While Istria’s world-class gastronomy and enchanting landscape make it the ultimate destination for just sitting back and taking it all in, it also has a plethora of sights and activities to entertain the whole family. From uninhabited peninsulas strewn with hidden beaches, and secluded vineyards offering tours and tastings, to secret caves and a jam-packed cultural calendar. There are so many things to do in Istria, we’ve had to collate a list of our favourites…
Explore ancient caves near Poreč
Deep underground, not far from busy Poreč, the ancient Baredine Cave is home to a network of underground lakes and eerie chambers, covered in stalagmites and dripping with stalactites. Keep your eyes peeled and you may spot the mysterious cave olm – known locally as the ‘human fish’. The pale white creatures look a bit like baby dragons, and they’re so rare, they’re protected. All tours are guided and last about 40-minutes, with two an hour (departing daily). Beware, it can get slippery down there, so wear grippy shoes.
Cycle the Parenzana Trail
This disused narrow-gauge railway, which meanders through the Istrian countryside, used to link popular Poreč with the port of Trieste. Today, the 38-mile stretch offers hikers and cyclists a winding journey through dense pine forests and rolling hills, taking in various hilltop towns en route.
Explore Brijuni National Park
Hop on one of the regular ferries from Fažana to this unspoilt archipelago, so serene that President Tito chose it as his summer residence. The 15-minute crossing docks on Veliki Brijun, the largest of the 14 islands. Kids can enjoy the miniature train which drives you round the main sights. Alternatively, if you prefer to explore (powered by your own steam) hire bicycles or a golf buggy – dinosaur mad little ones will love hunting around the island for the genuine 100-million-year-old dinosaur footprints!
Visit Dino Park near Funtana
This dinosaur theme park has everything from a live circus, fun rides and a zoo, to a playground and Jurassic workshops. However, it’s the 80 life-sized dinosaur models, which move mechanically, that really blow kid’s minds! Inside the park, you will find various picnic spots and restaurants.
Channel your inner wine connoisseur
Istria’s hills are covered in vineyards – and might we say, finally – the region is getting the credit it deserves from the wine community. With Istrian wineries regularly appearing on the winners’ podiums at top wine awards. Alongside the region’s traditional grapes, namely red teran and white malvasia, many wineries have started introducing more international varieties, such as merlot, and cabernet sauvignon, generating some exciting new Istrian blends. There are lots of places to enjoy guided tastings, from welcoming family-run wineries and chic wine bars to remote hillside vineyards. Check out our Istrian food and wineries guide for our must-visit makers and merchants.
Make a splash at Istria’s most famous waterpark
Surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside, Istralandia is one of our favourite Croatian waterparks. With six different swimming pools, 1.6km of water slides and countless food and drink outlets, it can easily entertain the whole family all day. Alternatively, Aquacolours Poreč is also packed with pools and slides and has a great lazy river.
Join a sunset dolphin-spotting cruise
Victoria Tours run sunset dolphin-spotting excursions, which leave from Poreč and trace the coast south to Rovinj, taking in the Lim Fjord en route. The cruise provides views of Plava Laguna, Zelena Laguna, Funtana, Vrsar and various islands. Transfers to Poreč are possible.
Hit the waves in Medulin
This family-friendly beach in the south is a great go-to if you fancy having some fun in Istria’s turquoise waters. Stretching over 1km, its sandy shores and shallow waters are great for children, but it also has loads of wet and wild activities for adrenaline-fuelled fun: from jet-skiing and banana boating to sailing lessons. At the other end of the coast, Belistra water-sports centre in Novigrad also offers lots of options, such as parasailing and kitesurfing.
Inland, Istria looks like something from a Tuscan travel brochure. Get a bird’s eye view of its magnificent forests and hilltop towns with a paragliding session. Paragliding Tandem Istra offers four different flying experiences, from 15-minute tandem flights to week-long courses. Based on historic Motovun, a flight with them allows you to take in the ancient city walls and Mirna River Valley.
Attend an open-air concert
Music is a big part of Istrian life, with the region’s towns and villages celebrating bass, reggae and everything in between. Jazz fans should head to the arty hilltop town of Grožnjan in July, when Jazz is Back attracts an impressive international line-up of musicians to its cobbled streets – Bale also hosts a small one in August. In June, Latino beats fill venues around upmarket Rovinj for the annual Croatian Salsa Festival, with international performances and dance lessons catering to all abilities. For those after something a little more intense, Pula’s Outlook and Dimensions festivals are the obvious choices, but electro fans should consider Lighthouse Festival’s underground line-up, too.