What are the top ten things to do in Italy?
With thousands of years of history under its belt, Italy really is a treasure trove when it comes to fascinating relics, world-famous monuments and artistic masterpieces. It’s a country that birthed artistic aficionados like Leonardo da Vinci, exalted Roman leaders such as Julius Caesar and, last but not least, universally-loved gastronomy.
Italy is additionally awash with stunning landscapes, from beautiful coastlines dotted with charming clifftop towns to miles of rolling vineyards and huge, rugged mountains that are dusted with snow during the winter months. Off its coast, you’ll spot idyllic islands with white-sand beaches that rival those found in the Caribbean.
Whether you want to step back in time at an awe-inspiring ancient ruin in Rome, admire legendary works of art in Florence, glide down famous waterways in Venice or savor the delicious flavors and scents of one of the country’s most iconic dishes in Naples, here are ten essential things to do in Italy on your next vacation.
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1Admire Iconic Artworks at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
Tuscany’s capital, Florence, flourished during the Renaissance era and remains to this day one of Italy’s most creative cities. Any art fans among you will definitely want to put its Uffizi Gallery on your bucket list, which is set in the historic center of Florence near other important landmarks such as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Basilica of Santa Croce and 13th-century Palazzo Vecchio.
The Uffizi sprawls across two floors and is home to an atmospheric central courtyard where local artists and painters set up camp every day. Extraordinary collections from the Middle Ages to modern art and sculptures adorn its beautiful interiors, including Renaissance-era masterpieces by virtuosos like Caravaggio, Correggio, and Raffaello. Pride of place is taken by Botticelli’s heavenly ‘Birth of Venus’, while an entire room is devoted to the early works of Leonardo da Vinci.
2Set off on a Pilgrimage to the Vatican in Rome
One of the top things to do in Italy has to be taking a trip to the Vatican. A famous Catholic pilgrimage spot, the Vatican is its own microstate within Rome and the official seat of current and past Popes. Highlights include the vast Vatican Museums, which are packed with Papal collections of art and sculptures sourced over centuries, and the monumental St. Peter’s Basilica with its gilded interiors and huge domed roof.
The pinnacle of the Vatican though has to be the 13th-century Sistine Chapel which boasts an intricately decorated ceiling that was designed and painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512.
3 Discover the Ruins of Pompeii
If you are after a glimpse of Ancient Roman life, set out on a tour to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Pompeii. Once a retreat for the Empire’s wealthiest citizens, the entire city was catastrophically engulfed in lava and ash after nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD.
The remains of the city – from cobbled streets to villas filled with everyday objects – were discovered largely intact beneath volcanic ash in the 17th-century, leading it to become one of Italy’s most important and intriguing archaeological sites.
Pompeii, being just a short distance from Naples and the Amalfi Coast, is often overridden by crowds during the day. We recommend visiting early in the morning for the best viewing opportunities.
4Take a Leisurely Cruise Along the Amalfi Coast
Italy is no stranger to stunning coastlines, but perhaps its most spectacular stretch is the Amalfi Coast in Campania. Approximately 30 miles long, it’s dotted with gorgeous Mediterranean coves and colorful fishing villages perched precariously on the cliffs. Several ferry services operate between the Amalfi towns, starting from Sorrento in the east or Salerno in the west, and stopping off at larger towns such as Minori, Amalfi and the crown jewel, Positano.
View the region’s jaw-dropping scenery from the turquoise Tyrrhenian Sea, keeping an eye out for pretty Positano and Sorrento’s elegant terraced gardens. Sailing enthusiasts can choose to hire private sailboats complete with a captain and crew, while smaller groups may prefer travelling by speed boat, pausing at scenic grottoes and hidden coves along the coast.
5Hike Mount Etna and go Wine Tasting in Sicily
Towering over eastern Sicily, Europe’s largest active volcano, Mount Etna, is in a near-constant state of eruption from its four crater summits. Drawn by these other-worldly lunar landscapes, hikers come to Etna by the droves throughout the year. There are many ways to experience Mount Etna – starting in Rifugio Sapienza, you can climb up to the summit on a guided tour, take a cable car ride and jeep up, hike the surrounding trails on your own, or even enjoy the fireworks from a strategic viewpoint at a distance. There are also several crater rims for you to walk, such as the Silvestri craters formed during a massive eruption in 1892. Accessible all year round, few other experiences can match this for travelers to Italy. Afterward, visit a scenic wine estate for a relaxed tasting session for the perfect end to the day’s adventure!
