Nestled between beach fronts and rocky plateaus, Trieste is a pretty small but important port city in northeastern Italy. It has always been a melting pot of different cultures and populations, which is still palpable in the many narrow streets, building façades and, last but not least, in the traditional cuisine, where typical Hapsburg, Slavic and Mediterranean traditions and recipes meet in dishes that will blow your mind.
Everyone loves big touristic destinations, full of architecture, art and history, but we can assure you that this little town will make you fall in love with its beauty just as it bewitched us. Keep reading to start planning the best trip to Trieste!
Every place that we are going to mention here is easily reachable by foot, but if you take the public transport like city buses, which work efficiently, you will also be able to enjoy spectacular views of the city from belvederes that are not right in the city centre.
Here are 5 good reasons to book a trip to this precious gem of northern Italy:
1. Stunning panoramas of the gulf of Trieste, the city itself and cozy beaches
As someone who grew up in Trieste and got to call this city my hometown, one of the factors that make this city so unique is its very strategic location: it is embedded, like a precious stone, between the gulf and the hills on which the houses climb up to the plateau, the so-called “Carso”.
There are quite a few places where you can enjoy the marvellous view from different areas. And as a local, I have to share my favourites:
- Belvedere Obelisco di Opicina. The obelisk is situated along the road that leads from Trieste to Opicina, one of the many small towns on the Karst Plateau. This place is perfect also to take amazing pictures of the sea, of the city and of the characteristic lighthouse (which we will tell you about shortly). It is easy to reach with the bus n. 2 which has the first stop in the city centre, in Piazza Oberdan, 3 minutes far from the train station.
- Scala dei Giganti (literally translated into “giants’ stairway”). It was made in the classical and neo-Baroque style, but if you are not interested in art history, it is still worth walking all the way up, because at the top you will get a great view of the city that you cannot miss! From Piazza Goldoni it brings you up to the hill where the ancient Trieste stood in Roman times.
- Belvedere Monte Grisa with its unique temple, the National Shrine of Mary Mother and Queen. It is one of the many city’s landmarks and its location at an altitude of 300 metres on the edge of the Karst Plateau makes it an unmissable stop, believe us, you have to be there. All you have to do is take the city bus n. 42 (which departs from Piazza Oberdan), you’ll thank us later!
- Another gem of this little city, which the people of Trieste often take for granted as they are used to drive through it almost every day is the so-called “Costiera triestina”, even though locals usually call it simply “Costiera”. It is one of the main access routes to Trieste, it was built in the 1920s and it is approximately 11 km long. With its cliffs of the Karst uphill and the view of the Gulf of Trieste downhill, it is one of the best picturesque routes overlooking the sea. From here some steep paths with staircases and some small roads lead down to the sea level to some small marinas and beaches. The Trieste Airport is just a few kilometres away from the city, and should you plan to rent a car there, you surely have to reach Trieste through the “Costiera”, ça va sans dire! However, the railway route is also a good way to get a first glimpse of the Gulf of Trieste.
- Piazza Unità d’Italia (Unity of Italy Square) is the main square in Trieste and it faces the sea with its unmistakable municipal building. Did you know that this is Europe’s largest square located next to the sea? How about getting some good ice cream to eat here at sunset in this beautiful square framed by all the sumptuous buildings?
Can we tell you about a maritime city without mentioning some beaches where you can have a nice swim? Well, the waterfront Barcola serves as both beach and promenade for walks in colder seasons. If you prefer enjoying a more peaceful spot, there are some cozy beaches and bays all along the Gulf, I definitely would recommend you to check out: the Filtri beach, the small port of Santa Croce, the Liburnia beach and the Costa dei Barbari Beach. La lanterna bathing facility in the centre of Trieste is also worth a visit.
Where to Stay in Trieste
Budget - Bed & Breakfast Al Cucherle
It’s located in the very heart of the city centre and offers an exquisite breakfast, with very friendly staff!
Midrange - Victoria Hotel Letterario
This hotel is located in the historic centre of Trieste and the combination between modern and traditional makes you live in a dream.
Luxury - Hotel Riviera & Maximilian’s
Located on a cliff above the Gulf of Trieste, it’s one of the most famous and most high-rated hotels in the city. From there the private beach is easy to reach with an elevator.
2. Scenic strolls for grand sightseeing
Colourful parks, trails surrounded by greenery, bike tours or simply meandering around the city discovering Art Nouveau and neoclassical historical buildings is what we live for. It is not all about panoramas and beaches, in Trieste you can also appreciate a good walk on one of the many trails along the Karst Plateau, like:
- The “strada Napoleonica” (even though it is officially called strada Vicentina), is approximately 3.7 kilometres on the Karst cliff, high above the sea, with wonderful views of Trieste and its surroundings. The path is broad and sunny but also sheltered from the famous “Bora”, the strong north-easterly wind that beats the city and sparks many legends around Trieste and its citizens. Anyway, this path is enjoyable in every season, even in the coldest of winters.
