Italy is a multi-faceted country with colorful cities, small towns, and major metropoles. Use this guide to explore all it has to offer.
Located on the Salerno Gulf, bordering the turquoise blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea, you’ll find the Amalfi Coast. Designated in 1997 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s no wonder that this location draws record numbers of sun-loving tourists every year. Aside from its historic attributes, the coast is known for its stacked-style buildings, umbrella-crammed beaches, natural beauty, limoncello liqueur, specialty anchovies, and relaxed atmosphere.
The capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy, Bologna is home to nearly one million Italian citizens. Bologna’s history stretches back to 1000 B.C. — it was an urban center for the Etruscans, Celts, Romans, and, later, the Italians. Bologna’s variety of architecture (including its famed medieval towers and porticoes) has been perfectly preserved, leading to its designation as a European capital of culture in 2000. It is a center for music, culture, and food, as well as the transportation hub of the north.
Capri is both the name of the island in the Campania region of Italy, near the Gulf of Naples, and the name of the island’s largest town. A longtime resort location (since Roman times), Capri is graced with villas, markets, ancient Roman ruins, and stunning views. Capri was also once a naval base of some importance after Napoleon’s French troops occupied the island in the early 1800s. Some time after, the island became a getaway for artists and aristocracy, including the likes of Swedish Queen Victoria, Charles Caryl Coleman, and Mariah Carey.
The name “Cinque Terre” means “Five Lands” in Italian, which aptly identifies the five coastal hamlets of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore in the Liguria region. Immediately recognizable for their stacked, colorful buildings built into the sides of the rocky cliffs, these villages offer a lot of hidden treasures to discover. Accessing all five of the villages can be difficult if you’re under time restraints. However, there are walking paths, trains, and ferry routes that run between them.
This unique Italian city was the most important in Europe from the 1300s to the 1500s. Ancient Florentines reinvigorated the European economy during the “Dark Ages” through their introduction of the gold florin, and Florence’s influence was felt throughout Europe. And it still is, as the city was the birthplace of distinct architectural style (Renaissance and neoclassical). Today, the city is home to many works of art (which can be found in the Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia, and the Pitti Palace) and feats of engineering (the Florence Cathedral and Duomo).
A historical port city in Italy’s Liguria region, Genoa is not as flashy as its southern neighbors, but still has much to offer curious travelers. Go for the delicious cuisine (the seafood here is exquisite), pastel villas, seaside views, and winding streets. The city is also a fantastic location from which to explore Portofino, the Cinque Terre, and the rest of the Italian Riviera.
Milan is Italy’s economic hub. Though known for its thriving business center, Milan does offer many fantastic cultural experiences, too. The city is revered for its shopping, opera, and dazzling nightlife. Fashionistas should head to Milan for its famous fairs, held in the spring and fall, where visitors are bound to see designers and supermodels. The city is architecturally beautiful, as well, though it did take on some damage during World War II. Visit the Duomo (a stunning Gothic cathedral), the Brera art gallery, the Castello Sforzesco (a medieval castle), and see Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, “The Last Supper” at the Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Though it’s the birthplace of pizza, Naples’ history extends far beyond the origins of this doughy dish — it was founded for trading purposes in the 6th century B.C. by the Greeks. The historic center is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site — Naples is home to over 440 historically significant churches — the most in the world for any singular city. Naples is the largest city in southern Italy and boasts gorgeous views of the turquoise blue gulf and the still-active, infamous Mount Vesuvius.
Palermo is the capital of the Italian island of Sicily. Known as an urban melting pot, the city is characterized by its history, culture, and architectural style. Aside from major landmarks like the Palace of the Normans, the Palatine Chapel, and the church of St. John of the Hermits, Palermo is also known for its operas and thriving marketplaces.
Located in Italy’s Tuscany region, Pisa is best known for its eponymous Leaning Tower, though there are many other noteworthy sights (Fun fact: the tower was already tilted when it was completed in 1372).
Pisa’s city center balances Romanesque buildings, Gothic churches, and Renaissance piazzas, and is renowned for its art, architecture, and street life.
Positano is a cliffside village on the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy. Its steep, narrow streets are lined with boutiques and cafés, and filled with Moorish-style architecture that overlooks the Sirenuse Islands. Set in a dramatic vertical panorama of colors, Positano is known for the green of its Monti Lattari; the white, pink, and yellow of its Mediterranean houses; the blue of its sea; and the silvery gray of its pebbled beaches.
As the country’s capital, Rome is a sprawling city packed with influential art, architecture, and culture. It’s home to the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Roman Forum, the Catacombs, and the Vatican Museums, just to name a few. Aside from its architecture, Rome is also a major archaeological hub, and offers panoramic views and unique traditions. As of 2016, it was named the 13th-most-visited city in the world.
Salerno is the capital city and comune in Campania, located on the gulf of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Although often overlooked, it’s a bustling port town nestled between the Amalfi Coast and Cilento National Park. Offering shops, restaurants, museums, and nightlife, Salerno also connects to Naples, Rome, Paestum, and the south of Italy via railway.
San Marino is a mountainous microstate in north-central Italy. Standing as one of the world’s oldest republics (and smallest countries), it is known for its medieval-walled towns and narrow, cobblestone streets.
Filled with clifftop castles and breathtaking views, San Marino is a must-see destination for history lovers everywhere.
Located in the center of Tuscany, Siena sits atop three hillsides and is considered Italy’s ultimate “hill town.” Most distinguished by its medieval brick buildings, the city center includes a grand cathedral, the Piazza del Campo, and countless courtyards. For anyone dreaming of a Fiat-free Italy, Siena is the place to go. Ruled by pedestrians and residents only, the narrow streets of Siena are just begging for exploration.
Encircled by a two-mile border within Rome, Vatican City is an independent city-state about one-eighth the size of New York’s Central Park. It’s the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, and home to the Pope, but it also offers a trove of iconic art and architecture. The Vatican Museums display famed sculptures and Renaissance frescoes, as well as the iconic Sistine Chapel.
Venice is the capital of the Veneto region in northern Italy, built on more than 100 small islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. Known for its roadless layout, the city can only be explored on foot or via boats or gondolas through the canals. If that doesn’t sell you on it yet, its central square contains St. Mark’s Basilica and the towering Campanile bell tower, the masked tradition of Carnivale takes place there every year, and the entire city is shrouded in history. That’s amore.
Famed for its role in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Verona is a medieval town built on either side of the Adige River. The heart of the city is dominated by the Verona Arena, a huge first-century Roman amphitheater that still holds the city’s annual summer opera festival. Aside from its oldest entertainment facility, Verona also has countless churches, bridges, and works of art. It really is one of northern Italy’s most attractive cities.