Trieste, located on a thin strip of Italy sandwiched between Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea, is a fascinating place to visit. A melting pot of multiple cultures, Trieste is the capital of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region in northeastern Italy and boasts a rich history. Read on to discover the best things to do in Trieste!
Trieste came under the rule of the House of Hapsburg in the late 14th century, and remained a part of the kingdom all the way until the end of World War I in 1918. In fact, Trieste was one of the most important cities in the Austro-Hungarian kingdom, along with Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.
The city is considered a literary and cultural hub, and Trieste’s cafes are famous as meeting places for writers and intellectuals. It is also the European port that is responsible for bringing coffee to Europe. We loved our visit to this unique city and can’t wait to return some day!
The Best Things to Do in Trieste in One Day
One of the most unique places to visit in Northern Italy, Trieste has a walkable historic center with many major attractions clustered together. So you can see many major sights and enjoy Trieste’s laid back coastal ambience in one day if that is all the time you have.
But you can also choose to spend a few days in Trieste, and explore places nearby once you have covered what you want to see in the city. You can even hop across to Slovenia or Istrian Croatia on day trips.
Here, then, are the best things to do in Trieste!
#1 Take in the views from the Castello di San Giusto
The 15th century San Giusto Castle is more a fortress, and sits on a hill high above the city. Offering panoramic views of the city of Trieste and the water from the ramparts, the castle is well worth the small entrance fee.
Other than enjoying the views, be sure to visit the armory, where you can browse an impressive collection of traditional weaponry, going all the way back to the 12th century. We visited in early June and saw many pretty wildflowers growing in crevices on the walls of the castle. Very pretty!
At the entrance to the castle, do not miss the statues of Mikeze and Jakeze, characters from local folklore that strike the hours on the clock of the bell tower at the Trieste Town Hall. These are the original statues!
We walked up to the top (fair warning, it’s a steep 15-minute climb), but if you want to conserve time or you’d rather not walk uphill, you can catch a bus in the city center that will drop you just outside the cathedral, right next to the castle entrance.
#2 Visit the Trieste Cathedral
Officially the Basilica Cattedrale di San Giusto Martire, the Trieste Cathedral is a 14th century aggregation of two churches that stood on the site. A beautiful Gothic rose window adorns the otherwise simple brick facade.
Inside, admire the mosaics on the floor that go all the way back to the 6th century, when a Roman temple stood on this spot. Also do not miss the mosaics of Our Lady of the Assumption and Christ, made by masters from Veneto. The ceiling is lovely as well.
You can climb to the top of the bell tower for views over Trieste, but there is a metal grille, so you’ll need a small lens to be able to take a clean photo. But the up-close look at the five enormous bells is well worth the climb. There is a small fee for the bell tower.
#3 Walk among the Roman ruins
In the square by the cathedral, you can walk among the remains of the Forense Roman basilica that stood at the site. The lower portions of many of the pillars and columns can be viewed, as well as two a couple of full columns, one with a cool halberd at the top.
In the square you will also find the altar of the Third Army, and a monument to those that perished in World War I. And if you walk all the way to the far end of the square, you’ll see views over Trieste and the water.
#4 Admire the Roman Amphitheater
Trieste’s massive Teatro Romano was built in the first and second centuries AD. Located behind the Piazza Unità d’Italia at the base of the San Giusto hill, the Roman Amphitheater still hosts concerts and shows during the summer.
Excavated in the 1930s, the amphitheater is the best preserved construction from Roman times you can see in Trieste. Much of the seating area is still intact. It held about 6,000 spectators, so it’s not as vast as Verona’s Arena, for example, but it’s still impressive.
#5 Step into the Santuario Santa Maria Maggiore
Located on your way to the Castello di San Giusto is you walk up, the gorgeous Santuario Santa Maria Maggiore is worth a visit. The facade is beautiful, with a flight of steps leading up to the entrance.
Built in the 17th century by the Jesuits, the Baroque church features beautiful art inside. If you have a few minutes, sit down on a pew and take in the quiet beauty of your surroundings.
Just next to the church is the much smaller Romanesque church of San Silvestro. Nearby is the Arco di Riccardo, if you wish to snap a quick photo.
