Bressanone Italy guide and itinerary
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Exploring Brixen – Bressanone: South Tyrol’s Charming Episcopal City in the Dolomites

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Nestled in northern Italy’s breathtaking Dolomites mountain range lies the charming medieval town of Bressanone (Brixen in German). Though overshadowed by its popular neighbor of Bolzano, this hidden gem offers visitors effortless Alpine beauty without the crowds.

Whether you seek culture or relaxation – or perhaps both together – you’re sure to be smitten by Bressanone’s picture-perfect landscapes and easygoing pace. From its baroque architecture and frescoed cloisters to uphill hikes and cable cars soaring over alpine vistas, a day or two here unravels the many sides of South Tyrol.

Follow along for the best that Bressanone has to offer with a convenient sightseeing route or more leisurely recommendations should you prefer simply lingering over local wines as the Dolomites glow in golden hour hues. With its charming small village vibes, you may even find yourself planning a return before you’ve left.



Is Brixen worth visiting?

I am not going to let you wait till the end of the post to answer your question. You’ve probably not heard much about Brixen before stumbling upon it while doing your research or watching a video about South Tyrol. So you might be asking whether you should make the time to visit it or skip it. Well, here’s my opinion in short. You can read the article and look at the pictures to make up your mind.

Brixen is gorgeous, similar to Bolzano but in a miniature version. This captures the vibe of Sudtirol. It reminds me of Salzburg and Graz in Austria but with a more German/Italian vibe. The landmarks on the itinerary I am sharing below are worth a visit, and if you have a spare day, Brixen is the perfect location for a relaxed day trip that combines both history, nature, and good local food. Plus, if you are staying in Bolzano like I was, this town is just a 30-minute free train ride with the Bolzano card.



Where is Brixen Italy?

Brixen, also known as Bressanone, is located in the northern Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige. Specifically, this picturesque town sits in the Valle Isarco (Isarco Valley) of the South Tyrol area, about 40 km (25 miles) north of the large city of Bolzano.

To give some geographical context, Brixen is situated roughly 95 km (59 miles) northeast of Trento, 64 km (40 miles) from Innsbruck, Austria, and 45 km (28 miles) south of Brenner Pass on the Italian-Austrian border. This places the town close to the intersection between Italy, Austria, and Switzerland.

Set in a tranquil, sunny valley along the Isarco River, Brixen has an elevation of 659 m (2,162 ft) above sea level. Despite its northerly location in the Alps, it enjoys relatively mild weather. Its picturesque Alpine setting, medieval architecture, and laidback pace of life make Brixen, Italy a charming destination to explore.



How to Get to Bressanone Italy

Located just off the main train lines in northern Italy, the medieval town of Brixen offers relatively easy access for visitors.

Bolzano to Bressanone

If you are staying in Bolzano you can take a train from the main train station that takes you directly to Bressanone in just 30 minutes

As for the type of train to take, you can board any regional train heading in that direction for free when you have the Bolzano Card. Don’t forget to stamp it before boarding the train, even on your return.


Trento to Brixen

Even if you are based on the other side of the region, or better in the other province – Trento, you can still reach Bressanone in just an hour by train, or a little over that if you choose to drive.

Just like in Bolzano, you get a Tourist Card with your accommodation in Trentino. It’s called the Trentino Card and offers you free public transport across the entire province, except for certain cable cars. You can learn more about it here.


Venice to Bressanone

For those landing in Venice, this little city is reachable by train with a 3.5-hour regional train. As far as I know, there are no Frecciarossa – aka fast trains – that travel between these two destinations.


Milan to Brixen

Since many foreigners visiting Italy land in Milan, I am pleased to let you know that you can travel to Brixen in 3.5 hours from this Northern city. However, this will involve a stop in Verona. Your journey might involve both fast and regional trains, depending on which departing time you choose.

Driving distances from the Trentino Alto Adige region are similarly manageable – under an hour from Bolzano and just over an hour from Trento through spectacular Alpine scenery.



Brixen or Bressanone

Like most South Tyrolean cities and towns, Bressanone goes by two names reflecting its multicultural history – Brixen in German and Bressanone in Italian. Both are considered correct. The mixed linguistic heritage stems from shifts between Austrian and Italian rule over the centuries.


What language do they speak?

