Is there any place that has captured more hearts and minds than Italy? Whether you want to visit the ruins of ancient Rome, sip wine in the gorgeous hills of Tuscany, sunbathe along the coasts of the Adriatic or Mediterranean, or climb rugged peaks in the Alps, this amazing European country has something to offer you.
Italy’s varied landscapes, easy-going culture, and flair for romance and fashion have long made it a top spot for many travelers. Talk to different people, however, and you’ll quickly find everyone has a different favorite destination in Italy. You can quickly create a lengthy list of must-see spots here!
We sat down and picked 15 of the top spots in Italy. These are the true must-see and must-dos for any traveler. While we were at it, we also picked 5 spots we feel are the most overrated. You’ll probably be told these places are absolute musts, but you might actually be better off skipping them in favor of some of the other destinations on this list.
Whether you want to visit one or all of them, we guarantee you’ll find at least a couple of places you’ll want to add to your travel bucket list.
20 Essential: Naples Is Your Destination For Authentic Cuisine
If you love a taste of Italy, grew up eating mounds of pasts, or just love a good meal, Naples is the top destination for you. Many classic dishes originated here, including pizza, spaghetti, and parmigiana.
Of course, the restaurant scene isn’t the only thing you’ll want to check out in the capital of the Campania region. The city has a long history, so you’ll visit historic sites and see plenty of art. If you’re in the mood for more adventure, nearby Mount Vesuvius, one of Italy’s active volcanoes, provides hiking and other activities for the outdoorsy. For those who prefer tamer activities, the shopping and nightlife are also fantastic!
19 Essential: Visit The Largest Mediterranean Island
Sicily is an autonomous region of Italy, and it’s the largest island in the Mediterranean. Although it’s separated from mainland Italy by just 5 kilometers, the island has developed its own unique culture throughout the centuries.
Cross the Straits of Messina, and feast your eyes on the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, or take in the stunning Baroque churches in Palermo. Don’t forget to visit some of the smaller islands in the area, and try some of the local cuisine as well. If you’re itching to get outside, take a hike up Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in all of Europe.
18 Essential: Milan Is A Center For Opulence
Milan was nearly destroyed in the mid-20th century, but it has since risen from the ashes to become one of the wealthiest cities in all of Europe. That status shows through in almost everything, from the magnificently reconstructed churches and other historic buildings to the high-end shops lining the streets.
If you love fashion, Milan is the absolute top stop for you. Take a tour through the many designer shops and pick up some new threads. When you’re finished there, bask in the glory of world-famous treasures like La Scala Opera House, da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper, and the opulent Castello Sforzesco, the sprawling Gothic cathedral pictured here.
17 Essential: Soak Up The Sun Along The Amalfi Coast
Naples is nice and all, but it’s definitely not all Campania has to offer. Any traveler visiting the area is going to want to take at least a couple of days to explore the gorgeous stretch of coastline known as the Amalfi Coast.
This is a widely renowned tract of coastline winding along the Sorrento Peninsula, extending around 30 miles or so. Glittering aqua-hued bays, craggy cliffs, groves of lemon trees, and multicolored villas might make you think you’ve entered paradise here. Visit romantic Positano, or the small town of Ravello to get a true taste of what the Amalfi Coast has to offer.
16 Essential: Explore The Ruins Of Pompeii
Pompeii is perhaps one of the most famous spots in all of Italy, and it’s also easily reachable from Naples. Located near Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii is the historical ruins of a Roman city. When the volcano erupted, it covered the city in ash, preserving it for all time.
The ruins of Pompeii are remarkably well-preserved because of this strange history. If you love archeology or Roman history, this is the spot for you. Pompeii has been transformed into a major tourist mecca. If you prefer, there are some smaller sites nearby that are also well-preserved, but without the touristy, commercialized feel.
15 Essential: Get A 5-For-1 Deal In Cinque Terre
Our next stop is in northern Italy, along the glittering Ligurian coast. Located deep in the Riviera, the 5 towns of Cinque Terre have become renowned tourist spots. Although the area is struggling with mass tourism right now, it’s hard not to recommend Cinque Terre as one of the top spots for a vacation in Italy.
