Trieste greets its visitors in Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia, the city's elegant open air drawing room. The square is one of the most beautiful in the whole of Italy, three sides lined with magnificent palazzi, the other open to the sea. Between the late 19th and early 20th century, this piazza was principal protagonist of the city's Belle Epoque, a period of fervid cultural and artistic activity, when the words Central European were on everybody's lips. During this era, it was not unusual to spot international writers of the likes of James Joyce wandering through the streets of the city, perhaps stopping for a chat with Trieste-born Umberto Saba or Ettore Schmitz, better known as Italo Svevo.

Since 1839, the ground floor of Palazzo Stratti, one of the historic edifices of Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia, has been occupied by the Caffè degli Specchi, among the oldest coffee houses in Trieste. Although the tables situated outside, directly overlooking the piazza, are a favourite place where to see and be seen, visitors should be sure to take a look inside the coffee house, so as to admire the stunning décor. This was just one of the regular haunts of Svevo and Saba, who used to come here for a coffee. Coffee drinking is, in fact, an ancient ritual in Trieste, city which boasts 40% of Italy's coffee import-export industry. It is believed that the citizens of Trieste consume twice as much coffee as anybody else in the whole of Italy. Not surprisingly, given their undying passion for the drink, the people of Trieste have developed a particular vocabulary so as to describe the way it should be served: nero for espresso, capo when a dash of milk is required, and in b should they prefer it in a glass rather than a cup.

Even older than the Caffè degli Specchi, the Viennese style Caffè Tommaseo was opened in 1830, in a particularly fortunate position, just meters from the sea, and in an area frequented by artists, writers, politicians and business men. Close by lies the Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi, opera house renowned for its excellent acoustics, for which it was much loved by the great composer after whom it was named. A night at the opera is another century's old ritual faithfully observed by the moneyed classes of Trieste, who might easily be seen partaking in an aperitif at the Caffè al Tommoseo before the performance.

In order to breathe the same air inhaled at the start of the 20th century by the Irish writer James Joyce, we head for one of his favourite places, the Caffè Pasticceria Stella Polare, where the locals will tell you he was inspired to write his Ulysses. Another place not to be missed is the Pasticceria Pirona, historic pastry shop famous for its Presnitz: a delicious concoction of puff pastry and dried fruit.

Those curious to catch a glimpse of a modern day writer at work, should make their way to the Antico Caffè San Marco, where Claudio Magis has practically taken up residence (he even has his post delivered here). The Trieste-born philologer can often be spotted, busily scribbling away, between cups of coffee.

To learn a little more about two of Trieste's most illustrious residents, we proceed to Piazza Hortis and Palazzo Biserini, home to the Attilio Hortis Town Library in which to find two museums: the Italo Svevo Museum and the James Joyce Museum, each containing a fascinating collection of documents.