Discover the best things to do in Pula, Croatia, from ancient Roman ruins and unique underground tunnels to sampling excellent olive oil.
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Pula, one of the oldest cities in Croatia and the largest city in Istria, is a beautiful coastal town and to be honest, was one of the highlights of our time in Istria.
Often called Croatia’s “Tuscany”, this area of Croatia is known for its wine, olive oil, shipbuilding and some fantastic Roman ruins.
So while I was excited to visit, I wasn’t sure how much my kids would enjoy it. But as we found out, there are plenty of fun things to do in Pula, even for kids. In fact, my kids are already asking if we can go back!
So here’s our suggestions for the best things to do in Pula, Croatia, whether you have a few days or only one day to explore this beautiful city.
Things to Do in Pula
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting Pula. It was sort of a last-minute addition to our Slovenia road trip, and I had envisioned stopping in for a day before continuing on to explore more of Istria.
But surprisingly, or maybe I should have done more research beforehand, there was plenty to see and do, and we ended up staying longer than planned. Below we’ve listed our top suggestions of the must-see attractions in Pula, as well as some other ideas if you have extra time to explore the city.
1. Visit Pula Arena
One of the most well-known landmarks in Istria, if not in Croatia, the Pula Arena was built between 27 BC and 68 AD and is one of the largest and best-preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world. It’s an impressive sight to see!
Once a battleground for gladiator fights, the Pula Arena is now used for many events, including concerts.
The day we visited, they were setting up the stage inside for a concert – you could just imagine what it would sound like in this awesome setting.
Walk around the ruins, sit in the ancient seats or stand right in the centre (if they weren’t setting up for a concert) and imagine how it would have looked thousands of years ago.
There’s also a small museum underneath the arena, which we didn’t get to, as the boys were getting antsy by this time and pretending to be gladiators themselves.
There is an admission fee to enter, and lines can be long in the summer. Tickets are €10 for adults and €5 for students and children, or you can purchase a ticket ahead of time on Get Your Guide.
2. Check Out the Other Roman Ruins
Throughout Pula are some other notable Roman ruins. The Arch of Sergii, a triumphal arch built in 27 BC, now stands at the end of the busiest pedestrian street in the Old Town and is an impressive way to enter Pula’s Old Town.
There’s also the Twin Gate, which was one of the original ten gates of Pula, and Hercules Gate, both of which are easy to see while you’re wandering around the Old Town.
Closer to the water, there are also the remains of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Canneto, which was built in the 6th century and then destroyed by Venetians in 1243. However, one chapel remained and this can be seen today.
3. Walk Around the Old Town
Pula’s Old Town is small and easily walkable, although distances can be a bit deceiving.
Whether you enter through the Arch of Sergii or another street, it’s a charming area of Pula to wander through.
Stroll the pedestrian streets, browse the cute shops and get lost in the winding lanes. There are plenty of little cafes and of course, some steps as you head toward the fortress, which is in the centre of the Old Town.
4. Visit Forum Square
The main square in Pula is Forum Square, also known as Tag Forum or Piazza Foro.
(In Pula, you’ll notice many streets and places with both Italian and Croatian names, as Pula was part of Italy for a period before WWII and still retains its Italian heritage.)
Here you’ll find a mix of ancient ruins and modern architecture, as the square was built on the site of the former Roman Forum and is still the center of the city today.
Originally, there were three temples here, but only one, the Temple of Augustus, remains today. Next to it is the medieval city hall with a coat of arms.
Like many European city squares, the Forum is a great spot to visit, with cafes surrounding the square to relax at or steps to sit on and take in the daily life of the town.
But in contrast to some other European cities, what I loved about this square was the mix of ancient Roman and medieval architecture, all in a modern city with people just going about their daily lives.
Sip on an excellent Croatian coffee and watch the world go by.
5. Take in the View from Kastel Fortress
Strategically perched atop a hill, Pula Castle, or Kaštel, offers some fantastic views of the town.
Built in 1631 by the Venetians, the castle once dominated the city and is now home to the Historical and Maritime Museum of Istria.
If you’ve visited other historic castles or forts in Europe, this one in Pula isn’t one of the most impressive, but it’s worth a visit for the views. As it’s situated on a hill, it offers great views of the town below.
Or you can climb the tower for even better views, where you can see Old Town, Pula Arena and the waterfront.
After taking in the views, wander around the complex and head underground to Zerostrasse, which is included in the entrance fee to the castle.
