A Guide To The Best Places To Visit In Italy

One of the trickiest questions I frequently get asked as an Italian is what are the best places to visit in Italy. 

You see, Italy is a special country. And I don’t just say it because I was born and raised here, and it’s the place I call home. This is the kind of place where you will find beautiful cities and quaint villages; mighty mountains and paradisiac beaches; art and archeological sites like nowhere else (this is the country with the highest concentration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites); delicious food and even better wine. In other words, whatever you are looking for, you will find it!

With so much on offer, I can’t possibly include all the places to visit in Italy in just one post – besides, it would take you a lifetime to visit them all. So, I have made a selection of what I think are the ones you should consider visiting as a first-timer.

The 23 Best Places To Visit In Italy

Rome

Number one in the list of the best places to visit in Italy has to be Rome. This city has so much history and art, so much good food, and it looks so breathtakingly beautiful that you could spend months without ever getting tired of it. 

MAIN SIGHTS: Rome has an incredible range of attractions. Among the places you really can’t miss in the Eternal City there are the Colosseum, Borghese Gallery and the Pantheon. You should also make it a point to visit one of the markets such as Campo de’ Fiori; and the many squares such as Piazza Navona and Trevi, where you can admire the beautiful Trevi Fountain. Most visitors will also use Rome as the access point to visit St. Peter’s Basilica and its Dome, as well as the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

HOW LONG TO STAY: You need three to five days as a minimum to see Rome properly, but some try to see Rome in a day – I don’t recommend it, because it is too rushed.

Viterbo
Viterbo and Tuscia are not as known but definitely among the best places to visit in Italy

Viterbo and Tuscia

Viterbo is a lovely mid-sized city at the heart of Tuscia. You will find it at about 100 km from Rome. Not many people outside of Italy have heard of it, so if you decide to visit you’ll find a city that has yet to be discovered by mass tourism and with an interesting history. 

MAIN SIGHTS: The medieval center of town is very well preserved. As Viterbo held the papal seat for about 24 years in the 13th century, you will find a gorgeous papal palace. Make sure to also visit the Duomo of San Lorenzo and the Church of Santa Maria Nuova, and to walk the narrow alleys of San Pellegrino. You can also hop to the thermal baths – which are open to the public for a real steal.

SOMETHING MORE: If you visit at the beginning of September, stay along for Santa Rosa festival on the night of 3 September. It’s been added to the list of UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage and a real treat to get to see it. 

HOW LONG TO STAY: Most people visit Viterbo on day trips from Rome but you should plan a few days for a road trip around Tuscia. Places such as Bomarzo and Soriano nel Cimino, in the Cimini Hills; Bagnaia with the stunning Villa Lante; Vitorchiano; Bracciano with its Odescalchi Castle and the more famous Civita di Bagnoregio (known as the Dying City) all deserve a visit. 

Opt for a guided tour for Civita di Bagnoregio – you can book it here.

best places to visit in Italy
Pompeii is one of Italy’s best destinations

Naples and Pompeii

There is little doubt that Naples is one of the best cities to visit in Italy. With its buzzing atmosphere and the delicious food, this is an easy favorite of Italians and foreigners alike.

MAIN SIGHTS: Naples has some fantastic attractions. Piazza del Plebiscito, Castel d’Ovo, San Severo Chapel, San Gennaro Catacombs, the Archeology Museum, the Royal Palace and the Cathedral are all a must-see. Naples will give you easy access to Pompeii, the city that was abandoned in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted killing more than 2000 people and covering it in a blanket of ashes. 

For skip the lines tickets to Pompeii, click here.

SOMETHING MORE: Pizza was invented in Naples in 1830. You will have to pick between many kinds – pizza a portafoglio (folded); pizza fritta (fried) and the classic one: you honestly can’t go wrong! 

Consider joining a street food tour to try everything the city has to offer. You can book it here.

HOW LONG TO STAY: I recommend spending 2 days in Naples and Pompeii before moving on to the Amalfi Coast.

Amalfi coast
The Amalfi Coast is a must-see

Amalfi Coast and Sorrento

I can’t write a post about the best places to visit in Italy and not mention Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.