#6 Wander the streets of the historic center
Trieste’s historic center features gorgeous architecture, with many grand buildings from the time of the Habsburgs, and a number of beautiful churches. Spend some time wandering, taking in the sights and sounds.
The many Austrian buildings in the center make you feel like you are in Vienna rather than a corner of Italy. You will come across lots of cafes and theaters in the historical district, as well as medieval buildings and narrow streets.
If you have the time, stop by the Chiesa di San Spiridione, the Serbian Orthodox church with its beautiful Byzantine domes. Its interior is also gorgeous.
#7 Stroll the magnificent Piazza Unità d’Italia by day
Facing the Adriatic Sea, the massive Piazza Unità d’Italia is Trieste’s central square. It is the largest sea-facing piazza in Europe, and it takes several minutes just to walk across it.
Along three sides of the piazza you will see magnificent buildings and statuary. A large fountain graces the square as well. Built at a time when Trieste was an important seaport for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the square was called the Piazza Grande until 1919, both for its size and for its grandeur.
Today the square is a popular place for locals and visitors alike to gather and stroll, but it has also served as a venue for meetings and important events through the city’s history.
#8 Enjoy the Piazza Unità d’Italia lit up at night
While you should definitely stroll the Piazza Unità d’Italia during the day, you must also return at night, when the buildings are illuminated. The piazza looks magical and it’s a great place for the evening passeggiata.
With kids chasing one another, young couples walking hand in hand, and everyone enjoying the cool breeze from the water, you will love ending your day in Trieste at the historic piazza.
#9 Snap a photo of Trieste’s Grand Canal
Trieste’s Canal Grande is nothing like the Grand Canal in Venice, but it is nevertheless a pretty spot for photos. Lined on either side with gorgeous palaces, piazzas, and churches, this is a very picturesque part of Trieste!
Originally built in the mid 18th century, the canal, perpendicular to the waterfront, was meant as the beginning of a project to enlarge the area of the city navigable via water. But the project was aborted and in fact the most interior part of the canal was later filled in, leaving what’s left as today’s Grand Canal.
Walk around the canal, and stop to admire the statue of James Joyce on the Ponte Rosso, the only one of three original bridges over the canal still standing. And if you visit during the holidays, you can browse the Christmas markets that are held in the piazzas around the canal.
#10 Sample the gelato artigianale!
We always seek out artisanal gelato in every place we visit in Italy, and it was no different in Trieste! We found a couple of really good places near the Piazza Unità d’Italia.
Gelateria Jazzin is located just behind the Hotel Savoia Excelsior Palace, right off the piazza. It’s perfect if you want to pick up gelato before your evening stroll of the waterfront or the square! Try the pistachio: it was delicious.
Gelato Marco is also located just a couple of minutes from the square and their offerings are flavorful, with fresh ingredients. We tried both their gelato and their granita, and both were yum. Lots of flavors to choose from!
#11 Photograph Vittoria Lighthouse
Trieste’s lighthouse is located on a hill by the water. The Faro della Vittoria was completed in 1927, and is one of the tallest lighthouses in the world at 223 feet. The graceful structure looks lovely from the water.
Topped by a copper statue of a winged Victory, the lighthouse is still active. If you have the time, you can visit the lighthouse and climb the close to 300 steps to the viewing gallery at the top for beautiful views over the water.
#12 Tour the Miramare Castle and grounds
Undoubtedly one of Trieste’s top attractions, the Miramare Castle is a stunning 19th century castle built on a cliff overlooking the Gulf of Trieste. Take the boat ferry out to the castle so you can take photos of the structure as you approach! You can return by boat or by bus to the city center.
Built for Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife Charlotte, the castle was designed by Carl Junker. Ferdinand was the younger brother of the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph, and rose to become the Commander of the Imperial Navy.
The grounds of the castle are large and beautiful, with pergolas with covered walkways, lots of statues, and a variety of trees and plants. Many of the trees are international species, from Asia, America, and Africa, as well as from other parts of Europe.
The views of the water from the terraces are beautiful! On the grounds you will also find the Castelletto, with its pretty yellow facade. Ferdinand lived in the Castelletto for a few years while he supervised the building of the Castello.
