Rijeka, Croatia is often overlooked by tourists who prefer to visit more popular seaside destinations in the country. And I get it, really.
There is no nice beach in Rijeka and the city is known as the largest port in Croatia which sets the vibe of the whole place. But when you look closer there in fact many cool things to do in Rijeka that make the city worth your time.
The city has been very high on my bucket list for years but only recently I finally was lucky to visit Rijeka. And I must say it exceeded my expectations. Not only I found there some great examples of stunning architecture from the Habsburg times, but I could also enjoy a great street art scene, art installations from when Rijeka was the European Capital of Culture in 2020, and a vibrant atmosphere.
It turned out there are so many Rijeka attractions, sometimes not the most obvious ones, that one day I had there was not enough to see them all. But I don’t mind, I’m looking forward to visiting Rijeka again.
If you are planning a trip to Croatia, especially its northern part, be sure to consider Rijeka as a stop in your itinerary. You might be as pleasantly surprised as I was.
I put this Rijeka guide with the best things to do in Rijeka so you can see what to do there and plan your time in the city. I hope you will find it useful for your trip. And if you still have any questions about what to do in Rijeka – join my Facebook group about traveling in the Balkans and ask there.
Where is Rijeka, Croatia
With a population of a bit over a hundred thousand inhabitants, Rijeka is the third largest city in Croatia, after Zagreb and Split. It’s located on the Adriatic Sea coast in the northwest part of the country, 160 km away from Zagreb.
How to get to Rijeka
You can fly directly to Rijeka (well, almost – the airport is actually located on the nearby Krk island, 20 km from the center), there are a few companies who fly here from numerous places in Europe, although most of the flights are operated only in the summer season. From the airport, you can either use the bus or prebooked the transfer directly to your accommodation in Rijeka – click here for details.
Rijeka is also served by trains and buses. The train station, located around 1km from the center, offers direct connections to Zagreb and further to Ljubljana, Budapest, or even Germany and the Czech Republic. However, if you travel within Croatia I think the bus is a better option.
The bus station is right on the edge of the pedestrian center of Rijeka. From here there are frequent buses to Zagreb (a bit over 2 hours) and Pula (1,5-2 hours) as well as numerous places all over Croatia and abroad.
You can also get to Rijeka by ferry from nearby islands, such as Cres, Rab, or Pag.
How to get around Rijeka
Many of Rijeka attractions are located in the central part of the city and can be visited on foot. Some of the places, however, are a bit far away (or require a bit of a climb up) so you might need to take a bus to get to them.
There’s a network of city buses that run frequently. You can buy tickets from kiosks around or directly from the driver (these are a bit more expensive and paid by cash only). You can use this journey planner to find bus routes in Rijeka.
How many days for visiting Rijeka
You need to plan at least one day for exploring Rijeka and all it has to offer. Add at least one day for the easy day trip from Rijeka to Opatija and some extra days if you would like to explore more of the area around.
Where to stay in Rijeka
Rijeka is a big city but you would like to find accommodation somewhere in its central part to be close to its main attractions. Here are some recommended places to stay in Rijeka:
Things to do in Rijeka
And now, without any further ado, here are the best things to do in Rijeka, in no particular order.
Visit the Cathedral
With its unique round shape, the Rijeka cathedral is a bit different from the grand churches we are used to and a bit of an unusual site in this part of Europe.
Originally, in medieval times a small, Romanesque church dedicated to the patron saint and protector of Rijeka – St. Vitus – was standing in this place. The current look of the cathedral dates back to 1683 and at first, it was only a Jesuits’ church that afterward, when the city gained its importance, was changed into the cathedral.
While the building looks really good from the outside, it’s worth stepping inside too, to admire the beautiful Baroque interior and to see some unusual architectural features such as the covered upper porch.
Wander around the center
The central part of Rijeka is focused mostly on and around the pedestrian street Korzo. Day and night the area is bustling with life, with people wandering around, enjoying coffee or meal in one of the many cafes and restaurants, or watching street performances.