- There are also many other trails along the Karst Plateau, here we name just a few, which are not too challenging in terms of sportivity: the Globojner Park, the Derin trail and the Tiziana Weiss trail (also known as “Sentiero della Salvia”, literally translated with the “sage trail”, as the scent of sage accompanies you along the entire path). On these trails you can find your inner peace, a lot of locals say so. How not to agree with them!
If you want to stay near the city centre, there are also some green lungs spread around different parts of town.
- Let’s take a moment to talk about one of them in particular, the “San Giovanni Park and its rose garden”, due to its history with the revolution of the psychiatrist Franco Basaglia that has shaped psychiatry as we know it today. Indeed in the 1970s citizens were free to enter both the hospital and the park and patients could leave it as much as they liked, whilst at that time, people with mental health issues were considered socially dangerous to themselves and others and were to be banished from society and locked away, where they had to face electroshock treatments, lobotomy, strong psychopharmaceuticals and even chloroform. The Rose Garden in the San Giovanni Park is one of the largest in Italy and hosts almost 5.000 varieties, even some rare Japanese ones! Walking amidst these flowers will plunge you directly into an enchanted world and you will forget that you find yourself in the middle of a rumbly town.
- The garden of Villa Revoltella deserves a special mention too, also because of the picturesque little catholic church of Saint Pasquale Baylon, another gem of this city, almost a hidden one, which makes it even more special to visit. Every corner of this garden “smells” of yesteryear.
- Of course, we cannot but recommend you to visit the huge park around the Miramare Castle, at the end of the Barcola seafront, and between well-kept flowerbeds, rare plants, ponds and statues, it will be a pleasure to get lost again and again. If you happen to be there during summertime, there is also the unique possibility to dive into the crystalclear water and do some sea watching in the Marine Protected Area of Miramare, which is a true oasis of marine biodiversity just next to the Castle and the park.
Now let’s go back to the promenades in the city centre, where you absolutely have to check out:
- the Molo Audace, a pier just in front of Piazza Unità d’Italia. It is one of the locals’ favourite spots, where they usually hang out whatever the season, even on extremely windy days and with temperatures not higher than 5 degrees. It is precisely on days when the Bora blows violently that the air clears and from the end of the pier you can see mountains covered with snow on the horizon. The pier at sunset attracts everyone like a magnet and it is not uncommon to find people there strumming their guitars or ukuleles while jellyfishes move lazily. If you are looking for a place to get inspired, this is the one.
- The Canal Grande (the grand canal) with its bridges, on one of them you will find a statue of James Joyce. And what do you do? You don’t take a selfie with Joyce?
- If we say “liberty”, does it ring any bell? Liberty, also known as Art Nouveau is an international style of art that was very popular during the Belle époque period. It was inspired by natural forms such as plants and flowers. You can find that dynamism on many façades in Trieste, where a very singular artistic mouvement developed compared to the rest of Italy, also due to the influence of different artistic tendencies. Here we provide you with names of some buildings, but this is only a very small part. It would be a nice idea to organise a treasure hunt, wouldn’t it?
- Casa Bartoli
- Casa Valdoni
- Casa Polacco
- Narodni Dom
- Casa Terni/Casa Smolars
- Civic Marine Aquarium of Trieste (Former Central Fish Market)
- Casa Viviani (which is now a cinema!)
If you prefer to explore Trieste by bike, we recommend you to check out the bike sharing service BiTS here: Mobilità Sostenibile – Comune di Trieste to get more informations about tariffs and further instructions.
3. History and art museums, science museums, many churches and places of worship, important buildings and monuments
Trieste may be small, but it has an enviable history behind it, and the many museums and churches scattered around the city are proof of that.
- The Miramare Castle is certainly one of the most popular destinations among tourists, and there is a good reason for this: in the 19th century the castle was built overlooking the Gulf of Trieste by order of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, who, according to tradition, fell completely in love with the cliffs and the surrounding vegetation the first time he saw the coastline while he was taking shelter from a sudden storm in a little harbour nearby. You simply cannot skip a visit to the castle!
- The San Giusto Castle and the Cathedral, which stand on a hill that overlooks the city and the Gulf, rise exactly where the first Roman settlement was built. If you want to plunge into the history of Trieste, this is a must-see stop.
- Did you know that the majestic lighthouse Faro della Vittoria can be visited on weekends? 70 metres high and 60 metres above sea level, this lighthouse serves both as a guide for nocturnal navigation and a monument that commemorates sailors who died during the First World War. If you don’t have vertigo, it is the ideal spot to get a different (but equally stunning) view of the Gulf and the roofs of houses. And that is not all! If for some reason you cannot manage to walk that many steps, there is also a lift installed inside the building that will take you to the top.
