The Romance of Trieste – Finding Magic in Italy’s Northeastern Corner

One of my favorite memories of my time in Trieste was simply sitting along the pier, feet dangling over the Adriatic as the rising tide splashed water upon my shoes, jellyfish floating below us like ethereal dancers in a separate universe. The Italian word for “jellyfish” is medusa, yet I kept mistakenly saying lampedusa after the Italian island that was at the center of the migrant crisis. It just goes to show how much my language skills need work.

Some places move you more than others, and Trieste affected me more than most. I left my heart here, this small city at the far northeastern corner of Italy. With Croatia and Slovenia nearby, this former Austro-Hungarian city has a unique history with diverse influences. The elegant architecture is different from the typical “Italian-ness” of that of Florence and Rome. The people are friendly and, despite being small, the city provides the perfect amount of bustle with a vibrant nightlife.

I arrived at Stazione Trieste Centrale after a stay in Padua. A short stroll along the waterfront led me to the city’s main square, Piazza Unità d’Italia. Surrounded by historic government buildings, including the Palazzo del Municipio (City Hall), the square hosts several cafes facing an impressive fountain, the Fontana dei Quattro Continenti (Fountain of the Four Continents). In the evenings, live music can be heard and, after dark, the pavement illuminates with serene blue lights.

The unmissable Canale Grande sits slightly north of the main square. The large canal leads from the waterfront to the Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Taumaturgo, a dominating neoclassical Catholic church built in 1842. If visiting churches is your thing, you might also be interested in the Chiesa Evangelica Luterana, a Lutheran church built in the 18th century when the Austro-Hungarian Empire still ruled the city.

Connected to the canal is Via Cassa di Risparmio, one of the city’s main pedestrian walkways. On this street full of life, one finds the historic Buffet da Pepi (a famous Austro-Hungarian eatery for meats, opened in 1897), the Borsa Vecchia (the old stock exchange) and, at the end, Ponte Curto (a bridge that crosses the Canale Grande).

Across the street from the main square is the Trieste waterfront and the aforementioned pier, Molo Audace. Nearby are statues of two girls knitting, Le Sartine, a symbol of the city. During my stay, a historic ship was docked along the waterfront, prompting long lines for those who wished to go on board.

For amazing views of Trieste, head up to the Castello di San Giusto (Castle of Saint Justus), a hilltop castle constructed after the Austrian invasion of 1469. After undergoing numerous changes throughout its lifetime, the castle today features an art and history museum, as well as a vantage point for the best panoramic views of Trieste. There’s even a bar up top for a drink and snack with your view.

The Cattedrale di San Giusto Martire (Trieste Cathedral), can also be found on the Colle di San Giusto (Hill of Saint Justus). It’s the main church of Trieste, a tribute to the saint that was consecrated in 1385. Nearby, one finds the dramatic Monumento ai Caduti di Trieste (Monument to the Fallen of Trieste), inaugurated in 1935 and dedicated to the fallen soldiers of World War One.

The Parco della Rimembranza is another elevated site in Trieste. The memorial park serves as a peaceful escape from the urban center. A large fountain sits at the top. Below, one finds the Teatro Romano, the ruins of an old Roman amphitheater.

While I unfortunately wasn’t able to visit the Museo Revoltella, the city’s modern art museum, I did get to see a temporary exhibit at the Auditorium Museo Revoltella, their exhibit space along the waterfront: Due Fronti, Una Città, a poignant exhibition that examined Trieste’s role in World War One through personal accounts and artifacts. Near the Museo Revoltella, in the Piazza Attilio Hortis, one finds the Statue of James Joyce. The renowned writer spent time in Trieste in his early 20s when he was a poor English teacher.

On the heavier side of history, the Risiera di San Sabba, a former Nazi concentration camp that was turned into museum in 1975, is also available for visits. Located out of the city center, it’s reachable by bus (#8 or #10) in about 15 minutes. I didn’t have time to visit the profound site, but perhaps one day I will.

One of the top attractions for those visiting Trieste is the Castello di Miramare, a historic waterfront palazzo and museum with a serene park surrounding it. From the main square, take bus #8 and transfer to #6 at Viale Miramare 19 along Trieste Centrale. Devote some time for walking the Parco del Castello di Miramare as it’s really stunning with lots to see.

On a particular afternoon, during which I wandered the waterfront, I spotted a ferry about to depart for a city called Muggia. Not knowing anything about it (except that there was a return boat), I jumped aboard. It was a pleasant segue to a quiet town across the Gulf of Trieste to the south. There’s the Duomo di Muggia, the main church located in Piazza Guglielmo Marconi with cafes surrounding it. I grabbed a Campari Spritz at Bikers Cafe for a ridiculously low price while the square buzzed with children biking back and forth. Up in the hills of Muggia, I discovered the Chiesa San Francesco, a secluded small church that is perhaps the most peaceful church I’ve ever visited in Italy.

Trieste is the home of Illy Coffee, and the company’s Università del Caffè is located here. Most cafes in the city are lovely and offer outdoor seating. I liked Adoro Cafe, a chic spot with a nice assortment of pastries. There’s also Caffè Teatro Verdi, a cafe near the historic Teatro Verdi.

For lunch, La Caveja Piadineria serves cheap piadine (flatbread sandwiches typical of the Emilia-Romagna region). I also enjoyed the pizza at Di Fronte al Verdi, a hip pizzeria across from Teatro Verdi. For dinner, Kapuziner Keller serves Bavarian fare in a casual beer hall setting, something worth checking out if you’re interested in dining outside the realm of Italian.

A few aperitivo spots I had the pleasure of visiting were Bar Buffet Borsa, located along the busy Via Cassa di Risparmio and thus great for people watching, and Caffè Eppinger, a nice locale with plenty of outdoor seats for aperitivo along Via Dante Alighieri. Along the waterfront, Marina San Giusto Bar offers drinks in something resembling a yacht club.

Just kicking it with a glass of Spritz or Hugo or Negroni was a highlight. One wonders where the recession is with everyone going out and filling the bars. I suppose it’s in harder times that we all need a drink or three.

The morning before leaving, we returned to the pier where we sat on the day that I arrived, and I thought about all the memories I had made during my brief stay here. I sometimes wish I had spent more time in the city, but I suppose the timing wasn’t right. I left my heart in Trieste, and I hope one day I can get it back.

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Palazzo del Municipio and the Fontana dei Quattro Continenti in the Piazza Unità d'Italia

Fontana dei Quattro Continenti

Piazza Unità d'Italia

Cattedrale di San Giusto Martire

Monumento ai caduti di Trieste

View from the Castello di San Giusto in Trieste

Lounging in the Castello di San Giusto

Aperitivo in the Castello di San Giusto

Downtown Trieste

Teatro Romano in Trieste

Le Sartine Statue and Historic Ship Docked in Trieste

Canale Grande in Trieste

Canale Grande in Trieste

Chiesa di Sant'Antonio Taumaturgo o Nuovo

Statue of James Joyce in Trieste

Camera di Commercio di Trieste

Trieste Waterfront

Trieste Waterfront

Cruise Ship in Trieste at Sunset


Castello di Miramare

Parco del Castello di Miramare

Castello di Miramare

Parco del Castello di Miramare

Parco del Castello di Miramare

Sphinx in the Parco del Castello di Miramare

Castello di Miramare


Ferry to Muggia from Trieste

Ferry to Muggia from Trieste

Lungomare Muggia

Duomo Muggia

Streets of Muggia

Chiesa San Francesco in Muggia