MAIN SIGHTS: A road trip along the coast is the best way to take in all the scenic views. Don’t miss Positano, Amalfi, Sorrento and Ravello. From Sorrento you can also catch a ferry to the nearby island of Capri, another Italian gem and home of the Blue Grotto. And if you enjoy eating fish or seafood, you will be in for a real treat. Don’t worry if you eat too much: you can wash everything down with limoncello at the end of the meal. Alternatively, hike the Path of the Gods!

HOW LONG TO STAY: If you are short on time, you will be happy to know that a day or two are enough to take in the views. However, to make the most of it plan to spend at least 3 nights. 

Visiting Amalfi Coast on public transportation can be a bit of a hassle, so you may want to do a guided tour such as this Amalfi all inclusive day tour from Naples (book it here) or hire a private driver for the day (driving in this part of Italy may not be a great idea if you aren’t used to narrow, winding streets). 

10 days in Italy
Florence is one of the best cities to visit in Italy

Florence

Easily one of the best cities in Italy, Florence is synonymous with art. Visit, and you won’t stop marveling at all that it has to offer.

MAIN SIGHTS: Among the top sights, make sure to visit the Duomo, the Battistero and the Uffizi Gallery, see Michelangelo’s David, Piazza della Signoria, admire Ponte Vecchio and go all the way to Piazzale Michelangelo for a magnificent sunset view over the city. 

HOW LONG TO STAY: The city’s top tourist attractions can be visited in a day, but once again I don’t recommend racing it. Art deserves patience! You will probably need to get a few tickets in advance for the top attractions.

Pisa
Pisa is one of the nicest cities in Italy – Photo by ERROR 420 📷 on Unsplash

Pisa

Internationally famous thanks to its Leaning Tower, Pisa is a favorite of travelers and is typically added to first-timers’s itineraries. The city actually has a lot more to offer than just the tower!

MAIN SIGHTS: Other than the Leaning Tower, plan to spend enough time browsing around Piazza dei Miracoli to also visit the Duomo and the Baptistery, both dating back to the 11th and 12th century. The historic center of town is also pleasant to walk around – you’ll find lovely shops, nice cafés and plenty of good restaurants.

HOW LONG TO STAY: Most tourists spend just a day in Pisa, usually on day trips from Florence that also go to Siena and other places. To make the most of it, you could join a guided tour such as this one.

Siena
Visiting Siena is a must-do!

Siena and Tuscany

I love love love Siena. I honestly think it is the best city to visit in Tuscany – I admit I like it better than Florence, not so much in terms of sight, but the atmosphere there is simply magical.

MAIN SIGHTS: When in Siena, make sure to spend some time wandering the narrow alleys; climb Torre del Mangia for incredible views of the city; visit the Cathedral and hang out in Il Campo – the city’s main square. Other places to visit in Tuscany include San Gimignano; Lucca which actually is a real hidden gem, and Montepulciano.

HOW LONG TO STAY: Many people visit Siena and other places in Tuscany on day trips from Florence such as this one; but if time is not an issue plan to spend a night there and book yourself in one of the local trattoria for a fabulous meal. 

To make the most of Siena, consider joining a guided tour such as this one or this one.

Cinque Terre

The incredibly scenic Cinque Terre definitely is one of the best places to visit in Italy. It’s a series of extremely colorful, charming small towns that sit on the cliffs and sides of the mountain, overlooking the beautiful sea. 

MAIN SIGHTS: The best way to enjoy Cinque Terre is on a hike – you can walk from village to village and thus visit Manarola, Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare and Corniglia. You can also enjoy the beautiful beaches and taste the delicious food – some of the best olive oil in Italy is produced here. 

HOW LONG TO STAY: Although you can visit Cinque Terre on day trips from Florence (read this post to find out how or book this tour or this one), I recommend spending at least a night there. When all day-trippers leave, you get to have the place all to yourself and it’s just special!

Milan
Milan definitely is one of the best Italian cities

Milan

Milan is one of the most interesting cities in the country. It’s the center of Italian economic life, where all trends start; it’s a cosmopolitan city where old meets new and you will find contemporary art galleries next to museums and beautiful churches. It also has one of the best selection of restaurants in Italy. 

