Although I’ve been to Trieste in north east Italy’s snappily named Friuli-Venezia Giulia (FVG) region four times, I’ve only stayed the night there once. Its location is ideal for hopping on to Croatia and Slovenia, but what’s it got to offer for those who stick around?
This characterful port city on the Adriatic Sea, with a population of 200,000, could just about be described as a poor man’s Venice without the crowds, although that would be harsh.
Almost completely surrounded by Slovenia, it’s not the most typical Italian city you will find – it wasn’t even part of Italy until 1918. Once upon a time, it was the fourth biggest city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was its premier seaport. Located at the crossroads of Latin, Slavic and Germanic influences, you’ll probably think you are in Central Europe.
Venice might be able to boast about its main square, Piazza San Marco, as one of the most beautiful in the world. But Trieste’s Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia is not too far behind in the stunner stakes, and is the biggest square I’ve ever come across. My poor photos don’t do it justice, so have a look at these taken from google images.
Edged with neo-classical buildings on three sides, many of which house bars and restaurants, and open to the Adriatic on the other, it’s a great place to sit and people-watch. Trieste is famous for the quality of its coffee, but I despise the stuff so made do with a chilled glass of local white wine at the famous grand old Caffe degli Specchi.
Don’t expect it to be cheap, and don’t expect attentive customer service. When a flock of Trieste’s ubiquitous pigeons flew past and knocked my glass off the table, a miserable bow-tied waiter swept up the broken glass and gave me a dirty look as if to say “if you’ve not got a drink, you’re not welcome – move it”.
Also like Venice, Trieste has its own Grand Canal (admittedly much shorter) which has some good restaurants alongside it – I fondly remember my spaghetti alle vongole. Here you will find a statue of Irish novelist James Joyce, who lived in the city in the early 20th century.
The Grand Canal was where I first saw the lovelock phenomenon, which bamboozled me back in 2009. Couples declare their undying love for each other by writing on padlocks, attaching them to bridges and throwing away the key into the water, so their love can never be prised apart. It took a few years for the rest of Europe to catch on, but now you can’t cross a bridge without seeing a lovelock – I spotted one recently by the heavily polluted Coventry canal!
If I’d have had longer than one night in Trieste, I could have seen the city’s hilltop castle, the cathedral of San Giusto and explored the karst limestone coastline. I’ll have to do all of that next time I’m in town, but for a lazy day of eating and drinking in the square and along the canal, Trieste is t’rrific.
Trieste’s tiny airport (TRS) used to be served by Ryanair flights from Birmingham and Liverpool, but you can currently only get there from the UK from Stansted.
Bus no. 51 takes you the 20 miles from the airport to central Trieste.
I stayed at the cheap, clean and central Nuovo Albergo Centro, where doubles with breakfast are around €65.
For ferry timetables to Slovenia and Croatia, click here.
For bus timetables to Slovenia, Croatia and beyond, click here.
For train timetables to other parts of Italy, click here.