From Rome to Venice to Florence to Cinque Terre, Italy has the perfect place for every traveler. Whether you’re marveling at ancient Roman or Greek ruins, staring at the innumerable and priceless frescos, or simply strolling down a bustling side street, it’s impossible not to feel and appreciate the weight of Italy’s cultural achievement.
Once you’ve had your fill of Italy’s cultural richness, be sure to taste Italy’s bountiful cuisine. Whether you’re eating at a five-star restaurant or a small, rustic family business, Italy’s commitment to perfect ingredients and seasonal produce ensures an incredible experience. Each region and city has its own personal flair, so be sure to set aside a sizable budget for plentiful tastings. Speaking of budgeting, work off the calories with a round of shopping in the home of Prada, Gucci, Marchesi, and others.
No matter which way you prefer to spend your vacation, Italy is full of enough romance and wonder to please even the most jaded traveler.
Italy’s capital city, rightly known as the Eternal City, has enchanted the world for thousands of years and called itself home to great politicians, emperors, and creative minds alike. Today, Rome is a busy, bustling city packed with natives and tourists, all making their way through the narrow streets. With a mix of modern buildings and gracefully crumbling ancient ruins, it’s no surprise that Rome continues to be one of the world’s most- visited cities.
Canals, gondolas, and epic romance can only mean one city: Venice. From the Grand Canal to the city’s many hidden side streets, the Italian city built over a lagoon offers a magical experience to any traveler that makes their way inside. The waterfront churches, palaces, and apartments are best appreciated by cruising down the canals, propelled by one of the city’s many gondolas. If the history- steeped side of Venice isn’t enough for you, dive into the city’s modern cuisine and festivities.
Often declared the fashion capital of the world, Milan offers some of the most varied and exciting experiences for travelers. Milan, Italy’s second- most populated city boasts a population of about 1.3 million and can come as quite a shock to visitors after the relative quiet of other major Italian cities, particularly in terms of its less-than-clean mafia and corruption-laced past. From high fashion to soaring cathedrals to unmatched nightlife, the city of Milan has something for everyone.
Despite the massive influx of tourists throughout the year, Florence (Firenze as it’s known locally) is a gorgeous city filled with Renaissance flavor and some of the greatest art in the world. The best part of Florence is by far its narrow streets, each promising a new discovery. As visitors wind their way further in, passing centuries of history, they’ll inevitably come upon one of many tiny cafes with fresh food and unbelievable wine. Come for the tourist attractions, stay for the small-town charm.
The southern seaside town of Naples is so much more than a stopover for more popular destinations like Capri and the Amalfi Coast – not only is the city Italy’s third largest but it’s full of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, art-filled museums, and incredible castles and palaces. Adding to its high-low charm are the tattered, graffiti-laced side streets that provide a not unpleasant contrast. Aside from the rich culture, Naples is stuffed to the brim with some of the country’s best culinary treats, ready to be sampled.
Turin’s elegant, tree-lined streets full of cafes and restaurants are a breath of fresh air after the claustrophobia of many other Italian cities. The pride that is obvious in the town is well-warranted: Turin sold the world’s first hard chocolate, created Fiat, and remains well known as the home of the Holy Shroud. Turin is also celebrated as the focal point of the modern Italian state, taking the lead of the Italian unification project and briefly served as Italy’s first capital.
Modern Bologna is a fascinating duality. On one hand, the city’s long history is easily visible through its sweeping piazzas and the world’s oldest university. On the other hand, the super-rich live exclusive lives in the Po valley thanks to the high-tech industry that’s emerged. No matter which Bologna you find yourself in, you’re sure to encounter great food like the Bolognese sauce, interesting people, and a sprawl of terracotta medieval buildings.
08. Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast is a bucolic, stretch of land that encompasses charming small towns such as Positano, Amalfi, Sorrento, Salerno, and more. Each city has its own special vibe but each is worth a visit for the historical points of interest and the sheer beauty of the coastline. Made up of high-class restaurants and hotels alongside historical centers, the Amalfi Coast has something for everyone, whether your idea of the perfect holiday is hiking up a mountain or just sunning on the beach.
Modern-day Genoa is a sprawling port city with old-fashioned, narrow lanes that ensure a surprise around every corner. With such a long and varied history, it’s clear that Genoa isn’t just a gritty port town: the UNESCO-sponsored Pallazi dei Rollo and other soaring examples of 16th and 17th century art and architecture give the city a touch of class. Thanks to its position as 2004’s European City of Culture, Genoa underwent some fairly extreme renovations in recent years.
