From the majestic alps and great lakes of the far north, through renaissance cities and cultural heartlands, and right down to the Mediterranian coastlines and islands of the south – the great geographical boot of the Italian nation is a mosaic of rich diversity.
The combination of its ancient Roman history, its world-famous cuisine and its reputation for fashion, art and culture, Italy has risen to be one of the most desired destinations to visit in Europe.
With such a tapestry of choice, it is often hard to choose that perfect Italian destination. With our list of best places to visit in Italy, we aim to make that choice all the easier and have included things to see and do in each area, photos of the best places to visit in Italy (to get you inspired) a map of the best places to visit in Italy (to help you get your bearings as to where everything is in case you want to include a few in the same itinerary!)
Disclaimer: Almost all posts on this site contain Affiliate links, and this one about 20 BEST Places to Visit in Italy (complete with Map, Photos & Things to Do in Italy) is no different. This means that if you click on any of the links in this post (and make a purchase) I may receive a small commission at absolutely no cost to you. Each post is carefully crafted to (hopefully!) answer all your questions and recommendations are made where we believe they will improve your trip and help with your planning. As such we thank you in advance should you decide to click & buy. Read my full Disclosure here.
Table of Contents
- 1 Rome
- 2 The Vatican
- 3 Florence
- 4 Milan
- 5 Venice
- 6 Sorrento
- 7 Amalfi Coast (Amalfi, Positano & Ravello)
- 8 Naples
- 9 Verona
- 10 Cinque Terre (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore)
- 11 Palermo
- 12 Bologna
- 13 Bari
- 14 Pisa
- 15 Sardinia
- 16 The Italian Lakes: Lake Garda, Lake Como & Lake Maggiore
- 17 The Mountains: Dolomites / Italian Alps
Map of the Best Places to Visit in Italy
The city of Rome long stood at the epicenter of the ancient world, central to the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church and often called the ‘Eternal City’ is one of the oldest cities in the world.
The modern-day Italian capital reflects much of this past grandeur and is a must when visiting Italy. From its ancient architecture, catholic icons and Roman ruins to its bustling modern metropolitan heartland, Rome has something for every visitor – and our complete guide to the best things to do in Rome is perfect for first time visitors.
Things to see in Rome:
- Visit the Colosseum – no trip to the Italian capital is complete without a visit to the world-famous Colosseum. Built between 70-80 AD and holding up to 80,000 spectators, this ancient amphitheater is a sight to behold.
- Gaze at the Trevi Fountain
- Climb the Spanish Steps
- See the Pantheon – One of the best-preserved temples of ancient Rome in the entire world. The pantheon lies in the center of Rome along the Piazza Della Rotonda.
While some people may include Vatican City within the ‘Rome’ category above, we think being the smallest country in the world (covering just 0.2 square miles) – it deserves to stand on its own two feet so to speak.
Things to see and do in The Vatican
- Walk around St Peters Square – Technically circular; St Peters Square is located in front of the Vatican City, the heart of the Catholic church. Marvel at the impressive statues of religious figures and former popes that surround the square.
- Visit St Peter’s Basilica – One of the most recognized religious buildings in the world, St Peter’s Basilica is full of beautiful frescos and divine detailed architecture.
- Explore the hugely impressive Vatican Museum, experience the incredible Sistine Chapel and exit via the stunning double helix staircase.
The capital of Italy’s Tuscany region, the historic city of Florence is noted as being one of the greatest cities in Italy for renaissance art and architecture. This ‘Athens of the Middle Ages’ gave birth to much of what the renaissance era is credited for, and you will be hard-pressed to find a more idyllic and romantic city in all of Italy. The combination of renaissance beauty and the modern city makes it one of the must-see places in the country.
Things to see in Florence:
- See Florence Cathedral – a stunning example of medieval designed and one of the most iconic domed cathedrals in the world, a sight that can be seen towering over the city.
- View Michelangelo’s David – this famous renaissance sculpture can be seen alongside many more at the city’s Galleria dell’Accademia art museum.
