Where in the world can you find a country full of charismatic people, vibrant cities, pristine beaches and mouth-watering food? Okay maybe a few places but how about if you add a city of canals, some ancient temples, a tower (that leans) oh and the Pope’s house?
You guessed it, we are talking Italy: home of pizza, Prosecco and gelato – so much delicious gelato.Aside from its tasty delights Italy is also packed full of history, spectacular architecture, famous artworks and beautiful scenery. What more can you ask for?
So where do you start? In a country filled with exciting adventures and ‘must see’ sights it’s easy to feel overwhelmed but fear not, just have a look at our top fifteen selection and take it from there.
Sit back and enjoy the adventure…
1. The Vatican City # Rome
Okay, you caught us out;technically the Vatican City isn’t a part of Italy. It’s actually its own separate country, the smallest in the world, and ruled by the Bishop of Rome – The Pope. However since thewalled Vatican is within the city of Rome(and you seriously can’t come to Italy without seeing it) we think it counts for this list.
The holy centre of Catholicism is the number one place to visitin Italy regardless of your religious beliefs. The famous Sistine Chapel is frankly awesome and has to be seen to be believed. It took Michelangelo several years (lay on his back on some rickety scaffolding) to painstakingly paint the intricate ceiling of the papal chapel. Another Michelangelo masterpiece, The Last Judgement, looms on the wall behind the alter where it can be admired in all its glory.
The multipleVatican museums house some of the most iconic paintings and sculptures in the world. Even if you don’t know your Raphael’s from your Da Vinci’s the Vatican City is a truly unique cultural experience that can be enjoyed by everyone.
- Take a guided tour of the museums – with so many things to see it’s easy to miss the famous and important pieces.
- On the last Sunday of the month there is free entry to the city – be prepared to queue though.
- Bring appropriate clothing – shoulders and knees must be covered.
2. The City of Canals # Venice
It’s romantic, it’s beautiful – it’s Venice!
If French is the language of love then Venice is definitelythe location of love. The serene waterways, intimate restaurants and grand architecture make it the perfect place to take a loved one.
Singletons need not be put off though; Venice is a great location to travel alone. You can spend many happy hours wandering through the charming alleys, browsing the shops and people watching over a cup of gelato in the magnificent Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square). Who knows, with all the love lingering in the air you might just meet that special someone.
Venice is renown for its delicateVenetian glass and flamboyant masks so have a look in the shops and pick up some authentic souvenirs. Make sure you pack them well though!!
- Take the Vaporetto (the public water taxi) at night for a romantic river cruise. It’s far cheaper and just as romantic as a private gondola.
- Make s list of everyone you know with a charm bracelets – Venetian glass beads make the perfect presents.
3. Pizzas and the Palace # Naples
Naples is the original home of the pizza pie so get yourself into the old town, let your belt out and prepare for a feast. Whether you settle into a traditional pizzeria or order yourself a slice on the go this is authentic pizza like you have never tasted before.
Forget American style greasy pizza, overloaded with toppings – pizza in Naples is simple, fresh and delicious.
If you feel the need for a little walk after all that food then try the Bourbon tunnel (Tunnel Borbonico). This secret passageway connects the Palace to the military barracks and the sea. Descend into this underground labyrinth and discover five centuries of history.
- If you want a spicy pepperoni pizza then look for a Pizza Divola or salamepiccante. Peperoni (note one P) means bell pepper in Italian so peperoni pizza wont be what you expect!
- Bourbon tunnel tickets must be ordered in advance.
The Collosseum – Rome Via By Diliff/ Wikimedia Commons
4. The Collosseum # Rome
The topic of many school history lessons and, perhaps more excitingly, many films – the Collosseum is the iconic structure of the Roman Gladiators.
Yes it’s busy and yes there are lots of stalls trying to sell souvenirs to tourists but you know what? It’s still well worth the visit.
This colossal Roman Amphitheatre seats around 55,000 people and was used for gladiator fighting, executions, horse racing and numerous other (often gruesome) activities.
The structure alone is incredible and so well preserved considering that it is almost 2,000 years old. What is more striking is the atmosphere within the huge stone arena. Just try to imagine the fear of the Gladiators as they faced their last moments fighting for their lives with the deafening howl of the spectators. It’s pretty intense!
- Book tickets in advance to avoid queues
- Arrive early to avoid the worst of the crowds.
- Read up on the Gladiators before you visit so you can truly get a feel for the place.
5. Gaze at L’Ultima Cena (The Last Supper) # Milan
Without question one of the most famous, well studied and heavily discussed paintings on the planet – how could you miss a chance the see ‘The Last Supper’ in the flesh? Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece depicting Jesus and his twelve disciples resides in the unassuming dining room of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.
