Traveling has always been one of my passions. I love the excitement of seeing new places and the thrill of experiencing different cultures.
I’m pretty sure I could come up with at least a hundred different reasons why one should visit Italy. This is not a difficult list to come up with, but for the sake of space and brevity, I limited the list to ten really good reasons to visit.
It seems as though visiting Italy is a bucket list entry for a lot of folks and my job here is to convince you to go so you can cross this one off of your list. Italy certainly does have much to offer: spectacular cities, ancient ruins, wonderful museums, soaring mountains, great beaches, and beautiful natural scenery. But so does any number of other European countries, so we need to uncover what makes Italy so unique and worthy of your hard-earned dollars.
One of the great joys of traveling through Italy is discovering firsthand that it is, indeed, a dream destination.
— Debra Lavinson
There is really no other city quite like Rome in the world. While Rome wants to be a modern 21st-century city, it is desperately trying to keep its historical ruins and monuments from crumbling. The city is really one large archaeological dig that continues to discover its 2,800 years of history. And preserving its past continues to be a monumental task for this city of 2.8 million people. To be able to walk through the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, where the likes of Romulus, Julius Caesar, and Nero once ruled, is a walk back in time.
If you love history, architecture, museums, great food, shopping, historical monuments, and great gelato, then head to Rome. As an added benefit to any visit, you get to also visit Vatican City, which is an amazing destination in its own right. These incredible ancient ruins and monuments might not last forever, so start planning a visit now.
Okay, the truth be told about Venice is that it’s old, sinking into the lagoon, floods occasionally, and sometimes smells. What other city on this planet can claim a list like this and still be one of the most sought after destinations in the world? Maybe everyone wants to visit Venice before it disappears into the Adriatic and becomes the lost city of Venice?
In all my travels, I've had only two “wow” moments in my life: The first came when I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, and the second came when I stepped onto the plaza from the train station into the wonderful world of Venice.
Did I mention that it’s also colorful, full of life, has amazing churches and museums, great seafood, amazing shopping, and is just one of the most fun places you’ll ever visit?
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Okay, so the top three are Rome, Venice, and Florence. There’s really no mystery here. If you were to ask visitors to Italy what their favorite Italian city was, I would venture to guess that for many it might be Florence.
Florence is just right in so many ways. The city is just the right size to make it one of the most walkable cities in Italy. The centerpiece of Florence is without a doubt the magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as the Duomo, and it should not be missed. This city is the rightful birthplace of the Renaissance and is loaded with wonderful art, architecture, and some of the finest museums in the world, the Uffizi and the Galleria dell’ Accademia. Florence truly is of the most beautiful cities in the world.
4. Cinque Terre
While many people will argue that the Amalfi Coast should appear on this list, I could not resist placing the Cinque Terre region here in the number four spot. Virtually unknown to Americans twenty-five years ago, this beautiful coastal region of Italy is simply spectacular. Its five villages are all unique and connected by a network of trails that vary in difficulty and distance. And if hiking is not your thing, don’t despair— the local train connects all five villages, as does the local ferry system, except for Corniglia, which is perched high up on a cliff above the sea.
The pace here is laid back and that is how the locals prefer it. There are no resorts, only B&Bs, apartments, and small hotels. And if you love seafood, then you have certainly come to the right place. Tourism, fishing, and farming the terraced hillsides are the only industries here. If you want to see one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, then add Cinque Terre to your list of must-see places.
5. Val d’Orcia
Tuscany encompasses a pretty large area of central Italy, so I’m going to narrow this down to the Val d’Orcia region. Why? Because of its beautiful rolling hills and wonderful medieval hilltop towns. This area of Italy is pure heaven. Stretching from Siena in the north to Montepulciano in the east, and including Pienza, Montalcino, and Monticchiello, this area makes for a great road tour. Get lost on the cyprus lined back roads of the Val d’Orcia and you are bound to have your breath taken away by the beautiful rolling landscape of this region. Find an Agriturismo, rent a car for a few days, and discover this region of Italy that is famous for its wine and photographic beauty.
A big part of the whole Italian experience is without a doubt the food. I’m not sure I’ve had a really bad meal in Italy and this includes stopping on the autostrada at rest stops for a quick bite. The different regions of Italy all have their own specialties but no matter where you are, you will find wonderful cuisine. And if you get an opportunity to have a home cooked meal you should jump at the chance, as these have been some of the finest meals we have ever had. Many of the agriturismos will host a dinner for their guests, so if the opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it.
