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Overlooking the northern Adriatic Sea, the eclectic city of Rijeka is more than just the gateway to Croatia’s islands. A labyrinth of streets in the city's medieval Old Town holds architectural and cultural treasures. The Rječina river winds its way through the city, passing Austro-Hungarian villas converted into galleries and a 16th-century staircase leading to Our Lady of Trsat Church. Man-made and natural beauty abound in Rijeka, from the frescoes by Ernst and Gustav Klimt at the 19th-century Croatian National Theatre, to the pebbled beaches that line the coast.
With modern houses and quirky conversions, hostels in Rijeka can be unusual and exciting. Stay in a 19th-century villa by the sea and be treated to luxuries like a free breakfast, or sleep in a Rijeka hostel on a boat with views of the town's distinct architecture through your own porthole. There are also newer hostels dotted around the town, some of them steps from the shore (where almost every room has a sea view). Most Rijeka hostels offer free Wi-Fi, air con and communal spaces for socialising.
Stroll through Rijeka's neighbourhoods and see the city's past through its architecture. A grand tower, built in the middle ages, marks the entrance to the medieval Old Town. The more contemporary Korzo, Rijeka's main pedestrian boulevard and a fantastic spot for watching the world go by, is lined with grand Habsburg-style buildings, shops and restaurants and bars after sunset. Along the coastline are coves and beaches like Preluk (a favourite with windsurfers) and the seaside neighbourhood, Pećine, filled with holiday villas and bays.
There's plenty to see in the city. Climb the hill up to 13th-century Trsat Castle for vistas of Kvarner Gulf, see its mausoleum and dungeon or watch an outdoor concert during summer. There's a variety of museums too, like Peek&Poke childhood museum with toys dating back to the early 1900s, and the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral Rijeka, housed in a 19th-century former palace. Stop for a bite to eat in the Art Nouveau halls of Rijeka market, where locally caught fish is sold alongside cured meats and fresh pasta.
The closest airport is Rijeka International Airport, 30 minutes from the city centre by taxi or 40 minutes by shuttle bus. Travelling around Rijeka and along the coastline is simple on the public bus network, or you can hire a bike or take a taxi. To explore more of Croatia, take a 90-minute bus ride to Pula or drive for 2.5 hours to the lakes and waterfalls of Plitvička Jezera.