Discovering history and filling our bellies in Koper Slovenia
Koper is a picturesque seaside town on the Adriatic sea and the largest and most important city on the Slovenian Coast.
The old town of Koper lies on a former island, which was once connected to the mainland with a bridge. Today Koper is a peninsula connected to the hinterlands and the backfilled area grew into an extension of the town.
While Koper has a sizeable industrial area with a big port, do not disregard it just yet! This town is charming, lively and it might just be our favourite coastal town in Slovenia.
Best things to do in Koper
Koper has a rich history, it's filled with culture and has a lively bar scene with plenty of great restaurants. The old town is absolutely delightful and the hinterlands are well worth a visit too!
These are our absolute favourite things to do in Koper:
1. Discover the history of Koper
Throughout centuries this city, which was once an island, has been known under many names; Aegida to ancient Greeks, Capris to the Romans, Justinpolis to the Byzantines, then it became Capodistria (Captain of Istria and still the Italian name today), and finally Koper.
Koper was part of the Venetian republic for over five centuries which is clearly visible in the town's architecture. A stroll through the city will give you a taste of what medieval Koper looked like.
Walk through Muda gate
Once upon a time, when Koper was still known as Capris and sat perched on top of an island protected by tall city walls, the only way into the city was by sea or over the bridge.
As a first layer of protection there was a fortress (Castello Leone or Lion Castle which no longer exists) in the middle of the bridge that then led to the main city gate - Muda. Muda gate once served as a toll collection point and is now the only preserved gate from the once twelve gates that led to the city. To the side of Muda gate you'll also see small piece of the old walls with a service gate.
As you walk through Muda Gate you'll step onto Preseren square (once Da Ponte Square, also know it as Muda). Here you'll find the baroque Da Ponte fountain. This used to be the largest city fountain and the decorative bridge above it is a reproduction of the Rialto Bridge in Venice. This fountain was the main source of drinking water, fed from the mainland via wooden pipes.
Visit Tito Square
Titov Trg is the main square in Koper and here you'll find some of the most significant buildings. The square is the intersection of all major streets in the old part of the city, and is surrounded on all sides by the Praetorian Palace, Loggia Palace, the Cathedral, the Armoury and Foresteria Palace.
The Praetorian Palace, on the northern side of the square, was once the headquarters of the city’s rulers and is the most significant historical building in Koper. Make sure to climb up the little stairs for a different perspective of the square.
Across the square from you'll see the Loggia Palace the only preserved Gothic town hall in Slovenia and today houses a cafe.
On the side, across from the The Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary which has a gothic style lower part with a Renaissance touch added above with a beautiful roseta. There is a separate entrance to the bell tower with the oldest functioning bell in Slovenia. It was cast in Venice in 1333.
Meander the medieval streets
Cevljarska ulica (Cobbler street) used to be the main shopping street and it's still filled shops. As you reach the stairs at the bottom turn left to find the Baroque Carli Palace. Take a peek inside its atrium.
Kidriceva ulica used to connect the port to the main square and was filled with beautiful palaces and monasteries. Today it is dying a slow and painful death but you can still get feel for its historical splendour. In the Belgramoni Tacco palace on Kidriceva street you'll find the Koper Regional Museum. We specially love the Museum gardens at the back which are often used to host events in summer.
Count the lions
As you walk through Koper keep an eye out for the many statues and decorations on house facades. You'll quickly notice the many lions, an old reminder of the Venetian times.
On Kidriceva street you'll also find the original Lion of Venice that used to decorate the Castello Leone fortress on the main bridge. It was moved to Totto Palace on Kidriceva street when the fortress got demolished.
Make your way to Carpaccio square
Carpaccio Square is adorned with the Carpaccio House, a 15th-century Gothic building, the residence of the Venetian painter Benedetto Carpaccio. In the middle of the square stands the pillar of St. Justine, erected in memory of the victorious battle against the Turkish invaders.
The view of the sea from the square is partially obscured by the Taverna (tavern) which was once a Venetian salt warehouse built into the Koper wall mantle.
Today Taverna serves as an event space. On a summer night you'll be able to enjoy concerts, plays and even salsa lessons here.
2. Climb the Bell Tower
The 54 metre high bell tower on Titov square offers sweeping views over Koper, the hinterlands and the Gulf of Trieste. Climbing up the 204 rickety stairs is well worth the effort!
The doors to the tower are locked and you must get the tickets at the Tourist Info Point in the Praetorian Palace. They will unlock the tower for you.
Entrance fee: 5 EUR
Opening times: 9 AM to 1 PM and 3 PM to 6:30 PM in summer
3. Jump into the Adriatic sea
We're the first to admit that Koper doesn't have the nicest beaches, but when exploring this town in summer there's no better way to cool down than a dip in the Adriatic sea. You can jump into the water from the Promenada itself or head to the the Koper City beach (Mestna Plaza or sometimse Mokra Macka).
However, if you're after a full on beach day we recommend you head to Moon Bay beach or one of the other beaches along the coast.
