What to see in Brixen? Brixen (in Italian Bressanone) is a lovely town North-East of Bolzano, South Tyrol (Alto Adige in Italian). It’s the most ancient town in South Tyrol, with over 1000 years of history, once seat of an ecclesiastical principate. It is also an important mountain resort, both in winter and in summer. The closest mountain, the Plose, is reachable thanks to a cable lift located 15 minutes by car off the center.
Here the majority of population (72%) speaks German as first language. You have to know that until 1918 the entire South Tyrol was part of the Austro-Hungarian County of Tyrol. After World War I, it was annexed by Italy.
In fact, the street signs or shop signs are both in German and in Italian. Plus, if you have nordic looks (like my husband), people tend to address you in German. Not me, though. It’s rather evident I’m Italian. But of course, everybody speaks Italian, too. Even if their German accent is pretty strong.
What to see in Brixen
The city gates
The town is surrounded by walls, dating back to the year 1000. The gates are 4: Porta Sabiona, Porta San Michele (annexed to the White Tower), Porta del Chiostro (East) e Porta Sole o Porta Croce (West).
It is a small but lovely garden located just next to the town walls. It dates back to 1570 (Renaissance style), as the garden of the Bishop Palace. Now it is open to the public.
Chiesa dei Santi Gottardo ed Erardo
Past Porta del Sole, next to the Hofgarten, you’ll see a tiny church in the middle of the street. It is now devoted to the evangelical cult.
Via dei Portici Maggiori and via dei Portici Minori
They are the most beautiful streets in town, still retaining their medieval character. The buildings, with colorful facades and bowindows, are rather high. In fact, in ancient times the ground floor hosted the shops, the first floor the offices and the upper floors people’s dwellings.
Three- headed man
On the corner of via Portici Maggiori and via Portici Minori, heads up and look at the wooden statue. It represents a wild man (in fact its name is Wilder Mann). According to tradition, the statue once expelled golden coins at Christmas.
Dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, it dates back to the 10th century, but rebuilt during the 18th century in a Baroque style. Notice the Murano glass chandeliers inside!
Next to the church, there’s the beautiful Romanesque cloister, adorned with paintings, depicting scenes from the Scriptures. Please, you have to find (in a corner) the elephant. It was painted before anyone in the area had ever seen a real elephant. So it is like a cross between an elephant and a horse.
Located in the main piazza, piazza Duomo, it dates back to the beginning of XX century. Even if the Medieval can be deceiving. Just outside of the Town Hall, you can see a flower bed with a topiary work, in the shape of Brixen’s symbol: a white lamb with halo with a flag (red cross on a white background).
In Piazza del Duomo also stands the millennial column (Jahrtausendsäule), about 10 meters high. It was placed here in 1909, to celebrate the first thousand years of the city. On the top of the column there is a statue depicting a lamb (city symbol). On the pedestal, the statue of Bishop Zaccaria is blessing the city.
It was the residence of the Bishop. Built in Renaissance and Baroque style, it now hosts the Diocesan Museum. It also includes a collection of nativity scenes, among the most important in Europe.
San Michele church
It is the parish of Brixen. The style is quite heterogeneous, with Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque parts. Its campanile is called White Tower because of the color of its roof. It was once black (they changed the name). You can book to climb the 72 meters high tower and reach the top: you’ll see an ensemble of bells, that can reproduce about 100 different melodies.
Ponte Aquila and Stufles
The Eagle bridge crosses the Isarco river. From over the Aquila bridge the view of the historic center is beautiful, so please do not forget to turn around and take a picture.
Across the bridge, you reach the Stufles, the oldest district of the city. It is quite fascinating, with narrow streets, going up and down, colorful houses and nice greenery here and there.
Inside a 500-year-old house, this museum shows the developments of the local pharmacy, run by the same family since 1787.
Major episcopal seminary
It’s a grand complex, including a library, a courtyard, a church (Santa Croce). The library houses about 20.000 books and has rich Baroque ornaments. It is open only upon request or during concerts.
Walking around and about Brixen, you will see several frescoed houses. The one that stands out is that of Hotel Elefante. On its facade you’ll see a quaint elephant picture, referring to the visit in town of a real elephant, called Soliman, in 1551. The elephant was a gift by King John of Portugal to his nephew Maximilian of Austria. During the travel to Vienna, the delegation stopped in Brixen for several days. It was a sensational event for the citizens. So much so that the inn owner decided to repaint the facade and also change the name of the hotel.
To reach this area of the town, you have to walk along via del Mercato Vecchio. There you can also spot some shops selling beautiful Tyrolean clothes.
Close to Elephant hotel stands the Acquarena, perfect for some hours of relax: indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, whirlpools, and other facilities, both for adults and kids.
Alta Val d’Isarco cycle path
Along the Isarco river, there’s a cycle path leading to Bolzano (42 km direction South). However, if you follow the path towards north you can easily reach Novacella Abbey (40 minutes walk, or 15 minutes by bike).
It is an Augustinian convent dating back to the year 1142 and located in a beautiful setting, surrounded by mountains and vineyards. With the guided tour you will visit the baroque church, the Gothic cloister and the library (about 92.000 volumes!). At the end of the visit, you can get refreshments at the abbey’s cellar. The wine here served is produced directly in the abbey’s vineyards, the most northern wine-growing area in Italy.
This path goes from Brixen to Millan and vice versa. The distance is 8.2 km with a difference of level of 400 m. Its name recalls Karl I, last Austrian emperor, who loved to follow this itinerary during his stay in Brixen. For more info ask to Brixen tourist office (see below).
Where to eat
If you want a merenda, I suggest you stop at Café Am Gries, just behind the Duomo, past the courtyard. Here you can find several cakes, served in single slices so that you can choose whatever you prefer.
First of all, I want to make clear that I did not try this restaurant. But I’d love to do it. On the day I was in town, it was already booked. Pity, cause many friends of mine strongly recommended it. The name is already enticing in my opinion: Finsterwirt is German for Italian Oste Scuro, Dark Landlord. I was told that the decor is very suggestive and the cuisine is quite gourmet (so the price is medium-high).
We had a burger (rather good) at the Alter Schlachthof instead. The name means old slaughterhouse because it is precisely what it once was. The decor is industrial-chic, and there’s also a nice outdoor area.
At Christmas time, Brixen host a small market in Piazza Duomo, where to find the classic Christmas products, but also local street food stands.
Other than being along the highway, Brixen is well connected via train (2 hours from Verona).