Like all the other towns in South Tyrol, Brixen has 3 main languages – German, Italian, and Ladin. However, the distribution here is much more skewed than in the other cities. Nearly 75% of the population has German origins and thus speaks German. The remaining 25% speak Italian, except for 1% who speak Ladin.



Bressanone history

Oldest city in Tyrol: A Bit of History

With written records dating back nearly 1200 years, Brixen can rightly claim to be the oldest city in the Tyrol region. First mentioned in 827 AD under the name “Pressena”, variants like “Brixina” soon appeared in early medieval documents. Already an established town, Brixen’s fortunes rose further in 901 AD when the Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Child gifted the settlement to Zacharias, Bishop of Säben Abbey. 

Towards the late 10th century, Brixen became the permanent seat of the expanding Bishopric, transferred down from its mountain retreat into the valley below. This religious authority was then constituted as the Prince-Bishopric of Brixen in 1027 AD, installing the Bishops as temporal rulers over what soon became known as the “oldest city of Tyrol”. Aside from a major peasant revolt in 1525 AD, Brixen knew little trouble for nearly eight centuries of uninterrupted ecclesiastical rule.

That changed with the arrival of Napoleon early in the 19th century. After a brief French occupation, Brixen passed to Austrian control from 1814-1918 AD. This Austrian legacy still lingers today in the Germanic language and culture predominant in contemporary Brixen. However, at the close of World War One, Italian troops reclaimed the town, reinstating Italian administration after precisely 117 years of Austrian rule.



Things to do in Brixen Italy?

This charming medieval town nestled in the Italian Alps offers a variety of attractions for visitors. Top experiences include:

Sightseeing

– Taking a sightseeing stroll through the quaint cobblestone streets of historic Brixen (see sample half-day itinerary below). Stop for a leisurely strudel and coffee in one of many cozy cafes.


Nature & Hikes

– Explore the pristine natural surroundings with scenic hikes up to the 12th-century Augustinian Monastery of Novacella, surrounded by forests and vineyards. 

Novacella Abbey

Just outside the city stands the huge Novacella Monastery, dating from 1142 AD. Set in forests and vineyards, the Abbey first gave travelers and pilgrims a place to stay. Before long, Novacella grew into the main religious and cultural hub of the Tyrol area. The Abbey’s Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque-style buildings show its long history. Visitors can also see the amazing old library and taste wines from Novacella’s centuries-old winery – one of the world’s oldest.


Mountain Viewpoints

– Ascending into the breathtaking Dolomites mountains via cable car to the Plose massif. Three different lifts provide access to viewpoints over alpine peaks and flower-filled valleys. The cable car station can be reached from Brixen by bus (route 321) or with a 20 minute car ride.

The Plose

Towering over Brixen, the Plose is a rugged mountain range with three high peaks – Telegraph (2,563 m), Pfannspitze (2,553 m), and Gabler (2,429 m). Cable cars take people up to different spots on the Plose for awesome views across the valley. The Plose is also home to a popular ski area with over 43 km (27 miles) of ski slopes and trails.

From the mountaintop stations by the Gabler Peak or Pfannspitze, skiers as well as hikers can continue walking even higher. Or you can chill out at the cable car stations’ restaurants, looking out over the magnificent scenery. With its epic landscape for winter sports and summer hikes, the Plose lets visitors dive right into the heart of the Tyrol Alps.


Tyrolean Cuisine

– Sampling authentic Tyrolean cuisine at local restaurants and taverns. Be sure to also visit Novacella Abbey to taste some of the world’s oldest still-produced wines from their monastic cellars.  And don’t forget to pick up some speck at one of the specialty stores.


Relaxing Vacation

– Staying at a peaceful mountain resort like the Hotel Clara (more info below) in the neighboring valley. Here you can soak up the idyllic scenery and fresh air with a wide array of outdoor summer activities also available.

Whether you come for history, hiking, gourmet dining, or just relaxation in nature, Brixen offers an easily accessible Alpine escape with something for all interests.


Brixen Sightseeing: My Half-Day Itinerary

I visited Brixen for the first time during the first week of October. I would suggest going at the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn, if you want pleasant weather that’s perfect for a day trip or a longer stay. In this section, I am sharing my 3 hours itinerary.