From the wonderful seafood of Venice, Cinque Terre, and Sicily to the homemade pasta of Tuscany, you will not be disappointed with the food in Italy. Sample the wonderful salami, prosciutto, and cheeses of a typical antipasto and by all means try a pesto pasta dish in Cinque Terre, which is the birthplace of this basil, garlic, pine nut, and olive oil creation.
Have a hankering for pizza? No problem. Traditional Neapolitan pizza can be found throughout the Campania region. If you find yourself in Sicily, be sure to try an arancini, a wonderful concoction of mozzarella, tomato sauce, and meat wrapped inside of a fried rice ball. And for dessert, why not try a tiramisu or my all-time favorite dessert, the panna cotta with fig sauce? And when you need a quick snack to tide you over, don’t forget about the gelato, which I could eat every day, no problem.
And the wine. No Italian meal would be complete without a good house wine. There is so much wonderful locally made wine in Italy, so be sure to sample them all.
Sometimes Italians get a bad rap for their impatience with tourists and their notoriety as the pickpocket capital of the world. I have personally experienced none of this and to be honest, I have found the people of Italy to be a warm and hospitable bunch. Don't get me wrong, there are unscrupulous types who will pick your pocket if the opportunity arises, but this can be said of almost any city. Just be sure to always be aware of your surroundings.
Our many great experiences with the locals are some of the most wonderful memories that we have. From the little Italian man who invited us into his home even though he spoke no English to show us his pictures of the local church that we were photographing, to Irene, the wonderful owner of a small trattoria in Cortina d’Ampezzo who absolutely made our day, we have had nothing but good experiences.
To help in conversing with the locals, learn a little Italian, even if it’s just a few key phrases to help you engage in conversation. They are sometimes just as curious about us as we are about them.
Often overlooked by visitors for the more popular destinations farther north, Sicily is a world of its own and is a great reason to visit Italy. With an extraordinary combination of Greek temples, Norman churches, Roman mosaics, and classic Baroque towns, Sicily is a melting pot of cultures reflecting thousands of years of foreign occupation. From the beautiful scenery of Taormina to the wonderfully preserved Temples of Agrigento and the magnificent Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily has so much to offer those who venture to the island.
And don't forget about Mount Etna. This massive, very active volcano dominates the landscape on the eastern side of Sicily and makes for a great day trip from either Taormina or Catania.
9. Mountains and Lakes
The mountains and lakes might not be the first thing that come to mind when considering a visit to Italy but they are reason enough to start planning that trip. From the stunning Dolomites in the northeast to the Italian Alps in the north, this is a playground for those of you who love to hike, bike, and ski. And dotted among the valleys of these majestic mountains are some of the most picturesque lakes in all of Italy.
Drive the Grande Strada delle Dolomiti (Grand Dolomite Highway) for an unforgettable trip on one of the world’s most scenic roads as you traverse the Dolomites from Cortina d’Ampezzo to Bolzano. Northern Italy is also home to some of the most scenic lakes, including Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Garda. To experience all of the natural beauty that Italy has to offer, head to the mountains and lakes in the north.
10. It Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank
Most people never consider a trip to Italy because they assume that it will be much too expensive. While travel in Europe in general can be expensive, it doesn't have to break the bank. There are a number of strategies you can use to help defray the cost. For starters, it is always cheaper to travel in the off season or at least the shoulder season. It you are traveling when everyone else is, then demand is high and you are going to pay top dollar.
Accommodations run the range from outrageous to reasonable. The key is to find those hidden gems that offer charm and comfort while not emptying your wallet. This takes some planning and work but trust me, you can find wonderful accommodations in Italy for under 100 euro per night. Find a highly rated bed & breakfast or stay in an agriturismo and you will get a more authentic experience than you would in a large hotel or resort.
So there you have it, ten really good reasons to go. Decide what interests you the most, start planning, and head to that particular region. I should add here that travel within Italy is very easy as they have a great train system (Trenitalia) that connects all of the major cities and regions. The trains run fairly often, are reasonably priced, and very punctual.
One final word of caution before you go: Please do not try to see everything in a single trip. Visitors who run through in a desperate attempt to see everything are bound to miss out on the little things that make it so special. Take your time and be sure to stop and take it all in, you may never come this way again.
Ciao for now.
Questions & Answers
Question: Do you think it is a good idea to make a trip to Italy into a family experience?
Answer: Absolutely. A trip to Italy can be a wonderful learning experience for kids, and also a lot of fun. Of course it might depend on the ages of your kids, but there is something for everyone when visiting Italy.
© 2013 Bill De Giulio