Located in the Istria region of Croatia, on the southern coast of the Istrian peninsula, Pula is a popular Croatian coastal town famous for its world-renown Roman heritage, seaside splendor, and 2300 hours of sunshine per year. Well-connected by road, air, and sea, the city has long been known as a convenient starting point for exploring the surrounding region, meaning it's a foolproof choice for sailors traversing Istria.
One of the largest cities in the region has around 60,000 inhabitants today. Praised for its history of fishing, shipbuilding, and a vibrant cultural scene that features several festivals and events throughout the year, Pula has grown into a go-to tourist destination, attracting visitors to its historical monuments, stunning coastline, and untouched natural beauty.
And this city is much more than its well-preserved ancient Roman remains.
Throughout history, Pula has been shaped by a mix of cultures and civilizations and continues to be an essential cultural and economic center in Croatia today. But one thing you may not have known is that it’s one of Croatia’s oldest cities, too.
Namely, this famous Croatian city has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with evidence of early human settlements dating back to the Neolithic period. The first Illyrian settlement can be traced back to the 10th century BC.
However, Pula’s Roman influence is what the city is best known for. Founded as a Roman colony in the 1st century BC (aka Polensium), Pula quickly grew into a thriving port city and trade center. It was also home to a large Roman military base. The city played a key role in the Roman Empire's network of communication and transportation routes, which connected the Adriatic Sea with the rest of the empire. During this time, many of the city's famous historical monuments were also built, including one of Croatia's most significant classical monuments in Croatia - the now-world-famous Pula Arena.
In the 5th century, Pula was conquered by the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths and was again given military importance. From the second half of the 6th century, Pula was ruled by various feudal lords and empires, including the Venetian Republic and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the Republic of Venice, the city had to accept all of its obligations, like paying tribute and building and equipping galleys.
During the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, Pula was controlled by Genoese, Croatian-Hungarian, and Habsburg armies, which devastated numerous medieval settlements, villages, and monumental buildings. At the same time, its population declined due to the plague, malaria, typhoid, and smallpox. Pula only began to rise again in 1848 when the Austro-Hungarian Empire intensively developed a naval port and shipyard. These investments transformed Pula into a prosperous town.
Fast forward to the 20th century, and specifically after World War I, Pula became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and later the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. During this time, the city experienced significant industrial growth and development. While it caused an exodus of Italian citizens, it marked Pula’s rebirth as a Croatian city.
After the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Pula became part of the newly independent state of Croatia. Today, it is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations on the coast.
Nautical tourism is an integral part of Pula’s local economy. The city’s commitment to supporting boating and sailing has helped make it one of the top destinations for nautical tourism in the Adriatic. But that’s no surprise, considering Pula is bordered by a stunning coastline that is ideal for exploring by boat.
The city has a handful of marinas and ports that offer a range of services for boaters, including mooring, refueling, and maintenance. Marina Veruda is one of the most frequented, located south of Pula in Veruda Bay. Fully sheltered from both winds and waves, this large and well-equipped marina is the hub of nautical activity in Pula, open year-round with 630 berths for vessels up to 40 meters and a range of facilities and services for visiting boats and yachts.
We also can’t forget about ACI Marina Pula, another modern and well-appointed marina located near the city center. Situated in a port used since early antiquity, this historic marina is conveniently located next to the Pula Arena, meaning it's the only marina in the Mediterranean that offers a unique view of a Roman amphitheater!
Because Pula is part of Istria, gourmands are guaranteed diverse dining options that pay tribute to the region's flavors.
The family-run Vodnjanka is one of the best Croatian restaurants for fresh, local, and simply prepared food. Focused on traditional Istrian specialties, this no-frills tavern offers many seafood dishes, while diners are also drawn to its house wine and homemade rakija selection.
Milan is a fancier choice, located within the Milan hotel in Pula. The restaurant is modernly decorated, while its menu combines the continent and the Mediterranean, featuring the best dishes of the Istrian territory. From simpler to elaborate plates enriched with the restaurant’s eco-produced extra virgin olive oil, you can expect to find a fish-heavy menu that changes according to the season.
And then there is Kantina, located next to the green market in the cellar of the Matijassevich and Koch family villa, built in the 19th century. In addition to the ambiance, this restaurant is known for fusing local flavors with modern presentations to capture the best of Istrian cuisine.
