The breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990's was geographically and culturally confusing. Several new countries were formed, and one of these is Slovenia, which has about 2 million citizens and only 29 miles of shoreline on the Adriatic Sea. It borders Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia.
Koper (also spelled Kopar) is Slovenia's main cruise ship port and is located just a few miles from the city of Trieste, Italy. Slovenia has always had close ties with Italy, even when it was part of Communist Yugoslavia. Slovenes were allowed to go to Trieste to shop for "personal" items during those 50 years of Communist control, but smuggling was very common and often ignored by border agents. For example, Slovenes would go to Trieste and buy 20 pairs of blue jeans. Reaching the border on their trip home, they certified the jeans were for "personal" use when really they planned to resell them on the black market.
Slovenia has become better known to those in the USA since it is the birthplace of Melania Trump. Mrs. Trump grew up in southeastern Slovenia near the Croatian border.
Since the coastline is so small, Italy can be seen from the town. Koper has been settled since the sixth century, which adds to its fascination. A day in Koper can include a leisurely walking tour of the old town in the morning and an afternoon at the flea market, shopping on Shoemaker Street, climbing the Bell Tower at Tito Square, and a visit inside the Koper Regional Museum. Cruise ships usually sail in the late afternoon, but those not on cruise ships can spend a delightful evening having drinks and dinner in the old town or along the harbor.
Many travelers arrive in Koper on a cruise ship. Over a dozen different cruise lines schedule Koper as a port of call on their Mediterranean cruises including Viking, Holland America Line, Azamara, Oceania, Silversea, MSC, Celebrity, Norwegian, Princess, Crystal, Seabourn, and Regent. Koper had 70 cruise ship visits in 2016, a significant increase over the 49 the year before. More are expected in the future as cruise lines add more ships and ports to their itineraries.
Morning on Foot
Cruise ships dock very near the old town area of Koper, which sits at the tip of a narrow peninsula that sticks out into the Adriatic. It's less than a 15-minute walk from the pier to the old town's central square, which is called Tito Square, and only about a 30-minute walk to the far side of the peninsula. So, you are never far from your ship or any of the old town highlights.
10 AM: The best place to start the walking tour is at Tito Square. Those who arrive by cruise ship only need to walk across the pier towards the cliff. Your cruise ship reception or shore excursion desk will probably have maps to make your walking tour easier, but since Koper sits on a small peninsula, you can't get lost if you walk downhill towards the water. (Or, ask a local. They are thrilled to have cruise travelers.)
To reach Tito Square, you can either walk up the hill or take the convenient elevator up to a viewpoint overlooking the harbor. Beyond the harbor, you can see the suburbs of Trieste, Italy in the distance. This is a good place to take a few photos and catch your breath if you walked up the hill..
Leaving the panoramic viewpoint, walk along the summit of the hill and look left. You'll see the Koper Regional Museum on the other side of a parking lot, at the dead end of a small street.
10:30 AM. Facing the Museum, turn left. It's just a few minutes walk to the central hub of old town Koper, the Tito Square.The central hub of Koper is its main square, which is called Tito Square after the old Yugoslavian despot. This square, which was once called Platea Comunis, is surrounded by a large cathedral, clock tower, and the Praetorian Palace and other government buildings. The style is a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque, and the structures date back to the 12th to 19th centuries.
The Praetorian Palace is the seat of Koper's government and covers one side of the square. It's done in the Gothic/Renaissance styles and like much of the city looks very Italian but is remarkably clean with almost no graffiti or trash.
The bell tower next to the Cathedral is the highest structure in the old town, with 204 steps up to the roof. If you decide to climb the stairs, you'll get great views of the town. However, locals recommend you take ear plugs along since they ring the very loud bells quite frequently. Visitors don't have to stand very long in Tito Square to hear the bells!
The other buildings on the Tito Square once housed other government offices, the city's pawnshop, and the armory.
The Cathedral of St. Mary's Assumption was built in the 15th century in the Gothic and Renaissance styles. It sits on the site of an ancient Roman basilica. Be sure to step inside the cathedral to see the interior and learn more about Slovenian religions.
The Cathedral's interior is white and baroque due to an 18th-century renovation. Most people in Slovenia are Catholic, but they don't attend church services regularly. The baptistery of the church is the oldest part, dating back to the 15th century.
