21 Things to Do in Rovinj: Restaurants, Local Food and More Fun for First Timers to Istrian Croatia
When we arrived in Rovinj after a few days in Zagreb and a side trip to Plitvice Lakes, we couldn’t have been more surprised at what we found. The topography changed as we drove from the karst landscape of Croatia’s interior toward the coast. But instead of a low-lying sandy beach town, Rovinj felt more like the Cinque Terre in Italy, sitting up high on the cliffs before plunging down to the sea, with centuries-old stone and stucco buildings towering several stories above well worn cobblestone streets nearly devoid of cars. And it’s no wonder — driving here isn’t for the faint of heart. Even better, since this is a place that begs to be explored on foot.
For a small city, there’s a lot to see here and so many things to do in Rovinj — restaurants serving fresh seafood and local wine, crystalline waters to dive in, outdoor markets to explore, and hours to wile away in cafes doing nothing but sipping wine or coffee and watching the people go by. If your Europe bucket list needs a quiet treasure like this, devoid of overrun European landmarks but filled with ancient history and great food and wine, Rovinj is the perfect addition!
Where is Rovinj, Croatia?
The Croatian fishing port of Rovinj sits on the northern peninsula of Istria, due east across the Adriatic Sea from Venice. It shares the same rocky coastline that southern Croatia is famous for along the Dalmatian coast, particularly in recent years with the hugely popular Game of Thrones. But while Dubrovnik is home to the ruling Lannister family in fictional King’s Landing, no one other than the locals and savvy travelers seeking a laid-back and less-crowded beach destination are hanging out in Rovinj. Old Town Rovinj has a distinct feel that’s more Italian than Central European. That’s because the Venetians ruled here for centuries, and filled in the channel around Rovinj back in 1763 when it used to be an island. The Italians left their influence everywhere, from the architecture, historic churches, the ‘dolce vita’ vibe, and especially the local food.
TIP: Rovinj to Venice Ferry: Several ferries run from Rovinj to Venice several times a day during high season May through September if you’re interested in a side overnight in Venice.
Things to Do in Rovinj
1. Visit the Church of St. Euphemia
The Church named for the Patron Saint of Rovinj is the center of attention here, perched high on the hilltop of Old Town overlooking the scattered islands on the coast. It sits next to an even older, 200-foot campanile bell tower modeled after that of St. Mark’s in Venice. No matter which direction you ascend the hill, from the Rovinj marina or the port of Valdibora, the church is still surrounded by remnants of the original 12th century city wall. You can climb the tower for the best view of Rovinj, attend a service or even a local wedding if you’re lucky!
2. Bike Around the City
We love a good bike tour or just a casual bike ride is a great way to see cities like Rovinj, and there are several bike rental companies in Rovinj who can outfit you for the day to cycle around town on 2 wheels. Dik & Company, Lera Sport, and Bike Planet all service the Old Town area. Long distance cyclists can cycle the hills and interior of the peninsula on well-marked trails. If you like an organized tour, join Bike Tours Istria on a variety of 3-8 hour bike tours to different parts of town, from tours to Pula, seaside tours, or the 25-mile Parenzana Bike Trail (from Parenzo, the Italian name for Poreč) in northwest Istria.
3. The Rovinj Market
There are several small markets around Rovinj, but the Green Market located near the edge of the historic port at Valdibora Square is definitely worth visiting. This Rovinj market has a fresh fish market and lots of local produce as well including local nuts, homemade jams and chutneys, and of course local truffles.
4. Stroll the Streets of Old Town Rovinj
Like many charming towns that dot the Mediterranean coasts in Italy and Greece, Rovinj has enough cobblestone character to keep you occupied for days. It’s one of our favorite things to do…. la dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing, or slatkoću da ništa ne činimo in Croatian). There are so many new shops and hidden gems around every corner, so go ahead…take that side street and see where it goes. We found some of the coolest finds down the narrowest streets.
5. The Rovinj Wine Festival
There are festivals and events galore in Rovinj, so you can plan your trip to coincide with one depending on what you love to do - eat, drink, cycle, hike, or even stomp grapes! We visited Rovinj during St. Euphemia’s Day — a 3 day celebration on or around September 16 honoring the Patron Saint of Rovinj — and had the best time. The Rovinj Wine Festival is a perfect way to taste so many of the great wines produced in Rovinj and all of Istria. For one entrance fee, you’ll receive a Wine Pass and commemorative glass, and enjoy endless small pours from around 25 local Istrian wineries. It’s an amazing event for food and wine lovers! Also check out the other annual Rovinj events and festivals including a truffle festival in October and a new olive oil festival in November.