Pro tip: Just a short drive outside of Pula in the village of Banjole is Konoba Batelina, one of the region’s most popular restaurants. With dishes designed by famous Croatian chef and owner David Skoko, this traditional Istrian restaurant serves delicious seafood, meat dishes, and local wine. You may also recognize it as it was featured in Anthony Bourdain's “Parts Unknown” TV show!
Since this city is located on the Istrian Peninsula, you can count on visiting many beautiful beaches, whether you’re after a serene and peaceful setting or a more lively beach experience. Take Gortan’s, for example, located in a cove of the same name and part of Pula’s Lungomare coastal boardwalk. This pebbled beach is tucked into a picturesque bay with plenty of stone slabs for sunbathers, while you can also find a monument dedicated to Vladimir Gortan nearby, who was a symbol of the anti-fascist struggle in Istria.
Locals frequent Valkane, a small and charming pebble beach with turquoise waters and a Blue Flag for its sea quality. However, if you’re looking for arguably the most beautiful beach in Pula, many wouldn’t hesitate to say Hawaii Beach, reminiscent of the place it's named after. The stone beauty Svjetionik has it all, from a breathtaking backdrop to cliffs and a cerulean sea without the hordes of swimming tourists. And if you need a beach that’s good for the kids? Head to Ambrela Beach in St. John Cove, surrounded by holm oak trees, with a restaurant nearby to load up on refreshments!
Attractions & Activities
It’s no surprise that a city this rich in history and culture offers a range of attractions for visitors, the most obvious of which is the Pula Arena.
Pula Arena is the best-preserved Roman amphitheater in the world and the sixth-largest surviving Roman arena. Built in the 1st century AD, this arena was used for gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, and other public spectacles, fit for 20,000 spectators. In the Middle Ages, the Arena was used for knights' tournaments and fairs, while today, this famous structure hosts concerts and film festivals for around 5,000 guests. During summer, visitors can also witness gladiatorial fights, while a permanent exhibition, "Olive and Viticulture of Istria in Antiquity," can be explored in the underground room.
Pula Castle, or "Kaštel", was built by Venetians on a hill in the city's center. Used to defend the city, bay, and port, this structure was built between 1630 and 1633 and was influenced by French design. The Historical Museum of Istria is housed in the castle today, featuring over 75,000 cultural, historical, political, military, and ethnographic objects in over 15 collections. This space also holds many events and concerts in the summer. Be sure to enjoy the view of Pula and its surroundings from the hilltop!
The well-preserved ancient Roman Temple of Augustus can be found in the central city square. Dedicated to the first Roman emperor, Augustus, it is one of Pula's most significant historical monuments. You can also find the remains of the old city walls built in the 1st century BC around Kaštel hill. At the same time, one of the most valued monuments of classic Roman art, the Arch of the Sergii (or Golden Gate), stands in Portarata Square. This famous arch was erected by Salvia Postuma in the 1st century AD to honor the three male members of the Sergii family. Today, a stage sits next to it for cultural events.
Another ancient Roman monument is the Small Roman Theatre, located within the town walls. This partially restored open-air theater was once used for performances and public gatherings for 4 to 5 thousand spectators. The Large Roman Theatre, unfortunately, has not been preserved.
There are many more historical attractions you should take notice of. The Pula Cathedral is one of them, with its oldest preserved remains dating to the beginning of the 4th century. The Pula Forum should also be on your list. This central square of ancient and medieval Pula was built in the 1st century BC. Located along the coast on the city's western side, the Forum housed all city functions.
And if you’re looking to explore more than ancient history?
The Memo Museum, or Museum of Good Memories, presents the life of locals from the beginning of the 1950s until the end of the 1980s (in other words, during Yugoslavia). This interactive museum allows visitors to travel back in time to uncover the iconic objects of the past, from cars to televisions, gramophones, typewriters, newspapers and magazines, furniture, and more!
The Pula Aquarium is also great for a day out, especially if you have kids. Situated within the 130-year-old Verudela fort, this modern aquarium showcases the Adriatic's diverse marine life, attracting families and marine biology enthusiasts year-round.
And to dive into this town’s powerful port history? The Uljanik shipyard, an otherwise bland worksite, has become a unique attraction. Known as the ‘Lighting Giants,’ cranes light up at night to illuminate it in various colors, brightening even the darkest of nights.
Whether you're interested in history, culture, or leaping into the local atmosphere, there's much more to Pula than its Roman Arena.
Pula makes a perfect starting or finishing point for a northern route charter so the only thing left to do for you is to choose the vessel from our fleet and contact us so we can deal with the rest.