With more than 10,000 documented caves, Italy is one of the world's top countries for visiting caves, from those in mountains to grottoes in the sea. Those open to visitors can usually be seen on a guided tour only but advance reservations are not always necessary. Specially lighted walkways have been built inside most of these caves and some include a number of stairs. Temperatures inside caves can be chilly and sturdy walking shoes are recommended. Here are Italy's top caverns and caves to see.
Inside the Grotte di Frasassi are some of Italy's most spectacular caverns. The guided tour, lasting 1 1/4 hours, visits several rooms with stalactite and stalagmite formations including one so large that Milan's cathedral (the world's largest Gothic cathedral) could fit inside it. Frasassi Caves are in the Marche region of central Italy.
Corchia Underground Cave
Monte Corchia, called the Empty Mountain, has one of Europe's largest systems of caverns. The cave is in the Apuan Alps of northern Tuscany, 16 kilometers inland from the seaside resort town of Forte dei Marmi (see Versilia Coast map). The 2 hour guided visit covers almost 2 kilometers of the 70 kilometers of underground caverns, taking in some of the best stalactite and stalagmite formations and small underground lakes. Equi Terme prehistoric caves and Grotta di Vento are also in Northern Tuscany.
The Grotta di Monte Cucco, in the Umbria region's Monte Cucco Park, is one of the world's deepest cave systems. An 800 meter stretch of the approximately 20-kilometer cave system is open to visitors on guided tours and includes three massive caverns: the Cattedrale, Sala Margherita, and Sala del Becco.
The cave entrance is near the mountain's peak so the visit requires an initial 27-meter drop on nearly vertical stairs. Visitors can choose from three levels of difficulty, two of which require reservations.
South of Naples, near Padula and its famous Charterhouse, are the Grotte di Pertosa. On the tour, which takes about 2 hours, visitors are led through a long cave with beautiful caverns. What makes a visit to these caverns unique is that part of the tour is done in a small boat as there's a big lake inside the cave.
The Grotta Gigante, Giant Cave has been open to visitors for over 100 years, made the Guinness Book of World Records in 1995 for being the world's largest tourist cave.
The cave's huge main chamber is reached by stairs in a downhill tunnel and inside are many formations including the Colonna Ruggero, 12 meters tall.
Guided tours last about one hour. It's located about 10 kilometers outside Trieste (and can be reached by bus from the city center) in northeastern Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region.
A river runs through the Grotte di Stiffe and inside is a beautiful waterfall, best seen in spring, as well as stalactite and stalagmite formations. The 1 hour guided tour covers 700 meters on a fairly easy walkway with some stairs. Grotta di Stiffe is in central Italy's Abruzzo region, about 17 kilometers southeast of L'Aquila.
Grotte di Castellana is a large complex of caverns with beautiful stalagmites and stalactites in a limestone plateau. One of the rooms open to visitors has a natural skylight and another is the unusual white cave or grotta bianca. Visitors can choose a guided tour through the caves with a short or long itinerary.
Tours for the partial route, covering one kilometer, last 50 minutes while the full route tours cover three kilometers and last 2 hours. Also at the site are a museum and observatory. Grotte di Castellana is in southeastern Italy's Puglia region, 11 kilometers from the sea and 17 kilometers north of Alberobello.
The Blue Grotto, Grotta Azzurra, is probably Italy's best-known sea cave and a top attraction on the island of Capri. Refraction of sunlight into the cave makes an iridescent blue light in the water.
The grotto has been used since prehistoric times and was a favorite pool of the Romans during the time Emperor Tiberius had his villas on the island. It can only be visited on rowboat tours.
Grotte di Nettuno, Neptune's Cave, is just above sea level at the base of a cliff near Alghero on the island of Sardinia (see map) and is closed during rough seas. The entrance can be reached by boat from Alghero (information) or from the car park above by descending a stairway cut into the cliff with 654 stairs. Visitors are guided along a lighted pathway to see the stalactite and stalagmite formations and saltwater lake inside the cave.
Matera, in southern Italy's Basilicata region, has a fascinating cave district that was inhabited for hundreds of years. Several Rupestrian churches are open to the public, there's a reproduction of a typical cave house that you can visit, and refurbished caves have even been made into hotels and restaurants.
If you're visiting an area that produces marble, such as Carrara in Tuscany, you'll see the word Cave on signs. Cave in Italian means quarries (singular cava) so it's not really a cave but a marble quarry. Some, such as Fantiscritti, can be visited on a guided tour, but even driving by you'll get a fascinating look at the quarries.