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Want to know the best cities to visit in Italy? There are many to choose from. The cities of Italy are magnificent. Their skylines are marked with domed cathedrals and pointed spires. Narrow cobbled streets lead to vast piazzas and hidden treasures. Laundry waves on lines overhead and mouth watering aromas from kitchens linger in the air.
No matter if it is your first or fortieth visit, no doubt you will pass through some of the beautiful cities in Italy. Each is unique and worthy of discovery. And if you venture away from the most famous cities, you will find places that stay embedded in your travel memories forever. To help you decide where to spend your time, we teamed up with travel writers and photographers from across the world who chose their favorite Italian cities from north to south.
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Top 5 major cities in Italy
The most popular cities to visit in Italy are the country’s largest. Bursting with history, food experiences and culture, you could spend a lifetime exploring these cities alone.
Rome – the Eternal City
“A fool is one who admires other cities without visiting Rome.”
– Francesco Petrarca
Of course you must visit Rome at least once. The Eternal City is one of the greatest on earth and there is something for every kind of traveler. You can’t help but be in awe of how Rome has evolved over the passage of time. This chaotic, beautiful metropolis captures your heart with every corner you turn.
Admire the Colosseum and other incredible relics of Roman times in the Forum and beyond. At the Vatican, marvel at majestic St Peter’s and the Renaissance treasures of the Vatican Museums. Then simply soak up the atmosphere of Rome’s old town. From Piazza Navona to the Spanish steps, around every corner there are cascading fountains and imposing statues collected over thousands of years. Make sure to duck into some of Rome’s 900 churches and discover soaring domed ceilings and incredible mosaics.
If your travel style is meandering and watching the world go by, head to the Trastevere neighbourhood. Get lost in its winding streets that lead you to the perfect wine bar or trattoria. Here you will find some of the city’s best food and no doubt, over your meal, you will plot your next visit to Rome.
Venice – La Serenissima
Venice, the city built on water, is nothing short of magical. There is no experience quite like your first trip down the Grand Canal. I guarantee there will be a smile on your face as you meander down Venice‘s main thoroughfare passing gondolas and stunning palazzi on your way.
Before you reach Piazza San Marco, you pass under the famous Rialto bridge and close to the fish market of the same name. Further along the canal, watch out for the beautiful Ponte dell’Accademia. At San Marco, dodge the pigeons and feast your eyes on the ornate basilica and Doge’s Palace next door. A little further on, you will see the iconic Bridge of Sighs.
A city this beautiful attracts large crowds so if you want a more serene Venetian experience, head away from the main attractions to the side canals and campi (squares). This is the Venice I love. One of long seafood lunches, the gentle sound of oars treading water and tiny cobbled alleyways and bridges steeped in history.
Florence – the Renaissance city
Sitting on the banks of the River Arno, Florence is a city with a fascinating past, amazing architecture and a thriving food scene. Florence is about art, history and culture and they ooze from every brick in every building.
At its heart you find the incredible 13th century Duomo and its bell tower renowned for its dome and colourful marble facade. These buildings were constructed during the Renaissance period when the city state of Florence was at its peak. To learn more about the city during this time head to the Palazzo Vecchio from where Florence was ruled by the Medici family. A secret passageway leads you to the Uffizi Gallery, home to some of the world’s most priceless artworks.
Cross the Arno via the Ponte Vecchio and stroll up the hill to Palazzo Pitti, home to more art and the beautiful Boboli Gardens from where you can gaze back down over Florence in wonder.
All that culture is bound to make you hungry. There are countless restaurants in Florence. For a quick bite we recommended heading to the impressive gourmet food hall on the first floor of the San Lorenzo market before heading off to explore more of the city and of course your daily gelato!
Florence is also useful base for day trips into Tuscany – Pisa, Lucca and Siena – plus further afield to Bologna, Orvieto and more.
Milan – the modern city
Suggested by: The Crowded Planet
When I opened my blog a few years ago, I made it a special mission to change people’s perspective about Milan, my hometown. More often than not, Milan is dismissed as a grey, uninteresting and expensive city – which by the way is not true, as there are loads of free sights and activities in Milan!
Visitors just rush through en route to other prettier (and more touristy) destinations like Lake Como or Cinque Terre, and when they do visit they just stick to the city centre. In my opinion, Milan is definitely one of the most interesting cities in Italy. The cultural scene is second to none – there are loads of theatres and places to listen to live music, as well as museums and galleries organizing interesting exhibitions.
Milan is also great when it comes to bars and restaurants – there are new restaurants opening each week, and in summer the city becomes a great street food destination! Two of my favourite parts of Milan are Isola, a former working class neighbourhood turned into a hipster hotspot, and Chinatown, home to Milan’s Chinese community since the mid-19th century.
