Our Favorite Places to Visit in Italy
For many, a trip to Italy is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Trying to visit an entire country inside of a couple of weeks is an overwhelming task. Instead of trying to “see it all,” consider focusing on an itinerary that features the “best” of Italy. Major cities like Florence, Rome, and Venice offer a great sampler platter to this European icon.
Lay of the Land
Before choosing your Italian adventure, it’s important to understand how the country is laid out. Italy is a large- covering some 116,000 square miles. Of that, the country is divided into 20 regions, which are then clumped into 5 “macro” regions. These include:
- North-West Region (Milan)
- North-East Region (Bologna)
- Center Region (Rome)
- South Region (Naples)
- Island Region (Palermo, Sicily)
Before deciding what landmarks and experiences you want to have on your adventure, take a look at a map and browse different itineraries to understand the possibilities, and if it makes sense, logistically, to see everything you’ll want to see. Keep reading to learn more about the best places to visit in Italy, and then browse possible itineraries with our collection of over 80 Italy vacations.
The governmental seat and capital of Italy, Rome is simply a must-do for every tourist. Besides housing famed ancient monuments like the Colosseum, Rome is also home to Vatican City, the central geographical home to Catholicism and home of the Pope and hierarchy of the Catholic faith.
If any one stop on your Italian itinerary deserves an extra day of exploration, it’s Rome. Europe’s “Eternal City” boasts so much culture, from ancient architectural finds to piles of pasta and gelato and modern high-end couture designers, fitting everything into a week is next to impossible, never mind a day or two! But, if time is limited, here are our must-see spots:
Ancient Ruins at the Roman Forum
With sites dating back to 500 B.C., these paths were walked by the likes of Julius Caesar. When you’re done strolling the ruins, find the stone carving of Bocca Della Verita. Legend has it that, if you lie to him, he’ll bite your hand off!
Built in 80 A.D. and boasting a bloody history, his one building has a century in the city for centuries. With an annual tourist patronage upwards of 4 million, your best bet is to buy tickets in advance. Combine your Roman Forum tickets with the Colosseum and Palatine Hill for VIP access that allows you to skip the lines altogether.
A burial place for Rome’s former kings and key artists, this is regarded as the world’s only architecturally perfect building. Don’t stop at admiring the outside though- step inside and look up! When you do, you’ll find that the interior dome is open sky, inviting the outdoors in. While there, be sure to check out Giolatti, famed for gelato in every shade of the rainbow and in business since 1900!
Take a load off and blend the ancient world with the modern-day as you take in the large fountain; surrounded by modern-day souvenir shops, restaurants, and gelato providers.
The Vatican & St. Peter’s Basilica
Religious or not, the art alone warrants considerable time spent exploring the Vatican Museums. With our collection of Italy vacations, you can explore the Vatican’s cultural treasures on a guided visit with a local specialist. Bypass the lines and ascend the famous Bramante staircase on your private tour. Home to Michelangelo’s famed Sistine Chapel, you’ll find master paintings and sculptures inside of the 1,400 room palace. Nearby, the Basilica, built over the tomb of the first Pope, Saint Peter, stands as the world’s largest church. At over 18,000 square yards, you’ll find an iconic courtyard outside and notable art from Bernini and Michelangelo inside.
Centered around Neptune, this iconic Baroque fountain is often crowded, meaning it’s the perfect place to start or end your day. And, legend has it, anyone who tosses a coin into the fountain is destined for a return trip to Rome! Learn more about the history and tradition of throwing your coin into the Trevi Fountain.
Ready to see the art evolve? Trade the old world for the new at this modern art museum, focusing on 21st-century art.
Of course, there is far more to do than soak in the history and culture. If you’re seeking a modern-day experience, and some of the best dining Italy has to offer, you may want to reserve time for artichokes in the Jewish Ghetto, shop like a local at Campo De’ Fiori, and live like the wealthy at one of Europe’s most beautiful places to shop; the Galleria Alberto Sordi- a mall complete with stain glass ceilings and tile mosaic floors. And if you just can’t sleep, the nightlife in Testaccio is invigorating and the party doesn’t stop until dawn. If you’re looking to spend a week taking in everything the Eternal City has to offer, don’t miss the incredible Rome Explorer trip.
For the artist in you, Florence is world-renowned as a center for art. Many of the museums are free to visit, and most showcase an impressive assortment of canvas, stone, and other mediums. Here are the top spots to immerse yourself in art in Florence:
Piazza Della Signoria
Also called Palazzo Vecchio, you'll want to plan on about an hour to two hours to thoroughly take in this open-air free market designed in the 14th century. Located near the Arno River, the architecture of the building is nearly as impressive as the collection of sculptures, including Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabines”, that you’ll find inside.
