I introduce YOU to the best places and things to do in Trento, Italy!
This guide covers historical, natural and interactive fun sites and I share tips to get there and our personal experience from our trip to Trento.
Table of Contents
🗺 Where is Trento?
The city of Trento is nestled in the heart of the Italian alps, in the adige river valley, in northern Italy near Austria. Trento is the Italian name, the city is also known as Trent in English.
The province is known as Trentino, and it was merged with neighboring South Tyrol to a region known as Trentino-Alto Adige. Trento is the administrative capital of Trentino.
You can’t miss Trento if you head from Tyrol in Austria, via South Tyrol in Italy, driving to Venice, Milan, or Rome and the rest of the Italian peninsula. This was also the old Roman road from Innsbruck to Verona.
Bolzano, the capital of South Tyrol, situated to the north of Trento, is about 40 miles (ca. 64 kilometers) a 45-minute drive from Trento. Verona, located to the south, is just a 1-hour drive with 60 miles (97 kilometers) road distance.
Other well-known places in Trentino include the northern tip of Lake Garda and the popular lakeside resort town, riva del Garda.
Trento makes for a great starting point to the mighty Dolomite mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a breathtakingly beautiful mountain range known for its raw peaks and mountainous plateaus.
🏰 Castle – Castello del Buonconsiglio
The cities most important site is the castello del Buonconsiglio. This medieval castle was the residence of the prince-bishop of Trento from the 13th to the 18th centuries.
The limestone built castle sits on an elevated rock formation overlooking the old town to the west. The late gothic facade of the Venetian style Castelvecchio is the first thing that you will see when you enter the gates of the castle.
Surrounded by symmetrical gardens, roses and stone walls, this castle is a must-see for all history and esthetic lovers.
For centuries, this castle served as a transit point for nobles and rulers, traveling between the Italian city states and the Austrian empire or Switzerland.
Today, the castle has been turned into two museums for locals and tourists, the Museo Provinciale d’Arte and the Museo Storico. The exhibitions range from the history of the city, starting with the Roman heritage, and tell the tale of the prince bishops of Trento, to the times when Trento was still part of Austria.
The Torre Aquila observation tower, which is now part of the castle, has some of the most magnificent frescoes which are known as the cycle of the months. It is advised to book a slot to visit in advance because they only let in 20 people in 45 minutes and this really shouldn’t be missed!
⛪️ Main Square – Piazza del Duomo
The center of Trento can’t be missed and is undoubtedly the main square, Piazza del Duomo (translated square of the cathedral).
Buzzing with people, and surrounded by architectural delights, this square is large and a good place to relax and take in the beauty of the city.
We like to sit in the Osteria Te Ke Voi Trento restaurant, which is right next to the cathedral. They have great Aperol and meat and cheese snacking boards.
Little hidden side passages move into the main square, and colorful houses and grand buildings covered in intricate frescoes add to the timeless feel and experience. Look out for the Casa Cazuffi building, the murals of this building are very intriguing.
The Fontana del Neptuno (Neptune fountain) adds another element of Italian flair to the old town of Trento.
Just opposite of that is the wonderful palazzo pretorio with the most beautiful Torre Civica tower, a palace that now houses the Diocesano Tridentino historical art museum (or simply diocesan museum). History buffs can learn more about the cities’ religious past in the permanent exhibition, from the medieval ages to the 19th century.
The exhibition also discusses the most famous event that happened to be held in Trento in the 16th century, the council of Trento. This counter-reformation meeting by the Catholic Church was held in Trento between 1545 and 1563.
Adjoining the palazzo pretorio is the Cattedrale di San Vigilio, the town’s main cathedral. We couldn’t visit it at the time due to ongoing prolonged restoration works indoors and on the outer facades of the Trento cathedral. It is said to be gorgeous on the inside and if you can go inside, don’t skip that!
BUT I recommend that you walk around the cathedral to the back. Here you will find a 3D sculpture map of the city, a sculpture of a local saint and the parish buildings in stone. It’s a lovely place to relax undisturbed.
