What to Do in Trento: An Undiscovered Gem in Northern Italy
Here’s what to do in Trento, Italy, one of the most underrated cities in Italy!
I had no idea where Trento was when I saw the announcement last year that my favorite travel conference, Traverse, was taking place there. When I saw that it was in northern Italy, I was surprised because I thought I knew all the cities of Italy at least a little. That was of course naive. Fortunately there is still so much to discover in Italy that are far from the tourist path.
Trento is just such an undiscovered gem. Nestled in the beautiful Dolomites, you will find this town full of cheerfully painted houses, and a cuisine where you will find just as many Austrian and Italian influences. After a few days I was completely devoted. In this article I will tell you why I liked the city so much, and I share my very best tips for Trento from what to see and where to eat and more!
I was at the invitation of Traverse and Visit Trentino in Trento.
Trento is the capital of the province of Trentino, in the north of Italy. Trentino is one of the northernmost provinces in Italy. It lies below the South Tyrol region, which at the top borders on Austria and Switzerland. With around 115,000 inhabitants, Trento is the third largest city in the Alps.
Although the third largest, it doesn’t feel huge. In fact, it looked more like a cozy town or a big village to me. The city center is compact and so small that you can walk from one side to the other in ten minutes.
The closest airport is Verona, by the way. From Verona it is about an hour by train to Trento.
History of Trento
Although there is uncertainty about the absolute principles of the city, it is generally believed that Trento began as a Celtic settlement in the 4th century BC. Three centuries later it was besieged and conquered by the Romans, after which it was in Roman hands for centuries. Because of its location on the route from Verona to Innsbruck, and its location on the River Aldige, the city grew into a rich trading city. There were also many silver mines nearby.
In the 14th century, the city eventually became part of Austria, and later also of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The majority of the population of Trento, however, were just Italian, which led to unrest and rebellion. In the 16th century, Trento was the seat of the Council of Trent. After the First World War, the city came into Italian hands.
Trento is (still) a rich city with a high standard of living and many business opportunities. You will also find a good university there. The city center is full of medieval and Renaissance architecture that sometimes looks more Austrian than Italian. In winter, the region is extremely popular with winter sports enthusiasts, and in the summer there are many mountain climbers. Tourism to the city is still a fairly new concept.
Why You Must Visit Trento
After a few sweaty days in busy cities such as Milan and Verona, the weather immediately made it clear that Trento would be a very different experience. The rain dripped down through the windows, while our train zigzagged its way north through an increasingly dramatic landscape. The flat fields were increasingly interrupted by hills, until a short while later the landscape was a series of mountains.
Upon arrival at the train station in Trento, the rain came falling out of the sky at full speed, while the gray clouds gave the city a sad appearance. From the shelter of my hotel room, I looked out the window over how the Austrian-style buildings were built against the mountain walls. Was this Italy?
Fortunately it was dry the next day. I grabbed my camera and went into the center to get an impression of the city that would be my place to stay in the coming days. The mild temperature was perfect for a few hours of sightseeing, and my city walk took me to all the sights in no time .
What I immediately noticed about Trento were the special buildings in the old center. Mostly painted with traditional scenes and cheerful colors. A beautiful sight … but where were the tourists? I walked around almost alone. The thought came to me that if this city had been located further south, it would have long been flooded by hordes of tourists who had to see its charms.
Instead, I was grateful that I had the city to myself for a moment: with a gelato in hand, I roamed the streets; I visited the castle, and I took the cable car up, where I drank a cocktail in the sun. I spent my evenings with friends, enjoying freshly prepared pasta and pizzas and, well … a glass of wine.
Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to go into the mountains. I am not a big walker, but a few hours of walking along the beautiful lakes, through dense forests and with a backdrop of whimsical mountain peaks sounds like a magical day trip. But oh well … I will have to return for that. I wonder if Trento will be discovered by mass tourism by then ;-).