If you’re visiting Milan, being based in one of these neighbourhoods will give you a much more authentic (and a lot less expensive) experience compared to sticking to the city centre.
Naples – vibrant city of the south
Suggested by: A World to Travel
Nobody seems to like Naples at first. This city almost never heads the top 5, not even the top 10, of the most impressive or beautiful cities in Italy and many people judge Naples even without knowing it.
Fortunately, today I am here to defend it. Naples is one of my favorite and best cities in Italy, with its narrow streets with clothes hanging outside the windows, its scratched cars and its people with southern Italian character. And of course, with its gastronomy (and especially pizza!) famous throughout the world.
If you stop by, on your way to Sicily from Rome, because you want to visit Pompeii or just to live an authentic Neapolitan experience; do not forget to stroll, walk by the sea and sit in one of its squares for a coffee. It will not disappoint you.
Northern Italian cities
Italy’s northern cities are diverse and exciting. From the Alpine cities bordering Switzerland and Austria, to Genoa on the Italian Riviera and Ravenna on the Adriatic Sea, there is a city for every taste. This area is also known as the heart of Italian food. Parma is famous for prosciutto (cured ham) and parmigiano reggiano (known as parmesan) – Italy’s most famous cheese. In Bologna there is even a gelato university.
Verona – city of love
Suggested by: Laugh Travel Eat
Verona is most famous for being the setting of Romeo and Juliet, and as the city of love. One of the most unique things you can do there is visit Club di Giuliette, the Juliet’s Club. They reply to all the letters people send to Juliet from all over the world as her secretary.
However, the romantic experience doesn’t stop there. You can stay right opposite the famous Juliet Balcony at the Relais de Charme Il Sogno di Giulietta. There’s the hidden Giusti Garden with its maze, the Palazzo Vecchio in all its red brick medieval glory, as well as the Roman walls and gates.
Verona is also home to the second largest Roman Amphitheater, which still hosts concerts and gigs with an annual Opera Festival in September – one of the most coveted experiences in Italy. There is no shortage of good food, too. One of my favourite restaurants is the Locanda Navona in Piazza Navona, with its quiet ambiance and delicious menu.
The best gelato I’ve ever had also happens to be in Verona; Gelateria Ballini serves up some delicious flavours with innovative ones like white chocolate with pistachio.
Bologna – the gastronomic capital
Suggested by: Karen from Wanderlustingk
Bologna is a fantastic city to visit in Italy. It’s beautiful, historical, and full of fantastic food. Many travelers overlook Bologna in favor of other major cities in Italy, however travelers will fall in love with the slower pace, young feeling (due to the university), the magnificent food, and the many towers around the city.
History lovers will love strolling down the medieval streets of Bologna. Although many of the medieval towers have been destroyed, you can still see the two distinctive leaning towers that can be seen from many points in the city. It’s possible to climb one of the towers for a stunning view of the city! Be sure to try tagliatelle al ragù while you’re in Bologna. To learn more about food in Bologna click here
Bolzano – the German city
Suggested by: Nomad Epicureans
Bolzano is the capital of South Tyrol and still known to most German-speakers as Bozen. Today, 25% of the city’s population speaks German which makes it unique in the Italian landscape. Apart from being known as an educational hub, Bolzano is a popular skiing destination due to its location in the heart of the Alps.
The importance of the mountains is also reflected in some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, such as the Mountain Museum and the Museum of Archeology. The Museum of Archeology is home to Iceman Ötzi, an extraordinarily well-preserved mummy of a man believed to have lived approximately 5000 years ago and invaluable source of information on pre-historic societies.
Bolzano also makes a perfect base to explore some of the imposing castles located in the area, such as Maretsch Castle. If you can, come in December and visit Bolzano’s famous Christmas Market and try some traditional Bozner Zelten, a soft fruit bread.
Genoa – coastal city on the Italian Riviera
Suggested by: Stephanie from The World As I See It
Genoa is one of my new favourite Italian cities to visit. From its gritty neighbourhoods to its historic streets there’s much to see and do in Genoa. And, there are far fewer tourists than other Italian cities.
Genoa’s main attractions include two castles, the Albertis Castle and the Castle Mackenzie, the family-friendly Genoa Aquarium, the Genoa Cathedral, and Via Garibaldi. Via Garibaldi is a 16th-century thoroughfare with stunning palaces lining each side, and it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But if you’re looking for hidden gems and epic views there are two great locations. First is Villetta Di Negro, a park in the center of town, with winding paths lead up, through artificial caves, and around a beautiful waterfall. And at the top you’ll be awarded 360-degree views of the city.
