Framed by green hills and white limestone cliffs, Trieste looks out over the blue Adriatic, offering an idyllic panorama from its hilltop citadel, at least when the galeforce bora winds aren’t blasting you off the seafront. But in any weather, there’s a distinct atmosphere of grandeur with a cosmopolitan twist.
The best travel tips for visiting Trieste
The city’s main squares are adorned with spectacular Neoclassical buildings, and the much-photographed canal, clustered with open-air cafés, is a reminder that, just like Venice and its lagoon, this city has enjoyed a glorious seafaring past, too.
Like so many ports in Europe, there is a certain seediness here, particularly evident in some areas around the train station, although in recent years the city has been spruced up. The heart of modern Trieste is in the grid-like streets of the Borgo Teresiano, but no visit would be complete without a climb to the top of its hill, San Giusto, named for its patron saint and with the best views for kilometres around.
Top attractions and things to do in Trieste
From Grotta Gigante, one of the largest accessible caves in the world to the panoramic views of the city from San Giusto, here are the best things to do in Trieste.
#1 Take in Trieste from the castle atop the San Giusto
Take in a panoramic view of this elegant and atmospheric maritime city. No visit would be complete without a climb to the top of its hill, San Giusto, named for its patron saint and with the best views for kilometres around.
The Cathedral of San Giusto, also known as the Trieste Cathedral, is a Romanesque-style church dating back to the 14th century. Its location atop the hill provides panoramic views of the city and the Adriatic Sea.
#2 Visit One of the largest accessible caves in the world
The Grotta Gigante is the Carso’s main tourist attraction, and with good reason: it’s one of the largest accessible caves in the world. At 98m high by 76 m wide, the cave is large enough that the dome of St Peter’s would fit comfortably inside. It’s a steady 11°C inside, so bring warm clothes.
The cave is impressive in scale and, like most of the caves in the Carso, was created by the erosive action of a river, in this case the Timavo, which sank deeper and deeper underground before changing course (the cave is now dry). The fantastically shaped stalactites and stalagmites were formed by deposits of calcium carbonate and colourful metal oxides.
#3 See Aquileia’s glorious mosaic pavements
The glorious fourth-century mosaic pavements rank among the most important monuments of early Christendom. Bordered by the Tagliamento in the west and the Isonzo in the east, the triangle of flatlands west of Trieste and south of Udine seems unpromising territory for a visitor – mile upon mile of maize fields, streams, market gardens and newish villages.
Aquileia was once the Roman capital of Friuli and is the most important archeological site in northern Italy. These unremarkable fields have yielded a wealth of Roman remains, while the glorious basilica here ranks among the most important monuments of early Christendom.
#4 Explore Laguna di Grado on a boat
Hop on a boat and explore the lagoon, stopping off at one of the islands for a delicious fish or seafood lunch. Covering approximately ninety square kilometres, the Laguna di Grado is home to a myriad of canals and islands that can be visited by boat.
The islands were once inhabited for months at a time by fishermen who travelled to Grado on Saturdays to stock up on supplies, and the lagoon is dotted with their casoni, traditional houses built with mud and reeds. After World War I most migrated to the city, and only three or four families live in the lagoon today, though a number of fishermen have kept their casoni and use them as second homes.
#5 Gawp at the classic Venetian architecture of Udine’s Piazza della Libertà
The central piazza of the provincial capital is a perfect example of classic Venetian architecture. The place to start any exploration of Udine is at the foot of the hill, in the gorgeous Piazza della Libertà, a square whose architectural ensemble is matched by few cities in Italy.
Here, the fifteenth-century Palazzo del Comune is a homage to the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, and the clock tower facing the palazzo, built in 1527, similarly has a Venetian model – the lion on the facade and the bronze Moors who strike the hours on top of the tower are references to the Torre dell’Orologio in Piazza San Marco. All Udine’s points of interest are about a fifteen-minute stroll from the piazza.
#6 Sample some of the world’s finest prosciutto at San Daniele del Friuli
Just over 20km northwest of Udine, the picturesque town of San Daniele del Friuli produces some of the world’s finest prosciutto thanks to the local microclimate that assists with the ham’s ageing process.
You can visit one of the town’s many prosciuttifici for a tour round the processing plant and to sample some ham, or enjoy delicious cold cuts at one of the many prosciutterie in town; the Osteria Ai Bintars, at Via Trento Trieste 67, is one of the best. The four-day culinary festival Aria di Festa (last weekend of June) celebrates the highly prized prosciutto as well as other regional sweet and savoury products.
Prosciutto aside, the deconsecrated Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Abate, Via Garibaldi 12/A, is home to a stunning cycle of Renaissance frescoes, considered to be the most beautiful of the region.
#7 Visit Cividale del Friuli, one of the most beautiful towns in the region
Some 17 km east of Udine, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre of Cividale del Friuli is a well-preserved mediaeval gem and one of the most beautiful towns in the area. Visitors are drawn to its dramatic setting, perched over the Natisone River, and to its art treasures.
The town has ancient roots, having been founded in 50 BC by Julius Caesar at the picturesque point where the Natisone River valley opens into the plain. In the sixth century AD it became the capital of the first Lombard duchy, and in the eighth century the Patriarch of Aquileia moved here, inaugurating Cividale’s most prosperous period. It has been the main commercial centre of the Natisone Valley for two hundred years.
Strolling around town is a pleasure, the pace of life leisurely and unhurried, with the historic centre lying between the train and coach stations, within the oval ring bisected by Via Carlo Alberto and Corso Mazzini.
