Croatia, it’s been a while and I’ve missed you.  Visiting Pula in the countries Istria region has long for myself, ever since I first set eyes on its mighty amphitheater.  Previous experiences had in exploring Dubrovnik, Split, Plitvice and Zadar only served to make me determined to explore a new region of this beautiful part of Europe.

Now Istria for those of you who don’t know is Croatia‘s most western county, bordering Slovenia and with strong links to Italy (hint – it actually used to be a part of Italy before borders shifted).  It’s actually one of the most popular tourist destinations within the country, although the popularity of Game of Thrones has seen more and more people flock to Dubrovnik in recent years also.

Here’s a quick look at the area, after which I’ll delve into why Pula specifically is a great destination, and what you dare not miss when visiting Pula.

The Roman Ampitheatre

The jewel in Pula’s crown and a must when visiting Pula is it’s giant amphitheater.  It’s the sixth largest of its kind in the world, and  one of the best preserved roman arena you’ll find.

Luckily for you and I, a trip back in time via the arena is easy, as the giant oval of high arches is located centrally within Pula and has a very reasonable entry price (more on costs in Pula here).

Where as the arena is more likely to hold the annual Pula film festival, back in the day some 20,000 spectators would have flooded through the gates to witness brutal gladiatorial games.  The arena is now free to walk around at your leisure once through the front gate.  Whilst we were visiting Pula there was no tour as such, and information was a sparse, but it was still great to visit such structure and stand where sword wielding titans once stood while raucous crowds once bayed for blood.  Such a place is as exciting as it is terrifying.

Roman Arena, Pula

Pula Ampitheatre

Roman Pula

Pula ampitheatre

Roman Arena, Pula

A short time to the subterranean levels of the arena hammer home just how ferocious Roman leisure activities could be, fore it was at this level that men ‘warmed-up’ for the fight of their lives, or to fight for their lives, and where great beast were also kept before being introduced to the fights just to spice things up that bit more.  Sportsmen nowadays have it easy walking out of a tunnel into a great arena of spectators!

Pula arena panoramic

The Old Town

Pass through the Golden Gate aka Triumphal Arch of the Sergi, and then simply keep walking around the narrow, rounded streets of Pula’s old town. It’s steeped in history, has a castle atop it’s highest point and is littered with restaurants serving thirst quenching beer and delicious pizza … or for the more sophisticated of you, wine and sea food.

Sites of significance and which you should definitely check out are The Forum (main square), upon which you’ll also find the Temple of Augustus, the oldest preserved building in Pula, built during the reign of the first Roman Emperor Augustus (Duh!).   The giant columns supporting the restored portico (destroyed during WWII) showcase an amazing example of Roman temple architecture.

Pula Golden Gate

Pula old town

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The Forum, Pula

The castle or “Kaštel”  (1630) built to defend the shipping yard below and trade routes into and out of Pula is of a French design rather than Roman, but at its rear sits a small Roman theatre.  Both of these are worth the ‘climb’ (it’s a really easy climb) when visiting Pula.

Like Zadar, Pula used to be a walled city.  Entrance to the city came via huge great gates, the majority of which, along with the city walls have long been pulled down, except for the twin gates in Giardini Square.

Pula small theatre

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Pula Castle

The Lighting Giants

A genius idea, but upon my visiting Pula the lighting giants were not executed to their full potential. Shame.

That’s not to say I didn’t see the giants all lit up, I did.  Added to that this unique light show is free and it’s had to argue that I was short changed in any way.

The brain child of world-famous lighting designer Dean Skira , with cranes of the Uljanik Shipyard can be illuminated with 16,000 different colour combinations.  Special combinations and shows are saved for special occasions, but there is a show each evening to take in.  The start time just doesn’t seem particularly uniform.  One to ask tourist information maybe.

The Beaches

Things a getting a bit nippy here in London, so a little bit of sunshine was certainly called for.

Despite the weather forecast of rain, we struck gold on our second day and hopped on a local bus from central Pula and headed down to Verudela.  The journey took a mere 15 mins each way, and we were able to buy tickets on the bus.

Verdula beach Pula

Now as a general rule you won’t find many sandy beaches in Croatia, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t stunningly beautiful or a great place to spend a day.  The beaches we visited in Verudela were no exception to the rule and we spent a lovely day reading our books as the waters of the Adratic Sea lapped at our feet.  Obviously pebbles are never the comfiest to lie out on, but when you have an entire beach to yourselves its hard not to become that bit more comfortable in enjoying your time.

That we had an empty cove to ourselves owed a lot to the time of our visit i.e. out of season. In peak months I am led to believe that these same beaches within Verudela can get mobbed.

Verdula beach Pula

Verdula. Pula

Visiting Pula, a couple of things …

So a couple of little tid bits of info for you.

There was due to be a #5 on this list, but owing to bad weather and a poorly girlfriend our plan to visit Brijuni National Park went out the window.  I was planning to hop on one of the many boat trips to the park on our third day in Pula, but for the reasons I just explained, that plan never came to fruition.  The park does look amazing though and so I dare say it’s worth a trip if you get the chance I didn’t.

In terms of travel to Pula.  Flights from the UK are either via Ryanair or Norwegian.  Pula’s airport is on the small side, but clean and well organised.  There is a shuttle bus that runs from the airport to Pula town centre, and then on to others areas such as Rovinj and Porec.  The bus is not frequent though, and is seemingly timed to flights.  Times are published on the internet, but we checked in with tourist information once in Pula just to be double sure of times. The transfer time itself is a mere 15 mins each way and the cost is 30HRK per person each way – check out my The cost of 3 nights in Pula post for more details on the costs of buses and everything else in Pula.

Currency wise in Pula, HRK is the norm, but we did see Euro’s quoted in some places.  Language wise my Croatian is almost non existent, but English was spoken widely and everyone we met was very friendly.

As a destination I really enjoyed Pula, but think 3 nights based in the town centre is plenty.  Had we stayed for a longer duration I might have picked a hotel down in Verdula and spent a couple of days on the beach, or I might have looked at staying in bigger resorts such as Rovinj or Porec, and taken a day trip down to Pula.  Pula is not a large place and is easily walkable.  To see all the sights of the old town more than manageable in a single day.

Pula, what not to miss

Pula, what not to miss