For another great view and neighbourhood, head up to Castelletto. This hilly residential quarter can be reached by funicular or a trek up a steep hill. Grab a gelato and take in the sweeping view of Genoa and the harbour.
Where should you stay in Genoa? The Grand Hotel Savoia or the Melia Genova are both divine and in great locations. And any trip to Genoa isn’t complete without a delectable plate full of the region’s famous pesto. Head to Il Cadraio, near Via Garibaldi, for the best pesto in Genoa.
Turin – jewel of the north
Suggested by: James from World Wide Shopping Guide
Turin is a city that has been undeservedly overlooked in favour of cities like Florence and Rome for much too long. Known for being a manufacturing hub – the home of Italy’s car industry – many people assume that Turin is made up of factories and industrial estates.
But, although Turin is industrious, it doesn’t feel like an industrious city. If anything, it feels the opposite. The city is made up of beautiful streets lined with trees, mansions, and coffee shops. The Alps, just an hour and a half from the city, provide an ever constant and beautiful backdrop wherever you look.
There’s plenty to see and do in Turin as well. The Shroud of Turin is probably the city’s most famous attraction, but definitely not its only one. There’s The Egyptian Museum of Turin which is home to one of the world’s best collections of Egyptian artefacts, and Turin itself is the home of Italy’s chocolate making industry and the slow food movement.
In the peak summer months, Turin is considerably quieter than many other Italian cities and this can definitely be a selling point. If you’re looking for a city that has yet to be fully discovered, consider a trip to Turin.
Parma – historical university city
Suggested by: Mostly Amélie
There’s more to Parma than ham and parmesan! As a vegan and fan of health and wellness getaways, I came not expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised when Parma revealed itself to be a little haven of art, health and vegan food – obviously the art part is not so much of a surprise as we’re talking about Italy!
But Parma as a whole made for a lovely health and wellness getaway I can’t recommend enough. From exploring the Piazza del Duomo where the beautiful marble Battistero is located to roaming the cute little streets and finding health food stores upon health food stores and so many vegan restaurants in Parma, the more I explored, the more pleasantly surprised I got!
My hotel in Parma was located right next door to a lovely spa called Le Monadi where I had a few yoga classes, as well as the pleasure to experience a Tibetan singing bowl sound therapy massage. This treatment is aimed at improving mental clarity and increase physical energy. I left energized and ready to discover more of this exciting city!
Ravenna – historic port city
Suggested by: Calculated Traveller
One city that I loved exploring is Ravenna located in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy.
A perfect town for a day trip, we visited Ravenna via cruise ship and found it to be easy to navigate on foot, with eye candy galore courtesy of the eight Unesco World Heritage sites from the late-Roman and Byzantine period.
Featuring gorgeous, colourful, intricately inlaid mosaics these early Christian churches and monuments are a must-see for lovers of architecture, art, and religious history. One very affordable 10Euro pass allowed us access to all of the sites.
Once hungry, we had some fabulous pizza at the Mercato Coperto market in the centre of the city. The market is currently under construction but is set to reopen in 2018 as a new and improved haven for local food and wine enthusiasts.
Cities near Milan
Close to Milan, there are several smaller cities to explore full of relatively unknown treasures. These places are ideal for discovering on a day trip from Milan or as a city break in their own right.
Pavia – a Renaissance gem
Suggested by: Solo Sophie
Pavia is a stunning city to the South of Milan and a real hidden gem in the Italian landscape. While it may not be as popular as other settlements in the region, it definitely should be!
After all, Pavia is home to one of the oldest universities in Italy, its cathedral is rumoured to have been partly designed by Da Vinci. And the nearby monastery of Certosa di Pavis is thought to be one of the most beautiful examples of Renaissance architecture in Europe. I highly recommend staying at least a night or two in order to truly appreciate all of the city’s attractions
Bergamo – quiet city near the mountains
Suggested by: Just a Pack
Bergamo is an often overlooked jewel in the North of Italy. It’s the quintessential Italian city, with stunning medieval and baroque architecture. Breathtaking views of the surrounding Dolomites make Bergamo one of Italy’s most postcard perfect cities. It’s essential to explore the Città Alta (upper town), with its winding streets and Venetian walls. Here you’ll find the Duomo di Bergamo, the city’s magnificent cathedral, and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore which dates back to the 12th century.
Stop for lunch or dinner in the Piazza Vecchia, and watch the tables fill up with people stopping for an aperitivo after work. The pasta dish casoncelli alla bergamasca and polenta are traditional dishes in the area, and they’re delicious!
