Italy is home to quite a few popular tourist destinations. But our favorite city in Italy is one you may have never heard of: Trieste. Honestly, we didn’t know much about it before visiting either. But once we did, we were hooked. It’s a truly unique city due to its history and location, and that shows in its architecture, its food, and its general vibe. So we’re here to tell you what to do in Trieste including all the must-sees, day trips, and where to eat and drink. And hopefully after reading, you’ll understand why it’s our favorite city in Italy.
Table of Contents
- 1 About Trieste, Italy
- 2 Things to do in Trieste
- 3 Day trips from Trieste
- 4 Trieste restaurants, bars, and of course gelato
- 5 Hotels in Trieste
About Trieste, Italy
Trieste is not listed on most Italy itineraries because of its location. It’s in Northern Italy, but just barely. Tucked in the corner of the Adriatic Sea, right on the border of Slovenia, it’s definitely not the easiest place to get from other Italian tourist destinations. It’s about two hours from Venice by train, so it doesn’t make for the best day trip. And besides, there’s so much to see and do in Trieste, you’ll definitely want to stay a night (or a week!).
Trieste has an interesting history. Settlement in the area can be traced back to the 3rd millennium BCE. By the 2nd century it was part of the Roman Republic. And its name, Tergeste, was recorded by Julius Caesar.
Many years later, after centuries of fighting (as a free city) with Venice, Trieste asked for protection and support from the Duke of Austria. Trieste was a very important city during the centuries that followed. Due to its position and its port, it benefited from an influx of wealthy, international merchants and entrepreneurs.
In the early 19th century, Trieste was a popular place for artists and writers. The city is well known for being a beloved haunt of James Joyce who lived and wrote there for more than a decade.
After WWI, Trieste became part of Italy. After WWII, Trieste was split in two with one zone (A) under allied rule and one zone (B) governed by Yugoslavia. Zone A was annexed with Italy in 1954 and the border issues around Zone B were settled in 1975.
At present, Trieste is the capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy. This is, also interestingly, an autonomous region meaning it is granted a special status and constitution.
https://www.britannica.com/place/Trieste-Italy Accessed 12 March 2019.
https://www.ictp.it/visit-ictp/about-trieste/triestehistory.aspx Accessed 12 March 2019.
http://www.museojoycetrieste.it/english/the-trieste-of-james-joyce/ Accessed 12 March 2019.
Things to do in Trieste
We first visited Trieste on a trip to Northern Italy. We knew next to nothing about it, but fell in love. We loved it so much, in fact, that when we were planning the final leg of our trip around the world, we made it a priority to get back. So over the course of two trips, we spent a total of five days in Trieste.
As you can imagine from reading the city’s history, there is so much to do in Trieste. Although the center is small enough to see on foot, it’s chock full of sights from stately Austrian-era buildings or to ancient Roman ruins.
Piazza Unità d’Italia
Piazza Unità d’Italia is the heart of Trieste. It’s considered the largest sea-facing city square in Europe, which is kind of a funny distinction. Lined with massive, ornate white buildings on the three non-sea-facing sides, it does feel large and quite impressive.
Off the piazza, there’s a pier leading out into the Adriatic Sea which is a beautiful spot to relax and watch the sunset.
Right smack in the middle of the city are the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheater (Teatro Romano). It’s thought to have been built in the middle of the 1st century CE. The theater is set just a couple blocks back from the Piazza Unità d’Italia, and at the bottom of San Giusto hill.
In our opinion, the coolest thing about these roman ruins are that they’re just right in the middle of the modern city. We’re more accustomed to seeing ancient ruins off in their own special area. Not these. Surrounded by residential buildings, there’s even a supermarket right next door (where we of course went shopping).
For the archaeology buffs out there, check out this cool self-guided tour of the city’s sites.
San Giusto Hill
There are more Roman ruins, and more incredible views, to be seen from the top of San Giusto Hill. It’s the location of the oldest known settlement in the city. It’s also the location of the impressive San Giusto Castle, which was built around the time Trieste came under Austria’s control and protection. Fortunately, the castle never saw much military activity so survived pretty much in tact. The Roman ruins are outside the castle and make for an interesting contrast. The whole place is quite cool, and will take you an hour or so to explore. The views from the top are especially nice (even on a somewhat foggy day like we had). San Giusto Cathedral also sits atop the hill. And there’s a museum and an armory to check out too.
We took public bus 24 up to the top of the hill and walked back down to the center (catching a view of the Roman theater which sits at the bottom).
Walking and wandering
As we often make clear in our blog posts, we truly love walking and wandering around cities. Trieste is a great place to do that since it offers quite a variety of things to look at.
There’s a big canal called, fittingly the Grand Canal. At the end is the impressive Church of Sant’Antonio Taumaturgo. It stands behind a piazza of the same name, which often hosts food markets. Along the way is also the beautiful Serbian Orthodox Church, the Temple of Holy Trinity and Saint Spyridon. And on the Ponte Rosso, is a famous statue of James Joyce.
With hills all around, a peek down a side street can offer an interesting perspective. There are also really big beautiful buildings you may not expect. And of course, there’s the water, with its gorgeous, relaxing views (especially at sunset).
The feel of the city is very different from other Italian cities we’ve visited, but that’s what makes it unique and why we love it.
