The cosmopolitan city of Trieste is tucked away in the northeast of Italy and straddles the thin strip of Italy sandwiched between Slovenia and the sparkling blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. Boasting a rich history and seafaring tradition, the city is well-known for its splendid churches, handsome buildings, picturesque piazzas, magnificent palazzo-museums, and cozy coffeehouses. Here’s our lowdown on the best things to do in Trieste.
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Why You Should Visit Trieste
Often overlooked by travelers in favor of more glamorous Italian destinations, Trieste, the capital of the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, is definitely worth visiting. This enchanting port city is framed by the green and white cliffs of a limestone plateau and is almost completely engulfed by Slovenia.
One of the first things you’ll observe about Trieste is that in both appearance and spirit, it is distinctly un-Italian. Indeed, the city didn’t always belong to Italy and from the late 14th to the early 20th century it thrived under the Habsburg Monarchy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Trieste was the chief seaport of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the conclusion of World War I, and the Austrians spared no expense in embellishing the city. Being one of the most important cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, along with Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, the city’s main squares are adorned with spectacular Neoclassical buildings.
In addition, being close to the border with both Croatia and Slovenia, Trieste is a city at the crossroads of cultures. Enriched with elements from the Slavic, Balkan, and Habsburg traditions, the city, on the whole, has a distinctly Central European character and is a unique blend of people, languages, and cuisines.
Visiting Trieste will provide you with a distinctive Adriatic experience. The city has a special charm, and you might find yourself staying on longer than you’d planned, so better get there soon.
How To Get Around Trieste
Trieste is best explored on foot as the city is pretty compact and quite easy to navigate. Virtually all the must-see sights in Trieste lie in the city center and are within comfortable walking distance of each other. This way you can also stumble upon some hidden gems.
For the outer-lying sights, you can also get around Trieste using the city’s efficient public bus system. A single journey ticket (valid for one hour) for buses costs 1.35 EUR while a day ticket costs 4.60 EUR and can be used for multiple journeys.
Tickets can be bought on the bus by cash and also as a mobile ticket by sending an SMS to the number 4850850 with the text TST for a one-hour ticket or TSTG for a day ticket (valid until midnight on the day of issue). Remember to validate your ticket when traveling.
Tickets can also be purchased from newsagents, tobacconists, book stores, bars, food shops and gas stations, and ticket machines.
Things To Do In Trieste
Whether your interests lie in architecture, museum hopping, eating, shopping, or just chilling, there’s something to do for everyone in Trieste. Below we have compiled a list (in no particular order) of the best things to see and do in Trieste.
1. Wander through the Historic Center
In my humble opinion, one of the best things to do in Trieste is simply wandering through the atmospheric streets of the historic center. The center is largely devoid of vehicular traffic, making it a pleasure to walk here.
As I mentioned earlier, Trieste was an integral part of the Habsburg Empire for over five centuries and this led to a vast array of spectacular buildings in Neoclassical, Baroque, Art Nouveau, and other styles.
There’s something to experience in every little nook and cranny of the historic core’s enchanting alleyways.
You could easily spend hours on end admiring the magnificent buildings and houses decorated with ornate portals.
The historic center is home to some of the major attractions and well-known landmarks in Trieste. In addition to this, there are a large number of cafès, boutique shops, bars, and restaurants located here.
2. Marvel at the beauty of Miramare Castle
Standing at the tip of a rocky promontory overlooking the Bay of Grignano, the majestic Miramare Castle (Castello di Miramare) is undoubtedly one of the must-see sights in Trieste.
The salt-white fairytale Miramare Castle is Italy’s best relic of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is a mix of Gothic, Medieval, and Renaissance elements, and was built in the mid-19th century as a summer retreat by the Habsburg Archduke Maximilian, a few years before he was assassinated in Mexico.
According to the legend, there is a curse linked to Miramare Castle, according to which whoever spends the night there is destined to die prematurely in a foreign land.
Take a tour of the castle’s sumptuously decorated rooms, a remarkable example of regal decadence. Carved, gilded, and inlaid in every way possible, you can’t help but be dazzled by the lavish furnishings, imperial symbols decorated with coats of arms, and rich tapestries.