Bergamo is filled with modern accommodation options housed in beautiful medieval buildings, which are affordable but still embody the Italian love for comfort and style. It’s the perfect place for a romantic weekend away, far from the noise and chaos of bigger cities like Milan, you can relax and take in the sheer beauty of Italian architecture and history.
Como – gateway to glamour on the lakes
Suggested by: Untold Morsels
Just an hour by train from Milan, Como is a city with a completely different vibe. Como is a bustling city surrounded by the mountain peaks of the Italian Alps and is defined by its position on the lake that bears its name.
The centre of the city is marked by the imposing Duomo, the Gothic style Santa Maria Assunta, with its impressive dome. Narrow cobbled streets lead to the lakeside marina where you catch ferries to the smaller towns and villages on the lake. You can see the Duomo with the city laid out before it when you take the funicular to Brunate, a hillside town above Como.
Have lunch in the hills or relax lakeside and try the local fish dishes. Visiting a local food festival in Como is a highlight of our Italian travels. So do look out for local celebrations if you are in the area.
Brescia – a true hidden gem
Suggested by: Isabella from Boundless Roads
I used to visit Brescia many times when I was a kid and used to go and see my cousins but I have never appreciated it so much as I do now. Probably because I am now looking at it with the eyes of an interested traveller coming from Mexico, where I live.
Unfortunately we tend to underestimate what we have at an easy reach. Now, every time I go back to Italy I always go back to visit my cousins and stay a few extra days so that I have the time to walk around the city and explore new corners.
As soon as you arrive in the main square, piazza Duomo, actually in all the historical centre, you cannot help but notice the elegance of the city and the people. Brescia is the capital of a very rich province thanks to a huge industrial growth started a couple of decades ago and the people are known to be a little snob in a way, but most of all very much workaholics.
They won’t go out if they are not perfectly dressed up from top to bottom and their hair are perfectly done. Of course the last time I went I was looking like a tramp as I love comfortable and loose, sporty cloths, besides I had just left my fancy job and heels to live a nomadic life, therefore the last of my concern was how I was dressed. It was nice to look around though, and mingle with the fancy locals.
My cousins would take me around and have aperitifs and pizza in the fancy bars, which I enjoyed a lot and that’s one of the thing that I suggest you should do. It’s very Italian. The best pizza I have eaten was at Capriccio in Piazza Loggia and at Wuhrer a (relatively) laidback Pub set in an old Wuhrer Brewery in a nice garden setting, if it’s summer.
The local aperitif is Pirlo, which is a sort of Spritz. Especially in the summer, everybody is out at night after work in Piazza Duomo and piazzale Arnaldo which has recently become a night meeting point with nice restaurants and bars and that’s where lots of people of all ages gather in the evenings. But this is not what I love the most about Brescia.
I am blown away by the history of Brescia and the uncountable historical buildings, monuments and ancient ruins scattered around the city as a witness of its glorious past. It’s an open air museum and you will be fascinated by its charm.
If you have only a couple of days make sure you walk around Piazza Loggia, Piazza duomo and visit the old cathedral and all the historical center, walk all along Via Santa Giulia and visit among the others, the roman forum which, together with the Monastery of Santa Giulia, world heritage site in 2011, and of course you cannot miss the castle with stunning panoramic views of the city and the romantic sunsets.
But this is not all, there is so much to see, including a huge number of museums and cultural events. I suggest paying a visit to the tourist information center situated in Piazza Duomo or check out their very informative website as they can give information about guided tours of the city and many other precious information to make the best of your stay. Brescia is one of the best cities to visit in Italy.
Cities near Venice
Over centuries, the Venetian Republic spread its influence far and wide. Visit the cities near Venice to see how important the merchant city was in the development of these lesser known towns and enjoy their unique character.
Padua – seat of learning
Suggested by: Delve into Europe
I first became acquainted with Padua because I couldn’t find a room in Venice during the Film Festival, and it’s only a half-hour train ride away. The first evening I walked around, I was hooked: busy squares, a whole host of bars and restaurants, amazing architecture. I wanted more.
Padua got under my skin over several visits, as I uncovered a bit more each time. The first place I visited was the Scrovegni Chapel, originally a private family chapel with an incredible fresco cycle by Giotto, what some consider to be one of the precursors of the Renaissance. Art lovers should also seek out the frescoes by Giusto de Menabuoi in the Cathedral Baptistery, a short walk away.
Padua was at one time a major rival to Venice, which you see from the sheer wealth of treasures to be found in the city. The Basilica of St Anthony, known locally as Il Santo, is one of the most amazing churches you could ever see, its domes looking like a medieval city skyline, while its interior is probably the most opulent I’ve ever visited.
