Trieste is the capital of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region in northeast Italy. The seaside city occupies a thin strip of land between the Adriatic and the Slovenian border along the Karst plateau. Italian, Austro-Hungarian, and Slovenian influences are evident throughout the city, which includes a medieval old town and a neoclassical district from the Austrian era.
In Trieste, there are many things to do and see with the added advantage that there are no queues for museums or the crowd like in the big tourist cities. In short, there are no typical inconveniences of the great Italian cities of art, making it particularly interesting from a tourist point of view.
Piazza Unità d’Italia
Piazza Unità d’Italia is probably the largest square in Europe overlooking the sea. Many beautiful palaces overlook this square: Palace of the Austrian Lieutenancy (now the seat of the Prefecture), Palazzo Stratti (with the famous Caffè degli Specchi), Palazzo Modello (seat of the Town Hall), Palazzo Pitteri (the oldest in the square ), Palazzo Vanoli (now a hotel) and Palazzo del Lloyd Triestino (now home to the Friuli Venezia Giulia region).
The Fountain of the Four Continents is also in the square, built between 1751 and 1754—the figures allegory the four continents known then (Europe, Asia, Africa, and America).
In front of the square is the “Molo Audace,” the pier that takes its name from the first ship that managed to enter the port of Trieste after the end of the First World War and the annexation to Italy. The bronze wind rose on the pier was obtained from the fusion of an Austrian ship sunk by the Italian Navy.
Therefore, this square condenses not only the history of Trieste but also the art and architecture of this city bridge between the Mediterranean and continental Europe.
Cathedral of San Giusto
The Cathedral of San Giusto is the most important church in Trieste and is located on the homonymous hill overlooking the city. The church is the result of the union of the Church of Santa Maria and the one dedicated to San Giusto that took place in the years between 1302 and 1320.
The facade is simple, embellished with a large Gothic rose window. The plaque above the door recalls the Austro-English bombing of 1813 against the Napoleonic troops who were hiding in the nearby Castle. Some cannon balls are visible in the wall of the bell tower, which also incorporates some remains of a Roman temple and the statue of S. Giusto. The interior has five naves with splendid frescoes by the Venetian school in the apse of the left nave. The central nave is also decorated with a mosaic from the end of the 13th century. To the left of the Cathedral there is access to the Baptistery and the Museum with the Treasure which also includes “the halberd of S. Sergio” brought to Trieste by the veterans of the first Crusade. The spectacular view above the city, the sea and the port is also very suggestive.
Serbian Orthodox Church of San Spiridione
Do not miss a visit to the Serbian Orthodox Church of San Spiridione, an incredible structure reminiscent of the Byzantine style of the Eastern churches. The white stone building has a Greek cross plan covered by a large dome and flanked by four hemispherical caps.
Another monument not to be missed, a symbol of the city, is the Miramare Castle, built between 1856 and 1860 to make it the princely residence of the Duke Maximilian of Habsburg and his wife, Carlotta of Belgium.
The Castle is located about 10 kilometers from the city center. Overlooking the sea and with large green spaces, the eclectic style of the building which combines Gothic, Renaissance and medieval elements is striking.
On the ground floor are the apartments of Carlotta and Maximilian, which have remained almost the same. On the first floor are the guest apartments.
The immense park is now one of the favorite places of Trieste people who use it for walking, running, sunbathing. It is possible to reach Miramare through the promenade that leads from the center to the Castle.
In the 90s of the last century, the sea area around the Castle was transformed into a marine reserve.
Borgo Teresiano is the elegant district built by the Austrian emperor Charles VI. Along the Canale Grande you can admire beautiful buildings starting with Palazzo Aedes, then continuing with Palazzo Gopcevich, the neoclassical church of Sant’Antonio Nuovo, the elegant Stella Polare café, the temple of the Holy Trinity and San Spiridione, Palazzo Genel and Palazzo Carciotti.
The Grand Canal is an ancient canal built so boats could go directly to the city center to unload goods. Two pedestrian bridges cross the canal: Ponte Rosso (where the Statue of James Joyce is located) and Ponte Verde.
San Giusto Castle
Another important monument to visit is the Castle of San Giusto which is located on the highest hill in the city, from where in the past, it was possible to control any dangers coming from the sea. It is no coincidence that Colle San Giusto is the oldest residential area in the city.
Inside the structure, which the municipality uses for cultural events, there are two museums: the Civic Museum, which houses, among other things, a rich collection of weapons (armor, swords, daggers, pistols, etc.) and the “Lapidario tergestino”, a museum space where 130 stone finds from the Roman age are preserved, including funeral monuments and bas-relief sculptures.
