Get a glimpse of Istria on this quick 5-day tour. Starting from Croatia's capital, Zagreb, you'll make the scenic drive to Rovinj, one of Croatia's most charming coastal cities. Besides discovering Venetian-influenced architecture, you'll take a day to explore the heart of the peninsula with a visit to the nearby medieval hilltop towns of Grožnjan, Oprtalj, and Motovun, capping off your stay with a day in Pula to check out its notable Roman remains.

Highlights

  • Visit the open-air markets of Ban Jelačić Square in medieval Zagreb
  • Stroll Opatija's Lungomare for pretty views of the Kvarner Gulf
  • Navigate the narrow, cobblestoned streets to Rovinj's St. Euphemia Church
  • Drink Istrian wine and eat truffle-infused dishes in Motovun
  • Explore Pula's famed Roman Arena, a mini Colosseum leftover from the first century

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Zagreb! Zagreb
Day 2 Zagreb to Rovinj, Lunch in Opatija Rovinj
Day 3 Into the Heart of Istria: Grožnjan, Oprtalj, & Motovun Rovinj
Day 4 Walking Tour of Pula, Return to Zagreb Zagreb
Day 5 Depart Zagreb  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Zagreb!

Zagreb is Croatia's capital and largest city
Zagreb is Croatia's capital and largest city

Start your adventure from Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Upon arrival at the airport, you'll be transferred to your hotel to settle in. The rest of the day is yours to spend as you like. The city center is easily walkable and the streets and parks are easy to navigate by foot. All the main attractions and restaurants are within walking distance.

A gem of a European city, Zagreb is at once historic and new. It's filled with leafy green parks and gothic/neo-renaissance buildings, yet there's also modern shopping complexes, outdoor malls, and endless dining and drinking options. Consider heading out on a guided walking tour of the historic heart of the city. This involves walking from the main square to Zagreb's Upper Town and passing through local markets before reaching St. Mark's Square.

Alternatively, you can visit one of the many museums and art galleries, like the Homeland War Museum, the Nikola Tesla Technical Museum, or the ever-popular Museum of Broken Hearts. Or stroll through the city center, enjoying 17th-century neo-baroque architecture found at Zagreb's Art Pavilion and Croatian National Theater

Zagreb also has a number of beautiful city parks which are great for exploring and people watching, especially in the late afternoon. Maksimir is a great option, with a variety of cafés nearby to pick up a coffee for your stroll.

Day 2: Zagreb to Rovinj, Lunch in Opatija

Opatija on the Adriatic Sea in Istria
Opatija on the Adriatic Sea in Istria

From Zagreb, you'll make the scenic drive west to Rovinj, stopping first for lunch in the coastal town of Opatija. A popular tourist destination since the 19th century, Opatija is known for its Mediterranean climate and historic Habsburg-era buildings, remnants of its touristic past. Stroll along the famous Lungomare, a promenade that follows the Adriatic coastline and choose a restaurant for a bite to eat and a drink with a view that overlooks the Kvarner Gulf

Carry on to Rovinj where you'll settle into your accommodation before taking the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore this small jewel on the west coast of the Istrian Peninsula. 

Though Rovinj remains an active fishing port today, it wasn't until 1763 that it became part of the mainland. As such, its restricted access resulted in the labyrinth of narrow, cobblestoned streets you see today. Explore Old Town and marvel at the centuries-old Venetian influenced architecture as you pass under archways, through alleyways, and up stone stairwells. Navigate your way to Balbi's Arch and the 12th-century Town Clock, noting Rovinj's skyline dominated by the baroque St. Euphemia Church.

Seek out your choice of interest from churches to galleries and pebbled beaches, capping off the day with a delicious dinner of fresh fish and local wine. Return to your hotel on one of the 14 small islands just off the mainland. 

Driving time (Zagreb to Opatija): 2 hours
Driving time (Opatija to Rovinj): 1-2 hours

Day 3: Into the Heart of Istria: Grožnjan, Oprtalj, & Motovun

The idyllic medieval town of Motovun, Istria
The idyllic medieval town of Motovun, Istria

Today is scheduled for exploring inland Istria and tasting a few of the best local olive oil and wine varieties. Meet with your guide and begin your tour of the Istrian Peninsula and discover some of the most charming villages held within. 

Drive north to Grožnjan, an Istrian medieval hilltop town surrounded by terraced olive groves and vineyards. Once an important stronghold for the Venetians, the town's importance went into decline with the collapse of their empire (in the 18th-century). It wasn't until the sixties Grožnjan became what it is today: the town of artists. Lose yourself in the maze of narrow and cobblestoned streets, stopping to pop into one of the numerous art studios and galleries.

Continue on to Oprtalj, a medieval fort town sitting on the northern side of the Mirna river valley. Oprtalj is home to traditional narrow streets, shops, and fine examples of Istrian and Venetian architecture, including the 16th-century St. George's Church and Venetian style bell tower.

Next, drive south to explore Motovun, an ancient sleepy town located atop a 909-foot (277 m) hill. Its present appearance, with the city walls surrounding the center of the town, dates back to the Middle Ages. Sitting opposite Oprtalj on the southern side of the Mirna river, Motovun today hosts a popular film festival for one week in the summer. Sample local wines and enjoy a meal with truffles sourced from the nearby truffle-rich forests.

Driving time (Rovinj to Grožnjan): 1.25 hours
Driving time (Grožnjan to Oprtalj): 30 minutes
Driving time (Oprtalj to Rovinj): 1.25 hours

Day 4: Walking Tour of Pula, Return to Zagreb

Pula's Roman Arena
Pula's Roman Arena

Get an early start today and transfer to the southern tip of Istria and to the city of Pula. Its strategic location on the end of the peninsula means it has been occupied many times throughout the centuries by everyone from the Romans to the Allied Forces in WWII. While Pula is known for its beaches and harbor, it's most famous for its Roman amphitheater, the Pula Arena, which dates back to the first century. 

Take your time to explore the city, you'll no doubt want to make a beeline for the arena, which is one of the 10 largest colosseums the Romans ever built. Stand in the tunnels and corridors where warriors and lions were kept before entertaining crowds of up to 25,000. But that isn't all—there are many other ruins you can visit here. These include the Arch of the Sergii—an ancient Roman arch dating to 29 BCE—and the Temple of Augustus, a Roman temple built in 2 BCE.

When you're ready, you'll say farewell to Istria and begin to make your way back to Zagreb and to your accommodation. If you have the energy, consider stretching your legs with a walk through Kaptol, Zagreb's religious core before selecting a restaurant for dinner.

Driving time (Roving to Pula): 45 minutes
Driving time (Pula to Zagreb): 3-4 hours

Day 5: Depart Zagreb

Sip coffee in a café onTkalčićeva street
Sip coffee in a café onTkalčićeva street

If you have a free morning before departing, make like a local and visit one of the many café-bars in central Zagreb. Try the pedestrianized section around Bogovićeva and Preradovićeva or the popular Tkalčićeva street for a morning coffee and pastry and to people watch before you say farewell to Zagreb and head to the airport.

Driving time (Central Zagreb to the airport): 30 minutes