- Other important sites and museums you should check out are the Revoltella Museum (a modern art gallery), the Kleine Berlin (a complex of underground air-raid tunnels dating to World War II), the Roman Theatre (the remains of the ancient Roman Trieste) and the Science Centre Immaginario Scientifico, given that Trieste has also been the European City of Science in 2020 and is the centre of many research facilities.
- As we have already pointed out, Trieste is an extremely multicultural city, so among the various churches, we strongly recommend that you take your time to appreciate the following sites: the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas, the Serbian Orthodox church of Saint Spyridon, the Synagogue of Trieste, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, a church in Neo-Gothic style in the middle of modern buildings, the Church of Sant’Antonio Taumaturgo (at the end of the Grand Canal, it is unmistakable with its Neoclassical façade).
- These are not museums nor churches, but they are worth a look: the prestigious main building of the University of Trieste for its position at the top of the Old City and its rationalist architecture, the Arco di Riccardo (legends recall the passage of Charlemagne or Richard the Lionheart) and the Post Office Building, as it is the only example of mitteleuropean architecture and also for its monumentality (pretty unusual for post offices, right?)
Where to Stay in Trieste
Budget - Hotel Colombia
This hotel is located right behind the Narodni Dom, a historical building, now one of the University’s campuses for translators and interpreters. All the rooms are equipped and decorated with works of modern art.
Midrange - Hotel Miramare
It’s a hotel by the seaside, you can literally admire the Gulf from your window! It’s the perfect hotel for a peaceful and reinvigorating stay.
Luxury - Savoia Excelsior Palace Trieste
It’s a very luxurious hotel located in the “Rive”, some rooms offer a splendid view of the sea and the Savoy Restaurant presents a wide range of both international and local dishes.
4. Traditional dishes, coffee and literary cafés
Bunkersuppe, Jota, Sardoni impanai, capuzi garbi, presnitz, fave, strucolo de pomi, Kugelhupf… Gibberish, right? But we can assure you that, although unpronounceable, these dishes are perhaps one of the main reasons to book a flight to Trieste now. Anyone who comes to Trieste can still experience the charm of the old Hapsburg Monarchy, not only in the city structure and in the architecture, but also in the traditional cuisine. And it doesn’t end there, because the Slavic culinary tradition played its part too! Multiculturalism and simplicity are the key and they can even be “tasted” here in Trieste, there you go, these are some places where you can eat traditional dishes (and be prepared for the eventuality that you have to unbutton your trousers):
- Buffet Bier Stube
- Buffet Da Siora Rosa
- Kapuziner Keller
- Antica Trattoria Suban
- Buffet Da Pepi
- Al Petes
Here you can also find some vegetarian alternatives!
Did you know that Trieste is also called “the city of coffee”? With the arrival and trading of coffee in the free port of Trieste, the city was in the 18th century the most important Mediterranean port in this sector. In Trieste there is this deeply-rooted coffee tradition, it is not just a daily ritual, it is also part of the essence and the spirit of the city.
Here’s a list of the historical cafés (that still have the same charm today as they did in the past), where the evolution of Modernist literature took place and where authors such as Svevo, Saba, Joyce, Richard Francis Burton, Stendhal and Ivo Andrić found their cradle:
- Caffé San Marco
- Caffé degli Specchi (located in the main town square)
- Caffé Stella Polare
- Caffé Tommaseo
- Caffé Garibaldi
- Hotel de La Ville (it is not a café anymore, today it’s an Italian shipbuilding company’s headquarters, Fincantieri)
- We also recommend ordering a “capo in B” (an espresso macchiato in a glass) and one of the many typical desserts in La Bomboniera pastry shop, a typical Austro-Hungarian pastry shop with the original Art Nouveau décor.
5. Aperitifs by the seaside and “osmizas”
Are you looking for a nice and cozy place to have an unforgettable cocktail on the seaside? Don’t worry, we have got your back!
- Pier The Roof, a trendy seaside location ideal for aperitifs at sunset
- 040 Social Food
- Caffé degli Specchi
- on the roof of the Revoltella Museum (th-fr summertime)
- Pane Quotidiano Lungomare (Barcola)
From my own time growing up in Trieste - you simply cannot leave Trieste without first experiencing the so-called “osmizas”. They are no restaurants, nor agri-tourism establishments, but rather places along the Karst Plateau where local wines and food, such as eggs, sausages, charcuterie and a lot of cheeses of course, are consumed exactly where they are produced.
There are currently about 50 osmizas and they are open all year long, so you have no excuse, you have to check this out!
Map of Trieste and its hotspots
Did we intrigue you? So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to Trieste, there is still so much to see!
Given its proximity to the Slovenian border, we also recommend you to take a look at our itineraries on Slovenia to get even more inspired.