Pizza, pasta, the treasures of ancient Rome, the romantic towns of Naples’ Bay, the soaring heights of Vesuvius and Etna, the picture-perfect canals of Venice and some of the planet’s most fascinating museums and galleries are just some of the treats in store for travelers making their way to this veritable jewel of the Med. Here, we take a look at all the top spots in Italy, to help would-be visitors to The Boot get the best itinerary going. Here’s the best places to visit in Italy! Enjoy…
Ah Rome, The Eternal City, the epicentre of perhaps the mightiest European empire ever, the stomping ground of the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the regal Platine Hill, the winding Tiber River, the elegant gardens of the Villa Borghese, the totemic works of Caravaggio and Michelangelo, Rafael and Bernini – the list goes on! A truly bucket list city if there ever was one, the Italian capital draws everyone from history buffs to honeymooners. Whether you hit the streets of the Centro Storico and the bustling al fresco pizzerias of Piazza Navona, the romantic alleys of Trastevere or the even the two-millennium old stones of the Via Appia Antica that run out of town, this city is sure to impress.
2. Cinque Terre
Craggy cliffs and rugged gorges cascade their way down to the rollers of the Ligurian Sea in the UNESCO-attested reaches of Cinque Terre. Visited by thousands of people every year, this truly photogenic section of the Italian Riviera comes studded with the beautiful towns of Manarola, Riomaggiore and Vernazza. Each of these is famed for their pastel-painted, ice-cream-coloured rows of historic homes, which protrude from the rocks of the coast in glorious fashion. Meanwhile, at Monterosso, travelers flit between the new town and the sun-kissed sands of the city beach, sipping Piedmont wines and munching on the region’s famous pesto pasta and focaccia.
The Tuscan capital is a veritable chocolate box of treats for the culture vulture. It was here, during the Italian power boom of the 15th century, that the city became the incubator of the European Renaissance. That means galleries like the famed Uffuzi come packed with masterworks by the likes of Caravaggio, Botticelli and Albrecht Durer, while the Museo Galileo chronicles the successes of the era’s forward thinking scientists. There are also the revered contours of Michelangelo’s David in the Galleria dell’Accademia, while the Old Town’s Duomo is amongst the most glorious in Italy. Shopping in the jewellers of the handsome Ponte Vecchio is also a hit, as is Florence’s lively summertime nightlife.
Crowned by one glorious old town area (the Citta Alta), this veritable jewel of the Lombardy region is regularly overlooked by travelers making a beeline for the lakes of Como and Garda, or the heavily-adorned streets of Milan. Criminal! Those who linger can head for the walled area of the Upper Town to experience the cobblestone streets and earthy pizzerias that abound, spy out the Piazza Vecchia – home to the bubbling Contarini fount and soaring Campanone tower – and the arched walkways of the pretty Cittadella. Even further up the hill in the midst of the city – and connected by funicular rail – is the charming village of San Vigilio, boasting sweeping views of the foothills of the Italian Alps and some beautiful fine-dining joints to boot.
Nestled in the undulating, vineyard-clad valleys of Apulia right in the middle of the Italian heel, Lecce is a patchwork of Baroque and ancient architecture. Visitors here can explore the crumbling remnants of a second-century amphitheatre by morning and delve behind the glorious facades of churches like San Giovanni Battista, the Church of the Holy Cross and the bell-tower-topped Lecce Cathedral by afternoon. Of course, the city also comes replete with plenty of sun-splashed piazzas, where gelato holes-in-the-wall give way to enticing wine bars touting the famous labels of the Apulian cellars.
This tear-drop isle in the Mediterranean has long been one of the most coveted Italian holidaying destinations of all. Fringed by beautiful beaches and craggy coves like San Vito and rugged Cala Rossa, the island is perfect for sunbathers and relaxation seekers. Foodies come too, for the curiously Moorish-inspired couscous dishes and top-notch seafood, while history buffs wander wide-eyed around the striking temple ruins of Agrigento. Then there are Sicily’s fascinating cities, shrouded by Etna and the powers of the Cosa Nostra at places like Catania, and sun-kissed and awash with gorgeous Byzantine and Sicilian Baroque churches at Palermo. This one’s simply not to be missed!
Rough-around-the-edges Naples has all the charm of a truly lived-in Campanian city. As one of the longest continuously inhabited places in the world, it’s hardly surprising that it conceals layer upon layer of history and culture between its tight-knit streets. Cutting right through the heart of the centre, crisscrossed by swaying washing lines and dotted with the mysterious gargoyles of Renaissance churches, is the shadowy strip of Spaccanapoli, while pizzerias issue the scents of authentic Italian herbs and tomato passata and mozzarella into the air between the lanes of the Quartieri Spagnoli. Then, on the outskirts of town, the great bucket-list legend of Pompeii and Herculaneum rise under the shadow of Vesuvius; the great brooding caldera of the south.
