How to spend a day in Trieste, Italy

From your first cappuccino in a Viennese-style cafe to a nightcap of Friulano wine in a folksy osteria, we map out the perfect day in Italy’s easternmost border city.

By Julia Buckley
photographs by Francesco Lastrucci
Published 30 Oct 2020, 20:46 GMT
Historic Bagno Ausonia, a popular swimming spot close to Il Pedocin.

Historic Bagno Ausonia, a popular swimming spot close to Il Pedocin.

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci

8am: Breakfast at Caffè Tommaseo

One look at its Viennese-style coffee houses will show you that Trieste used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Caffè Tommaseo is one of the finest — drenched in more stucco than an opera house, with musical instrument-playing cherub carvings serenading you over your cappuccino and croissant. 

9am: King of the castle

San Giusto Castle looms over the city, with views from its battlements across the Gulf of Trieste and down the coast to Slovenia and Croatia. Nip into the Lapidarium, a museum housing Roman remains, for geometric mosaics and lifelike funereal sculptures. 

11am: Pay your respects

Its border-territory location means Trieste is no stranger to dark times, but the nadir was the 1943-5 Nazi occupation. Around 3,000-5,000 people, largely political prisoners, are thought to have been murdered at the Risiera di San Sabba, a factory-turned-concentration camp. Today a museum accompanies the sobering buildings. 

1pm: Alfresco lunch

Taverna Sapori Greci’s fairy-lit bower brightens up its surroundings (the area was knocked down while excavating the adjacent Roman amphitheatre). Sure, it’s a Greek restaurant, but there’s no better place to sun-soak and try Trieste’s outstanding seafood. 

Coffee with sachertorte at Caffè Tommaseo, one of Trieste's Viennese-style coffee houses.

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci

2pm: Rooms with a view

Miramare Castle, the city’s most famous site, is five miles away — whisked straight out of a Disney film and plonked on the Gulf of Trieste. Built in 1856 by Maximilian I, Archduke of Austria, its story is tinged with tragedy: following Maximilian’s execution in Mexico, wife Charlotte had a breakdown she never recovered from. The rooms are haunting, while the cottage-style grounds — overlooking a marine reserve — are superb.

4pm: Have a bath

Triestini love their city beaches. You’ll find them rolling out their towels on the shoreline all the way from Miramare back into town. But it’s more fun to head to the old-school La Lanterna or Il Pedocin — the latter a pebbly beach near the marina with ‘male’ and ‘female’ areas separated by a concrete wall. 

6pm: Gulf-side sundowner

Piazza Unità d’Italia is one of Europe’s most captivating squares. See the sun set over the water from the outdoor tables at Caffè degli Specchi, a belle époque coffeehouse, with a local Friulano wine, then have dinner at nearby Osteria da Marino, a tavern with 700 types of wine that specialises in Trieste’s Balkans-influenced cuisine.    

Published in the Sept/Oct 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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