Croatia’s third-largest city with a population of 150,000, Rijeka has a busy port that handles ten million tonnes of cargo and a quarter of a million passengers, many heading to nearby resorts. It’s a nice place for a week’s city break, during which you can enjoy Rijeka’s fascinating history, great restaurants and kicking year-round nightlife. This is not a tourist-oriented city, which is part of its charm: in Rijeka you will be dining, drinking and dancing with locals.
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Founded by the Romans, and Habsburg from the 1400s, Rijeka fell under Hungarian control in the late 1700s. The landlocked Magyars built a new harbour, Baroque landmarks and sundry industries, including the world’s first torpedo. Much of the city had been destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1750, so that most monuments predating this year were wiped out; hence the consistently Baroque look in Rijeka’s Old Town. Fiume, as Rijeka is still known to Hungarians, had no indigenous Magyar population. When their legitimacy was challenged in 1868, the Hungarians switched papers on Emperor Franz Josef at the signing ceremony, and a majority Slav population endured 50 more years of rule from Budapest. As a result of the indignation expressed in the influential local newspaper ‘Riječki Novi List’, displaced Dalmatian intellectuals stirred up a groundswell of opinion which resulted in the Declaration of Fiume 1905, a call for a united land of South Slavs. It failed but it helped spread the notion of ‘Yugoslavia’, one that would come to fruition after World War I. With the collapse of the Habsburg Empire after the war, the Hungarian governor fled his magnificent palace, and in marched Italian patriot, pilot and poet Gabriele D’Annunzio with 200 soldiers to proclaim ‘Fiume’ as Italian and his own state. Mussolini’s men took Rijeka a year later, the Germans in 1943. Rijeka industrialised under Tito, rusted in the 1990s, but recent developments – a motorway from Zagreb, the road bridge
Great things to do in Rijeka
Spending a few hours on the hilltop around Trsat Castle can be pleasant, but if you don’t have much time, you can turn left from the canal at Titov trg into Žrtava fašizma to find a handful of mildly diverting tourist attractions. St Vitus’ Church stands at the edge of the Old Town. Just above it rises the stately Governor’s Palace, commanding a view of the sea; D’Annunzio would have seen the battleship sent by Rome in 1920. Exhibits belonging to the History & Maritime Museum here are overshadowed by Alajos Hauszmann’s sumptuous state rooms. Next door, the City Museum contains modest exhibitions in a two-floor space. Overlooking these two buildings is the Natural History Museum, with a modest aquarium and a pleasant botanical garden outside. Frana Supila descends towards Trg republike Hrvatske, which contains the University Library, accommodating Rijeka’s renowned Modern & Contemporary Art Museum. The best time to visit is for carnival, when there is a huge parade on the Sunday preceding Shrove Tuesday.
Where to stay in Rijeka
Rijeka hotel guide
Despite two four-star venues, the Bonavia and the Jadran, the range of accommodation in Croatia’s third-biggest town is disappointing. A short drive down the coast, the new complex of Novi Spa Hotels & Resort should give the various downtown hotels a run for their money. Also, about 20 minutes outside of Rijeka, in the preserved old town of Kastav, the Kukiriku has lodging above its excellent restaurant.
Upgraded to a three-star after a renovation in 2008, the central Continental is in a bulky 100-year-old structure overlooking the canal. It’s a nice view, though the square below tends to fill with noisy teens when it’s not a school night, so a rear window can be better. Reasonably priced, comfortable and convenient.
Best Western Hotel Jadran
Renovated in 2005, the Jadran boasts 66 nicely fitted rooms in an enviable shoreside location. Set by Rijeka’s first stretch of swimmable sea with its own stop on the No.2 bus route east of town in Pecine, the Jadran (‘Adriatic’) has been a spot for bathing since it opened in 1914. There’s a supplement charged for sea-facing rooms. Half- and full-board deals also available.
Grand Hotel Bonavia
Rijeka’s classiest option, part of the Poreč-based Plava Laguna group. In the heart of town, this is a modern business hotel, with a new spa centre and gym; sauna cabins and massage and beauty treatments have also been recently introduced. The 120 rooms are tastefully done out, the in-house Bonavia Classic restaurant is one of the best in town, and the terrace café overlooks the city.
If you’re looking for a cheapie in town and the Continental is full, come to the aptly named 14-floor ‘Skyscraper’ by the flyover. After renovation in 2008, the Neboder jumped from two- to three-star status, with an underground car park and café. The wonderful Socialist-era lobby has, sadly, been replaced by something more modern – while the rooms remain adequate. This is still a mid-range hotel with prices to match – for the moment.
Youth Hostel Rijeka
Opened in 2006, the former Villa Kozulić is now a modern, 60-bed youth hostel, the first in town. Well sited in Pećine, east of town by the sea on the No.2 bus route, the YHA offers standard dorm beds and three doubles in the attic, all with breakfast included, a snip for the price and location. Open all year.