Think of the best cities in Italy, and Rome, Venice, and Milan probably spring to mind. While these are all places that are definitely worth visiting, they’re nothing like Trieste. One of the forgotten Italian cities, Trieste has its own unique flair that helps it stand out from the crowd.
The reason Trieste is so different from other Italian cities is that it was part of Austria between 1382 and 1919. Because of this, it’s home to intimidating Habsburg-style palaces, hearty Austrian dishes, and beautiful Neoclassical statues that look like they belong in Vienna.
Whatever type of vacation you’re seeking, you’ll never be stuck for what to do in Trieste. From thought-provoking art galleries home to some of the best masterpieces on earth and museums that unveil all the secrets of Trieste’s intriguing past to wide-open spaces brimming with hiking opportunities and romantic canals that beg you to stroll alongside them, this city will win you over before the end of day one.
With so many amazing things to check out, it can take time to figure out where to begin. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Trieste. Add these fun activities and attractions to your Trieste bucket list, and you’re sure to have a fantastic time exploring one of the most underrated and fascinating Italian cities.
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15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Trieste, Italy
1. Soak up the atmosphere at Canale Grande
One of the first things to do in Trieste is to take a walk along Canale Grande. This long expanse of water was created way back in 1756 and is located just north of the Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia. During its heyday, it was used as a long harbor for sailing ships. Today, it’s filled with small boats bobbing up and down and is lined with cute cafes backed by magnificent buildings.
There’s never a bad time of day to take a walk around this area, but our favorite is in the evening. Canale Grande feels truly magical when the sun starts to set and the lights make dazzling reflections on the water. This part of the city was one of James Joyce’s favorite places. There’s a statue on one of the bridges that cross the canal in honor of his memory.
Exploring this part of the city is the best way to feel like you’re in Venice without having to make the train journey!
2. Step into a fairytale at Castello di Miramare
The magical palace of Castello di Miramare is where you’ll find some of the best sights in Trieste. This enchanting whitewashed residence was built for Archduke Maximilian of Austria and his wife Charlotte of Belgium between 1855 and 1860 before they became the emperor and empress of Mexico.
Perched on a cliff above the sea, Castello di Miramare boasts unbelievable views that stretch out far across the glittering ocean and over to the far-off mountains clad with thick greenery. If you visit on a bright, sunny day, you’ll struggle to believe the view you’re looking at is real.
Step inside the palace, and you’ll discover that the interior is even more beautiful than the interior. The building features a number of grandiose rooms, each appointed with the finest furniture and best paintings. No matter which window you peek out of, you’re guaranteed amazing views.
3. Check out the ancient ruins at Teatro Romano
Trieste has a fascinating history that stretches back thousands of years, and because of this, it’s home to loads of cool artifacts from the past. The Teatro Romano is one of them that you should definitely visit.
Whether or not you’re a fan of history, a visit to the city’s Teatro Romano is one of the coolest things to do in Trieste. This marvelous structure was completed in the first century, at the same time as the Romans were working hard to develop Tergeste.
The colossal stone theater follows the natural slope of the San Giusto Hill, so even the people in the very back seats had a great view of the stage. The highest steps and the stage are no longer there today. This is believed to be because they were originally made out of wood which rotted over the years.
Take a look around and see if you can find the statues. They were discovered in the 1930s and are scattered throughout the theater.
4. Go underground at Grotta Gigante
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Trieste, you’ve got to check out Grotta Gigante. Located just a short drive away from the center of the city, this intriguing natural attraction is sure to leave you speechless.
Much larger than you can possibly imagine, this giant grotto is 320 feet high, 250 feet wide, and 550 feet long. Standing in the chamber, surrounded by atmospheric lighting and rock formations of all shapes and sizes, really does make you feel tiny. It’s amazing to think that something like this forms naturally, without any human intervention.
Take a walk around, and you’ll find all kinds of stalagmites and stalactites in almost every color of the rainbow. If you’ve got a good camera, you should be able to take some amazing pictures. Make sure you wrap up warm! The temperature inside Grotta Gigante never goes above 55°C.
5. Dig into a genuine melting pot with jota
When you need a break from all the exciting Trieste sightseeing, pop into a local restaurant and order a bowl of jota. This classic stew has been served all over Italy for centuries, but it’s particularly popular in this city.
