Why should you visit Opatija, Croatia during winter

Opatija, Croatia
The city of Opatija, Croatia

PUBLISHED: 23.1.2024.

Croatia is known as a summer destination, but there are many places you can explore in winter, including coastal cities like Opatija. I have been visiting Opatija every winter in search of fresh air, long walks, gastronomy, and spas.

The best part about Opatija is that it feels like a secret winter location not many people know about. If you are lucky, you might even come across snow covering Opatija’s beaches and hills, which is uncommon for the Mediterranean and the Adriatic coast.

The city is ideally located in Kvarner, just a few minutes drive from Rijeka, and easily accessible to the A6 highway. You can hop on day trips through Istria, go hiking to Učka or Risnjak, or explore the local peculiarities this charming town offers. But if you prefer slow traveling and holidays with a lot of rest, Opatija also has your back.

In this article, we cover:

The facts are these…

Top 5 things to do in Opatija in wintertime

Where is Opatija situated in Croatia?

Opatija is a picturesque town located in Kvarner bay along the Adriatic sea in Croatia. It is only 2 hours away from Zagreb, 30 minutes from Slovenia, and an hour and a half from Italy. Situated in the northern part of the Croatian coastline, Opatija is strategically positioned between the city of Rijeka and the Istrian peninsula.

The town’s proximity to major transportation hubs enhances its accessibility, with Rijeka serving as the nearest international gateway. Visitors to Opatija can easily reach the town by road or sea, making it a convenient destination for both domestic and international travelers.

[Read: How to get to and from Rijeka-Krk Airport in Croatia]

Why visit Opatija in winter

Opatija is a perfect weekend getaway from Zagreb or other continental cities when you need a breath of fresh air and the smell of the sea. Winters can be long and cold, so visiting a lively coastal town is a break from winter blues. While many Croatian coastal cities close for the winter and open up for tourists only in the summer, visitors have recognized Opatija’s allure in colder months as well.

It is the city of many 5-star hotels and spa resorts where you can enjoy warm baths, massages, and spa treatments all day long. On the other hand, its mild temperatures in winter allow you to take long walks along the coast, where you will see many locals and tourists doing the same thing.

However, do not be fooled by the sunshine. It can get very cold in Opatija in winter, and this year, they have even seen some snow, which is very rare.

5 things to do in Opatija in winter

#1 Lungomare walk

The favorite walk for many in Opatija riviera is Lungomare – a 12 km long seafront promenade that starts in Volosko and ends in Lovran. Its most beautiful part passes through Opatija. Each day, you can choose to walk toward one town or the other.

Another name for Lungomare is Obalno šetalište Franje Josipa I (Franz Joseph I promenade), and it has been around since the 1800s. Along the way, you will see many secession villas from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as statues of famous locals and visitors. The highlight of the art that follows this path is Djevojka s galebom (Girl with the Seagull), a famous statue that Opatija is most recognizable for.

Girl with the Seagull
Girl with the Seagull

Locals spend their winter days on this path. People come from Rijeka and nearby towns just to walk by the sea with their loved ones and pets. You will see many dog walkers, families with kids, couples, and individuals in warm clothes on this walkway.

The pathway is mostly covered in cobblestones, so comfy and secure shoes are a must. Shops and cafe bars are not close on some parts of the coast, so having a bottle of water with you and a couple of energy bars is a great idea when you plan to have a longer walk.

In every town along the way, including Volosko, Opatija, Ičići, Ika, and Lovran, there are cafes where you can stop and take a break.

[Read: All you need is “pauza”, your break from it all]

View an interactive map of Lungomare here.

#2 Opatija’s karneval

Indulge yourself in local culture by attending Karneval events during January and February. When I visit Opatija in winter, I often come across one of these events. This year, I saw Rally maškaranih oktanaca (Rally of masked octanes), which is a very loud event where locals come with their dressed-up cars and have a party before parading through the city.

Rally of masked octanes
Rally of masked octanes at the riva

Karneval (Carnival), or as they call it, “fifth season” is a magical time that adults and kids enjoy equally. It starts every year on the holiday of Sveti Antun Opat (St. Anthony Abate) in Opatija and surrounding towns.

[Read: Guide on public national holidays in Croatia]

People put on colorful masks and become someone else. Carnival lovers have a unique opportunity to become superheroes, witches, fairies, or anything else they want. These events make people happy and strengthen the local community.

You can immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere of Opatija’s Carnival by enjoying various activities like Dječji karnevalski korzo (Children’s carnival parade) featuring lively groups of masked kids.

In addition, there is the Balinjerada, where daring participants navigate down a steep path in unique and imaginative ‘carts’. This exhilarating race of unconventional vehicles promises an unforgettable experience for both the young and the young at heart.

