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Water is the essence of Kvarner, and the region's largest city expresses this simply. Whether in Croatian or Italian (Fiume) the translation of the name to English is the same: river. Although the history of Croatia's third city goes back to the days of Imperial Rome, modern Rijeka evolved under the rule of Austria-Hungary. The historic core retains vestiges of the old Habsburg monarchy from the time when Rijeka served as the empire's outlet to the Adriatic. During the 1960s, under Yugoslavia, the suburbs expanded rapidly. Rijeka is the country's largest port, with a huge shipyard, massive dry-dock facilities, refineries, and other heavy industries offering large-scale employment. Since the break-up of Yugoslavia however, Rijeka's role as a shipping town has declined significantly. Much business shifted north to the smaller Slovene ports during the crippling wars of the 1990s, and although some has returned, the volume remains less than half that seen in 1980.
At the city's core sits Korzo, a pedestrian street of shops and cafés running parallel with the harbor and just to the south of where the land begins to rise toward the peaks of the mountains that back the bay. The high ground ensures that the suburbs stretch out to the east and the west, with little space to expand to the north. The general rule is that Rijeka is more of a transit town than a holiday destination, and it's not known for its points of interest, apart from the hilltop fortress of Trsat. However, the city is well worth investigating more thoroughly than most would have you believe.
Many visitors stay in the nearby seaside resort of Opatija, and locals will often head that way in their free time as well. That said, Rijeka is a perfectly pleasant small city (approximately 200,000 people call it home); if it did not command the wonderful bay that it does, it would also be unremarkable. This makes it one of the more authentically Croatian spots in the region in summer. Those looking to avoid the hordes could do much worse than to stay in Rijeka—albeit with very few options for accommodation—and use the excellent network of ferries to explore the rest of Kvarner.
Rijeka is the home port of Jadrolinija, the coast's major ferry company. Local ferries connect with all the Kvarner islands and will take you farther afield as well. If you're planning on heading south and would rather dodge the slow and dangerous roads that head that way, then let the boat take the strain. Ferries leaving Rijeka weave through islands all the way down to Dubrovnik, stopping at most major points on the way. Sunsets, sunrises, plus a mingling of stars and shore-anchored town lights in between, help transport one further than just the few hundred kilometers to the other end of the country.
Rijeka is linked with Zagreb by the new E65 motorway, which is clean and fast, though tolls add up on the journey. To reach the Dalmatian coast from Rijeka, you'll have to backtrack 75 km (47 mi) away from the coast and get on the motorway heading south toward Split and Dubrovnik. Rijeka is also the start of the Jadranska Magistrala (the coastal highway), which follows the coast south, all the way to the Montenegro border. Alternately offering startling views from on high or the illusion that one could simply reach out to disturb the crystal surface of the sea with a hand trailing from the car, this is one of the most beautiful trips in Europe. However, with sharp drop-offs, series upon series of sharp curves, numerous slow-moving trucks, and many hot-headed car drivers, it's also one of the most dangerous roads on the continent.
Rijeka at a Glance
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