The Kvarner Riviera’s largest city is Rijeka which, with a population of just over 200,000 people, is also Croatia’s third largest city and its busiest port. The word rijeka actually means river in Croatian, and likewise the Italian name for the city – Fiume – also means river.
In all honesty, Rijeka is a transit post and with few beaches, it is not really a place to stay for a holiday. Many people take a boat or bus and leave for other places along the coast as soon as possible!
The main ferry company in Croatia, Jadrolinija, operates a ferry route that starts in Rijeka and sails all the way down to Dubrovnik, calling at several towns and islands along the way such as Split, Stari Grad on the island of Hvar, Korcula and Mljet. Needless to say, it is quite a scenic route! For the purpose of getting this ferry, you may well find yourself in Rijeka for a day or so beforehand.
Getting to Rijeka
Rijeka Airport, on the island of Krk, is the city’s airport and there are flights to there from a handful of European cities, including London. See our Getting to the Kvarner Riviera page for more details on various flight options. If you do fly to Rijeka Airport, there are buses that meet each flight arrival that take you to the main bus station in downtown Rijeka.
There are regular buses and trains from Zagreb to Rijeka, with bus the slightly better option – because of the motorway that opened a few years ago, some buses only take 2 hours 15 minutes.
Autotrans is one of the major bus companies in Croatia and is based in Rijeka, so see their website for timetables of routes to and from the city. There are buses between Rijeka and all the main destinations in Croatia. For train timetables for both internal Croatian journeys and international ones, see the Die Bahn website.
As mentioned before, the Jadrolinija ferry on the Dubrovnik – Korcula – Stari Grad (Hvar) – Split route ends in Rijeka.
History of Rijeka
Rijeka has had a very eventful past and has been ruled by many different countries and empires over the years. In its early history, Rijeka was an Illyrian settlement before becoming part of the Roman Empire in 2nd century BC, and given the name Tarsatica.
In the middle ages it was part of the Croatian Kingdom and then part of the Habsburg Empire before it was declared a free city in 1530 and a free port in 1719. Trade with the Middle and Far East helped Rijeka grow and establish itself as a port.
In 1779, Rijeka came under the control of Hungary and substantial building work was undertaken on Hungary’s international port. In the late 19th century, the first railway track was built in Croatia connecting Rijeka, through Zagreb, to Budapest and thus the importance of Rijeka grew even further. For these reasons, various industries were based in the city, including a huge ship-building yard.
After the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, an interesting event occurred in Rijeka. The great Western powers intended to declare Rijeka a free port under international control. However, the Italian poet and writer Gabriele D’Annunzio marched into the city with his supporters and declared Rijeka a part of Italy. Rome was reluctant to accept this, so D’Annunzio declared Rijeka a city-state. Eventually in 1924, Mussolini annexed Rijeka. In 1947, Rijeka became Croatian again, as part of Yugoslavia.
Sightseeing in Rijeka
The fully pedestrianised Korzo is the main street in Rijeka, with numerous shops and cafes.
On the Korzo is the City Tower (Gradski toranj in Croatian) and its four clocks which has been built over a period from the 16th to 19th centuries, with its general appearance stemming from the 18th century – the clocks are from 1784.
The Roman Arch, considered to be from the 4th century, has been the subject of some debate over the years. Linked to Emperor Claudius II, and also thought to be a triumphal arch or a city gate, it is now believed to have been part of a fortress.
The Church of St Vitus, octangonal in shape, is from the 17th century and built on the site of an older church; St Vitus is the patron saint of Rijeka. Within the church is a crucifix from the 13th century that, legend has it, was struck by a stone thrown by a chap called Petar Loncaric in 1296 after some back luck on the cards. The earth opened up and swallowed him whole, while the crucifix began to bleed.
Ivan Zajc National Theatre was built in 1885 to the design of Austrian architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer. Ivan Zajc was a prolific Croatian composer and conductor (and born in Rijeka), who worked at the theatre from 1855 to 1862. Details of current performances can be found at www.hnk-zajc.hr.
For something a bit more modern, why not take a look at the Peek & Poke computer museum? With over 1,000 exihibits of computer history (consoles, computers, calculators) it’s definitely worth a visit. Open on request, contact the museum in advance to arrange a visit. Peek & Poke also opened a separate Museum of Childhood – featuring toys and games from the 19th century to the present day – in 2013.
Accommodation in Rijeka
See accommodation listings on our Accommodation in Rijeka page.
General info on Rijeka
The area code is 051.
The Tourist Board of Rijeka is at Uzarska 14, tel: 051 315 710, fax: 051 315 720, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take a look at the British Croatian Friends website – based in Rijeka, the organisation is looking to promote relations between British and Croatian citizens.
See our map of Rijeka.