It’s amazing how many Italians opt not to go abroad for their holidays. When I taught English in Rome I used to ask my students why they didn’t visit other countries. They simply replied: “Why would we? We have incredible culture, the best beaches and mountains to go skiing in the winter!” Italy is undoubtedly beautiful and I feel privileged to have spent 3 years of my life there. It’s a unique country where you are just as likely to find beauty in a quiet cobbled backstreet or a traditional trattoria than in its stunning beaches or extraordinary countryside. Using my experience of living in Italy I have compiled a list of ten places I feel are worth visiting. Some will be obvious, others maybe not so. Here is my personal list of 10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Italy:
Venice is one of the most famous cities in Italy and one that’s built on water. It’s also often classed as one of the world’s most romantic travel destinations. In the middle of the city you will find the grand square ‘Piazza San Marco’ where the even more impressive basilica resides (it’s rumoured that Napoleon called the square the drawing room of Europe). If you’re a culture seeker you’ll be spoilt for choice here, Venice has the world’s most artistic masterpieces per square kilometre and there are numerous churches, museums, and palaces worth visiting. One highlight is the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) which is an enclosed bridge that passes over the Rio di Palazzo. If you’re a romantic type and want to try a gondola just remember to take plenty of money – you will be charged a small fortune for the privilege. Also try to avoid Venice in summer where the crowds can get unbearable.
Milan is one of Europe’s richest cities and Italy’s home of fashion. It’s known for its stylish shops and up-market restaurants. The city is overflowing with aspiring models and fashion designers which makes for an interesting city experience to say the least. There are also many architecturally impressive buildings in Milan ranging from old Neo-classical Milanese palaces to ultra-modern towers and commercial buildings. For those who want to mix culture with their shopping and eating make sure you visit La Scala (one of the World’s most famous opera houses) and the Duomo which has an incredible marble façade which I personally think is worth the trip alone.
3. Verona and the Lakes
Verona is a lovely city which was made famous by Shakespeare’s famous story of Romeo and Juliet. It has the third largest Roman Arena in Italy and if you’re lucky enough you can catch an opera festival during your visit (something which I highly recommend). UNESCO has awarded the city a world heritage site status because of its urban structure and architecture, which include Roman remains and ancient castles. As you can imagine Verona is a very romantic city, so if you take a partner beware they could end up proposing! The Italian lakes are accessible from Verona and Lake Garda, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore are some of the most well-known. The mountain lakes offer classically beautiful images of Italy and are flanked by sleepy cobblestone villages and secluded gardens.
A city known for its beauty, left-wing politics, wealth and most importantly its cuisine. Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy. If you arrive by train, move swiftly away from the station so you can take in the beautiful sites of the city. There are many arcades which allow you to explore the city even if it’s raining. I recommend wandering around the backstreets until you stumble upon one of the many beautiful squares where you can stop for a cafe or gelato. Bologna also boasts the oldest university in the world, which was founded in 1088. Although most people visit the city to discover its renowned culinary delights, these include tagliatelle al ragù, lasagne, tortellini served in broth and fried gnocchi.
5. Florence and the Tuscany region
Florence is a fascinating place and an art lovers dream. A popular city nestled in the rolling hills of the Tuscany region, Florence has plenty to offer the visitor. The city has numerous museums filled with famous paintings and sculptures. Two places I recommend you visit are the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi. The latter hosts work by Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo and receives approximately 1.6 million tourists a year (you should book before you go or unfortunately face a long wait). Also take your time to explore the rest of the Tuscany. Known as Renaissance country, the region offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The extraordinary countryside and coastline keep vacationers happy and the ever flowing supply of fine wine and cuisine will certainly please food connoisseurs.
It’s impossible to do a tour of Italy without visiting the capital. Rome is an amazing city which is full of history spanning twenty centuries – you could say Rome is the world’s best open-air museum. As you wander around the streets the architecture will leave you in awe. There are many sites to see, the most famous being the Coliseum, the Vatican, St. Peter’s, the Trevi Fountain and my personal favourite the Pantheon. You won’t see them all in a weekend but it will give you a reason to go back. Rome’s cafe culture is also another reason to visit and for a true Rome experience chose from one of many piazzas and sit down for (an expensive) coffee or icecream. For the best food in town, follow the Romans to Trastevere.