- Walkthrough the Boboli Gardens – these lush green gardens make for the perfect afternoon stroll.
- Cross the Ponte Vecchio – the city is full of historical constructions, and the Vecchio bridge is one of Florences oldest. Cross the River Arno using the bridge and view the plethora of shops that adorn it.
- Take a day trip to visit the enchanting Tuscan Hill Towns of San Gimignano, Volterra or Cortona; or to Siena to see the Piazza del Campo – one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares.
One of the fashion capitals of the world, the northwestern Italian city of Milan has clearly made its mark in the global scene. Alongside this bourgeois reputation, Milan is also a city of history, culture and exquisite Lombardy cuisine. As the second-largest city after Rome, Milan is a vast metropolis that has so much to offer.
Things to see in Milan:
- Milan Cathedral – like many Italian cities Milan has a breathtaking cathedral at its heart. Taking 600 years to finally complete, the intricate architectural design is truly spectacular and is considered one of Milan’s top tourist attractions.
- Shop in style at Milan’s Grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a shopping center with the grandeur of a palace.
- Get to know the work of Italy’s most beloved son Leonardo da Vinci at the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology.
- Grab a coffee in the Piazza del Duomo – this grand open public space is a great place to start you Milan explorations and with its many cafes and restaurants its also an ideal stop for fresh Italian cup of coffee.
Situated on a group of 118 small islands, Venice is a city where the citizens and the surrounding water are one. Joined together with a series of bridges and networks of canals, Venice’s famous beauty makes it one of the most visited places in all of Italy. Its unique city waterscape combined with its rich and long history make it an unmissable Italian experience.
Things to see in Venice:
- Start your Venice experience in the impressive St Mark’s Square and Doges Palace, not only is it the most famous Piazza in the city but also the location of many of its main sights.
- Take a Gondola ride along the grand canal – this is seen as the thing to do in Venice and is a great way to see the city
- Escape the crowds on Venice Lido – this separate picturesque island is the perfect place to relax and escape the hordes of tourists
- Visit St Mark’s Basilica – by far the grandest and most famous building in Venice. Completed in the late 11the century, this beautiful Byzantine designed church is awe-inspiring inside and out.
- Read our Ultimate Weekend in Venice Guide (featuring a full list of things to do, plus where to stay, where to eat how to get around, and day trip ideas including Burano & Murano)
Located in Southern Italy, perched high on the cliffs of the Sorrentine Coast, Sorrento is considered one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the world. Boasting incredible views of the Bay of Naples, the Isle of Capri and Mount Vesuvius in the distance, Sorrento is also known for its lemons (and limoncello!), seafood – especially shellfish, and from the 1800s, as a holiday resort for the rich and famous.
Things to do in Sorrento
- Soak in the atmosphere of the Piazza Tasso, the cities main hub of activity (but not located at the center).
- Take in the sights of the Corso Italia, the main thoroughfare in the heart of Sorrento which include the Duomo (Cathedral)
- Watch the sunset from the terrace at Bellevue Sirine.
- Take a day trip to Capri to see the beautiful Blue Grotto or spend a couple of days along the Amalfi Coast.
Amalfi Coast (Amalfi, Positano & Ravello)
The Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana) is a stretch of coastline about an hour south of Naples in the Gulf of Salerno. The Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is one of the most visited tourist attractions of Italy with the region hosting 5 million visitors annually.
There are 13 small cities and hilltop towns located on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Many of these are centered around tourism and the main coastal towns that most tourists visit are the historic centers of Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello. (And we’ve got the perfect Amalfi Coast itinerary to help you see them all!)
Things to see & do on the Amalfi Coast
- Take in the gorgeous views from Praiano
- Watch the fishing fleets at Cetara.
- Take a boat tour into the Grotta dello Smeraldo Cave.
- Walk the Path of the Gods
Nestled along the southwestern coast of Italy, Naples is the nations third-largest city and has a history and culture to match. Head to the picturesque shoreline of the Bay of Naples, visit the ancient ruins of Pompeii or hike to the peak of Mount Vesuvius – one of Europe’s most active volcanos. Naples’ location makes it a perfect base to visit many sites in the Campania region.