MAIN SIGHTS: Among the things not to miss in Milan there are the magnificent Duomo – make sure to climb to the top and the world-famous Last Supper, for which you need to buy tickets months in advance.

Get tickets to the Duomo rooftop here and for Last Supper here.

SOMETHING MORE: Bergamo is a true hidden gem at just 45 minutes from Milan. Read more about it here.

HOW LONG TO STAY: Most will tell you that a day in Milan is enough, but I recommend spending two to take in all that it has to offer. If you manage to rush through all the attractions, you can just go shopping!

day trips from Milan
Lake Como is a lovely place to visit!

Lake Como

Often visited on day trips from Milan, Lake Como easily is a truly pleasant place to explore. At the foot of the Alps, this probably is one of the most romantic destinations in the country – and the fact that George Clooney owns a villa here and is regularly spotted only adds to the fame!

MAIN SIGHTS: In the area of Lake Como, Varenna and Bellagio are two must-sees. Make sure to also ride the funicular Como-Brunate for incredible views. 

HOW LONG TO STAY: If you are short on time, a day in Lake Como is enough.

For guided tours of Lake Como departing from Milan, click here or here.

Lake Garda

Located about half way between Milan and Venice, close to Brescia and Verona, Lake Garda is a fantastic destination. This is the biggest lake in Italy, and scattered along its shore there are many lovely towns and villages, a bunch of nice beaches and more.

MAIN SIGHTS: On the southern side of the lake, Sirmione is the most popular place to visit thanks to the Castello di Sirmione and the Grotte di Catullo. If you want to explore the northern side, head to Riva del Garda, Desenzano del Garda, Peschiera del Garda, Malcesine and Limone Sul Garda.

To make the most of the lake, hop on a boat tour to visit the many small towns. For more information, click here or here.

HOW LONG TO STAY: You can easily see Lake Garda on day trips from Verona. If you have time to spare, plan to stay 2 or 3 days.

Venice

Venice is a city I never tire of. Crowded with tourists, extremely hot in the summer and humid and miserable in the winter, it’s a place full of history, art, mystery and romance. Ride a gondola through the canals and you will get a new perspective of the city. 

MAIN SIGHTS: Among the places you should visit in Venice there are Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica and its Bell Tower and St. Mark’s Square; the Rialto Bridge and Market, the Jewish Ghetto and the small nearby islands of Burano and Murano. 

To make the most of Venice, consider joining a guided tour. You can book it here. Care for a gondola ride? Book it here.

HOW LONG TO STAY: Venice deserves at least 3 days – between the city and a day trip to Burano and Murano, that’s really a minimum!

Verona
Verona is a truly lovely city and one of the best places to visit in Italy

Verona

The city of Romeo and Juliet, Verona is one of those places that truly deserves more visitors – though you’ll surely wish it maintains its local character and its welcoming atmosphere.

MAIN SIGHTS: Among Verona tops sights there are the Arena, Ponte Scaligero, Piazza delle Erbe, the Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore. Make sure to also go to Piazzale Castel San Pietro for great views of the city. 

Consider joining a guided bike tour to explore the city. You can book it here. For skip-the-line Arena tickets click here.

HOW LONG TO STAY: Verona deserves a full day to be explored, and possibly more if you want to appreciate its atmosphere.

The Dolomites

One of the best places to visit in Italy that hardly ever makes it on first-timers itineraries is the Dolomites. Spread across the North West of the country, this mighty mountain range is best accessed from the region of Trentino. 

MAIN SIGHTS: Your experience in the Dolomites will vary depending on the season you visit. Go in the winter, and you will be hitting the slopes. Visit in the summer and it will all be about world-class hikes, lakes, open air concerts, charming small towns such a Mezzano di Primiero, Fiera di Primiero, San Martino di Castrozza, and Moena all deserve a visit, as well as the beautiful main city, Trento. Oh and there is obviously all the food and the delicious wine! 

HOW LONG TO STAY: If you really want to make the most of the Dolomites, plan to spend at least 3 or 4 days there.

best places to visit in Italy
Bologna is one of the best places to visit in Italy in search for good food

Bologna

Bologna is one of the best cities in Italy for food lovers. A large student town, it is considered Italy’s liveliest city, with an excellent restaurant, bar and nightlife scene. 

