Rijeka 2020: 8 Places to Visit in This Year’s Capital of Culture
Rijeka (re-YEH-kah) is the European Capital of Culture for 2020 and this shipbuilding port on Croatia’s expansive Kvarner Bay is more than ready for its close-up! Abandoned industrial buildings have been transformed into art spaces. Trendy new bars and restaurants have popped up alongside the city’s Austro-Hungarian palaces and Venetian townhouses.
More than 600 diverse cultural programs will animate Rijeka until the end of February 2021. Here is just a sampling of what to see, do, and experience in Croatia’s third-largest city, this year and beyond.
1. Trsat Castle
There’s been a watchtower on this steep hill overlooking the Rjecina Gorge since the time of the ancient Ilyrians. The castle changed hands between the Venetians and Habsburg Empire in the 1500s. In its latest incarnation, it’s the starting point for a one-of-a-kind urban zipline that stretches from the castle to ExPort Delta at sea-level. Adrenaline junkies take note!
2. Korzo Boulevard & City Tower
This long, broad street filled with upmarket shops and cafes is a good place to experience daily life in Rijeka. Just park yourself at a cafe table with a cup of coffee and watch the city go by. After dark Korzo takes on a younger feel, with some of the bars turning into nightclubs.
Halfway along Korzo is the baroque City Tower, possibly the city’s most emblematic building. A stone relief of Rijeka’s double-headed eagle coat of arms adorns the front. It was granted by the Habsburg Emperor Leopold I to signify the city’s constant loyalty to Austria.
3. Croatian National Theatre Ivan Zajc
This lavish 1880s building wouldn’t be out of place in one of the great Central European cities like Budapest or Prague. The theatre’s slightly unwieldy official name comes from the Croatian composer Ivan Zajc, described as the “Croatian Verdi” and one of the country’s major cultural figures. Richard Wagner’s opera “Tristan and Isolde,” directed by the famed director Ann Bogart, is one the highlights of Rijeka’s Culture Year. So is the premiere of the ballet “Burning Water” on March 23rd.
4. Fish Market
Rijeka’s Fish Market is a gorgeous piece of metal and glass art-nouveau architecture built in 1915. Adjoining are two smaller pavilions where you’ll find meat and dairy. Out front are a host of stalls selling fruit and vegetables and street food. Two words describe the local cuisine: Very eclectic. Just what you’d expect from a region that changed hands between the Italians, Austrians and even the French for a short time.
5. Astronomy Centre
Housed in a repurposed Second World War military fortress atop Sveti Križ hill, Rijeka’s Astronomy Centre is the only facility in Croatia to combine a planetarium and an observatory.
So far two variable stars have been discovered here. The best time to come is on Wednesday nights in summer. That’s when they screen films in a variety of languages at 10pm.
6. Peek & Poke Computer Museum
Peek & Poke is a huge collection of vintage game consoles and personal computers dating all the way back to the 1960s. People of various ages will find their own favorites here, from the Nintendo Wii to the Sinclair Spectrum. Yes, you are allowed to play with some of them, making Peek & Poke a great option for families and tech enthusiasts alike.
7. Village of Kastav
Six miles up the coast from Rijeka is this little stone town perched almost 1200 feet above the sea. The streets of the 16th-century core are a cool refuge, especially in summer when many concerts and festivals are held at this scenic spot. There’s a blues festival, a guitar festival, as well as the Kastav Summer of Culture in June and August.
8. Resort of Opatija
One look at this elegant spa town and you’ll understand why it was called the “Nice of the Adriatic” in the late 19th century! Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I and his noble friends used to spend their winters here. Opatija is only 20 minutes west along the coast, and a stroll on the Lungomare seaside promenade makes a nice contrast to more rough and ready Rijeka.
Have you experienced Rijeka? Let us know in the comments below!