Things to see in Naples:
- Climb Mount Vesuvius – Vesuvius is one of the only volcanos to erupt in Europe in the past hundred years, and you can hike to the top!
- Visit the ruins of Pompeii – Take a tour of this famous Roman city destroyed and covered by the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
- Visit the Piazza del Plebiscito – this is Naples’ main square and is a great place to start your exploration of the city. It is home to the Royal Palace and Royal Basilica, both must-see buildings when in Naples.
- Soak up the sea air in Naples Harbour – defined by its port city reputation, Naples Harbour is the perfect spot to watch the hugely busy port come to life.
Famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the city of Verona has woven its way into the public consciousness as a city of beauty and romance – and upon inspection, it does not disappoint. With its beautiful Italian architecture and vibrant history, Verona lives up to its Shakespearean reputation. Read our guide to the best things to do in Verona to start planning your trip.
Things to see in Verona:
- Visit the ‘Arena di Verona’ – Verona’s Roman amphitheater is more than a match for the famous one in Rome. Constructed in 30 AD, the building is miraculously well preserved.
- Relax on the shores of Lake Garda – only a short distance for Verona is one of Italy’s largest and most stunning lakes, Lake Garda.
- Step into a Shakespeare play – The Casa di Giulietta is supposed to be the building where the famous balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet takes place. Step inside and learn more about the play and building.
Cinque Terre (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore)
Cinque Terre (part of the Italian Riviera) attracts roughly 2.5 million tourists every year all looking for cute villages, delicious food and breathtaking scenery. And, more often than not, Cinque Terre delivers.
If you’re planning a trip to Cinque Terre we think that you need at least 3 days to really do it justice. But of course, you could easily spend longer exploring all the little streets, shops and hikes that are on offer in the region.
The 5 famous colorful villages cut into the side of the cliffs are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore and we’ve put together 15 Top Cinque Terre travel tips (perfect for first-time visitors!) to help you get the most from your stay.
Things to see & do in Cinque Terre
- Get your hiking boots on hit the trails between the five towns
- Watch the sunset from the viewpoint at Maranola
- Cinque Terre is known for it’s Pesto (and seafood), so be sure to try a local dish called ‘trofie al pesto’ – a pasta dish that looks similar to chopped up bits of slightly twisted spaghetti.
The Sicilian capital of Palermo once conjured up images of Mafiosos and organized crime, yet today its ancient and charming cobbled streets welcome in thousands of tourists every year. Its idyllic Mediterranean coastlines and well-preserved buildings make it the epitome of the whole island of Sicily.
What to see in Palermo:
- See the Palatine Chapel – this is one of the best-preserved examples of Byzantine architecture and artwork in all of Europe.
- Sample divine food at Palermo’s markets – The Palermo markets are some of the most vibrant markets in all Italy and provide an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local community.
- Relax on Mondello Beach – Only 15 minutes north of Palermo is the stunning Mondello Beach, great for catching some rays and cooling off in the crystal clear waters.
- Take a day trip to the island of Ustica – boats run from Palermo to the beautiful tiny island of Ustica which is well known for being a fantastic spot for scuba diving.
Home to the oldest universities in the word, the city if Bologna has sat at the crossroads of history for thousands of years. Located in the northeastern Emilia Romagna region, the city today famous for its music, art, and above all its food! (Although don’t ask for Spaghetti Bolongnaise – despite its name, it is a British twist on the popular dish of pasta alla ragu which uses heavier pastas which can better soak up the thick heavy tomato-based sauce known as ragu.)
Things to see in Bologna:
- Try the local dish ‘Tortellini’ – now world-famous, tortellini is one of Bologna’s most celebrated dishes and is a must-try for serious foodies.
- Visit the Piazza Maggiore – as the city’s historical center, the Piazza Maggiore is a great starting point to explore Bologna’s fantastic architecture.
- Climb to the top of Monte Della Guardia – this local forested hill provides breath-taking views of the entire city below.
