Bolzano is a fantastic town hidden away in the mountainous region of South Tyrol in the Italian Alps. With a population of just over 105,000, Bolzano is the largest city in this area and is also the capital of South Tyrol. This city has the distinction of being voted the Italian city with the best quality of life in 2014. Bolzano has seen some form of human settlement since the prehistoric era and has seen influence from various ruling empires including the Bavarians, Roman Empire and Holy Roman Empire. Due to its location within the alps, it has served as a strategic city for controlling the region and this is evident due to the large number of castles nestled in the mountains. Bolzano has an economy based on agriculture, tourism, industry and handicraft.
As a tourist destination, Bolzano benefits from its fantastic alpine location and is surrounded by some truly magnificent mountain scenery. The city has an extensive history and due to this fact, it has a range of stunning churches and ancient castles. Furthermore, the countryside lends itself to those who love to walk, climb and cycle – the whole region is covered with various trails and nature walks. If you are looking for a rejuvenating mountain escape, Bolzano will be your haven.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Bolzano:
1. Funivia del Renon
What better way to see the city and the stunning Alpine countryside than taking a cable car ride? The Renon cable car travels from the centre of Bolzano, up to the mountain commune of Soprabolzano.
With a total length of 4,541m, this cable car soars over forests and stunning landscapes and the journey time takes approximately 11 minutes.
The lower station sits at 274n ASL, whilst the final station towers above at 1222m ASL. Once at the top, there is a light gauge railway that can take you to other villages in this mountainous region including Renon, Costalovara and Collalbo.
2. South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology
This museum is an absolute must for your visit to Bolzano! As the premier museum in this region of Italy, this establishment has some fantastic displays and is an intriguing place to visit.
Located to the left of the historic town centre, this museum is within walking distance of the main sites of Bolzano.
The main attraction of this museum is undoubtedly Frozen Fritz – Otzi as he is known is a 5,300 year old corpse that was found frozen in the Alps.
A series of displays and exhibitions are centred on the phenomenon and detailing how this region of the Alps would have looked thousands of years ago.
You can gain fantastic insight into what prehistoric life would have been like and how a man like Otzi would have lived.
3. Piazza Walther
This is the main square in Bolzano and is one of the most beautiful areas of the city.
Located in the centre of the town, this square contains several important monuments and historical buildings.
On the southern corner of the square is the majestic Duomo di Bolzano and in the centre of the square is a beautiful ornate fountain.
Markets are often held within the square and a series of small stalls are usually set up against the shops.
Aside from the stunning architecture and historical buildings, the square also has several cafes and restaurants from which you can use the outdoor seating and enjoy a relaxing drink or meal.
4. Puez-Geisler Nature Park
The area in which Bolzano is situated has an abundance of natural parks waiting to be explored.
Once such area is the Puez-Geisler Nature Park.
Located approximately one hours driver to the north east of Bolzano, the park can be reach along the SS12 route.
Designated a protected area in 1978, the park features two major mountains – Puez and Odle.
Throughout this rocky region you can find a plethora of hiking and climbing opportunities and for anyone who loves the outdoors, this nature park will simply delight.
For typical Alpine scenery, beautiful mountainside pastures, and forests that hug the slopes, there is no better place.
5. Duomo di Bolzano
Bolzano has some fantastic religious buildings, but the most impressive is the Duomo di Bolzano.
This cathedral is located on the central Piazza Walther and was originally constructed in the 4th century.
Throughout the subsequent years, the cathedral has been changed, added too and restored.
A notable feature of this Gothic building is the beautiful tiled roof – this roof has a wonderful green, white and yellow diamond pattern and stands out against the surrounding buildings.
Inside the church, there is a series of coloured stone columns and a highly decorative main altar.
There is also a museum that documents the history of the cathedral and holds some beautiful artefacts and relics.
6. Castel Roncolo
Located high above the city in the mountains, the Castel Roncolo is an imposing structure that has stood since the 13th century.
Tours of the castle are possible and this is a fantastic sight with a wealth of historical information.
Throughout the history of the castle, its ownership has transferred from various ruling empires including the Hapsburgs.
When entering the castle grounds, you are offered fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and mountains.
Inside the structure, there is a myriad of beautiful 14th and 15th century frescos depicting medieval life.
Despite the mountain location, regular buses travel to the castle from Piazza Walther.
7. Castel Tirolo
Tyrol Castle is located approximately 45 minutes to the north west of Bolzano and is one of the most important fortifications in the region.
