Italy's cities are on many a traveler's bucket list, and for good reason – they offer an enticing mix of scenery, historic and ancient sites, museums and of course, great cuisine. What's more, Italy's major cities can easily be visited by train.
These are our picks for the top ten Italian cities, each with its own special character and appeal.
Rome (Roma) 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. We recommend at least 3 days in Rome.
Unlike anyplace else in the world, Venice (Venezia) is a unique city built on 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.
Florence (Firenze) is one of Italy's most important Renaissance architectural and art centers. Its Duomo and Baptistery are magnificent but crowded with tourists, as is their 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.
Milan (Milano), 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.
Naples (Napoli) 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!
Verona is known for the story of Romeo and Juliet and 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.
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.
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.
Genoa (Genova), in Liguria on the northwest coast of Italy, is Italy's principal seaport. 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.
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 ninth century BCE.
If you've seen the top sights in Italy's big cities or prefer to travel to smaller cities with fewer tourists, consider these recommendations for less-visited but interesting Italian cities.
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.