10 Top Tourist Attractions in Trieste & Easy Day Trips
The first thing you notice about Trieste may be how little it looks like Italy. There's a good reason: from 1382 until 1919 it was part of Austria. As the Austrian Empire grew smaller, Trieste became its only major sea port, and by the late 1700s had replaced Venice as the Adriatic's principal center of trade with the Near East. A 1954 treaty returned Trieste to Italian control, and it was fully incorporated into Italy in 1963 as the capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. All this history shows in the colorful mix of people, languages, cuisines, and architecture, and it is the last of these that will strike you first. Grand buildings in traditional Habsburg style that would be at home in Vienna stand between others in Neoclassical, Baroque, Art Nouveau, and other styles, punctuated by a few remains of the Roman city of Tergeste. All these arrange themselves in a near-perfect setting of broad streets and squares facing the Adriatic. At the heart of this is the Canale Grande, a wide basin that extends into the city and reflects the colors of elegant buildings that line its banks.
See also: Where to Stay in Trieste
Trieste spreads around and above its harbor like a giant amphitheater with the Adriatic as its stage. Wide boulevards run along its perimeter connecting the four piers and long breakwater of the old port of Punta Franco Vecchio on the north with the Campo Marzio station and the Punta Franco Nuovo (New Free Port) and large shipyards to the south. Along the harbor are a succession of large squares and the Canale Grande. The harbor is always your best landmark if you lose your way.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Trieste
2 Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia
The largest square in the older part of Trieste is the Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia, facing onto the harbor. On its north side is the Palazzo del Governo (1904), on the south side the massive 1882 palazzo of Lloyd Triestino, a shipping line founded in 1836 as the Austrian Lloyd company. On the east side, the 1876 Palazzo del Municipio (City Hall) completes the square in late 19th-century harmony. Northeast of the Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia, the Teatro Verdi faces the water. For good views of the town and the harbor, cross to the Molo Audace, the pier opposite the theater.
3 Canale Grande
North of Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia is the Canale Grande (1756), a long harbor formerly used by sailing ships, and now filled with small boats. Cafés line the wide walkways at either side, and behind them stand beautifully maintained buildings. Relax or stroll here at any time of day, but be sure to return in the evening when the lights and reflections shimmer on the water. The far end of the canal is punctuated by Trieste's largest church, the Neoclassical Sant'Antonio, built in 1849. To the right is the Serbian Orthodox church of San Spiridione.
4 Teatro Romano (Roman Theater)
Leave the "modern" elegance of Trieste's waterfront and follow the broad Via del Teatro Romano southeast from Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia to the Roman theater, built in the first century AD, when the Romans were busy developing Tergeste at the orders of Emperor Octavius. The stone theater uses the slope of the San Giusto hill as its base, and the upper steps and the stage were probably made of wood. You can see some of the statues that adorned the theater, which was brought to light in the 1930s, in the Castello San Giusto (Castle).
Address: Via del Teatro Romano, Trieste
5 Castle Hill and Santa Maria Maggiore
Rising to the south above the Roman Theater is Trieste's castle, at the crest of a hill. Halfway up, the 17th-century Jesuit church of Santa Maria Maggiore is worth a look for its Baroque interior.
Address: Piazza San Silvestro, Trieste
6 Castello di San Giusto
Crowning San Giusto Hill is the castle, built by the Habsburgs in the 15th to 17th centuries to enlarge a medieval Venetian fortress that replaced earlier Roman fortifications. Enter the castle over a wooden drawbridge across a narrow moat to explore its vaulted halls and climb to its ramparts. The views are panoramic, covering the city, the Gulf of Trieste, and the surrounding hills. Inside the castle are displays of weapons from medieval times to the 19th-century as well as furniture and tapestries; the Lapidario Tergestino contains 130 Roman stone finds from the city, including statues from the amphitheater.
