Italy Travel Guide

Vacation travel in Italy is about as good as it gets and the best places to visit in Italy are spectacular. For the art buff Italy is the home to the major works of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and other notables; for the architecture aficionado there’s the Colosseum in Rome, St. Mark’s Square in Venice and the Duomo in Florence; and for those of you who like chic, it’s shopping in Milan. Those looking for the countryside will revel in Tuscany, Umbria, Liguria, Campania or Sicily.  We cover the all of the below, but recommend you see our  detailed travel guides for the cities and regions of Italy for details on what to see and do, as well as some stunning photos of your chosen destination.

Rome (Roma)

Rome, Italy
Rome, Italy
  • The “Eternal City” is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Once the capital of western civilization, Rome has an incredible number of world-class attractions, including the Colosseum, the Forums of the Roman Empire, gorgeous piazzas, stunning fountains, and fabulous museums.
    • The saying “All roads lead to Rome” was a truism during the Roman Empire and the city displays its heritage in a spectacular fashion. Rome is a fantastic destination; you will run out of time before you run out of worthwhile things to see and do. Rome is a tourist friendly city – see our recommendations on the best places to visit in Rome and, then, book your vacation.
      • Be sure the see Ancient Rome, including the Colosseum, the Capitoline Hill,  the Roman and Imperial Forums, the Pantheon, and Castel Sant’Angelo.
      • The city’s many piazzas (Piazza Navona, Piazza di Spagna (and the Spanish Steps), Piazza Venezia) and the city’s fabulous fountains (the Trevi Fountain,  the Fountain of the Four Rivers and others) are popular places for good reason.  In addition to the masterpieces they contain, these areas usually are surrounded by good quality restaurants, fine shopping, and gelato shops (gelaterias) are usually easy to find.
      • Museums are the city’s strong suite, but the museums dedicated to the history of Ancient Rome, as well as to the arts are the most acclaimed.
      • You might want to spend an afternoon visiting a few of Rome’s many churches, as they often are incredibly beautiful and endowed with stunning art and architecture.
    • For detailed descriptions and numerous photographs of the Eternal City’s  many famous attractions, see our expanded travel guide to the Best Places to Visit in Rome.
      • Anyone who visits Rome should reserve time to experience the Best Places to Visit in the Vatican, which we cover in our destination guide for the Holy See.
        • Take time to see the Vatican Museums, as they contain unimaginable treasures of civilization, as well those of the Catholic faith.  In addition, be sure to see St. Peter’s Basilica and its famous Square.
          • Although surrounded by Rome, the Vatican is an independent state that was established under the Lateran Treaties of 1929 (see our section on country facts on the Vatican for more information).

Venice (Venezia)

Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
  • Travel in Venice oozes romance and history. Canals, beautiful buildings, world famous landmarks – Venice is an experience unique in the world of travel. Whether taking a gondola down the Grand Canal or gazing at this romantic city’s unique setting and architecture, Venice is a vision that you will never forget.
    • Be sure to see the Piazza San Marco, including the Basilica (St. Mark’s) and the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale). The Grand Canal is another must, as are its palazzos, bridges and gondolas.
    • Venice has delightful  art museums such as the Guggenheim, the Galleria dell’Academia and the Museo Corer, incredibly beautiful churches, and if that were not enough, you can take a boat trip the colorful islands of Murano (center for glassmaking) and Burano (center for lace).
    •  Click this link for detailed descriptions and photographs of the Best Places to Visit in Venice, Italy.

Florence (Firenze)

Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy
  • From the point of view of art and architecture, Florence rivals Rome. During the renaissance, Florence was the art center of western civilization. A list of past residents of the city represents the “Who’s Who” of the Masters, including: Dante, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, among others.
    • Culture is the strong suite of Florence; perhaps that is why its museums are so popular.  However, this is not a one-stop town, as  shopping and restaurants  in Florence tend to be incredibly attractive to tourists. If you have an interest in cooking, this may be the place to find a cooking school.
      • Be sure to see the Duomo (cathedral) and its impressive Piazza and the adjacent Piazza San Giovanni, containing the famous Baptistery, the Museo of the Duomo and the famous Bell Tower by Giotto.
      • For art, it is the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria Dell’Accademia, which contains Michelangelo’s world-famous sculpture of David
      • While museums abound, you may find yourself lured to the Ponte Vecchio, the famous shop-lined bridge across the Arno River.
    • Click this link for detailed descriptions and photos of the Best Places to Visit in Florence, Italy.

