When it comes to destinations that have it all, Italy is surely one of the countries that first comes to mind. With fascinating history, glorious weather, absorbing culture, gorgeous landscapes, and some of the best food in the world, there’s something for everyone here. In fact, Italy has so much to offer that it can be hard picking the best places to visit.
Deciding whether to visit the rolling hills of Tuscany or the sandy beaches of the Amalfi Coast will always be a difficult decision. So whether you’ve never been to Italy and want to know where to go, or are planning to return and are looking for inspirational places to visit, here are nine of the most beautiful places to visit in Italy.
(COVID INFO: Passengers travelling from the UK don’t need to self-isolate upon arrival in Italy if they can show that they’re fully vaccinated. Italy accepts the UK’s proof of COVID-19 recovery and vaccination record.)
Let’s start with the capital, Rome. Rome’s history stretches back 3,000 years, and as you walk along these ancient streets, you can almost feel the weight of the city’s captivating and turbulent past.
Unsurprisingly, this is one of the best cities in the world to visit if you’re interested in history. From classical ruins to Renaissance palaces and Baroque churches, there’s so much to see and do here that it can feel overwhelming.
Must-see historical attractions include the Vatican, the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, the Sistine Chapel and the Pantheon, but there are also many excellent museums you shouldn’t miss. Some of the very best are the galleries of the Capitoline, the Museo Nazionale Romano in the Palazzo Altemps, and Palazzo Massimo, where you can see some of Rome’s finest art, sculptures, mosaics, and jewellery.
But Rome has much more to offer than just history; it’s also a modern, vibrant city that’s a joy to explore. If you love Italian food and drink, you can dine in local trattorias (restaurants), sip Frascati wine in pavement cafés, and enjoy ice cream from the many excellent gelaterias.
It’s a good idea to pick the places you want to visit most, rather than trying to cram too much in; Rome is slower-paced than the UK, and exploring is much more pleasurable when you take your time.
Known as the Cradle of the Renaissance, Florence is a must-visit for anyone who’s interested in art. Home to dozens of excellent museums and monuments, this small city is absolutely jam-packed with magnificent art and architecture – from paintings by Botticelli to sculptures by Michelangelo. The whole city is a Unesco World Heritage Site, which should give you an idea of how much there is to see here.
Wandering along the narrow cobbled streets and past ancient candle-lit chapels will have you thinking you’ve stepped back in time. It’s also true that Florence’s centre has barely changed since the Renaissance. The enormous dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the world’s top architectural attractions, and it becomes even more impressive when you realise the dome was built in 1436.
Aside from art and architecture, Florence has a lot going for it. Surrounded by the wine-rich hills of Tuscany, the city is a gastronomic paradise, and if you love Chianti or T-bone steak, you’ll be in your element. From stylish cocktail bars to family-run trattorias, eating and drinking here is taken very seriously – which is perhaps unsurprisingly for a city that prides itself on a lifestyle of la dolce vita (meaning ‘sweet life’).
If you prefer the countryside to cities, then you can’t come to Italy and not visit Tuscany. This part of the country is known across the world for its stunning landscapes and rustic charm.
Keen photographers will no doubt return home with hundreds of pictures of rolling hills cloaked in morning mist, soaring cypress trees, silver olive groves, and gleaming yellow wheat fields.
But Tuscany is also known for its historic hilltop towns, many of which go way back to the Etruscan times. San Gimignano, Volterra, and Cortana are all must-visit towns if you’re in Tuscany, and their castles, towers, and imposing walls are testaments to their important defensive roles over history.
But arguably Tuscany’s main draw is its gastronomy, and few places in the world are more passionate about food and drink than Tuscany. Here you can visit olive groves in the morning and taste some of the world’s best olive oil, feast upon artisan pasta for lunch, sip delicious red wine in the vineyards of Chianti and Montalcino in the afternoon, and then finish off with a bowl of wholesome ribollita (reboiled) soup.
4. The Lakes
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature and relax in scenery so stunning that it will take your breath away, head to the Italian Lakes.
Formed at the end of the last ice age, the lakes have been a popular holiday destination since Roman times – and their popularity shows no signs of abating. Located in Northern Italy, in the foothills of the Alps, the Italian Lakes are beguilingly beautiful.
The most famous of the lakes is probably Lake Como, which is known for being the fashionable summer retreat of the rich and famous – and while there are certainly many glitzy hotels and extravagant villas here, the beauty and charm of Como is absolutely deserving of all the praise. Fishing boats bob in the harbour, cypress trees soar behind colourful houses, and beyond, the mighty Alps dominate the background.
Lake Garda is the largest lake, and a little further north is Lake Maggiore, the longest lake, which stretches across the Swiss border. Lake Orta and Lake Iseo are the smaller, lesser-known lakes. But no matter which lake you visit, you’re promised truly dazzling scenery.
From the ancient churches that cling to cliff tops to the elegant Baroque hotels that line the waterside and the calm, deep blue waters of the lakes themselves, this is the Mediterranean at its best.
Venice is a place like nowhere else – a city where the streets are made from water, where the taxis are boats, where the weight of its artistic past can still be felt in the air.
It’s a truly unique city – and its fame means that some days tourists outnumber locals two-to-one. But no matter how crowded it may be, Venice never loses its magic, no matter how many people you have to squeeze by.