Check out the program and event dates here.

[Read: Croatian carnivals and tradition of fašnik (poklade)]

#3 Opatija’s local gastronomy

Opatija is home to some of Croatia’s best restaurants and an exceptional culinary scene. This is why it is recommended to reserve a table in a restaurant even in winter times. Our favorite local restaurant is Ružmarin, and we already know it is necessary to call at least a day ahead to reserve a spot, especially on weekends.

Restaurant Ružmarin, Opatija
Lunch at the restaurant Ružmarin in Opatija

On your exploration of a city, you can choose from many cafes, pastry shops, taverns, restaurants, bars, pizzerias, and fast food places for each meal and have a different experience throughout the day. On a weekend getaway, there is no need to repeat a location twice unless you really like it.

Its diverse array of dining establishments presents intriguing recipes crafted with locally sourced, fresh ingredients, such as fish and vegetables. You can try everything from seafood to Italian pizza, local wine, beer, and spirits. Pastry shops have desserts of all kinds, and coffee has to be paired with one of those at least once a day.

If you visit Opatija in the summer season, try planning your meals ahead of time. On the other hand, almost all of the hotels in Opatija have their own top-notch restaurants, and eating in a hotel is a great choice as well.

#4 Wellness city

Adriatic sea, Opatija
Adriatic sea of Opatija, Croatia

Health in Opatija is taken seriously. From appreciation for clean air filled with iodine and sea salt to aromatic herbs growing along the promenade, Opatija has attracted visitors looking for rejuvenation for over a century. Today, this city is home to many hotels and spa centers where you can enjoy full days at the spa, try different treatments, and pamper yourself.

[Read: Guide on visiting thermal spas in Croatia]

Even before being rediscovered as a center of wellness tourism in the 19th century, the healing climate of Opatija was acknowledged by the ancient inhabitants of its shores. Legend has it that the church dedicated to Sv. Jakov (St. Jacob), the foundation of modern-day Opatija, was constructed upon the remnants of an ancient religious structure venerating Anzotica, the Liburnian goddess of health and fertility.

The recognition of Opatija as an imperial health resort escalated when Leopold Schrötter Kristelli, a pioneer in European laryngology, substantiated the therapeutic effects of the high concentration of sea aerosol in the town’s air. Subsequent endorsements from fellow physicians highlighted the advantages of the lush forested areas intersected with pathways.

Today, you can feel the benefits of this special climate by walking along Lungomare and sitting in cafes with a view of the sea. Isn’t it wonderful to know that you can work on your well-being by simply having a coffee with a gorgeous view?

[Read: Why Croatia is a country of natural wellness and soul food]

#5 Rich nature

The amazing advantage of visiting Opatija is its location. It can be challenging in winter to drive through the snow of Gorski Kotar to get there. However, once you reach the city, you will see the snowy Učka mountain range in the background, towering over the sea and colorful downtown.

Opatija has a lot of greenery, including parks, walking trails, and botanical gardens. The most recognizable parks are those in the city center, Park Angiolina, and Park Sv. Jakova, but there are two other hidden gems: Amerikanski vrtovi (American gardens) and Park Margarita, which are located further from the center.

[Read: Croatia’s botanical gardens and arboreta, including Park Angiolina]

Park Angiolina
Park Angiolina

For a forest walk with a view, visit Šetalište Carmen Sylve (Carmen Sylva Promenade). View the trail here. It is an easy route that takes about one hour to complete, with an elevation of only 109m. Please take into consideration the walk uphill needed to reach this promenade.

[Read: Via Adriatica Trail]

If you prefer more challenging activities or are into full-day excursions and hikes, you can visit several fantastic locations near Opatija. Učka mountain range offers scenic hiking and mountain biking trails. From the top of the mountain, you will have an opportunity to enjoy the most beautiful view of the Adriatic sea and Opatija riviera.

View our guide to Učka mountain hiking trails here.

A little bit further north, you can also take a trip to Nacionalni park Risnjak (Risnjak national park), famous for its wildlife and scenery. You can climb two peaks: Veliki Risnjak (1.528 m) and Snježnik (1.506 m), or walk along the 4.2 km long Leska educational path, which includes 23 information tables.

[Read: Visiting Croatia’s Risnjak National Park]

For those who prefer to include skiing in their winter holidays, Platak is just a short drive away. It is a hill with endless possibilities for year-round outdoor activities, from mountain trails for hiking and biking to ski and sledding trails used in winter. And if you love sledding, check out our guide on the best spots in Croatia to go sledding here and enjoy the ride.

View our other articles about Croatian cities

Visit Opatija

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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