Pula is as urban as Istria gets. It is indisputably the region’s commercial centre, and is home to almost half its population. The city’s growing status as a happening focus of the arts has been enhanced thanks to two recently opened exhibition spaces: the spectacularly renovated former church of Sveta Srca; and the ramshackle but promising Museum of Contemporary Art of Istria. The Pula Film Festival in July continues to be the biggest show in town, although the city has been catapulted into the music festival premier league with the recent appearance of two major four-day events: Outlook (big names in dubstep and reggae) and Dimensions (the same but with some more cutting-edge DJs).
What the town lacks in terms of attractive waterfront it more than makes up for in terms of antiquities. The original Roman Forum remains the major meeting point with cafés offering outdoor tables. Pula’s impressive Roman amphitheatre, or Arena, hosts events all summer. The city’s sprawling waterfront includes a port handling close to one million tons of cargo every year, a marina for yachters, a forested stretch of beach with a promenade and, outside the centre, resorts, built in the 1960s and 1970s in Verudela and neighbouring Medulin.
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So important to the Romans they built their sixth-largest amphitheatre here, Pula became a Roman colony a century after they first arrived in 177 BC. It produced wine and olive oil, and by the time of Augustus from 63 BC ‘Pietas Iulia’ was a thriving urban centre with a forum, temples and city walls. Between Augustus and the Austrians, Pula diminished to a minor port of a few hundred citizens. The Habsburgs made ‘Pola’ their naval hub and centre for shipbuilding at the end of the 19th century. After passing into Italian hands, Pula was heavily bombed by the Allies in World War II, then industrialised again under Tito. Package tourism came in the 1970s. Main hub of an economically booming region, Pula is one of those rare coastal towns where life goes on in winter. The city’s growing status as a happening focus of the arts has been enhanced thanks to two recently opened exhibition spaces: the spectacularly renovated former church of Sveta Srca; and the ramshackle but promising Museum of Contemporary Art of Istria. The Pula Film Festival in July continues to be the biggest show in town, although the city has been catapulted into the music-festival premier league with the recent appearance of two major four-day events, Outlook in late August (featuring some of the biggest names in dubstep and reggae) and Dimensions in September (featuring more of the same with some more cutting-edge DJ activity thrown in). What the town lacks in terms of attractive waterfront it more than mak
Things to do in Pula
The must-see attraction is, of course, Pula’s amphitheatre. Set a short walk north of the city centre, its outer walls are remarkably preserved, and a wonderful backdrop for the concerts that take place here. You get a sense of the gladiatorial contests held here until AD 400, particularly when you go down to the corridors on the sea-facing side where the lions were kept. Through a long tunnel lined with Roman masonry, you’ll now find a few displays about olive oil production and a rather detailed map of Via Flavia, which connected Pula with Trieste. Outside is a modest souvenir shop with the same opening hours as the arena. The second of the Roman attractions stands at the south-east entrance to the town centre. The Arch of the Sergians, or Golden Gate, was built in 30 BC. Its most notable aspects are the reliefs of grapes and winged victories on the inner façade. Passing through the arch and past the statue of James Joyce, marking where the author taught in 1904-05, you walk down the Roman-era high street, the Sergijevaca. It leads to the heart of Pula, the Roman Forum, Temple of Augustus and nearby mosaic. The Forum, still the main square, is today lined with cafés, the Town Hall, tourist office and, lining the far side, the six classical Corinthian columns of the Temple of Augustus. Inside is a modest collection of Roman finds. The floor mosaic, hidden away behind a carpark, dates to the second century AD and has geometric motifs as well as a depiction of the Punishment
Central Pula has no beaches itself but it does not take long to reach some pleasant spots of coastline. The nearest ones at Stoja and along Lungomare between Veruda and Valsaline are adequate, but if you’re having to take a city bus (Nos.1 and 4 respectively) to get there, you may as well take the Nos.2A and 3A to Verudela, its nicer shingle beaches and best-in-town lunches. If you’ve come for a beach holiday, leave Pula for Medulin and the windsurfing centre of Premantura, both a quick and regular bus journey from Pula, on the Nos.25 and 26 respectively. Beyond Premantura is the beautiful Kamenjak peninsula, at the very southern tip of Istria. Another option is Fratarsko island. In summer locals decamp here permanently, spending nights under canvas among the shady pines and commuting to the city by ferry. There are free showers there, too. Ferries from Bunarina, heaving with sun worshippers for the ten-minute crossing, run every 20 minutes or so in the height of summer. Fares are nominal. The major excursion for tourists from the town of Pula is to the attractive and somewhat bonkers Brijuni Islands.
Where to eat in Pula...
Where to drink in Pula...
Pula bars and café guide
Pula’s many good bars, cafés and nightspots are not always in prominent locations. P14 and Scandal Express are classic downtown bars the discerning first-time visitor would never find – but would be delighted once they do. Towards Verudela, where Budučinova and Tomasinijeva meet, is a hub of terrace venues.
Pula nightlife guide
For mainstream clubbing, arrange for the taxi driver to head north-east of the centre. The best venue there is Aruba, with a bar outdoors and crowded two-room disco inside. The Zen Club is similarly funky if quite mainstream, although admission is free. Heading south of the centre towards the hotel zone of the Verudela peninsula, the summer-only beach bar and restaurant Ambrela was renovated in 2009 and invites DJs to thump out house, hip hop and techno while punters enjoy the terrace view over a stony beach. Club Uljanik right in the city centre has been going since the ’60s and still boasts a strong year-round roster of alternative bands and DJ nights, and opens up a big outdoor terrace in summer. Indy gigs and alternative club nights also take place in the basement of the Rojc Centre, although you should check the schedule before making tracks. Habsburg-era navel forts count among Pula’s most compelling nightlife destinations: Fort Bourguignon near Valsaline Bay hosts regular summer DJ events; while Fort Punta Christo, north along the coast, is the site of the Outlook and Dimensions festivals, and the seasonal Seasplash Summer Club
Where to stay in Pula...
Pula hotel and accommodation guide
Downtown Pula has a handful of mostly rather modest hotels. The classy options are all 5km south of town in Verudela, which is accessible by bus Nos.2A and 3A, or with a 60kn taxi ride. Here the four-star Park Plaza Histria Pula, three-star Palma and a clutch of other resort hotels are run by local tourism concern Arenaturist For a more intimate stay, boutique B&B Valsabbion lies across the bay in Pješčana Uvala.
This family-run upmarket B&B contains ten immaculately conceived rooms, half of which have sea-view balconies, all are equipped with fine taste. Of the rooms, six are doubles, with the remaining four providing suites of varying levels of space and refinement. The buffet breakfast is outstanding, although check to make sure the price is included in the rates when you’re staying as this changes during the year. There’s also a panoramic pool, fitness facilities and various beauty treatments.