Pula is the largest city in the Croatian region of Istria. Istria itself actually refers to the peninsula it sits on (or rather the earliest tribes that lived there, the Histri), which also comprises a small part of Slovenia in the North.
Croatia is not part of the Schengen area, however, anybody with a Schengen area passport or a valid Schengen area visa can travel to Croatia without a visa. For all other nationalities please see the link below.
Croatia uses the Kuna (kn or HRK) as its currency, its subdivision is the Lipa. In September 2016 €1≈kn7.5.
In Croatia’s touristic areas all along the coast, it is often also possible to pay in Euro, though usually with a less favorable exchange rate.
Budget accommodation such as hostels might give their prices on Hostelworld, Booking.com, etc. only as Euro approximation and charge Kuna on arrival. If you pay via credit card with the bank rate you might end up paying more than anticipated. Getting cash might be a favorable solution in those cases.
Smoking is still widely accepted in Croatia. So don’t expect people to respect your non-smoking needs on terraces, boats, etc. Do expect smoking tourist to dwell on the opportunity to now be given that look.
The local vendors are not so big on displaying prices in markets or when selling excursions. So you need to be brave and ask and also say no if you feel you are about to be milked.
Pula is largely quad-lingual: public places like street names are given in Croatian and Italian, anything touristic is marked additionally in German and English. This is quickly explained: until the end of WWII Pula region belonged to Italy, while many Croatians went to Germany during the Yugoslavian civil war in the 1990s.
Just putting this one here for no apparent reason: you can buy beer (pivo) in 2l plastic bottles in Croatia. Just saying.
The ancient port town Pula is located across the Mediterranean from Venice, about 130km south of Trieste and 700 highway-km north of Dubrovnik.
The easiest way to get here from most of Europe is by plane.
Pula airport, about 7km outside town, is frequented by about 20 airlines, among them Lufthansa, vueling, Air Lingus, and EasyJet flying from/to most northern and western European countries as well as Russia.
The airport is tiny. So it’s hard to get lost. In fact, it’s so tiny that the luggage from my EasyJet flight from Toulouse made it to the baggage claim at the same moment as the passengers.
While you can catch a taxi or pick up your rental car from the airport, there is a shuttle bus, run by Fils, that will not only take you to Pula for €4/kn30 (€3 for tickets bought online) but also several other destinations along the coast. The bus parks right outside the door and tickets can be bought from the driver. There is also a local bus (no. 23). However, the schedule is spotty and some days the service doesn’t run at all.
Pula can also be conveniently reached by bus. The Croatian bus network is solid, with several buses going to all the major towns several times a day plus optional stops in villages along the route (check with the ticketing office and alert the driver). International buses run North all the way to Austria.
All buses connect in Rijeka. So if you can’t seem to find a connection it’s worth splitting up the journey and searching “Pula – Rijeka” plus “Rijeka – [your destination]” separately. I went from Pula to Zadar for a total of kn200 (ca. €27). Most days it is possible to simply buy your ticket at the station, in some instances, you might even get a discount rate.
The bus station – autobusni kolodvor – is conveniently located about 500m from the Roman amphitheater, arguably Pula’s main attraction. There are a few cafés, restaurants, and a bakery in the area as well as a baggage storage in the bus station itself.
If you need to connect to other parts of town or would like to go to the surrounding villages, you will find that most local lines leave from here, most notably no. 1 and 2a to the beaches in the South, and no. 21 to Fazana. Bus tickets are available for kn7 at the station (or any local Tisak kiosk) or for kn11 on the bus.
There is a train station in Pula, located at the northern end of the marina. Trains run via Rijeka to Zagreb, Ljubljana (Slovenia), Vienna (Austria), and Munich (Germany).
The last regular ferry service from/to Pula left (as of September 2016) is the passenger-only Venice line running in the Summer months from June to August.
This being a major tourist destination there is a host of accommodation options in Pula, from camping to hostels to hotels to B’n’Bs to apartments…
To get an overview of options, check out Booking.com:
I stayed for four nights at the Hostel Underground Rooms (find my review here).
The two local campsites are Stoja in the South of the city and Brioni in Stinjan, just North of Pula. Both can be reached within minutes by public transport from the bus station.