Padua was also home to one of medieval Italy’s best universities, where Galileo Galilei lectured in the 17th century, and you can also visit the Palazzo Bo on a guided tour which includes the fascinating Anatomy Theatre and Medicine Hall. The city’s streets are filled with the university’s students at night, especially around the Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta, either side of the great Palazzo della Ragione. Across the road from the Palazzo Bo is the 18th century Caffe Pedrocchi, a wonderful spot for a late night espresso.
Trieste – pearl of the east
Suggested by: Michela from Rocky Travel
Trieste may not be on your itinerary as a first-time-traveller to Italy, but if you plan to visit Venice then Trieste is a must.
To me Trieste is Venice’s sister city on the mainland cause it’s similar in many ways. On the border to Slovenia, Trieste has a rich history in a fabulous natural setting. Here are my suggestions on things to do. Start your visit from Piazza Unità d’Italia, a spectacular square on the sea (one of the largest in the world) from there take stroll along the “Molo Audace”, the 200 stoned walkaway out to sea.
Walk along the beautiful costiera (coastal road and pathway) from Barcola, the main beach of Trieste, to the Miramare Castle (6km) the beloved home to the Habsburg family. The majestic white castle is perched on a promontory and surrounded by a huge park, with very photogenic scenery.
Furthermore, don’t miss out on going on a ride of the famous old “Opicina Tram” from the city centre to the Karst plateau, where you can admire a fabulous panorama of Trieste and walk along the Strada Napoleonica (Napoleonic Way) amidst the forest.
If you are a foodie and love coffee, then you should know that Trieste is the best city in Italy for coffee that beats Naples, (sorry guys!). With over 30 different ways of drinking coffee you will love trying them out. Make sure you visit the famous heritage coffee shops in Trieste. My favourite ones are Antico Caffè San Marco and Caffè Tommaseo.
Treviso – Prosecco city
Suggested by: Untold Morsels
We went to Treviso on whim and wished we had stayed longer. Treviso lies to the north of Venice in the heart of Prosecco country. It is a walled city with medieval streets and charming Romanesque churches.
Once under Venetian rule, the city is adorned with the winged lion of San Marco and it also borrowed another of Venice’s main attractions. Built on the confluence of the Botteniga and Sile rivers, the city has many pretty canals. These ancient waterways once were the backbone of industry in Treviso but now they are largely decorative.
You can easily spend a relaxing day wandering the canals and discovering local treasures like the covered fish market Isola della Pescheria. Later, sip a prosecco at one of the many canalside bars and restaurants with the elegantly dressed locals. Then wander the streets admiring frescoed walls and chic Treviso boutiques.
Cities in Tuscany
The cities of Tuscany are some of the most visited in the world. Not far from Florence there are several beautiful towns to discover.
Pisa – city of architectural wonders
Suggested by: Untold Morsels
Most visitors stop off in Pisa for a few hours to get their mandatory selfies with the leaning tower and visit the wonders of the Piazza dei Miracoli. But the university town of Pisa is worthy of a longer stay.
Pisa was once a great maritime power and rival to Florence. The city straddles the Arno and is home to many beautiful medieval churches and palazzi. It is one of those places to slow down and relax.
For everything you ever wanted to know about the Leaning Tower of Pisa click here
Stroll along the river and across its bridges. Then visit the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina famous for its three spires. Stop for a drink or gelato in Piazza Cairoli and watch the city go about its daily business. If you stay in Pisa make sure to rise early or visit at sunset to beat the crowds for a more personal experience of the buildings that are rightly wonders of the modern world.
With great connections to Florence and the surrounding countryside, consider using Pisa as a base for discovering Tuscany.
Siena – in the heart of Tuscany
Suggested by: Greta’s Travels
Siena in Tuscany, is one of my personal favourite cities in Italy. With its historical medieval city centre and the view over the rolling green hills of the Tuscan countryside it fulfils every Italian stereotype you could ever imagine. The medieval town centre is mostly pedestrian, with car access allowed only to those resident within the the old town walls. Walking through the old town walls feels like stepping back in time.
The lack of cars and medieval bricks surrounding you on every side add to the charm of the place. This magical historic centre has also been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Siena’s famous central square, Piazza del Campo, is one of the most visited attractions of Siena. The fan-shaped square is the site of the Gothic town hall, the Palazzo Publicco and Torre del Mangia, Siena’s characteristic 14th-century tower with white crown.
Piazza del Campo is also where every summer the famous Palio di Siena is held. If you’re visiting Siena in summer, you can’t miss this traditional horse racing event!
Lucca – the city of towers
Suggested by: Untold Morsels
If you plan to spend some time in Tuscany, the pretty city of Lucca is the perfect base. Lucca is not as well known as neighbouring Florence and Pisa but has charms all of her own. The old town of the city is surrounded by ancient walls that have been converted into a park.
