Rijeka Carnival – One of the Top Events in Europe!

Rijeka Carnival is Croatia’s biggest party! Carnival in Rijeka is known as being the fifth season because it’s a period of happiness and celebrations that lasts from NY till Ash Wednesday!

17th January 2020

February 26th 2020

Days to start

What is carnival in Rijecka?

rijeka carnival

The Rijeka Carnival or Riječki karneval in Croatian, is a pre-Lenten carnival that takes place in the Croatian port city of Rijeka. Carnival in Rijeka is a brilliant blend of colour, tradition, loud music, confetti, exuberance, costumes, dancing, cheerful people, laughter, parties, parades, delicious food and lots of fun. It is the time of year when you can let loose and become whoever you wish to be!

You might also be interested: Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2020

Rijeka Carnival is not only one of the most acknowledged and largest carnivals in Europe, but is one of the brightest celebrations in the world! Rijeka Carnival is said to be one of the top ten events in Europe. Rijeka Carnival has even landed itself on the world map with the Sunday Times ranking it as being one of the 24 most exotic events in the world.

This colourful, crazy and cheerful carnival celebration also has a long history. It is filled with ancient and beloved traditions that chase away the evil spirits and prepares the city for a brighter future. Carnival in Rijeka traces back beyond the middle ages to pagan tribes, this carnival sees Slavic folktales fuse with both Venetian and Austrian carnival traditions, making it one of the most well-known carnivals in Europe.

Rijeka Carnival attracts around 150,000 spectators and 10,000 masked participants. People come from not just all over Croatia but from all over the world to join in the celebrations. Even the Children’s Parade has 5,000 participants. It is the most anticipated event of the year and the locals work hard year round, preparing and creating carnival costumes and floats.

When is Rijeka Carnival?

The 2020 Rijeka Carnival Season begins on the 17th January and finishes on the 26th February, 2020. Rijeka Carnival always begins on the 17th January, which is the day when we remember St. Anthony the Great. St. Anthony’s horn will sound throughout the city officially marking the start of carnival season in Rijeka.

For the next month or so the city of Rijeka and surrounding areas will embrace the carnival spirit. However, it is the four days prior to Ash Wednesday when the main carnival activities and celebrations occur. The most popular event of carnival – the International Carnival Parade always takes place on the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday which in 2020 will be the 23rd February.

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Where is Rijeka Carnival?

Rijeka is a port city located in the northern region of Croatia. Rijeka actually means river in Croatian and this city is located in the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County on Kvarner Bay. It is a an inlet of the Adriatic Sea and located where the Rjecina River flows into the ocean. It is Croatia’s third largest city after Zagreb and Split. Rijeka Carnival parades takes place on the promenade ‘korzo’.

Rijeka’s Fifth Season…. Carnival!

rijeka carnival

The locals say that Rijeka has five seasons, with the fifth season being carnival! They say there is no winter or spring, because the entire town just lives and breathes carnival. This is because it is more than just a couple of days of celebrations it’s a cheerful and colourful period that stretches all the way from New Years Eve until Ash Wednesday.

During Carnival season there is a joyful atmosphere that engulfs the whole city. Everyone is in a good mood and carefree. People get along and you can feel positivity and happiness everywhere you go.

From the moment carnival season is declared officially open, the excitement continues to build up in the city, reaching fever pitch days before the parade. Once the parade arrives the entire city gets completely swept away and engulfed in carnival madness, with everyone letting loose!

How do they celebrate carnival in Rijeka?

The day after the horns of St. Anthony are sounded, the carnival flag is raised and the carnival festivities are officially proclaimed when the when the Mayor of Rijeka hands over the keys of the city to the Master of the Carnival, which is a symbolic gesture of handing over the rule of the town to the masks. That day also sees the traditional Rijeka Carnival Queen Pageant.

During the next month and a bit of carnival, the city of Rijeka and the surrounding areas embrace the carnival spirit with lots of celebrations. There will be parades, parties, masked balls, concerts, rituals, charity events, exhibitions, cultural and sporting events.

All these events build up to the main events which is the Children’s Carnival Parade and the International Carnival Parade. Other popular and official carnival events include the Carnival DJ Session, Carnival Snowboard Session, the appearance of the Zvoncari and the Masked ‘Paris-Bakar’ Rally.

The most popular and anticipated event of Rijeka Carnival is the International Carnival Parade, which attracts spectators and participants from all around the world. It is the biggest day of carnival and when hundreds of thousands of people come out to celebrate.

Carnival winds down with the trial burning of the Pust – a representational goodbye to everything negative from the previous year. On Shrove Tuesday which is the last official day of Rijeka Carnival, the keys of the city are returned to the actual mayor of the city. The carnival flag is officially lowered symbolising the official end of Rijeka Carnival.

What is the history of Rijeka Carnival?

rijeka carnival

Rijeka Carnival is a pre-Lenten Christian celebration but its stretches back before the area became Christian to the cities pagan roots. Rijeka Carnival has traditions that come from the when the Serbian tribes used to celebrate the spring equinox. The Pagans would throw ceremonies to drive away the previous year’s wickedness and usher in brighter days.

