Rovinj is a stunning little city in Croatia filling every inch of a peninsula bordered on three sides by the Adriatic Sea. The core of the old town is mostly Venetian and built with pale limestone that glows in the sun, containing exciting fragments from every stage of its turbulent history.
On a visit you can tour the maze of streets before a meal beneath a parasol at the picturesque working port. Beyond Rovinj you can seek out ancient ruins, visit unfrequented beaches and breathtaking natural spaces like the 10 kilometre-long Lim Fjord.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Rovinj:
1. Old Town
Rovinj was actually an island before a land reclamation project in 1763 by the Venetians.
What you’ll see in the old town is a medieval tangle of tight streets and alleys that pass under archways and twist up stairways worn by centuries of footfalls.
This historic centre is small, but it won’t be hard to get disoriented by this dense labyrinth of quaint cobblestone streets!
Eventually you’ll come to restaurants, cafes or even the water’s edge, and you can always find time for a cup of coffee to watch this ancient town go about its day.
2. St. Euphemia Cathedral
The square campanile of this baroque church dominate Rovinj’s skyline and closely resembles St. Mark’s in Venice.
So it’s no surprise that the 17th-century St. Euphemia was built by the Venetians, who were in control of Rovinj throughout this period.
To get the lie of the land you can make your way up the campanile, which is 61 metres-high and even offers views of the Alps to the north on a clear day.
The church’s interior meanwhile boasts some sumptuous design, including a marble altar with a 15th-century statue of the saint before a sarcophagus containing Euphemia’s relics.
3. Lim Fjord
You can reach this strange and beautiful natural wonder by road or by tour boat from Rovinj’s port.
It is described as both a fjord and a canal, but really it’s a 10 kilometre-long river canyon guarded by steep wooded mountainsides that soar to 100 metres.
What really makes this scene and gives it the appearance of a fjord is the width of the river, up to 600 metres in places.
On land you can hike or bike through the mix of deciduous and coniferous forest and stop by at the restaurant at the mouth of the canyon. Here they serve seafood such as oysters and mussels farmed in these waters.
4. Rovinj Port
The best views (and photos for instagram) of Rovinj can be had from the city’s port. From this perspective you can see those beautiful painted houses that crowd the waterfront, and the marvellous campanile of St. Euphemia behind them.
Turn seawards and you’ll witness a working port in action, with fishers setting out or coming home, or mending nets on the jetty.
All along the water’s edge are restaurants and cafes, and there’s surely no better place in the city to while away a couple of hours on a sunny day!
5. Punta Corrente
The boot-shaped peninsula a short way south of Rovinj is a relaxing natural park. Punta Corrente (Golden Cape) was the vision of the 19th-century Austrian industrialist Johann Georg von Hütterott who purchased this land and allowed its nature to flourish.
Now it’s nothing short of an idyll; a beautiful swathe of softwood forest, where cedars, Douglas firs, cypresses and Aleppo pines planted more than 100 years ago are thriving.
Come here to saunter along the trails, relax on the grassy areas or unwind by the little rocky coves along the coast.
When you consider the great age of this archaeological site, atop a scenic hill outside Rovinj, it’s a wonder that so much of it is still intact.
This Bronze Age hill fort was founded in 1800BC, and ceramic fragments discovered at the site suggest that Monkodonja had ties with the Ancient Greek city of Mycenae.
At the site you can check out the walls, many of which are a metre or more in height, and you can also walk along ancient paved areas and a see a cultic cave.
All the while you’ll be able to gaze out over Adriatic and its little green islands, which are particularly lovely at sunset.
7. Balbi’s Arch
Leading to Grisla Street away from the main square is this imposing arch from the late 1670s, and named after Daniel Balbi who was the mayor at the time.
The arch replaced an old town gate and bears the classic Venetian hallmark of the Lion of St. Mark. Curiously there are also two stone heads, one on either side of the arch.
On one you can make out the head of a bearded Venetian, and on the other there’s a Turk, wearing a turban.