Korzo is a real heart of Rijeka, popular among both, locals and tourists and there is no better place to feel the vibe of the city than here. That’s also where you will find some of the most important Rijeka landmarks: City Clock Tower (one of the symbols of the city), the City Hall, or the Radio building, as well as some of the most beautiful palaces from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
While you are there it’s worth going to the backstreets too and exploring a bit of the area – you can find some real gems there as well: winding lanes and alleys, squares packed with outdoor dining options, or even more beautiful buildings.
Admire brutalist architecture
While exploring the center of Rijeka you will quickly notice a few buildings that don’t really fit into the scenery since they were built in (one of my favorites) brutalist style.
The most impressive one is Shopping Mall Rijeka, located directly on Korzo, with its interesting steel details over the concrete structure. Another good example of brutalism in Rijeka is Korzo Centre, just across the street from the Shopping Mall.
You will find even more brutalist buildings in Rijeka, although not so much in the center. There is the Church of St. Nikola Tavelić (probably the craziest concrete architecture in the city) or the complex of apartment buildings, the highest ones in Croatia, just to name a few places.
Brutalist architecture might be controversial but it surely is interesting and a bit unique too!
Wander along the Dead Channel
Although the name of the place, Dead Channel, isn’t very appealing, this is actually one of the most charming places to visit in Rijeka.
Located not far from one end of Korzo, this place was created in 1885 when the final part of the Rječina was diverted to avoid floods. What was left became the Dead Channel which was also included in the main port of Rijeka. The sailing boats carrying goods entered the channel therefore the area surrounding it quickly became the marketplace where one could have bought oil, wine, vegetables, and fruit.
Today this is a charming and picturesque part of the city, even if centrally located it feels much more laid-back and perfect for a stroll along. Numerous boats are moored on the channel and the water strip is surrounded by some beautiful buildings, including Adamić’s palace where the first permanent cinema in Croatia was opened in 1906. At the end of the channel, you can find the Monument of Liberation.
Find great street art
Rijeka has probably the best street art scenes in Croatia, even better than Zagreb street art, so if you like this form of art you are in for a treat. Since the city has a kind of industrial look and feel, it’s a great playground for street art artists.
The project “Rijeka murala” (“the river of murals”) helped with creating some amazing works on the public spaces that we can admire today. Fortunately, many of murals are located in the central parts of the city so it’s easy to see them.
Just in the backstreet off Korzo, at Kružna ul., you can find numerous pieces lining the alley. Another similar spot is near the channel, in the arcades along Križanićeva ul. There are also some big murals that you might stumble across, many of which show the maritime heritage of Rijeka.
See the Croatian National Theatre
Back in the Austria-Hungary Empire times, every major city got a new theater building, usually designed in a beautiful art nouveau style and rich in details. And it was the same with Rijeka.
The first theater was opened here in the second half of the 18th century but with the growing popularity of theater plays and more concern about safety issues, it was decided to build a brand new theater in Rijeka.
The construction started in 1883 and lasted two years. As a result, the new theater building was given to the city, becoming the main venue for cultural activities. The structure is impressive both from the outside and inside, where you can find frescoes by Gustav Klimt and his brother Ernst, among other stunning details of the interior.
Due to the turbulent history of the city, Croatian artists and language were banned from the theater until 1945. In 1991 the institution got the status of national theater and today is one of the most important theaters in the country.
If you can – go to see a play here during your time in Rijeka. Not only you can experience a good cultural event, but you will also be able to admire the stunning interior of the place.
Admire the stunning Habsburg architecture
The Croatian National Theater isn’t the only example of the grand architecture from the Habsburg time. You can find some stunning buildings in the whole central part of Rijeka and most of them date to the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century when Rijeka (then in the Hungarian part of the Habsburg Empire) was one of the main port cities in this part of Europe.
Both buildings of public use and regular townhouses were stunning at that time and designed with numerous impressive details on the facades. You can still admire those today and even if many of the buildings in Rijeka would need a bit of restoration (or at least a proper clean-up), they still can enchant you with their beauty. Thanks to this architecture Rijeka doesn’t look like any other coastal city or town in Croatia.
See the impressive port
Rijeka is known as the main port city in Croatia (or even in the Balkans) and it definitely deserved that title as the impressive port stretches along the coastline in a big part of the city. The origins of Rijeka port date back to the end of the 13th century and back in the Austria-Hungary times it was the main port of the Empire, together with Trieste (now Italy).