According to the Slavic Pagan traditions, carnival was about redemption. It was a way to erase all the bad things that had happened in the previous year as well as remove the evil spirits and usher in the spring. This was done by a group of men who dress up in animal skins called the Zvončari.

In the Middle Ages carnival in Rijeka was similar to other carnivals around Europe, like Venice Carnival. Locals would indulge in fancy dress and attend masked balls. Carnival became a pre-Lenten celebration when the Christianity took over Europe. It became a r

“Krepat, ma ne molat” is the Rijeka Carnival motto and the English translation means “Die but never give up!” Considering the history of the carnival it is an appropriate motto to represent Rijeka Carnival. The carnival has conquered all of its obstacles and continued to get bigger and more popular with every passing year. The carnival spirit in this town continues to be long and cheerful.

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Zvoncari (Bell Ringers)

One of the oldest and most authentic traditions of the carnival is the Zvoncari also known as the Bell Ringers. They are groups of people who dress up together, in animal skinned costumes with fearsome masks, just like their ancestors did. They go around the villages dancing and cavort around whilst ringing enormous deafening bells, that are said to drive away the evil spirits.

This tradition has survived from pre-Christian times back to the areas pagan roots, when the area was mainly inhibited by shepherds, who wore sheep skins, believing they kept the spirits away. It has also been speculated that it scared away Turkish burglars who would raid the area.

Today, there are many different groups of Zvoncari. They come from different villages not just in Rijeka but in the hills, situated just north of the city. These groups parade around accompanied by drums, trumpets, clarinets, accordions and singing and dancing, announcing the arrival of spring. The most well-known group of Zvončari is the Halubajski zvončari from the area of Kvarner.

The Rijeka Carnival Queen Pageant & Handover of the City Key

rijeka carnival

Every year the Rijeka Carnival is opened by crowning the Rijeka Carnival Queen, who is the winner of the Rijeka Carnival Queen Pageant. The opening also sees the official Handover of the City Key.

These events are two of the biggest attractions of the Rijeka Carnival and are considered to officially open the Rijeka Carnival. They draw crowds of over 100,000 and feature various live performances and music from more than 100 music bands.

The Rijeka City Key Handover sees the mayor of the Rijeka hand over the keys to Mestar Toni who is the carnival ‘maestro’. He becomes the figurative mayor of the city during carnival period and is responsible for overseeing the carnival processions.

The traditional Rijeka Carnival Queen Pageant also takes place along with the crowning of the carnival prince and princess. The role of the Carnival Queen is to be a charming spokeswoman of the masked groups participating in carnival. Every year, the Carnival Queen is selected among women of all ages to help the Master spread good vibes about the carnival, Rijeka and Croatia.

Rijeka Carnival Charity Ball

The Carnival Charity Ball at the Rijeka Governor Palace is another highlight of Rijeka Carnival. The Ball is not open to the public and is considered a highly exclusive event. The charity ball is attended by Europe’s nobles and the rich and famous. The event is held the evening of the main parade and is a very luxurious.

Rijeka Paris Rally

The week prior to the carnival parade is another popular event called the Paris Rally which occurs in a suburb called Paris, that is located in Rijeka. It is a parody of the world famous Paris-Dakar motor racing and ensures all the participants wear masks. Drivers, co-drivers and referees all must wear masks! Not just that every vehicle is decorated and must convey its own unique story. The motorised participants come from different regions.

Carnival Snowboard Session

rijeka carnival

Carnival Snowboard Session is another popular carnival event. It is an international snowboarding competition, which is pretty unique considering the snow trail in Rijeka is only a few meters from the sea. Carnival Snowboard Session has become an important tradition and is a recognisable carnival event which attracts many fans of the sport to Rijeka.

The competition brings together both the best local snowboarders as well as other snowboarders from other European countries. They wow the crowd with their stunts and must impress the panel of jurors to earn their place on the podium. After the competition and award ceremony, the Carnival Snowboard Session finishes with an epic concert and after party.

Carnival DJ Session

The Rijeka Carnival DJ Session is one of the most fun and attractive events of Rijeka Carnival. It is a costumed, electronic dance party, which sees party-goers dance the night away. It started spontaneously back in 2000 because of a float that was dedicated to the Berlin Love Parade. The following year, the event made its way into the official programme. Many international headliners and star Croatian DJ’s have made an appearance at the event.

Rijeka Children’s Carnival Parade

rijeka carnival

Even the kids of Rijeka get a chance to parade! The Rijeka Children’s Carnival Parade is an carnival event that sees the children perform in a mini version of the adult parade. The parade is a colourful procession with colourful masks, costumes and around 70 floats. There are numerous fairy-tale characters and mythical creatures to be seen on this day.

