Posted: Sept. 4, 2023 | Last Update: 06. Sep 2023
Nestled amidst the majestic Alps and in close proximity to the Dolomites, Bolzano offers a captivating blend of cultural diversity, rich history, and the Italian "Dolce Vita" lifestyle.
Buongiorno form Bolzano, the gateway to the Dolomites. The city is famous for Otzi the Iceman and its wine culture.
We just returned from this captivating culture capital where we enjoyed some amazing food and drink, architecture and history.
I can’t wait to share our experience and travel tips, let’s go!
We have compiled everything you need to know about Bolzano in this article!
Bolzano, the Capital of South Tyrol
Bolzano or Bozen (Italian vs. German spelling) is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating cities in Northern Italy and serves as South Tyrol's provincial capital.
Just like its neighbour Merano, the city of Bolzano blends Tyrolean traditions with Italian elegance, creating the unique South Tyrolean vibe. You can experience the fusion of two worlds in a captivating way, making Bolzano an inviting and cosmopolitan cultural hub that attracts visitors from around the globe throughout the year.
Staying in Bolzano
Every year, approximately 350’000 overnight guests flock to Bolzano.
On average, they spend 3.3 nights (equivalent to 1.16 million overnight stays per year) in one of the approximately 120 hotels or 180 private accommodations and guesthouses. Source: ASTAT
During the summer months, the majority (approximately 55%) of all visitors come from Germany, whereas during the winter, most guests (approximately 45%) arrive from various regions across Italy.
💡 Fun fact: On average, an overnight guest in Bolzano spends €120 per day.
Here are the top 3 rated hotels* in Bolzano:
1. La Briosa 4* (Rating 9.6)
2. Gasthof Kohlern 3* (Rating 9.4)
3. Castel Hörtenberg 5* (Rating 9.3)
Discovering Bolzano on foot - a leisurely discovery tour
Bolzano beckons with numerous attractions calling to be explored. Be it historical buildings or lively markets, there’s something waiting around every corner.
Make sure not to miss these sights on your walk through Bolzano:
Your starting point: Piazza Walther (Waltherplatz)
This central square is the heart of Bolzano and a great starting point for your tour.
Its namesake was the 12. century German poet ‘Walther von der Vogelweide’, whose origin is controversial but assumed to be in South Tyrol.
Aside from the several metres tall statue of the man, there are two more attractions on Piazza Walther:
The Bolzano Cathedral of 'Maria Himmelfahrt' (Assumption of Mary):
This impressive parish church is considered a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. It was built in the 13th century and is truly a gem with its colorful patterned slate roof. Admission is free, so take your time to admire the frescoes and impressive columns.
In the courtyard of this 18th-century mansion, you'll find the famous 'Gingko-Balboa' tree, which Empress Sissi (Elisabeth of Austria) gifted to her uncle, Archduke Heinrich.
Around Walther Square, you'll also find many cafés and restaurants - your ideal spot for a break, to enjoy a snack and do some people-watching.
The Bozner Lauben (Arches / Arcades):
The 'Laubengasse' is one of the city's landmarks and is a must-visit in Bolzano.
Stretching for a length of 300 meters, it forms the main street of Bolzano's old town. It's your place of choice to find a colorful variety of shops, restaurants, and cozy cafes.
But it also has a lot to offer for history buffs:
The history of the Lauben dates back to the 12th century when they were built by the bishops of Trento to promote trade in Bolzano. Here, trade routes once converged, paving the way for the city's development as a trading hub. The longhouses with their characteristic light courts served as storage facilities, shops, stables, and workshops. Originally, the arcades were made of wood, but they were replaced by sturdy stone vaults after a devastating city fire in 1224.
A Journey into the Stone Age at the Ötzi Museum:
Bolzano is famous for Ötzi, 'the Iceman.'
This glacier mummy from the Neolithic era is one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. To learn more about the life of Ötzi and his contemporaries, the 'South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology' (Il Museo Archeologico Dell’Alto Adige) is the perfect place. In addition to an impressive collection of artifacts it also offers fascinating insights into the way of life and culture of people from thousands of years ago.
Stroll along the Talfer Promenade to Runkelstein Castle:
For those who prefer to relax in natural surroundings, the waterside promenade along the Talfer River offers a peaceful place for a walk. Starting in the heart of the city, follow the rushing waters through Petrarca Park (Talferwiesen) all the way to Runkelstein Castle (Castel Roncolo), also known as ‘The Illustrated Castle.'
This fortress, built in the early 13th century, became famous for enclosing the largest collection of secular frescoes, known as the 'Runkelstein Cycle.'
The Franciscan Monastery
A rarely mentioned gem that I stumbled upon during our stroll through Bozen is the Franciscan Monastery.