MAIN SIGHTS: Among the places you shouldn’t miss when visiting Bologna there are Piazza Maggiore, the two towers and San Petronio church. Make sure to also sign up for a food tour and a cooking class – this is where lasagne were invented and you will want to unveil all their secrets. 

To make the most of Bologna, consider joining a guided tour such as this one or this one.

HOW LONG TO STAY: I recommend spending at least 2 days in Bologna.

Cagliari

Have you ever heard of Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia? I bet you haven’t. It hardly ever makes the list of best places to visit in Italy. But I promise you it is worth the flight – and I am not just saying this because I was born and raised here, and still call it home. It’s the kind of place where locals are still the vast majority of people you see out and about!

Perched on the hills and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Cagliari abounds in history but at the same time will offer the best nature experiences.

MAIN SIGHTS: Make sure to visit the Roman Amphitheater, the historical district of Castello where you will find the Cathedral, the two watchtowers and the Archeology Museum. Walk to Via Santa Croce for the best city views (the photo above was taken from there, and it gets even better at sunset!) and head to Poetto Beach for a day in the sun. 

From Poetto, you can also access Molentargius Nature Reserve which is a haven for pink flamingoes. And if you fancy a hike, head to Calamosca Beach and hit the trail to Sella del Diavolo. 

HOW LONG TO STAY: Cagliari deserves at least 2 full days, more if you want to use it as a base to explore southern Sardinia.

La Maddalena
La Maddalena is one of the best places to visit in Italy in the summer – photo courtesy of Vincenzo Malagoli

La Maddalena Archipelago

If you are looking for heavenly beaches and one of the best places to visit in Italy in the summer, you found it. La Maddalena Archipelago, at the north eastern tip of Sardinia, is a series of small islands with some of the most beautiful coves in the world. Just picture white sand, clear turquoise and emerald waters, and thick Mediterranean vegetation. This really is one of the nicest places to visit in Italy.

MAIN SIGHTS: The most famous islands in the archipelago are Maddalena, Caprera – where you can visit the home of Italian unification hero Garibaldi and the stunning Cala Coticcio; Budelli, home of a gorgeous pink beach; and Spargi. Most of the archipelago is protected and you can only access the beaches via a short hike or during a boat tour.

For information on boat tours of La Maddalena click here.

If you are curious about more beaches in Sardinia, check out my Guide To The Best Beaches In Sardinia.

HOW LONG TO STAY: You can explore the archipelago on boat trips departing from nearby Palau. If time is not an issue, plan to spend 4 or 5 days.

donkeys in Asinara
Asinara is one of the most unique places to visit in Italy

Asinara Island

Adding to the list of the best places to visit in Italy that you probably never heard of there is the small island of Asinara, located in the north eastern tip of Sardinia. Beautiful beaches, a barren landscape and lots of wildlife make this a special place.

Asinara is uninhabited – it was turned into a prison and leper colony and eventually a high security prison since the mid 19th century. When the high security prison was finally closed, the island was turned into a highly protected national park.

MAIN SIGHTS: The best way to explore the island is biking or hiking, and if it is too hot for that you can opt to rent an electric golf cart. This way you can hit the many beaches and viewpoints which include Cala Sabina, Punta della Scomunica and Cala dei detenuti. Make sure to visit the Diramazione Centrale, where the main branch of the prison is located. A guided visit will take you to the cells of mafia bosses Riina and Provenzano.

HOW LONG TO STAY: Most visit on day trips departing from Porto Torres or Stintino – but I recommend staying overnight to enjoy the surreal atmosphere, the silence and the starry night. 

Make sure to read my post A Complete Guide To The Island Of Asinara, Sardinia for more information. 

Best places to visit in Italy
Lecce is definitely one of the best cities to visit in Italy

Lecce and Salento

Lecce is one of the best cities to visit in Italy and extremely underrated. Located in the southern region of Puglia, this medium sized town is famous for its baroque style architecture and for its historical center which is entirely built in white stone. 

MAIN SIGHTS: Among the places you should not miss there are the beautiful Cathedral, located in the airy Duomo Square; the amphitheater and Porta Napoli. A walk along the narrow streets will reveal a plethora of lovely shops, bars, cafés (have a pasticciotto, thank me later) and restaurants.

