The Best Things To Do in Trieste

You are here Home > Destinations > Italy > The Best Things To Do in Trieste

Looking for the best things to do in Trieste, Italy? From literature to architecture and world-famous coffee, this surprising Italian city has a character all of its own.

Best things to do in Trieste, Pinterest

Why Visit Trieste?

Trieste is not like the rest of Italy. Perched on the border with Slovenia, it’s a mix of Italian flair and Balkan practicality. But it’s a beautiful place and one I’d highly recommend visiting.

It was winter when I arrived in Trieste. The wind carried with it the whisper of sleet and the soft scent of snow. The ground sparkled with the reflections of Christmas lights in the afternoon rain and the central square was surprisingly quiet.

I was here on my Iron Route project, a journey from Istanbul to Berlin that zig-zagged across the former Iron Curtain. And Trieste was a key part of that.

For more about that, read on to the end of the article.

In the meantime, let’s talk about some of the best things to do in Trieste.

Recommended reading: what you need to know about the Ravenna Mosaics and the surprise you’ll find in Comacchio

Motorbikes lined up on a street in Trieste, Italy
People travel in style in Trieste

Where is Trieste?

Trieste is the capital of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region in northeast Italy. It sits on the border with Slovenia and used to be the main port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It’s just a short train ride from Venice and the main connection point from Italy to Ljubljana.

The Best Things to Do in Trieste, Italy

Walk Around Town

Start at the waterfront and follow the waterways in and back to the Adriatic. Climb hills. Meander in coffee shops without a plan at all. Look up at grand facades and out again to the sea. Walk the Molo Audace and transport yourself 200 metres over the water.

The best thing to do in Trieste is to explore with your feet – and with your stomach.

Inside Tip: head to the waterfront and walk around the old part of town without a plan. Coffee. Cake. Walking. All good, so good.

Christmas lights at the Piazza d'Unità d'Italia - the best things to do in Trieste
The Piazza d’Unità d’Italia looks beautiful at Christmas time

Piazza D’Unità D’Italia

Combining the grandeur of Vienna with that of ancient Rome, the Piazza d’Unità d’Italia throws in one more punch: one side of the square opens entirely to the Adriatic Sea.

Inside tip: visit at night.

Sapphire lights stud their way across the stone as flames from an occasional car streak across the empty velvet sky, backlit by the brilliance of a long forgotten empire.

The Adriatic looks black, dark, empty, silent. All you can hear is the sound of water touching the stone.

Chocolate cake and cream on a plate - the best things to do in Trieste
If this doesn’t convince you that Trieste is worth visiting, I don’t know what will

Caffe Tommaseo: The James Joyce Haunt

Mixing all the romance of Vienna’s coffee shops with Dublin’s literary history is the Caffe Tommaseo, a cosy spot that serves a lot of cream with its coffee.

All polished wood and cream with a smoky, old fashioned feel, it’s the exact antithesis of the bright white, ceramic tiled hipster coffee bar of today.

It opened in 1830 and claims to be Trieste’s oldest cafe still in operation.

Overlooking the sea and notching up an impressive pedigree of Italian creatives in its day, it’s one of those literary spots I love to sit and soak up some inspiration (And cake. And coffee).

Where to find it: Piazza Nicolò Tommaseo, 4, 34122 Trieste

stalactites and stalagmites in the Grotta Gigante in Trieste, Italy
The Grotta Gigante is home to some pretty impressive stalactites and stalagmites

Hike the Carso and the Grotta Gigante

The steep limestone plateau that surrounds Trieste had a grisly role in its past, as authorities purged unwanted people by throwing them into the karst.

Today, it has a happier function: as a meeting place for hiking and walking off any excess cake.

The easiest route is the Strada Napoleonica which leads to the small village of Prosecco (yes, that Prosecco, although production now takes place to the west.)

The large Grotta Gigante – or giant cave – produces stalactites and stalagmites with all the necessary razzle-dazzle, even though it lost its Guinness World Record as the world’s largest show cave to another one in France.

Inside tip: take bus no 4 from the centre to start the hike to Prosecco.

Chill Out in a Former Psychiatric Hospital

The Posto delle Fragole, or strawberry patch, is a restaurant, bar and cultural centre surrounded by parkland in Trieste. But it used to be the city’s psychiatric hospital.

Trieste was the first Italian city to end the forced incarceration of people with mental illness and students now throng here, mingling between the buttery yellow walls. In summer, I’m told concerts take place between the rose gardens.

Inside tip: bus 12 from the city centre will whiz you along to the rose gardens and park.

People standing at Buffet da pepi bar in Trieste - the best things to do in Trieste
Buffet da Pepi, Trieste

P-O-R-K! Stand and Eat at a Buffet

Besides the stunning waterfront architecture, the best thing for me about Trieste was understanding her history through her food. So much so, I wrote a whole article about Trieste cuisine in particular.

The switch from Austro-Hungary to Italy has never been more evident than on a plate.

And the most striking example, particularly if you’re more used to the Italian side of the menu, is the Buffet experience.