7. Sorrento & The Amalfi Coast
This coastline should be on everyone’s list of beautiful places to visit in Italy. The most famous area is the resort Sorrento where you’ll find the addictive liqueur limoncello and plenty of great wine. The city can also be used as a base to visit Pompeii, this is the town which was buried by Mount Vesuvius’ volcanic eruption back in 79AD. Further along the rugged coast you will find the picturesque and affluent town of Positano and the town of Amalfi. The Amalfi Coast offers one of the world’s greatest coastal drives so be sure to hire a car if you can. I would also recommend taking a boat from Sorrento to the island of Capri. On Capri you can take a trip to the gorgeous Blue Grotto – a sea cave that is flooded with a brilliant blue or emerald light. Just be warned the Amalfi Coast area gets very busy in the summer.
This large island just off the coast of Italy is a favoured holiday spot for Italians and rich footballers. Most of the time it’s a quiet and relaxing island but popular areas can get very busy in the summer so you will need to book early to get the best places. To reach Sardinia you can sail into or land at Alghero, Cagliari or the port town Olbia. The whole island is beautiful and compared to many holiday islands resorts in Europe it remains relatively unspoilt. There are certainly no high rise concrete hotels here – even the resort areas are surprisingly tasteful. I would personally recommend Sant’antioco and San Pietro as these are the most remote and traditional areas. Sardinia’s coastline is world renowned and you won’t have to search far for amazing beaches and clear water. It isn’t a cheap island but it’s definitely worth a visit.
A strange inclusion some might say. To be honest I hadn’t really considered Puglia until I discovered ‘Il Collegio Holidays’. The company was featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs in 2004 and they offer visitors a chance to stay in a beautiful villa in Masseria Impisi. It’s marketed as an art holiday although even if you are hopeless at drawing (like me) you still could enjoy the wonderful scenery that the Adriatic coast offers. This part of Italy is perfect for those wishing to sample a genuine taste of the real Italy as well as the fabulous blue sea and beaches. Other reasons to visit this region are the excellent cuisine, beautiful baroque towns and picturesque olive groves and orchards.
The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea makes an excellent holiday destination. Like Sardinia it has excellent beaches and wonderful cuisine only far cheaper. You will also have the luxury of being able to island hop – the Aegadian Islands, Aeolian Islands and Pantelleria Lampedusa are all nearby and very accessible. Sicily is a traditional and rustic island with a rich culture and a potent mix of architecture, arts, cuisine, literature and music. Here you can spend your time sitting on beaches, visiting archaeological sites or sampling the locally caught fish. Make sure you include a visit to the Selinunte which is an ancient building containing five temples centered on an acropolis. The east coast of Sicily is more developed and tourist friendly and the west coast is more untouched. As you travel down the latter you’ll be amazed how friendly the Sicillian people are and how pleased they are that you chose to visit Sicily.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my 10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Italy. It was definitely a tough choice and if you’re planning a visit I would also recommend the outstanding Unesco World Heritage site Cinque Terre, the sun-soaked Riccione, gorgeous Pisa (and its leaning tower), the luxurious Alps based resort of Selva di Val Gardena and the green winding valleys of historic Umbria. Enjoy your stay!
Where to stay – Popular, unique and reasonably priced hotels in Italy
- Al Ponte Mocenigo Hotel, Venice – Gorgeous traditionally Venetian small hotel from €95pn
- Ca’ Dei Conti Hotel, Venice – Very popular canal-side hotel from €57pn
- Antiche Figure Hotel, Venice – Renovated hotel with a 15th century palazzo structure from €81pn
- Enterprise Hotel, Milan – Chic city hotel with colourful modern interiors from €75pn
- Trieste Hotel, Verona – Small unique hotel in a central location from €70pn
- Hotel dei Macchiaioli, Florence – New hotel with grand dining room from €79pn
- Palazzo Guadagni Hotel, Florence – Hotel housed in a beautiful ornate building from €77pn
- Hotel Villa Duse, Rome – Small quiet hotel with pretty gardens from €96
- WRH Trastevere, Rome – Contemporary budget boutique hotel from €86pn
- Maison Tofani Hotel, Sorrento – Popular centrally located hotel from €100pn
- Hotel Marina Riviera, Amalfi – Stunningly located Amalfi coast hotel from €90pn
- Maria Caderina Green Village, Sardinia – Secluded hotel in beautiful landscapes from €97pn
- Hotel Novecento, Sicily – Small boutique hotel housed in historic building from €79