🛕 Palaces and Architectural Gems
Trento has various historical buildings and memorials worth seeking out in the old town. They tell the story of the city and add a nuance to the legends told.
Most of these sites are located within a 5-minute radius, so you can easily access them by foot via the main street of the city.
Devil’s palace aka the Palazzo Fugger Galasso
Located at the heart of the town near the main square lies the devil’s palace, the palazzo Fugger Galasso.
The building was commissioned in 1602 by George Fugger from the powerful banking and trading family of Augsburg Germany, who was married to a noble woman of Trento, Elena Madruzzo.
It is said that the palace was so hurriedly built that it could only be the devil’s work, hence why the name the devil’s palace. Another story recalls the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe branding it a devil’s castle.
In the vicinity of the Palazzo Fugger, along the beautiful Via Rodolfo Belenzani cobbled stone street, lies the Palazzo Thun, the former residence of the powerful Trentino Thun family.
This particular palace was turned into an administrative building with the municipal seat currently posted there. But the main beauty and reason to visit, is the original statue of Neptune which was moved from the main square fountain, which is now located in the courtyard of the Palazzo Thun building.
Besides, they sometimes offer themed seasonal exhibitions with audio guides in the Torre Mirana, which is attached to the Palazzo Thun. This house tower was also called the del Marcolino before Sigismondo Thun bought it all with the palace complex in 1550.
The inner architecture alone makes it well worth a visit to this historical Trentino building.
Palazzo Quetta Alberti-Colico
The Alerberti Colico palace is just opposite the palazzo Thun. This marvel is mainly known for the painted 15th and 16th century frescoes on the front facade.
The Venetian style original pastel colours have faded over the ages, adding to the charm of this timeless jewel.
During the council of Trento in the 16th century, it was used as a lodging for important guests such as the bishop of Verona.
Medieval City Walls and Piazza Fiera
In the southern part of the old town lies the smaller piazza fiera square, which is part of the medieval city walls. The walls were commissioned by the prince bishop Vanga.
The Piazza Fiera is used as a market area on various days and the annual Christmas market is held there as well in December.
If you want to make the most of your trip to Trento and the natural beauty of the valley, then hiking should be on your to-do list.
The town is located in the Dolomites so hiking, and also winter sports such as skiing, are a popular activity here.
The most stunning place to visit and see first thing is Orrido di Ponte Alto. This gorge is a natural marvel that you shouldn’t miss. The gushing mountain rivers of the Fersina river have shaped deep canyons into the landscape.
You can book a tour for €6 with a guide online to see this marvel. The tour is compulsory, and it’s in Italian, but the guide tries to explain things to English-speaking visitors.
You will come across waterfalls, deep gorges and walk on slippery spiral staircases, so bring along good hiking shoes!
Cars can be parked at the payable Campo sportivo di Cognola parking lot nearby and check the timings because they are not open daily outside peak season.
I also recommend exploring the Parco Naturale del Doss Trento in Sardagna, which is located on a hill top on the other side of the river. From the Mausoleum of Cesare Battisti you can get a stunning panoramic view of Trento.
To get there, either hike up the stairs for 30–40 minutes or take the cute cable car from the city to the summit. The cable car ride is about €6 per adult to go up and down, and it can get a bit touristy during peak season.
📍 Other Places worth Exploring:
- Dante Alighieri Monument – A grand monument built in honor of the great poet from the city of Florence. It’s located in the park between the railway station and the old town.
- San Francesco Saverio Church – A baroque church located at the end of the picturesque Rodolfo Belenzani street, between the palazzo Thun and palazzo Fugger.
- Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica – A lesser known but historical important Catholic Church. The council of Trent was held in this church. This council was all about countering the protestant belief and reformation. The frescoes in the church are stunning!
- Monumental Cemetery – A vast stunning walled cemetery. Here you will find the Austro-Hungarian monument, which was erected in honor of those who had fallen during WWI for the Austrian empire (because the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). Italy annexed the area and later on, they added the Italian military shrine in honor of the locals who had fallen during WWII.
- MUSE – Interactive natural history and science museum for adults and kids alike. The museum is located a few steps from the monumental cemetery.