The 5 villages are small and fairly traditional. There are mountains, hiking, and the ocean nearby, which adds up to plenty of adventure. Test out some Ligurian cuisine, sip some wine, and watch a gorgeous sunset after a satisfying hike on the renowned Blue Trail.
14 Essential: There’s A Reason This Is Italy’s Most Famous Region
If you talk to anyone who’s been, you’ll quickly walk away with the impression Tuscany is perhaps the best place to visit in Italy. It’s difficult to recommend just one must-visit spot in the entire region, although Florence is a top contender (we’ll talk about it more!).
Tuscany’s true charm lies outside of its cities, however, in its rolling hills and tiny medieval hill towns. Visit Chianti for taste-tests of the namesake wine, or visit San Gimignano, a medieval town with much of its historical structure still intact. Most travelers will tell you the rustic beauty of the region is simply impossible to describe. You’ll have to experience it for yourself.
13 Essential: Experience Horse Racing In The Medieval Town Of Siena
Siena, sometimes called the “medieval heart of Tuscany,” is another contender for top destination in Tuscany. It’s also a great choice for any traveler planning to visit Italy, and it’s an absolute must if you like stunning architecture.
The streets here are lined with Gothic cathedrals, medieval towers, and more traditional piazzas than you’ll have time to visit. Take in the Siena Cathedral or the Torre Del Mangia, both in the Piazza del Campo. You can also visit the Wednesday Market, or, if you happen to be in town during the summer, check out the Il Palio horse race. This is a tradition that goes back centuries!
12 Essential: It’s No Bologna You Should Visit Bologna
This is another great destination for lovers of Italy's famous foods, especially if you happen to love anything al-carne. Bologna shares its name with a traditional lunch meat, which isn’t a coincidence. You’ll also find meat-rich pastas, sauces, meatballs, and even antipasti.
You’ll probably spend most of your time touring the city’s many restaurants and sampling the best through food tours. Don’t forget about the historical sites scattered throughout the city though. The San Petronio Basilica is another must-see stop on your way through this unparalleled foodie destination. Don’t miss the Piazza Maggiore either; it’s the perfect place to grab an espresso and do some people-watching.
11 Essential: See More Of Italy's Lake District
If you’ve heard of any spot in Italy's Lake District, it’s no doubt Lake Como. We’ll talk a little bit about Lake Como later, but you should know it’s not the only spot in the entire district. You should also check out Maggiore, Lugano, Iseo, and Garda. Each one comes replete with its own unique character and history.
Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, and the home of the Sinking Castle. Lake Lugano is a great destination for the shopaholics out there, especially if you want an alternative to Milan. If you prefer the great outdoors, Lake Iseo offers opportunities to hike, swim, or horseback riding.
10 Essential: The Dolomites Are Calling All Adventurers
If you consider yourself an outdoorsy person or you love mountaineering, the Dolomites are your go-to destination in Italy. More a region or a landscape than a particular town or city, the Dolomites are part of the Alps extending through the northeastern part of the country.
You’ll experience some more traditional Alpine culture here, including architecture and cooking. There are plenty of opportunities to hike through these towering mountains, and even to scale some of the peaks. Alpine towns, glacial lakes, rolling hills, and formidable peaks all make for a great getaway. Book a stay in a town like Balzano and explore from there.
9 Essential: Experience Romance In This Northern Italy City
Verona’s biggest claim to fame is that it’s the setting for William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. Of course, it’s pure fiction, but locals have capitalized on the story by constructing a balcony and even a tomb for the star-crossed lovers.
Even if literature isn’t your thing, Verona is worth a visit. This former Roman stronghold is considered one of the most romantic destinations in Italy. Visit Castelvecchio, a 14th-century fortress, or the Ponte Scaligero. Roman arches blend seamlessly with medieval and Renaissance constructions, making for a breathtaking cityscape. The long history of the city adds to its charm. It may not be Venice, but Verona is definitely a top destination for any traveler.
8 Essential: Renaissance Scholars Will Delight In Florence
We’ve already recommended Tuscany as a whole, and if you plan to visit that region, you should definitely make arrangements to spend at least a little time in Florence. You could probably spend most of your vacation in the Renaissance capital of Italy, and still not see everything.