Unlike a fresco (which is painted onto wet plaster) The Last Supper is painted directly onto the dry wall and is therefore deteriorating rapidly – despite being in a permanent state of restoration.
All visits are limited to 15 breath-taking minutes and knowing that this treasure wont last forever makes your visit here even more poignant.
- Book tickets well in advance and consider the Last Supper tour to learn the most about this mysterious painting.
- Remember to wear appropriate Church clothing – shoulders and knees must be covered
- Big bags are not permitted in the Church
6. Discover the Amalfi Coast
Stretching along the Southern Coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula is 50 kilometres of pristine coastline known as the Amalfi Coast. Small towns are perched between the sea and the mountains at regular intervals, each offering a little slice of traditional Italy.
Navigate the winding coastal road and soak up the shimmering bays, dramatic cliff faces and pretty local houses. Take your time and stop for lunch, take a dip in the crystal waters and enjoy a sunset cocktail. In fact, why not stay for the week?
Alternatively discover the bays by boat and take a day excursion along the coast and to the quaint little island of Capri. While there you can visit the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra), an unusual sea cave flooded with a brilliant blue/emerald light.
- Take a boat cruise along the coast and enjoy a cocktail as you sail into the sunset. If you are a keen sailor then why not hire your own boat.
- Eat seafood in a bay – it doesn’t get any fresher than that!
- Walk the coastal ‘Path of the Gods’ from Agerola to Positano and soak in the view
7. Sassi Di Matera
These ancient cave dwellings are the second oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world (apart from Petra, Jordon). People are living in houses that their ancestors lived in 9,000 years ago – yes it’smind blowing!
Thousands of years of poverty mean that some of Matera is in a bad way but thanks to its new status UNESCO World Heritage Site the rest will be well preserved.
You can wander around the town and churches at your own leisure or take a guided tour. No one can ever say that history is boring after visiting this spectacular town frozen in time.
- Parking and road signs are limited. To get to Matera by train first travel to Bari then catch the train to Matera Centrale (1.5 hours from Bari and costs around 2 euro)
- Go to the Churches to see the frescos before they are destroyed over time by being constantly touched by thoughtless tourists.
- Visit the city at the ‘blue hour’ just as the sunsets and it starts to get dark to see the city come alive with twinkling lights.
Seeing Pompeii not only gives you an insight into the lives of the ancient Romans but it also reminds you of the power of Mother Nature.
The town of Pompeii was destroyed by the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Between 10,000 and 25,000 inhabitants died as the city was buried in 4-6 metres of volcanic ash and pumice.
The city was forgotten until almost 1,700 years later was it was rediscovered and the excavation of the city began. The majority of the buildings were amazingly well preserved and what remains is an incredible and surreal peak into a long lost civilisation.
More recently the cavities where bodies were entombed have been filled with plaster to reveal the positions of those who died. It is both macabre yet fascinating and totally un-miss able.
- Entry is free on the first Sunday of the month.
- Bring snacks/drinks – there aren’t many refreshment stalls
9. Drive the Chianti Route # Chianti, Tuscany
If you aren’t going to Italy for the history or the pizza then it must be for the wine! Italy produces a spectacular array of wines so will never go thirsty but for the big daddy of Italian reds then a trip to Chianti is a must.
Located in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany, between Florence and Siena the Chianti region consists of several small towns and hundreds of beautiful vineyards and wineries.
The drive alone is spectacular and well worth it even if you aren’t a wine connoisseur.
Learning is way more fun with wine so get yourself to a vineyard for some tasting and to discover the history and wine making process of the famous Chianti wines.
- Visit in September for the harvest and wine festivals
- Book an organised tour so that you can visit multiple vineyards without worrying about driving over the alcohol limit.
- Call ahead to the smaller vineyards to check they are open.
10. The Frasassi Caves (Grotte di Frasassi) # Genga, Marche
It’s hard to believe that these incredible caves extending over 30 km and 8 floors underground were only discovered in 1971.
The Frasassi Caves are the largest, and arguably most spectacular, underground complex in Europe. Full of stalagmites, stalactites, crystallised lakes and mineral deposits – you just can’t afford to miss them on your Italian adventure.
A guided tour of the caves takes you through the Ancona Abyss with its giant 20 metre stalagmites and crystallised lakes. The candle halls are full of semi formed stalagmites that look eerily like melting candles frozen in time.
The shiny, solid mineral ‘Niagra Falls’ certainly rival the impressive beauty of the real thing.
Photos are forbidden so the only real way to experience the sheer magnitude of these caves is to see it with your own eyes.
