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48 hours: in Rijeka

Rijeka (Photo credit: @esejapan/Instagram)

by Tina Kovačiček

The city of Rijeka, which in literal English translation means river, is the third largest city in Croatia (after Zagreb and Split) and the nation’s principal seaport.

It is the administrative and cultural centre of the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, situated along the course of Rječina River and nearby numerous streams.

Being the city surrounded by water in every way, Rijeka carries the symbol of it in its name and its official nickname is ‘city that flows’. So, after this official part, let me tell you about a fact how Rijeka is considered one of the coolest cities in Croatia.

Rijeka (Photo: Kvarner.hr)

It always had an alternative, a bit of a revolutionary vibe combined with industrial needs. In the second half of the 19th century, Rijeka began its rise as an industrial centre.

Around that time, the first torpedo was invented and produced in Rijeka by the retired Croatian navy officer Giovanni Luppis. Later, it was perfected by English engineer Robert Whitehead and served as a weapon of utmost importance in the WW1. From 1947 – 1954 under the responsibility of the Ministry of National Defence shipbuilding industry was at its peak in Rijeka and the famous shipyard was named Maj 3.

Along with the shipbuilding industry would develop one for marine equipment. After being rebuilt, the Torpedo Factory started to produce diesel engines. The former foundry Skull now Svjetlost was devoted to the production of electrical navigation equipment, while the Rikard Benčić manufactured watercraft and other auxiliary equipment.

Rijeka

Architecture connected with that time still remains but with no much of a function, although it has a huge art and culture potential.  Most of that potential will be perfectly used for a couple of important events since Rijeka was selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2020, alongside Galway, Republic of Ireland.

Till then, the city will be slowly changing offering actual spots where interesting history and modern life meet. Some tips now on spending 48 hours in the city. 

Friday

There is no need to worry regarding the question – where to stay in Rijeka. Plenty of private accommodation is available as well as cute hostels such as the small family run Hostel Korzo or Hostel Kvarner in the very center of Rijeka.

Also, there is one unique place – Botel Marina, comfortable and charming boat-hotel situated in the center of the City of Rijeka. In 2013, after more than 70 years of navigation, Marina was redecorated into the first Croatian botel (boat-hotel). It is docked at Adamić Pier in the heart of Rijeka, only a few minutes walking distance from the city center (Korzo), bus and train stations, the famous city market, theatre, cinema, museums and galleries.

Botel Marina (Photo: Botel Marina)

Apart from the unique marine-ho(s)tel accommodation onboard Marina, you can have lunch and dinner in the restaurant, or relax with a cup of coffee or a drink on the open deck, or sit and chat in the comfort of the lounge. So this would be our recommended starter point.

4 pm – Start with getting to know the history of the city

Start your exploration of the city by visiting the Maritime and History Museum. With its permanent display and many valuable exhibitions from its own holdings or of other Croatian museums, it takes part in tracing the important events connected with the history and culture in a time span from prehistory to the Modern Age. 

The museum headquarters is in the building of the former Governor’s Palace since 1948 and it is a protected cultural monument as well. The museum is organized into five departments: Archaeological, Ethnographic, Cultural and Historical, department of Naval History and Pedagogical department.

(Photo: Maritime and History Museum Rijeka)

A huge amount of information is preserved here as well as a display of some interesting historical artifacts, for example here you will see the original Titanic life jacket. It was picked up by the 18-year-old waiter Josip Car from Rijeka who was a crew member of Carpathia – the ship that fought through dangerous ice waters to come to the Titanic’s rescue.

That night they saved 705 Titanic passengers from drowning including three from Croatia: Mara Osman-Banski from Vagovina, Ivan Jelšovac from Topolovac and Nikola Lulić from Konjsko brdo. The ship carrying the survivors turned back and headed for New York, arriving on the evening of April 18, 1912. and the young waiter picked up one of the lifejackets as a reminder of that fateful night and donated it to the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral in 1938.

7 pm – Feed your senses with local flavors

‘When on the coast – eat fish’, that is what locals will always tell you. Bistro Conca d’Oro is one of the best spots for a fresh local fish displayed on ice and includes a wide selection of mollusks. It is also one of the oldest restaurants in the city dating all the way back to 1885.

(Photo: Bistro Conca d’Oro)

A couple of years ago this busy cellar restaurant got its new direction styled by entrepreneur Zoran Maržić and famous chef Andrej Barbieri and since then is living a new gastro life. Great seafood menu is fulfilled with appetizers such as fish carpaccio with capers, slowly marinated diverse fish, salads or cheese plates.

9:30 pm – Night cap 

Finish your evening at the Champagne bar Pommery located in the very center – the Korzo walk. Here they offer a wide range of local and international producers of sparkling wine as well as cozy evening atmosphere. During the weekend you will probably enjoy a live concert or disco night.

(Photo: Champagne bar Pommery)

Saturday

10 am – Start your day healthy 

Priroda i društvo is a smoothie and juice bar located in the Old city – Užarska street 14. On their menu, they offer more than 50 healthy delicious superfood smoothies. They offer salads and sandwiches as well as soups if you feel like grabbing something warm as a starter. Small place with really nice and friendly staff.

(Photo: Priroda i društvo)

11 am – Coffee time with Frida

This cute little place is called Caffe bar Striga and is located in the famous Titov square. With its huge windows will give you a sense of sitting in a glass pavilion and an opportunity for a nice people watching moment.

If it is a sunny day, this is a place to have your coffee first since its burst of colors inside will uplift your mood. An inspiration for decoration was a famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and you can’t go wrong with that style. Very decorative and colorful interior design attracts culture savvy visitors and young crowd while the coffee is delicious.

