Holding the title for the European Capital of Culture for 2020, the coastal Croatian city of Rijeka is the perfect place to visit this winter. There are a plethora of things to do in Rijeka in winter, or indeed in any season, but the festive period is elevated by Christmas markets and Advent events.
This list compiled below included the best things to do in Rijeka, Croatia including where to stay, what to see, places to visit, the best establishments to eat at, as well as why you should take a day trip or overnight trip to a neighboring seaside town, Opatija.
1. Visit Rijeka Christmas Market
Rijeka Christmas Market, or Rijeka Advent, takes place on the famous Korzo promenade over the festive period (November, December and the first half of January). There are concerts and entertainment, cultural activities, plus food and drink – try specialties such as chocolate or cod.
2. Stay at the Grand Hotel Bonavia
This special hotel is a historic landmark, with a legacy dating back to 1876. Just a four-minute walk from the cathedral and a nine-minute walk from the ferry port, this is the ideal location for your stay in Rijeka. Plus, the views of the Adriatic Sea are simply gorgeous.
3. Visit Trsat Castle
Trsat Castle is bursting with history and was once the site of an ancient Illyrian and Roman fortress, back in the 13th century. The castle was completely reconstructed in the 19th century and now makes for an essential sightseeing stop for tourists.
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Trsat
Next to the site of the fortress is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Trsat, the oldest sanctuary to the Virgin Mary in the country. Many pilgrims come here from around Croatia, as well as overseas, especially for religious holidays.
Dinner at Trsat Castle
The castle’s courtyard is also home to a restaurant, Restaurant Trsatica. The menu is focused on pizza and grilled meat, with house specials including lamb chop with homemade noodles, pasta with ragu and tuna steak with polenta and salsa. The terrace views are beautiful.
4. Wander Down the Korzo
The Korzo is Rijeka city center’s main promenade. Terraced cafes and bars, people-watching from the benches lined along the streets, fountains, the iconic city clock, souvenir shops, restaurants, music, and entertainment… everything emanates from the Korzo.
As mentioned above, during winter, this area is also lined with Advent Houses as part of the annual Christmas Market.
5. Take a Stroll Along the Beach
Winter may not be the sunbathing season in Rijeka, but the city’s beaches are still beautiful at any time of year and the Mediterranean climate makes a breezy stroll along the sand or the waterfront a lovely pastime. A few of the best are Preluk, Kostanj Bay, Glavanovo and Bivio.
6. Learn About History at the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral
Rijeka’s prominent waterfront location means that it has a long and rich maritime history, spanning prehistory to the modern-day. This museum houses a comprehensive collection of materials in the former Governor’s Palace, a significant historic monument in itself. The permanent displays are incredibly valuable and the museum venue often holds cultural events.
7. Discover Why Rijeka is the European Capital of Culture for 2020 at the RiHub Project
To celebrate Rijeka’s status as the European Capital of Culture 2020, the RiHub was born as part of a special project to refurbish premises on Grohovčeva Street. Notable interior designers Ana Boljar and Ida Križaj Leko (CRO) contributed to the project, and RiHub is the official European Capital of Culture information center, holding special programs throughout 2020.
European Capital of Culture 2020
Rijeka was announced as the European Capital of Culture for 2020 back in 2016, winning its bid with the theme “Port of Diversity,” and thereby becoming the first Croatian city to hold the title. Rijeka shares the status with Ireland’s Galway, which was also chosen for 2020.
8. Wander Around Rijeka’s Old Town
Passing through the old city gate, you’ll enter medieval Rijeka, better known as Old Town.
This square was once the municipal center of the city, where the town crier would come to make announcements and citizens would come to buy groceries at the market. Today, flanked by stunning architecture on each side, Ivan Kobler Square is still a main focal point and its fountain, based on the city’s historic paper press industry, is a notable landmark.
Built-in the Middle Ages, Rijeka’s City Tower is a strong symbol of the city. The yellow tower even survived the devastating 1750 earthquake, after which the baroque detailing, portal, coat of arms and busts of emperors were added. The clock was mounted in 1873 and still functions today.
The Old Gateway, or Roman Arch, marks the entrance to what was once an ancient Roman military complex.
St. Vitus Cathedral
Known in Croatian as Katedrala Svetog Vida, this Roman Catholic cathedral is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, St. Vitus. According to legend, young Vitus came from Sicily and died as a martyr at the age of 12 or 13 when the Roman Emperors persecuted Christians, around 303 AD.
Although the Church of St. Vitus was founded in the Middle Ages, the larger cathedral building as it stands today was built in 1638 in the baroque style. You can also see a depiction of the cathedral on some 100 kuna banknotes.
Descend into the Wartime Rijeka Tunnel
Also called TunelRi, this pedestrian tunnel extends 350 meters from the cathedral to Dolac Primary School. It was built between 1939 and 1942 by the Italians, to help protect civilians from bombing during the Second World War. You can still see the “Reserves for Anti-Aircraft Corps” signs along the tunnel today.
Find Your Balance at the Leaning Tower of Rijeka
Visit the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to see the bell church, dubbed the Leaning Tower of Rijeka. The foundations of the Gothic tower, which date back to the Middle Ages, as well as underground streams, are the cause of the 40-centimeter slope.