6. Go Underground at Zerostrasse
Originally built as war shelters, these tunnels are now open to explore. There are tunnels stretching out in different directions, and a few different entrances throughout Pula.
We saw one entrance on a side street as we were walking to the castle, but the admission to the castle included entrance to Zerostrasse as well, so I’m glad we ended up entering there.
Whether you enter from the castle complex or a side street, it’s a really interesting experience to walk along the tunnels underground.
There are different exhibitions along the tunnels and a larger display at the centre. We ended up walking along two of the tunnels and then exiting near the Arena, but you could head back to the castle and exit there as well.
Ticket prices are €6 for adults, €3 for students, seniors and kids age 5-16. Children under 5 are free.
7. Visit Tito’s Park
Situated right along the water, Tito’s Park has a monument to fallen soldiers as well as ten busts representing local Croatian heroes. It’s a great place to sit and relax for a few minutes under the shade of the trees, and in the evenings, there’s often music.
There’s also a scale model of the city, which is great as it gives you an idea of the city’s layout and my kids loved looking at it and figuring out the way to our next stop.
8. See the Statue of James Joyce
James Joyce, the famous Irish writer, lived in Pula for six months in 1904-05 teaching English to Austro-Hungarian officers.
Even though he wasn’t a fan of spending time in Pula – he called it a “naval Siberia” – the city still made a statue of the writer.
You can find the statue next to the Arch of Sergii, sitting on a ledge overlooking the street below.
9. Find the Hidden Mosaic
This amazingly well-preserved ancient Roman floor mosaic is said to be from the 3rd century and was only discovered after the WWII bombing of Pula.
And while its name refers to the fact that it was hidden until the last century, it’s also a bit tricky to find. It’s near the Chapel of Santa Maria, and while we walked right by it, unfortunately, we missed it.
Google Maps isn’t the best at explaining how to see it – don’t make my mistake! We had stopped at the playground across the street and didn’t realize it was actually behind the buildings, not on the street.
The Mediterraneo restaurant is on the corner and you can find the mosaic by walking behind the buildings and through a parking lot.
10. Visit Pula Aquarium
The Pula Aquarium is the largest and most visited public aquarium in the county.
It’s located in one of the 130-year-old fortresses that made up the city’s defence complex and features more than 200 species of fish and marine life, as well as a turtle rescue center.
They’ve rescued over 170 turtles and returned them to sea once they were ready. Once you’ve explored the different fish, be sure to head up the stairs to the top for fantastic panoramic views of the city and sea.
Tickets are €20 for adults, €12 for children aged 3-6, and €16 for children aged 7-18. Tickets can be purchased online here.
11. Tour the Museum of Olive Oil
Istria, which is known for its wine and olive oil, is sometimes referred to as Croatia’s Tuscany. To learn more about olive oil in the area, head to the Museum of Olive Oil, which is located in the centre of Pula, just a few minutes walk from the Arena.
This museum is all about olive growing in Istria, from how the ancient Romans processed it to how it’s produced today.
You can purchase a ticket just to explore the museum or include an olive oil tasting, where you’ll get to try different types of olive oil and learn how to recognize quality extra virgin olive oil, which is what this region is famous for.
In the shop, you can pick up some olive oil, or other gifts made from olive oil, as well as Istrian truffles, and lavender, all of which make for great souvenirs.
12. See the Lighting Giants
As a port town, it makes sense that Pula was known as a hub for shipbuilding in years past. One of the oldest shipbuilders, Uljanik, which is no longer building ships, decided to turn the unused machinery into what they call “Lighting Giants”.
Each evening beginning at 9 pm, you can see the Lighting Giants light up the sky for 15 minutes every hour. There are more than 16, 000 lights set to a musical program, which changes frequently.
If you’re in Pula at night, be sure to see the show! You can see them as you walk along the water or head up to the Kastel for great views.
13. Sample the Food
Even if you’re not a foodie, when you’re in Pula, you need to try some of the local delicacies. The Istria region is known for its excellent olive oil, fresh seafood, great wine, and of course, Istrian truffles. The truffles here are known for their high quality and are some of the most affordable in the world.
There are plenty of great restaurants and cafes in Pula’s Old Town where you can try dishes featuring truffles, whether as an appetizer or in a pasta dish, but there are also truffle-based seafood dishes, like sea bass in a truffle sauce.
If you’re not set on trying truffles, Pula also has excellent fresh seafood, which you’ll find on almost every menu.
