5 things to do in Trieste and surroundings

by 17 Jan, 2021Italy

😷  COVID-19 NOTICE: You can check out the latest information about travel restrictions and bans in Italy due to the coronavirus HERE.

Following a short stay in Venice, where should I go? If you are heading towards Slovenia, you definitely need to spend some time in the Trieste region, not just the city!

You will quickly notice that Trieste is quite unique compared to the rest of Italy, it has a strong influence from other countries like Slovenia and Austria, and was known as the Austrian Riviera during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It has charming walks along the coastline and simple but elegant castles that you can visit such as Castello di Miramare and Castello di Duino.

In addition, as you get closer to the region, you will be entering the Kart Plateau, which spans the Gulf of Trieste and Slovenia’s southwestern region including the Vipava Valley. Karst (known as “carso” in Italy) is a topography characterised by a high presence of soluble rocks (namely limestone and dolomite), and it’s the reason for the amount of marvellous caves that exist in the region and for the steep cliffs reaching the Adriatic Sea.

The city in itself has its own charm as well, with a mixture of cultures and, judging on its ruins, a very rich history! You can easily arrive in the city via train but if you wish to visit our different recommendations in the region, I would suggest you rent a car.

Now, let’s get to the point and look at five recommendations for visiting Trieste and some extra suggestions! Please note I have put these recommendations in the order we did them as we were arriving from Venice late in the day, but you might prefer doing the below in another order depending on when you are arriving, where you are staying, etc.

Views over Gulf of Trieste from Rilke Trail

1️⃣ Do the Rilke Trail in the Sistiana Bay 🌅

What about watching the sunset over the Gulf of Trieste surrounded by nature? That just sounds like the romantic thing to do after visiting Venice! But even if you aren’t the corny type, worth checking out this spot.

As you enter the region of Trieste, a nice activity to definitely do is the Rilke Trail, which connects the towns of Sistiana and Duino through a rocky but relatively flat walk of 2 km approximately. On the way, there are several viewpoints of the Sistiana Bay and you will also find military bunkers from World War I and World War II.

We did start the walk from Sistiana (we were able to park right next to the trail entrance as indicated on the map of recommendations) and our aim was to culminate our adventure by getting to the other side before sunset and visit the nearby Castello di Duino… but as usual, we were overly optimistic about time and it already got dark half-way!

Of course, the walk is meant to be finished and we would have liked to see the castle, which dates back to the 14th century and it’s still inhabited by its owners and partially open to the public. If interested, you can find information about opening hours and more details here.

Views of Castello di Duino from Rilke Trail
FYI, the next day before leaving the Sistiana area and heading closer to Trieste city we had a yummy breakfast in a local bakery called Costa dei Barbari (map location).
Feast in a osmica, Trieste

2️⃣ Eat in an osmiza like a local 👩‍🌾

Yes! This is about food, but not in anyplace, you have to try it in an osmiza. Osmize (in plural) are private homes or farms in the Trieste region where they serve in their cellars wine and other typical products (such as the above delicious delicatessen!).

However, each osmiza only opens during a specific time in the year and therefore before you embark on this adventure, you need to check the Osmize page to know which one will be open during your stay (don’t rely on Google Maps for this).

The tradition of the osmize seems to date back to Charlemagne (yes, 8th century!), when the region became part of the Kingdom of the Franks and winemakers were allowed to sell their wine on the spot.

According to know-it-all Wikipedia, this tradition was resumed several times throughout history and a decree from the Habsburgs in 1784 allowed farmers to sell their wine for eight days and thus the name osmiza from osem which means “eight”.

Nowadays, those who follow the tradition can open for longer, and this tradition can also be found in Slovenia throughout the Karst Plateau.

This was not only a tasty experience, but we also enjoyed the local and lively atmosphere that the place transmitted. In our case, after the Rilke Trail, we went to Osmiza Rebulda (which is very close to Sistiana) (map location), with no need to book and we could even pay with a credit card!

Again, you need to check out the opening days for this or other osmize before you go. Some osmize are located closer to the city of Trieste and may be more convenient for you depending on where you are staying, etc.