- Bring a jacket – it’s pretty chilly down there!
- Visit on a weekday to avoid the crowds – the entrance and exist are through the same passage so it can get a little hectic at peak times.
11. The Valley of the Temples (Vale Dei Templi) # Agrigento, Sicily
Who knew that to find some of the best examples of ancient Greek architecture you would have to go to Italy – well Sicily to be exact.
Overlooking the MediterraneanSeain Agrigento lays thegrandiose Valley of the Temples. Out of the eight main temples the Temple Concordia stands majestic and almost entirely intact. In comparison only eight pillars of the Temple of Hercules remain – it was built in the 6th century though so that is understandable!
It’s well worth a visit to the Archaeological Museum to brush up on your ancient Greek knowledge – and to get out of the sun for a while.
- Get an out of hours ticket to see the magical atmosphere of the temples illuminated by the sunset and then by sympathetic spotlights.
- Wear comfortable, practical shoes – there is lots of walking!
- Shade is limited so bring a hat & sun cream in the warmer months
12. Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena) # Siena, Tuscany
Undoubtedlythe most impressive gothic Church in Italy, not even the photos manage to do this building justice.
The façade of the Cathedral is truly unique with each of the faces being adorned with a totally individual style. The truly ornate West face, the main entrance to the Cathedral is where you will be taking most of your photographs.
If you think the façade is impressive then prepare to be amazed by the interior. An intricate marble mosaic adorns the entire floor of the Cathedral whilst the nave soars above you on imposing black and white marble pillars.
The Piccolomino Library is adorned with the brightest and most beautifully executed frescoes you are likely to see on your entire trip – and probably your entire life.
The best part? It’s impossible to choose, you will go into sensory overload at the sheer beauty of this Cathedral.
- Wear appropriate clothing (shoulders and knees covered)
- The public are welcome to attend a service on the weekdays or Sunday but be aware that sightseeing is not available at the same time.
- Visit in September when the entire mosaic floor is displayed – the rest of the time most of it is covered to help preserve it.
13. Hike Mount Etna # Catania, Sicily
If you like to live life a little dangerously then how does a hike to the top of Europe’s tallest active volcano sound to you? As far as tall goes, Mount Etna is an impressive 3,350 metres tall and active? She last erupted in May 2015!
You can take a tour or make the trip yourself either on foot or by cable car. Be aware though, even if you take the cable car there is a still a considerable walk for the last leg of the journey.
Once you reach the barren, crater pitted summit it all becomes worth it. The air is cold but if you dig your toes into the soil you will feel the warmth of the active beast below you. An awesome, if not a little scary, experience!
- Bring a jacket as it tends to be cooler at the summit
- Wear sensible shoes for the hike
- Check the weather before starting the ascent
14. Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore (Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore) # Florence
Originally called Duomo di Firenze this gothic church is undoubtedly the jewel on the already beautiful crown of Florence. The décor is outstanding but it’s the view from the bell tower that is truly spectacular.
The highly decorated façade of this enormous basilica contrasts with the relatively bare, almost modern, interior. The massive dome for which this Cathedral is famous for was only added several hundred years after initial construction beganand a history of scandal follows the additional amendments to the building over the years.
Climb up the dizzying heights of the bell tower for a breath-taking panoramic view of Florence. If heights aren’t your things then take a tour of the under ground vaults – if you dare!
- To visit the Church is free however tickets are required for the crypts and bell tower
- Buying a Firenze queue pass is worthwhile if there are lots of crowds.
- Dress appropriately (shoulders and knees covered)
15. Burano island
It’s easy to see why this little Venetian island is recognised as one of the top ten most colourful destinations in the world. The brightly painted houses shine like little gems in the sunshine as you stroll along the tiny bustling streets.
Take the hour ferry ride from Venice to reach this unusual little island, which is nothing like either Venice, or the better-known Venetian island of Murano.
Burano is famous for its delicate handmade lace and a trip to the lace museum will be the highlight of your day. There are also plenty of shops with Venetian glass and masks so get ready to buy some souvenirs.
- There aren’t a huge variety of restaurants on the island so eat before you go or take snacks.
- If you want to visit the other Venetian Islands then buy a multi stop ferry ticket.
Italy is a beautiful country, rich with history and full offriendly passionate people. One you get a taste for Italy (in both the true and metaphorical sense) then you will keep going back for more and discover new things very time.
Use these destinations as a starting point for your itinerary and build it up from there. Look for the things you love to do and take every opportunity to learn more about this wonderful country.
With all the delicious food you can expect to come back a little heavier but a whole lot happier and trust us, it’s so worth it!
Enjoy & happy travels – Grazie!