Museums in Trieste
The Revoltella Museum is half 19th century palace, half modern art museum. It’s a unique place to visit and there is an extraordinary amount of art present. You could easily spend several hours there. The museum also has a nice outdoor space with great views where they serve aperitivo.
We didn’t make it to any other museums in Trieste, but there are quite a few. Some of the more unique places to visit include the Joyce Museum (about the writer), the Museum of Oriental Art (which features a collection of Japanese prints), and Science Centre Immaginario Scientifico (an interactive, multimedia science museum which would be fun for children).
You can read more about all the museums in Trieste here.
Day trips from Trieste
Miramare Castle is technically still in Trieste, but a trip there will take you outside the city center and transport you to a different era. It’s only about a half hour outside the city and it’s absolutely, definitely, 100% something you want to see on a trip to Trieste. The castle itself is gorgeous. It was built from 1856 to 1860 by Ferdinand Maximilian of Hapsburg. We visited in November, and the fall colors contrasted beautifully with the bright white castle.
The surrounding grounds and views are pretty special as well. The castle is set right on the Gulf of Trieste. A forest lies behind it, which is fun to explore. On the walk down from the castle to the main road (where the bus stops), you can enjoy some really great views of the water and area.
It takes about 20 minutes to get to Miramare Castle to Trieste by train, and about 40 minutes by bus (6 or 36).
Another short trip out of the city is to Opicina. When we first visited, we took a cool tram ride (which turned into a funicular at its steepest stretch) to the Obelisk stop. Unfortunately, when we visited this year, the tram was closed, so we didn’t get to make the trip again. It’s actually still closed (as of March 2019). But there is a bus you can take there instead. Once you get to Opicina, there is a lovely view of the city. And there’s a walk you can take to the bubbly wine’s namesake, Prosecco (once a village, now a suburb of the city).
Trieste restaurants, bars, and of course gelato
Baracca E Burattini
When we visited Trieste for the first time it was as part of a Northern Italy trip where we visited four other cities, including Bologna. Bologna is known for its food, but our most delicious, memorable meal was at a small restaurant in Trieste. Baracca E Burattini is a homey, laid back restaurant with amazing food. Of course we returned this year and weren’t disappointed. Our favorite dishes were fried zucchini flowers, served with prosciutto and mozzarella, and their homemade pastas, including a unique and tasty pumpkin lasagna.
Trieste is also known for its buffets, which have an Eastern European influence. On our last visit, we had a great, big, ridiculously cheap meal at one of them. Siora Rosa is in guide books and recommended by most hotels, so it gets busy, but it’s the opposite of touristy. The staff is really friendly and helpful since there are so many different things to order. Our plates were filled with vegetables, heavy delicious pasta, and ham that reminded us of Prague.
Osteria Marise is a tiny bit more upscale and modern, but still has homey pasta dishes you hope to eat in Italy. They also had really tasty fish.
There are a gazillion gelato shops throughout Trieste. Our favorites are Gelateria Marco (behind the Piazza Unità d’Italia, near the Roman Theater) and Gelateria Zampolli (close to the main train station, with a ridiculously large selection).
Aperitivo in Città Vecchia
If you want to enjoy a spritz or something else with your aperitivo, you can hit up one of the bigger spots near the Piazza Unità d’Italia or make your way over to the old town (Città Vecchia). It’s a cool neighborhood to explore with its small winding streets, pretty buildings, and in some places, no cars. There are a ton of bars to just pop into for aperitivo, so walk around and see what appeals to you.
The Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy is also well-known for its wine (remember we said Prosecco was nearby?). We didn’t know anything about it before visiting Trieste, so it was fun to learn about and taste. And fortunately, we really enjoyed what we tasted. While we didn’t have the chance to do any wine tasting outside the city, we didn’t feel like we missed out too much given all that’s on offer in the city’s restaurants.
Gran Malabar is the best place in Trieste to try these local wines, especially during aperitivo. We did most of our wine tasting here, along with tasty salumi. It’s a super local spot, with everyone just hanging out, chatting, and (of course) enjoying the wine.
Our number one, can’t miss spot in Trieste, however, is… a beer bar. We said Trieste was a unique place! Mastro Birraio is one of the best beer bars we’ve been to in the world. The owner, Daniele, is a super friendly guy who loves giving recommendations (for beer and his city). They have an awesome selection of bottles from all over the world. And on tap, he features a local brewery, Zanna, which has beers made from Slovenian hops. It made such a big impression on us during our first visit, we couldn’t wait to return.
Hotels in Trieste
When we first visited Trieste, we decided to spend the money to stay at the most centrally located hotel, the Savoia Excelsior Palace, which is right next to the Piazza Unità d’Italia. We had a big cushy room, with its own atrium! The breakfast buffet was massive and absolutely delicious and, as we ate, we were treated to a view of the water through the breakfast room’s floor to ceiling windows. We paid about $130 per night and definitely got more than our money’s worth.
This year, however, we were operating on a slightly different budget. So we opted to stay at the less pricey B&B, Rooms Boutique Carducci. A small, family-run place, it’s a 10-minute walk from the main train station and even closer to the Canal Grande. Our room was small, but clean and airy. We enjoyed the typical European-style breakfast with meat and cheese and fruit and veg, but especially the fresh croissants our proprietors bought every morning. And it was only around $80 per night.
A great mix of Italy and Eastern Europe, Trieste is such a unique, delicious, and lovely city. It’s definitely a place we can see ourselves coming back to.