The perfect thing to give you the energy to carry on exploring, jota is made with beans, potatoes, sauerkraut, olive oil, and garlic. The unusual ingredients from all over Europe may not sound like they’d work well together. But, just like Trieste itself, this local stew is a little bit of everything and a wonderful representation of Italy’s Mediterranean culture blending with the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Osteria Bier Stube Trieste is one of the best places for authentic jota. Great big bowls of the stuff are served here alongside crunchy bread, fresh from the oven. If you’re in the mood for something else, you’ll find loads of other Italian-Austrian-Hungarian fusion comfort food on offer, too.
6. Be wowed by the views at Castello di San Giusto
Built by the Habsburgs between the 15th and 17th centuries, Castello di San Giusto is one of the most impressive Trieste attractions. It occupies a prestigious location on the top of San Giusto Hill and was originally made to expand a medieval Venetian fortress that had replaced earlier Roman fortifications.
You need to cross a wooden drawbridge that goes over a narrow moat to visit the castle, which is a fun little extra that really helps you get into the mood. The first thing you’ll notice is the incredible panoramas that stretch on for miles. From up here, you can see all across the city, including the Gulf of Trieste and the surrounding green mountains.
If you can manage to tear yourself away from the views, you’ll discover the fascinating inside of the castle. As you explore, you’ll find impressive displays of weapons, with some pieces dating all the way back to medieval times. You’ll also come across intricate tapestries and beautiful period furniture.
7. Unleash your cultural side with the Trieste Film Festival
Going to the Trieste Film Festival is one of the top things to do in Trieste in winter. This annual festival (originally known as Alpe Adria Cinema) is the most important Italian festival dedicated to Eastern and Central European movies.
It’s been held around mid-January every year since 1987 and has continued to grow and expand ever since. It began at a time when the Eastern and Western countries of Europe were massively divided, and it was difficult to freely share ideas.
Thankfully, a lot has changed since then, and the film festival helps creatives interpret the transformations and promote their films that otherwise would never make it into Italy. It’s a great way for up-and-coming directors and producers to share their creations with a huge audience.
The Trieste Film Festival marks the beginning of the city’s movie season. So if you’ve just missed it, don’t worry. It’s always followed by several other film-related events.
8. Test your photography skills at Carso Triestino
You’ll find some of the best things to see in Trieste at Carso Triestino. This part of the city is on the outskirts, close to the Val Rosana, and is home to staggeringly beautiful scenery you won’t be able to take your eyes off.
From the tree-dotted mountains and rugged outcrops to the deep lush valleys and shimmering blue ocean, this part of the city is almost too beautiful to be real. Make sure you’ve got plenty of space on your phone because you’re going to fill its memory up with photos!
There are loads of amazing hiking trails in this area that take you past stunning viewpoints you can’t get to any other way. There are also several cycling trails you can follow to take in as much scenery as possible as quickly as possible.
If you’re up for a challenge, you can even scale the main mountain, Mount Carso. It’s a grueling challenge, but you’ll be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views you’ve ever seen from the top.
9. Fall in love with art at the Museo Civico Revoltella
When the weather takes a turn for the worse, one of the best Trieste activities is to spend a few hours at the Museo Civico Revoltella. Prominently located on the corner of the Piazza Venezia, this gallery is one of Italy’s most important museums of modern art. It boasts more than 1,000 remarkable paintings and over 800 amazing sculptures, in addition to many more drawings and prints.
The magnificent works of art are spread out across 40 rooms covering six floors. You’ll find pieces from all major art movements here, from the mid-1800s up to the modernists.
Even if you think you know nothing about art, you’re sure to recognize some of the artists and artwork here. There are loads of pieces from significant 20th-century Italian artists, including Mario Sironi, Lucio Fontana, Giorgio Morani, and Carlo Carrà.
When you need a break from all the captivating artwork, head to the museum’s terrace. Here you can enjoy a breath of fresh air and admire the view down to the harbor.
10. Snack on sweet strucolo de pomi
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, one of the must-do things in Trieste is to try strucolo de pomi. This delicious dessert is Italy’s answer to apfelstrudel (apple strudel). It’s made of a thin, buttery pastry that’s wrapped around an incredible combination of cinnamon apples, juicy grapes, and earthy pine nuts.
Strucolo de pomi can be pretty filling. So unless you’re super hungry, it’s best to have it for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack instead of for dessert after a full meal. Order a slice with a cappuccino and you’ll be in heaven!