Two of the highlights of the interior are the Monarchs’ Salon, embellished with portraits of a King of Norway, the Emperor of Brazil, a Czar of Russia, and Maximilian’s Bedroom, paneled and furnished like a ship’s quarters.
Even if admiring the opulent furnishings isn’t your thing, the balconies that hug the castle afford visitors stunning views over the Bay of Grignano.
Enveloping the castle are the magnificently designed, lush green grounds in the Miramare Park (Parco di Miramare), ideal for pleasant strolls. When wandering down the various avenues of the park, you’ll stumble upon brilliant canons, rare plants, sculptures, and ponds.
If you love castles, you’ll certainly not want to skip visiting Miramare Castle. It is open daily from 09:00-19:00. The park is open from 08:00–16:00 (November–January); 08:00–17:00 (February and October); 08:00-18:00 (March); and from 08:00–19:00 (April–September).
The entrance to Miramare Castle costs 10 EUR. You can also purchase a skip-the-line ticket which will save you valuable time. The entrance to Miramare Park is free.
3. Explore the Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia
No visit to Trieste would be complete without seeing the grandiose Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia, ostensibly the largest sea-facing square in Europe. Looking out over the deep, blue waters of the Gulf of Trieste this imposing seafront square personifies the city at its most resplendent.
The Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia is bordered on three sides by ornate edifices, reminiscent of the magnificent buildings on Ringstraße in Vienna. The one facing the sea is the Town Hall, famous for its beautiful clock tower, on top of which are the statues of two Moors.
Other prominent buildings surrounding the square include the Palace of the Government and the Lloyd Triestino Palace. While both these buildings are a photographer’s delight, I especially love the gilded decorations on the façade of the Palace of the Government.
The Italian racial laws, which were a set of laws promulgated by Fascist Italy from 1938 to 1943 to enforce racial discrimination in Italy. Directed mainly against the Italian Jews and the native inhabitants of the colonies, these racial laws were first announced on 18 September 1938 in Trieste by Benito Mussolini, from a rostrum in front of the Town Hall in Piazza Unità d’Italia.
The Piazza Unità d’Italia is the heart of Trieste and the locals affectionately call it the “city’s front parlor.” Over the course of its history, the square has witnessed its share of important events.
Today, the square is equally popular with locals and tourists alike who come for a leisurely stroll or to frequent one of the numerous cafès and restaurants flanking it. Amazing during the day, the piazza is incredibly romantic at night when the buildings are illuminated.
4. Check out the Revoltella Museum
Of all the museums in Trieste, the Revoltella Museum (Museo Revoltella) is the pick of the lot. Housed in two Viennese-style palaces, it is one of the most important modern art museums in Italy.
The enormous collection of late 19th- and 20th-century art includes over a thousand paintings, several hundred sculptures as well as drawings and prints. A large chunk of the collection was bequeathed to the city by the affluent financier Baron Pasquale Revoltella (who played a key role in the construction of the Suez Canal).
I was pleasantly surprised with the art collection as it features interesting artworks from lesser-known Italian and Central European names. In addition, prominent names in 20th-century Italian art such as Mario Sironi, Carlo Carrà, Giorgio Morandi, Giorgio De Chirico, Manzù, and Lucio Fontana.
In addition to Revoltella’s extensive art collection, you can also admire its display of 19th-century stately home furnishings which gives you a good impression of the lifestyle of the Trieste nobility from that era.
The Revoltella Museum is open from 10:00-19:00 (Wednesday-Monday). The entrance to the museum costs 7 EUR. It is well worth the price of admission, especially on a rainy day.
5. Visit the Saint Spyridon Church
The Serbian Orthodox Saint Spyridon Church (Chiesa di Santo Spiridione) is one of the major points of interest in Trieste. Constructed from white Istrian stone, the five-domed church sports a Greek cross floor plan and is reminiscent of Byzantine-style Eastern churches.
Before stepping inside, take a moment to survey the marble statues and the exquisite mosaics set on a gold background that embellish the exterior. The church’s breathtaking interior is richly decorated with glittering mosaics depicting scenes of Christ and the life of Saint Spyridon.
