Discover the wonders of Bolzano like a local. From culture to culinary tradition, here are 10 unforgettable experiences to do in this Alpine city

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Bolzano is many things. Above all, it's an exquisitely mountainous city, with the Dolomites serving as a breathtaking backdrop. Gothic and rationalist, icy and romantic, a land of castles and wine cellars, mountains and rivers, a gateway to Northern Europe and, at the same time, the first remnant of the South: this beautiful place in Trentino Alto Adige is the sum of many characteristics and facets.

Exploring Bolzano like a local allows you to meet a truly special culture where Italian influences are mixed with the purely Tyrolean tradition. Here are our travel tips for discovering the city at its finest.

What to do in Bolzano like a local

What to do in Bolzano like a local

In addition to the awe-inspiring scenery everyone expects and the diverse cultural traditions, Bolzano boasts a delectable culinary scene that is sure to please even the most discerning palates.

Taking a stroll along the enchanting Via dei Portici, adorned with an array of shops and elegant cafés nestled under the arches, you find yourself immersed in the ancient heart of city life.

The atmosphere truly comes alive amidst the bustling stalls of the historic market in Piazza delle Erbe, where the air is loaded with the enticing aroma of freshly baked bread and the vibrant colours of flowers and fresh vegetables fill the shopping bags of Bolzano's locals.

Furthermore, by following the captivating-themed routes throughout the city, you can completely dip in intriguing and sometimes hidden stories.

If you wish to experience Bolzano like a true local, we have some tips to help you fully embrace the city's spirit.

10. Walking among the fountains

Walking among the fountains

Exploring Bolzano and discovering its hidden gems can be a unique experience when you opt for a themed walk. The Water Route, for instance, is a great way to see the city's urban features that might have gone unnoticed otherwise. 

There are two itineraries to do on foot or bike along paths linking fountains, 'fontanelle', and ancient irrigation ditches spread across the historic centre. The first trail takes around an hour, while the second one extends to distant areas and neighbourhoods. You can start your journey from Piazza Stazione or Piazza Walther, where bicycles are available for rent.

For those who admire rationalist architecture, there is also an intriguing route covering significant buildings such as the railway station, the Civic Museum, Rione Battisti, and the Cristo Re Church. You have two choices to enjoy this experience: walking or cycling.

Check the municipality website for more info about the itineraries. 

9. A tour of the markets in Piazza delle Erbe

To experience the true Tyrolean charm of Bolzano's old town, take a stroll through the beautiful arcaded streets teeming with shops and taverns, admire the narrow buildings with oriel windows, or relax in the wide squares surrounded by the stunning Dolomites.

To truly feel like a local, start your tour at one of the most famous and beloved spots, which is situated between Via Museo and Via dei Portici. Here, you'll find the lively Piazza delle Erbe, where a daily market has been bustling under the watchful eye of the Neptune from the 18th-century fountain by G. Mayr da Fiè for over five centuries. 

As you peruse the flowery stalls, you'll be enveloped in a symphony of scents changing season after season. In autumn, the air is loaded with the aroma of roasted chestnuts, while during Christmas time, the typical spicy fragrances intoxicate your senses. You'll soon find your shopping bags filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, bread in endless varieties, and delicious South Tyrolean cheeses and sausages.

And if you're feeling peckish, Bolzano also boasts a wide array of gastronomic street food to enjoy on the spot. Why not give it a try?

8. Tasting a bauerntoast

If you're looking for a delicious snack in South Tyrol, you absolutely have to try this famous sandwich known as 'the farmer's toast'. It's made using only the best local ingredients, from the dark rye bread that's spiced with aniseed, fenugreek, coriander, caraway, or fennel seeds, to the mouth-watering filling of speck and mountain cheese that melts perfectly when heated up. 

When in the mood for some other street food, go for würstel, the local sausage, which is a staple of South Tyrolean cuisine. You can have it served in a sandwich at one of the traditional Bolzano würstelstands.

But don't fill up on salty snacks! Make sure to save some room for the sweet treats South Tyrol is famous for, like apfelkiechl, strudel, and strauben. They're sure to be irresistible!

7. Taking a train ride

Take the Renon cable car to Soprabolzano and enjoy a breathtaking view of the city, Catinaccio, Sciliar, and Oltradige during the 12-minute journey. Once your feet are back on the ground, it's time to hop on the historic Renon train for a plunge into the Belle Époque amidst breathtaking scenery. 

The train was first launched in 1907, connecting Bolzano to the plateau. Although the route has changed, the experience remains the same, with charming period carriages, picturesque views, and the chance to (metaphorically) get lost in the impressive rocky patterns of the Dolomites. 

