Italy has abundant romantic, natural and historical allure that makes it a prime travel destination. The cuisine, the dramatic coastline, the beautiful landscapes, the elaborate Roman ruins… There are so many distinct and wonderful places to visit in Italy that it would take months or at least multiple Italy vacations to visit all of the top attractions. Whether you visit one or visit them all, you’ll be glad you did.
I’ve spent many vacations in Italy, myself. I never seem to get over its charm. There’s the Roman ruins to see in Rome, the Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste in Bologna, the gondola rides to take in Venice, the wine to sip in Tuscany… I wanted to see them all and I won’t stop taking vacations to Italy until I do. You want to see them all, too, don’t you?
We’ve put together a list of the most popular attractions in Italy, to help you form a plan for your Italy vacation.
When is the Best Time to Visit Italy?
The most popular time to visit Italy is during the summer months (July to August), but it can get downright steamy during the summer, from both the heat and the throngs of people. That makes the best time to visit the spring or fall, when crowds are smaller and you don’t need to drink your weight in water just to stay hydrated. Spring can also be one of the best times to find deals to Italy. Aim for March, April, September or October.
Visiting Rome is like stepping back in time. The cobblestone streets, the crumbling Roman ruins, the Colosseum’s looming presence, the ornate architecture of St. Peter’s Basilica — so many amazing attractions to see throughout the city, and it’s easy to see everything without much fuss. With a good map and a little energy, you can easily walk the entire old town center of Rome and see all of these iconic landmarks.
- The Roman Forum: Check out the ruins of the Arch of Titus, the Temple of Vesta and other ruins of a powerful, historical time gone by.
- The Sistine Chapel: See one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces, an expansive mural painted on the chapel’s ceiling, including his famous Creation of Adam.
- Trevi Fountain: This is an absolutely must see, tucked away in a small piazza and crowded with people vying for a chance at a good photo. If you toss a coin into the fountain over your left shoulder using your right hand, you’ll come back to Rome someday.
- The Colosseum: You can join and pay for a guided tour outside the Colosseum or just get in line and tour around yourself, which I found to be the best option, especially if you’ve done some research ahead of time or have a book along with you.
- The Spanish Steps: Located at the Piazza di Spagna, this steep set of steps climbs up to the Trinita dei Monti church at the top and is surrounded by upscale shopping, tourists lounging on the steps and a wonderful Italian vibe.
Florence is a beautiful city full of museums and some of the best art in the world. If you majored in art history in college, you’ve likely already been to Florence a few times. It’s also a great jumping off point to Tuscany and the many incredible wineries that fill the land south of Florence.
- Florence Cathedral: This vast cathedral towers over the city with its Renaissance dome and Gothic architecture. Entrance is free.
- Uffizi Gallery: The gallery houses some of the most important works of the Renaissance, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Botticelli and Michelangelo. Make sure you secure tickets in advance as this is one of the most popular museums in the World.
- Michelangelo’s David statue: Perhaps Michelangelo’s most famous statue, the lifelike David stands at 17 feet high in the Galleria dell’Accademia. Reservations are recommended.
- Tuscany: Take a drive through the Tuscan countryside, stopping at wineries in the Chianti region, and check out the charming small towns of Greve in Chianti and Radda in Chianti. Continue into the south of Tuscany with a visit to Siena, the hub of the Siena region, and spend some time tasting wine in Montalcino and Montapulciano. Don’t forget a stop in Pienza to try the famous pecorino cheese.
- Not far to the north of Florence is the fantastic foodie city of Bologna, where you can take an Italian food tour of a Parmigiano-Reggiano factory, taste real Balsamic Vinegar from Modena and eat as much Prociutto as you want!
I often think Venice is single-handedly responsible for Italy’s romantic allure, with its winding waterways and canals, arched bridges and amazing architecture. Since no cars are allowed in the city, it’s an escape from the normal hustle and bustle of blaring horns and angry traffic snarls. Instead, you wander through the narrow cobblestone streets on foot or glide around the city on a gondola.
- St. Mark’s Square: The most iconic square in Venice where the vast majority of pigeons congregate, St. Mark’s Square is a sight to behold. Make this your first stop, right off the boat ride on the Grand Canal that brings you into the city.
- Glass Island: There’s an island in the Venetian Lagoon called Murano, where glass has been made for more than 700 years. Definitely worth a visit.
- Bridge of Sighs: According to local lore, if you kiss beneath this bridge at sunset, you’ll enjoy eternal love.
- The Peggy Guggenheim Collection: This gallery features masterpieces by Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Jackson Pollock.
After you’ve discovered all there is to do in these three major Italian cities, you’ll be ready to move on to the rest of the country, to discover even more amazing food, to drink some more incredible wine and to explore more ancient cities steeped in history and culture.
We’ve found it impossible to see and do everything you’ll want to do in short Italy vacations, but it just encourages us to return and explore some more. Even two weeks won’t allow time to see everything you want in Italy, so it’s wise to split up your visit into manageable pieces. Choose the areas you want to see the most and visit those first, leaving the others for return trips. You’ll quickly find that Italy should have a permanent spot on your bucket list.
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