You may want to check out this walking tour to have a good introduction to the city. Book it here.

HOW LONG TO STAY: You can use Lecce as a base to explore Salento. Factor in at least 4 days to explore at a leisurely pace.

Valle d’Itria

Also part of the region of Puglia (Apulia), Valle d’Itria is the perfect place for a road trip. Mostly famous for its trulli – dry stone huts with a conical roof – this part of the country will offer you lovely landscapes, quaint villages, pretty coastal towns and delicious food, wine and olive oil.

MAIN SIGHTS: Alberobello, the town of the trulli, should be your first stop. Ostuni and Polignano a Mare are two scenic coastal towns pleasant for a walk. Egnazia is a nice archeological site which will provide insights into the past of the region. The lesser known towns of Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca also deserve a visit.

HOW LONG TO STAY: You will come across sites that will tell you a day is enough to explore Valle d’Itria but I disagree. Such a scenic place calls for slow travel, so plan to spend at least 3 days in the area.

Matera

Added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1993, the lovely city of Matera is one of the best places to visit in Italy. This medium-sized city in the region of Basilicata, in Southern Italy, is famous for its Sassi – literally “stones” and which defines the typical architectural style the city became famous for.

MAIN SIGHTS: Plan to get lost in the Sassi, where you can visit some traditional homes. Casa Noha is a good place to start your visit as it will show a documentary about the history of the city. The city’s cathedral and the rupestrian churches are also a must-see. You can also explore the cisterns of Palombaro Lungo, and head to the Parco della Murgia for the most impressive sunset views.

To make the most of Matera, consider joining a guided tour such as this one.

HOW LONG TO STAY: A day is probably enough to visit Matera – you can check it out on the way to Lecce from Naples. But I recommend spending a night or two there to take in the unique atmosphere. 

Catania

Catania is one of the most lively cities in the country and definitely one of the best places to visit in Italy. Between the beautiful churches, the airy squares, the markets and the delicious food, and the access to many beautiful nearby places such as Mount Etna.

MAIN SIGHTS: Make sure to visit the Cathedral and the Roman Amphitheater; explore the markets where you should opt for a food tour, and don’t miss Mount Etna and the fabulous wineries on its slopes. From Catania, you can enjoy day trips to the nearby Syracuse, Ortigia and Noto. Taormina is also easily accessible from Catania.

You may want to consider this guided Mount Etna summit and crater trek. For day trips to Syracuse, Ortigia and Noto, click here.

HOW LONG TO STAY: You will need at least 4 full days to explore Catania and its surroundings properly.

trip to Sicily
Vulcano, one of the Aeolian Islands, is one of the best places to visit in Italy

The Aeolian Islands

Finally, among the best places to visit in Italy there are the Aeolian Islands. Easily reached by boat from Milazzo, at about one hour drive from Messina, these volcanic islands dotting the bluest ocean and surmounted by mighty volcanoes are a sight to behold.

MAIN SIGHTS: Start with Vulcano, where you will find some lovely beaches and the famous mud baths where you can immerse yourself – they are said to have great healing properties; a variety of hiking trails (the one to Gran Cratere will give you magnificent views, as pictured above) and then move to Stromboli, home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Other islands to check out include Lipari, the largest island; Alicudi, Filicudi, Salina and Panarea.

In order to hike Mount Stromboli you will need to join a guided tour. For more information, click here.

HOW LONG TO STAY: I recommend spending at least 4 days in the archipelago. If you have the chance, opt for a sailing cruise!

Final Considerations

As I said at the beginning of this post, this list of places to visit in Italy is absolutely not exhaustive. You would honestly need a lifetime to appreciate everything that Italy has to offer – I was born and raised here and I’ve yet to see it all.

If you are currently planning your trip to Italy, I recommend sticking to a smaller area and explore that in depth – each of the places mentioned in this post is a trip in and of itself! Head over to my post A Perfect Italy Itinerary for trip ideas and suggestions.

Further Readings

If you are planning a trip to Italy, make sure to read these other posts:

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Discover the best places to visit in Italy - via @clautavani

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