Rent a bike and cruise around the city walls to get your bearings. You will notice nine towers soaring over Lucca. The most famous of these is the Torre Guinigi, once one of 250 defensive tower houses built to help defend the city. Inside the city walls, elegant piazzas and Romanesque churches provide the backdrop for daily life.
It was these very scenes that inspired the music and stories of opera great Giacomo Puccini. Now, each night, there is a short concert of his works at the beautiful Church of San Giovanni. After the concert, dine at one of Lucca’s many restaurants and sample the delicious Tuscan cuisine.
Cities near Rome
Head out of Rome for the day and you can discover some of Italy’s smaller cities.
Perugia – Umbrian hilltop city
Suggested by: The World Pursuit
I wouldn’t say there is any main attraction in Perugia to see, but instead, the whole town feels just as you would expect an old Italian town to feel. Perugia is a hilltop town that is the capital of the Umbria region. The streets are cobbled, the buildings are old, and there are not many tourists to be found.
The city is home to a major university, meaning there are many fun things for young people to do here. Buzzing cafes, bars, and hip food scenes are also in this quaint Italian town. In the summer Perugia also plays home to the entire Umbria Jazz Festival, a great experience with beautiful music in the air.
One of the best things to do in Perugia is just stroll along the Roman aqueduct that connects the cities two hills. Walking near Piazza Duomo at the Fontana Maggiore can show you magnificent sights over the Italian countryside. For a great cappuccino with a view make sure to head to Cafe De Perugia. When you are tired of the major tourist hotspots of Rome, Florence, and Pisa head to Perugia for some magical Italian air.
Orvieto – a city above and below ground
Suggested by: Dish Our Town
My favorite Italian Restaurant in New York City serves a wonderful crisp white wine which they simply refer to as an Orvieto. In my imagination, I would transport myself to Orvieto through sipping. The more I sipped, the more elaborate my imagination.
During one of our recent travels, my imagination was manifested. I, along with my family, finally made it to Orvieto, and I hadn’t even had one sip. It was even more beautiful than I ever imagined in my mind. There we were in a beautiful hilltop town, with the most ornate and beautiful cathedral in the region of Umbria crowning the center. Toward the edges, one can go to an overlook and appreciate the most verdant countryside filled with vineyards below.
Orvieto is filled with wonderful little cafes and specialty food boutiques, but it was the gelateria toward the back of the cathedral that tempted us on a hot day. If there is one must-see site, other than the cathedral, it would be the underground city. This labyrinth of caves provides a true understanding of how a civilization that existed thousands of years ago lived their daily lives.
Part of Italy’s DNA brings many of its visitors back in history, and this goes even further back than I had imagined. Oh, and guess what? They drank a lot of wine in those days as well.
Cities in Sardinia
Sardinia is famous for beautiful beaches and unspoilt nature but there are treasures to be found in its coastal cities too.
Cagliari – castle city by the sea
Suggested by: Claudia from My Adventures Across The World
Often overlooked for more famous cities on the mainland, Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, reserves to those who visit some incredible sights and unique experiences. The city is located on the shores of the Mediterranean, but it is on the hills. Pretty much anywhere in town it is possible to have a splendid view – at any time of day.
Cagliari is home to several lagoons, and it is the only place in the Mediterranean where pink flamingoes nest and live, making it a fantastic place to observe wildlife. The city is packed with archeological sites – Villa Tigellio and the Roman Amphitheater being just two; beautiful churches such as the Cathedral and the Basilica di Bonaria.
The historical centre is divided in four parts, Stampace, Marina, San Giovanni and Castello, all characterized by narrow alleys and colorful buildings. Finally, Cagliari boasts some lovely beaches (Poetto and Calamosca are just two of the best beaches in Sardinia), which can both be seen via an easy hike to Sella del Diavolo.
Alghero – city of beaches
Suggested by: Kalena from Lost and Abroad
It’s easy to get lost exploring the small streets and old sea walls of Alghero on the northwest coast of Sardinia. With a complex and intriguing history, the city embraces its past showcasing towering Catalan gothic buildings, such as The Diocese of Alghero-Bosa and delicious local Sardinian food that can’t be found anywhere else.
Alghero is also a great hub to take a boat trip, or easily visit the nearby natural parks, sandy beaches, impressive sea cliffs, and Neptune’s Grotto, a large sea cave housing stalactites that are over two million years old!
After a long day of sightseeing, order a gigantic pizza to share on the rooftop of La Botteghina or taste their lobster pasta, a Sardinian specialty. Wine connoisseurs will be happy to unwind with a glass of local cannonau, the perfect reprieve. For dinner, head to Al 43 di Via Doria for steak topped with foie gras or try their famous lobster roll.