The Rijeka Children’s Carnival Parade sees around 5,000 kids from both across Croatia and abroad participating in the parade. It ensures that the younger generations who take part in wearing the mask will continue to ensure that the Rijeka Carnival traditions wont perish and are continuously passed down through the generations.

Rijeka International Carnival Parade 

rijeka carnival

The Rijeka Carnival Parade known also as the International Carnival Parade is the most anticipated and popular event of carnival. It draws a crowd of over 150,000 people from all over Europe and features some 10,000 costumed participants. There is a 100 elaborately decorated floats, thousands of masks, music bands and epic choreographed dance routines.

The parade occurs on the final Sunday before Ash Wednesday. It kicks off around midday and finishes around 8 or 9pm that evening. The parade is led by the Rijeka Carnival Queen, Mestar Toni and the actual mayor of Rijeka. Even if you are not participating in the parade you will see loads of spectators getting into the carnival spirit, and wearing a costume.

It’s is an enormous parade with more than 100 carnival groups, competing against each other for the title of “The Best Carnival Group’ and the competition keeps the whole city on its feet. The parade features groups from not just all over Croatia, but also from Slovenia, Belgium, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Italy and more.

The Carnival Queen, Mestar Toni and Mayor of Rijeka lead the parade, and then at the end stand on the main stage and greet all the following carnival groups. The main stage is located just outside Rijeka City Hall and marks the official end of the carnival procession. The last carnival group is always the Halubajski zvončari, a large party of zvončari strutting their stuff. Once they reach the main stage the Rijeka Carnival procession is officially over. The parade runs for about five hours.

After Parties

rijeka carnival

There are several all-night parties held in various locations all throughout Rijeka, occurring before and after the carnival procession. The most famous carnival party is held at Korzo which sees large crowds of both parade participants and spectators attending. There is an enormous marquee set up and people drink, socialise and dance the night away.

All throughout Rijeka Carnival season there are numerous carnival parties taking place in cafes and bars throughout the city.

Burning of Pust

After the Rijeka Grand Finale Parade – 3 days later, is an event called Burning of Pust. What is a Pust? Well Pust is a satirical puppet, usually named after some unpopular politician or other unpopular figure, who gets set on fire.

Why is the Pust burnt? Well the locals place all their blame for the sins of the past year on the puppet. Pust is then put on trial and found guilty. He is then taken out to sea and burnt as a sacrifice. Burning of Pust marks a new beginning and signifies a better year to come.

How to get to Rijeka Carnival?

You can fly to Rijeka, the nearest airport is Rijeka International Airport, situated about a 30 minute drive, south of the city centre. You are able to easily travel into the city centre via bus, shuttle or taxi. Rijeka is also well connected by bus to the rest of Croatia as well as many other European cities. There is also a central train station close to the city and of course you can easily drive there if you are nearby.

How to get around Rijeka?

rijeka carnival

Rijeka has a simple but extensive public transport system. Bus Lines run throughout the city and are divided into zones. Zone 1 is for travel within the city centre, Zone 2,3 and 4 takes you to some of the surrounding suburban areas. The buses operate approx. every 15 minutes from 5:00-23:30.

You can purchase a ticket either directly from the bus driver on board or from a kiosk. Ticket prices begin at around 15.5 HRK (US$2.50) for zone 1 and upwards of 21 HRK for zones 2, 3 and 4. Every ticket is valid for two rides. You can also purchase daily and weekly tickets.

Where to Stay for Rijeka Carnival?

Accommodation in Rijeka is booked out months in advance so its important to book early to get the best deals, prices and availability. There are several hotels, hostels and apartment rentals in Rijeka.

For accommodation close to the action try Grand Hotel Bonavia, Hostel Korzo or Guesthouse Korzo.

But Rijeka isn’t a large city so it doesn’t matter to much where you stay as there is a good public transport network to get you around. If you leave your booking to the last minute and are struggling to find suitable accommodation, you can also search for accommodation in neighbouring Opatija.

Check out some accommodation options here.

What to do and see in Rijeka?

Rijeka is a picturesque city in Croatia that features a wide variety of things to see and do! Rijeka is rich in stunning historical attractions, landmarks and architectural history, like the Rijeka Cathedral, a gorgeous Roman Catholic cathedral built in the 17th-century, or the nearby City Clock Tower or Trsat Castle just outside the city centre.

Rijeka has an abundance of natural beauty. There are beautiful rolling hills and gorgeous beaches that surround the city. You can get out and enjoy nature with an abundance of  great outdoor walks and activities. Rijeka is also home to a number of popular beaches and public baths along the coast. These include Sablićevo Beach, Pećine Public Beach, Glavanovo and Kantrida Beach.

Visit Korzo which is the main street in Rijeka and features lots of great bars, restaurants, cafes, and shops. Rijeka is also known for being a party place which is even more true during carnival but it means that the city offers a great nightlife. The city of Rijeka is rich in cultural and you can visit a number of popular museums like the Museum of the City of Rijeka, the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Coast.

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.

Before you go!

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