Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.
As a travel destination, Italy appears on many a bucket list as a coveted must-visit place. The rolling hills of Tuscany, the incredible art, architecture and history, amazing food and wine, and one-of-a-kind cities all combine to provide a little something for everyone. Unfortunately, to take it all in would require months of travel and a rather large budget. For most of us, this is simply not possible with just a week or two of vacation time. But it is still possible to explore this remarkable country in a limited time frame and with a limited budget.
If you can’t decide where to visit and how to best make use of your precious time, here are some of Italy’s best destinations. This list will help you decide where to visit so you can have the best possible vacation.
While not my favorite destination in Italy, Rome is a must-see on any first visit to Italy. As you walk the city, you begin to sense that Rome is one giant archaeological site. The history here is hard to fathom. There are so many worthy sites to visit that you could spend your entire vacation here. To see the big hitters—including the Colosseum, Pantheon, Roman Forum, Vatican City, Castle Sant’Angelo, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps—allow at least two to three days.
The best way to experience Rome is on foot, but keep in mind that the city is large and often congested with traffic, so consider using the Metro and other means of public transportation when necessary. For the best views of Rome, go to the top of Castle Sant’Angelo and to the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica.
One last tip: Rome is beautiful at night, so plan a walk after the sun goes down.
2. Amalfi Coast
Even though it’s just a few hours south of Rome, the Amalfi Coast is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Rome and nearby Naples. This beautiful stretch of the Italian coast, with its stunning seaside communities clinging to the mountains, is a welcome respite for the weary traveler.
If you decide to drive the twisting roads here, be careful and forewarned that the single-lane roads of the Amalfi Coast can be crowded with buses and tourists all seeking the same picturesque scenery as you. Consider using the SITA buses or hiring a driver if you can’t take your eyes off of the eye-catching views while driving.
Everyone’s favorite destination here is Positano, but don’t forget to also visit Amalfi and Ravello.
From the history of Rome to the beautiful scenery of the Amalfi Coast, we arrive in the art capital of the world, Florence. The Renaissance was born here, and with the Uffizi and the Galleria dell’Accademia drawing art lovers from all over the world, it’s hard to skip Florence.
The spectacular Duomo must be climbed for an unforgettable experience and the best view of the city. Stroll across the historic Ponte Vecchio to the Boboli Gardens and Piazzale Michelangelo for great views of Florence and its stunning Duomo. Consider spending a couple of days here to fully appreciate all that Florence has to offer.
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When we think of Tuscany, we imagine beautiful rolling hills dotted with vineyards that frame picture-perfect hilltop towns. It’s all a reality here, where one could easily spend a week relaxing in a Tuscan villa while taking scenic day trips to some of the most amazing medieval hilltop towns. Our favorites include San Gimignano, Siena, Pienza, Monteriggioni, and the rarely visited Monticchiello.
After visiting Tuscany, you may never want to leave. Plan on at least a couple of days in Tuscany, longer if you can afford the time. The best way to experience Tuscany is with a vehicle and there is nothing better than spending an entire day hopping from one medieval town to the next.
5. Cinque Terre
Since becoming popularized years ago by Rick Steves, the Cinque Terre has become jam-packed with visitors. But don’t let this stop you from visiting, as it is still one of our favorite destinations in Italy. The villages are free of vehicular traffic and still retain their old-world charm.
If hiking is your thing, this is a paradise with a network of scenic trails connecting the five villages. Some of the trails are challenging, so be forewarned.
The local train connects all the villages within minutes, and for a unique look at the coast, take the ferry from village to village. This is simply one of the most stunning areas in Italy and not to be missed.
Venice is truly unlike any other place on earth. It’s old, charming, sometimes smells, occasionally floods, and is slowly sinking into the lagoon. It’s also one of the most romantic and amazing places you can visit in Italy. To experience the true essence of Venice, take one day and simply walk without direction or care. You’ll surely get lost, but that’s the goal.
Of course, you’ll also visit the staples of Venice, including St Mark’s Basilica, Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge, and Doge’s Palace. If time permits, head out to Murano and our favorite island, Burano, for a colorful surprise. Not everyone falls in love with Venice, but you’ll never know for sure unless you experience it for yourself.
I will never forget experiencing Venice for the first time. It feels like you are transported to another time - the art, music, food and pure romance in the air is like no other place.