Covered in four outstanding 19th-century gold and silver icons from Russia, the iconostasis is of great artistic value. The striking, large silver candelabra in front of the iconostasis was donated by the Russian Grand Duke Paul Petrovich Romanov.
The Saint Spyridon Church is open from 08:30-12:30 & 17:00-20:00 (Monday-Saturday) and 08:30-12:30 (Sunday). The entrance to the church is free.
6. Survey the ruins of the Roman Theater
Behind the Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia rise the remains of the Roman Theater (Teatro Romano) which was built between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. It comprises a semi-circular auditorium with rows of stone seats, divided into four sectors, which once offered space for up to 6,000 spectators.
Although it’s not as vast as the amphitheaters of Pompeii, Pula, or Verona, the theater is nonetheless impressive. Gaze in awe at the well-preserved stands and arcades and take a moment to envision a time when large audiences would come to enjoy pompous Roman-era celebrations and theatrical shows.
During the summer months, occasional artistic performances and concerts are still held here. The Roman Theater is open 24/7 and the entrance is free.
7. Enjoy the views from San Giusto Castle & walk among the Roman Ruins
Lying at the very summit of San Giusto hill is the San Giusto Castle (Castello di San Giusto), one of Trieste’s most popular attractions. Started in the 15th century by the Habsburgs and finished off by the Venetians, the fort maintained a sharp eye on the bay.
At the entrance to the castle, don’t forget to check out the original statues of Mikeze and Jakeze, the two Moors that strike the clock of the bell tower of the Trieste Town Hall on the hour.
Walk around the bastions and ramparts for sweeping views of Trieste and the Adriatic. The castle is home to museums containing Roman mosaics, military banners, and a collection of weapons and armor.
More so than the armory, check out the Lapidario Tergestino, an impressive underground tunnel and chamber complex. It contains around 130 Roman inscriptions, bas-reliefs, and sculptures.
The San Giusto Castle is open daily in the summer from 10:00-19:00 and 10:00-19:00 (Tuesday-Sunday) in the winter. The entrance to the castle costs 3 EUR meaning it is definitely worth the price of admission.
If you are fit and have good knees, you could use the path behind the Roman Theater and climb the stairs. If that doesn’t sound too appealing, take the lift at the back of the underground car park to the right of the theater.
8. Admire the Trieste Cathedral
Also known as the Cathedral of San Giusto (Cattedrale di San Giusto), the Trieste Cathedral is the city’s most important Catholic building. It is an architecturally impressive monument decorated with frescoes, mosaics, and sculptures.
The cathedral is an amalgamation of two 5th-century Romanesque basilicas, one dedicated to San Giusto, the city’s patron saint, and the other to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Stroll around the outside of the church to admire its pleasingly asymmetrical design, gabled façade, large Gothic-style rose window, and a series of bas-reliefs.
The calm, largely Romanesque interior consists of two side apses corresponding respectively to that of the chapel of Santa Maria (north aisle) and of the chapel of San Giusto (south aisle). Don’t forget to get a closer look at the fine Byzantine-Ravenna mosaics adorning both the apse.
The Trieste Cathedral is open from 08:30-18:30 (Monday-Friday), 08:30-19:00 (Saturday), and 08:30-19:30 (Sunday). Admission is free.
9. Get a caffeine kick at a historic coffeehouse
Trieste is Italy’s uncontested coffee capital and the city’s love affair with coffee dates back to the mid-18th century (during Habsburg rule) when it became a major coffee port in the Mediterranean. Trieste received beans from coffee plantations from around the world to supply coffee houses throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Through this long and intricate association with coffee, coffee drinking became a popular pastime in Trieste, and even today, it is said that the city’s inhabitants guzzle nearly twice as much coffee on average as their fellow countrymen. Two notable coffee brands founded in Trieste are Illy and Hausbrandt.
One of the essential things to do in Trieste is to pay a visit to one of the city’s historic coffeehouses. At one point there were close to 100 cafès in the center of the city, and though that number has been significantly cut down, you can still breathe the aroma of roasting beans emanating from select establishments.
Similar to the coffeehouses in Vienna, the places have been Trieste’s most important social institution. They’ve been places to relax, discuss business or politics, read, write, and play cards.