Tuscany (Toscana)

Tuscany, Italy
Tuscany, Italy
  • Florence is the crown jewel of Tuscany (Toscana), although the region is known for its  scenic, rural  hill towns, agricultural setting  interesting culture and unique architecture.
    • While the region’s quaint hill towns are popular with all travelers, Tuscany and its people are the main attraction. The countryside is beautiful and varied, including coastal plains and mountains. In turn, the magic of Tuscany’s landscapes has been used to establish the setting of many wonderful works of literature.
    • Tuscany is a region to be savored and it has become the region of Italy most favored for lengthy vacations by visitors. Its hill towns are known for their scenic settings, interesting history, good food and pleasant quality of life. An increasing number of vacationers who visit Tuscany do so in hopes of savoring the pace and quality of Tuscan life, rather than flitting from one eye-popping attraction to the next, as is common when visiting Rome, Venice, or Tuscany’s own Florence.
      • Leading destinations in Tuscany include Florence, Siena, Pisa and these famous hill towns: San Gimignano,  Cortona, and the Chianti Hills between Florence and Siena.
    • Click for our detailed guide to the attractions listed above as well as other of  the Best Places to Visit in Tuscany

Liguria and the Cinque Terre (Ligurian Coast)

Liguria, Italy
Liguria, Italy
  • The Ligurian Coast is home to the Italian Riviera, one of the most scenic and appealing sections of the Italian coast, although the Amalfi in Campania  is preferred by some.  There are three sections to the Ligurian Coast and each has a distinctly different flavor.
    • The Riviera di Ponente is to the west of Genoa and includes the wonderful,  popular, and pricey resorts towns as San Remo and Ventimiglia.
    • The central section of the Italian Riviera includes and surrounds Genoa, a working port that celebrates its history of navigation and its amazing explorers.
    • The Riviera Levante to the east of Genoa includes the five scenic villages nestled within dramatic craggy hillsides and coastline of the  Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage site.   This is an area that invites you to hike between the towns and visiting is a treat, although the villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) can be quite crowded at the peak of summer.Note that Vernazza and Monterosso were seriously damaged during mud slides during the floods of October 2011.  Rehabilitation continues in some outlying areas surrounding these towns.
      • Further north on the Riviera Levante, you will find the storied resort towns of Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo that are a popular spots for yachting, luxury vacations and fun in the sun.
      • For photographs and more detail on the locations mentioned above, click here for our travel guide to the best places to visit in Liguria and the Cinque Terre.

Milan (Milano)

Milan, Italy
Milan, Italy
  • Be sure to see the Cathedral (Duomo) and its museum, as well as La Scala (the world-famous opera house),  the impressive Castello Sforzesco and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II for fine shopping and dramatic architecture..  Budget time to see the city’s many interesting art museums, such as the Brera Art Museum and the Museo Poldi Pezzoli.
    • If you plan on seeing  DaVinci’s famous painting The  Last Supper at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, you will need to reserve tickets several weeks in advance to guarantee admission.
    • Milan is the perfect place  to begin on a tour of the majestic and charming  Italian Lakes..
    • For photos and details on visiting Milano, see our travel guide to the best places to visit in Milan.

Naples and the Amalfi Coast (Campania)

Naples, Italy
Naples, Italy

Campania is one of the most popular regions of Italy, and its attractiveness is largely manifested along its spectacular scenic coast. If you like hairpin turns, this is a great coast to drive (unless you are stuck behind a string of tour buses).  For mariners there are numerous boating adventures that let you view this elegant coastline from the sea, where its beauty is close to overwhelming, especially near dusk.

  • Campania is on most traveler’s wish list due to the magnetic attraction of the picturesque towns of the Amalfi Coast (Amalfi, Ravello, Positano) and nearby Sorrento. These colorful resort towns, all with winding, narrow streets, colorful buildings, and fine restaurants crawl from the waters edge up and into the nearby imposing mountains.
  • Campania is, also, famous as the site of Pompeii, the Roman town that was encapsulated by lava and gases from  an eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
    • Now excavated and in remarkable condition, Pompeii is one of Italy’s most popular attractions.
  • If you have want to get away from it all for a relaxing vacation, consider the lure of the scenic Isle of Capri and its luxury resorts and spas.  Most visitors are day trippers, but the lure of staying on this enchanting island appeals to many.
  • Of course, there are other attractions to fill your time, such as the wonderful museums in Naples (where you will find most of the treasures from Pompeii), the well-preserved Greek Temple at Paestum and the island of Ischia, a lower cost alternative to Capri, although it is somewhat less attractive.
  • For details on this area, see our detailed guide to the best places to visit in Campania

Italy’s Lake Country (The Italian Lakes)

Lake Como, Italy
Lake Como, Italy

Along Italy’s scenic border with the Swiss Alps are several large glacial lakes nestled into the rolling hills leading to the mountains.  The landscape is beautiful, the shoreline serene and the combination creates an area that is pure delight.  The Italian Lakes are a place to savor.  Driving through the area and slowing for a view will allow you to see a lot, yet miss the best parts of this peaceful, serene and amazing corner of Italy.

