The Top 23 Things to Do in Italy

San Gimignano in Tuscany and the italian countryside
mammuth / Getty Images

Though it's smaller—both in landmass and population—than the state of California, Italy has a lifetime of things to see and do. It's famous for its archaeological sites, picturesque hill towns, medieval and Renaissance cities, Mediterranean beaches, and of course, the food! Some people come to Italy just to eat, while others visit for history and culture, shopping, genealogical research, religious holidays or pilgrimages, or some combination of the above.

While no list of things to see and do in Italy could ever be considered complete, there are some archetypal experiences that should rank high on your Italian bucket list. Most trips start with the classic tour of Rome, Florence, and Venice, but beyond these great cities, there is still so much of Italy to experience. Whether you're planning your first or fifteenth trip, consider our list of the 23 top things to see and do in Italy.

01 of 23

Tour Rome's Ancient Wonders

Looking down on a walkway through Palatine Hill seeing ancient roman ruins

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

The Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon are practically synonymous with Rome, if not all of Italy. You'll need to set aside at least a day to visit Colosseum, Forum and the Palatine Hill, which are all included on one admission ticket. The Pantheon, as well as other top Roman sites like the Piazza Navona, Campo de' Fiori, the Spanish Steps, and the Trevi Fountain, can all be seen in a single day.

02 of 23

Visit the Vatican

Sunset on Saint Peter in Vatican City Rome
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The 110 acres that comprise Vatican City, the world's smallest sovereign state, are crammed with more treasures per square inch than perhaps anywhere else on the planet. Your tour of the Vatican should include St. Peter's Basilica and the monumental St. Peter's Square, plus the vast collections of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel,

03 of 23

Relive the Renaissance in Florence

The view from Piazzale Michelangelo over to the historic city of Florence at dusk.
Julian Elliott Photography / Getty Images

Florence is a necessary pitstop on any grand tour of Italy as its museums, monuments, and landmarks are an indelible part of the canon of Western art. Reserve spots in advance to see Michelangelo's David and the stunning collections of the Uffizi Gallery. Then take in some other sights in the capital of the Renaissance, including the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio bridge, and Piazzale Michelangelo. Don't forget to sample some traditional Tuscan cuisine, and maybe buy a leather jacket or two at the historic San Lorenzo Market.

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Slow Down in Siena

View of Siena from afar

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

For many visitors to Italy, Siena is the laid-back antidote to overcrowded Florence. The Tuscan city is famous for Palio, its raucous bareback horse race, but is also a fine place for shopping, dining, and sampling noteworthy Tuscan wines. Nearby San Gimignano is also a required stop on a Tuscany agenda.

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05 of 23

Soak up the Sights of Venice

Gondolas on the Grand Canal, Venice

 Neale Clark / Getty Image

Quite simply, there's no other place in the world like Venice. Italy's most mesmerizing city is amazingly picturesque and achingly beautiful. It's well suited to travelers who want to pack their days with museums and points of interest or simply spend time taking in the scenery. St. Mark's Basilica and St. Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace, and the Rialto Bridge are all must-see stops on any Venice itinerary—whether you decide to spring for a gondola ride or not.

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Hike the Cinque Terre

View of Cinque Terre

TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove 

Outdoor enthusiasts shouldn't miss the Cinque Terre, the five seaside Italian towns on the Italian Riviera that are typically reached by easy day hikes. A town-to-town hike over several days is the classic itinerary, but you can pick and choose which towns you'd like to visit. You can travel via rental car, buses, or tour boats that connect the small, colorful towns.

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Sample Street food in Naples

Spaccanapoli, Naples

Massimo Borchi / Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images

Earthy, boisterous, and exotic, Naples seems to ooze history, character, and olive oil. With its numerous sights—including a blockbuster archaeology museum, the Palazzo Reale and the Castello d'Uovo—a visit to Naples can easily fill up several days of your vacation. Then there's the food—the street food and pastries here are among the best in Italy.

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Relax in Style on the Amalfi Coast

Positano, Amalfi Coast

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Southern Italy's seaside playground, the Amalfi Coast is rich in history and culture, gobsmackingly gorgeous, and eternally chic—at least from June through August, when both Italians and an international jet-set crowd flock here for beaches, boating, shopping, and dining on fresh seafood and other local specialties.

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09 of 23

Find Fashion, Culture, and Modernity in Milan

Street in Milan
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Fast-paced, young, and modern, Milan is in many ways a sharp contrast to the rest of Italy. Yet, the history and culture that Italy is know for is here, too, in the form of Italy's largest Gothic cathedral, the Duomo; its venerated opera house, La Scala; its interesting neighborhoods; and of course, its famous shopping areas. Plan to spend at least a weekend in this northern Italian metropolis.

10 of 23

Breath in the Fresh Air of the Dolomites

Dolomites

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Italy's Dolomite Mountains offer stunning vistas, abundant outdoor pursuits, cozy small towns, and several appealing regional cities, including Bolzano and Trento. With a culture that's more Austro-German than Italian, the cities and towns of the Alto Adige (the region of the Dolomites) almost feel like they're in another country—because they once were. The skiing here is among some of the best in Europe.

11 of 23

Eat Your Way Through Emilia-Romagna

Famous Mercato delle Erbe in Bologna, Italy
Emya Photography / Getty Images

If you choose only one region of Italy in which to overindulge in food and wine, let it be Emilia-Romagna. Italy's north-central breadbasket is widely regarded as having the best cuisine in the country, thanks largely to the high quality of meats, cheeses, and handmade pastas that make up the region's traditional fare. Try lasagna Bolognese in Bologna (naturally), prosciutto and parmesan cheese in Parma, and aged balsamic vinegar in Modena.