It’s an integral part of Rijeka and there is no way you can’t miss it, it always lurks in the background. The port gives the city an industrial/maritime vibe that makes Rijeka a unique destination along the Croatian coast.
See the Venetian House
Venetian House is one of the most beautiful and unique buildings you can find in central Rijeka. It dates back to 1888 and is a perfect combination of Venetian Gothic, High Renaissance, and Viennese baroque styles.
The beautiful palace was owned by Robert Whitehead (the British inventor of the torpedo, together with the engineer Giovanni Luppis) who spent a big part of his life in Rijeka and wanted the city to become a cosmopolitan center of the region.
Today, the Venetian House is like a jewel in Rijeka’s Old Town and still impresses passers-by. The building is located at 7 Dolac street, parallel to Korzo.
Enjoy the cafe scene
Just like in other cities and towns in the former Austria-Hungary, cafe culture has a long tradition and is still going strong in Rijeka. There are plenty of good cafes around where you can sit down, relax, and of course, enjoy a delicious drink (due to the history you can expect good quality coffee in Rijeka).
Many cafes are located in the central part of the city, making it easy to stop there during your Rijeka sightseeing. In the warmer months, you can enjoy the outdoor cafes which are perfect for watching the world go by, especially if you decide to visit one of the places along Korzo.
My favorite cafes in Rijeka were Cukarikafe, Filodrammatica, and King’s Cafe & Coffee Bar but there are many more good ones to choose from.
Find ancient ruins
The area of Rijeka was inhabited already in ancient times and was first mentioned in the 1st century AD. Still today you can find a few remnants of these former days around the center.
The oldest monument in the city is the Roman arch, located above Stara Vrata street, next to Ivana Koblera Square. This was in fact the entrance to the old town in times when the town was known as Tharsatica but only the upper part remained until today as the arch was surrounded by tenant houses in medieval times.
Only a few steps further you will stumble across Principij – the ruins of the military defense complex from the mid-3rd century. The place isn’t very large but can give you a nice overview of the old times in Rijeka. Both ancient places are free of charge to visit.
Walk the WW2 tunnel
The tunnel is probably the most hidden (literally) attraction in Rijeka. It’s located right in the center, with the entrance on the left side of the cathedral, and is free of charge to visit.
The tunnel was built by the Italian military during World War 2 to serve as a shelter for civilians during air raids, you can still find some original writing from that time on the walls. After being closed for 75 years it was reopened recently to serve as a tourist attraction.
Today you can walk through the 350-meter-long tunnel and imagine how life during WW2 must have been in Rijeka. The exit from the tunnel is located at Dolac street, near the Venetian House.
See the Leaning Tower
Did you know that Rijeka has its own Leaning Tower? It’s located in front of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary near the Dead Channel and served as the bell tower of the church. Originally it dates back to 1377 but was destroyed in the mid-18th century earthquake and rebuilt afterward.
The tower isn’t as tilted as the one in Pisa but when you look closely you can see it’s definitely leaning. That happened because of the underground water stream – this part of the city used to be Roman baths in old times. It’s definitely worth stopping here when wandering around central Rijeka.
Climb Petar Kružić Stairway
Petar Kružić Stairway (known also as Trsat stairway) is the most direct (although not the easiest) way to get from the center of Rijeka to the Trsat neighborhood.
It was built as the pilgrimage road to the Church of Our Lady of Trsat and its origins date back to the first half of the 16th century. Petar Kružić (the Croatian warlord captain) built the lower part of the staircase hence the place was named after him.
There are 561 stairs to climb and along the way, you will see votive chapels from the 15th and 18th centuries. The higher you get, the more views around get spectacular – you can admire the beautiful panorama of Rijeka, its harbor, and surrounding mountains. It is a bit of a challenge to climb the stairs but the views are definitely worth it.
Alternatively, you can take buses no 2 and 8 to Trsat and, after visiting the castle, walk down the stairs to the center.
Visit Trsat castle
The main reason to visit the Trsat neighborhood, located on the steep hill above central Rijeka, is to visit the Trsat castle. It dates back to the 13th century and was built in the place where the Illyrian and Roman fortresses used to stand.
