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Istria or Zadar?

My family and I have 5 days in Croatia between stays in Lake Bled and Ljubljana. We want to find one place to stay as a home base to explore a small part of Croatia -- we've got a 5yo and 9yo who are into beaches, exploring towns, ancient ruins, etc. and they've traveled a lot. So the question we drive the 2.5 hours to Pula and use that as our home base or suck it up and drive 4.5 to there somewhere else in 4 hours or less that we should stay?

Oh, and the trip will be in mid-July. We're doing airbnb, there are still plenty of good options all over Croatia, so a place to stay is not a worry.

Thanks much for the guidance!

Posted by
1425 posts

If you decide on Istria, I'd recommend Rovinj as a home base over Pula, just on the basis of location. It's further north, so less of a drive. I haven't been to Pula, but Rovinj is a delight, has beaches, and is a good place to use as a base for exploring the Istrian hill towns.

I haven't been to Zadar either, so I can't recommend one over the other.

Posted by
4700 posts

Istria is a peninsula with a lot of towns and cities. Zadar is one little city. They don't compare directly.

Why WOULDN'T you go to Istria? Are you thinking you might prefer Zadar for some reason? I didn't. I liked Zadar to a point but I greatly preferred Rovinj. In my case, I was driving south anyway, and Zadar was a stop on the way. It was well worth the stop, but I wouldn't drive all the way there from Slovenia just to see the town for a few days then drive back. (There are things to see nearby such as Krka National Park though.) Istria has towns like Rovinj, Porec etc. on the coastline plus lots of cute little hill towns inland.

As for Pula: I did a day trip there from Rovinj. Pula was OK but not exactly exciting. It's a big industrial port town with some Roman ruins in the center and a nice pedestrian area in the center with some charm here and there. But I had little desire to spend much time there. I'd seen better Roman Rome.

In July, I'm sure all of these places will be busy with tourists. Rovinj will probably be very busy and lodgings expensive. Pula maybe will be cheaper as it's a big city, I don't know. That's the only reason I would stay in Pula instead of Rovinj, personally.

If it isn't on your radar, Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia is an amazing park, one of the highlights of the region, perhaps the highlight. It's worth a detour between Istria and Slovenia.

Posted by
223 posts

Just back from 3 weeks in Croatia and Slovenia. I went to Pula, Rovinj and Zadar so I feel able to comment. I agree with Rovinj as your home base. Pula is a big industrial city (so is Zadar in some respects). Rovinj is a smaller hilltown within easy driving of both Slovenia and all of Istria. You could easily do a day trip to Pula to see the amphitheater if you wanted. Lots of wineries here too (although that is not so great with toddlers).

have fun. Let me know if I can answer anything directly.


Posted by
13 posts

My husband and I are travelling from Budapest to Croatia on public transportation. We hope to visit Plitvice Lakes and Rovinj for 2-3 days before heading south to Split, the islands off Split, and finally Dubrovnik.

We prefer not to rent a car, but Rick Steves suggests it is best for the Rovinj/Plitvice Lakes areas. Has anyone visited this area by bus or train? Is it really as difficult and time-consuming as Rick says?

If so, please advise on car rental options - pick up and drop off locales? Recommended companies?

Thanks very much,

Posted by
4700 posts

Dianne, you can check the website for bus options between towns. It is doable by bus, but you're going to burn a lot of extra time especially if you want to go from Rovinj all the way down to Split by bus - unless you want to fly (from Pula perhaps) or find a ferry, though I'm not sure if the coastal ferry is an option anymore.

I have driven in Croatia twice and found it very easy. But I have driven off season, in May and October, when the roads were not crowded as I understand they can be in July and August. (You don't say when you are going.) The main A1 highway (toll road) from Zagreb to Split is modern and an easy drive. To stop at Plitvice you need to detour for an hour or two on the slower two lane D1 road, but it's still not hard.

You can rent a car in Zagreb and drop it Split. Then you can use catamarans, ferries, and buses the rest of the way down to Dubrovnik. There are numerous broker websites like EconomyCarRentals, Kemwel, and AutoEurope that will let you choose a one-way rental in Croatia. (I used EconomyCarRentals in May and got a car with a company called Oryx; cost was only about $12 USD per day including a cross-border card, which you won't need if you drop the car in Split.) You can pick up the car near the train or bus station in Zagreb and return it at the port in Split if you want. (If you feel like staying in Trogir instead of Split for a night, you could drop the car at the Split airport, which is close to Trogir.)