— Elizabeth Berkley
7. Lake Como
It took five visits to Italy before we finally headed to Lake Como. Now, we can’t wait to return to this stunningly beautiful region of Italy nestled against the southern border of Switzerland. Easy to get to from Milan, Lake Como is dotted with an array of dramatic lakeside villages set against the stunning scenery of the Alps. The ferry system will get you to wherever your heart desires, but upscale Bellagio and laidback Varenna proved to be two of our favorites. Whether it’s just for a day or an extended stay, I’m sure you’ll enjoy discovering all that Lake Como has to offer.
Often overlooked, Sicily is one of those destinations that will require some serious time to discover. It’s the largest island in the Mediterranean, and with seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites spread out across the island, there is much to see. Sicily offers visitors an extraordinary combination of cultures reflecting thousands of years of foreign intervention.
Explore the slopes of Mt Etna, the Valley of the Temples, beautiful Taormina, the stunning architecture of the Baroque towns of the Val di Noto, and the magnificent Cathedral of Monreale outside Palermo. To see the entire island plan on at least two weeks; if you want to just hit the highlights, a week will suffice.
Although it’s touristy and expensive, there is no denying the beauty of Capri. Just a short ferry ride from Sorrento or Naples, Capri can be done as an easy day trip, but you can also consider an extended stay for a more relaxed approach to seeing the island.
To make the most of your visit, consider a private boat trip around the island where you can swim in some of the beautiful grottos. For the best scenic views, take the Mount Solaro chairlift to the highest point on the island and then explore quaint Anacapri before heading back to the town of Capri. The Gardens of Augustus are just a short walk from the center of town and offer stunning views of the Faraglioni (dramatic rock formation).
If you are visiting Capri for just a day, we recommend skipping the Blue Grotto. You’ll waste precious time waiting to enter and there are plenty of other beautiful grottos around the island worth seeing.
Most first-time visitors to Italy forgo the mighty Dolomite region for the likes of Italy’s must-see cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice, but this region offers perhaps the most dramatic landscape in all of Italy. With 18 peaks over 10,000 feet, the area is renowned for its winter skiing, and hiking and cycling during the warmer months.
This part of Italy has a distinctively Bavarian feel to it, which can be traced to its history as part of Austria before WWI. Nature lovers will relish the soaring jagged peaks, lush green valleys and stunning beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Be sure to take advantage of the many cable cars in the region for an easy lift to jaw-dropping vistas.
Italy will never be a normal country. Because Italy is Italy. If we were a normal country, we wouldn't have Rome. We wouldn't have Florence. We wouldn't have the marvel that is Venice.
— Matteo Renzi, former Italian Prime Minister
Not as popular a destination as Italy’s other more visited cities, Milan still has lots of history and culture to offer. Its massive cathedral, the world-famous La Scala Opera House, and the adjacent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele form the heart of the historic district and are all within easy walking distance.
For a spectacular view of the city and the surrounding countryside, head to the rooftop terrace of the cathedral. You can’t visit Milan without seeing Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, which is displayed at the monastery of Santa Maria della Grazie. For a great day-trip from Milan, head north to beautiful Lake Como.
Despite its proximity to the Amalfi Coast and Capri, beautiful Sorrento deserves a place on this list based on its own merits. Sorrento has a wonderful vibe to it and its historic old town is a joy to explore. Perched on a cliff looking over the Bay of Naples, you’ll have a stunning view of Mount Vesuvius from almost anywhere in Sorrento.
Sorrento is also the perfect home base for discovering this entire region of Italy. A number of wonderful day trips can be made from here including a visit to the nearby Pompeii Ruins, taking the ferry ride out to the Isle of Capri, and of course, visiting the world-famous Amalfi Coast.
Our final stop takes us to Lucca, the city of 100 churches. Lucca is known for its beautiful Renaissance architecture, intact medieval wall, and as the birthplace of famous Italian composer Giacomo Puccini.
In addition to the many beautiful churches to visit, there are several ancient towers still standing that can be climbed for great views of the city and surrounding countryside. Be sure to climb the Guinigi Tower with its unique rooftop garden.
The wall surrounding the city is perfect for a scenic walk, leisurely bike ride or morning run. Take in a nightly Puccini concert or take the short train ride to Pisa to see the famous Leaning Tower.
© 2019 Bill De Giulio