Pula is a seafront town on the southwest tip of Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula. With a population of nearly 60,000, it is the 8th biggest city in Croatia. This beautiful city gives a small taste and feels of Rome without the large population, tourists, or cheesy commercialization. Let us go through some history and why this is a great low-key option to Rome.
The region dates back to the prehistoric era and has a strong Venetian influence. Due to its strategic location, it is has been a city that has been through extensive battles for occupation, including the Romans, Venetians, Ostrogoths, and the Allied forces during World War II.
This fascinating city remains largely undiscovered by tourists. There is an authenticity and local appeal that is heartwarming. That is changing as more become aware of all there is to offer. There are ancient monuments, lovely national parks, an old town, and many forts to be seen. With that, you will also be able to take in the gorgeous coastline, music and art festivals, vibrant nightlife, and modern light shows.
The Roman Ruins that called to us
What drew us there was the Roman arena. It is the 6th largest Roman amphitheater globally and the only one with a fully intact circular wall. Built in the 1st century AD, it is amazingly preserved and a pleasure to explore.
Imagine this: Rome Coliseum without all the crazy lines or packed with people. It is smaller but in many ways as spectacular, and it is on the Adriatic sea to boot.
This massive structure and the interesting museum underneath had only four people at the time of our visit. Arriving near sunset and after a rainstorm, it was illuminated in golden light. To wander this magnificent Roman ruin and have it to ourselves was extraordinary. We felt as if we stepped back in time. It was hard to believe we were not in the heart of Rome.
Entertainment venue for over 2,000 years
It was not hard to imagine 20,000 cheering spectators two thousand years ago watching gladiator fights. To our surprise, it is still used today for concerts with performers like Elton John and Pavarotti. There are sporting games, city events, and outdoor movies nights. It has been used as the backdrop for Hollywood movies such as Titus. The fact it is still actively used for large events 2000 years later speaks to the engineering and brilliance of the Romans.
Other Roman sites in Pula
Having a long Roman presence in this city, there are many more monuments from that time period. The Temple of Augustus, Triumphal Arch of Sergius, Old Town, Forum, Gate of Hercules, Pula Communal Hall, and a well-preserved Roman theater is well worth visiting. There is no doubt this was a great Roman city.
There is WAY more than those Romans sites
Pula is full of many other amazing reasons to visit, and the list will amaze you; it did us.
The Pula Castle Fortress
The Venetians built the Pula Castle Fortress around 1630 A.D. It served as their defensive position on the Adriatic. Interestingly the architect was a French military engineer. As a result, it has an interesting French flare in its design. The Fortress strategically sits above the city with stunning views. We enjoyed an early morning walk around the grounds but could not go inside as it was closed. The fortress is huge, and you will find many locals walking their dogs, staring at the view.
Pula has an impressive collection of remnants from its Austro-Hungarian era in which it served as the Empire’s main naval port. There are a total of 26 forts that are falling into ruins but are still fascinating to visit. Maps can be found that will help you discover these gems, many on hilltops with gorgeous views. It is a great way to spend a day exploring the surroundings of the city.
Croatia is a country of deep faith that is the core to the lives of its citizens. Pula reflects that with many religious places of worship. They include the Monastery and Church of St Francis, Church of St Anthony, Church of the Lady of the Sea, and the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin, and the Pula Cathedral.
The Modern side of Pula
On the more modern side, there is the Pula Aquarium, Marketplace, wineries, pubs and bars, lovely public parks, sporting events, outdoor concerts, film festivals, gladiator shows, cooking classes, and quite a party club scene. If that isn’t enough, there are the Lighting Giants in the shipyards of Pula. Created by designed Dean Skira, the sophisticated light show involves 16,000 different colors variations.
The gorgeous Adriatic and its offerrings
Sitting on the deep blue Adriatic sea and Pula is blessed with a beautiful and dramatic coastline. The beauty of this area will take your breath away. Cape Kamenjak is striking with a collection of small islands offshore. The natural beauty with its cliffs and rock formations will amaze you as well as the locals jumping off the cliffs into the crystal clear ocean. The best beaches are on the west side of the Cape.
Just to name a few seaside activities
Residing on the Adriatic water activities is a popular draw here. Kayaking, sunset boat tours, sailing, speed boating, windsurfing, paddleboarding, sea cave exploration, dolphin watching, waterski, jetski, snorkeling, and scuba diving are popular. Much of these are available a short drive south of Pula in Medulin.