8. Rovinj Heritage Museum
This attraction was founded by a group of Rovinj’s artists in the 1950s as a way of bringing together the area’s cultural wealth and displaying the work of local painters and sculptors.
So there’s a gallery space here with some 1500 pieces of contemporary art, next to exhibit rooms with important artefacts relating to the various cultures that settled in Rovinj and the city’s rich maritime history.
The museum’s grand home is a big part of its appeal; it’s a four-storey baroque palace built by the Counts of Califfi in the 1600s.
9. Rovinj Town Clock
If the city’s clock has a fortified air to it, that’s because it once formed Rovinj’s southern defences.
This square tower in the Rovinj’s main square dates back to 1100, and has undergone a few expansions in its time, particularly in the 1600s when it was updated by the Venetians.
Just beneath the clock face you can make out a relief of that famous winged Lion of St. Mark, the symbol of Venice.
For a few hundred years there was a one-cell prison at the base of the tower, now a bureau de change.
10. Local beaches
After days of sightseeing you can also park yourself next to the calm Adriatic Sea, which looks especially tempting on those hot days in July and August.
Within just a few kilometres up or down the shoreline there are 13 beaches. Few of these will resemble the traditional image of a big sandy bay; Istria’s beaches are either hidden coves with rocks that you can dive off, or small arcs of white shingle.
Monte Beach for instance is right next to St. Euphemia in the old town, with a stairway leading down to a pool enclosed on three sides by rock.
The pebble beach at Lone Bay is more developed, fringed by pine forest and furnished with sun loungers.
11. Local gastronomy
For a genuine taste of Istria try fuzi pasta, which is the local pasta variety.
These are small rolled sheets (relatively similar to penne) served with a veal sauce made with wine and tomatoes. In many restaurants they’ll also grate white truffle on top.
Truffles grow in abundance in central Istria’s damp oak forests, and in fact, the all-time largest in the world was discovered outside of Buje in 1999, weighing 1.31 kgs!
Istria’s Italian connection is also clear from the amount of traditional oven pizzerias in towns like Rovinj.
Take a 20-minute trip through the Istrian countryside to see the ruins of a medieval town that was abandoned in the 1700s during a plague epidemic, never to be repopulated.
You can see the castle’s crenellated tower from the Lim Fjord and on a visit you’ll be free to nose around these evocative ruins, including the town gate, walls, some 200 houses and the sagging ruins of the St. Sophia church.
The entire site is being restored and over time more of this eerie old town is taking shape.
Even if you only hold a passing interest in ancient history, you have to get down to Pula in the south of Istria.
The big landmark here is the Arena, a vast Roman amphitheatre with high arched walls that rival Rome’s coliseum.
So much remains that you can even see the original infrastructure; the tunnels that gladiators navigated beneath the arena, and the facilities enjoyed by the richer spectators.
Also see: Things to do in Pula
On the Forum, the Temple of Augustus is also still standing and a working part of the city, as are the gates and triumphal arches of a place that can feel frozen in time.
14. Brijuni National Park
Follow the coast down towards Pula until you reach the seaside town of Fazana.
From here you can catch the ferry to Veli Brijun, the largest island in the remarkable Brijuni National Park.
It’s part of an archipelago of largely uninhabited islands with a fascinating natural and human history. Since prehistory people had settled here, but by the 1700s they had left due to outbreaks of plague.
Make sure you track down the ruins of the two Roman villas, and St. Mary’s Church, built by the Knights Templar in the 1200s. At the Brijuni Cretacious Park you can also see 200 million year-old dinosaur footprints set in the limestone.
Whether you’re an expert, have had courses in the past or are just starting out, it’s a great idea to include scuba diving in your itinerary.
Everything is just right for it around here: the sea is mostly smooth and safe and there are all sorts of interesting things to see beneath the waves.
Experienced divers could explore the wreck of the SS Baron Gautsch, an Austrian merchant ship that was sunk after hitting a mine in the First World War. Ronvinj’s Valdaliso Diving Centre is one of a select few dive centres with permission to dive at this exciting wreck.