14. Try the Coffee
Coffee culture in Croatia, as in other Balkan countries, is big. There’s no drive-through, pick-up-your-coffee to-go type places. In Croatia, it’s more of a ritual where you sit and savour your coffee, while meeting and catching up with family and friends.
You’ll find plenty of cafes throughout the city, where you can sit back, relax and enjoy a cup of rich Croatian coffee.
15. Experience Adventure Park Pula
Towards the edge of the city, Adventure Park Pula is perfect for those looking for something different than sightseeing.
With rope courses, balance bridges and zip lines, including an 80-meter zip line, there’s a variety of challenges to suit everyone in the family.
If you’re looking for things to do in Pula with kids, this is perfect!
Take a Day Trip to Brijuni National Park
An island paradise just off the coast of Pula, National Park Brijuni Islands is renowned for its lush landscapes, diverse wildlife and historical treasures.
Uninhabited for years, Brijuni became a popular holiday destination at the beginning of the 20th century.
After WWII, Yugoslav President Tito used the islands as his summer home, and when Croatia gained its independence in the 1990s, the islands were made a National Park.
Boats leave from Pula’s waterfront and you can book a ride at the waterfront, or opt for a guided boat tour, where you’ll also have a chance to swim on the islands. Book your ticket here.
Other Day Trips from Pula:
Pula’s location at the tip of the Istrian Peninsula means that there are several other great day trips possible.
Venice is a 3 hour boat ride from Pula, while Rijeka is just under 1.5 hours drive towards Zagreb and Rovinj is only 40 minutes away on the Istrian coast. Further north on the coast, Piran in Slovenia is another lovely town and just over an hour’s drive, making it a great day trip from Pula.
Where to Stay in Pula
Pula offers a diverse range of accommodations, from hotels and apartments to beachside resorts. Staying near the Old Town provides easy access to the city’s main attractions, and there are plenty of private apartments available in Pula, but it does get busy during the summer months so you may want to book ahead. We stayed just outside of Pula at the Resort Del Mar and highly recommend it if you have a car.
4⭐ 7.9/10 on Booking
Located in Banjole, just 4km from Pula, Resort del Mar is a waterfront resort with a beach and outdoor pool, as well as a restaurant and grocery shop on site.
The apartments are comfortable and clean, with a terrace and a kitchen to make your own meals. If you don’t feel like cooking yourself, the restaurant on-site offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has a variety of items on the menu, including kids meals.
We stayed here in June for a few nights, and it was already pretty busy so I imagine it would be busier in the summer months, but as we were out exploring Pula during the day, it wasn’t a big deal.
3⭐ 9.0/10 on Booking
Another beachfront resort option in Pula, the Park Plaza Arena Pula features two seawater swimming pools and a sun deck with sea views, and there’s a beach in front of the hotel.
Rooms offer air conditioning and feature a seating area. There’s a restaurant on-site or there are several dining options just a short walk away.
The center of Pula is 2.5 miles away and it is possible to take a bus if you don’t have a car.
3⭐ 7.9/10 on Booking
Just steps from the Pula Arena, Hotel Amfiteatar is in a perfect location to explore Pula’s Old Town.
Rooms are spacious and feature air conditioning, a mini fridge and free internet. Breakfast is available each morning and the restaurant on-site offers Mediterranean cuisine throughout the day.
Where is Pula, Croatia
Pula is a city located on the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Pula is the largest city in Istria, and makes for a great destination for visitors exploring the Istrian region.
How to Get to Pula
Pula is accessible by car or bus from nearby destinations in Croatia and Slovenia. Piran, Slovenia is only an hour’s drive away.
Pula also has its own airport, PUY, which is well-connected to major European cities. From the airport, it’s a short drive to the city center and taxis, rental cars and airport shuttles are readily available.
How to Get Around Pula
Pula is easily walkable, with a compact city center and pedestrian-friendly streets. However, as the fortress is up on a hill, there are many streets with steps as you head towards the center.
The city’s public transportation system also makes it easy to explore both the city center and the surrounding areas.
Final Thoughts: Best Things to Do in Pula Croatia
Pula, with its rich history and well-preserved Roman ruins, is one of the best places to visit on the Istrian Peninsula.
Whether you’re drawn to the impressive ancient Arena, the unique underground tunnels or the charming streets and waterfront, Pula has something for everyone to enjoy. Sample the food, see the sights and soak up the small-town feel while enjoying the best things that Pula has to offer.