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.
RECOMMENDED: More great travel destinations in Croatia.
20 great things to do in Rijeka
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. RECOMMENDED: More great travel destinations in Croatia.
A crash course in Rijeka
Croatia’s third-largest city with a population of 150,000, Rijeka has a busy port that handles million of tonnes of cargo and a quarter of a million passengers a year. It’s a lively, quirky place for a city break, during which you can enjoy the city’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. The city you see around you still shows many traces of its Habsburg past. Much was destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1750. Most monuments predating it were wiped out; hence the consistently Central-European in town. Port in Rijeka 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 an infrastructure, including a railway station that still has links with Budapest. 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 the Slav population endured 50 more years of rule from Budapest. As a result of the indignation expressed in the influential local newspaper Novi List, displaced Dalmatian intellectuals stirred up a groundswell of opinion that resulted in the Declaration of Fiume 1905, a call for a united land of South Slavs. It failed but it help
The return of Rijeka's two-headed eagle
No matter how solidly constructed they are, monuments and statues live a precarious existence. They can incite pride or fear, stirring to the extremes the emotions of those who live within their view. And their destruction can equally cause severely polarized reactions. In recent memory, who could forget the triumphant cheers that accompanied the toppling of the 12-metre high statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square, Baghdad at the end of the battle for the city in 2003. Alternatively, consider the global outrage sparked by the cultural cleansing undertaken by Islamic State extremists throughout Syria and Iraq, particularly the losses at the World Heritage site of Palmyra. Croatia itself has seen the destruction, removal and reinstatement of many statues and monuments as governing regimes have changed. One of Croatia's most famous statues, that of ban Josip Jelačić on horseback, was removed from Zagreb's main square in 1946 when Communists assumed control. The statue has since returned, although these days the sword wielding Jelačić faces south, perhaps signifying the now friendly relations between Croatia and Hungary. Jaw-droppingly beautiful Communist era spomenici (monuments), constructed as memorials to Partisan fighters and those who died at the hands of fascists, are a rich part of postmodern art heritage all over the former Yugoslavia. Yet in Croatia, some of them have fared better than others. Monument to the Revolution of the people of Moslavina in PodgarićThe st
Let 3: 'I went to high-school in Bakar and we beat each other onto the school bus. It was great.'
Let 3 are Croatia's most provocative rock act. They come from Rijeka. Formed in the ‘80s, in the days of the city's lively post-punk scene, they have been challenging cultural taboos with their prankster-like behaviour ever since. Their shows are among the best rock concerts you could ever experience in Croatia, and for many young Croats, seeing a Let3 gig is a rite of passage. Founding members Damir "Mrle" Martinović and Zoran "Prlja" Prodanović still front the band. A curious and inspired soul, Martinović also appears alongside his wife Ivanka Mazurkijević in the experimental MrLee & IvaneSky band. But Martinović's artistic endeavours do not end there. For several years he was co-curator of Hartera, an alternative arts space located in a former paper factory inside one of the city's many abandoned industrial sites. The venue, and its Hartera Festival event, brought many famous names to Rijeka, including some of Europe's top DJs, and was cherished by the city's youth. Hartera may have closed, but Martinović is back co-curating another festival. Sailor Sweet & Salt Festival is again a multi-faceted endeavour, with Martinović ambitiously collaborating with Rijeka's science community to turn the sound of their city into a piece of visual art. The event is a key part of Rijeka 2020 Capital of Culture and has an exciting music programme attached. It begins on Friday 27 July with a live concert featuring Darko Rundek & Ekipa, Urban&4 and Mr.Lee & IvaneSky, continuing on Saturda
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.