Florence, once the seat of the Renaissance Medici family’s power, can feel a bit like a giant art museum. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore dominates the skyline. The Boboli Gardens, the Pitti Palace, and the Uffizi Gallery round out the major sights to see. Head over to Santa Croce for shopping, and wander the streets to see dozens of other landmarks.
7 Essential: Ravenna Is Unlike Any Other City In Italy
Ravenna is probably one of the smallest destinations on this list, and it certainly doesn’t get a lot of love compared to some of the other names here. Still, Ravenna is worth a visit, if only for the uniqueness of the city.
What makes Ravenna so special? It’s home to the best collection of Byzantine mosaics and artwork in all of Western Europe. You don’t need to travel to Istanbul to see the might of the Byzantine Empire. Most of Ravenna’s art dates back to the 6th century, when the town was a royal capital. Visit San Vitale or the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia for the more impressive views.
6 Essential: Experience The Many Charms of Turin
Turin is one of Italy’s great northern industrial cities, which means that it doesn’t usually get a lot of tourist love. The 2006 Winter Olympics put it back on the map, but Turin still remains off the beaten path for most travelers.
There’s a lot to love here, though. Like Milan, there’s a certain opulence to the architecture, as the city boasts arcaded squares and royal palaces. There are Roman sites, a medieval quarter, and an entire neighborhood in the Art Nouveau tradition. Stop at a café, then sip some espresso as you explore what this northern gem has to offer.
5 Overrated: We’re fed up with Rome
What can be said about the Eternal City? Yes, Rome has a long and storied history. Yes, it’s home to amazing Roman ruins and Renaissance cathedrals. There’s a certain charm to the city, which we won’t deny.
What we will say is Rome is overrated. It’s incredibly crowded, and flocks of tourists descend on the city, creating congestion around all of its sights. It also gets blazingly hot during the summer, making trekking around to all of those amazing sights a little less appealing. If you feel compelled, don’t let us stop you, but skipping Rome might just be the best travel decision you make.
4 Overrated: Venice Is Going Under
Venice is often held up as the most romantic city in Italy, if not the one of the most romantic in all of Europe. The fact the city is literally sinking should make it a little less appealing. Climate change is flooding the city more, threatening to put even more of it underwater.
Locals aren’t happy about another flood, which is the undammed flock of tourists that land there year round. Some even blame tourists for higher rates of homelessness, and for damaging delicate historic sites. Finally, gondola rides are nothing more than an overpriced tourist trap. You can probably find somewhere else to experience the romance in Italy.
3 Overrated: There’s Not Much To See In Pisa
All right, you’ve made it to Pisa and seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa! Now what?
Your next move should probably be to get out of town, because you’ve seen pretty much all there is to see in Pisa. The city is famed for its leaning tower, but there isn’t much more to this destination. Given that, it’s a bit surprising it became a destination at all.
There are many other cities and towns well-worth your time in the area. If you want old towers, San Gimignano is a great choice. Florence is a better stop in Tuscany. You might honestly be just as happy checking out some of the hill towns. Another alternative is the city of Lucca.
2 Overrated: Capri Is Far Too Expensive
The island of Capri is one of Italy’s most famous destinations, and it is gorgeous. It’s also insanely expensive. You’d do better to save your money from the trip over to the island, and buy yourself a nice meal on the mainland.
Between accommodations and meals, you’ll probably feel broke if you visit Capri. You might also be a bit disappointed by attractions like the Blue Grotto, which is only open as weather and tides permit. There’s so much more to explore on the Amalfi Coast, and so much more that’s affordable. Don’t miss out by focusing solely on Capri.
1 Overrated: Lake Como Isn’t The Only Lake In Italy
We’ve already talked about Italy's Lake District a little bit, and while it’s an amazing destination, most people tend to get hung up on one lake in particular. Lake Como has become the go-to name in this area.
The other lakes may provide more opportunities for exploration, shopping, or sightseeing. Lake Como earned its fame through its association with celebrities like George Clooney, so its real appeal is in its villas and luxury hotels. To top it off, the weather is often overcast and a little chilly. Plus, the lake itself isn’t great for swimming. Try one of the other lakes in the area, or take a trip to the seashore. You won’t regret it.
References: Planetware, Touropia, Ordinary Traveler, Fodor’s, HistoryinHighHeels