- The Piedicastello Tunnel – A free interactive WWII and current affairs exhibition in a tunnel. It’s located across the river next to the stunning church in a secluded but charming part of the city known as Piedicastello.
- Museo dell’Aeronautica Gianni Caproni – Located a 5-minute drive outside the city is this vintage plane aviation museum.
📜 Brief History of Trento
A Celtic settlement of the Rhaetian tribes existed in Trento before the Romans conquered the area in 100 BC. The name that was given then was Tridentum, which translated to three teeth or trident town.
The name could have been inspired by the three mountain peaks surrounding the city. In German, Trento is still known as Trient.
The roman god of water, Neptune (with his trident, a three-pronged spear), was then appointed the protector of the new Roman settlement.
Strategically, it was well-placed along a trading route from Verona to the Austrian alps. The river Adige and the soft alpine weather inspired people over the ages to settle in Trento. The city also had Jewish inhabitants.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Trento was taken into the Holy Roman Empire and the dukes of Tyrol (part of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy) ruled the area for 6 centuries.
During the Napoleonic wars, the French allied with Bavaria and briefly took over the area. The freedom fighter Andreas Hofer was greeted in ardor when Trentino was liberated. Trento was once again part of the Habsburg empire.
Italy annexed Trentino and South Tyrol after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is why the city has Tyrolean or Austrian-Germanic influences. Yet, you will also experience elements of the neighboring Veneto province (Venice) in Trento.
🚗 How to get there?
Trento is located in the Italian alps and, as a result, it’s a bit harder to access this city, as it is with any other town in the mountains. That means car rides or train connections can take a little longer than usual for the few miles or km.
The closest airports are Verona in Italy and Innsbruck in Austria. Verona is a city after the laggo de Garda lake and Innsbruck is located to the north.
Milan (Italy) and Munich airport (Germany) are the next largest airport terminals. Both are about 3 to 4 hours by car or bus. You can buy a Flixbus ticket from the metros to get to Trento by bus, which is also the cheapest option to get around. A train from Milan to Trento takes 3 hours and a train from Munich airport more than 5 hours.
I recommend that you fly into Verona because it’s much closer and rent a car to drive up via the A22 highway and the E45 main road to Trento. The ride takes about 1 hour.
Or take a bus from the airport to the main train station in Verona and jump on a 1-hour direct train to Trento. The second class is affordable in Italy, but remember to validate your ticket train pass in the yellow validation machine at the station.
Both, by car or train, are scenic and enjoyable. If you plan to just visit Trento and on a budget, then traveling by train and public transport will be your option.
Yet, if you are intending to travel to more remote places in Trentino and South Tyrol, such as the val venosta valley, or even to Switzerland and Austria, then getting a car makes more sense.
💡 Tips for First Time Visitors
- Trento is a smaller Italian provincial capital and sites can be easily accessed by foot. I recommend that you walk around and discover the city for yourself. Most sites are located in a 1-mile radius and many roads in the old town are car-free areas.
- The public garden near the railway station is a pretty green spot in the city, thanks to the water fountains, ducks, and the way the lawn and trees with the monuments have been set up. BUT I don’t think it’s a safe place at nights, many addicts seem to hang out in this area, making it a bit unsafe.
- We found one major paid public bathroom at the border of the public garden, behind the tourism office.
- You will find various small fountains spread across the city and most contain fresh mountain drinking water. This doesn’t include the large Neptune fountain in the grand square.
What and where to eat when in Trento?
What souvenirs to get from Trento?
You are in food paradise and I recommend that you look out for Speck (local cured bacon). The Il Maso Dello Speck store near the cathedral has a good selection of Speck. The region is also known for its wine, especially the white wine.
Where to park in Trento?
At first, we were tempted to park in one of the outdoor parking lots in Trento, but they have time restrictions which are not very tourist friendly, and so we parked in an underground garage. Garage parking costs about €0.80 per hour in the day, which is cheap. I recommend covered parking lots because the sun can be relentlessly hot in the summer months in the mountains and if it hails, the car is safe at least.