This free attraction, located above the Oltrarno District, offers sweeping views of the city as well as a replica of Michelangelo’s famed “David” sculpture. The spot is best in the late afternoon when you can catch break taking sunsets over the city skyline.
Formally known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, this Gothic icon of Florence sits in the center of the main square and is easily located by her iconic dome, designed by Brunelleschi and covered in red tiles. The real surprise to this iconic cathedral is that it was built inside out, with most of the notable imagery located on the exterior. The inside, while plain, does boast five major sculptures. A simple day pass grants you the option to attend religious mass and climb the 463 stairs to the top of the cupola to gain sweeping views of the city.
A city built on canals, many believe there is no place in Italy more beautiful or romantic than Venice. Located in northeastern Italy, Venice is surrounded by the Adriatic Sea and is actually made up of an archipelago of more than 100 islands connected by breathtaking bridges and canals. Often revered as one of the most romantic cities in Italy, the architecture is complemented by pleasant temperatures year-round that rarely drop below 40°F in the winter, or soar to more than 80°F in the summer.
Of course, the main draw is a gondola ride through the Grand Canal, complete with singing gondoliers. You’ll likely get a better experience though if you ask for a ride through back canals where fewer boats and tourists often wander. You’ll also save time and money by taking a ride from San Toma as opposed to popular St. Mark’s square. In any event, Venice was meant to be viewed from the water, and while touristy, this is one experience that should not be skipped.
The city offers more than just gondoliers and candlelit dinners though. Namely, you’ll want to be sure you save time to visit St. Mark’s square, often referred to as the “Drawing room of Europe” and comprised of The Basilica San Marco, Doge’s Palace, the old clock tower and bell tower. Tickets can be purchased in advance to save time in lines.
The Basilica San Marco stands as northern Italy’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese and Venice’s only cathedral. Covered in gold mosaics, the Basilica is nicknamed the “Church of Gold.” The outside is blanked with sculptures, while the interior, which is divided into 3 sections, boasts four domes and a marble floor. Just across the Piazza San Marco, you’ll find Doge’s Palace. Though the palace was once home to Doge of Venice, it has operated as a museum since 1923.
Also worth a visit is a walk across the 16th century Rialto Bridge. The other side boasts open-air markets and specialty shopping. Visiting during the week is your best bet to catch all of the vendors open.
Feeling inspired? Discover the many ways you can experience Venice with our collection of Italy vacations.
More Amazing Places to Visit in Italy
Been there, done that? If this isn’t your first trip to Italy, or if you’re just looking for a bit of a different flavor to your travels, Italy isn’t made up of just the big three tourist cities. Other places worth a visit include:
Perhaps the most famous of Italy’s regions, the hillsides of Tuscany are known for rolling landscapes, divine dining, and some of the best vineyards in the world. It is in this region that you’ll find the Leaning Tower of Pisa. If you’re looking to explore Tuscany in-depth, be sure to check out our Rome & Tuscan Highlights and Country Roads of Umbria and Tuscany guided tours of Italy.
Situated on the sea in southern Italy, Naples is the birthplace of Italian dining staples like pizza, spaghetti, and parmigiana, so it makes a great place to enjoy authentic cuisine. Also offering a vibrant shopping and dining scene and pleasant temperatures well into the fall, this is a great place to visit in the offseason.
Looking for an Island adventure? Don’t rule out this largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Separated from the mainland by a simple 2-mile ferry ride, the island is rich in art and cultural history. While on the island don’t miss out on Mount Etna, Europe’s tallest active volcano. We offer a number of trips throughout Italy and Sicily. If you’ve already been to Italy, you might want to consider a trip focused on the history and culture of this incredible island. If that’s the case, consider the Sicily in Depth guided tour.
Synonymous with “fashion,” every couture lover will want to plan a stop to Milan during their Italian voyage. Not into fashion? Milan also shines when it comes to art and culture. Here you’ll find Leonardo Da Vinci’s famed “The Last Supper” as well as the La Scala Opera House, and one of the world’s largest Gothic cathedrals.
If you want a beach in Italy, almost every expert will tell you these are the shores to see. Located in the south of Italy, the Amalfi Coast is highly regarded for picturesque vistas and ritzy resorts. This is certainly the place to see and be seen.
A great side trip on your visit to Rome, Pompeii is famed for being lost under several feet of volcanic ash for more than 1,700 years following a massive eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. While the excavation of the site began in the 1700s, excavation is not yet complete. This means each visit has the potential to showcase a new Pompeii. A walk through the cobbled streets offers an unaltered look into Italy’s past.