The walk from the station to the final landmark on the itinerary takes 17 minutes according to Google Maps. However, we ended up spending just over 3 hours and that included a very long coffee break, probably my favorite of this trip, and a stroll through the old town.


 

Giardino dei Signori Bressanone
Herrengarten

Giardino dei Signori or Herrengarten 

Tucked away just north of the 16th-century Prince-Bishop’s Palace lies the intimate Renaissance Giardino dei Signori, also known as the Herrengarten or Court Garden. Originally designed in 1570 as a private leisure retreat for Brixen’s clergy, this hidden gem only opened to the general public in 1992 after sensitive restoration work.

True to its Renaissance layout, the Giardino charms visitors with geometric flowerbeds lined by tidy boxwood hedges. Splashes of colorful blossoms mingle with fragrant herbs and vegetables throughout the orderly gardens, all encircled by a central bronze fountain. Though compact in scale, this well-preserved urban oasis offers a delightful glimpse into aristocratic life centuries ago within the Bishop’s princely residence. 

PS: The Giardino’s tranquility right in Brixen’s historic heart makes the perfect spot for a break, whether you just need to rest your legs, drink some water, or enjoy a peaceful picnic.


Hofburg Platz or Piazza Palazzo Vescovile

The large area that leads to Hofburg Brixen, which houses the Diocesan Museum, is named after the same building. 



Colonna Millenaria Bressanone

Right in the middle of Hofburgplatz is the thousand-year-old Column erected in the early 1900s to commemorate the thousand years of the city of Bressanone.


Hofburg & Diocesan Museum

The large Diocesan Museum shows off religious art from South Tyrol over 70 rooms. Famous pieces include intricate nativity scenes carved in wood, glass, etc. It also houses various treasures from the Cathedral of Brixen, including the popular “Adlerkasel”, and fancy embroidered decorations. 

The highlight of Hofburg is the courtyard. It gives you a full overview of the building, considered to be one of the best architectural pieces in Alto Adige.

If you don’t want to visit the museum, you can still take a peek at the courtyard from the entrance right on the bridge.

Hofburg palace Bressanone courtyard
Palazzo Vescovile Courtyard


Piazza del Duomo

Just a few steps away from Hofburgplatz and the Diocesan Museum is Bressanone’s main square, where the Cathedral is. 

Brixen is truly a doll’s town, just in Austrian style, where everywhere is easily reachable and looks like a postcard.

Don’t take my word, just look at the pictures. Better yet, if you are there, just do a 360 twirl and admire all the buildings in the square. The light blue Cathedral is stunning but so is the surrounding architecture.

No surprise this is the exact spot where the Brixen Christmas market is held every year from the end of November until the day of Epiphany.



Brixner Dom Cathedral

The Brixner Dom has a very long past going back to 980 AD. After the fires, the church was rebuilt around 1200 in Romanesque style, with 3 naves and 2 bell towers. From 1745 to 1754, they re-did the Dom in fancy Baroque style, using 33 kinds of nice marble inside.

Part of the church holds the graves of bishops from 990 AD onward. So the Brixner Dom lets visitors make a journey through different eras of architecture and local history in one beautiful sacred place. From its ornate Baroque interior to the medieval bishop tombs and early roots, the cathedral chronicles the story of Brixen itself.

PS: If you look up, just above the blue cathedral, you can see that there are two identical towers belonging to the Cathedral, and a third one which is known as Torre Bianca and belongs to the second of the three churches in the square. 


Torre Bianca Museum & St. Michael’s Parish Church

The current White Tower dates from 1459 AD. Its name comes from light stones covered by an even brighter brick roof that looks almost white. Inside is a little museum that houses models showing the Tower’s past as a city and church tower. You can also check out mini bells, and old tower clocks and learn about the guard’s duties.


Chiostro di Bressanone

Like Bolzano’s Franciscan Friary, Brixen’s Cloister boasts vivid fresco paintings surrounding a peaceful courtyard. While first built for monk’s prayers, the Cloister today draws visitors to admire its medieval architecture and art. Most frescoes still seen were painted from the late 1300s to early 1500s. Yet anyone can now enjoy this oasis of inspiration in the heart of town for free.


What else to see & do in Brixen?

Remember how I told you it only takes you 20 minutes to walk from the station to all the sights on the itinerary? Well, once you have finished browsing you can proceed with your tour via Porta San Michele just below the Torre Bianca monument.