6. Eat Local Food
There are several local foods and drinks you should try when you’re in Rovinj. Istria is known for several iconic foods like truffles and wine, so if you’re a foodie, you already know you’re going to love it here. But Rovinj has several foods of its own you have to try when you’re here:
Seafood - The variety here is excellent and it’s all fresh and delicious. To those of you who might not think you like seafood, at least give it a try. You know…when in Rovinj! Give the fresh seafood in Rovinj a try, then if you still don’t like it no worries. There’s plenty of amazing pasta to fall in love with!
Pasta - Speaking of pasta, you’ll find a lot of good homemade pasta here, but look for the unique diamond pasta shape called Istrian fuži that’s twirled to make it tubular
Truffles - If you’re a fan of the funghi, the exquisite truffles from Istria are pungent and garlic-y, and are served in various forms from truffle butter and truffle oil to shaved on truffle pizza! If you’ve never tried them, now is your chance. You can even go on a truffle hunting tour like the one we went on in Emilia Romagna just across the sea. It’s a great foodie experience no matter where you do it.
Teranino - this liqueur made from Terrano red wine is unique to Istria Croatia
Burek - One of the most popular street foods in Croatia, burek is a baked pastry made of a thin flaky dough known as phyllo (or yufka) and filled with meat or cheese. You’ll find different variations of burek around the country so try them all!
Prsut - Istrian pršut (dried ham) is a traditional specialty similar to Italian prosciutto that we had on a food tour in Italy made from pigs legs cut, salted, peppered and matured for about a year.
7. Rovinj Boat Trips
If ever there was a place well-suited to see by boat, it’s Rovinj, where the Old Town juts out into the sea and begs to be seen from all sides. Just like a similar Cinque Terre boat tour we took, several tours will take you out during the day on full or half day tours, and the sunset boat tours of Rovinj are so popular. Once you see the sunset in Rovinj you’ll understand why. The sunset light against the pastel buildings of Old Town is a sight you shouldn’t miss. Head to the Port at Valdibora, purchase tickets at the local vendor stand, and hop on board. You’ll pass nearby Katarina Island, St. Andrew’s Island, see Rovinj at night from the water, and maybe even a few dolphins on the way out.
8. Shop Rovinjo Style
You’ll find interesting and beautiful apparel, trinkets, food items, liqueurs, and souvenirs to shop for all around Rovinj. When the relaxed ‘la dolce vita’ vibe sets in (and it won’t take long), you feel compelled to look the part, and the quaint boutiques can outfit you in long flow-y sundresses and the cool, casual accessories to go with it. Stop in a wine shop or enoteca like Shop Tomaso run by owner Tomaso who sells local wines, spirits, and olive oil and has a very cool rock-and-roll past. We chatted with him for an hour, toasted with some Teranino, and bought a bottle for later. Local artisans like Tatjana Rokvić creates quirky and whimsical art from trash, which is not only beautiful, but makes you feel good about buying it too.
You might think that swimming is a popular pastime in Rovinj given its prime Adriatic location. And it is. But like other Mediterranean hot spots, the water is gorgeous but the beaches are rocky, and the rocks have just enough girth and not enough polish to make them easy to walk on. If you’re looking for the nice sandy beaches, pack some water shoes and travel a short ways from Old Town to the best beaches in Rovinj:
Lone Beach, Punta Corrente
Just south of town and an easy 1500 meter walk (just under a mile) from Old Town is the forest park known as Punta Corrente, or the Golden Cape. It’s an ideal place to run or bicycle with no traffic noise. It can only be reached by foot or by bicycle and it offers the amazing natural beauty of the landscape.
Katarina Island Beach
Take a 5 minute boat ride from the port in Rovinj. Don’t worry about getting back. You buy a return ticket for 30 kuna from the hotel reception on the island. The shuttle departs half past the hour, returns on the hour. The swimming beaches are on the eastern side of the island and they are mostly stony with some accessible and some very attractive bays. There is a small pebble beach and further out nice rocks to descend to deeper water, all aided by steps. Hotel personnel will come and collect a fee for the lounge chairs, but they are not really needed on the even concrete. If you want to give cliff diving a try, there are low, medium and high cliffs. Some of the rocks are rough and can be sharp so be sue to wear some sort of protective foot gear like beach shoes.
Red Island or St. Andrew’s Island
Red Island is a fifteen-minute boat ride from the town center. Taxi boats arrive from and depart for Red Island every hour (5 euros), from a small pier on the main town square, and from Delfin pier. The largest and uninhabited island of the Rovinj archipelago offers a wide range of facilities and preserves some very interesting monuments like the church built in the 6th century by the Benedictines. The beach, which is partly pebble and partly rocky, with a few concrete areas, is also known for good water quality. The island offers a protected bay with moorings and is very popular with boaters.
