Croatia has been one of those European destinations underrated-by-many and dreamed-of-by-all. Especially popular among Austrians and Italians thanks to its proximity, Croatia has seen a major increase in visitors from all over the world during the last few decades. This has made it almost impossible to be alone anywhere unless you are a very early bird. But not all is lost. If you are willing to travel towards the end of the summer, you’ll still get wonderful weather, and a fraction of the masses you’d get during the summer. So, with that in mind, we planned a trip for seven days in Croatia. Since we only had a week there, a tough choice fell on our shoulders. Where to go
Our seven days in the Istrian Riviera would start in Pula, and from there we would explore the south and middle areas of the Istrian peninsula. All I will say for now is that, from its beautiful (rocky) beaches and clear waters to the friendliness of the locals and the quality of their food and wines, the Istrian riviera did not disappoint. And the stunning sunsets did not hurt either!
As you seem to find our little guides on How to Make the Most of a Week in Lanzarote and How to Make the Most of a Week in Madeira useful, we decided to put together yet another one with handy information and our Istria itinerary. However, as the internet seemed to be covered in information on enjoying seven days in Istria when you have a car, much like we did in Madeira, we consciously decided to go against all odds and NOT rent a car. So keep on reading if you’d like to see how our Istria itinerary by bus looked like. However, it is worth noting, that everything we did can also be done by car, so this is also for you if all you need is some inspiration to organise your week in Istria. Let’s get started, shall we? Here you have it, our…
Week in Istria Itinerary (by Bus)
Croatia is a country of around 4 million lovely inhabitants, and they speak Croatian (Keep your eyes tuned for a mini guide on basic Croatian for your next trip coming soon!). Many people who work in the tourism industry speak also German, English is not as common tho so be ready to get creative!
Their currency is the “Kuna” (HRK) which you can exchange upon arrival in all airports or buy beforehand, whichever is easier for you. However, make sure to check the currency exchange going rate to avoid being ripped off!
Also, it is important to make sure to have the right kind of ID and/or double-check that you don’t need a visa or special permit to visit Croatia, because even tho Croatia is part of the European Union it is not part of the Schengen Agreement, so you’ll have to go through a passport check at your arrival, and you don’t want to start your visit with an ugly surprise.
Day 1: Travelling to Pula and exploring the city
Pula is one of the main airports in Croatia and the biggest one in the northern area of the country. As I mentioned before, you can find flights from pretty much all major cities in Europe. We flew in with Eurowings from Berlin and the experience was a dream. Alternatively, if you find yourself in north Italy, Slovenia or Austria, Pula will only be a short drive away. Whichever way you chose, the views along the way will be stunning.
Pula airport is about 10 minutes by bus (or car from the city centre), and the ticket costs about 4€ (tip: the price of the ticket will be higher in Kunas as it will be in Euros, ever so lightly but if you’re on a budget is worth keeping this in mind and keep some change in Euros for the bus to the city. Also important to remember, at the bus station they only take Kunas and cash, no cards accepted!. There is no need to buy your tickets in advance, the bus is parked right outside the terminal, you can’t miss it.
Once you’re in Pula’s bus station, the city centre is just a short 10-20 minute walk, depending on where you want to go. Our apartment was just around the corner when we arrived and on the other side of the city on our last day. So, keep an eye on distances when booking your accommodation, because even tho Pula is a pretty walkable city, carrying your bags around may be a drag.
Then, it’s time to explore!
Day 2: Day trip to Cape Kamenjak by Public Transport
From the many options on day trips from Pula, we would highly recommend taking bus number 28 from Pula’s main bus station (Pl. 12) to Premantura (stop: Premantura Center) and then walk down the street to the Cape Kamenjak Natural Park entrance. Or if you’re feeling energetic, rent a bike and explore the area.
This day trip to Cape Kamenjak is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the rough-but-enticing clearness of the Adriatic coastline along the Istrian peninsula. What they lack on sandy beaches, they make up with wonderful weather and breathtaking sights, like the blue caves underneath. About 30 mins by bus (or car) Cape Kamenjak is located in the southernmost part of the Istrian peninsula, which means it is hard to miss.
We walked around the peninsula from early in the morning to almost sunset (about 35 Km), enjoyed the sun and bathed in the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic, with an average temperature of 22ºC (approx. 72ºF) during the first week of October.