Miramare Castle in the Trieste region

3️⃣ Go to Castello di Miramare 🏰

This is in everyone’s must-see list when they go to Trieste. I have to say I get bored (fed up) quite easily with castles and monuments after a few visits in a row, and following our trip to Venice I wasn’t extremely excited about going to Castello di Miramare (map location). That said, once there I was pretty happy we eventually went as the surroundings are just gorgeous! To be honest, we didn’t visit the castle inside, but rather enjoyed the seaside views and explored the park. The entrance to the park is free and if interested, here you can find out more about hours and tickets to visit the castle (about 12€/adult). The castle was built in the middle of the 19th century by order of the Emperor of Austria’s brother, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg, who later became Emperor of Mexico by invitation of Napoleon III to balance the influence of the USA in the region (history repeating itself), which led to a civil war and he was executed in Mexico without having spent much time in Miramare… However, his interest in botanics is the reason for the gardens and wild park that surrounds the castle and that includes a rich range of plants and trees.
Beach near Miramare Castle, Trieste
Miramare castle gardens in Trieste

After a walk across the gardens and park, we decided to take a pause and there is a small port at a walking distance from the park and castle with a few restaurants (for instance, Tavernetta al Molo, map location) where we decided to have some refreshments.

✅  TIP: I believe this port area is called Grignano Bagni and according to Google Maps it has free parking! I discovered this after we parked in the official Miramare parking (a bit expensive to be honest…), telling you this in case you want to try to park and chill there instead, and then access the castle and surroundings from this other entry point.

Trieste's main municipal building

4️⃣ Visit Trieste’s city centre, ruins and Cathedral 🕍

And now arriving in the city of Trieste! The most famous sight of the city is from the bridge Ponte Rosso, over the Canal Grande, with a view toward the neoclassical church of Sant’Antonio Nuovo. Next to it, there is also a beautiful Serbian Orthodox church (St Spyridon) from the 19th century.

Then, it’s nice to continue walking towards the streets that will take you to Piazza della Borsa and then the city’s main square, Piazza Unità d’Italia, with its beautiful city council built in the 1870s (picture above).

Even though we couldn’t enter the enclosure, we really enjoyed seeing the Roman amphitheater as well, which dates from the 1st-2nd century C.E. and is witness to scenic performances from time to time.

For a nice viewpoint, you should definitely go uphill until you reach the square with the Roman forum (what is left of it, of course) and the WWI Memorial (Trieste was an important front for the Allied/Italy and witnessed the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918).

Next to the forum, you will find the Castello di San Giusto and the city’s cathedral: Cattedrale di San Giusto Martire. We didn’t go inside the castle but the church is definitely worth a visit!

The cathedral was built upon a Roman temple, where two adjacent basilicas were erected and eventually joined in the 14th century to adopt the church’s current shape. The interior is modest and majestic at the same time and, among many other things, features a rose window in the main entrance, a beautiful fresco on the altar’s dome and several mosaics.

💬 FACT: For those who like European history, the cathedral is home to the tomb of a Spanish king (how come?) or that’s what is engraved: Carolus V. Hispaniarum Rex.

This is actually the grave of Don Carlos (self-proclaimed as Charles V of Spain in the 1830s) who disputed the throne to his niece, Isabel II of Spain, establishing a conservative and regionalist Carlist movement in the country that led to three civil wars in Spain throughout the 19th century.

He ended his days in Trieste (back then part of the Austrian Empire) and a chapel in the cathedral currently has a Carlist mausoleum.

Trieste's Arco di Riccardi

On your way back to the city centre, I highly recommend you walk through Piazza del Barbacan for more history, where you will find the Arco di Riccardi (map location), an arch that is believed to date from no more, no less than 33 B.C.! The gate is annexed in an interesting way into the contiguous building and the square has a pleasant atmosphere with a few bars and restaurants.