- Pursue the stalls at La Piazzola Market – one of the oldest markets in Bologna, La Piazzola is a treasure trove of stalls popular with both locals and tourists alike.
One of Italy’s often overlooked cities, Bari is the capital of the Puglia Region, and is located along the country’s eastern coast and makes up the heel of Italy’s boot. It offers awesome views of the Adriatic sea from its city’s port, is peppered with beautiful historic buildings and with a well-preserved old town, Bari has a charm unlike anywhere else in Italy.
Things to see in Bari:
- Take a tour of the old town – wander the maze-like cobbled streets of Bari’s old town and transport yourself back through the centuries.
- Relax along the San Francesco shoreline – this picturesque beach is the perfect place to swim in the turquoise Adriatic waters.
- Visit the ancient ruins of Egnazia – this preserved ancient city foundations stand as a monument to the prehistoric peoples that lived here from the 9th century BCE.
- Take a day trip to see the whitewashed dome roofed ‘trullo’ huts in the famous town of Alberobello
Famous for its Leaning Tower, Pisa is easily reached by train (and only a short 1 hour train ride from Florence) making it a perfect day trip or add on to your Italy itinerary in order to visit the iconic site.
Things to see in Pisa
- The Leaning Tower of Pisa (obviously…)
- The other sights in the Piazza Del Duomo/Piazza Dei Miracoli including The Cathedral, The Baptistry, the Camposanto Monumentale and the Bell Tower.
- Shop along Corso Italia
- Grab a snap of the Arno River from the Ponte di Mezzo (Bridge)
The second-largest island in the Meditteranean (after Sicily), Sardinia is known for its beautiful beaches and stunning clear blue water along its 2,000km of coastline, and mountainous interior which is perfect for hiking. Often overlooked for more traditional Italian destinations, Sardina is an underappreciated hidden gem and well worth visiting.
Things to see and do in Sardinia
- Uncover the mysterious nuraghi of Sardinia (ancient beehive-shaped stone fortresses) – there are over 7000 dotted around the island.
- Wander around the capital Cagliari’s hilltop Castello neighborhood.
- Luxe it up in Costa Smeralda, where Europe’s rich and famous come to play in their mega-yachts and waterfront villas.
- Explore Neptune’s Grotto, tucked away in the stunning cliffside of Capo Caccia.
The Italian Lakes: Lake Garda, Lake Como & Lake Maggiore
Northern Italy is home to it’s very own lakes district boasting over 1500 lakes, but 3 of the most famous (and the largest) are Lake Garda, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. Camping, private boat tours, kayaking, and other water focused and outdoor activities are at the heart of the culture and communities around the lakes. And as a premier vacation destination since the Roman times, the lakes are a much loved sanctuary for a whole host of famous faces throughout the summer months.
The Mountains: Dolomites / Italian Alps
If you’re looking for the perfect mountain vacation, you can’t go wrong with either the Dolomites or the Italian Alps. (While both mountain ranges are technically part of the alps, most locals call the range in Italy’s northeast corner the Dolomites, while those in the northwest, in the Valle d’Aosta, are the Alps).
Whether you want to ski down them in winter, or hike up or around them in summer – the mountains are a perfect playground for outdoor lovers – and offer some of the most amazing views in the world at every turn. It’s no wonder they are one of the best places to visit in Italy.
And if you are trying to decide which one to choose – the Dolomites are loved for their superior ski slopes but the the Valle d’Aosta is known for its breathtaking views on its hiking and biking trails. It is also generally quieter, a little less expensive and has more off the beaten path villages to explore than it’s counterpart.
And that’s a wrap folks, we hope this guide to 20+ BEST Places to Visit in Italy has been a huge help planning your trip to Italy.
If you know of anyone else that needs a little bit of inspiration for visiting Italy or assistance in planning their Italy vacation (or even how to explore the country while they are there!), please be sure to share this post on social media: Facebook, Flipboard, Twitter or grab one of the images from below for Pinterest. And remember – sharing is charing (and we thank you in advance!)
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