peninsula to the south.
For fish, squid, and shellfish, visit Ribarska Koliba on the marina. Alternatively, splurge on a five-course feast from one of the area’s best chefs at Konoba Batelina. Istria is also well known for white truffles and olive oil. You can find both specialties in almost any restaurant (as long as the truffles are in season). You can also buy truffle paste and olive oil to take home with you, making for a fantastic souvenir.
So, from an immersion in Istrian cuisine, a food tour is one of the most fun things to do in Pula, Croatia.
Walk Along The Waterfront And The Old Roman Forum
With only about 60,000 inhabitants, Pula isn’t a large city, so it’s easy to walk around and enjoy the tranquil beauty. Take a stroll along the marina to see the boats bobbing in the calm water, watch as the sun falls in brilliant color behind the horizon, or just soak up the sea air.
If you’re wondering what to do in Pula, Croatia, this is a great way to spend an hour or two in this vibrant town. It can get pretty busy during high tourist season, but if you’re lucky to visit during a slower time, you may have the whole waterfront to yourself. If you’re trying to figure out where to go in Croatia in June or September, Pula would be an outstanding choice.
After a stroll along the waterfront, check out the town center that was once a Roman Forum. The piazza today is a pedestrian-only zone that contains plenty of cafes, restaurants, and shops.
Take A Gourmet Tour Or Cooking Class
I firmly believe that you can’t fully experience a culture without trying the food. A great way to learn about the food and try many different things you might not have known about otherwise is taking a food tour or cooking class. This may be one of the more unusual things to do in Pula, but it’s so much fun!
Every Wednesday, leaving from the Arena, a two-hour organized tour combines a little sightseeing with traditional Istrian food and wine tasting.
You can buy tickets at the Arena. If you’re not in town on Wednesday, you can still get in on the gourmet fun with a cooking class from EatIstria. You’ll have a chance to look around the food markets, buy local ingredients, learn to cook in the traditional style, and then enjoy the fruits of your labor.
See The “Lighting Giants”
The Lighting Giants is a relatively new form of entertainment for Pula. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, though it reminds me of a Christmas lights display that used to take place in my neighborhood growing up. A world-famous lighting designer, Dean Skira, decided to create the lights show on the dozen or so industrial cranes along the waterfront in Pula.
The more than 16,000 lights are hooked up to a remote control system and illuminated according to a dramatic musical sequence. The program changes frequently, and they have impressive displays around the holidays, so it never gets old. You can catch the light show every hour starting at 9 pm. It lasts for about 15 minutes.
These are just a few of the things to do in Pula. There are also numerous places to go and things to see outside the city that will introduce you to more of the Istria peninsula.
Have you been to Pula? What things to do in Pula will you add to your list?