It’s not all grit, ship-building and industry in Rijeka. Croatia’s third largest city and home to the country’s largest port, Rijeka (river in Croatian) boasts a strategic location that brings with it a rich history of various reigns including Celtic, Roman and Austro-Hungarian.
Regardless of what people may tell you, probably something like ‘Rijeka is not worth the trouble’ – Don’t listen. The city is packed with monuments and museums, numerous festivals including the Rijeka Carnival and excellent nightlife. All this with opulent Habsburg and Belle Époque architecture along the bustling streets and squares, and plenty of lavish tea and coffee houses to sit and take it all in.
We start in the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare, the grand Korzo filled with cafes, restaurants, shops and Classical, Secessionist and Modernist architecture. On the Korzo look out for the City Tower, the symbol of Rijeka, originally built as a gateway from the Old Town to the waterfront.
You’ll probably notice all the tourist shops selling a piece of jewelry in the form of a Moor wearing a turban. This is a Morcic and is the foremost symbol of Kvarner…I’ll let you look up the various legends of how this came to be. Depending on how much you want to spend you can buy them in solid gold, encrusted with jewels or made out of ceramic.
In addition to strolling the Korzo stop at the Maritime and History Museum for a look into Rijeka’s rich maritime history and the Roman Arch, a gateway marking the once Roman entrance to the Praetorium.
Not to be missed is the St Vitus’ Cathedral with its unusual round shape – the biggest of its kind in Croatia. Construction began in 1638 by the Jesuit architect Briano. You can enter any time but by making an appointment, you can visit the Cathedral Gallery which features a collection of paintings, gold and silversmiths’ works, vestments and other religious works of art.
For nightlife pop into Tunel (Skoljic 12), a bar under the railway tracks, yes in an actual tunnel. It’s a cafe by day but at night it turns into a live-music venue, bar and club.
For theatre, opera and ballet performances try the Croatian National Theatre Ivan Zajc built in 1885 with some of the ceiling frescoes painted by Gustave Klimt.
Rakhia Bar (Ulica Andrije Medulica 5) – yes this place has a sister branch in Zagreb and offers the experimenter hundreds of Croatian brandy flavours.
Samovar Bar (Trg Matije Vlacica Flaciusa 2) is a beautifully decorated tea room perfect for relaxing and lounging after a hard days sight-seeing.
Zlatna Skoljka or Golden Shell (Kruzna 12) offers seafood dishes with daily specials all in a charming bistro setting and Konoba Nebuloza (Titov Trg 2) serves up traditional Croatian dishes by the river.
One of the most popular events on the Croatian calendar is the Rijeka Carnival taking place between January and Ash Wednesday. The city turns into an open-air pageant with street parades and dancers, masked balls and entertainment on every corner.