Is Trieste worth visiting? That’s what this guide is here to help you decide. It will do that by running through seven key aspects about the town, revealing the ins and outs of its character, its charm, and its main attractions.
Although rarely top of the list when it comes to Italian destinations, Trieste does have loads up its sleeve. From pebbly beaches washed by the glass-clear Adriatic Sea to intriguing old town sights that hearken back to the days of the Habsburgs, it’s a place of fine architecture and summertime enjoyments.
Adding to that is the location. Coming here, you’ll be only a stone’s throw from both Slovenia and Croatia, but also right by the Dolomites that sit a little to the north. Tempted? Of course you are! So, is Trieste worth visiting?
It’s off-the-beaten track Italy
Check where Trieste is on the map. It’s not that hard to find. You must trace your finger over to the easternmost corner of The Boot, up the side of the Adriatic Sea and below the end of the Dolomites. That’s where Trieste makes its home, surrounded by a loop of the Slovenian border and a long karstic mountain range that ensures it’s pretty isolated and cut-off from, well, pretty much anywhere else at all.
The upshot? Trieste might be Italian but there are times when it doesn’t feel like it at all. Take the local lingo. It’s a unique dialect that fuses elements of German, Slavic, and Latin speaking into something altogether different. Then there’s the history. We’ll talk more about that below but suffice to say that this one had its golden age as a prestigious port town under the Habsburgs, though there are touches of ancient Roman history to boot.
More than that, Trieste isn’t often up there with Florence, with Milan, with Rome as one of the most-coveted Italian destinations. It’s commonly overlooked by would-be travelers who stick to the more tried-and-tested places down the spine of the country, from the Amalfi Coast to the Aosta Alps. That helps it nurture an authentic, lived-in vibe and truly local atmosphere; one that we think you’re sure to love.
The eye-watering architecture
Great parts of central Trieste are a lesson in everything Neoclassical. That’s thanks to the Habsburgs who once lorded over the town. They brought with them the tradition of mighty palace building from Budapest and Vienna, giving this city the air of somewhere royal and regal.
You’ll encounter that side of things on the main Piazza Unità. It’s the hub of the downtown, flaunting the multi-winged Palazzo del Municipio and the curious Fontana dei Quattro Continenti, the Fountain of the Four Continents. The ornate Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi is just around the corner from that, as is the Piazza della Borsa, fronted by the colonnades of an 1800s Greek Revival temple.
But it’s not all Neoclassicism. Hidden streets have houses that are gilded with Art Nouveau filigrees and overhanging balconies of wrought-iron. Even older are the Roman relics, whether that’s the theatre under San Giusto hill or the half-crumbled Trieste Arch in the Old Town, which has stood for two millennia!
Trieste is the only Italian town that sits on the Balkan side of the Adriatic. It’s a whole lot different to the towns on the western edge of the sea, which run along the coasts of Marche and Emilia-Romagna with uninterrupted sand that’s tinted brown and very wide. Here, the shoreline is famously rugged and rocky. It splinters into coves and sea caves, and has jump-off points where you can dive straight into the H2O like it’s a swimming pool.
In the urban area of Trieste, the beaches are purpose-built lidos. There are a couple of them to pick from when the weather is warm, but the best is at Barcola, where a couple of semicircle quays are dotted with sunning beds, and Pedocin, which is unusual for its dividing wall, which creates a male and female section of the beach.
Even more awaits in the surrounding region, though. Check out Filtri Beach, which isn’t so much a beach but a hidden cove of smooth pebbles. It’s not usually too crowded since the only way down is a hamstring-pulsating 64 steps carved into the rock. Then there’s Canovella degli Zoppoli and Portopiccolo, which are more traditional lido-style beaches with clear water and rocky shores. Is Trieste worth visiting for its beaches? For sure!
Access to the Slovenian Riviera
Lots of people think Slovenia is another one of those landlocked countries of Central-Eastern Europe. But it’s not. It does have a coastline, albeit just 46.6km of the salt-washed stuff. What’s more, Trieste is the nearest major big city to said coastline. It sits a short, 15-minute drive from where it begins at the port town of Ankaran.