Many distinguished luminaries such as James Joyce, Italo Svevo, and Franz Kafka have spent significant time in these iconic coffeehouses. The ambiance, highly polished Art Nouveau interiors, mahogany paneling, and mirrors inside these coffeehouses create an antiquated look.
From 1904 to 1915, and again in 1919–20, Irish novelist and poet James Joyce lived in Trieste with his wife Nora. Legend has it that Joyce conceived his masterpiece Ulysses while sipping cappuccino in Trieste. He also penned Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man while living in the city. Trieste is home to a James Joyce Museum and you can walk around the city looking for important spots of Joyce’s life there. There’s even a bronze statue of the writer, strolling bemusedly across a little canal bridge.
Caffè San Marco, Caffè degli Specchi, Antico Caffè Torinese, and Caffè Tommaseo are among the great coffeehouses in Trieste to choose from. If I have to recommend just one, I say go to Caffè San Marco, where the coffee, pastries, and internal ambiance are superb.
One thing that is good to know about Trieste’s coffee culture is that the city has its own perplexing coffee terminology. For example, an espresso in Trieste goes by the name nero, a macchiato is known as a capo, and a cappuccino is called caffelatte.
10. Ascend the Victory Lighthouse
Perched atop Gretta Hill lies the elegant Victory Lighthouse (Faro della Vittoria), one of Trieste’s most beloved landmarks. At a height of 68 meters (223 ft), it’s one of the tallest lighthouses in the world.
It was constructed between 1923 and 1927 both as a lighthouse and to commemorate those who died at sea during World War I. Clad with local Istrian stone, the lighthouse itself is visually stunning.
It is wonderfully topped by a copper dome sporting a soaring Winged Victory statue holding a raised torch in one hand, and a laurel branch in the other.
The Victory Lighthouse is closely associated with the Barcolana, one of the largest sailing regattas in the world. The race, which takes place on the second Sunday of October, begins in the waters around the lighthouse.
Ascend the lighthouse’s 250 odd steps (there is a lift for those who don’t fancy the climb) for exceptional panoramic views of Trieste, the harbor, and the Adriatic. A visit here will prove worth your while.
Admission to the Victory Lighthouse is free. It maintains limited opening hours so check the website before your visit.
11. Enjoy a stroll on the Audace Pier
Trieste is very much a seafaring city and as such a walk on the Audace Pier is a must-do when visiting the city. Projecting more than 250 meters (820 ft) into the Adriatic, the Audace Pier (Molo Audace) is the perfect place for an idyllic stroll and a breath of fresh air at any time of day.
Swept by the cold, gale-force Bora wind, this seafront walkway is a beloved local outdoor spot and accords one of the best vantage points in Trieste to watch the sunrise or sunset. It is particularly enchanting at sunset when the buildings along the shore have a crimson tinge.
As you walk out onto the pier, don’t forget to look back for stunning views of Trieste’s waterfront. From the pier, you also get an incredible view of Ursus, a historic floating crane mounted on a pontoon.
Reaching a staggering height of 75 meters (246 ft), the rusty crane is a major Trieste landmark and is therefore nicknamed “nostra Piccola Torre Eiffel” (“our little Eiffel Tower”).
12. Feast on some hearty Triestine cuisine
No one should visit Trieste without experiencing authentic Triestine cuisine as it is not your typical Italian food. The influence of Central European and Slavic cultures left a permanent mark on Triestine gastronomy and as such the city’s cuisine is a melange of Mediterranean seafood-based dishes with meaty central European recipes.
While Trieste is no culinary mecca like Naples or Bologna, there are a few dishes you must try when visiting the city. Definitely worth seeking out is jota, a belly-filling stew of Slovenian influence made with beans, potatoes, sauerkraut, smoked Carniolan sausage or pork, along with garlic and olive oil.
Another ubiquitous dish in Trieste is Sardoni Impanati, basically deep-fried pilchards (a lot like anchovies but larger) in olive oil. Eaten hot or cold, it is a local favorite.
Other popular traditional food dishes in Trieste include Triestine-style goulash and Minestra de Bisi Spacai (or Bunkersuppe), a soup made of dried peas, shallots, and sausage.