This imposing structure served as the seat of the Counts of Tyrol and was originally constructed in the 12th century.
High up on the mountainside, the front of the castle can be seen for miles and features a typical medieval design with round towers and pointed tiled rooftops.
From the front of the castle ramparts you are granted with impressive views of the valley and surrounding mountains.
Within the grounds of the castle, there is a Falconry that houses various birds of prey, and the South Tyrolean Museum of History.
8. Messner Mountain Museum
In the south western part of Bolzano set apart from the city the Messner Mountain Museum stands proudly on the side of the mountains.
This museum is actually housed within Firmian Caste and this structure is presented in a remarkable condition despite its old age.
Within the museum is a plethora of stunning displays, artefacts and relics relating to mountainside life within the Tyrol region.
The main aim of the museum is to educate people on the relationship man has with the Dolomite mountains including a history of mountaineering and Alpine tourism.
9. Bolzano Franciscan Monastery
Whilst the Duomo di Bolzano features some fantastic exterior architecture, the Bolzano Franciscan Monastery has a beautiful interior and stunning courtyards/cloisters.
Constructed in the 14th century, this structure served as a place of worship for the Franciscan monks for many years.
The church of the monastery features some amazing stained glass windows and a vaulted ceiling.
Furthermore, the cloisters of the monastery feature a Gothic design and a series of gorgeous stone arches.
This is a pleasant and tranquil place to visit and another must see religious site in Bolzano.
10. Dominican Church
The third and final impressive religious structure in the centre of Bolzano is the Dominican Church.
Dedicated to St. Dominic, the church was created in the late 1200’s and was actually one of the first Gothic inspired buildings in the city.
Although the front façade of the church is quite plain, the interior is stunning and features a range of historic frescos.
The chapel of St. John and the Chapel of St. Catherine are both wonderful rooms that feature rich decoration.
11. Take a bike ride through the countryside
Bolzano has several different locations from which you can hire a bicycle including some of the hotels in the historic town centre.
There is possibly no better way to see the city and the surrounding countryside than by enjoying an invigorating bike ride.
Throughout the city and the mountainous region there is a plethora of bike trails that provide you with some stunning scenery.
Consider visiting the tourist office and checking out the information they have relating to the various official cycle routes in the immediate area.
By cycling, you can cover a greater amount of ground, perform some exercise, and see areas of Bolzano you might otherwise miss.
12. Guntschna walk
Bolzano has a series of beautiful walks, and one of the most well-known is the Guntschna Walk.
This public footpath is located in the northern part of the city just off of Via Michael Pacher.
Starting near the old church of Gries, the path winds up the slopes of the mountain and is covered with beautiful foliage and flowers.
From the walkways you are given beautiful views of the city of Bolzano and the surrounding mountainous countryside.
This really is a pleasant place to walk, especially on a fine summer’s evening.
13. Monumento della Vittoria
This epic triumphal arch is dedicated to the fallen soldiers of World War I and has a Latin inscription written on the main façade.
Created in 1928 on the orders of Mussolini, this monument remains controversial and has been received with both praise and contention.
Created in white stone/marble, the monument stands proudly in a dedicated garden and is surrounded by some beautiful foliage and natural life.
14. Enjoy beautiful views and food at the Ristorante Castel Flavon restaurant
What better place to enjoy a fantastic quality meal than in the courtyard and grounds of an old castle? The Ristorante Castel Flavon provides exactly that and is located on the southern side of Bolzano.
This restaurant might be a little bit out of the way but it is worth the journey! If you can, ensure to get a table with a view down to the city – in the evening the sight is simply fantastic, especially as the street lights come on.
Aside from the amazing views and setting, the food provided is world class and the presentation is simply fantastic.
You can choose from a selection of Italian dishes and local Tyrol cuisine; there is also a great selection of wines to accompany your food.
15. Enjoy the atmosphere and beer at the Temple Pub
Located in close proximity to the Dominican Church in the Piazza Domenicani, the Temple Pub is a favourite bar of both locals and tourists alike and is a great place to enjoy a few drinks in the evening.
On certain nights the bar features amazing live music and the atmosphere is always pumping.
This authentic Irish bar has plenty of Guinness plus a host of other premium ales, beers and lagers.
The style of the bar is homely and rustic, and the staff are super friendly – if you are looking for a lively night out, the Temple Bar is the perfect place to visit.