Discover a true Italian gem. Here is what to do and what to see to explore Trieste like a local.
Trieste is a real find that entices every discerning traveller with its intriguing mix of a quaint fishing village and a grand Central European metropolis. The city's rich cultural and architectural legacy is best experienced in the refined Piazza Unità, the largest in Europe overlooking the sea.
To truly explore Trieste like a local, you must delve into the city's enthusiastic traditions. Whether it's sipping aperitifs at a cosy bar, strolling through the charming old town, or indulging in delicious seafood, there is always something to do that suits all tastes.
What to do in Trieste like a local
To get familiar with the local slang, start with the basics.
Head to a bar, preferably one of the historic cafes that have remained unchanged since the early 20th century, and observe how the locals place their orders.
Some may ask for a nero, others for a nero in B, some for a capo, and some for a goccia. Don't be alarmed if all you wanted was a cup of coffee because that's precisely what we're discussing here, along with variations on the theme such as espresso, macchiato, with milk foam, and more. The Triestini love coffee so much that they've developed a lexicon specifically for it.
Once you're back on the streets, the possibilities are endless: a stroll through the pedestrianized old town, a visit to one of the vintage-style bathing establishments, a dive into the local cuisine, or a natural hike.
While you decide, consult our tips to help you explore Trieste like a local.
7. Discovering the secrets of Trieste's sea
Looking out from Piazza Unità d'Italia, an exquisite and picturesque balcony that extends into the Adriatic, Trieste reveals itself as a coastal city where the sea is not only central to the landscape but also to the lives of its inhabitants.
During summer, the urban bathing establishments in the city's heart are bustling with people enjoying sunbeds, deckchairs and the calm waters.
Some of these establishments have become local icons, such as Bagno Lanterna, where an old partition wall dating back to the early 20th century still separates the two areas once reserved for women and men.
Along the 50-kilometre coastline from Marina Julia to Muggia, there are numerous inlets, small bays and pebble beaches. The sea that laps against these shores is a true biodiversity hotspot, with the Miramare Marine Nature Reserve providing an ideal habitat for many plant and animal species.
For those interested in learning more about the reserve, the environmental interpretation centre in the former Stables of Miramare Castle is an excellent resource. The Biodiversitario Marino (BioMa) offers immersive experiences which do not require diving into the water to be appreciated.
6. Walking or riding around the Karst
Apart from its sea, Trieste suggests ample opportunities for those passionate about walking and exploring nature.
If you are in the city centre or nearby, you can start right away by following the CAI trails. These were once used by local street vendors, the ‘venderigole’, to reach Piazza Ponte Rosso. Some of these tracks are still accessible and well-marked. For instance, a stunning nature path near the San Giovanni swimming pool on Via San Cilino leads to the Globojner park, the Igouza forest, and the Derin trail.
If you are looking for an adventurous and safe exploration of the Trieste Karst, you can ride a horse through the stony, red earth tracks typical of the area. Several stables offer such services.
To make your experience even more unique, you can visit Lipica, only a few kilometres from Trieste. The town is home to the world's largest stud farm of Lipizzan horses, whose traditional breeding is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity 2022.
5. Tasting rebechin
If a Middle-earth hobbit suddenly appeared in Trieste, he would surely appreciate the local tradition of the late-morning snack break, ‘il rebechin’.
The ritual of Triestino elevenses has become deeply ingrained in the regional culture, with its origins likely stemming from the bustling activity around the port area. As early as the 18th century, bars and restaurants started serving refreshments to the hardworking port employees who tirelessly loaded and unloaded goods.
Just like in other Italian regions where a mid-day snack is almost considered a customary protocol (Piedmont has its merenda sinoira and Abruzzo the stijuno), Trieste's savoury second breakfast also keeps its roots in the world of workers employed in long and tiring jobs.
The buffets available in Trieste's bars carry on the legacy of this tradition, and no visit to the city is complete without experiencing it for yourself.