6Traverse Venice’s Waterways and Visit St. Mark’s Basilica
Venice is one of Europe’s most romantic cities and a must-see for its incredible architecture and location. One of the top things to do in Italy has to be enjoying a relaxing gondola ride along the city’s waterways, passing beneath the iconic Rialto Bridge and past narrow lanes housing charming shops and trattorias.
You should also put St. Mark’s Square on your agenda to enjoy a meal at one of its picturesque cafes, to admire ornate carvings on the Doge’s Palace or to visit the square’s namesake basilica. We recommend going early in the morning to have the square to yourself and to watch the sunrise spectacularly behind the cathedral.
7Climb to the top of Pisa’s Leaning Tower
Venture to the top of Italy’s most iconic spire located in picturesque Pisa. The 12th-century Leaning Tower, which took over 300 years to construct, forms part of the city’s Piazza del Duomo and houses the bell of neighboring Pisa Cathedral. Its jaunty angle – approximately four degrees south – was entirely unintentional and happened over time due to the soft soil the structure is built on.
As well as admiring the Leaning Tower of Pisa from the outside, you can climb all 296 steps of its spectacular spiral staircase to enjoy panoramic views of the city from its highest terrace. The monument can get very busy, so we recommend booking tickets in advance and securing a timeslot earlier on in the day.
8Sample Cinque Terre
Set on the crescent-shaped Italian Riviera, the pastel-hued fishing villages of Cinque Terra date back to the medieval era. Hanging precipitously from jagged, rocky cliffs, and traversed by meandering pathways and tunnels linking one to another, these five hamlets have been a darling of travelers this last decade. Over time, their Eden-esque aura may have somewhat faded but these fantastic five more than make up for it with their preserved architecture, mountain trails, terraced gardens, and an unmistakable air of authenticity.
To date, the Cinque Terre remains isolated thanks to its remote location. With no cars allowed inside the hamlets, getting around is primarily a walking affair but what better way to acquaint yourself with the thousands of years of history embedded in these colorful walls and cobbled streets? Countless hiking, biking, and walking trails criss-cross the rocky landscape, and sailing too is a favorite (and glamorous) pastime for visitors. We also recommend a Ligurian culinary experience in Levanto – think hands-on cooking lessons from an Italian master, pesto, bruschetta, fresh seafood, and a glass of classic Cinque Terre white wine. Delicious!
9Set off Along the Chianti Wine Route
Wine connoisseurs will be in their element at Chianti – one of Italy’s major wine regions. Found in sunny Tuscany, it’s made up of dozens of vineyards in the lush foothills of the Chianti Mountains located between Florence and Siena.
Take a tour of some of Italy’s oldest wineries and soak up stunning Chianti scenery, from vast fields filled with olive groves and grapevines to quaint stone villages which seem frozen in time. Chianti boasts some award-winning restaurants too which serve up authentic local dishes that pair perfectly with the region’s finest bottles – you’d do well to book a table!
10Taste Mouth-watering Pizza in Naples
You can’t visit Italy without indulging in pizza. Naples on the west coast is widely considered the birthplace of this tasty delicacy, with its Neapolitan pizza gaining UNESCO cultural heritage status in 2017. Some of Naples’ famed pizzerias have been around for centuries and are often booked out for months in advance, making reservations essential.
Besides the well-known restaurants, you’ll be spoilt for choice by hole-in-the-wall pizzerias serving up slices dripping with melted cheese. Naples is also home to numerous cookery schools where you can learn how to whip up your own tasty version of this classic dish.
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Agrigento is a hillside town on the southwestern shores of Sicily and its heady mix of ancient archeology, natural Mediterranean landscape and modern energy is hard to beat.
Amalfi Coast is a beautiful stretch in the Campania region, boasting 32 miles of stunning coastal scenery, hugging the southern edge of Italy's Sorrentine Peninsula.
Bellagio is a lovely little romantic waterfront town by the famous Lake Como and its azure blue waters, surrounded by wooded hills and graceful old villas.
Capri is the kind of island paradise that makes you think it was magically created…that is how impossibly beautiful it is!
Catania sits nestled at the foot of Mount Etna, Sicily’s famous active volcanic peak, on the eastern coast of Italy’s largest Mediterranean island.
Cefalù, like much of Sicily’s resort towns, is a treat to visit with its lovely sandy beaches hugging the Mediterranean coast and the craggy mountains in the background.
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