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Rijeka European Capital of Culture 2020

With amazing views of the Adriatic coast, blockbuster beaches, and a colorful Baroque heart — not to mention one of the world’s biggest Carnival celebrations — it’s a wonder that Rijeka isn’t better known. Find out more about Rijeka, Croatia below.

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But despite ticking pretty much every conceivable vacation box (toss in world-class museums, a bevy of top restaurants, and cinematic hikes in the surrounding mountains), it remains an under-the-radar Adriatic treasure.

Rijeka European Capital of Culture 2020 rijeka in croatia

That’s all set to change in 2020, when Croatia’s third city is honored as a European Capital of Culture. Plenty is planned within the port town to mark the occasion: more than 1,000 official musical performances, literary events, art exhibitions, and parties; the multimillion-dollar overhaul of the historic Sugar Refinery building into the Rijeka City Museum; and the addition of Hilton’s new five-star resort, the Costabella, in April.

But perhaps most anticipated is the reopening of the ship Galeb (“Seagull”). Used as Tito’s personal mobile home while he was President of Yugoslavia, the yacht — where countless global leaders and celebrities were entertained — is being refurbished and transformed into a museum ahead of Rijeka’s moment in the global spotlight.

Over centuries, this principal Adriatic port has attracted foreign investors, experts and intelligentsia. And as a cradle of innovations, such as the first torpedo, Rijeka has secured a special place on the map of world.

A crossroads between central and southeast Europe, the port city is a mixture of medieval fortresses, Habsburg-era palaces, Art Nouveau market halls, Italian piazzas, socialist housing blocks and abandoned factory halls.

Part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until the First World War, and from 1924 to 1945 mostly under Italian rule, Rijeka was then incorporated into the socialist republic of Yugoslavia that encompassed the entire Balkan region.

Under the rule of Marshal Tito, Rijeka grew into a model communist-era city with shipyards, refineries and factories as the population increased from 25,000 to 200,000.

But after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, many state-run industries were forced to shut down and Rijeka’s abandoned factories gave it a post-apocalyptic aura. Amid rising unemployment, the population steadily decreased to around 130,000.

Nontheless, Rijeka remained a tolerant and progressive cultural hub in Croatia where musicians and artists have long found a home.

Travel + Leisure announced the 50 Best Places to Travel in 2020, the annual list of the most anticipated places to visit in the year ahead, according to the editors of Travel + Leisure: Rijeka is on 41st place.

Kvarner was named among the top 10 regions in the world for 2020

The best destinations around the world for next year have been revealed earlier in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2020 where Kvarner was named among the top 10 regions in the world for 2020

This is what Lonely Planet said about Kvarner Gulf: “Sandwiched between the tourist hotspots of Dalmatia and Istria, this less heralded part of the Croatian coast has been quietly building up its credentials in the culinary and environmental-protection spheres over the last decade. Now the Kvarner Gulf is well and truly ready for its close up, with its principal settlement, the gritty port city of Rijeka, embracing the role of European Capital of Culture in 2020. Shiny new set pieces include architecturally repurposed spaces for museums and cultural centers. In supporting roles but ready to steal the show are the gulf islands, with their ageless beauty, historic walled towns replete with Venetian-era architecture, numerous beaches and considerable charm.”

The layout of Rijeka rijeka in croatia

Rijeka’s official nickname is The City That Flows. The element of water runs through its geography and the locals’ state of mind.

In Croatian Rijeka means a river, and so does in its Italian version of the name Fiume. The small river Rječina flows through the city centre and into the sea.

Rijeka – the city of energy

Rijeka is at its most energetic during the international Rijeka Carnival parade. This colourful all-out feast may be a younger sibling of the Venice and Rio Carnivals. But this year the event attracted more than 100,000 people from around the world.

Masked spring celebrations here have a long history, dating back to pre-Christian times.

Things to do in Rijeka | Zagreb Honestly
Halubajski Zvončari at the Rijeka Carnival closing parade

You only need to hear the hypnotic bell tolling of Halubajski Zvončari to sense that antiquity.

Zvončari (tollers) make a loud noise with their bells to chase away the winter. Wearing sheepskin and stylized animal masks with horns, they invoke the fertile spring awakening.

But it’s not only at the Carnival Parade that they toll. These tireless men visit villages in Rijeka surroundings for 8 weeks before. This prehistoric custom is on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.

Check out this cruise which starts and ends in Rijeka and includes highlights of Kvarner and North Dalmatia.


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