Synagogue of Trieste
The Synagogue of Trieste is the most tangible sign of the importance of the Jewish community in the city’s history. In 1938 Trieste had over 6000 residents of Jewish origin.
Therefore, five years later, in 1943, when the German occupation began, the city paid a high tribute in terms of broken lives and stolen wealth and works of art. For this reason, the reopening to worship of the building at the end of the Second World War represented a very important symbolic event.
The Synagogue of Trieste is also worth visiting from an aesthetic point of view. Everything, from the rose window to the floors, the decorations, and the chandeliers, testifies to the greatness of an important community.
Risiera di San Sabba
Anyone visiting Trieste should also visit the Risiera di San Sabba. Plant for rice piling from 1913 to 1943, which the Nazis transformed into a prison camp for the deportation and physical elimination of hostages, partisans, political prisoners, and Jews. More than 3,500 people were killed, and 8,000 were deported to the extermination camps of Northern Europe. The chimney and crematorium were blown up by the Nazis in an attempt to hide their crime, but their presence was witnessed by survivors. Today the Risiera is a museum.
Faro della Vittoria
The Faro della Vittoria (Victory Lighthouse) is a monument built in 1923, in the middle of the fascist era, to commemorate the Italian sailors who fell during the First World War, but also to celebrate the Italian victory against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, evident in the symbols and materials used.
The lighthouse is built where an Austrian fortress once stood, and the anchor fixed in stone, just below the sailor, is that of the “Audace,” the first ship to enter the port of Trieste freed. Above is the Winged Victory, a seven-meter statue holding a laurel wreath in the right hand and a torch in the left.
To protect it from the strong Bora wind, it has been designed with a complex internal mechanism that makes the wings “flap” (imperceptibly) so as to absorb the gusts of wind. Below the statue is the lighthouse, still the most powerful in the Adriatic Sea.
Historic cafes in Trieste
Trieste’s writers, poets and cafes are an inseparable trinomial: Svevo, Saba, Stendhal and other writers sat at the tables of the historic cafés of Trieste. In many of these, nothing has changed since they frequented them and today they are real tourist attractions. Do not miss the Caffè degli Specchi in Piazza Unità and the Tommaseo coffee from 1830, the oldest in Trieste. The intellectuals of yesterday and today meet at Caffè San Marco, while Caffè Pirona was always the place to taste or buy typical sweets.
Since 110 years the Opicina Tram is another tourist attraction in the city. This ancient tramway line, dating back to the end of the 19th century, was inaugurated to connect the small town of Opicina with the center of Trieste. Over the years, of course, this service has favored the expansion of hilly construction and so the stops have gradually become more numerous.
The tram journey begins in Piazza Oberdan in the center of Trieste and ends at Villa Opicina, 329 meters above sea level. Several panoramic points open along the route that crosses the greenest part of Trieste. The tram, in fact, is not a simple public means of transport, but a suggestive and panoramic trip out of the city. The advice is to get off a little before the Opicina terminus to enjoy the spectacle of the Adriatic seen from above. The Obelisco stop is recommended for those who want to stroll along the Via Napoleonica, a scenic road that leads (after 4 km) to the Marian Shrine.
Grotta Gigante (Giant Cave)
The Grotta Gigante (Giant Cave) was discovered by chance in 1890, and in 1908 the first tourist visitors entered. Most things have stayed the same since then: one enters through a natural door and begins to descend to the Great Gallery, located at about 80 meters deep.
The gallery is 98.50 meters high, 167.60 meters long, and 76.30 meters wide. The most impressive stalagmite is the Ruggero Column, which is 12 meters high.
At the center of the cave is the geophysical research station of the University of Trieste for the study of the movements of the earth’s crust. Next, go up the “Carlo Finocchiaro” path to reach a Belvedere 95 meters high, from which you can enjoy an extraordinary view.
The old Austro-Hungarian influence is well present in Trieste’s cuisine, so much so that reading the menus you might think you are in Vienna or Prague. Triestine cuisine is a gastronomic melting pot, a hybrid where the Istrian-Dalmatian, the Austro-Hungarian continental and peasant traditions of the Karst hinterland are expertly blended.
Among the typical dishes to try in Trieste are the Jota (bean soup, sauerkraut, potatoes and sausages), the Bobici soup (corn and beans), the bread, liver or plum dumplings. Among the meat dishes: Goulash and lamb with Kren. Among those of fish, canocchie alla busara (tomato, pepper, wine) and cod. Friuli Venezia Giulia is a land of great wines even if those typical of the province of Trieste are only Terrano and Vitovska.
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