Sweet tooths will be well catered to as there is a wide range of cakes and pastries on offer. Be sure to try presnitz (a coiled cake made up of a combination of dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, citrus peel, cinnamon, and rum), gubana (a traditional cake filled with dried fruits and nuts), and Strucolo de Pomi (the Triestine version of apple strudel).
13. Visit the Risiera di San Sabba
One of the lesser-known facts about Trieste is that it was home to Risiera di San Sabba, one of only two Nazi concentration camps in Italy and the only one that was equipped with a crematorium. Overlooking the southern flank of Trieste’s port, this former rice-husking factory became a concentration camp in 1943.
It has been a museum since the 1970s and now houses a permanent exhibition that serves as a reminder of Fascist crimes in the region.
Nazism had plenty of sympathizers in this region of Italy and nobody knows exactly how many prisoners (though a figure of three-five thousand is usually cited by historians) were burned in the Risiera crematorium before the Yugoslavs liberated the city in 1945.
In addition, around 25,000 partisans and Jews were interrogated and tortured within the camp.
The grim prison cells and information displays at the museum provide an insight into one of the most eerily dark periods of modern European history. Overall, the Risiera di San Sabba offers an evocative and rewarding experience that shouldn’t be missed.
The Risiera di San Sabba is open daily from 09:00-19:00 (the last admission is at 18:30). The entrance is free. Invest in an audio or paper guide to get a better perspective of the place.
14. Take photos of the Grand Canal
Just like Venice, Trieste has its very own Grand Canal (Canal Grande) and though it’s not as impressive as the former, it’s certainly worth visiting.
Surrounded by magnificent architecture and lined with small, colorful boats, it’s not hard to see why the Grand Canal is one of the most instagrammable locations in Trieste.
The canal was built in the mid-18th century to expand Trieste’s commercial opportunities by allowing boats direct access to the city center. A bevy of shops, restaurants, and cafés are located along the Grand Canal making it a great place to chill out.
15. See the Arch of Riccardo
Dating from the 1st century AD, the Arch of Riccardo (Arco di Riccardo) is one of the Roman town gateways that were part of the ancient walls of Tergeste built by Augustus in 33 BC. Overlooking a cute little residential square, the gate is devoid of any decoration.
It isn’t very big at 7 meters (23 ft) in height but stands out among the restored pastel-hued facades of the surrounding buildings. Nobody really knows for certain how the gate acquired its name but popular legend has it that it’s named for English king Richard the Lionheart, who, after returning from the Holy Land, was imprisoned in Trieste.
16. Make your way to the Synagogue of Trieste
Although it is one of the more overlooked attractions in Trieste, the Synagogue of Trieste (Tempio Israelitico di Trieste) warrants a visit. Capable of accommodating up to 1,200 worshippers, it is one of the largest synagogues in Europe.
The imposing synagogue was built in 1912 and is a testament to Trieste’s once significant Jewish community. Though it is largely Neoclassical in style, the fortress-like structure draws heavily on ancient Babylonian motifs.
The synagogue’s rather austere main façade is dominated by a huge rose window centered on a star of David. Decorative battlements line the roof, and the arched doors and windows are complemented by oriental domes.
The synagogue’s interior is richly detailed. Look out for the ziggurat-shaped Ark that is inspired by Babylonian motifs, and the golden mosaic over the Ark that is meant to recall Solomon’s Temple.
The interior of the Synagogue of Trieste can only be seen on a guided tour which costs 5 EUR. For more information on tour times, click here.
17. Descend to the netherworld at the Grotta Gigante Cave
The Grotta Gigante Cave is one of the most interesting sites in the Greater Trieste region. The cave is one of the largest caves in the world open to the public and has rightly been hailed as a natural wonder.
At 98.5 meters in height, 167.60 meters in length, and 76.30 meters in width, the central cavity of the cave is truly impressive in scale. The deposition of calcium carbonate and colorful metal oxides over millions of years has yielded enchanting icy wonders along an underground stream.