You can also tour parts of the interior of the castle, where many of the rooms still have the original furnishings. The Throne Room is magnificent, as are the richly decorated reception rooms.
#13 Visit the Grotta Gigante
About a 30-minute bus ride from the city center, the Grotta Gigante, the largest tourist cave in the world, is a must-visit! A colossal single cavern that’s several million years old, the Grotta Gigante impressed us, even though we had just visited the world-famous Škocjan Caves in Slovenia.
You can only visit the Grotta Gigante as part of a guided tour led by official guides.Tours generally start on the hour and are available in Italian and English. They generally last just under an hour. Remember to carry a light jacket: it can be cool underground.
There are 500 steps you have to go down in order to access the floor of the cave, and you have to exit by climbing up 500 steps as well, so the cave isn’t appropriate for strollers or if you have mobility issues.
Inside the karst cave, admire the stalactites and stalagmites, and the limestone columns in shades of white, red, and gray. The largest formations are estimated to be over 200,000 years old!
#14 Sample the local cuisine
Trieste’s cuisine is influenced by the neighboring countries of Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia, and while the city is not a famed foodie destination like Bologna in nearby Emilia-Romagna, there are some must-try dishes here.
Jota is a stew that’s made with beans, potatoes, and sauerkraut, with lots of garlic and olive oil. It has meat in it as well: the version my husband tried had smoked pork. He said it was delicious.
You’ll find lots of seafood on menus in Trieste, and the catch of the day is always a good idea if you enjoy fish. White asparagus is a local delicacy. Pig is the most popular local meat, with every part of the animal boiled in a broth and served simply with sauerkraut or horseradish.
#15 Sip coffee at a historic cafe
Trieste’s history as the major coffee port of the Mediterranean led to the development of lots of local roasteries and a number of historic cafes where you can enjoy the tasty brew. So much so that there is local coffee-speak to master to get the precise drink you want!
In Trieste, there were cafes for nationalists, cafes for businessmen, and cafes for intellectuals and writers. From James Joyce to Stendhal and Kafka, many luminaries had their favorite cafes in Trieste. At one point there were close to 100 cafes in the city center, but many of them have since closed.
We visited Caffè San Marco, one of Trieste’s most historic and popular establishments. Not only are the coffee and pastries delicious, the cafe has an on-site bookstore that’s fun to browse (most books are in Italian, but check out the beautiful illustrations in the children’s books!)
Antico Caffè Torinese, with its warm wood interior, Caffè Stella Polare, located right next to the San Spiridione Church, and Caffè Tommaseo, the oldest cafe in the city, are other great options.
Don’t enjoy coffee? Go for the ambience! The cafes serve a wide variety of drinks, including wine, and many also serve sandwiches along with cakes and other sweet treats.
#16 Stroll Molo Audace at sunset
The Molo Audace, Trieste’s pier, stretches about 800 feet into the sea, and is a popular place for an early morning or late evening stroll. Walk out to the end of the pier and look back for gorgeous views of Trieste’s waterfront and the Piazza Unità d’Italia.
On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Castello di Miramare from the edge of the pier. On summer evenings you can enjoy street music performances and the cool breezes from the sea. It’s also a great place for people watching! When it turns dark, the view of the illuminated piazza from here is breathtaking.
Walking along the waterfront in Trieste is also fun! Observe the boats on the water and admire the architecture of the palaces along the waterfront as you stroll.
With more time
If you plan to spend 2 to 3 days in Trieste, consider exploring a little of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region.
Aquileia, about a 45-minute drive from Trieste, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. An ancient Roman settlement that is one of the major archaeological sites in Northern Italy, Aquileia’s Roman ruins are well worth a visit. Also visit the National Archaeological Museum, which houses a large collection of artifacts, and the Aquileia Cathedral, which features beautiful mosaics.
Just a few miles south of Aquileia is the beach resort town of Grado. A narrow island with a lagoon, Grado features many beautiful beaches and a medieval centro storico. The local sand is used in healing treatment. Stroll the beach, enjoy the water, wander the town, or do a boat tour of the lagoon.