9. Explore Placa Market and Fish Hall
This historic fish market dates back to the 19th century and the most recent structure to house the catch of the day was constructed in 1916. Visit to shop around for fresh seafood and to see the sculptures of sea creatures by Urban Bottasso on the market’s façade and pillars.
10. Eat a Traditional Fish Lunch at Konoba Fiume
This iconic seafood restaurant is just a stone’s (or fish head’s!) throw from the main market. The simple dishes are cooked the traditional way and based on seasonal fresh catch, bought at the nearby market. Grilled ray, tuna, squid, mackerel and sardines are just a few of the delicacies on offer. Head there on a Friday for cod stew.
11. Take a Trip to Opatija
The town of Opatija is a traditional seaside resort located on the Kvarner Gulf, noted for its historic buildings typical of the Austrian Riviera. The town is just a 20-minute drive from Rijeka, making it an ideal day trip or overnight excursion from the city.
Visit the Croatian Museum of Tourism
Start your exploration of Opatija with a visit to the Croatian Museum of Tourism, which is comprised of three historic buildings that hold exhibitions filled with old photos, brochures, and postcards. Yet, the venues themselves are worth visiting in their own right, particularly the grand Villa Angiolina and Swisse House.
Meander Around the Town’s Parks
Opatija has several picturesque and well-tended parks, which are even more beautiful for their proximity to the sea. Saint James Park, Margarita Park, Ucka Nature Park, and Angiolina Park are just a few of the green oases you can mosey around for a brisk winter walk.
Stroll Along the Lungomare
Officially named the Franz Joseph I Promenade, the famous promenade of Lungomare is over 100 years old, stretching from Volosko to Lovran. It’s a favorite walking path for locals and tourists alike, showcasing fresh sea air, fantastic views, history, as well as hidden coves and scenic photo spots.
Shop at the Market Hall
The Opatija Market Hall was constructed by Francesco Matiassi in 1898 to provide a place for local people to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, with an addition of a fish market in 1907. Today, you can still buy fresh local produce at the market, including honey, cheese and other typical products of the region.
Have Lunch at Osteria Veranda
This atmospheric Mediterranean restaurant is a seafood lover’s paradise, serving up beloved dishes such as black risotto, grilled fish, sea bass and the catch of the day – all paired with excellent house wine. The gorgeous location with its romantic terrace and beautiful view only adds to the experience.
Get Artsy at the Juraj Šporer Arts Pavilion
An exhibition area that is also part of the Croatian Museum of Tourism, this arts venue started out life as a pastry shop! Built in 1900, confectionary was supplied daily from Vienna and Pest by train, but the property was converted into an exhibition pavilion in 1930. There are numerous events held here throughout the year, including an Advent Christmas market.
Enjoy the Festivities at Advent Šporer
If visiting Opatija in winter, don’t miss Advent at Juraj Šporer, which is held from the end of November to the start of January every year. Festive lights and decoration create a cozy and familiar atmosphere, plus there are all types of musical performances, as well as wooden kiosks selling gifts and Christmassy fare, such as mulled wine.
Indulge Your Sweet Tooth at Milenij Choco World
Try and buy chocolatey treats at Milenij Choco World, where you can also help participate in the production of chocolate at the factory! Enjoy sumptuous chocolate tasting, draw with chocolate, make sculptures using chocolate, then get involved in the satisfying breaking of large chocolate bars.
Chocolate Festival Opatija
If you didn’t already have enough of a reason to visit Opatija during winter, there’s also the added bonus of the Chocolate Festival, which usually takes place on the first weekend in December. Enjoy presentations and sampling at stores around town, chocolate-themed events, and even chocolate-themed spa treatments at participating wellness centers.
Leave Room for Dinner at Kantinon Ružmarin
Another exceptional restaurant to dip into while you’re in town, this place is known for its excellent seafood and beautiful décor, including an atmospheric terrace. Don’t miss mouthwatering dishes such as calamari stuffed with prosciutto and shrimp, or mussels and truffle bruschetta. Be sure to make a reservation though, as this popular restaurant gets booked up well in advance.
Attend a Concert at the Gervais Centre
The Gervais Centre is a cultural venue that hosts a number of different arts and music events, including plays, concerts, movie screenings, as well as being the home of the biggest and best discotheque in town.
Stay at Amadria Park Grand Hotel 4 Opatijska Cvijeta
With so much to see and do in Opatija, it’s likely you’ll want to stay the night to extend your trip from Rijeka. Choose Amadria Park Grand Hotel 4 Opatijska Cvijeta, comprised of four upscale villas, located next to Royal Beach – just a 3-minute walk to major attractions such as the Croatian Museum of Tourism and Park Angiolina.
Other Things to do in Rijeka, Croatia, in Winter
We hope this list of things to do in Rijeka, Croatia, in winter has helped you to plan your trip to the European Capital of Culture and inspired you to visit the picturesque Adriatic coast out of season. Whether you’re heading to the city during the chillier months or the heat of summer, let us know what you think of these recommendations in the comments below – and have a great trip!