If you are a lover of these medieval town gates, there are other three: one on the left of Piazza Duomo, called Porta Sabiona, and the other two are Porta Croce and Porta del Chiostro.

From Porta San Michele you can access the rest of the old town, and immerse yourself in the charming setting with arched and vaulted buildings, its small boutique shops, and the most quaint and delicious cafes and restaurants. 

Once you get to Adler Guesthouse you are right next to the Isarco river. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a nice stroll along the river banks.


Best Brixen Cafes

I am pretty sure your 20-minute itinerary turned into nearly 2 hours. That’s normal when you stop to admire the buildings, take a peek inside, and photograph your favorite spots.

If you are feeling peckish, but are not ready for lunch or dinner, here are the best cafes in town:



Top Brixen Restaurants

If you’d rather have lunch or dinner, I spotted several stunning & very traditional-looking restaurants during my visit. After some research, I narrowed them down to the best ones for you to choose from. Here they are:



Quaint Bressanone Hotels to Spend the Night

Brixen is one of those places you can visit in just a few hours but you’ll want to go back to. That’s probably because it feels so perfect. It’s calm yet with enough things to do so you don’t get bored.

Should you consider spending the night or a couple days here, these are the hotel I would choose.

Hotel Traube – For a 3-star hotel this feels like a very good quality accommodation located in the heart of Brixen with a very traditional rustic decor. Price starts at €200 per night for a double room. (Learn more here)

Adler historic guesthouse Brixen
Adler Historic Guesthouse

Adler Historic Guesthouse – If you prefer modern decor but still want to feel like you are in South Tyrol, this 4-star hotel merges a modern and traditional style very tastefully. The price starts at €280 per night for a double Superior room. The hotel owns the Oste Scuro Restaurant, the Vitis Vinothek, and the Adler Cafe, so plenty of food choices in style. (Check prices here)

Hotel Clara – Perfect if you are looking for a relaxing stay in nature but close to a city or large town. This 4-star hotel is 35 minutes walk from the center or 6 minutes car ride. It offers resort-style accommodation with swimming pools, a spa, a gym, free parking, a restaurant as well as stunning mountain views. (Learn more)



Final Thoughts on the City of Bressanone

After even just a quick taste of all that this captivating town has hidden around its corners, you’ll soon see why visitors fall for Bressanone as easily as they do its dramatic mountain backdrops. I hope you grab my itinerary and suggestions and spend a wonderful time discovering both the cultural and natural treasures that really make Bressanone sparkle.

Use these recommendations as either a comfortable day escape from lively Bolzano or Trento – or indeed allow yourself the privilege of a slower-paced experience, letting the Alpine air and easier rhythm reinvigorate. After all, wherever your interests lie and whichever path you may follow, no doubt that Bressanone will exceed your Dolomite destination dreams.

No Dolomites trip would be complete without a visit to these two locations:

  1. Seceda Mountain Peak
  2. Merano Thermal Town



Frequently Asked Questions about this Episcopal City

What is Brixen Italy known for?

Brixen is known for its picturesque medieval architecture, stunning mountainous scenery in the Dolomites, and as one of the oldest towns in the South Tyrol region with a rich history.

Is Brixen in Austria or Italy?

Brixen is located in northern Italy in the autonomous province of South Tyrol, which borders Austria and has Austrian cultural influences.

What province is Brixen Italy?

Brixen is located in the autonomous province of  Bolzano in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, a region in northeastern Italy.

Is Brixen Italy worth visiting?

Yes, Brixen makes for a highly worthwhile and scenic day trip or holiday destination with its rich medieval history, charming architecture, and beautiful mountain surroundings perfect for nature lovers.

How do you get to Brixen Italy?

Brixen can be easily reached by direct train from cities like Bolzano (30 minutes) or Verona (2 hours), and is located just an hour drive from Trento. Driving in from Germany is also fairly convenient via Austria.

What language do they speak in Bressanone?

Most locals in Bressanone/Brixen speak German as their first language, while about 25% of residents speak Italian. Nearly everyone also speaks English quite well.

Is Bressanone the same as Brixen?

Yes, Bressanone is simply the Italian name for the city while Brixen is the German name. They refer to the same destination.

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