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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.