Casual yet sacrosanct, it’s a style of eating where everyone rubs shoulders with everyone else and huge hunks of ham and pork legs are sliced into mustard-rich platters. This isn’t the cured, slender, parma ham world.

It’s the chunky, juicy, slabs of meat with sauerkraut world. And it’s delicious!

Inside tip: Visit Buffet da Pepi on Via della Cassa di Risparmio, 3, 34121 Trieste for the real deal.

The Faro delle Vittoria Lighthouse in Trieste, Italy
The Faro della Vittoria is 70 metres tall

To the Lighthouse

To add a bit of structure to your walk, head to the lighthouse or Faro della Vittoria. The 70 metre structure has all the hallmarks of empire building and glory but it’s come to represent a symbol of liberty for the people who live here.

Although run by the navy, it’s open to the public and promises panoramic views across to Slovenia and Croatia. And it provides a view that bound families together during the political separation.

Inside tip: find the lighthouse on Gretta Hill on the foundations of Austrian fort Kressich.

The Canal Grande, Italy - the best things to do in Trieste
This impressive waterway is one of the most iconic places in Trieste

The Canale Grande

You wouldn’t think it to look at it, but this impressive waterway stands on the ground of reclaimed salt marshes. Built in the 18th century, the canal was a key part of reinventing the city. And while it lacks the iconic grandeur of Venice, it gains a sense of authenticity. You won’t find Trieste crowded out with tourists.

Inside tip: look out for the James Joyce statue.

The Roman Theatre in Trieste, Italy
Visit the Roman Theatre at night for especially spectacular views

Visit the Roman Theatre

Right in the heart of Trieste lie the ruins of a Roman Theatre or the Teatro Romano. A reminder, if one were needed, that this crossroads of Europe has changed hands many times.

It’s a beautiful spot for a concert or short walk around but if you’re short on time, it may be one to skip (particularly if you’ve been to Rome lately.)

Inside tip: a spot to skip if you’re short on time and have recently had your fill of Roman ruins.

Statue at the San Giusto Castle in Trieste, Italy - the best things to do in Trieste
You’ll have to climb to reach San Giusto Castle, but it’s worth the extra steps!

San Giusto Castle

It’s a steep old hill that leads to San Giusto Castle, as befits a spot for fortification. Even before the Romans arrived on this part of the Adriatic coast, this part of the city was involved in defence.

The current castle, built in 1468 by Austria, never needed to sully its hands with the mucky business of actual military campaigning. And so it still stands today.

Inside tip: again, save your time if needs be for the coast.

Column statue in Piazza della Borsa, Trieste Italy

Piazza della Borsa

And so we return to the grandeur of Trieste in Piazza della Borsa, close to Piazza d’Unità d’Italia. The columns of the Chambers of Commerce. The grand facades of the square. The pedestrian area now a mix of work, play and dreamy looks back at history.

Inside tip: Pull up a chair and have a coffee. It’s not just because I’m tired. This is coffee success story “Illy’s” homeland, don’t you know?

Day Trips From Trieste

Miramare Castle, Italy - the best things to do in Trieste
Miramare Castle looks like something from a fairytale

Miramare Castle

Once a royal residence, Miramare Castle juts out into the Adriatic, just ten minutes by public transport from the centre of Trieste. As a mix of stern stone and whimsical swirls, it’s an interesting look at the changing seat of power during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Did you know: during World War Two, New Zealand, British and American troops used the castle as military headquarters.

The Postojna Caves

Cross into Slovenia and delve into one of the largest caves open to visitors in the world. I’ve not used this particular tour company but have heard good things about this day trip to Postojna from Trieste.

The History of Trieste

The Habsburgs

The Habsburgs (in case, like me, you never covered any of this in school) ran and oversaw an empire that stretched from Holland to the subsequent USSR and lasted for more than 600 years.

100 years after their demise, hardly anyone knows who they are. Today’s grandchildren never knowing there was a Queen of England.

Trieste formed the Habsburgs’ 4th largest city, right behind Vienna, Budapest and Prague.

World War One began with the assassination of the heir to the Habsburg throne. And as World War One ended, so did the Habsburgs.

The Border Change

A victorious Italy moved into Trieste, Slovene names were switched to Italian and the decades that followed involved ongoing border disputes, forced Italianization, Nazi occupation, the decimation of the Jewish population and the formation of the only concentration camp on Italian soil.

Landing on the losing side once again, at the end of the Second World War, Trieste “belonged” to the Allied Forces. Its territories were split once more and within a few years it settled into the borders it uses today, snug against what used to be western Yugoslavia, and what is now 21st century Slovenia.

And, according to Churchill’s speech in 1946, at the edge of the Iron Curtain.

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. ” Churchill 1946

More On Italy

This article forms part of a series for #ironroute, a journey by train from Istanbul to Berlin. This took place thanks to the sponsorship, freedom and encouragement of InterRail. A version of this article was first published in 2011.

30 thoughts on “The Best Things To Do in Trieste”

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.