Top 5 Things to Do in Trento
Visit the Old City Center
It may be a little obvious, but my favorite tip for Trento is just to get a gelato (see my tip for a good gelato shop below) and a walk through the city center. Stroll through the winding streets with colorful houses and painted facades before stopping for a delicious aperitif.
Check out Piazza Duomo with the Neptune Fountain
The most important square in the city is Piazza Duomo, a medieval square surrounded by palaces with frescoes and a special church (the Duomo). The square only gets more impressive due to the Dolomites in the background. In the piazza you will also find the baroque Neptune fountain from 1768.
See the Cathedral di San Viglio
The most striking building in all of Trento is the Duomo, or the Cathedral Di San Viglio. This Romanesque cathedral was the seat of the Bishop of Trento until 1802. The church itself dates from the 13th century. It was never completely finished, so there is only one tower instead of the originally planned two towers.
The most important building in the city is the Castle of Buonconsiglio. It was once the residence of the Prince Bishop, and is still the symbol of the city. The castle was originally created as a reinforced building outside the city walls. This building was named “Castelvecchio” which means as much as: old castle.
From the 13th century this became the seat of the Prince Bishop of Trento, until the end of the 18th century. Over the years, the castle was expanded further and further. When the bishops left the castle, it was used for some time as a military barracks and later as a prison before it fell into disrepair.
In 1920, the new Italian city council decided to establish a national museum in the castle. Since then the castle has been restored to its former glory. Fun fact: there apparently was a secret tunnel between the castle and the Duomo, which allowed the prince-bishops to walk between the two unseen, but that has never been proven.
My favorite part of the castle was the beautiful gallery from where you have a view over the city, with the special mountain range in the background.
Ride the Sardagna Cable Car
Are you looking for a higher up view? Then look no further than the Sardagna cable car. You can find it on the edge of the old center, and it will take you to the viewpoint on top of the mountain in just a few minutes. From a panoramic terrace you not only look out over the entire city, but you also see how the River Aldige winds through the area and disappears behind the mountains.
Bonus Tip: on top of the mountain, next to the cable car, you will also find a small bar where they sell delicious drinks and where you can sit in the sunshine. I drank a Hugo there: a drink from South Tyrol with elderflower syrup, prosecco, and mint. Delicious!
Best Restaurants to Eat at in Trento
- Panifico Moderno: First of all, a tip for the small trek. If you fancy the best sandwich in town, look no further than Panifico Moderno. A delicious bakery, run by a local family, who works a lot with local products.
- Birreria Padavena: This is really a super fun tip. Since its opening in 1921, this brewery has been in the same place. You can see the copper kettles in the middle of the restaurant. And you can also eat delicious pizza there.
- Ristorante Pizzeria Al Duomo: This was my favorite restaurant in Trento, and I have been there twice. Here you score the tastiest pizzas of Trento, and it’s also around the corner from Piazza Duomo, so super central!
- Gelateria Cherry Trento: When I was here, this place had only just opened for a few days. And then suddenly four hundred travel bloggers came and decided that this place was their favorite ice cream shop. Haha, what luck for the owner. But it was completely justified: delicious soft gelato of great quality and a super friendly owner. What’s not to love?
Where to Stay in Trento
As a speaker at the Traverse conference, a hotel room was arranged for me. I was so lucky to be staying at the Grand Hotel Trento, the most chic hotel in all of Trento. And it certainly lives up to its name of “Grand Hotel.” Just a few minutes from the center, and right in front of the train station you can find it easily.
The rooms are traditionally and luxuriously furnished, with a wonderfully spacious bathroom, and in our case a window that overlooks the mountains. Every morning we enjoyed a fresh breakfast buffet. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the roof terrace from where you look out over the city!
They were, my best tips for Trento. Before I went there I had never heard of the city, but I thought it was such a charming town that I recommend it to everyone who goes to northern Italy!
Have you ever heard of Trento?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe and Tiqets for specific attraction deals.