Aperitivo in Trieste's city centre

5️⃣ Have coffee and an aperitivo in the city ☕

First thing I saw when we were entering Trieste city by car was a big sign that said The city of coffee, and as a coffee lover I got super eager to the idea of having a coffee in an Italian city that prides itself on being the capital of coffee. So I said I am a coffee lover, but not an expert taster… thus I cannot tell you whether the city offers the beeeest coffee in the country (and therefore, in the world!) but it tasted pretty good to me! But let’s give a bit of background first – Trieste is a port city, it has been in fact one of Europe’s biggest ports for coffee; there is a lot of culture around cafes; and Trieste is the birthplace of the famous coffee brand Illy. While in Trieste (we were there only half a day!) I had to find a place that would offer coffee but also other things as H is basically a coffee hater (yes… that exists) and it was aperitivo time! (between 7 and 9 p.m.). So we found a perfect solution recommended by a friend: LIFE (map location). This bar in Via di Cavana has a lively terrace that gets very popular during the aperitivo given the generosity of the food accompanying the drinks. If we would have had more time, I would have loved to check out what it seems Trieste’s most popular coffee place: Cafe San Marco (map location) – on my agenda for next time! For truly local food in the city centre, I was recommended Osteria da Marino (map location). Last but not least, if you feel like ending your day in Trieste with a short walk (or even swim!), you can also go to Trieste’s nearby waterfront called Lungomare di Barcola (map location).👇
Lungomare di Barcola in the evening, Trieste

More time? 😎 Explore Grotta Gigante and conquer Strada Napoleonica

If you have more days in Trieste, we heard great things about Grotta Gigante and Strada Napoleonica. To the former we didn’t go because we had planned to visit two caves in Slovenia (Skocjan and Postojna) and had to prioritise, but if you are a cave person, you might want to check this cave out!

It’s known for its large stalactites, stalagmites and initial steep descent (500 steps) to enter the main chamber, which was classified as the largest show cave in the world until 2010 (La Verna cave in France holds this position now).

You can visit the Grotta Gigante website to find information about tours and tickets (the regular visit is 13€/adult) and how to get there – it should only be a 20-min drive from Trieste city.

The latter, Strada Napoleonica, or also known as Strada Vicentina is a 5-km trail between the towns of Opicina and Prosecco (yes! that’s the town giving the name to prosecco wine), located between Trieste city and Miramare.

The name of this trail is due to the belief that the route was created by Napoleonic troops. You can start from Piazzale dell’Obelisco in Opicina, or Prosecco, and it has a well-maintained path also offering stunning views over the city and Gulf of Trieste and given it’s orientation (towards the West) is also ideal to watch the sunset!

If you wish, during the trail, you can go uphill to Monte Grisa where a striking temple was built in the 60s as a symbol of peace and unity following WWII. The building has an interesting and debatable aesthetic in the middle of nature with its brutalist architecture and bare concrete:

View of Temple Monte Grisa, Trieste

Photo under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Source: Andrzej O from Wikimedia Commons.

Where to stay? 🏕 Some camping options in the area

Our visit to Trieste was part of a bigger road trip to Slovenia where our idea was to camp from time to time and in Trieste we explored a few campings.

In total we spent two nights in the region and we didn’t realise everything was close and reachable within a 30-min drive maximum… so we spent each night in different campings! 🙈 Not very smart from our end… but good thing is we can recommend you two campsites!

Closer to the Sistiana Bay area, we found Azienda Agricola Carso (map location), a small family-run camping with beautiful oak and ash trees, a nice space with picnic tables where you can eat and a barbecue area at your disposal, which is always nice! The night was about 35€ during high season (summer) for two people, tent and car.

Near the city of Trieste, we also stayed at Campeggio Obelisco (map location), which is actually very close to the start of Strada Napoleonica in Opicini! It’s a very simple campsite with everything you will need and a lively restaurant in the entrance. It’s located uphill and I really enjoyed my early morning coffee in the restaurant with views over the Gulf of Trieste. Note that the land is very rocky and we struggled to pound the tent pegs. The night was about 30€ during high season for two people, tent and car.

At night, in Campeggio Obelisco we were nicely surprised by a visitor… 🦔

Hedgehog at camping in Trieste

Now, if you prefer not to camp or you are visiting Trieste in colder times, I would recommend you look at the different rural accommodations promoting agriturismo in the region and that you can book directly from Booking or other similar sites.

📍Map of recommendations in Trieste

Did you find the above useful or have other suggestions for Trieste?

If you like what you read, please feel free to share this post, leave a comment and/or find out more about neighbouring Venice or where else to go: the answer is Slovenia!👇👇👇👇👇

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