Many visitors, upon discovering Trieste, will say that they have the impression of not being in Italy at all. The regional capital of Friuli-Venezia Giulia has been an international melting pot of cultures, languages and traditions for longer than most major cities. There is something distinctly Mitteleuropean about Trieste’s atmosphere, whereas the dialect carries influences of all the nations that have traded with this great port through the centuries, from Eastern Europe to the Mediterranean area, from the frozen North to the Middle-East. Close to some of the most important industrial hubs of the Country and projected onto continental Europe, but at the same time detached from the frenzy of corporate life and adjusted to its own slower pace, Trieste is the perfect place to indulge in a spot of sightseeing in the middle of a business trip. If you only have limited time to explore the city, this pick of Trieste’s best attractions is sure to guide you on your way.
Incentive destinations: 5 things to do in Trieste
1. Cathedral and Castle of St. Justus
St. Justus is a familiar presence in Trieste, in the form of the hill that overlooks the city, on which a cathedral and a castle stand. The cathedral is a superb example of Byzantine architecture, with rich mosaics and elaborate frescoes dating back to the XV Century. The castle as we see it today was built around the same time and expanded one century later, but there are records of a fortified settlement on this spot since the late Bronze Age. Its strategic position, which affords a clear view of the sea and is easy to defend, made it a coveted military stronghold and allowed the local rulers to protect the city effectively, so that it could flourish as an international trading metropolis. Next to the cathedral you will also find the Baptistery and the Treasury Museum, which holds several unique historical artefacts.
2. Miramare Castle
One of the strongest and most evident influences in Trieste’s architecture is the one that can be traced back to the Augsburg Empire. A perfect example of such influence is the magnificent Miramare Castle, with its richly decorated interiors and original furnishings. Strolling through this stunning museum-residence, you will catch a glimpse of everyday life at the court of Augsburg. Throughout its history, this castle has been home to many notable historical figures, the most famous of which was probably Empress Elisabeth of Austria, which has become an icon of popular culture thanks to the popular “Sissi” movie franchise, in which the empress was played by Romy Schneider. The castle is located a few miles from the city-centre, with its grounds embracing a large portion of the shore and covered in lush maritime pines and Cedars of Lebanon. As it was customary among the nobility, the owners had secret annexes built, the most famous of which are the Castelletto (“little castle”) and the Swiss house.
3. The Giant Cave
If you have a whole day or even a weekend off and want to venture out into the local countryside, we recommend you visit the Grotta Gigante (literally Giant Cave). Only a few miles from Trieste, this enormous cavern on the side of mount Karst is the world’s second largest natural cave: it is 351 ft high, 213 ft wide and 430 ft long. Tourists can access the cave with a trained guide, to admire its impressive stalactites and stalagmites. Even if you visit during spring or summer, you should always bring warm clothes with you, as the temperature is likely to drop as you venture into the heart of the mountain, reaching 10°-12° at its coldest. The cave was discovered in the XIX Century during an expedition to look for underground water, as part of the planned construction of Trieste’s aqueduct.
4. Vittoria Light
There’s no denying that lighthouses have a special charm: they offer spectacular views and carry overtones of a not-so-distant past, where ships were guided to the safety of harbours by that steady light on the shore. Romantic art has contributed in no small measure to their allure. Of course, as a major historical port, Trieste has its very own lighthouse, which is known as the Vittoria Light. Besides functioning as a beacon for incoming vessels, this particular lighthouse is also a monument, commemorating the fallen soldiers of the Great War, with an inscription by Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. The whole region’s identity is strongly connected to the two world wars and the way Italian borders were defined in the XIX and XX Century. Ttieste’s multicultural identity, in particular, is one forged as much through cultural proximity as by virtue of political and military acts that tore communities apart and created new identities out of changing political conditions.
5. Roman Theatre
The Roman Theatre is one of Trieste’s most impressive landmarks and an absolute must-visit, even if you have just a few hours to spend exploring the city. It dates back to the II Century and it was originally located on the sea shore. The theatre, of course, hasn’t moved, but the sea has retreated, so that this impressive construction is now part of the city-centre. Walking from it to the seaside (or viceversa) is a very effective way of gauging the extent and pace at which the surface of our planet shifts and changes its appearance and structure. As you enter the theatre, imagine the actors that walked its stage in its early days, taking advantage of the magnificent natural backdrop provided by the sea itself: a tradition in Roman and Greek theatre architecture, the most notable example of which is the Greek theatre of Epidauros. Despite not being on the shore anymore, the theatre is still as impressive as ever and it still occasionally hosts plays and special events, particularly during the summer.