Want to explore some nature? The Brijuni National Park requires a 20-minute boat ride and, in most cases, requires reservations ahead of time. The island is densely wooded, with the perimeter graced with narrow white-sand beaches. This area has hundreds of dinosaur footprints from the Cretaceous period that are fun to see, along with size full-size dinosaur figures. To add to that, there is part of a Roman villa to see.
Food and Libations
The food in the region is well respected, and a popular activity is food tours. Istria peninsula is famous for its truffles, and this is a great place to partake in some black truffles. What is food without a drink, there is quite a bustling nightlife in Pula, and pub crawls are a fun way to spend an evening. Not into pubs; well, there are also some wineries in the Pula area to do some Croatia wine tasting. There is an extensive wine country in Croatia, and there are some unique and fun varieties to sample. Food and alcohol are very well priced, so indulge a little.
Of course, what is a city without a collection of great museums? Pula has many, and one of the best is the archaeology museum with a beautiful collection of mosaics and ancient stone relics. On display are artifacts from stone age caves as well as byzantine marble sculptures. Several other museums, including contemporary art, maritime, and photography, are for your perusing pleasure. Take some time to appreciate the rich history.
Pula is one of many incredible cities on the west coast of the Croatian Istria Pennisula and would be an excellent base for visiting the area. We stayed for two days and used it as our base to visit Rovinj, Porec, Sveti Lovrec, Novigrad, and Vrsar. We are so in awe of these towns that we will dedicate a whole post to them. There are beyond magnificent. Pula served us well as the perfect location to work from, especially since we wanted to avoid changing hotels every night.
Our favorite Pula restaurant
While in Zagreb our the hotel front desk asked us where we’re heading next. When we said Pula and they immediately said we have staff here who comes from there. They called her over, and she was quite excited to share her knowledge of the area. We told her we prefer restaurants that cater to locals versus tourist areas. She did not hesitate for one second and said Konoba Boccaporta. She said it was a local favorite with traditional food of the region.
Always seek recommendations from the locals you meet; they are a wealth of information.
As we made our way to the restaurant our first night in Pula, we were sure the GPS was lost as we went into a forested residential neighborhood; however, just as we were about to give up, it appeared.
And what fun it was!
Their motto says it all ‘A nice word opens the door’
That is fitting as it definitely had a local feel as we were likely the only non-Croatians there that evening. The restaurant had a rustic interior with wooden beams and a roaring fire in the hearth. It reeked of authenticity, atmosphere, and charm. We were lucky that night as there was only one table left. Our server initially seemed unsure of what we were about. As we asked him to suggest what he believes would be the best representation of the local cuisine, as well as his personal favorites, he became genuinely excited to plan our meal.
Did we get a feast! So much meat as is the local cuisine. It was such a blast, and our server was both engaging and entertaining. The service was excellent, the conversation fun, and the food delicious. The price was very reasonable for all the great food we ordered. As we headed out after we paid the bill, our server stopped us and invited us to join him for a shot of Grappa. That simple and kind act made our whole evening. It is moments such as that which make the best memories.
We highly recommend Konoba Boccaporta for an authentic, delicious dive into Istrian Croatian specialties.
Where to stay in Pula
Pula and its suburbs have an extensive collection of accommodations to choose from. We stayed south of downtown on the waterfront in the Pješčana Uvala area. We loved the location, minutes from downtown but quiet and relaxed. Our hotel was nice, just not one we would recommend as it serves a narrow clientele that would not be a good fit for many people, including us.
Hotels and Air BnB’s we found as we researched the area were quite reasonable as most everything is in Croatia.
Our suggestion is to decide first if you want more the city or a quieter experience. If you prefer a resort beach experience, look at the Medulin area. Check reviews closely and make sure they are recent. Parking can be a challenge during peak season so take that into account as you look for hotels. We book directly with the hotel when we can, and if not available, we use Expedia.
Croatia as a whole is an absolutely fantastic country, and Pula is part of that wonder. The city is vibrant and has a vibe that caught us by surprise. In the midst of ancient history, there is a cosmopolitan feel while remaining personable.
It was an area we wish we could have had spent at least one more day in. There is so much to see and do. It could be a full-week vacation with nonstop activities.
As we continued our journey, we reminded ourselves the old adage remains true; it is best to wish you could spend more time at a destination than anxious to leave. You will defiantly want to spend more time, and maybe you won’t want to leave. Don’t worry; there is always next time.
Pula Photo Gallery
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