The castle we can see today got its look during the renovation in the 19th century after it fell into decay due to the attacks and the earthquake. The location of the castle is strategic as from that spot, with the clear view of the sea and mountains, one could control the whole area.
This is one of the biggest attractions in Rijeka, offering a glimpse into the city’s long history as well as stunning views of Rijeka and beyond. The place is free of charge to visit, you can climb the tower and walk along the walls, there is also a restaurant located in the courtyard where you can relax after the challenging way to the castle.
While you are in Trsat you can also visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Trsat from the 13th century, an important religious center in Rijeka.
Shop at Rijeka central market
Located next to the National Theater, the central market is the best place to go for food shopping in Rijeka. The place has a long tradition, being created around 300 years ago when Rijeka became the free royal port. The current pavilion where the market is located was built at the end of the 19th century and clearly got inspiration from Vienna and its art-nouveau style.
Inside the market, you can get the best local products: fruits, vegetables, cheese, fish, seafood, honey, and so much more! This is also one of the best places in Rijeka to interact with friendly locals.
The city is also home to some interesting museums that you can add to your Rijeka itinerary. Some of the best ones are the Rijeka City Museum, Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Coast, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, and PEEK&POKE Computer Museum. They are all located in the center which makes them easy to visit during your trip to Rijeka.
Visit the Torpedo Factory
One of the most interesting facts (albeit uneasy since we talk about the weapon here) about Rijeka is that the torpedo was invented here, in 1866. It was created as a modern way to defend the coast.
During World War 2 the local factory, known for its high-technology engineering) was producing over 150 torpedos a month. The factory closed in 1966 and the company that owned it went bankrupt in the 1990s.
Today you can only see the abandoned place that is slowly crumbling in the pieces. The largest part you can see is the launch station from the 1930s that was in use only for around 30 years. The Torpedo Factory is a bit hidden in the industrial area but definitely worth finding if you like visiting abandoned places.
Go for day trips
Rijeka can be also a good base for day trips, to explore the surrounding area.
The easiest one is Opatija, a beautiful resort town, popular in the Habsburg times, that still has the charm of old times. You can get there from Rijeka by city bus no 32 that runs frequently between the two places. While you are in Opatija you can even continue a bit further to Ičići – known for its beach, and Lovran – another charming seaside town.
For hiking and an easy nature getaway head to Učka Nature Park located in the mountains above Opatija. Not far from Rijeka, you can also visit Risnjak National Park, probably the least known of Croatia’s national parks, offering beautiful views and is perfect for hiking around.
Going south from Rijeka you can visit a few nice seaside towns, such as Crikvenica or Novi Vinodolski. You can even visit the nearby Krk island, the largest one in Croatia with plenty to see and do.
These are some tours from Rijeka you can join to see some of those great places:
- Golden Island of Krk from Rijeka
- Highlights of Istria from Rijeka
- Postojna Cave & Predjama Castle from Rijeka
I published many articles about Croatia that you might find useful when planning your trip there. Here are some of them:
- 33 Best Places to Visit in Croatia
- 23 Amazing Things to Do in Dubrovnik, Croatia
- 23 Great Day Trips from Dubrovnik, Croatia
- How to visit Krka National Park in Croatia
- 25 Wonderful Things to Do in Zagreb, Croatia
- 18 Best Day Trips from Zagreb, Croatia
- 11 Amazing Things to Do in Split, Croatia
- and many more!
If you are looking for articles about a specific destination – check out the map with all the articles I’ve published (and their locations).
For the end I left a few announcements that might interest you:
- Sign up to my newsletter or follow me on Bloglovin to get updates about the new posts
- Join my Facebook group about Eastern Europe, the Balkans and former USSR and connect with fellow travellers and enthusiasts of these regions – just click here!
- I’ve included a few handy links of services and products I personally like and use so you can plan your own trip to Croatia too. They are often affiliate links. This means I will get a small commission if you book/purchase anything through my links, at no extra costs for you. Thank you!
LIKED IT? PIN THIS POST FOR LATER!
If you enjoyed that post why don't you share it with your friends? That would mean so much to me! Also be sure to join 30.000+ fellow travelers and follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for travel updates and even more pictures! If you don't want to miss new posts sign up to my newsletter or follow on Bloglovin!