Most people flock to Dubrovnic or perhaps Split when visiting Croatia, but I’d personally recommend Pula, especially if you want to avoid the crowds. None of the episodes of Game of Thrones were filmed in Pula, but it’s where you’ll find a large Roman amphitheater still in use, beautiful beaches, and some of the best pizza in the world.
Where is Pula?
Pula is the largest city in the Croatian county of Istria, which is the triangular peninsula on the northwestern tip of Croatia. Istria was actually introduced into Italy by the Roman emperor Augustus in 7 AD and remained mostly part of the Italian States until 1947 when part of it was annexed to Yugoslavia. Then, following the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991, it became one of the 20 counties of Croatia. In a nutshell, it’s in Croatia, but it’s mostly Italian with plenty of Roman ruins.
Traveling to Pula
Again, Pula isn’t usually where tourists head to in Croatia, yet it’s remarkably easy to get to. You can take a ferry from Venice, or a train down from Slovenia. Croatia also has an international airport. I had a surprisingly cheap flight from London, although I was quite surprised at how small the airport building was. The airport is about 3 miles outside of town, and there’s a cheap shuttle after each arriving flight to take you to the city center.
The Pula Arena
The highlight of Pula is the amphitheater. The Pula Arena is the sixth largest surviving Roman amphitheater and currently seats about 5,000 people. It was constructed sometime between 27 BC and 68 AD. In recent years, there have been some amazing concerts there, including Elton John, Alanis Morissette, Sting, Michael Bolton, the Foo Fighters, and 2Cellos.
Walks Along the Beach
Pula has a small peninsula jutting out of the Istrian peninsula, as well as several islands. The water is the typical deep blue of the Mediterranean. The beaches are mostly rocky, but that doesn’t stop people from swimming in the warm water. I spent an afternoon walking around the entire peninsula, just enjoying the views. If you’re used to tropical beaches, perhaps in Thailand, the beaches of Croatia aren’t anything to write home about. But if you’ve been stuck in a concrete jungle for years, they’re simple idyllic.
Italian Pizza at Jupiter Pizzaria
The highlight of my visit to Pula was the pizza I ate at Jupiter Pizzaria. They are one of the oldest pizzerias in Pula, having opened their doors in 1990. They carry on the ancient tradition of stone-baked Italian pizzas of the highest quality. I once met up with another renowned blogger who agreed Jupiter’s pizza was better than anything we’d had in Italy…although I haven’t personally been to the Napoli region to rate those pizzas. Best of all, Jupiter is one of the cheaper pizzerias in town.
A Weekend in Pula, Croatia
If you’re visiting the other highlights in Croatia, such as Dubrovnik and the Plitvice Lakes, I’d highly recommend spending a couple of days in Pula. You could also consider making an excursion to Pula from Venice if you happen to be there.
Although Croatia is the most expensive of the Balkan countries, they’re still relatively cheap compared to the rest of Europe, and you can easily spend less than $40 on your weekend in Pula (minus transportation costs to get there). I personally stayed at Riva Hostel, which I’d highly recommend, but if you want something more luxurious, there are plenty of cottages and resorts to stay at along the coast (for a bit more money).