11:30 AM. Across from the Praetorian Palace on Tito Square is the Loggia, which looks like it was moved right off of St. Mark's Square in Venice, which is only about 65 miles away. The ground floor of the Loggia has a coffee house that has been there since the mid-19th century. After exploring Tito Square, it's a great place for a coffee break and time for some people watching at the busiest place in town for tourists.
Noon. Leaving Tito Square, walk under the Portico of the Praetorian Palace and onto the main shopping street of the pedestrian zone. At one time, many cobblers and shoemakers had shops on this street, so it was called Shoemaker's Street. However, only one shoemaker shop remains in Koper, but it's on that street. The narrow street had many retail shops and cafes and led to another square with the Baroque Carli Palace and the remains of an old fountain where citizens who lived in Koper hundreds of years ago got their water.
12:15 PM. Continuing on down the hill towards the water, visitors reach the Prešern Square (also spelled Prešeren), which is another square reminiscent of Venice. The square even has a fountain that looks much like a miniature version of Venice's Rialto Bridge. This fountain, called the Da Ponte Fountain, dates back to the 15th century, but its current look is from the 17th century.
Koper's Prešeren Square is lined with colorful buildings and definitely looks Italian. At the opposite end of the Prešeren Square from the Da Ponte Fountain, you'll reach the Muda Gate.
The Muda Gate built in 1516 sits at the end of this square and features the city's coat of arms with a radiating sun. This was once the main gate of the old city wall, and visitors had to pay a toll to enter.
12:30 PM. Walking through the gate, you'll turn right and leave the old town area of Koper. Be sure and notice that many of the buildings outside the old city gates looked very utilitarian since they were constructed during the Communist years of the last half of the 20th century. Stroll down the street a few blocks and you will reach the open air market on both sides of the street.
1:00 PM. After exploring the old town, it's time for lunch. The Carpaccio Square area of Koper is on the harbor. This part of the city often features a farmer's market, flea market, and/or food fair when cruise ships are in port. This open air market features all sorts of Slovene antiques and flea market junk (just like the flea markets in the USA).
An outdoor food fair is often held in the Carpaccio Square, which is next to the old St. Mark's salt drying warehouse. Locals and visitors eat at tables in the old open-air salt drying warehouse next to on the harbor. All kinds of tempting foods are available in the booths such as international delicacies from around the world--falafels, burritos, barbecue pork, Asian noodles, and Turkish dishes.
For those who want something other than street food, several restaurants are found along the waterfront or in old town. Most streets lead from the waterfront up the hill to Tito Square, so it's almost impossible to get lost.
Budget-minded cruise ship passengers can follow the harbor and walk 15-20 minutes to get back to their ship for lunch. All you need to do is follow the sidewalk past the flea market and Carpaccio Square. Keep the harbor on your left and you will soon reach the cruise ship pier.
2:30 PM. Return to the Koper Regional Museum by retracing your steps or following the harbor and then walking back up the hill. Since 1954, this museum has been housed in the early 17th century Belgramoni Tacco Palace, and its mission is responsibility for the movable artistic and cultural heritage in the Primorska region. However, the Koper Regional Museum also has exhibits on the archaeological, historical, and ethnological heritage of the coastal and karst areas of the region.
Much of the artwork is from the Renaissance and Venetian periods of Koper, and the old palace, which was last renovated in 2015, has a lovely garden.
If the weather is bad or you love museums, it's an interesting place to visit for an hour or more.
4:00 PM. After finishing your visit to the Koper Regional Museum, there's still time to climb the Bell Tower in Tito Square or buy souvenirs at some of the local shops on Shoemaker Street before dinner. If the weather is nice, it's a great time to sit on the harbor, sip a cold drink. and plan the evening ahead. The scenic walk along the harbor takes you through a park and down to the rocky Slovene beach where you can put your toes in the water before returning to your hotel for a break before dinner.
Most cruise ships sail away from Koper in the late afternoon, so passengers won't have a chance to enjoy dinner in Koper or see the old town after dark.
Evening Dinner and a Stroll
7:30 PM. Enjoy dinner in Koper at one of the city's restaurants. Two old town restaurants that are highly recommended are Capra, which is often rated as the city's best and features Mediterranean cuisine, and Gostilna da Za Gradom Rodica, which has Mediterranean cuisine, but also features local Slovene dishes.
After dinner, enjoy a stroll along the Koper harbor and on some of the narrow old streets before heading off to bed with a delightful day in Koper running through your head.