Here you can bring your own food and picnic by the water on your own little corner of the Adriatic coastline. Or head down to the Safari Bar. A beach bar built among the trees with hidden corners and attractions for adults and children alike. Here you can enjoy some of the local delicacies, from fish to gyros and olives at fair prices.
Day 3 & 4: Making your way to Rovinj and exploring the city
After a few days in Pula, something we highly recommend is to take a couple of days to go and visit the romantic city of Rovinj. It is located about 45 minutes north of Pula by bus (or car), and you’ll pay between 32 and 44 HKR (4,3 € and 7,25€) to get there (with an extra 7 to 10 HKR if you have a big suitcase to “check-in”). This means you can take a short getaway to Rovinj from Pula for less than 20 €/return, which is a fairly cheap ride.
The two main bus lines driving between Pula and Rovinj are Autotrans and BRIONI-Pula. We tried both and we had no complaints about either. Just make sure to check the schedule ahead of time or you may end up having to wait for an hour or two until the next bus leaves. You can also buy the tickets directly at the bus station without fear of having to pay a ridiculously high price.
Once in Rovinj, you’ll see it is a small colourful town. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you’ve landed in Venice. And for good reason, Rovinj (also known as Rovigno in Italian), was a Venetian settlement before the Romans came in. Then, after passing from hand to hand for a few centuries, Rovinj became part of the Republic of Venice between the late 1200s and late 1700s. Then Napoleon took over, after which it became part of the Austrian empire, followed by about 30 years of being part of the Kingdom of Italy who finally ceded it to the former Yugoslavia. And the rest is (contemporary) history. With its long-standing relationship with Italy, it is no surprise that, to this day, Rovinj is a bilingual city, with a rich culinary culture and the most lovely and funny people I’ve met in a while.
Even though Rovinj in itself is very easy to walk around, some of the biggest hotels and resorts are a bit outside. Unfortunately, being so small, the public transport network is almost non-existent, so I would recommend that you make sure to ask in advance how to get to your accommodation of choice.
Most of the bus transfers to resorts and hotels like the Amarin Family Hotel and the Amarin Tourist Settlement leave from the bus station. You can go there to ask for timetables and buy the tickets directly from the bus driver (about 12 HRK one way). Alternatively, you can check the water taxis, for about 25 HKR per ride. The experience is wonderful but the costs of your stay will increase rapidly if you use it every day.
Day 5 & 6: Sunset Dolphin Tour, Lim Fjord Boat Tour, Katharina Island and the Hidden Cafés along the Coast
Rovinj and no boats? No way. Two of the most interesting tours on offer in the Rovinj area are the Boat Trip up the Lim Canal (Lim Fjord), where you learn more about the ecosystem in the region while enjoying some questionable home-made schnapps and wine. And the Dolphin Watching Boat Trip, especially around sunset if you are lucky to have a cloudless sky (Spoiler alert: we didn’t, but still met some friendly finned fellows!). You will find more information about these tours here soon.
Besides spending time on a boat, you can also enjoy your downtime by chilling at one of the lovely cafés by the water. Our favourite -hands down- was Mediterraneo Bar. Slightly pricey but unbeatable sights and the hidden seats on the rocks around the corner are the best!
And finally, chances are you may wonder what is in this mysterious island across the canal. Katharina Island is a hotel, but its public surroundings are the hiding place for everyone with an artistic soul. Katharina Island is the perfect place to draw, paint and photograph its neighbouring mainland fellow! And the water taxi leaves every hour from the dolphin dock!
Day 7: Return to Pula and Flight back
Unfortunately, by the time day 7 of your week in Istria comes, you won’t want to leave. There are still so many things to do. You could visit other neighbouring beautiful cities like Poreč or Novigrad. Or exploring any of the many natural parks, as well as other fun activities like kayaking and stand up paddling, snorkelling and diving. But think about it this way, if you did everything on your first visit to the Istrian riviera, what would be left for when you come back? Nothing, of course! Which would be a shame.
So, the be happy that the time in wonderful Istria came to an end. Bellies full, laughter wrinkles in place, and completely fuelled up on vitamin D to keep you running for a couple of days back home before you start craving your next adventure.
Hopefully, this little itinerary for a week in Istria (by bus) was helpful and gave you some useful pointers for your own Istrian riviera adventure. And don’t forget to check back regularly for more in detail post about the different things I did during my week in Istria.