One of the trickiest questions I frequently get asked as an Italian is what are the best places to visit in Italy.
Italy is a special country. And I don’t just say it because it is my country. 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.
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 selected the ones you should consider visiting as a first-timer.
29 Best Places To Visit In Italy
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.
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.
For a full day tour of Rome that includes a visit of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, as well as the Vatican, click here.
Viterbo and Tuscia
Viterbo is a lovely mid-sized city at the heart of Tuscia. You will find it about 100 km from Rome. Not many people outside of Italy have heard of it, so you’ll find a city that has yet to be discovered by mass tourism and with an interesting history.
The medieval center 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. Go to the thermal baths – which are open to the public for a real steal.
If you visit at the beginning of September, stay 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: Many 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.
Naples and Pompeii
Naples is one of the best cities to visit in Italy. With its buzzing atmosphere and delicious food, this is an easy favorite of Italians and foreigners alike.
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 2,000 people and covering it in a blanket of ashes.
For skip the lines tickets to Pompeii, click here.
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: Spend 2 days in Naples and Pompeii before moving on to the Amalfi Coast.
Amalfi Coast and Sorrento
A favorite of tourists, the Amalfi coast will steal your heart. 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!
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).
HOW LONG TO STAY: 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.
This small mountainous island is easily visited from both Naples and Sorrento – from where there are direct ferries and boat tours.
The most impressive sight is by far the Blue Grotto, a cave with an opening right to the sea and the bluest waters. The chairlift on Mount Solaro is another must-do, for breathtaking views. Make sure to also spot the Faraglioni and head to Anacapri, a small but beautiful town.
HOW LONG TO STAY: While you can go there for just a day, you may want to linger on a bit longer to take in the relaxing atmosphere and all the sights.
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. 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.
For a guided tour of Florence that takes you to all the best sites, click here.
HOW LONG TO STAY: The city’s top tourist attractions can be visited in a day, but don’t race it. Art deserves patience! You will probably need to get a few tickets in advance for the top attractions.
Internationally famous thanks to its Leaning Tower, Pisa has a lot more to offer than just the 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.
To make the most of the city, you could join a guided tour such as this one.
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.
Siena and Tuscany
I love love love Siena. I actually like it better than Florence, not so much in terms of sights, but the atmosphere is simply magical.
When in Siena, 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 trattorie for a fabulous meal.
The incredibly scenic Cinque Terre is a series of extremely colorful, charming small towns that sit on the cliffs and sides of the mountain, overlooking the beautiful sea.
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 is one of the most interesting cities in the country. The heart of Italian economic life, it’s where all trends start; 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.
You will have to visit 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.
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!
Often visited on day trips from Milan, Lake Como is a truly pleasant place to explore. At the foot of the Alps, it’s 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first capital of the country, Turin is a truly beautiful city packed with things to see and do. The city is known to Christians around the world as the place where the shroud depicting the face of Jesus is kept. Another must-see is the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, an impressive baroque church. The Mole Antonelliana is the best place to go for views of the city.
Finally, the Egyptian Museum is home to of the finest collections of Egyptian art and archeology outside of Egypt (get tickets in advance here). When in Turin, you should also try Gianduiotti – the city’s famous chocolate pralines.
HOW LONG TO STAY: While you can visit Turin easily on day trips trips from Milan (it’s just one hour away), the city deserves at least 4 full days to take in the main sights and the surroundings.
Genoa and the Italian Riviera
Genoa is where the largest port in Italy is located, and a good starting point to explore the Riviera Ligure. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A maze of tiny alleys, it’s simply a pleasure to walk around aimlessly. The city is also home to an aquarium that strives to promote the respect of marine life. You can purchase entry tickets here.
When in Genoa, you will want to taste the local version of focaccia and the pesto – a basil based sauce especially used on pasta. Other places to visit in the Riviera which you should not miss include Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and Camogli.
HOW LONG TO STAY: Spend at least 4 full days in the area to see everything it has to offer.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Among its 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.
HOW LONG TO STAY: Verona deserves a full day to be explored, and possibly more if you want to appreciate its atmosphere.
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.
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, 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.
Bologna and Emilia Romagna
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.
Among the places you shouldn’t miss when visiting Bologna there are Piazza Maggiore, the Palazzo del Podestà and the Pinacoteca, 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. Foods you should try other than lasagne include tortellacci and mortadella.
Don’t miss Ravenna, a beautiful city with a fine collection of Byzantine mosaics (the city was the seat of King Theodoric the Great, who was from Constantinople) which you’ll find in the seven UNESCO-listed buildings (the most impressive is the 5th century Neonian Baptistery.
HOW LONG TO STAY: I recommend spending at least 2 days in Bologna, plus an additional 3 to explore other places in the region.
This tiny independent country completely surrounded by Italy can be easily visited when in Emilia Romagna. I know it is not technically Italy, yet it feels ok adding it to this post as chances are you’ll explore it during a trip to Italy.
When in San Marino, Rocca della Guaita Fortress is definitely a must-see. You should also climb Cesta Tower for views; and explore the city – Piazza della Libertà is a lovely spot to people-watch.
HOW LONG TO STAY: Although you can easily explore San Marino on day trips from Bologna, spending a night there will allow you to take in the beautiful atmosphere.
Chances are you’ve never heard of Urbino – yet this small hilltop town in the region of Marche isn’t just a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also a splendid example of Renaissance architecture. It’s a great place to go if you want to get off the beaten path.
The main attraction in Urbino is the 15th century Ducal Palace, which was the residence of Federico di Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino. Located inside is the National Gallery of the Marche, where you can admire paintings by Titian and Raphael, who actually came from Urbino! For more paintings by Raphael, visit the house where he grew up. Another must-see is the Cathedral.
HOW LONG TO STAY: A day is enough to take in the main sights in Urbino, but you should probably plan a night there to enjoy the pleasant local atmosphere.
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 it’s my hometown.
Perched on the hills and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Cagliari abounds in history but at the same time will offer the best nature experiences.
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 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.
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.
The small island of Asinara, at the north eastern tip of Sardinia, is all about 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, it became a national park.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – it will amaze you with you lovely landscapes, quaint villages, pretty coastal towns and delicious food, wine and olive oil.
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.
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.
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 is one of the most lively cities in the country. 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.
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.
HOW LONG TO STAY: You will need at least 4 full days to explore Catania and its surroundings properly.
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.
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!
You’ve probably realized by now that Sicily deserves a trip if its own! Palermo, the capital, is one of the most interesting, unique and beautiful cities in Italy.
The Norman Palace, also known as Palermo’s Royal Palace, is the city’s most important attraction. It’s Palatine chapel is an impressive example of Arab-Norman-Byzantine style. Next to it you’ll find San Giovanni degli Eremiti church, another must-see.
A bit further away, the Cathedral of Palermo is another beautiful church. When in town, don’t miss Ballarò market – it’s literally a feast for your senses. For a quirky experience, visit Palermo’s Catacombs. And if you fancy a day in the sun, head to Mondello Beach and plan to hike Zingaro Nature Reserve.
HOW LONG TO STAY: You need at least 3 full days to explore Palermo; more if you intend to visit the surrounding areas and smaller towns such as the lovely Cefalù.
As I said at the beginning of this post, this list of the best 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.
If you are planning a trip to Italy, make sure to read these other posts:
- 17 Reasons To Visit Italy As Soon As Possible
- 67 Extremely Useful Travel Tips For Italy
- 25 Most Beautiful Islands In Italy
- 13 Cool Things To Do In Bari, Italy
- What To Do And What To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy
- Tipping In Italy: When To Tip And How Much
- A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia