Today (November 30, 2020): Top 10 best things to see & don in Italy
What’s not to love about the boot-shaped country of Italy? Located in Southern Europe, Italy is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world. Travelers mainly visit Italy for its rich culture, world-class cuisine, passionate people, trendy fashion, ancient monuments, picturesque villages, spectacular landscapes and luxurious hotels. From the Alps and Venice in the north to the breathtaking Amalfi Coast and Sicily in the south, here’s my roundup of the 10 best things to see & do in Italy.
There is more information (with YouTube clips) below the slideshow. Think I missed one? Share your favorite attractions in Italy in the comments section.
Milan’s famed cathedral, better known as Duomo or Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary of the Nativity), is the second largest church in Italy (second only to Saint Peter’s in size) and the fourth largest church in the world. It took nearly six centuries to complete, with more than 78 architects and engineers heading the project from its groundbreaking in 1386 to its completion in 1965. With its spires, pinnacles, gables and countless statues, the cathedral’s gothic exterior is a breathtaking sight, especially when the afternoon sun reflects on the light-white marble facade. The interior is sober bordering on the austere and is strikingly intimate for its very vastness. Don’t forget to head up to the cathedral’s rooftop terrace for sweeping views of Milan and to admire the cathedral’s architectural decorations up close.
Undeniably Italian, yet expressing a unique regional identity, Sardinia captivates with its wild hinterland, authentic villages, and cultural treasures. Its position midway between Italy and the North African coast has forged a hybrid, fragmented character. DH Lawrence referred to it as “lost between Europe and Africa, and belonging to nowhere”. Sardinia has some of the dreamiest and most beautiful white sand beaches you’ll find on the European shores. The Emerald Coast is Sardinia’s most glamorous vacation resort, offering magnificent bays, luxury hotels and villas, sparkling nightlife, exclusive boutiques, elegant aperitifs, and fine dining. The Emerald Coast’s fame is due in large part to Cala di Volpe, an exclusive natural port where some scenes for the James Bond film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ were filmed.
Built atop 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges, Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site suffused with beauty. Founded in the 5th century AD out of the necessity of fleeing the Barbarian Invasion, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others. Art, architecture and artisanal crafts are in full bloom across the city, evident while wandering the streets and canals, in visiting the churches and museums and during the events that mark the city’s calendar, from the art biennales to Carnivale. The most famous place in Venice is, without a doubt, Piazza San Marco or St. Mark’s Square, the center from which rises the homonymous, five-domed St. Mark’s Basilica.
- Recommended hotels: read my top 10 list of the best hotels in Venice.
Italy’s Lake Como is as glamorous as it is gorgeous. Also known as Lario, Lake Como is the third largest of the Italian lakes (after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore) and it is also the deepest at 409 m (1,345 ft). Its characteristic shape – reminiscent of an inverted Y – is the result of the melting of glaciers combined with the erosive action of the ancient Adda river. Since time immemorial, Lake Como has enchanted artists – from French novelist Flaubert to musicians like Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, and Vincenzo Bellini – for centuries with mesmerizing vistas of deep blue waters, dramatic mountains, medieval villages, Renaissance and gardens. Today, Lake Como continues to attract jet-setters and celebrities (George Clooney has a house here) that appreciate the evocative beauty of the lake and its surroundings. The lake is also home to some of Italy’s most exclusive hotels and resorts.
- Recommended hotels: read my top 10 list of the best hotels on the Italian lakes.
While Vatican City is home to the Roman Catholic Church’s governing body, this small sovereign city-state within Rome offers a wealth of attractions open to visitors of any faith. St. Peter’s Basilica is Vatican City’s top attraction and is called after one of Jesus’s twelve disciples known as Saint Peter, one of the founders of the Catholic Church who was executed in Rome and buried where the Basilica now stands. The basilica features Michelangelo’s Pieta, the famous sculpture of Mary holding the body of her son, Jesus, and the tomb of St. John Paul II. No visit to the Vatican City would be complete without visiting the Vatican Museum and its Sistine Chapel, famous for its beautiful ceiling painted by Michelangelo. Vatican City welcomes tourists year-round for exploration, but be warned: The Vatican’s attractions draw around 6 million people each year, so expect lots of crowds.
Enchanted, fairytale-like sceneries await at Cinque Terre, a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site that stretches for 15 km (9 mi) along the eastern Ligurian coast. The jagged coastal landscape is home to five perfectly preserved medieval villages, nestled between rocky reliefs and steep cliffs that are a sheer drop away from the coast: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. The area was almost inaccessible, except by sea, until the Genoa-La Spezia railway was built in the 1870s. Due to overtourism, these villages are no longer the isolated hamlets they once were, but they still feel authentic and are connected via a network of magnificent coastal and mountain trails. The dramatic coastal landscape, with its tall compact settlements and spectacular terraces that were shaped over almost a millennium, is an exceptional testimony to the way traditional communities interacted.
- Recommended hotel: Grand Hotel Portevenere
Tuscany is known for its fabulous landscapes, amazing artwork, and refined architecture. Yet there is only one place in Tuscany where all three of these elements combine effortlessly together and give life to an absolutely one of a kind city: Florence. Famous for the immense political and economic power it wielded during the rule of the Medici Dynasty, Florence offered the world a stage for great artistic masters such as Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo. However, Florence has its roots long before, when it rose and fell several times in the hands of the Romans, the lombardic tribe and others. Each successive age brought new architecture, art and creativity which are still evident in the streets and the everyday life of this marvelous city. Florence’s highlights include the Uffizi Gallery (one the most famous museums in the world) and the cathedral its magnificent Renaissance dome.
The hilltop village of Taormina is the jewel in the crown of Sicily, Italy’s largest island. Taormina offers its visitors offers breathtaking, dramatic and memorable views over Europe’s most active volcano (Mount Etna) and almost one hundred miles of Mediterranean sea. In the 1800s, after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe praised its beauty in his book Italian Journey, Taormina became a mandatory stop on the Grand Tour – the long journey made in continental Europe by the young European aristocracy of the time to enrich their own culture. Since then many celebrities visited Taormina: Truman Capote, Oscar Wilde and Richard Wagner all spent happy moments here. Today, Taormina is one of Sicily’s most popular summer destinations. The ancient Greek Theater is without question the most important feature for sight-seers in Taormina, not least because of its phenomenal views.
Draped across the high Alps, where Italy, Austria and Switzerland collide, the site of the Dolomites comprises a dramatic mountain range with 18 peaks that rise to above 3,000 m (10,000 ft). It features some of the most beautiful and breathtaking mountain landscapes anywhere in the world, with vertical walls, sheer cliffs and a high density of narrow, deep and long valleys. Characterized by dynamic processes with frequent landslides, floods and avalanches, the vast Dolomoti massifs have been eroded over the last 200 million years into a surreal and wonderful array of needles, towers and pinnacles. A World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 2009, the Dolomites are a hiking paradise, with plenty of opportunities for day-walks on well-signposted trails in stunning scenery that are within average capabilities. Experienced hikers should consider one of the more strenuous multi-day treks.
The Amalfi Coast stretches along the edge of the Sorrento Peninsula, in Italy’s Campania province, just south of Naples. The mountainous scenery of the Amalfi Coast is dotted with vineyards, lemon trees, olive groves and tiny villages – all clinging to jagged cliffs that plunge straight into the turquoise Mediterranean Sea below. The scenic Amalfi highway (formally Strada Statale 163) winds for about 80 km (50 miles) along the shoreline and cliffs of the Sorrento Peninsula, with plenty of viewpoints along the way to take in the spectacular coastal views. The region’s top attraction is the village of Positano, whose Moorish-style houses tumble down to the Mediterranean Sea in a cascade of sun-bleached peach, pink and terracotta. A short 20 min boat ride from the mainland is the fabled island of Capri, whose dramatic coastal scenery has been known for at least 2000 years as Emperor Augustus and Emperor Tiberius both had homes here. The area is also home to some Italy’s most fabulous hotels.
- Recommended hotels: read my top 10 list of the best hotels on the Amalfi Coast.