12 of 23

Circumnavigate Sicily

Taormina, Sicily with Mount Etna in the background

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Come to Sicily for its incredible beaches, its fascinating cities, its towering Greek ruins, or to scale the heights of Mount Etna. The region's history, culture, cuisine, and natural attractions are enough to keep you occupied for at least a week—and that's only if you just want to scratch the surface of Italy's largest island.

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13 of 23

Touch the Ancient Past in Pompeii

Row of Standing Columns in Pompeii
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The 79 A.D. eruption of Mount Vesuvius left archaeologists, historians, and present-day travelers with one of the clearest and most complete examples of life in a 1st-century Roman town. Pompeii and its neighbor, Herculaneum, both merit day trips or longer from Rome, Naples or the Amalfi Coast.

14 of 23

Live it Up Along the Italian Riviera

portofino photo, italian riviera

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Long the pleasure grounds of the European monied set, the Italian Riviera retains its timeless appeal, with postcard-perfect seaside towns like Portofino and Porto Venere, crystal clear—if a bit chilly —seas and a romantic ambiance that has endured for more than a century.

15 of 23

Go Underground in Matera

City of Matera on a hillside
Gary Yeowell / Getty Images

Matera is having its moment. The once-overlooked and deeply impoverished city in the little-visited Basilicata region of southern Italy is suddenly in vogue, thanks in part to it being named a European Capital of Culture in 2019. Come discover its enigmatic cave dwellings and moody vibe for yourself.

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Stay in a Trulli in Puglia

Alberobello Puglia, Trulli houses

Peter Adams / Getty Images 

The region of Puglia forms the heel of Italy's boot, and is best-known for its unique trulli, conically shaped stone-built dwellings that dot the landscape and look like something straight out of "The Hobbit." Try to stay in a cute trulli hotel in Alberobello or nearby, and be sure to check out Puglia's stunning Adriatic beaches and seaside towns.

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17 of 23

Explore the Hill Towns of Umbria

Orvieto with Duomo

Julian Elliott Photography / Getty Images

While the picturesque hill towns of Umbria make for great day trips from Rome, they also merit a longer stay. Orvieto is famed for its cathedral and dramatic position on top of a volcanic plateau. Assisi is the home of St. Francis, the founder of the Franciscan Order; Perugia has Etruscan and Papal origins; and Spoleto hosts its renowned Festival of Two Worlds every summer.

18 of 23

Head Over to Otherworldly Sardinia

Nuraghe Izzana ruins, Sardinia

Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images 

Italy's second-largest island, Sardinia feels worlds away from the mainland, both in landscape and character. Mysterious ancient nuraghi structures, the historic capital of Cagliari, outstanding beaches, and a wild, rugged interior reveal a fascinating, enchanting island for those who make the effort to discover it.

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Discover the Eastern Regions of Le Marche, Abruzzo, & Molise

Rocca Calascio in Abruzzo, Italy
ROMAOSLO / Getty Images

In central-southern Italy, the less-explored regions of Le Marche, Abruzzo, and Molise start in the wild heights of the Apennine Mountains and tumble down to the shores of the Adriatic Sea. In between the beach and the mountains, there are elegant cities and charming mountain towns, wildlife-filled national parks, ski resorts, pristine lakes, and vibrant seaside cities.

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Go Jump Into the Lakes Region

Lake Como on a misty day

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Italy's chilly alpine lakes are summertime playgrounds for the rich and not-so-rich, and offer some of Italy's most spectacular scenery. Each lakeside town has a different feel, from Lake Como's chic Bellagio to Lake Cargad's quieter Peschiera del Garda to busy Stresa on Lake Maggiore. Castles, fortresses, luxury villas, and dramatically rugged landscapes provide plenty of photo opportunities

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Spice Things Up in Calabria

Peppers and Tropea onions, Calabria

maudanros / Getty Images 

There's something indelibly earthy about Calabria, the toe of Italy's boot. From its dramatic beaches to its spicy food—hot Calabrian peppers and sweet Tropea onions infuse almost everything here—to the region's ancient origins and rugged mountains, Calabria is packed with flavor and color. Wake up your tastebuds with 'nduja, the spicy regional salami; pasta ccu ri sarde, fresh sardines in a salty, sweet sauce; or ciambotta, a spicy eggplant stew.

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Rev your Engine in Turin

Turin cityscape

Allan Baxter / Getty Images

The westernmost of Italy's major cities, Turin is one of the country's economic powerhouses. Its proximity to France gives it a continental flair, and its museums, performing arts venues, and sophisticated cafe culture afford plenty of diversions. It's the birthplace of Italy's automotive industry, and Fiat is still based here. Valle d'Aosta skiing is only a short distance away.

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Sail Northeast to Friuli-Venezia Giulia

View of Trieste

Romana Lilic / Getty Images 

The Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in Italy's northeastern corner is one of the least-visited areas by foreign tourists, maybe because it seems a bit out of the way. But those who head to this region on the border of Austria and Slovenia are rewarded with interesting, uncrowded cities, seaside resorts, and a distinctly nautical vibe. The Barcolana Regatta, held there each year in the Gulf of Trieste, is one of the world's largest.

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