Baluota (Monte) Beach
If you can’t wait to jump in the water but don’t want to leave Old Town, you’re in luck. Baluota Beach, also known as Monte Beach, is just steps from the shops and restaurants in Old Town’s southwest corner under the shadow of the St. Euphemia Church. Find yourself a flat patch of rock, spread out a towel and jump in. The water is so refreshing! When you’re done throw on a cover up and grab a cocktail or a coffee at any of the nearby cafes.
Rovinj Restaurants We Loved
This cozy restaurant and wine bar is located right on the water in the old city and is one of the best restaurants in Rovinj. Their menu features fresh locally sourced products and the emphasis is definitely Italian cuisine. They have a great wine list featuring many of Croatia’s wines and the entrees are fresh seafood with some steak dishes for meat eaters. Go for dinner or a glass of wine while you enjoy the sunset. Whichever you choose, seating is limited and a reservation is a must. Oh, and leave room for dessert - the semifreddo and creme catalana were to die for.
Tucked away at the intersection of two side streets in the middle of Old Town is Giannino, with both an indoor eatery and fabulous outdoor cafe. This is the kind of place you look for in Rovinj — a cozy and quiet al fresco cafe serving amazing fresh seafood and excellent local wines. Perfect!
We enjoy dining late. so we went here for an evening dinner. The interior is all very cool stonework but with the great weather we were having we reserved a table on the covered patio. They have a wonderful full menu, but for us when visiting a coastal town, it’s all about the seafood.
Outside seating, great service, charming atmosphere and an incredible seafood menu. You can order a full meal or small starter plates, like having tappas. We ate here twice for the calamari and the excellent wine list. Great place if you want to relax (they don’t rush you) and have something casual while you people watch.
This is a more upscale restaurant where a reservation is a very good idea. It overlooks the harbor with outside seating on their large patio as well as a beautiful dining room. We thought this was one of the best places we ate in Rovinj. The menu is excellent as is the wine list. Book an outside table especially on a warm Rovinj evening. We absolutely loved the Sea Risotto and Sea Shells, both dishes were done to perfection.
A small restaurant with fish as fresh as fresh can be. We popped in here on a whim and were glad we did. Nice view of the square, staff was friendly and service was excellent. And they have homemade pasta! Wine? Of course. We enjoyed very tender grilled calamari and lightly fried sardines for starters. Doesn’t sound like it works but the shrimp with tagliatelle in a truffle cream sauce was incredible. My only complaint is that we didn’t have another day to go back and have it again.
Day Trips from Rovinj
Driving in Croatia is quite easy. The roads are excellent and well-marked. Renting a car allows you to go at your own pace and explore all this area has to offer. We use Auto Europe when we’re in Europe for their great rates, convenience and variety of options.
A 45 minute drive south of Rovinj is the Pula, the largest city on the Istria Peninsula. This is a very popular coastal resort that attracts tourists from late Spring to early Autumn. It’s well known for the number of Roman structures which can still be seen, like the Pula Arena — one of the best-preserved arenas outside of Rome — and the Augustan Forum. Give yourself plenty of time here. Pula is renowned for its winemaking, beautiful beaches and the aqua waters of the Adriatic. There are restaurants, pizza shops, and cafes nearly everywhere and at all price points. If you decide to day trip from Rovinj, put Pula at the top of your list.
Less than a one hour drive from Rovinj through the beautiful Istria countryside is the charming hilltop village of Motovun. Most visitors here are day trippers buzzing through the many shops but if you stay just a bit longer after the buses leave, you can enjoy a quiet glass of wine, dinner, or a coffee and pastry while taking-in the spectacular views from this ancient walled village.
Porec is a popular coastal resort and with its many restaurants and cafes makes a great day trip from Rovinj. Located 45 minutes north of Rovinj, Porec is home to the UNESCO-listed Euphrasian Basilica, the most complete Byzantine complex in the world. It’s also the home of the Bura Brewery. The place is small but if you’re a beer lover, you absolutely must stop here. This was some of the best beer we tried on our trip. And bring your bathing suit. At most beaches in Porec you will see a Blue flag flying, an international award for high water quality.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
One of the most stunning landscapes in all of Croatia is Plitvice Lakes National Park, a series of lakes, waterfalls, hiking trails and natural woodlands that’s so unique and breathtaking. It gets crowded quickly during the warm summer months, and it’s a 2 hour drive from Rovinj. Probably the easiest way to get to Plitvice is from Zagreb though. It’s just an hour from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes, and worth the drive from either there or Rovinj!