A Guide to Spending a Winter in Opatija, Croatia

Winter in Opatija

With its proximity to snowy mountain peaks as well as riviera walks, Opatija is a perfect place to spend the winter season.

Touristy in the summer months, Opatija is still home to plenty of Croatians in the offseason. The Island of Krk, Motovun, or even Pula felt empty in comparison, especially during COVID. If you choose to spend the advent in Opatija, you can head to neighboring Rijeka’s weekend market. The market is open until 2 pm on Saturdays and 12 pm on Sundays and is right downtown near the harbor. You can buy a Christmas tree and some mistletoe, and take yourself ice skating after on the harbor. In Rijeka’s square, an advent market is set up selling all sorts of fun crafts. You can buy some fun Christmas gifts there!

Rijeka Weekend Market

Q-Tip: be sure to pick up some Biska (mistletoe brandy) and Teranino (red wine liquor) from Rijeka’s weekend market. After ice skating on the harbor, go grab some kuhano vino (Croatian mulled wine) to warm up. Most restaurants will be selling it.

Rijeka Weekend Market

Opatija is historically a resort town, going as far back as the 1800s when Emperor Franz Joseph I frequented the riviera. Opatija has two Michelin star restaurants (we loved Navis!) as well as plenty of other fantastic eateries. A multi-mile ocean walk starting in Volosko has multiple places to sunbathe and go for a swim. I’d personally advise against a swim in the winter, of course, unless you’re one for a chilly dip. On sunny days, the seaside walk is an absolute must. Shop the strip, and enjoy some afternoon burgers and pizza at Roko.

Winter Sports Near Opatija

Being on the riviera, Opatija gets a great deal of rain but the mountains that surround the city are snow-capped by mid-December. The Platak ski resort is about an hour’s drive from town and is a wonderful place to spend the afternoon. It is up a mountain and while we made the trip just fine in a smart car, for those not accustomed to icy or snowy roads, I advise against it. Opt for a four-wheel-drive rental.

For cross-country or downhill ski gear, head to Intersport in Rijeka Tower shopping center, or Decathlon in Rijeka on the way back to Opatija. Both offer loads of snowy discount gear. Ice skates for 30 dollars? They have them! If you’re looking for more Christmas shopping options, I’d certainly spend some time in Rijeka Tower. The mall has everything but note that the gift wrapping stations are only for those shopping at Muller or one of the other convenient stores.

Day Trips Around Opatija

If you’re looking for another winter wonderland option close to Opatija, head to Fuzine. Only 45 minutes from Opatija, Fuzine is prime cross-country skiing territory. The drive winds through a crystallized forest, the bare trees frozen with ice. It’s breathtaking and lovely in the snow. There are ski lifts and sledding areas in the direction of Fuzine in Ravna Gora as well.

Platak Skiing

You can drive 2 hours to Zagreb to experience the capital’s advent. Or, in contrast, drive 2 hours east to the quiet Plitvice Lakes to see it in optimal snowy conditions. Be sure to bring snow boots! The lower trails (upper is closed during the winter) aren’t kept up and the paths are packed with snow!

Q-Tip: Be sure to visit Rastoke, a fairy tale mill town on the way to Plitvice Lakes.

Exploring Nearby Istria

Opatija’s proximity to Istria adds to the convenience of the location. If you arrive in November, be sure to go on a truffle hunt in Istria’s Buzet region. If your timing is right, you should also check out Croatia’s truffle festival!

Our travel options were limited due to COVID but Opatija is only 1 to 2 hours away from so many other locations aside from Plitvice, Zagreb, the Istria Region, Platak, and Fuzine. Really, your day trip or over night trip options are limitless! In under an hour and a half you can be in Trieste, Italy or Ljubljana, Slovenia. In around three hours, you can visit towns in Austria, Bosnia, or head south along the coast to Zadar. There are so many amazing trip options around Opatija!

Beware of the Bura Winds!

Last weekend, David and I decided to check out nearby Krk. As Croatia’s counties are locked until January 8th, we had limited options in terms of day trips. Krk was expectantly touristy and, as the drive is long before you see anything but low lying trees, reminiscent of the drive to the Hamptons. It was a cute town but there is so much more to see around Primorje-Gorski Kotar County. We experienced wild Bura (or Bora, I’ve seen it spelled both ways) winds.

Bura winds are very strong, northern winds that can overturn cars. The strongest winds ever recorded were 248.4 kmph… so it wasn’t too fun when David and I were trapped in a line on the Krk bridge. The bridge was under construction so only one line was passable. A couple of cars were waiting for the red light to turn along with us as the winds shook our small smart car as well as the larger car in front of us. David, being from Iceland, is accustomed to strong winds that can blow cars off of the road. The only issue was that we were on a bridge with a steep… what, 50-foot drop into the ocean where the sea waves were crashing and wild? But hey, the Bura winds aren’t so bad. They bring us some of the best prosciutti in Croatia!

You may not have terrible Bura winds during your visit but I’d advise against a visit to Krk. Visit one of the many options listed above instead!

Be Cozy in Opatija

Your Opatija Airbnb will more likely than not have a wood-burning stove. You can pick up firewood as well as all of your cooking necessities at Spar (our favorite grocery store) or Lidl, or Konzum. All are great stores around Opatija, some offering more options in terms of truffle treats, prosciutto, and local cheeses, and meats than others.

Q-Tip: Croatians love their gin and tonics. They have special tonic spice kits with small bottles of Juniper, Hibiscus, Pink Berries, Cardamom, and more. Be sure to pick one of these up and have fun experimenting! Also, in the liquor section, be sure to pick up the Croatian authentic liquor tester bottles. These and the Cardamon pods are perfect for making homemade Glogg!

As of writing this, I am still living in Opatija, Croatia, roasting chestnuts, and keeping warm with the fire I’ve built. David and I are enjoying homemade Glogg (made with Croatian wine, Biska, Teranino, and the Croatian liquor packages available in all grocery stores) and some homemade mushroom, prosciutto, and truffle pasta. We have been living here since the end of October and just today, I sadly bought my ticket back to the U.S for January 23rd and David bought his back to Iceland. He’ll be getting his H1-B visa renewed and I’ll be out in Portland because I’d rather not go to the New York area so soon. Opatija feels like home. It is a wonderful, easy place to live with all of the amenities close at hand. If you can manage a remote work stay or just a winter holiday away, consider Opatija as your next holiday stay.

Advent in Opatija