The 15 Best Cities in Italy

Verona, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

If you're planning your first trip to Italy, you may be undecided as to which cities to visit. It's a tough decision, for good reason—Italy's cities offer an enticing mix of scenery, historic and ancient sites, museums and of course, great cuisine and ambiance. What's more, Italy's major cities can easily be visited by train.

The amount of time you have in Italy will likely dictate how many places you can visit there. Many travelers choose the classic itinerary of Rome, Florence, and Venice, perhaps with a side trip through Tuscany. Yet there are so many great places to discover in Italy, it's hard to narrow down any list of "best" cities. But try we must! These are our picks for the top ten Italian cities, each with its own special character and appeal.

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An ancient archway in Rome

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Rome is the capital of Italy and most likely, your first stop in the country. Rome offers a dazzling variety of sights and experiences. At every turn, you'll discover ancient monuments, ornate medieval and Baroque churches, beautiful fountains, art-filled museums, and Renaissance palaces. The ancient Colosseum is one of the most iconic sites in the world, and modern Rome is a bustling and lively city and has some excellent restaurants and nightlife. Saint Peter's Square and the Vatican City are also easily visited when in Rome.

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Boats going down a canal in Venice

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Unlike anyplace else in the world, Venice is a unique city built over the water in the middle of a lagoon. Venice is one of Italy's most beautiful and romantic cities as well as one of the most popular for visitors to Italy. The heart of Venice is Piazza San Marco with its magnificent church, Saint Mark's Basilica. There are numerous museums, palaces, and churches to visit, and wandering along Venice's canals and getting lost in its maze of narrow streets is always enchanting. Venice is in the northeast of Italy and historically was a bridge between East and West—its architecture retains a Byzantine feel not really found elsewhere in Italy.

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A shot of the Duomo in Florence

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Florence is one of Italy's most important Renaissance architectural and art centers. Its Duomo and Baptistery are magnificent but crowded with tourists, as is the large piazza. Florence has several excellent museums with many famous paintings and sculptures, including Michelangelo's "David" and Botticelli's "Birth of Venus." There are also Medici palaces and gardens. Florence is in the region of Tuscany and is the gateway for exploring Tuscany's smaller cities and countryside.

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The Royal Palace of Milan, Italy

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Milan, one of Europe's wealthiest cities, is known for stylish shops, galleries, and restaurants and has a faster pace of life than most Italian cities. It also has a rich artistic and cultural heritage. Its Gothic Duomo, with its beautiful marble facade, is magnificent. Da Vinci's painting of The Last Supper is one of Milan's top attractions and La Scala is one of the world's most famous opera houses.

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two large rock formations in bright blue water on a sunny day. One rock has an arch at the base and there is a boat going through the arch
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Capri has charmed royalty, artists, and celebrities alike with its gorgeous beaches, many gardens, and restaurants. Situated in the Bay of Naples, Capri is a year-round destination that is bursting with tourists every summer. Be sure to get on the water to explore the sea caves (Blue Grotto is a must) and rock formations. On land, consider visiting the famed Villa San Michele before enjoying some high-end shopping, excellent pasta, and a limoncello. Or two.

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An ancient cathedral in Naples

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Naples is one of Italy's most vibrant cities. It lies on the coast south of Rome and is the most important city in southern Italy. Naples retains much of its Baroque character and is a starting point for trips to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Amalfi Coast. It holds many historical and artistic treasures, and is famous for its pizza and desserts!

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Bologna, Italy

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Bologna is known for its beauty, wealth, cuisine, and left-wing politics. Its flat streets are lined with arcades, making it a good walking city in every kind of weather. It has one of Europe's oldest universities. a nice medieval center, and several attractive squares, lined with buildings with porticoes. Bologna is the biggest city in northern Italy's Emilia-Romagna region and its Piazza Maggiore is one of the biggest squares in Europe. Even among Italians, it's considered the culinary capital of the country.

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Verona, Italy

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Verona is most recognized as the setting for "Romeo and Juliet" but it's also famous for its Roman Arena (the third-largest in Italy and the venue for a top opera festival. Verona has a good medieval center, Roman remains, an interesting castle complex, and lots of high-end shopping. It's the fourth most visited city in Italy and well worth a stop on a northern Italy train travel itinerary.

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View of Orvieto city from a distance with fields in the foreground
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A popular day trip from Rome, Orvieto is a striking hill town in Umbria. It's built on volcanic plateau with near-vertical cliff faces and has a long, rich history. One of Orvieto's main highlights is the Duomo. It took close to 400 years to complete and is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. There's also a network of caves and tunnels underneath the city that have been in use for more than two millennia. Tours of Underground Orvieto are available; they leave daily and last for 45 minutes.

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Morning view of Positano cityscape on coastline of mediterranean sea, Italy
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Built into a seaside cliff in the middle of Italy’s gorgeous Amalfi Coast, Positano is now a popular resort destination perfect for romance. Its mild climate make this a year-round destiantion but Positano most crowded from April to October. Beyond strolling through town admiring the colorful houses vistors can enjoy fresh seafood, do some shopping at boutiques, or relax at pebble and sand beaches. There are also several hiking options from Positano that follow the coast or go deeper inland.

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Roofs of Turin, Italy, with mountains in background
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Turin (Torino), in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, is a major cultural hub with excellent museums, elegant shops, and good restaurants. There are also some very nice examples of Baroque architecture and historic palaces, famous coffee houses, artisan workshops, and streets with covered arcades.

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Italy, Genoa, cityscape as seen from Corso Firenze
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Genoa is Italy's principal seaport, located in Liguria on the northwest coast of Italy. Genoa has a fascinating modern aquarium, an interesting port area, and a historic center said to be the largest medieval quarter in Europe, with a wealth of churches, palaces, and museums.

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Perugia, Italy

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Perugia, in central Italy's Umbria region, is a very cosmopolitan city and home to two universities. It hosts a world-famous jazz festival in the summer and its University for Foreigners is a great place to learn Italian. It's a walled city on a hilltop with great views over the valley and has several important monuments and a good central square. Its history goes back to the 9th century B.C.

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Cinque Terre

Manarola, Cinque Terre, Liguria, Italy. Sunset over the town, view from a vantage point
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OK, the Cinque Terre is technically five villages but considering that the group as a whole is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, all of them are worth a visit. And they're so close to together that visitors can walk from one town into the next without much effort. This popular tourist destination is famous for the colorful buildings, fresh seafood, impressive hikes, and stunning views. Corniglia is smallest and one of the least crowded villages (it lacks sea access) while Monterosso is the largest and busiest.

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Sunrise over the Duomo square in Parma old town
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Parma may not be on most tourists' radar but the Northern Italian city offers noteworthy food, architecture, and art. Foodies will delight in tasting Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Parma ham in addition to stuffed pasta. Meanwhile, architecture lovers will be spoiled by the wide-ranging styles on display here. Especially the pink marble Baptistery. That's in addition to a museum of artifacts from the Middle Ages and a national gallery of art with collections spanning 600 years.

Traveling by Train in Italy

Travel between big cities is best done by train as driving in Italian cities may be very difficult and the extensive Italian rail system is fairly inexpensive. Most city centers are well-suited to walking and parts of the city centers are closed to cars without permits. Large Italian cities generally have good public transportation, too.