Visiting Istria – do you need a car?

‘Do I need a car?’ It’s a question I’ve been asked many times by guests looking to visit Istria. Of course it depends on where you’re staying and how much you want to explore: for my places, which are in villages, the answer is probably ‘yes’. But is this always the case? Does every independent traveller visiting Istria need their own transport, or is it possible to manage with the public network and taxis? I decided to find out.

 

The broader picture: just buses

Not surprisingly, there is no clear answer. In terms of public transport, buses are your only option and, as you’ll see below, the service is limited and patchy.

Pula airport bus, IstriaFor getting here, there are international buses to destinations in Slovenia, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Serbia. But, as I cover in more detail later, if you’re catching budget flights to Ljubljana or Trieste, these are of limited use for airport transfers. (You can also get to Istria by ferry or train, but the train service within Istria is virtually non-existent and ferries are only used for tourist trips or as links to the wider Croatian ferry network.)

However, if you are flying to Pula airport and don’t intend to do much sightseeing, the bus is an excellent option, for some specific destinations. There are shuttle services from the airport to Pula, Medulin, Puntižela, Fažana, Rovinj and Porec, which link with all budget airline flights. Click here to see the schedule.

Having got here, can you explore with the buses? If you’re based in one of the main towns and simply want to visit other larger towns or a limited part of the local area, this is possible with the buses, but it will be a time-consuming option. But, if you want to really explore Istria and see its beautiful in-land villages, the bus network is simply too limited, so you’re going to need your own transport or taxi.

Now for some more detail. I’ll start with getting here and airport transfers, and then look at the Istrian internal bus system. To round out the picture, I’ve also included a little on using taxis, and trains and ferries.

 

Airport transfer

As I’ve mentioned, the bus system from Pula airport is well integrated with the flights, although the number of destinations is somewhat limited. But flights to Pula can be expensive and aren’t available every day, or all year round. So what about airports further afield like Rijeka, Ljubljana in Slovenia and Trieste in Italy?

None of these airports offers an Istrian shuttle-bus service, like Pula airport, but all have regular buses to their main bus station. From there, in theory, it is possible to take a connecting bus. But is it really practical?

From Rijeka it is very do-able. A bus, connecting with every flight, goes straight to Rijeka’s main bus station. There you can catch buses to numerous Istrian destinations, with plenty leaving every day.

Connections from Ljubljana and Trieste airports to their central bus stations are also great. There is an hourly bus from Ljubljana airport which takes about 45 minutes, and one from Trieste every half hour, taking about an hour. BUT, as both Ljubljana and Trieste have a limited bus service with Istria, this can be of little use – as this example shows.

Imagine you’re flying with Ryanair from Stansted to Trieste, wanting to go to Porec (Istria’s largest tourist area). The plane should arrive at 17:00. With regular buses, your journey to Trieste’s main bus station is easy, but there is only one bus a day to Porec from there. While it’s a good service (taking only two hours), unfortunately it leaves at 15:30, two and a half hours before your flight lands, so you’ll have to wait a day to catch it!

 

Istrian internal  bus service

Istrian busThere used to be an extensive bus service in Istria but, as more and more people have acquired cars, the service has been dramatically reduced. Today, it only links Istria’s larger towns and most villages aren’t serviced at all (unless they are on an existing route). If you see a bus in a village, it is almost certainly a school bus delivering local children.

As an example, these are the bus services available from Porec (other towns will have their own local services):

  1. Rijeka, Zagreb, Varaždin, Požega, Vinkovci, Osijek – this service links Porec with the East of Croatia.
  2. Ljubljana (SLO), Maribor (SLO), Trieste (I), Frankfurt (D), Basel (CH), Beograd (Serbia) – International service.
  3. Pazin, Rovinj, Pula, Buje, Umag, Koper (SLO) – services to the main towns in Istria.
  4. Vižinada, Višnjan, Kaštelir – local service to these larger villages, north-east of Porec.
  5. Lanterna, Raparel, Vrsar – local service along the Istrian coast, south of Porec.

These are not the only places the buses stop. As I’ve mentioned, they also stop in some villages en-route. For example, on route 3, the Porec-Pazin bus stops in Tinjan, a village on the way. There are four buses a day and the journey takes 25 minutes each way. But if you want to get to a village like Motovun (an inland hill-top village and one of the major tourist draws), which is off the main routes, there only seems to be one bus a day – not much use for a sightseeing trip. For Grožnjan, another big tourist attraction, it’s even worse: no public buses go there at all! For these, and other villages, a taxi (see below) or organized sightseeing trip is probably your best bet.

  • For information on bus schedules, see the AutoTrans website. Please note, information is often only available for the following two months, but it is useful for seeing what is or isn’t possible.
  • For details on the bus stations, see the Istrian Tourist Site’s bus page.

Istrian tourist trainFinally, it’s worth mentioning that, if you are staying in one of the hotels along the coast and only want to get to the beach and into the local town, then there is a very simple option – the tourist train. Effectively a bus shuttle-service, these cartoon-style, mini-trains run frequently. They operate from early morning until well into the evening, to a schedule posted at the main pick-up points.

 

Taxis

If you don’t want to get around a lot, the simplest option is probably to take a taxi. Taxis are widely available in Istria and mainly operated by small local businesses. There are even water taxis for getting along the coast.

Posh Pula taxi, IstriaTaxis are regularly used for airport transfers. These can be picked up at the airport, when you arrive, or pre-arranged on-line. There is a reasonable selection of companies available on-line, but as prices can vary, I advise shopping around.

If you’re catching the bus from the airport, you’ll probably then need a taxi to get from the bus station to your accommodation. There’s usually a taxi rank close by.

Taxis are also a popular way to get out and about, with many companies offer sightseeing packages. Details for some of these can be found on the web and again, prices vary, so do look around.

When you get to Istria, your local Tourist Office and all Tourist Agencies will also be able to provide information on taxis in your area and arrange sightseeing trips.

 

Train and Ferry

I only include this information for the sake of completeness, as both trains and ferries are mainly of interest for getting to Istria, or connecting with the rest of Croatia, than sightseeing.

Pula train station, IstriaThe Croatian rail network isn’t huge and is more extensive in-land than on the coast. It is virtually non-existent in Istria, which is only connected to the Slovenian network and Zagreb.

If you are interested, there are stations in Buzet, Kanfanar, Lupoglav, Pazin, Pula and Vodnjan.

 

Prince of Venice ferry, IstriaFerries are a lovely way to explore the Adriatic coast and ferries from Pula link into the extensive Croatian network. For more information see the Croatia Ferries website.

In Istria, the only other ferry links are with Venice, with ferries going daily from Porec, Pula, Rabac, Rovinj and Umag. These are mainly tourist ferries for day trips and often include a guided tour of Venice. (Like this Prince of Venice ferry just leaving Porec).

 

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