  • Lake  Como  is considered by many to have the most beautiful setting of all the lakes, although Lake Maggiori attracts many visitors to its Borromean Islands and the gardens of Isola Bella.
  • Lake Garda is a recreation center and the most popular of the lakes with locals.
  • Although most of the shoreline of Lake Lugano is in Switzerland, it can easily be accessed from Italy and benefits from the mix of cultures.
  • For photographs and more information on visiting the Italian Lake Country, click  for our travel guide to the best places to visit in Italy’s Lake Country.

Umbria (Regione Umbria)

Umbria, Italy
Umbria, Italy
  • Often thought of as an alternative to Tuscany, Umbria, which is graced with beautiful countryside and interesting, fortified hill towns, represents some of the best travel in Italy.  While each town has its artistic and architectural treasure, the beauty of Umbria is in its simplicity and its residents leisurely approach to life.
    • Popular towns include Perugia, Assisi, Spello and Orvieto.  These are smallish hill towns with interesting architecture, mysterious winding streets, amazing town halls, wonderful piazzas and amazing churches.  However, the attractions are limited, as are the museums, although we find them delightful to visit.
    • Perhaps it is the pace life, the beauty of the countryside or the marvelous food, but the ambiance of Umbria will grow on you, if you give it the chance.
    • Note that the area can be very crowded during the high travel season and for that reason, we recommend  you consider spending a night or two in one of the hill towns to understand  the lure of Umbria.
  • Click here for our detailed guide the best places to visit in Umbria

Sicily (Sicilia)

Sicily, Italy
Sicily, Italy
  • Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and was long considered a strategic stepping stone for those interested in invading southern Europe. The earliest colonization of the island was by the Phoenicians, followed by invasions by almost every empire that developed along the shores of the Mediterranean.  The Greeks, Romans, Muslims and Normans had the greatest historical influence, although modern Sicily is a mix of numerous cultures.
    • Visit Palermo for its spectacular mix of architectures inspired by the Muslim and Norman conquests.
    • Segesta is another must-see location that is known for its large collection of well-preserved Greek temples.
      • More temples  and excavations can be found at Selinunte, although Agrigento (known as the Valley of the Temples) is world-famous for its unusual collection of excavated Greek Temples.
      • Visit the Roman Villa at Casale to view some of the finest mosaics to be found anywhere in the Mediterranean.
    • For a little variety plan on touring the active volcano Mount Etna, although this is usually a side-visit from the  nearby Taormina, a beautiful town that is one of the most popular resort areas of Sicily.
    • If you need more  reasons to visit Sicily,  then plan to exploring Siracusa, once the largest city in the Greek Empire, to see its impressive collection of Greek ruins.
    • Those wanting a water adventure and willing to travel a little further afield might find the  scenic Aeolian Isles, just the place for a summer vacation.
    • For photos and details on the locations described above, see our travel guide to the best places to visit in Sicily.

Seasonality

The “hottest” time to visit Italy, both in terms of popularity and temperature, is May through September. Summers in Italy are often marked by hot and humid weather and approximately 85% of the annual influx of tourists is during the same season. Most Italians vacation in August (as do the majority of Europeans), so if you visit then expect crowds, especially at the beaches. Service levels at restaurants and hotels to be slightly lower during the peak season, since the staff will be on vacation too. August is not the best time to visit Italy.

One strategy for keeping your cool while vacationing in Italy is to pattern our travel-day to reflect the rhythm of the country.  The mid-day meal is an event, followed by a brief rest to avoid those all-too-warm summer afternoons.  Many shops close around lunch and re-open later in the day.  Early evening is when most towns and cities come alive.  Watch as the locals start their evening stroll in preparation for the day’s most important event – the evening meal!

visiting italy

The North and South of Italy

All tourists planning to visit should be aware that the north and south of Italy feel and look like two different countries (and cultures).  The main demarcation is an imaginary line connecting Rome on the west coast with Ancona on the east coast.  The North has long been aligned with Europe, while the south has associated with the Mediterranean.  The North is practical, energetic and the powerhouse of the Italian economy.  The south (Mezzogiorno) is a declining region, that is poorer and less structured than its northern neighbor. The tidiness and relative order that you might find in Tuscany will not be found in Sicily.  Both regions have their own set of delights, although today more tourists visit Rome and the northern portion of the county than visit the south.

By the way, any visitor to Italy should be prepared to see lots of graffiti. It’s unavoidable and fairly ubiquitous, especially in the cities, whether they are in the north or the south of the country.

Tuscany, Italy