That’s a difficult one for me. On my first night, I tried the Jupiter Pizzeria in a quiet side street just below the castle. I had the Pizza Frutti di Mare. And I hated it. There was nothing vegetable-like on it, the seafood was all from a tin or frozen, with the base dripping with tuna brine. Since this was the sixth-best rated restaurant in town (according to TripAdvisor), my experience made me very sceptical of any food served in Pula. I had a look at the menus placated around downtown and noticed that they all offer pretty much the same fare, and, unique for a city that sees the boats go out every morning and night, none of them advertises “fresh fish” or a “catch of the day.” The eateries left me with the impression that there is no passion for cooking here, just the drive to make as big a buck off the tourists as possible.
Alternatively, you might as well eat a pizza cut from one of the bakeries or a sandwich (Sendvic).
There are lots of supermarkets dotted around town, with a Kaufland hypermarket about 1.5km beyond the bus station.
You can get fresh produce every day until the early afternoon hours from the covered market by Flanaticka Ulica: fish and meat are sold in separate sections inside, while fruit, vegetables, cheese, and preserved good such as oils and honey are sold outside.
The first thing visitors from the sea notice is the Roman amphitheater dominating the city’s coastal view. Dating back 2.000 years, it is the sixth largest and one of the best preserved in the World. The Pula Arena is now used as an event venue, hosting concerts but also gladiator shows in the summer. The entrance fee is really only necessary if you want to delve into the catacombs, otherwise, the whole complex can easily be visited from outside.
The park right outside the arena, Valerijin Park, is where the free Pula walking tour leaves from at least daily. The guy who runs it is equally knowledgeable as passionate about his city (and multi-lingual…).
The Roman heritage of the city, where first human traces date back 1 million years to homo erectus, is scattered beyond the amphitheater around the old town. There is the Forum with the Augustus Temple and last remains of the Juno Temple, which in the 13th century was made part of the Communal Palace. There are the Sergii and Twin Arches, which are located on either end of a stretch of wall that once surrounded the old town. And there are numerous other outlines of former Roman buildings plus a few mosaics.
From the 14th to the end of the 18th century Pula was a Venetian fiefdom. The Genovese, Hungarians, and Austria’s Habsburg all tried to conquer it. Only with the end of the Venetian Republic did the Habsburg finally succeed. Pula stayed part of Austria until the empire collapsed in 1918, and from the castle to the museum to apartment blocks by the waterfront, there are still numerous buildings bearing witness to this period.
Becoming Italian once more, the city fell under Fascist rule and was heavily destroyed towards the end of WWII. An exhibition in the castle tells the history of (communist) resistance against the Nazis, under the leadership of no other than Josip Broz Tito, who would go on to rule Yugoslavia until his death in 1980 and is still revered in this part of the World.
The WWII destructions were in a way a blessing as the following (re)construction efforts literally unearthed some of Pula’s ancient history.
The Archeological Museum would be a good place to learn more about Pula’s illustrious and long history. However, it is currently still undergoing major renovation works.
To escape the searing heat go underground: Zerostrasse has several entrances throughout the old town and lets visitors explore the once secret tunnels below the castle.
Meanwhile, the castle itself, which sits on a hill rising from the center of the old town, is a great spot to get the full panorama of Arena, old town, and harbor. Only the odd high tree spoils the view.
For a bit of swimming, head to the beaches, such as Stoja, Stinjan, or Veludela, all of which can be reached by bus. But beware: most beaches are either bits of rock from which to jump into the water or pebbled beaches. The advantage of this is that with a bit of walking along the coast you can easily find a quiet, scenic spot you can have all for yourself. Just bring your bathing shoes.
At the waterfront, there are about half a dozen boats offering pretty much the same two tours: in the morning, set out for a tour around the islands of Brijuni National Park with a two hour stop for some sunbathing and swimming; in the evening, set out for a sunset cruise with a small dinner and free cheap drinks around the islands to discover dolphins, which toil closer to the coast in the waning light as they feed on swarms of fish. I was given the same quote by all boats for all tours: kn220 (or €30). You can haggle over the price when there is a group of you.
The dolphin tour is highly recommendable because of the view when getting back into the port after dark: the amphitheater is lit up in bright golden light while the giraffe-like cranes in the industrial port deliver their very own light show in red, blue, and green.
You can also explore Brijuni National Park, an archipelago just off the coast, on your own. Tito was so fond of the place that he had a big vacation home build right by the water, the White House. While you can book a tour there, an excursion to Brijuni’s main island, Otok Veliki Brijun, is fairly easily self-organized by taking the no. 21 bus to Fazana and catching the ferry from there.
The forts and beaches at the southern tip of the Istrian peninsula, in Premantura, are worth another day trip.
Finally, there is a multitude of festivals staged in Pula and around each year: music, film, bikers,… Check the calendar of events on the pulainfo website.