Perched on the west coast of the Istrian peninsula, the enchanting fishing port of Rovinj is one of the jewels in Croatia’s crown.
So charming is Rovinj’s Old Town that you could quite comfortably spend your entire time ambling around its cobbled streets in a heady daze of wonderment. But tempting though this may, you’d be missing out on everything else that makes this achingly pretty town, with its eye-catching Italianate-influenced architecture, so special. Here are 12 of the most unique things to see and do in and around Rovinj.
Join a guided tour of the Old Town
Walking through Rovinj’s Old Town there are two main questions to tackle – which picture-postcard side street should you turn down next and how are you going to resist all of these mouth-watering gelato salons? One choice is to leave all the decisions to someone else by booking onto a fully-guided Old Town walking tour. While strolling the district’s network of cobbled narrow streets and small squares, you’ll learn the intriguing history of Rovinj, starting with its pirate origins followed by Roman rule, through years of prosperity in the Venetian Republic, Austrian investments, and the brutal 20th-century of fascism, communism and wars. Along the way, you’ll pass by all the must-see attractions, as well as several hidden gems known only to locals. Highlights include climbing the highest tower in Istria, the St. Euphemia’s Belltower, with the summit affording breath-taking views, as well as the chance to try the finest Istrian liqueur, Teranino, made in a family-owned distillery.
Watch a magical sunset
A Rovinj sunset is something truly special and adorns many a postcard and tourist board promotional picture. With its elevated hillside setting, there are no shortage of scenic vantage points from which to enjoy these magical moments – and among the most popular is the walled grounds of the Church of Saint Euphemia, where the elevated position lends itself to jaw-dropping vistas. Back at ground level, the Rovinj pier is also a popular spot, extending directly south from the Old Town, providing ample western-facing views of the sun as it dips below the horizon, with the glistening sea dotted with fishing boats in the foreground.
Visit Istria’s only fjord
One of the region’s finest natural attractions, the Lim Fjord (which is not technically a fjord, but let’s not be pedants) can be visited on a number of boat tours that run from Rovinj. Many of them, including this half-day excursion, also take in the famous Pirate Cave, which legend has it was the hide-out of choice of Captain Henry Morgan – an outlaw pirate from Wales who after years of robbing ships, escaped and hid his treasure in the cave. During the tour, you’ll traverse the 10km estuary, lined by steep cliffs that make rock climbing a popular activity here, soaking up the views of the dense pine trees that dominate one side and deciduous trees the other – the vivid lush green providing a stark contrast with the blue water and grey limestone cliffs. In the cave, you’ll also get a chance to look around and stop for a drink at the on-site café before your return journey to Rovinj.
Stay overnight on a beautiful island
A five-minute boat trip from Rovinj harbour brings you to Santa Katarina (or St Catherine) island, home to idyllic beaches, hidden coves, beautiful parks, lush gardens, rich vegetation and, blissfully, no cars. While many choose to visit the island as part of a day trip, there’s also the option to stay overnight at Island Hotel Katarina. Located in the historic summer villa of Count Milewski, a nobleman who purchased the island in 1905 as a sanctuary from his turbulent lifestyle, it’s easy to see what attracted its former owner. Surrounded by pristine 19th century gardens and featuring the remains of an old castle integrated in the hotel, the hotel positively oozes character and charm. Amenities include its own private beach, outdoor saltwater swimming pool, sports facilities, restaurant, and poolside snack bar.
Otok Katarina 1, Rovinj
The waters off the coast of Rovinj are abundant with exotic marine life, including a large population of dolphins who routinely rise to the surface to the great entertainment of the many tourist boats that dot the sea day after day, night after night. This 1.5-hour dolphin-watching tour offers the chance (but not, we should stress, the guarantee) of seeing these majestic sea creatures at close quarters while taking in the panoramic views of nearby islands and back over Rovinj Old Town. Before you’re returned to dry land, you’ll be treated to a mesmerising Istrian sunset. A welcome drink of grappa, white wine, orange juice, or water is included in the tour price.