From the moment you step out of the station and see the dome of San Simeon Piccolo, there’s a good chance you’ll fall instantly in love with Venice. While landmarks like St. Mark’s Square, Doge’s Palace, and the Bridge of Sighs may be the obvious draw for tourists, it’s exploring the narrow, winding passages that will give you a true sense of Venice – both its past and its present.
Neighbourhood churches hide awe-inspiring Madonnas, gothic buildings rise above secret squares, and picture-postcard scenes lie around every corner. Venice is a compact city, and getting lost in the back streets is all part of the fun, so don’t worry about a map. Just sip Aperol Spritz in a tucked away bar, feast upon cicheti (Venetian tapas) at a canalside bistro, and try to go slow – just like the locals.
6. The Amalfi Coast & Capri
For many people, if they’re asked to picture Italy, the Amalfi Coast is what first springs to mind. With its sunkissed, glamorous travellers, pretty towns that perch precipitously on the cliffs, and azure blue waters, the Amalfi Coast is seductively beautiful – and its stunning landscape and sophisticated, laidback charm has been attracting visitors since Roman times.
This is a place where the streets are stairways, pastel-coloured boutiques line cinematic piazzas, pink and red flowers bloom from crumbling walls, and rugged mountains lined with trees plunge into the sparklingly clear sea. If you have a car, the Amalfi Drive is one of the world’s great scenic routes and will take you past some of the most beautiful places in coastal Italy.
There’s much to see and do here; you can visit the different towns, explore churches, museums and gardens, kick back on the many beaches, or simply enjoy the gorgeous views.
Just off the Amalfi Peninsula is the legendary island of Capri, where you can explore the Blue Grotto sea cave, visit opulent villas, and stroll around peaceful gardens.
If you prefer to keep away from throngs of tourists as much as you possibly can, you might want to think about visiting Puglia. Puglia is one of Italy’s most underrated destinations, and the only reason it’s not busier is due to how remote it is; located in the stiletto-heel of the Italian boot, it’s a long way from the more touristy parts of Northern and Central Italy.
Puglia has a bit of everything: gorgeous beaches, unique architecture, plenty of history, and one of Italy’s simplest yet most delicious cuisines.
Dubbed the ‘Florence of the South’, Puglia’s capital Lecce is packed with Baroque buildings and intricate churches, and you can spend days here exploring its fascinating culture and history. Just a short drive away is Otranto, where you can see the mountains of Albania from the 15th-century castle.
Head into the Itria Valley to explore the famous Trulli villages and their whitewashed, hobbit-like houses, then visit the mesmerising Castellana Caves, where you can marvel at ceilings draped with stalactites.
If you’re looking for sun, sea, and sand, Puglia is home to some of Italy’s best beaches. Head southeast of Salento to kick back on miles of golden sand.
Sicily may be best known to some people for its Mafia links, but it’s the food, beauty and history of this island that really makes it unique.
Considered to be the crossroads of Mediterranean culture, Sicily is home to Greek temples, Roman villas, Baroque palaces, Norman churches, Doric architecture, and medieval hilltop towns – so if you’re interested in history, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
The historic cities of Palermo, Catania, and Siracusa are a delight to explore, and some of the island’s most famous attractions – like the ancient hilltop town of Taormina and the ruins of Greek temple Agrigento – are heart-stoppingly beautiful. In the South, you can lose yourself in the old streets of Ragusa and Modica as you people-watch from cafes, sip fresh coffee, and browse quaint shops.
But the natural beauty of this island is just as alluring. You can visit Mount Etna (Europe’s tallest active volcano) and climb up to its smoking craters, explore flowery mountain meadows, and enjoy some peace and quiet in the sandy beaches and secret coves on the island’s South Coast.
Then there’s the food – pasta alla norma (aubergine pasta), cannoli, fish couscous, and wine – especially Nero d’Avola, which is absolutely perfect with a plate of pasta alla norma!
If you’re dreaming about white sand beaches and astonishingly turquoise waters, then Sardinia is calling your name.
This captivating Mediterranean island seems worlds apart from Italy, but it’s also like nowhere else in the world. In the words of DH Lawrence, “Sardinia is different”. This is an island of ancient oak forests, snow-white beaches, boulder-strewn canyons, and shimmering waters that conceal not only shipwrecks but underwater caves and submerged Roman ruins.
For foodies, Sardinia’s unique cuisine is a big draw. The island has its own distinct way of cooking, eating, and drinking. There’s everything from spaghetti with sea urchins and roast suckling pig, to lemon and ricotta stuffed fritters and water-thin bread… not to mention the infamous and illegal maggotty cheese, known as casu marzu pecorino! Wine enthusiasts will also enjoy trying the Vermentino whites and Cannonau reds.
While the South of the island is fringed with pristine beaches that look more Caribbean than the Mediterranean, central Sardinia is a paradise for hikers, and the remote mountain villages, which have barely changed in centuries, are enchanting.
History lovers can explore entire Phoenician and Roman cities, Bronze Age settlements, “giant’s tombs” and sacred wells. There are also the countless mystifying round stone towers that dot the island.
Home to some of the world’s best art, architecture and food, Italy has the power to excite and inspire like nowhere else.
Whether you’re dreaming of tucking into a bowl of exceptional pasta in a local trattoria, marvelling at paintings and sculptures in top museums and galleries, swimming in warm and crystal clear blue waters, or exploring ancient ruins and historic palaces – there’s something for everyone in Italy.
And of course, these suggested destinations are just the tip of the iceberg. But hopefully, they give you an idea of Italy’s stunning beauty, absorbing history, immersive culture, and distinctive style.