What to do in Trieste, our favorite city in Italy

Piazza Unita d’Italia at sunset, one of the many things to do in Trieste, Italy

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:

  • Things to do in Trieste including the city’s top attractions
  • Day trips from Trieste
  • Trieste restaurants, bars, and our favorite gelato spots of course!

Hopefully after reading, you’ll understand why Trieste is our favorite city in Italy.

About Trieste, Italy

Palazzo del Governo, 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.

Sources: 
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

Town Hall building on Piazza Unità d'Italia, Trieste

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.

Sunset on a pier leading to Adriatic Sea, Trieste

Teatro Romano

Roman ruins at the base of an ampitheater, Trieste

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

Old brick pillars in front of a castle flying the Italian flag, Trieste

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).

Hazy view out over Trieste and part of Adriatic

Walking and wandering

Canal with boats in Trieste, Italy

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).

Sunset over the pier and the Adriatic, Trieste

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.

<< Read our 3 recommendations for a Northern Italy Itinerary to get more ideas for your Italy trip >>

Museums in Trieste

Sculpture of a reclining woman in front of a wide window onto Trieste waterfront

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

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.

Water view from Miramare castle in Trieste

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.

View of hills, villas and the sea in Trieste, Italy

It takes about 20 minutes to get to Miramare Castle to Trieste by train, and about 40 minutes by bus (6 or 36).

Opicina

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.

Siora Rosa

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

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.

Gelato

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

Olives, pasta and cocktails on a bar in Trieste

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.

Gran Malabar

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.

Mastro Birraio

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.

<< Book a stay in Trieste now >>

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.

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48 thoughts on “What to do in Trieste, our favorite city in Italy

  1. IngridZenMoments says:

    Oh ho I miss Trieste! Your post took me right back on those beautiful streets, sitting on the Molo Audace eating pizza and drinking wine. In my opinion you managed to create the perfect Trieste guide πŸ™‚

  2. Deea says:

    Oh, last time I was in the area – a few years ago – I had to choose between Koper and Trieste for a short stop and went with Koper. I really loved it but now, after reading your post, I have a hint of regret that I didn’t do both πŸ™ˆ

  3. Nadeen says:

    Wow! I love Italy and have been twice from North to South but I had not heard of this city! It looks lovely! I enjoy great food and interesting architecture! And I love Prosecco so it would be cool to visit there!

  4. Anja says:

    Stunning pics! I once took the train from Milan to Trieste on my way to Croatia and seeing all this sure makes me regret that I didn’t explore the town before heading off to Croatia. Next time!

  5. Eva says:

    My boyfriend was born in Trieste but then relocated to Rome. We have been there together only once, but I seriously loved his hometown. He wants to take me back again, and I hope this will happen soon because we had only been there for one full day and didn’t even make it to Miramare. There’s still so much for me to sse there and I would love to see more.

    • Sarah and Justin says:

      Yes definitely go! It’s a relatively small city, but chock full of a lot to see. Jealous you have that connection to the city!

  6. carrieemann says:

    I adore Trieste. It’s one of those places you visit and immediately think, “I could move here.” Unfortunately I missed Miramare Castle when I was there, so I’ve gotta go back — and I didn’t realize there were so many other day trips you could do!

    • Sarah and Justin says:

      That’s how we felt too. We loved almost everywhere we visited in Italy, but definitely felt most at home here. Miramare was beautiful and definitely a reason to return1

  7. Ruth says:

    Agree you know the city very well! I have wanted to visit Trieste for a long time. Not sure if you are familiar with the Moon Guides. Long time ago, I bought their guide to Italy and they had Trieste as one of their top picks in the city. Since that, I have been intrigued by the city. Everything looks so beautiful. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  8. Victoria says:

    Just amazed at what you have captured here. I have never heard of Trieste. It’s funny that it looks as though you had an amazing time in a great town but when I see “trieste” I think of Sad in Spanish. lol I think I will add this to my list of places to visit

  9. Steph says:

    Great to read some info on this city – I don’t know much about it at all. Miramare Castle looks stunning. Bookmarking this for when I’m in the area. Also: walking to Prosecco. That sounds like something I definitely have to do.

  10. travelsandtreatsblog says:

    I’ve never been to this part of Italy, but it looks just as beautiful as the rest of the country! I love Italy so much and would love to explore more of it. I’ll be saving this post!

  11. Flo says:

    How have I never heard of Trieste before? What a beautiful hidden gem! I’d love to explore Miramare Castle and gorge on some of that ravioli. Added to the bucket list!

  12. Kavey Favelle says:

    What a beautiful place to visit. I feel guilty now that I only know the name because of the treaty that was signed there and named for it, I knew nothing about the city itself. It looks like there’s plenty to enjoy, the roman theatre, castle and beautiful sea views, not to mention just walking about enjoying the city itself.

  13. broganab says:

    What a great informative post! I’ve been wanting to visit Trieste for a while now so I’m bookmarking it! πŸ™‚ Loved your photos too! Thanks for sharing!

  14. Kristin D. says:

    Trieste is definitely on my list! It’s such a neat location geographically. Thanks for all this great information! I’m dreaming about the food buffets haha

  15. Julia K says:

    During what month did you go? It looks like it is cold and less touristy. Which is what I prefer. πŸ™‚ (The less touristy crowds) Great post. Very informative. Love the food pictures!

    • Sarah and Justin says:

      The first time we visited in November, so the colder looking pictures. It actually wasn’t that cold – there were people sunbathing in bathing suits along the sea! It was really really foggy then. This year, we were there in April. It was sunnier but still chilly. So yeah I guess both times we visited weren’t in the main tourist season. That’s when we prefer our holidays too.

  16. Cory says:

    Ah, it’s all about the images. Your pictures really make Italy look glorious. I miss the country so much, I’ve last visited in March. Trieste looks epic if you ask me!

  17. akvilestan says:

    Looks lovely! I feel like all Italian cities have got similar vibes with beautiful colourful houses, narrow streets and of course Italian food. We’ve just recently visited Verona & Venice and I’m very keen to explore the rest of Italy as I am a big fan of Italian culture!

  18. thesanetravel says:

    I love Italy but haven’t been to Trieste yet. It looks like a gorgeus city to visit with so many things to do. Thanks for sharing!

  19. meghanramsey1 says:

    That lake looks incredible though! What a great guide. I can’t wait to go back to Italy and will definitely save this for when I go!

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