4. Attending a unique sailing competition
Barcolana has been a tradition since 1969. This historic regatta captivates both sailing aficionados and novice tourists alike.
In October, the highlight of the month is one of the most thrilling events to experience in the city, a one-of-a-kind spectacle that turns Trieste into a sailing capital for a few days.
Barcolana is not just a competition but a full-blown celebration that involves everyone in town. This maritime event is complemented by a schedule filled with exhibitions, cultural happenings, and guided tours.
To soak in the unique atmosphere of those days, take a stroll early in the morning along the Rive - that's what the Triestini call the promenade in front of Piazza dell'Unità - and by Molo Audace. You'll witness the hustle and bustle of preparations, with the busy crews and the excitement of the onlookers.
The Barcola waterfront is one of the prime spots to catch the world's largest regatta, with thousands of boats creating a sea of sails as far as the eye can see. But the view becomes even more breathtaking from Miramare Castle or the Victory Lighthouse.
3. Strolling in the old city
If you're looking for a charming spot to explore, the so-called Città Vecchia is a must-visit. It's the medieval portion of Trieste, around which the grand Austro-Hungarian imperial city began to flourish in the 18th century.
The old city is made up of a series of narrow alleys that stretch from Cavana Square all the way up to the San Giusto hill. When you wander through this area, you'll find an abundance of antique shops, vintage boutiques, small bars, and cafes with outdoor seating.
San Giusto Hill itself was the centre of ancient Tergeste, and it's here that the remains of Roman times can still be seen, like the Arco di Riccardo, the theatre, the burial grounds, the forum, and the basilica.
As you keep walking, you'll come across the zone adjacent to the port. This neighbourhood was once considered less desirable, but it has since become one of the most distinctive, popular, and frequented districts of Trieste.
Make sure to check out Piazza Trauner as well. This peculiar site is steeped in history as it was the location of the first Jewish ghetto established in the late 17th century before being moved between Piazza della Borsa and the Roman Theatre.
Take your time to explore the Old City and soak in the sights and sounds of this beautiful area.
2. Going Christmas market hopping
Trieste hosts a magical and enchanting Christmas market traditionally set up in the Sant'Antonio, Ponterosso, and Borsa squares.
You're already familiar with the ingredients: a contagious festive atmosphere, Christmas tunes wafting through the streets, numerous colourful lights, inviting chalets where you can nibble on some delicacies, sip hot chocolate, explore precious local craftsmanship, and do some small-scale shopping in preparation for the gift rush.
The format takes inspiration from the successful models adopted in many cities in Central and Northern Europe, with dozens of stalls open from morning until evening.
For Christmas 2023, the event is scheduled from Friday, December 8th to Sunday, January 7th. As per tradition, it will be preceded by the San Nicolò Fair during the first week of December.
1. Meeting some famous writers
A special literary journey will make you discover the stories of the renowned writers who have left their mark on Trieste.
Start your tour at Piazza Hortis. You'll find a statue of Italo Svevo immersed in a book, heading towards the nearby civic library. Svevo loved spending time studying and reading in his favourite libreria. Also, at the Svenivano Museum on Via della Madonna del Mare, you'll see a collection of souvenirs belonging to the author of The Confessions of Zeno.
As you cross Ponterosso, you'll come across a statue of James Joyce. The Irish novelist and poet lived in Trieste for over ten years and was a regular visitor to the Stella Polare café, a historical hub for intellectuals and literati during the Risorgimento. Since 2004, the city has had a museum dedicated to Joyce's long-standing bond with the Friuli capital.
Take a stroll down Via S. Nicolò, where you can find the antiquarian bookstore owned by Umberto Saba. A bronze statue of him with a cane in hand and a pipe between his lips is Just a few steps away.
Finally, as you stroll through Piazza Borsa, you can't help but notice Gabriele D'Annunzio reading on a bench, surrounded by a stack of books.