Southern Italian cities
Italy’s southern cities have long been neglected in favour of its more glamorous northern neighbours. That is changing thanks to some well considered development and promotion. There are now plenty of reasons to extend your trip to Italy to the cities down south.
Matera – a city made of stone
Suggested by: Collette & Scott of Roamaroo.com
The city of Matera is one of the main hubs of the Basilicata Region of Southern Italy. This city dates back over 9,000 years to the Paleolithic era and is most known for its sassi, the name for its houses carved out of caves and cliffs. This beautiful city was once condemned as the embarrassment of Italy in the 1950s, when the Italian government shut down the city due to disease.
After decades of shame, Matera was cleaned up and in 1993, this city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Matera is one of the only cities in the world that has kept its original structure intact for nearly 10,000 years. Visitors will be amazed by the plethora of stone houses and caves etched into the side of the Italian mountains.
While Matera used to be the laughing stock of Italy 70 years ago, tourists can now stay at one of the most luxurious five-star properties in the Mediterranean, Sextantio Le Grotte Delle Civita Matera. This unique hotel allows its guests to sleep in retrofitted caves complete with candlelight and romantic bathtubs. For fine dining, travelers should visit L’abbondanza Lucana or Regia Corte for delicious Italian dining.
Lecce – Baroque city in the south
Suggested by: The Lazy Trotter
If you have never been to Lecce, you better get busy. Take the map of Italy and head south-east, towards one of the most charming and fascinating cities of the boot.
Some people call it the Florence of the south, as Lecce offers to its visitors a number of stunning, baroque, historical buildings. Stroll around the streets of the old town, visit the Roman amphitheater, the Duomo cathedral as well as the Santa Croce Basilica – a real masterpiece of baroque architecture.
There are plenty of things to do and see in Lecce: whether you choose to spend the day sightseeing or maybe shopping some local pottery and papier-mâché handicrafts, make sure to save some room for some of the best food you will ever have.
Must try delicacies: pasticciotto, rustico, taralli, orecchiette pasta, meatballs and lots and lots of red wine!
Sorrento – gateway to the Amalfi Coast
Suggested by: Hopping Miles
Sorrento, this Italian coastal town is exudes energy and the vibrant colors of the coast with a backdrop of towering cliffs makes it one of those must visits in Italy. Streets are lined with lemon trees on both sides and houses bear colourful flower pots tumbling down the fence. Sorrento is a busy town filled with tourists and lovely locals who welcome every visitor with a warm smile.
Sorrento makes a great base city for day trips to Amalfi coast, Naples and Capri. I’d say, while planning your Italy itinerary, do not ever miss a trip to Capri and a drive in the winding roads of Amalfi Coast! Also, while in Sorrento, do not miss the wood fired pizza from any of the pizza shack and Sorrento’s famed lemonade!
Pompeii – an ancient city, now destroyed
Suggested by: Don’t Forget to Move
Although Italy has a plethora of incredible cities, our favorite place we visited was Pompeii. It’s incredibly unique and full of history. For those that don’t know Pompeii, it’s an ancient Roman city just 40 minutes from Naples by train. In 79 A.D. the volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted, covering the city in meters of ash and killing about 2000 people. Pompeii was left undiscovered until over 1500 years later when it was found that the ash had preserved the city exactly as it was.
Walking through the cobblestone streets you can see houses, community buildings and yes, skeletons covered in ash but perfectly intact. It can be a bit disturbing to see deceased town residents, especially because the volcano is still active and could really erupt at any second.
But there’s really no other place like Pompeii to see an ancient city frozen in time. If you want to visit Pompeii, your best bet is to stay in Naples and take the train in. There are shops and restaurants outside the site that sell decent meals and snacks.
Cities in Sicily
Sicily has a raw energy and beauty that grabs you with all your senses. Explore its cities and you will discover the beating heart of this Mediterranean island.
Palermo – vibrant capital of Sicily
Suggested by: By Jennifer (aka Dr. J) from Sidewalk Safari
Palermo is a riotous mix of food, culture, and grit. Experience Palermo’s street food culture by signing up for a Streat Palermo tour. Try Sicilian specialities you might not be brave enough to try otherwise like pane ca’ meusa (a spleen sandwich). Sicilian gelato is the best in the world. Now imagine this: instead of serving gelato in a cup or cone, shops in Palermo serve you an ice cream sandwich on brioche!