The cave’s stunning “organ-pipe” formations, subterranean gorges, and tall columns of stalagmites have been entertaining visitors for over a century. Even if you’re not into speleology, the Grotta Gigante offers a unique underground experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Grotta Gigante cave is open year-round. It can only be visited on a guided tour which lasts one hour. Tours are offered in both English and Italian. For more information on tour times, check here.
Be prepared to walk around 1,000 stairs, but it’s relatively easy to manage even if you’re a non-sporty person.
The internal temperature of the cave is constant at 11°C (52°F) and it is quite damp inside, hence it is a good idea to take a light sweater or jacket. Also, comfortable walking shoes are recommended.
18. Go on a day trip
Once you are done ticking off the best things to do in Trieste, our final recommendation would be to take a day trip. You could visit Udine, Friuli-Venezia’s second city, a city of varied and fine architecture whose art collections evoke Venice at its finest.
The small village of Aquileia makes for one of the best day trips from Trieste. Surrounded by ruins of temples, palatial villas, baths, and market buildings, it is a throwback to the glory days of the Roman Empire.
Another must-do is a visit to the sleepy fishing town of Muggia, the sole remnant of Venice’s Istrian possessions. Famous for its Venetian-Gothic church, it’s a pleasure to stroll around Muggia’s picturesque little streets.
The Slovenian capital of Ljubljana makes for a great day trip from Trieste. Boasting a rich history, this charming and often overlooked city is home to excellently preserved green spaces, beautiful architecture, myriad cultural attractions, and a thriving art scene.
Where To Eat In Trieste
Trieste has a wide array of good-value restaurants scattered around the city. More expensive choices tend to specialize in fish. Booking is not usually necessary. Some of the best places to eat and drink in Trieste (besides the historic coffeehouses I’ve already mentioned) include –
1. Antica Trattoria Suban: Located on the outskirts of the city, this family-run restaurant is arguably the best place to have authentic Triestine cuisine. Make reservations in advance.
2. Trattoria Nerodiseppia: This laidback restaurant is one of the best places to have seafood in Trieste.
3. Al Civicosei: Although pizza is not the first thing to eat in the city, this restaurant serves traditional Neapolitan-style oven-baked pizza making it one of the best pizzerias in Trieste.
4. Mastro Birraio: If you’re craving beer in Trieste, this excellent pub is the place to go. Mastro Birraio has a huge range of bottled brews, plus tasty pub grub, from burgers and goulash to locally cured hams, salami, and cheeses.
5. Vecio Buffet Marrascuti 1914: A deeply traditional option that’s a perfect place for snacks and lunches. The food emphasizes Trieste’s Austrian connections with excellent sausages, ham, and desserts.
6. Gelato Marco: Indulging in great gelato is one of the great joys of visiting Italy and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better gelateria than Gelato Marco in Trieste.
Where to Stay In Trieste
Since most of Trieste’s must-see attractions are located in the city center, it is best to select a hotel close to the center.
Hostel: ControVento, a popular hostel in Trieste, within 500 meters of Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia
Budget: Nuovo Albergo Centro, unpretentious choice within 5 minutes of the Central railway station
Mid-range: Urban Hotel Design, a reasonably-priced 4-star hotel with chic interiors in the vicinity of Trieste harbor and Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia
Splurge: Savoia Excelsior Palace, set in a historic building with 19th-century architecture, the glamorous Savoia Excelsior Palace features trendy rooms and elegant furnishings
Trieste Travel Tips
Best Time To Visit Trieste?
Visit Trieste in March-May or September-November if you can as these months are generally less busy, but still have relatively decent weather. Try to avoid visiting Trieste in the summer from June to August when it can get unbearably hot.
How much time should you plan for Trieste?
All of the best things to do in Trieste can be comfortably covered over the course of one weekend or 2 days. If you’re planning on some side trips, 3-4 days in Trieste would be optimal.
Is Trieste Safe?
Yes. Overall, the security risk to travelers in Trieste is low. Violent crime in Trieste is rare and the most serious threat for tourists is always petty theft.
Although you are unlikely to get mugged, popular events and major tourist sights attract bag-snatchers and pickpockets. Use common sense and precautions with valuables, particularly at night, and you will be fine.
More Information About Italy
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Do you agree with our list? What are some of the best things to do in Trieste? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!