Explore a fascinating museum
If you need some time out of the oppressive heat, or are hit by one of Rovinj’s occasional rainy days, the town is home to a handful of indoor attractions. Among them is the Rovinj Heritage Museum, which was founded by a group of local artists back in the 1950s. Housed inside the baroque palace of the Counts Califfi, the museum features an impressive collection of art, including priceless works by Old Masters, archaeological finds from prehistoric, Roman and medieval times, examples of Rovinj’s rich maritime and fishing traditions, ethnology, books, and contemporary art pieces.
Trg Maršala Tita 11, Rovinj
Another Rovinj cultural venue that’s certainly worth a visit is the Batana Eco-Museum, which is dedicated to preserving and documenting the local maritime and fishing culture – at the heart of which is the eponymous batana. These wooden flat-bottomed boats have received UNESCO patronage due to their long-lasting and characteristic wooden construction, and the museum houses a permanent exhibition of these unique vessels, as well as fishing gear and other maritime accessories. During the summer months, visitors can even witness how a batana is built, with ship builders constructing the crafts outside of the museum.
Obala Pina Budicina 2, Rovinj
Climb the steps of an 18th-century church
Perched on a hilltop in the middle of the Old Town, the 61-metre Church of Saint Euphemia – the largest baroque church in Istria – dominates the landscape, and is instantly visible when arriving into Rovinj by sea. Built in the mid-18th century, the church was modelled on the campanile of St Mark’s in Venice, and is topped by a 4m copper statue of St Euphemia, who shows the direction of the wind by turning on a spindle. Inside the church are several notable artworks and ceiling frescoes above the sanctuary. Intrepid visitors who climb the tall bell tower via rickety stairs are rewarded with fabulous panoramic views.
Trg Sv. Eufemije, Rovinj / Mon-Fri 9am-12pm Closed Sat-Sun
Cycle through a forest oasis
Also known as Punta Corrente, the Golden Cape Forest Park is one of the region’s most important nature parks. A 15-minute walk from the Old Town and spread over some 52 hectares, the forest oasis conceals a world of remarkable diversity, including multiple local and foreign plant species, Himalayan cedars planted to create the shape of a six-pointed star, and meadows surrounded by Douglas firs. Among the most popular activities here is cycling, with its flat terrain and deep shade providing cool shelter. For even more adrenaline-fuelled adventure, there’s also free climbing.
Park forest Zlatni Rt / 24 hours
Pick up some goods at a local market
There’s no better way of getting to know a place than by taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a local market. Nestled near the port in the Old Town, Rovinj Market is a perpetual hive of activity and somewhere you can find almost anything. From local fruits and vegetables, to cheese, asparagus, mushrooms, indigenous local products, liqueur, honey, to fresh-off-the-boat seafood in the fish market, you can get a real sense of why the town is considered one of Istria’s foodie hotspots – as well as the benefit of non-mass produced food items, with much of the goods sourced from local fields. There are also apparel and souvenir stalls, making for an ideal opportunity to pick up gifts or mementos from your travels.
Ul. Giuseppea Garibaldija, Rovinj / Mon-Sun 8am-9pm
Scuba dive to a shipwreck
It’s not just dolphins and other assorted marine life that populate the Adriatic sea off the coast of Rovinj, but a number of shipwrecks too. Many of them have a dramatic history, such as the famous Baron Gautsch, which was carrying civilians when it hit a mine in 1914. Indeed, the large presence of mines laid during the two world wars is the cause of many of the wrecks found in the region. Luckily for visitors keen to visit these underwater relics, there are several diving schools in the area that offer wreck scuba excursions for beginners and seasoned divers alike. As an added bonus, the wrecks act as artificial reefs that attract diverse marine animals including crabs, lobsters and even large fish such as tuna.
Take a pocket-sized tour of Croatia
In Rovinj, there’s the possibility of exploring the whole of Croatia without even leaving the confines of the town. How so, you ask? Step forward Mini Croatia, a unique 5,500 square metre park featuring miniature versions of famous Croatian landmarks, monuments and places of interest, including famous churches, Old Towns, river landscapes, mountains, islands and more. Enriching the park are over 300 different regional Mediterranean plants, and there’s also a small zoo housing farm animals such as goats and donkeys.