4. Go wine tasting
The area between the Karst Edge and the seaside is also known as Slovenian Istria (Slovenska Istra) and it is famous for its wine, with a rich red Refosk and refreshing orange Malvazija taking the crown.
In Koper itself you can visit the Vinakoper winery where you'll get a tour of the cellars and wine production, followed by wine tasting.
But the real thing happens in the hinterlands where you can explore the wine road or pour your own wine at Marezige wine fountain.
5. Try Rock Climbing
Just a 15min drive from Koper you'll find the Karst Edge, a geological phenomenon where the Karst plateau steeply drops into the flysch landscape of the Slovenian Istria. This is marked with a breathtaking and seemingly endless limestone cliff.
Stretching for almost 20 kilometres these walls are home to some world class climbing crags with approximately 800 different climbing routes and attract climbers from all walks of life.
You can join this climbing tour which includes all gear and the attentive help of climbing instructors who will help you learn and advance no matter your level.
6. Explore the Hinterlands
Koper has a beautiful hinterland of rolling hills, beautiful vineyards and endless olive orchards, with charming little villages scattered in between. Here you'll get a chance to taste all the delicious Istrian food, fabulous wine and just kick back and relax.
Our favourite spots to visit in the hinterlands are the already mentioned Marezige fountain, Bordon vinery in Dekani, the San Sergio fortress ruins just above the Crni Kal village and off course Hrastovlje and Socerb castle.
Along the Karst Edge you'll find the small village of Hrastovlje which is known for the fortified Holy Trinity Church. While the church dates further back, the walls around the church have been erected in the 16th century as protection from the Turkish attacks. The whole village would hide inside in case of threat. This church is famous for the Gothic frescoes by Johannes de Castua with a very well preserved Dance of Death or Danse Macabre from the 15th century.
Socerb castle as a strategic location on a 440 meter high karst wall and offers a beautiful view of the Gulf of Koper and the Gulf of Trieste. While the castle might look like a ruin at first, inside the tall stone walls you'll find a charming restaurant and cellar that serves local wines and delicious food.
Book this tour that will take you to both, Hrastovlje and Socerb.
7. Visit Skocjanski Zatok
Skocjan Bay is a 122-hectare wetland on the outskirts of Koper, where the water has been dried out to connect the island to the mainland. This is the largest semi-salt marsh in Slovenia and if you'd like to experience the treasure trove of biodiversity of the Mediterranean wetland in a nutshell, Škocjanski zatok nature reserve is the right choice for you.
The nature reserve consists of two parts: a lagoon with nesting islands, puddles and fields and a freshwater swamp with rich flora and fauna with many rare and endangered species. A nice circular walking path will take you past observation decks and a big beautiful wooden observatory that lets you peak into the underwater world as well as climb up to get a birds euye perspective. Kamar horses and Istrian (Podolia) cattle, which help to maintain the vegetation balance of the freshwater part of the nature reserve through grazing.
8. Sunsets, ice creams and drinks on Promenada
Large parts of Koper have restricted vehicle access, and then there's Promenada. A big pedestrian area along the coast that stretches from the city beach, past Taverna and the little port to Trznica (the market) and then towards Zusterna beach.
The Promenada, or Koper riviera is lined with palm trees, colourful city lights, bars, restaurants, souvenir stalls and ice cream vendors. On a summer night it all comes to life and here you'll experience a different side of Koper, very distant from the medieval town you've been exploring during the day.
Go for a stroll along the avenue, then grab some ice cream and find your spot on a jetty or a bench as you watch the sky turn into the prettiest shades of pink and purple as the sun drops into the sea. Or make yourself comfortable in one of the bar along the sides and treat yourself to a drink.
9. Eat all the food
One thing is for sure, a trip to Istria will always be a an explosion of flavours, with fresh seafood, cured meats, local truffles and fabulous wine, and Koper and the hinterlands are the absolute best place to try all the goodies!
Unlike in nearby Piran, which focuses predominantly on sea food, in Koper you will find a much more diverse choice of food.
To get the best Istrian cousine on a budget head to Istrska Klet on Stopnicke (the staircase at the foot of Cevljarska street) or Pri Tinetu on Gortan square (Gortanov trg). Istrska Klet has an a la carte menu and daily specials while Pri Tinetu only offers daily specials.
For a lightly more upscale experience head to Capra along Pristaniska ****street where you'll get delicious sea food, Istrian specialities and quite possibly the best deserts in town.
Okusi Istre is a small wine bar and bottle shop on Kidriceva ulica where you'll get the best selection of local wines served with local snacks like cured meats, olives, home made bread and pickled goodies.
If you're up for a crazy adventure, head over to Belvedur for a decadent feast of home made fuzi with truffles. But be warned, this is a half day adventure in itself - partially because of the drive and partially because of the wait since all dishes are made fresh on order.
If you're craving pizza it doesn't get much better than Storia on Trznica (the waterfront side of the market building). They serve Neapolitan style pizza with dough that has been left in the rising process for 48 hours and then garnished with select local toppings.
In Koper you'll also find the best Chinese restaurant we've ever tried. Chang in the neighbourhood Salara is a bit of a legend on the Slovenian coast and an absolute must try!