8. Italian Lake District
Made famous by the mountain-shrouded waters of Lake Garda and Como, this uber-elegant and well-to-do region of the Italian north is really worth the visit. Nestled just north of Milan, the region plays host to postcard-perfect towns, like Como’s Menaggio, cascading elegantly down to the shimmering waters of the lake, or Garda’s Riva del Garda, with its curious Austrian-esque soul and winding narrow lanes. Amidst the two popular lakes sits untrodden Iseo, a beautiful L-shaped gem that has sleepy Lovere and the walking trails of Bossico, all of which is placed neatly down the valley from the bucket-list peaks of the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park. Expect good weather, great food inspired by the Swiss and Austrian kitchens, and some of the most dramatic mountain scenery this side of the Aosta Valley.
A city of business suits (this is where Italy’s stock exchange ticks over) and fashionistas (Milan is the home of arguably the biggest fashion week in all of Europe), Milan seems like the perfect balance of old and new. Its heart is adorned with the flying buttresses and Gothic majesty of one gorgeous Duomo, while the church of Saint Mary of the Graces pulls crowds with the promise of da Vinci’s iconic Last Supper, and the rises of Saint Ambrose are a lesson in all things Lombard Romanesque. Close by to these beautiful basilicas stands the well-to-do arcades of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele; complete with more Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton than you can shake a bowl of saffron-favoured risotto alla Milanese at.
Learned Bologna lays claim to one of the oldest universities in all of Europe, and today its various districts – most notably the richly adorned Centro Historico and the bar-heavy University Quarter – still pulse with an undeniable youthfulness and vitality thanks to the town’s resident population of more than 100,000 students. But that’s not it. The town also bursts with eye-watering historic sights, like the basilica-ringed Piazza Maggiore, the Fountain of Neptune and the tenuously leaning Tower of the Asinelli. Food is also big in Bologna – the self-proclaimed culinary capital of the nation – as gravy-doused red meat cuts and viscous red wines pour out from the trattorias by the bucket load.
Perhaps Italy’s single most handsome medieval city, Siena is a labyrinth of red-brick palazzos and tight-knit streets. The city centre – the home of the famous Palio di Siena each summer – is the oval Piazza del Campo, where the archways and facades of the Loggia della Mercanzia form the backdrop for countless al fresco eateries and gelato stalls. Higher up through the town and the streets give way to the shimmering white marble of the Siena Duomo, and the looming Renaissance towers and crenulations of the Palazzo Pubblico hide treasures from the city’s former medieval golden age.
The famous City of Canals has long been one of the most iconic places in all of Italy. Beloved of honeymooners and would-be proposers, culture vultures and wide-eyed travelers in search of some of the country’s most impressive architecture, the town was once one of the major players in the Italian power struggles of the 15th century, vying for control of the Adriatic and Med with the likes of Florence. Today, remnants of this Golden Age can be seen in the Doge’s Palace and the spots that line the Piazza San Marco: the Bell tower of St Mark; the red-brick Campanile. Then there’s the winding Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge – the muses of Shakespeare and Monet alike – while further afield is the Venice Lido beach and the acclaimed glass workshops of Murano.
Famed for the crystal-clear, aquamarine hues of its shoreline waters, which lap against the rugged rocks and caves of the coast here where the Tyrrhenian Sea meets the greater Mediterranean, Sardinia encompasses bucket list beaches and soaring mountains between its borders. Inland is home to some seriously beautiful hiking trails, which weave up and around the massif of Gennargentu (dusted in snow by winter) and past mountain-shrouded towns like Ozieri and Fonni. Meanwhile, Cagliari hosts bobbing millionaire yachts and terraced lines of colourful Renaissance mansions and palazzos, while the shimmering sands at Villasimius and Chia, secluded Tuerredda and UNESCO-attested Cala Goloritze are simply to die for!
Turin may not be Italy’s most visited or lauded town, but it sure packs a punch from its place in the middle of beautiful Piedmont. The onetime home of the Italian royal family, the city is spiked at the centre by the Mole Antonelliana masonry tower (the highest of its kind in Europe). However, most travelers head to the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist to catch a glimpse of the famous Turin Shroud (when it’s on show), or the earthy and enthralling streets of ancient Quadrilatero Romano (perfect for sampling that Piedmont cuisine). However, Turin is also the perfect gateway to the western half of the Italian Alps, offering travelers access to the sweeping vineyards of Barolo grapes and the ski fields of the Aosta Valley alike.
Most visitors who make their way to this onetime medieval military power on the edge of the Ligurian Sea are on course for the Leaning Tower, now found swaying tenuously in the midst of the city with its patchwork of Romanesque and Baroque. However, Pisa is much more than just its most famous site. It’s also home to the treasures of the Piazza dei Miracoli, complete with the colonnaded façade of the Pisa Cathedral, and the impossibly beautiful Piazza dei Cavalieri – once the political powerhouse of the Pisan state. Travelers can also stroll between the stuccoed and painted homes that line the Arno as it drifts towards the Med, delve into the region’s famous mineral spas and shop for Tuscan souvenirs amidst the welcoming shops of the Corso Italia.