Because this sweet snack is so popular, you’ll find it all over Trieste, from grocery stores and bakeries to small bistros and fancy restaurants. Pasticceria La Bomboniera makes incredible strucolo de pomi. The pastry is wonderfully light and delicate, while the filling is perfectly spiced. You’ll also find plenty of other Austrian, Hungarian, and Italian desserts available here.
11. See the famous Lucy fossil at the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale
The Museo Civico di Storia Naturale is where you’ll find one of the most fun things to do in Trieste. This famous museum proudly guards Lucy, one of the most complete skeletons ever found from the early hominid species that flourished 2 to 4 million years ago. The bones you can see are from a single female who was shorter than 4 feet tall.
There are plenty of other intriguing things to see inside the museum. One of the many highlights is the remarkable fossil of a 12-foot-tall hadrosaurus which was found close to the city. It was almost entirely intact when it was discovered, so it’s a really accurate representation of what the creature looked like.
Here you’ll also find fascinating zoological exhibits with mammals from all over the world. Take a look around, and you’ll come across all kinds of birds, amphibians, reptiles, corals, and saltwater fish.
12. Lose yourself in nature at Val Rosandra
Val Rosandra is the perfect place to escape to when you want to get away from the bustling city of Trieste and surround yourself with nature. Hidden away on the Italian-Slovenian border, Val Rosandra is a stunning valley that has been carved out of rock over the course of centuries by the Rosandra River.
One of the very few places in Trieste where you can feel like you’re the only human on the planet, Val Rosandra is home to miles upon miles of pristine forests and rocky mountain landscapes. One of the most gorgeous parts of the green space is the spectacular 40-foot waterfall. Find yourself a good viewing point, and you’ll be able to watch as the water hurtles to the edge, tumbles down the rocks, and bursts into the river far below.
If you’re up for a challenging hike, you’ll be spoiled for choice, Val Rosandra features a number of amazing trails, the best of which start from Hervati and Bagnoli Superiore. They’re clearly marked and take you all over the lush park.
13. Fall in love with a new genre at Science + Fiction
If you’re planning to visit the city in November, you’ve got to check out Science + Fiction. One of the best things to do in Trieste at this time of year, Science + Fiction is a mind-bending festival that originally started out as the Science Fiction Festival. In 2000, it broke off from its predecessor and became one of the most important festivals of its kind in Europe.
A huge number of famous faces have traveled from all around the world to take part in the festival, including Lamberto Bava, Pupi Avati, Carlo Rambaldi (creator of E.T.), Joe Dante, Moebius and Enki Bilal, Terry Gilliam, Christiane Kubrick, John Landis (director of The Blues Brothers), Dario Argento, Roger Corman, Sir Christopher Lee, and George A. Romero.
If you’re a big sci-fi fan or you just want to step out of your comfort zone and check out what you’re missing, Science + Fiction in Trieste is a great place to do it. The intense program is full of meet and greets, movie screenings, panel talks, and live performances.
14. See Napoleon’s cannon at the Cattedrale di San Giusto
Trieste is home to a number of impressive religious buildings, and Cattedrale di San Giusto is certainly one of the best. Created in the 14th century by combining one church from the 6th century and another from the 11th century, the church has a truly unique shape that makes it easy to spot.
When you visit the church, pay attention to the campanile and doorway. Here you can see parts of Roman stonework that were used when the two churches were merged. If you look carefully, you’ll also be able to spot gorgeous mosaics that date back to the 7th and 12th centuries on the altar at the end of the side aisles.
One of the most interesting parts of the building is its bell. It was cast in 1829 out of metal from a cannon left by Napoleon. Following his orders, his troops fired cannonballs at the cathedral. You can still see some of them embedded in the façade today!
15. Fill your plate with Trieste gnocchi
If you’re a fan of Italian food, you’ve probably had gnocchi before. But have you ever tried Trieste gnocchi? This unique version of the Mediterranean classic takes a number of different forms that you’ll rarely ever find outside Trieste.
Ordering a bowl of gnocchi di susine is one of the best things to do in Trieste when you’re in the mood for a side dish that’s a little out of the ordinary. Gnocchi di susine is made by stuffing potato-based dumplings with sweet plums. It may sound like a dessert, but it’s often served as an appetizer or a side dish with meat.
Vecio Buffet Marascutti 1914 is an incredible place for all kinds of local dishes, including gnocchi. This traditional restaurant offers a decadent buffet loaded with all kinds of delicious eats, including some of the best gnocchi di susine you’ll find in the city. It’s served with a rich and flavor-packed meat sauce.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Trieste. What’s your favorite thing to do in Trieste?
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