From Game of Thrones veteran Dubrovnik to UNESCO-tagged Split, there are plenty of Croatian towns and cities that hit the headlines. But is Pula worth visiting? This small, remotely located city isn’t on a lot of bucket lists or itineraries. It sits at the very tip of the lovely Istrian Peninsula, with sloshing Adriatic waters on one side and rolling olive farms on the other. We think it’s certainly worth considering…
The town is mainly known for its striking Roman amphitheatre, which some say is the very best outside of Italy. There’s also a buzzy nightlife scene that’s fuelled by students, some top-notch gastronomy, and a whole wonderworld of beaches and swimming coves on the doorstep. See why we like it?
This guide will offer info on several key things about the Istrian town to help you decide whether it’s worthy of a spot in this year’s travel plans. It’s got the ins and outs of the architecture, the main sights, the music scene, and plenty more. So, is Pula worth visiting?
The amazing architecture (especially the Roman stuff!)
By far one of the biggest draws of Pula is its astonishing Roman architecture. Now, Roman-era buildings can be found across the country but arguably the best examples exist in Pula. For instance, the Pula Arena is a Roman amphitheater comparable to the Colosseum in Rome! It’s a truly monumental feat of engineering, built between 27 BC and AD 68 and still standing today, more than 2,000 years later.
As one of the six largest still-standing Roman amphitheaters, there aren’t many other opportunities to see a building like this. That’s why Pula has quickly become a top tourist destination among history enthusiasts. Another sight worth visiting while in Pula is the Arch of the Sergii. This is a spectacular Roman arch that has been preserved since its construction between 27 BC and 29 BC. You can also explore the Forum, a main square where there’s an ancient Roman temple wedged between the cafes and bars.
Is Pula worth visiting for its ancient architecture alone? It sure is. The amphitheatre alone is among the most amazing sights in the country for history buffs!
Croatia, located in southern Europe, is one of the hotter countries on the continent – it has long, sunny summers and milder winters. We’d also say that Pula comes close to offering the the ideal weather in the peak months of June, July, and August. Its coastal location means that sea breezes help temper the mercury a little. What’s more, it’s further north than Dubrovnik, so never quite as scorching as its southerly brother.
For reference, average highs in July and August are 29°C (84°F). Compare that to cities like Seville, where temperatures can easily go over 40°C (104°F)! May and September are considered the shoulder seasons in Pula because they see average daily temps decrease to around 16-20°C and the consistent sun get interrupted by the occasional bout of rain. They aren’t such good times for hitting the beaches (more on those later) but are better for walking the Istrian hills, getting involved with the olive harvest, and touring the history sights.
Because it’s still off the beaten path
While it’s hardly completely unknown, Pula is rarely overcrowded with tourists. It’s certainly not on the same level as Paris or Rome. Even among Croatian destinations, places like Split and Zagreb are far more regularly visited. Is Pula worth visiting purely as a way to avoid the tourist hotspots? Most definitely!
Pula is a place to experience if you’re looking for somewhere a little quieter. You’ll find it to be largely peaceful and you’ll never be annoyed by hordes of tourists. In fact, many of the crowds that come here in the warmer months are local Croatians looking to find beaches away from the baking bodies of northern Europeans and Brits. Add in a healthy student population, and you start to get a picture of a real, lived-in town that’s not an out-and-out resort center.
There are some areas that will be more touristy than others – the Forum and the old town that surrounds it, mainly. But they’re easy to dodge, especially if you’re willing to travel out to the little-known villages of greater Istria, from Rovinj to handsome Motovun on the hilltops to the north.
The literary history
Pula is more than pretty architecture and wonderful coastline. It’s also a cultural powerhouse in its own right, especially where literature is concerned. While Croatia has its own long line of incredible artists, musicians, and writers – including Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić, Vlaho Bukovac, and Dora Pejačević – it has also long welcomed creative people from foreign lands.
One of Pula’s most renowned former residents has to be James Joyce. For a short while, the Irish novelist and poet called Pula his home. It’s easy to see why he might have come here (just check this list!) on the hunt for somewhere to enjoy life after the censors refused to publish his first edition of the now-ledgendary work Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man back in his native Dublin.
Joyce actually fell upon Pula a bit by accident. He aimed to teach English in Switzerland first but was then forced to go to Italy and then Istria on the hunt for a stable job. Today, you can see a plaque marking out the building where he worked for a year between 1904-1905. Rumor has it that he wasn’t all that good a teacher, preferring long debates about politics and cinema than actual teaching work!
The beaches (or should we say coves?)
Is Pula worth visiting for its beaches? Not the city itself. Although it’s situated right by the sea, Pula actually doesn’t have many outstanding urban beaches of its own. However, the shorelines of surrounding Istria offer a whole wonderworld of amazing places to get your fix of Vitamin Sea. (Just bear in mind that this corner of Europe isn’t really known for its long stretches of powder. It’s more about hidden coves and rugged rock bays backed by cliffs.)
The best area to head – a mere 10 minutes in the bus from the center of Pula – is the Verudela Peninsula. That’s a whole arm of little pebble coves and swimming spots straight off the rocks. There are some more built-up areas with beach bars and whatnot but also hidden spaces for you to kick back under the pine trees.
If you’re willing to travel a little further, then what about heading south to Premantura and the Kamenjak National Park? It marks the southernmost point of the whole Istrian Peninsula in an amazing show of wild grottoes and wind-blasted walking paths on the cliffs. A truly amazing corner of the Adriatic.
A Wonderful Mix of Cultures
With fewer than 60,000 permanent residents, Pula isn’t a particularly large city. However, it has been influenced by many different cultures over the centuries. As a result, it has a distinct and unique personality for visitors to enjoy. There really is nowhere else in the world quite like Pula. That’s what makes it so worth visiting.
This unique mix of culture comes from the geographical location of Pula. If you look on a map of Europe, you’ll see that it’s on a peninsula between Croatia and Italy, and not far from the border with Slovenia. As a result, you’ll find elements of Italian and Slovenian culture in the food, local attitudes, and general vibe of the city.
Pula is something of a crossroads and has been since the Roman times. It’s a gateway into the Croatian mainland or down the sublime Dalmatian coast towards Split and further to Dubrovnik. It’s like an entryway to a whole new world of different amazing cultures, which is why it’s so worth basing yourself there for a while.
The Underground Music Scene
Is Pula worth visiting purely for the reasons listed above? With all its history and surrounding nature, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Pula is a quiet town with no vibrant, party side to it. However, you’d be wrong. Pula is the center of a thriving and exciting underground music scene. If that’s the kind of thing you’re into, then this is a city you’ll definitely want to visit.
Outlook Festival is the perfect example of a Pula-based event that symbolizes the importance of underground music to this community. Originally created in the UK, it expanded to be held in Pula due to the city’s reputation for its love of banging tunes. The types of music you’ll hear at this event include dubstep, reggae, and drum n’ bass.
Beyond the festivals, Pula is littered with clubs where you can get your bassline fix. You’ll be amazed at how this small, unassuming city really comes alive during the night. That’s just one of many more reasons why Pula is absolutely worth visiting.