Walking with Joyce, Saba, and Svevo in Trieste to a Caffe

In Trieste, you don’t have to worry about where to eat or to drink. There is an incredible number of Cafes, Pasticcerie, Bars, and/or all of the above.

Like most Italian cities there is THE Caffe Storico (I have a partial list here), but Trieste is special because there are many, many Historical Places. A walk thru Trieste via its most famous Cafes makes it a very interesting itinerary.


Founded in 1839, it is the only one left among the four cafés of what was once called Piazza Grande. In the nineteenth century, the Caffè degli Specchi was a meeting place for the irredentists and during the second post-war period, it became the headquarters of the British Navy. It is the so-called “Mirrors Cafee,” because, since the time of its opening, it was a tradition to engrave the most important historical events on mirrors or glass plates. Of these, only three have been preserved. 


Located in the most beautiful Piazza Unità D’Italia, it is practically impossible to bypass the opportunity to sit on the chairs sipping aperitivo and admiring the buildings and the sea.


Leaving behind Piazza Unità, turning onto Piazza Della Borsa (Stock Exchange Piazza), thhere is Urbanis.

The Caffè Urbanis was founded in 1832 as a pastry shop. The date is still imprinted on the mosaic of the floor which also reproduces mythological symbols, marine and the Bora blowing (The bora is a catabatic wind, which blows in the Gulf of Trieste towards the E-NE direction. It is a discontinuous wind, i.e., it blows in gusts at very strong speed).

Elegant and cozy, Urbanis is favored by coffee lovers of good taste and urban chic. Perfect for an aperitif and to spend a few hours in the company of music on Wednesdays and weekends when they play DJ. But the Urbanis is a heterogeneous place, ranging from breakfasts to a quick lunch. Ideal for every moment of the day, depending on the needs … and inspiration.


On the way to the next cafe, we encounter Teatro Verdi, and if it looks somewhat familiar, it is because it is the exact same copy of the Teatro Alla Scala in Milan. It was built by private initiative between 1798 and 1801. The original project was by Giannantonio Selva, the designer also of the Fenice of Venice, to whom we owe the interiors. The influence of Giuseppe Piermarini, designer of La Scala in Milan, is evident in the main façade.


Caffè Tommaseo is the oldest café still operating in the city of Trieste. Opened in 1830, coffee was one of the centers of the irredentist movement in Trieste and is still a meeting place for traders, artists, and intellectuals from Trieste. The cafeteria is located in Piazza Niccolò Tommaseo directly on the waterfront of the so-called new city (Borgo Teresiano).

Via Vincenzo Bellini—towards thew next caffe—is a lovely walk. The walk is along a canal, with many more cafes and restaurants.

At some point, we meet James Joyce on his way to one of the many cafes above and below, where—they say—he sipped his coffee and wrote the “Dubliners.



Opened in 1919, the interior still retains the original period furnishings: a sumptuous crystal chandelier, the Liberty-style counter and the wooden furniture by the cabinet-maker Giuliano Debelli. Entering here is like taking a step back in time to the beginning of the last century. It is worth stopping for a coffee at the counter.


On the opposite side of Piazza Sant’Antonio, at the beginning of Via XXX Ottobre, there is La Bomboniera, a small pastry shop opened in 1836 by the Eppinger family. You will find the original furnishings of the time inside the small Liberty-style restaurant. Behind the windows, you can admire all the cakes of the Austro-Hungarian tradition as well as the most delicious cakes from Trieste. Here you come to taste the Pischinger, the Sacher, the Linzer, the Dobos, the Rigojansci and to buy Putizze and Presnitz.

Along the way don’t forget to look up at the palazzi with their most beautiful facades and decor.


This one was my favorite, and I loved the neighborhood too.  

Caffè San Marco is a historic café in Trieste. It is located in via Battisti 18. Founded in 1914, it became famous as a rendezvous for intellectuals and writers including Italo SvevoJames Joyce and Umberto Saba, a tradition that continues to date with Claudio Magris. A meeting point for Trieste’s irredentists, the café was destroyed by Austro-Hungarian troops during the First World War but was reopened when hostilities ended. The interiors reflect the Vienna Secession style popular when the café was founded. Part of the frescos is attributed to Vito Timmel. The café is owned by Italy’s largest insurance company (also based in Trieste), Assicurazioni Generali. Italians campaigned to save the historic cafe in 2013 and it has now been restored, incorporating a bookshop.


Along the way, we can meet Umberto Saba, and his “Antique Bookstore.” In 1919 Saba bought a small library of volumes used by Giuseppe Mayländer in via San Nicolò in Trieste for 4,000 [old Italian] liras. The library contained 28,000 used books and Saba’s first intention was to free up space and sell everything at a higher price. He will never sell the bookstore because he will be fascinated by it and will take care of it for 35 years until 1943 when he had to leave Trieste because of the racial laws against the Jews.


On the way back I stopped at another Caffe, and although it was not on my original list, and rather new, I’d like to mention it too. 


Lettera Viva” 200 square meters of books, music, and culture: the new literary café. In Viale XX Settembre, 31 / B, Lettera Viva, a brand new charming restaurant with books, candles, music and wonderful white light that filters in from above. With 200 square meters of space, Lettera viva is a literary coffee that wants to give the city space where to enjoy the culture of Trieste.

At this point, we also met Italo Svevo, of course. … and they all deserved a kiss!



The Pasticceria Pirona Caffè is a historic place located in Trieste, in Largo della Barriera Vecchia, at number 12. The place is also famous for being one of the main meeting places in the city’s intellectuals. Founded in 1900 by Alberto Pirona. Rising in an area that testifies with its palaces the flourishing of the late neoclassical in Trieste, the pastry shop, in delicate liberty style, was immediately a destination of nobility, bourgeoisie and intelligence of Trieste, frequented by writers and a name for all: James Joyce that from 1910 to ’12 lived at number 32 of the same street. 


To conclude the tour a stop at Eataly. Much of the guidelines of the Eataly of New York, it is a nice stop, for lunch or a snack. From the bar, it is possible to admire all the sailboats of the Marina. In these weeks it is particularly busy as the second Sunday of October there a Regatta called “La Barcolana.” 

The Barcolana is a historic international sailing regatta held every year in the Gulf of Trieste on the second Sunday of October. Noted for being one of the highest participation regattas, from the 2018 edition, the Barcolana, with 2689 registered boats, is at the top of the ranking of the most crowded regattas in the world, a goal achieved and met with the commitment by the entire Sailing Society of Barcola and Grignano. Currently, therefore, the Barcolana is the largest regatta in the world.


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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

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