(Photo: Caffe bar Striga)

1 pm – Take a long city walk

You can easily get lost in the city center observing, discovering and walking around. The newly renovated Archaeological Park has opened in 2014 in the Old Town, at Julije Klović Square.

It is an amazing site that shows the ancient history of the city of Rijeka and holds the remains of the Tarsatic Principia, the 3rd-century Roman military command that used to be a part of the Roman defense system. The remains of its monumental main entrance paved central courtyard, and basilica are a jewel of Roman history. Continue your walk at the Korzo and near the end of Jadranski square you will see yellow building topped with a clock tower.

This was once a gate – the original entrance to the Roman settlement Tarsatica – where one entered the city from the sea – everything that stands between here and the present-day waterfront is reclaimed land. There has been a tower on this spot since the Middle Ages when Rijeka was a walled city. A massive earthquake in 1750 destroyed it, along with many other important buildings. Money for a new one was given by the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa and in 1873, it got a new clock, the very same which still shows the correct time today.

Right around that time, October 1885. beautiful Croatian National Theatre building officially opened its doors. The grand theatre building includes work by the famous Venetian sculptor August Benvenuti and ceiling artist Franz Matsch, who collaborated with Ernst and Gustav Klimt. Continue exploring history with St. Vitus Cathedral, patron saint and protector of Rijeka since the Middle Ages. 

Croatian National Theatre in Rijeka (Photo: Djoko under CC)

It’s a rotunda is an unusual piece of architecture in this part of Europe, with elements of baroque and gothic, including fine baroque statuary inside. A gallery was built in the 18th century, apparently to insulate devout novice monks from the allure of girls in the congregation. There is also some unusual stained glass work, including an image of St Vitus, and a gothic crucifix. By the main entrance, you can see a cannonball embedded in the wall and a Latin inscription referring to the Napoleonic wars which translate as “This fruit was sent to us by England when it wanted to oust the Gauls from here”. St Vitus’ was promoted to Cathedral status in 1925.

Beautiful buildings worth bumping on the way are Palace Modello designed by Buro Fellner & Helmer, Turkish house located on the Market and Italian high school.

As the last must-see touristic sight, we recommend the Torpedo factory where the first European prototypes of a self-propelled torpedo were made by, mentioned above, a retired naval engineer from Rijeka. The remains of this factory still exist, including a well-preserved launch ramp used for testing self-propelled torpedoes on which in 1866 the first torpedo was tested.

7 pm  – Back to food

After this, you will get hungry for sure, so get back to the city center to Titov square and have a delicious warm local stew in the Cont pub and brewery. It is located in the once popular hotel Continental so it has that special history vibe serving great modern food that locals just love. Here you will have a chance to try some great local craft beers as well.

(Photo: Cont pub and brewery)

10 pm – End your day with a good dance

Finish your night with some good music at the club Život, Tunel or Palach center, all walkable distance and all presenting great local modern music.

Sunday

Your last day in Rijeka deserves a small pilgrimage moment and visiting one of the best-known symbols of the city. Perched on a hill overlooking the harbor area and keeping watch over the hinterland is the fortress Trsat, which has stood guard over the city since Illyrian times.

Trsat is the site of the first settlement of Rijeka, inhabited since prehistoric times. Mentioned for the first time in 799, Trsat is an ideal place for a walk, for having a coffee and sightseeing.

Particularly the Trsat Castle which dates back to the prehistoric times when it was just a watchtower. Its present appearance is the merit of its last owner, Count Laval Nugent, who bought it in the first half of the 19th century, renovating it into a family mausoleum.

Trsat (Photo credit: Ivo Biocina/CNTB)

Nearby there is the Shrine of Our Lady of Trsat, one of the oldest in Croatia, that in June 2003 was visited by the Pope John Paul II. In his honor, the monument of The Holy Father –The Pilgrim of Trsat was built in the shrine, the work of the sculptor Ante Jurkić.

The Trsat Shrine, according to legend, was founded in 1291 when a small Nazareth house of the Holy Family appeared here, brought by angels… For seven centuries this has been the place frequented by numerous pilgrims from all around the world, however, a particularly solemn occasion is on 15 August, during the Feast of the Assumption. The shrine and the Franciscan Monastery are also connected with Rijeka’s city center with Petar Kružić’s Steps, the construction of which was ordered by the Croatian warlord in 1531, which they were named after.

There are a total of 561 steps of an enjoyable walk from the city center to Trsat. Don’t give up on visiting Trsat after this information cause the belvedere is breathtaking from the top. But if you don’t feel like climbing the stairs, you can also reach Trsat by road from the east of the center, or take bus No.2.

Trsat castle (Photo: Silverije under CC)

Be sure to visit the Trsat Park, made in the period between the two World Wars based on the project of the architect Zlatko Prikril and the horticulture expert Josip Kulfanek, known for the indigenous plants and for respecting the natural rocky landscape, as well as the cemetery. End your walk and sightseeing tour by enjoying some delicious food and drinks in the places on the way.

Fun Rijeka facts regarding popular culture

  • Bruce Sterling’s November 2016 novel written in collaboration with Warren Ellis, Pirate Utopia, a Dieselpunk alternative history, is set in Fiume (now Rijeka) in 1920 during the short-lived Italian Regency of Carnaro. 
  • The 1980s American TV series “The Winds of War” was in part filmed in Rijeka and the surrounding areas.
  • The popular German western Winnetou movies from the 1960s, based on Karl May novels, were in part filmed on location in the outskirts of Rijeka.
  • The setting of the popular 1970s cartoon series Professor Balthazar was inspired by Rijeka.
  • The awarded TV series Novine (The Paper), which has been streaming on Netflix since April 2018, is based in Rijeka and the city was used as the main filming location.
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