Palermo’s Teatro Massimo is the third largest opera in Europe and also played a pivotal role in The Godfather III. Watch visitors re-enact the final shoot-out on the steps while locals roll their eyes. Pretty much every visitor to Sicily is curious about the mafia. We felt perfectly safe on our visit but the surroundings in Palermo lend to the feeling that someone from ‘The Family’ might be watching.
At Palermo Cathedral, we heard Father Puglisi’s story. Now considered a martyr by the church, he was “taken out” by the mob for his work to protect children from organized crime. This undercurrent still exists and makes for an heart-racing backdrop to a visit to Sicily.
Ortigia – romantic city by the sea
Suggested by: Jack and Jill Travel the World
Ortigia is the historical center of the city of Siracusa, Sicily. It’s located on an island, connected to the modern part of Siracusa by a short bridge. There are enough things to do in Ortigia to occupy a casual traveler for at least a couple of days.
We rented an Airbnb just around the corner from the market and I’d make a trip there every morning. I ordered my espresso from Fratelli Burgio, and sip it while standing on the counter, surrounded by fresh deli meat and cheese, while watching the market come to life. Being an island, the seafood is particularly fresh. Ortigia is especially known for its swordfish, and you’ll find plenty of it in the market.
Do not miss the sandwich from Caseifico Borderi. Don’t expect a menu, but expect a line. Andrea is a true sandwich artist, he makes what he wants with a flourish, a smile, and a conversation. Other than being known for its food, Ortigia is simply a fun city to walk around. The main waterfront area around Fountain Arenusa is particularly scenic.
The island has plenty of reminders that it has been around for a very long time. Close to the entrance to the island lies the remnants of the Temple of Apollo, dated to the beginning of 6th century BC.
The main cathedral is worth a peek in. It has incorporated the original Greek columns from 5th century BC. If you go to Hotel alla Giudecca, you can take a tour to Europe’s oldest Jewish bath (mikveh). These subterranean baths, dated from where Jews had lived on the island until they were expelled in 1400’s, had lain hidden here until 1989.
For its small size, Ortigia packs quite a lot. I haven’t even mentioned the various attractions located across the bridge on the mainland. It’s definitely worth a visit when in Sicily.
Noto – heart of the Baroque valley
Suggested by: 203 Challenges
Even if you have a very short time in Sicily, make the Baroque town of Noto your priority. You don’t need a guide or a map to enjoy the honey-shaded buildings of the old town. Let yourself get lost is the best advice to follow here.
Don’t leave without getting to the top of the tower of San Nicolo church for a breath-taking panorama of the town.
Messina – Sicilian harbour city
Suggested by: Untold Morsels
If you are traveling to Sicily via the mainland, chances are you will arrive in Messina. This harbour city is the gateway to Sicily but is worth exploring for a few days before you explore the rest of the island. Messina has had a troubled past. The city was almost completely destroyed by an earthquakes in 1783 and 1906 and Allied attacks in World War II. Today the city is one of the most important hubs in Sicily thanks to its resilient citizens.
Religion plays a great part in the daily lives of the people of Messina and there are several festivals throughout the year marking significant events on the Catholic calendar. These cultural events are an incredible sight and worth seeing even if you are not religious. Huge floats depicting scenes from the bible are hauled along Messina’s wide boulevards by parishioners of its many churches holding candles.
There are several notable landmarks including an impressive astronomical clock that puts on a 12 minute show at midday. My enduring memory of Messina, however, is their granita breakfast. Warm brioche straight from the oven is dipped into delicious coffee or chocolate granita (Sicilian gelato).
Catania – at the base of Mount Etna
Suggested by: Untold Morsels
Catania is crazy, vibrant and cool. Lying in the shadow of Mount Etna, the city’s history has been shaped by volcanic activity over the centuries. No wonder then, that the people celebrate their patron saint, who is said to have stopped several Etna catastrophes, with such fervour.
Twice a year in February and August, the people of Catania celebrate Sant’Agata with processions, fireworks and feasting. This festival attracts over 1 million people to the Baroque piazzas and streets of the city.
If you’re not visiting Catania during the festivals, you can pay your respects to the saint at the city’s Duomo – the focal point of the city. From there explore some of the cities museums and the ancient Greek theatre. And don’t miss the famous La Pescheria market where local fisherman tout their wares, hauled from the Ionian Sea that very morning.
What is your favourite Italian city?
I can’t choose and it seems there is a lifetime of exploring to be done. And then you’ll have to move on to the small Italian towns and villages which have unique charms of their own.
We love Italy! You can find all of our articles on our favorite country here or to start planning your trip to Italy visit these pages:
· 10 day Italy itinerary – covering Rome, Florence, Venice and more
· 5 days in Rome
· 101 travel tips for Italy
· What to pack for Italy – including a packing list
· Why you need travel insurance for Italy
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