Collalbo, a lovely mountain village in the Renon area, is your next stop. Here, you'll find many scenic paths, from pleasant strolls to more challenging hikes. However, the most remarkable attraction is the earth pyramids, unique clay formations in the Rio Fosco valley, a half-hour walk along the road to Longomoso.

6. Meeting a very special local

He has been around for about 5,300, but time has been kid to him. The oldest ice mummy in existence has a name and an address that you can visit. To meet Ötzi, head over to his 'new home' since 1998, the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano.

Discovered by chance on the Val Senales glacier in 1991, what makes this Copper Age mummy found with clothing and equipment extraordinary is its exceptional state of preservation. 

Before the pyramids, before Stonehenge: what Ötzi experienced was a world very different from ours, which comes to life in the wing of the museum dedicated to this unique time traveller.

5. Strolling in Via dei Portici

Have a glimpse into Bolzano's rich history in the stunning Via dei Portici. Under its iconic round arches, a series of small shops and cafes line this 300-meter-long porticoed street which dates back to the end of the 12th century.

Despite its age, it remains a bustling hub of activity in the city's heart, where locals love to gather for a coffee or a bite to eat in a charming atmosphere.

As you stroll down the street, take in the sights of the narrow facades and outward-facing windows known as 'erker'. The buildings here are full of character and history: learn more about them at the Museo Mercantile. Housed in an 18th-century palazzo on Via Argentieri, the museum features period furnishings and documents that trace the area's past.

If you're in town in the summer, don't miss the 'Calici di stelle' event. For the occasion, Via dei Portici is turned into a beautiful open-air wine cellar where you can indulge in the delightful South Tyrolean wines during the night of San Lorenzo. 

4. Visiting castles

If you're seeking an enchanting escape, then the verdant Val Venosta is certainly worth exploring. One of the main attractions here is the Churburg Castle (Castel Coira):  with its fairytale silhouette and impressive preservation, this location offers a shiny glimpse into the past.

The castle shares all the classic features of a traditional fortress, such as beautiful gardens, towering turrets, a formidable bastion, and a sophisticated chapel.

Throughout its various rooms, the architecture and design showcase a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance styles that have evolved over centuries of history. Initially built in the 13th century, the castle is still occupied by the Trapp family, who took ownership in the 16th century.

Guests are able to admire a vast array of antique items and furnishings meticulously maintained over the years. The armoury is especially noteworthy and showcases one of the world's most significant collections of armour and weaponry, all in pristine condition.

Continue your journey through distant eras at the Avio Castle, nestled amidst the vineyards of Sabbionara. This magnificent fortress is one of the oldest in the region and one of the most beautiful, too. From a distance, the sight of its five crenellated towers standing tall on Mount Vignola's slopes is breathtaking. 

3. Visiting a science museum in Trento

Nature, mountains and technology take centre stage in a bright, sustainable building designed by starchitect Renzo Piano. These are the ingredients of MUSE, the science museum of Trento, less than an hour away from Bolzano.

With six storeys of interactive exhibits, installations, and even a biotope, MUSE provides an engaging experience for visitors of all ages. Children will especially love the museum's large area dedicated to dinosaurs. Additionally, educational workshops are available to enhance the experience further.

After exploring the museum, take some time to appreciate the scenic beauty of Trento before returning to Bolzano. The town offers a picturesque immersion in the natural wonders of the surrounding mountain landscape.

2. Nature walks

What to do in Bolzano like a local. Nature walks

While you're in Bolzano, stroll through the lush green alpine city and enjoy the beautiful nature walks it offers. One of the most popular trails in Bolzano is the Sant'Osvaldo Promenade, a circular route spanning about 6 km, which connects Sant'Osvaldo with the Santa Maddalena wine-growing area. You can enjoy this walk at any time of the year, and it's easy to access from the central Piazza Walter. 

You walk among jasmine, cypresses, cedars and vineyards. Along the way, you'll be treated to breathtaking views to admire from one of the many wooden benches arranged on the belvederes. The sight of Roncolo Castle, also known as the 'illustrated manor house', is truly enchanting and is sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.

1. Entering a masterpiece chapel

One of Bolzano's most precious treasures lies just 100 meters away from the cathedral. To find it, you must cross the Chesa dei Domenicani threshold. Its sober façade does not hint at the extraordinary beauty of the interior, which houses authentic masterpieces of 14th-century Bolzano painting. 

La Cappella di San Giovanni is home to the most valuable of these paintings, with frescoes commissioned around 1330 by the de' Rossi-Botsch, a family of Florence bankers. The Giotto school cycle is reminiscent of the more famous one in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, making it an absolute must-visit for art lovers.

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