This monastery, also dating back to the 13th century (clearly a very busy time in and around Bozen), has been lovingly maintained and preserved by the Franciscan monks. In the cloister, which is laid out around a courtyard, you might even meet one of today’s monks. But even if not, this tranquil place is ideal for taking a brief moment to retreat from the bustling city, the elements, and enjoying some quiet contemplation
Wine Capital Bolzano
But in Bozen, it's not just about culture and history; there's also wine—lots of wine! After all, Bozen is well-known as a wine town. So, if you're not opposed to a glass or three, read on. Cheers!
Not all roads lead to Rome - some lead to wine!
The South Tyrolean Wine Route starts right here in Bozen, which is the gateway to one of Italy's oldest wine routes. This picturesque 160-kilometre (100 miles) route winds its way through the wine region of South Tyrol, taking you through charming villages, historic towns, and endless vineyards.
The Wine Route is a dream come true for wine enthusiasts, offering lots of opportunities for wine tastings and tours of renowned wineries.
Bozen’s Vineyards: Where the Magic Happens
The area surrounding Bolzano is characterized by endless vineyards that stretch across the rolling hills of the Alps. The grapevines thrive in this particularly mild microclimate, and produce some of Europe's finest wines. One of the local favourites is Vernatsch, a fruity and light red wine. Equally popular are the grape varieties Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir.
Bolzano: host of Wine Festivals
Bozen is not only known for its excellent wines but also for hosting legendary wine festivals.
Each year in March, the "Bozner Weinkost" with its tradition dating back over 125 years marks the beginning of the event season. Many more festivals and events throughout the entire season beckon with opportunities to taste local wines and savour the culinary delicacies of the region.
Be sure to try the South Tyrolean ‘Knödel’ (dumplings) and the Pulster Valley specialty called "Tirtlan." You can find an overview of wine festivals in and around Bozen here.
💡My Recommendation: Wining and Dining with the locals in Bolzano
Discover the flavors of Bolzano like a local with a guided food or wine tour. Explore local markets, savor traditional dishes, and sample exquisite wines from surrounding vineyards.
Or are you more of a hands-on person? Then unleash your inner chef with a cooking class and learn how to make dishes that you can recreate back at home.
Where, do you ask? Well, here are my favourite suggestions*
The History of Bolzano
Before you go, let me quickly get you up to speed with the city’s history. Here is a brief overview of the history of Bozen, spanning two millennia:
Bolzano was likely founded around 15 BC as a Roman military station under the name "Pons Drusi." It was named in honor of the Roman general Drusus, who conquered the Alpine region in the 1st century BC.
In the subsequent centuries, Bozen experienced a rather tumultuous history. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was ruled by various Germanic tribes, including the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Lombards.
During the Middle Ages, Bolzano became a significant trading hub between northern and southern Europe. The city was strategically located at the crossroads of major trade routes, including the famous Via Claudia Augusta and the Salt Road, which connected Salzburg to Verona. Bozen became a thriving market for wine and other agricultural products. In the 12th century, it was conquered by the Counts of Tyrol, further strengthening its position as a trading center.
In the 14th century, Bozen came under Habsburg rule and remained under their dominion until the end of World War I. During this time, the city evolved into an important cultural and political metropolis.
After World War I, South Tyrol was annexed to Italy, and Bozen became the capital of the newly created province of South Tyrol. Following World War II, South Tyrol gained the status of an autonomous province within Italy.
Here are some significant milestones from Bozen's history:
° 15 BC: Founded as a Roman military station
° 476: Fall of the Roman Empire 568: Conquered by the Lombards
° 1027: Conquered by the Counts of Tyrol
° 12th Century: Construction of the Laubengasse, Bozen's first road
° 1202: First documented mention of the large annual fairs in Bozen
° 1363: Handover of the County of Tyrol to the Habsburgs
° 1500: Granting of city rights by Maximilian I
° 1806: Annexation of South Tyrol to the Kingdom of Bavaria
° 1814: Return of South Tyrol to Austria
° 1919: Annexation of South Tyrol to Italy
° 1946: Introduction of South Tyrol's autonomy
° 1948: Establishment of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano-South Tyrol
My South Tyrol Tour Recommendation
If you are like us and love to discover your destination's landscape, rich culture, architecture and food and satisfy your wanderlust at the same time, we strongly recommend booking a vacation with TourRadar's 'South Tyrol' trips, including in-depth cultural, explorer and bicycle packages, where you get to immerse yourself in local customs, explore hidden gems, and create unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime. Find a great overview of trips and tours* to get more inspiration or book now and let the adventure begin!
Enjoy your time in Bolzano!
Last but not least, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all you travel enthusiasts for reading, and I hope this virtual journey through the city of Bolzano has left you inspired. Bozen awaits with its rich culture, historical treasures, delicious cuisine, and exquisite wines.
Whether you choose to explore the charming streets of the old town, visit the surrounding castles, or discover the vineyards and mountains, I hope you have an unforgettable time in Bolzano, filled with adventures, culinary delights, and unforgettable experiences.
Enjoy your visit!
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