Rome is known as the Eternal City and is popular among travelers because of its long history, delicious food, and incredible architecture. However, accommodation prices are high in the city center, and it might not be in the budget for everyone backpacking through Europe.
Fortunately, it’s possible to experience the best Italy has to offer without ever visiting Rome. These 10 cities are some of the most lively and culturally rich in the country but are often skipped over. Visiting one or several of these destinations is sure to make you fall in love with the Italian lifestyle and la dolce vita.
Florence is a gem of Italy. It’s the capital of the Tuscany region of the country, and it’s also the heart of Italy’s Renaissance-era art and culture. Although many people skip Florence in favor of crossing Rome and Venice off their bucket lists, Florence has a more laid-back, artsy atmosphere than Rome and is likely to be less touristy. This is especially true if you visit in the shoulder season, between April-May or October-November.
Florence offers incredible shopping and tons of artwork, plus it boasts delicious Tuscan cuisine. For travelers who want a taste of Italy’s rich culture without heading to an over-touristed city like Rome, Florence is the best choice.
Made famous by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Verona is a charming city that doesn’t get enough attention as a travel destination. Verona is in the Veneto Region in Northern Italy and is set along the Adige River. The medieval structures and cobbled streets give travelers an authentic sense of Italian architecture and a more local experience.
Accommodation in Verona is 73.86% cheaper than it is in Rome for those looking to stay in an Italian city center. The lower prices mean budget backpackers and honeymooners can stretch their dollars further to indulge in the exceptional food and fun nightlife scene.
Head to the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy for one of Italy’s most underrated travel destinations. Bologna is a large city with approximately 400,000 residents in the urban center and 1 million within the metro area.
Bologna has a beautiful and well-preserved old town that allows travelers to take a step back in time. Piazza Maggiore is the main square in Bologna and is an important social and historical fixture in the city. A must-visit while in Piazza Maggiore is the Basilica di San Petronio. Bologna is also considered the food capital of Italy, so eating your way through the city is one of the best reasons to visit.
The fashion capital of the world, Milan (Milano) is a very well-known city in Northern Italy. Located in the Lombardy region, Milan is famous for its high-end shops and gothic architecture. One of the top sites to visit here is the Duomo di Milano, a stunning cathedral that took six centuries to build. Its construction began in 1386.
Risotto is a classic dish from Northern Italy, so while in Milan travelers should try Risotto Alla Milanese, which is Milan-style risotto. Cotoletta Alla Milanese (Milanese Veal) is another local dish to try while in the city.
History buffs who are looking for an alternative to Rome will fall in love with the ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii is a massive archeological site that used to be a large city in the Campania region of Italy. It’s located in the Bay of Naples and is well preserved, giving visitors a good sense of what the city once looked like before 79 CE when it was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Northeast of Milan in the Lombardy Region is a lesser-known Italian city called Bergamo. It boasts incredible medieval architecture, museums, and piazzas. One of the most energetic and exciting squares in Bergamo is Piazza Vecchia, which is in the heart of Citta Alta.
Citta Alta is a neighborhood in Bergamo (the upper town) with narrow alleys, romantic trattorias, and cozy coffee shops. It quickly becomes the favorite spot for travelers to spend their afternoons and evenings shopping at independent boutiques and enjoying a delicious meal inside the Venetian walls.
Near Pompeii, Naples sits in the Bay of Naples and is located in Southern Italy. Naples is steeped in history, with a complicated past and a bright future. Travelers can visit Napoli Sotterranea while in Naples to tour the underground ruins the modern city is built on top of. Other highlights of Naples include walking through Castel Nuovo and Castel dell Ovo, a seafront castle.
Travelers who are centering their time in Italy around the Amalfi Coast can get a taste of the big cities in Italy by adding nearby Naples to their itinerary.
Venice is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy, but it’s for a good reason. Venice is located in the northern part of Italy in the Veneto region and offers a slower pace of life than the big city of Rome. The iconic canals of Venice give the city unique tranquility even though the streets are busy during the summer when tourism is at its peak.
To get a more authentic experience and sense of the artistic, unpretentious side of Venice, get away from San Marco and into Dorsoduro. Dorsoduro is the university district in Venice and has lots of vintage fashion shops and local cafes. The nightlife here is low-key and draws a younger crowd, making it a much more enjoyable experience than staying in the areas with the biggest tourist attractions.
Cagliari is the capital of Sardinia, Italy, and is a fantastic option for those looking to visit an Italian city that is vibrant and coastal. Located on the island of Sardinia, Cagliari offers colorful buildings and clear blue waters that are perfect for a relaxing holiday.
Sardinian cuisine differs from traditional Italian cuisine with its own distinct flavors and signature dishes, making this a highlight of any Italy trip for foodies. Head to the San Benedetto market, the biggest covered market in Italy, for a vast variety of flavors, sights, and smells that will get your mouth watering.
Travelers looking for a city with great food and historical architecture can head to Pisa instead of Rome this summer. Located in the Tuscany region, Pisa is a great choice to pair to Florence when hopping cities in central Italy. Pisa is most famous for The Leaning Tower of Pisa, a structure that took over 300 years to build. Construction on the tower started in 1173 and was completed in the mid-1300s. Travelers love taking goofy selfies with the tower, but it’s also worth taking a guided tour to get more information about the rich history of the region.