Sorrento, a small city in Campania, is known by many names: the Land of Mermaids. The Land of Colors. The Land of Orange and Lemon Groves. Located atop high cliffs overlooking the sea, Sorrento also offers alluring views of Capri, the Bay of Naples, and Mount Vesuvius which can be reached by one of the many hiking trails in the area. The city is made up of about 16,500 residents but has many options thanks to its status as a popular tourist destination.
Verona is a compact city full of easily-navigated cobblestone streets and a feeling of romance befitting the home of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. Described as the city of romance (although the city’s actual connection to the iconic young lovers is tenuous at best), Verona is a lovely example of an easy-going Italian town with plenty of appeal. There may not be any major sights in Verona, but the city’s undeniable charm makes it worth a visit anyway.
12. Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is a picturesque portion of the coast along the Italian Rivera which is made up of five villages: Monterosso al More, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. All of the coast and villages in the area are part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With houses built up terraces on the steep, rugged cliffs over the sea, Cinque Terre is a totally unique and undeniably gorgeous slice of Italy.
The Cinque Terre area is incredibly unique for any number of reasons; in particular, the beautiful, varied coloring of the houses. Apparently this practice emerged from fishermen wanting to be able to easily identify their houses while working.
Palermo, the atmospheric regional capital of Sicily. While many visitors remark on the city’s chaotic streets and charming state of architectural decay, Palermo is worth a visit for more intrepid travelers who don’t mind a bit of side-eye from the locals. Wander through the old city and try to spot the layers upon layers of architectural styles which show off the city’s long and varied past; then, take a short boat ride to the bucolic island of Ustica.
A former maritime powerhouse, Pisa is now known for its biggest architectural failure: the Leaning Tower of Pisa. That being said, the tower is just one of many worthy points of interest in the city. Roman, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture dot the lively streets and cultivate an air of cheerful history. Full of super-cool students following in Galileo’s footsteps, chic restaurants, and a great bar scene, Pisa is the perfect city to kick back and relax.
Which do you prefer: Siena or Florence? If you visit both, you’ll quickly find that Italians and foreigners alike both tend to have a strong preference for one or the other. If you prefer Gothic style architecture to Renaissance, then Siena’s dramatic piazza and buildings are probably for you. It seems that around every corner is an ornate church or an unexpected green space, making Siena a wonderful city for exploring in the warmer-weather months.
Located just less than an hour away from Venice, Padua is one of the major cultural centers of northern Italy. The city’ is a much quieter, less visited medieval city (compared to Venice) full of ancient buildings, as is befitting one of the country’s oldest cities. The city’s narrow arcaded streets are wonderfully romantic and full of old world charm. Padua is a must-see for at least a day or two and well-worth the trip after you visit Venice.
Certainly one of Sicily’s brightest gems, Syracuse is full of timeless beauty thanks to its early rise as a world powerhouse. It’s amazing that people continue to live in the town that seems more museum than city, but in fact Syracuse offers plenty of options for even the most modern traveler. From Baroque piazzas dotted with chic cafes to citrus groves filled with ancient ruins, enjoy the feeling of crossing into thousands of years of history – all without sacrificing modern amenities.
Not only is the city of Perugia a charming city in its own right, it’s also in the very center of Italy (known as the “Green Heart of Italy”) and an easy access point to other towns in Umbria. Perugia is a medieval walled town full of historic buildings that range from Etruscan remains to Roman ruins to medieval treasures.
Catania is the second-largest city on the island of Sicily and faces the Ionian Sea on the east coast. While the city may appear a bit scruffy on first glance, don’t let appearances fool you: the historic center is a UNESCO-listed destination thanks to its Baroque piazzas, beautiful buildings, and a massive black-and-white palazzi tower. Best of all, Mount Etna looms in the background, reminding everyone in Catania of the city’s tumultuous history of explosions and earthquakes.
With beautiful views overlooking a sky-blue ocean, Capri is a veritable paradise for travelers and those lucky enough to live there full-time. Tourists report an intoxicating fragrance of flowers which, along with the idyllic views, make it easy to understand why the island has inspired centuries of poets. The land where legendary hero Odysseus nearly fell pretty to the Sirens’ song, each nook and cranny of the island holds an ancient magic that is sure to delight.