A brief history of Trieste
Trieste has a rich history dating back to the third millennium BC, and was once visited by Jason and the Argonauts. Integrated into the Roman Republic in 178 BC, the city, then called Tergeste, boasts Roman ruins. Despite these ancient roots, most of its architecture is from its golden age under Austrian rule. Empress Maria Theresa heavily invested in the city, making it the Habsburg Empire's sole seaport and briefly outshining Venice.
After being annexed to Italy in 1918, Trieste faced upheaval. Mussolini suppressed its ethnic diversity, particularly targeting the Slovene community. Lying between Latin and Slavic cultures, the city has long been politically turbulent. It was a hub for Italian irredentism, a nationalist movement aiming to reclaim Austrian lands. During WWII, it was occupied by Germans and later became a “Free Territory” under Allied administration. In 1954, it was split between Italy and Yugoslavia.
The definitive border was only settled in 1975, leaving Trieste in Italy but its hinterland, Istria, in Yugoslavia. This division led to massive migrations, with large Italian populations leaving Istria. The Slovene majority around Trieste found themselves marginalized as Italians dominated. Over the last sixty years, however, both groups have intermingled, making Trieste a multicultural Italian city.
James Joyce in Trieste
From 1905 to 1915, and again in 1919–20, James Joyce and his wife Nora lived in Trieste. After staying at Piazza Ponterosso 3 for a month, they moved to the third-floor flat at Via San Nicolò 30. He supported himself by teaching English at the Berlitz school where his most famous pupil was the Italian writer Italo Svevo.
While living here he wrote The Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and started work on Ulysses. He lived a somewhat peripatetic life and you can visit his many homes and old haunts by picking up the walking-tour guide from the tourist office. After staying at Piazza Ponterosso 3 for a month, the Joyces moved to a third-floor flat at Via San Nicolò 30.
There’s a plaque in Via San Nicolò, and one at Via Bramante 4, quoting the postcard Joyce despatched in 1915 to his brother Stanislaus, whose Irredentist sympathies had landed him in an Austrian internment camp. The postcard announced that the first chapter of Ulysses was finished. Don’t miss the wry bronze statue of the writer, strolling bemusedly across the little canal bridge of Via Roma.
Best areas to stay in Trieste
Trieste offers some surprisingly good value high-end hotels, especially at the weekend. Here’s where to stay.
The historic centre is a prime location for accommodation with some lovely hotels around Piazza Unità d'Italia, plus plenty of great B&Bs.
Città Nuova (New City)
Just north of the historic centre, there is a small clutch of excellent budget hotels close to Giardino di Piazza della Libertà and near to the train station.
A little back from the city centre, this residential neighbourhood hugs the coast and has a clutch of decent midrange hotels with seaviews.
Browse the best hotels in Trieste.
Best restaurants and bars in Trieste
Trieste has a huge range of good-value restaurants and a couple of great spots for both aperitivo and late night drinks.
Viale XX Settembre
The best area to head to eat is pedestrian-only Viale XX Settembre, known as the Acquedotto (“aqueduct”), where citizens stroll in the evening.
Via C. Battisti
East of Sant’Antonio, Via C. Battisti is good for food shops and some great terrance restaurants.
Ghetto, Piazza Borsa and Via Torino
These lively areas are packed with happening bars that are ideal for late-night drinking.
How to get around Trieste
Most visitors walk around Trieste but the city has a number convenient transportation options for getting around.
Useful bus services include #30, which connects the train station with Via Roma and the waterfront; #24, which goes to/from Castello di San Giusto; and #6 which links Trieste bus station with Miramare.
There are very few places to park in Trieste and the streets are congested. If you come with a car leave it in your hotel car park or use the waterfront public parking.
How many days do you need in Trieste?
You should dedicate at least 2 to 3 days to Trieste. That’s enough time to check out the city's highlights, including iconic attractions such as Piazza Unità d'Italia, the Castle of San Giusto, and the Roman Theatre. It also allows you to wander its charming historic centre and savour some incredible local cuisine.
Extending your stay to 3 days is enough time for an in-depth exploration of Trieste's cultural higlights such as the Museo Revoltella and the Museo d'Arte Orientale. Don't miss the opportunity to take in the panoramic vistas from Miramare Castle and unwind along Barcola waterfront.
Best time to visit Trieste
Trieste enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate, characterised by warm summers and relatively mild winters, making it an appealing destination year-round.
For those who prefer pleasant weather and outdoor activities, the best time to visit Trieste is during the spring and autumn months, from April to June and September to October. During these seasons, the temperatures are comfortable, and the city is less crowded with tourists. Spring brings blooming flowers and vibrant greenery, while autumn offers colorful foliage, creating picturesque scenery for exploration.
Summer, from July to August, is a popular time to visit due to the warm weather, making it ideal for enjoying the city's waterfront and beaches. However, summers are hot and crowded, and hotel prices can be higher.
Find out more about the best time to visit Italy.
How to get to Trieste
The airport is at Ronchi dei Legionari, 40km northwest of the city, connected to the city centre by regular trains (every 15– 30min although there can be gaps of up to two hours).
Trieste’s Piazza Libertà bus station is right by the train station. Destinations Duino (hourly; 30min–1hr); Grado (14 daily; 1hr–1hr 30min); Monfalcone (for Aquileia and Grado; hourly; 45min).
This is an enjoyable way to travel to coastal resorts such as Grado, though most services are infrequent and summertime only.
Plan your trip to Trieste with our guide book to Italy.