24 hours are definitely not enough to visit Bolzano. Although the historical center itself is quite compact, its cultural and artistic offering is very diverse.
Bolzano, the main city of South Tyrol and “The Gateway to the Dolomites,” offers first-time visitors a unique and interesting blend of Mediterranean flair with a Tyrolean twist, which makes this town a place worth visiting. Interestingly enough, to our Austrian and German neighbors, Bolzano and South Tyrol are considered a sunny and warm destination, even though Italians often associate them with freezing temperatures!
In this article, we suggest a realistic itinerary to make the most out of your 24-hour visit to Bolzano. Our goal is that you experience this little gem with all your senses, but most importantly through the eyes of a local.
So, what would a local do?
9.30 am: Start your day with a delicious breakfast
If arriving in Bolzano in the morning by train, head to Loaker Mokeria located on Walther Square (the town’s main square). Loacker is a local, high-quality wafer and pastry factory that made a name for itself nationally and internationally for its delicious, square-shaped wafers and their funny dwarf mascottes. In the United States, you might have seen them at Trader Joe's or Italian delis. In recent years, they have opened a chain of nationwide cafes, where you can enjoy a wide menu of coffees and pastries. Try one of their specials — Latte or Latte Macchiato — made with one of their signature wafer crèmes: Napolitaner, Vanilla, or Cremkakao. They’re simply to die for! Here’s a little tip: don’t be shocked if you see a white or brown dwarf on the sugar bags, depending on which sugar you take. And although these would be considered highly politically incorrect in the United States, these illustrations are in no way meant to be disrespectful here. Next to the café, you'll find a store where you can discover and buy the many different varieties of wafers. You should take advantage of trying them here since most of them are not available in the United States.
10.00 am: Join the "Bolzano Street Food Tour"
Catch the 10.00 am departure from under the Walther von der Vogeweide Statue for this unique walking tour that will take you on a journey to discover, savor, and taste samples from Bolzano's unique street food eateries. You’ll be introduced to the town’s interesting history as an old trading post in the Middle Ages, its Austrian background as a former territory of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and its fascinating architecture.
12.30 pm: Have lunch
If you’re still feeling hungry, Bolzano offers many options for you to dive into for more of its rich food tradition. Historical taverns such as Cavallino Bianco-Weisses Roessl, Batzen Braeu, and Voegele offer traditional South Tyrolean dishes like Knoedel (bread dumplings), Schlutzkrapfen (half moon-shaped ravioli filled with ricotta cheese and spinach, topped with melted butter and Parmesan), and mouthwatering desserts like Kaiserschmarren (shredded pancakes with red currant jam, raisins and powered sugar). If you lean more towards some Italian food, Il Tinello offers a menu that reflects Italian culinary traditions, and Casa al Torchio-Torgglehaus in an 1900 old historical building offers an extensive pizza menu.
1.30 pm: Do some shopping
Since the Middle Ages, Bolzano has been an important trading spot where merchants from Venice and Northern Europe met and exchanged their exotic goods and products. The town was so important that, in 1635, Claudia de Medici, married to Archduke Leopoldo of Austria (that country’s ruler at the time), established the Mercantile Magistrate Institution to regulate the trade. At the heart of the trade was the Lauben or Portici, the 300-meter-long medieval arcade where, still today, visitors can find fine boutiques displaying the latest Italian fashion, popular store chains, and traditional Tyrolean products from historical local vendors. Looking for that special Dirndl for Oktoberfest or those high-quality Italian shoes? You won’t (and shouldn’t) leave empty handed.
2.30 pm: Check out Piazza Erbe (Market Square)
Leaving the Lauben-Portici behind, don’t miss a stop at the colorful and vibrant Piazza delle Erbe (Market Square), a permanent, outdoor market open from Monday to Saturday morning, where farmers have been selling their local products since 1285. Check out their locally produced, organic fruits and vegetables, fresh flowers, poultry, and great variety of dry fruit.
3.00 pm: Visit the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology
Continue your walk on the cobblestoned Via Museo, and reach the museum that hosts the remains of Oetzi – The Ice Man. This 5000-year-old mummified corpse was found in 1991 buried under the ice in the Alps, at the border between Italy and Austria. You’ll have the chance to have a peek of Oetzi, whose corpse is kept in a refrigerated cell. Definitely not to be missed is the exhibition about the Copper Age in which Oetzi lived that will give you a better understanding of his life and the many theories around his mysterious death.
*Alternatively, you could visit Castel Roncolo (Roncolo Castle), famous for its Middle Age secular frescoes. Catch the free, one-way shuttle from Walther Square to the castle. Just keep in mind that the return will take you about 40 minutes of walking along the Talvera promenade.
4.00 pm: Discover the Monumento alla Vittoria (Monument to Victory)
Bolzano’s and South Tyrol’s history is very controversial, especially when it comes to the aftermath of WWI (when South Tyrol was annexed to Italy) and the events of WWII. Once you leave the Archeological Museum, cross the Talvera Bridge, and you’ll find yourself staring at an Arc de Triumph look-alike, known as Monumento alla Vittoria (Monument to Victory). The monument was erected in 1928 by personal order of the Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini to commemorate the lost soldiers of WWI and to celebrate the victory against the Austrian-Hungarian army. For many years, it has been the center of criticism and the symbol of antagonism between the German and Italian-speaking population of the city following the end of WWII. In 2004, thanks to the Italian Ministry of Culture, the South Tyrolean Provincial Government, and the Municipality of Bolzano, a permanent exhibition is hosted under the crypt - "BZ '18–'45: one monument, one city, two dictatorships". The exhibition focuses on the monument’s history within the context of Fascism and the Nazi occupation. It’s definitely worth visiting and also free.
5.00pm: Walk along the Talvera Promenade
Bolzano has its own version of New York City's Central Park, known as Talvera Fields—the green lung of the town. Designed in the 1970s on the banks of the Talvera River by a local architect and professor of technical design with the help of his students, the park offers miles of bike paths, green fields in which to lay down and sunbathe, dog parks, and sport and recreational areas. From the Monument of Victory, there are several entry points to the fields, which are connected to the historical center by bridges.
Take a walk on the promenade, find a bench, sit, relax, and enjoy the skyline of the city and the view of the spectacular Dolomites in the background. If you walk along the banks of the Talvera River, on the old town’s side going north, you’ll be able to admire the vineyards and the Mareccio Castle. South Tyrol is the region in Europe with the greatest number of castles.
If you’re in the mood for an ice cream, grab one at the historical Café Theiner, located at the beginning of the promenade, before heading back to Walther Square.
*If you happen to visit Bolzano on the first Saturday of the month (except in July and August), you could visit the flea market that will take place on the Talvera Promenade, where locals sell their used household goods, collectibles and antiques.
6.00 pm: Enjoy Happy hour - Italian Style!
On your way back to the train station, a stop in one of the cafes overlooking Walther Square is a must. The square is dominated by the statue of Walther von der Vogelweide, a 13th century Tyrolean Minnesaenger and one of the most important poets before Goethe. The square hosts the famous Christmas Market as well as many others events such as the Flower Market (May Day) or the Speck Fest, but most importantly the square serves as the town’s official “living room.” Enjoy a Spritz or a Hugo, popular happy hour cocktails, all while admiring the vibrant city and enjoying the people watching.
6.30 pm: Stock up on some last-minute souvenirs
On the way to the train station, stop at Pur Suedtirol, a concept store selling only products from South Tyrol produced by local farmers and artisans. Here you can find jams, Speck, cheeses, teas and cosmetic products prepared with local herbs.