The highlight of the Slovenian Riviera has to be the loveable resort town of Koper. Founded by the Romans and then raised to greatness by the Venetians, it has all the hallmarks of an old city, as showcased by the great Cathedral of the Assumption and palace-ringed Tito Square. We’d just steer clear of the port areas on the south side of town. They’re hemmed in by USSR-era blocks and host massive cruise ships in the summer months.
The region is also packed with fantastic beaches. Leave Koper behind and travel south to Izola. Pebbly Bele Skale Beach and Moon Bay are the highlights there. They come backed by high cliffs of white stone and washed by clear seas that are perfect for snorkeling.
Trieste sits under a long karstic mountain ridge that spreads along the Italian-Slovenian border in a medley of low summits and wooded valleys. It begins right on the northern and eastern side of the town, so you can get there in just a matter of minutes if you have a car. There are also regular local buses that can connect with smaller villages up in the highlands.
The best part of it is probably the protected Val Rosandra Nature Reserve. There are some lovely trails there, but the best is surely the one that hugs babbling Rosandra Stream as it wiggles and weaves through groves of maples and pines, following an ancient trading route formerly used by salt merchants coming inland from the ports of the Adriatic.
Trieste is also a prime access point to the even-more-dramatic peaks of the eastern Dolomites. You can go north for 1.5 hours and enter the Parco Naturale Dolomiti Friulane via Tolmezzo. That is known for its soaring, needle-like rock stacks and crumpled mountains like the Cima dei Preti. A little further to the west is the Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunesi, which have wooded trails that leave from the charming mountain town of Belluno.
The food in Trieste is an interesting mix of Balkan cooking and Italian cooking. The two are fused together and made fantastic thanks to the abundance of fresh seafood and country veg that’s on offer due to the proximity of the mountains, the fertile Po Valley, and the Adriatic. Generally speaking, the menus here are a bit heavier, more earthy, more country-style than the mainstay Mediterranean stuff you find elsewhere in along The Boot.
Dishes that we think you have to sample here include:
- Jota – This filling broth is a common winter food for the whole of the eastern Italian region, though it’s thought to have originated in Istria, Croatia. It’s made from potatoes and beans, but also has fermented cabbage in there for extra flavor.
- Strucolo de pomi – Another of the remnants of Habsburg influence in the region, this is essentially an Italian version of Austrian strudel. It goes great with a strong coffee.
- Goulash – Smoky paprika and plenty of meat-heavy gravy mingles together in this dish, which is actually better known in Hungary. Yet again, it’s a leftover from the Habsburg era.
Access to Croatia
Trieste is the last city on the Italian coast before the countries of the Balkan Peninsula take over in earnest. We’ve already mentioned how you can drive for less than 20 minutes and be in Slovenia. But you can also swap the land of pizzas and pasta for Croatia in less than 45 minutes. And you don’t even need your own car – direct buses leave from Trieste station for Istria and Zagreb virtually every day.
The first place you’ll come to in Croatia is the peninsula of Istria. It’s a whole region that dominates the north of the country. It’s also stunning. There are fjords that carve inland to lovely hill towns like Motovun. There are historic cities like Pula, which sports arguably the most amazing Roman amphitheatre outside of Italy. And there are olive-covered hills known for their oils and truffles and more.
Of course, that’s just the beginning of what Croatia has up its sleeve. If you’re willing to keep going then you can also discover the stunning coves of Rijeka and Krk island, the roaring waterfalls of Krka National Park, and the handsome coast cities of Zadar and Split.
Is Trieste worth visiting? Our conclusion
Is Trieste worth visiting? We’d say definitely, yes! This town offers something a little different to what you might be used to in Italy. It’s been heavily influenced by the Habsburgs, which shows in the architecture and the food. It’s also close to gorgeous mountain ranges of karst-cut hills and valleys, and is a great steppingstone for visiting the Dolomites, the Slovenian Riviera, and northern Croatia.