Address: Piazza della Cattedrale 3, Trieste
7 Cattedrale di San Giusto
The cathedral of San Giusto was formed in the 14th century by combining two churches from the 6th and 11th centuries. On the right was the church of San Giusto and on the left Santa Maria; their side aisles were combined to make the cathedral's central aisle (the nave). Along with the two churches, bits of Roman stonework were recycled into the building - look for them in the doorway and the campanile. Look also for the excellent mosaic work from the 7th and 12th centuries in the altars at the end of the side aisles. In the cathedral are the tombs of eight House of Bourbon claimants to the Spanish throne who were promoted by the Carlist movement. You may hear another note of European history ring out here, as the cathedral bell was cast in 1829 from a cannon left by Napoleon. Outside are the remains of the second-century Roman forum and a first-century temple.
Address: Piazza Cattedrale 2, Trieste
8 Museo Civico Revoltella
At the corner of the Piazza Venezia, the Museo Civico Revoltella is one of Italy's major museums of modern art, with more than a thousand paintings and 800 sculptures as well as prints and drawings. Its six floors and 40 rooms cover all the major movements from the mid-1800s through to the modernists.
Address: Via Armando Diaz 27, Trieste
9 Museo Civico di Storia Naturale (Museum of Natural History)
The prize of this excellent museum has to be the fossil of a 3.6-meter-long hadrosaurus found near Trieste, almost entirely intact and anatomically connected. Its other paleontology exhibits are worthwhile, as are the minerals and the section on local plants.
Address: Via dei Tominz 4, Trieste
10 Museo del Mare (Museum of the Sea)
Ship models, many of them works of art in themselves, make up much of this collection that focuses on the sailing ships of the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Sea, and fishing craft through the ages. Upper floor exhibits cover the age of steam, the port of Trieste, and the Lloyd lines, headquartered here.
Address: Via Campo Marzio 5, Trieste
Where to Stay in Trieste for Sightseeing
We recommend these highly-rated hotels in Trieste close to the city's top sites:
- Starhotels Savoia Excelsior Palace: grand luxury, bay views, elegant decor, huge rooms, marble bathrooms, fitness center with sauna and spa services.
- NH Trieste: mid-range pricing, great location, modern decor, friendly front desk staff, free breakfast.
- Hotel Residence L'Albero Nascosto: 3-star boutique hotel, antique furnishings, helpful staff, excellent espresso.
- Nuovo Albergo Centro: budget hotel, owner-run, bright decor, choice of private or shared bathrooms, comfortable beds.
Day Trips from Trieste
The Guinness Book of Records lists this as the largest tourist cave in the world. The 50-minute guided tour cannot possibly show you all of it, but you're sure to be impressed by its immense galleries and the variety of colors and shapes of its stalactites and stalagmites. Bring a jacket, as the temperature inside never goes above 55 degrees.
Location: Borgo Grotta Gigante 42, Sgonico, Trieste
Castello di Miramare
This white fairy-tale palace was built for Archduke Maximilian of Austria and his wife Charlotte in 1855-60, before they went off to become (briefly) emperor and empress of Mexico. It stands above the sea, with views artfully framed by almost every window in its sumptuous rooms. Along with the interior, tour the gardens in the park, which is now protected as the Parco Marino di Miramare, for even more magnificent views over the Adriatic.
Address: Viale Miramare, Trieste
The old town of Gorizia was part of Austria until 1918 and was largely destroyed in the First World War. In 1947, the eastern suburbs were transferred to what was then Yugoslavia, and are now part of Slovenia, known as Nova Gorica. At the foot of the castle hill is the triangular Piazza della Vittoria, with the 17th-century Jesuit church of Sant'Ignazio. South of this is the Gorizia Cathedral, whose origins are 14th century, but which was completely rebuilt in 1927. Notice especially, the angels on the ceiling of St. Acathius' Chapel, painted in the mid-15th or early 16th century. The cathedral treasury contains gold and silver works of the 12th to 14th centuries.
Address: Piazza del Duomo, Gorizia