Rome might typically take the spotlight as Italy’s token tourist destination, but to really appreciate this beautiful country you need to step outside the walls of the Eternal City. Venture into the countryside for miles of vineyards and olive orchards, or explore seaside villages with clusters of ancient, colorful homes.
Here are our top must-see places in Italy; try to make it to one or two, or even all ten!
10 Places You Can’t Miss in Italy
Escape the hustle and bustle of city life in Venice, notorious for its hundreds of canals and complete lack of cars. Venice seems to be suspended in time with its traditional carnivals and masks, beautiful architecture (don’t miss Piazza San Marco), and markets like Mercati di Rialto that date back to the 11th century!
Be THAT cheesy tourist and take a ride in one of the iconic gondolas, or get lost wandering the narrow cobblestone streets. Oh, and don’t forget your rain boots — high tide commonly causes flooding but makes for beautiful pictures!
There’s plenty to do in the cities of Tuscany — from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the innumerable museums and cathedrals of Florence — but in the countryside, you can finally live out your Under the Tuscan Sun fantasy in a provincial town with a good bottle of wine. Cycle the town of Lucca during their mid-afternoon shutdown, stay in a rural luxury spa hotel like Villa la Borghetta, and drink your way through some of the most tastefully (literally) wineries in the region.
Plan to stay in one location, like Chianti or Montalcino, and enjoy everything the area has to offer rather than trying to squeeze multiple towns or cities into a short trip. In the cities mentioned, I’d recommend staying at the Villa Mangiacane or the jaw-dropping Castello Di Velona.
Siena is known to be the “Medieval Heart of Tuscany,” home to more beautiful Gothic cathedrals, towers, and piazzas than you could possibly see in the time of your visit. The Siena Cathedral and the Torre Del Mangia in Piazza del Campo are sightseeing musts at any time of the year, but if you’re lucky enough to visit during the Il Palio horse race in the summer, make sure to be in attendance! These races date back to the 1500 & 1600’s — a tradition as old as most things in this city.
The Wednesday Market is a great place to buy souvenirs like clothing, housewares, truffle oils and cheeses, so leave plenty of room in your luggage for goodies to bring home. Stay at the luxe Relais degli Angeli Residenza d’Epoca or more budget-friendly Hotel Duomo, both within walking distance to the city centre.
It is no coincidence the city of Bologna shares its name with a meat! Here you’ll find the best meat-inclusive dishes in the country, such as filled pastas, sauces, meatballs and antipasti. Take a food tour and sample local delicacies, and see the area’s treasured sites like the sacred San Petronio Basilica. It may fall behind other tourism cities in popularity, but this hidden gem of a foodie destination is the real deal when it comes to unparalleled Italian fare!
Read more: Solo in Bologna, Italy
5. Italian Lake District
The Italian Lake District is made up of multiple lakes — the top 5 being Maggiore, Lugano, Como, Iseo, and Garda — each of which has their own character and draws. Lake Como is a short hour drive from Milan, while neighboring Lake Maggiore and its dramatic alps backdrop is a great destination for history (the Isola Bella!) and exotic Mediterranean greenery.
My personal favorite, Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, with surroundings just as you might imagine — rolling hills, turquoise waters, and attractions like the Sinking Castle and Christ of the Abyss. Shoppers will enjoy Lake Lugano‘s high-end boutiques and palm tree-lined gardens, while the quieter Lake Iseo would be ideal for nature lovers looking to hike, swim, or horseback ride.
6. Amalfi Coast
Along the Amalfi coast — just south of Naples and a short 50 minute flight from Rome — lies a gorgeous stretch of coastal land just waiting to be explored! Rent a car and drive Coast Road through the charming cities and stunning views that the area is known for.
On the list of things to do should be the lush Valle delle Ferriere, Amalfi Cathedral, and Villa Cimbrone Gardens. There’s plenty of cities and towns to stay in (take your pick!), but I’d recommend reserving a room at the Hotel Residence while in the town of Amalfi.
7. Cinque Terre
Even if you can’t pinpoint Cinque Terre on a map, you’ve likely seen photos of this colorful hillside gem and you’re bound to fall head over heels for this quaint cove of fishing villages on the sea! The area is actually a national park, resulting in its beautifully maintained and natural reserve state. Cinque Terre is known for its walking (*hiking) trails, so work off all those carbs you’ve been eating and reward yourself with a glass of local wine on the beach.
You may find yourself loving a particular town and wanting to stay, but if you plan to book accommodation in advance book a reservation at B&B La Madonetta for a night or two. You can also visit our post on Where to Stay in Cinque Terre, Italy.
Read more: Cinque Terre Travel Tips
The Dolomites towering mountain range in northeast Italy is one you could easily get lost in, both figuratively and literally. Dramatic views of the mountains and hilly countryside will sweep you away, and the German-Austrian influence gives you a total multicultural experience. Hiking here is the main draw for worldwide travelers, but you can just as easily spend your time holing out in one of the many mountain towns like Bolzano or Castelrotto.
Where it falls behind big-name cities like Rome and Venice in tourist popularity, it makes up for in serene untapped alpine wilderness! Don’t expect to visit until late July or August when the weather is ripe. When you go, be sure to check out Stadt Hotel Città or Hotel Schgaguler.
The allure of Sicily is obvious: clear turquoise waters, ancient Roman mosaics, and natural wonders to explore like the Alcantara. Get some authentic gelato from Ferlito Gelateria in front of the Baroque Palazzo Senatorio, and see the sweeping views from Castello de Venere on the top of Mount Erice. Stay at Secret B&B in Trapani on the western coast of the island and eat at Cantina Siciliana — a one-stop shop for amazing Italian dishes of any kind.
Trust me when I say this might be your most photogenic vacation destination yet!
Read more: The Best Travel Cameras of 2017
Located in the center of Tuscany wine country and abound with museums, cathedrals, iconic statues and historic monuments, Florence basically sells itself. I could go on about all the jaw-dropping sights to see here, but instead I’ll leave you with a list of places to go or things to do to add to your trip itinerary. Be sure to try a panino con lampredotto — a local delicacy found only in Florence — while you’re in town!
- Florence Cathedral
- Uffizi Gallery
- Galleria dell’Accademia (home to Michelangelo sculptures, including the iconic statue David!)
- Florence Baptistery
- Boboli Gardens (statue filled gardens; an absolute MUST)
- Medici Chapel