If you like the structure of a guided tour, consider this full day tour of Aquileia and Grado!
Do a Part Day Trip to Muggia
Known as a mini-Venice, the little town of Muggia that borders Slovenia is a great part day trip from Trieste. Take the ferry from the waterfront in Trieste to Muggia: it’s an enjoyable 20-minute ride over the water!
Enjoy the charming ambience of the pretty fishing village, relax in the piazza, step inside the cathedral, stroll the picturesque streets, and check out the markets. Enjoy a leisurely meal in the piazza: seafood offerings are fresh and looked tempting, but the pizzas we had were delicious as well.
Getting into Trieste
Trieste is located in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of northern Italy and you can drive or take the train to arrive in the city. Trieste makes for a wonderful day trip from Venice, so plan to add it to your itinerary for northern Italy! You can also visit Trieste on a day trip from Ljubljana in Slovenia or the Istrian coast of Croatia, or even from Zagreb.
Trieste is served by the Friuli Venezia Giulia Airport, an international airport where several European airlines operate. So you can easily fly into Trieste from many countries in Europe.
Here are the driving distances (and drive times, in normal traffic) from major nearby cities to Trieste:
Ljubljana (Slovenia) to Trieste: About 57 miles, one hour
Rovinj (Croatia) to Trieste: About 63 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes
Venice to Trieste: About 98 miles, 1 hour 45 minutes
Zagreb (Croatia) to Trieste: 140 miles, 2 hours 30 minutes
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To travel from Venice to Trieste by train, it takes a little over two hours. There are multiple departures in both directions everyday. You can also travel to Trieste by train from other large cities like Milan, Rome, or Florence.
You can also travel by train from Ljubljana in Slovenia to Trieste. There are two trains each day, and the journey takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
You can walk from the train station in Trieste to the Piazza Unità d’Italia in about 12 minutes, or you can take a taxi or the local bus.
To book bus and train tickets for Europe, consider Omio. I found the booking experience easy and hassle-free. They do charge a nominal service fee but I thought it was well worth the convenience! Plan out your itinerary and book all your tickets at once and you’ll pay the fee just once.
Getting around in Trieste
You can walk everywhere in the historic center, but know that you will rack up the steps if you get to all the things I have detailed above that are located within the center. To get to Miramare Castle, you can take the ferry or a local bus, and to get to the Grotta Gigante, take the bus.
If you prefer not to walk, you can take local buses to most major sights. Tickets can be bought at tabaccherias and must be validated on the bus.
Where to stay in Trieste
We stayed at the gorgeous Savoia Excelsior Palace, located on the waterfront. Housed in a grand 19th century palace, the hotel makes you feel like royalty! Our suite had a view of the water. Furnishings are elegant and the public areas gorgeous. The beds are super comfy!
Book a stay here
The best time to visit Trieste
From a weather perspective, any time between May and September is a great time to visit Trieste. The weather is generally dry and sunny during this time. High temperatures are in the 70s in May and September and get into the low 80s in July and August. Winters are very cold and the bora, a fierce wind, makes wandering outside uncomfortable.
We visited in early June and had great weather with bright sunshine. We didn’t run into huge crowds at the popular sights, but July and August might be more crowded.
So there you have it: my suggestions for fun things to do in Trieste, Italy! Have you been? I would love to read your thoughts if you have: comment below to respond.
If you haven’t yet visited this beautiful city, now is the time to start thinking about a visit! And if you are planning an Italy trip, read all my other articles in my Italy destination guide. Discover the perfect 3-week Italy itinerary for your first visit, and the best things to do in many major cities like Venice, Florence and Rome, Verona and Bologna.
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More Fun Places to Visit in Northern Italy
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Verona: The Best Things to Do in Verona
Ravenna: See the Best of the Ravenna Mosaics in One Day
Mantua: How to Spend One Amazing Day in Mantua
Vicenza: The Best Things to Do in Vicenza
Bologna: The Best Things to Do in Bologna
Padua: One Perfect Day in Padua
Murano: What to See and Do on the Glass Island of Murano
Cinque Terre: Two Magical Days in the Cinque Terre
Ferrara: What to Do in Ferrara in One Day
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