Jam-packed with amazing things to see, eat, and drink, experiencing Italy in its full requires time, a sense of adventure, a quick brush-up on your Italian, and an appetite.
In Northern Italy you’ll find the awe-inspiring canals of Venice, the stylish environs of Milan, and the unbeatable Italian Lakes. Central Italy is home to amazing Renaissance art in Florence and the beautiful countryside of Tuscany and Umbria; and it is Southern Italy that has the evocative ruins of Pompeii, the phenomenal views in the Amalfi Coast, the history and cuisine of Sicily, and the monuments and culture of Rome. Our list of the 50 best things to do in Italy will help get your Italian adventure started—and will definitely keep you coming back for more.
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Ski or Hike the Dolomite Mountains
WHERE: Cortina D’Ampezzo
The gorgeous craggy peaks of the Dolomites make the perfect place for an unforgettable ski holiday in the winter or a rejuvenating hike in the spring and summer months. The fashionable alpine mountain town of Cortina D’Ampezzo, 4,000 feet above sea level, is a charming place to rent a villa or splurge on luxury accommodations like the magnificent Cristallo Hotel Spa & Golf. Opt for a cable car ride up to one of the Dolomites’ highest points, Rifugio Lagazuoi, for dramatic views and prime, though challenging, skiing and hiking. For the less adventurous, a drive through the Sella mountain range—known as “the Heart of the Dolomites”—will take you from Cortina to Bolzano, passing otherworldly mountain peaks on the way.
Stroll Charming Cobblestoned Streets
Set on the shores of beautiful Lake Como, Bellagio is often considered one of the loveliest towns in Italy. Its steep streets, lined with cobblestones, are supremely romantic, especially at sunset, and wandering them lets you explore the town’s many shops and restaurants—plus you’ll get spectacular lake views around every corner. The downside to all this loveliness is that Bellagio is often incredibly crowded. If you are looking for something a little quieter, hop on a short ferry across the lake to Verenna to explore the pretty gardens of the Villa Monastero, or to Tremezzo to see the magnificent Villa Carlotta and Villa Balbianello. Then return to Bellagio after the crowds have left to enjoy the wondrous views once more.
Stay on the Lake That Inspired Hemingway
While not as well-known as its siblings Como and Garda, Lake Maggiore boasts magnificent scenery that inspired Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. The lake’s main resort, Stresa, is a charming place for strolling along the lakeside pathway, or for heading into the town center for some window shopping and outdoor dining. Take the cable car (funivia) for wonderful views of seven lakes, or a short boat trip to the Isole Borromee (Borromean Islands) for lunch and to visit the lovely gardens. If possible, spend the night at the historic Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees where Hemingway rested while on leave from military duty during World War I.
INSIDER TIPThe room where he stayed is now the exquisitely decorated Hemingway Suite, well-worth the splurge.
See an Ancient Grotto
WHERE: Sirmione, Lake Garda
No cars are allowed in the pedestrian-only town of Sirmione on Lake Garda, making it ideal for walking its cobbled streets over to the Grotte di Catullo (Grottoes of Catullus), located at Sirmione’s northern tip (you can also get there by tourist train for €1). Though debate ensues as to whether these ancient Roman ruins belong to a villa owned by the poet Catullus (87-54 B.C.), or two villas dating from around the 1st Century, they make for a fascinating stroll among the preserved remnants of arches, walls, and waterways, and boast amazing Lake Garda views. Stop by the small museum onsite for more information about the ruins’ history.
Window Shop in Milan’s Quadrilatero
In Italy’s fashion capital of Milan, you’ll find the highest of high-end designers in the Quadrilatero della Moda district, north of the Duomo. All the big names are here: Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Missoni, Prada, Versace, Valentino, and more. If you don’t want to drop some serious dough, it’s still a fun area to window-shop and people-watch. For items at somewhat gentler prices, stop by one of the DMagazine Outlets in the area; they showcase designer names from past seasons that won’t break your pocketbook.
Ponder da Vinci’s The Last Supper
Sure, you’ve seen so many pictures of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper that you may feel like you can skip the real thing—but when in Milan, an in-person visit should not be missed. Restoration work has returned The Last Supper, located inside the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie church, to its original glory, and the painting is amazingly clear and luminous. Reserve timed tickets either online or by phone as far in advance as you can, especially during busy summer months; if you’re out of luck, organized city tours will sometimes include visits as well. You ’ll only have 15 minutes to see it, so prepare to soak in as much of it as you can.
Bargain for Truffles
Charming Alba, in the northern Italian Piedmont region, is the home of the white truffle, and the best time to visit is during the Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco (International White Truffle Fair) that runs annually from mid-October to mid-November on weekends. There you can see truffles of all shapes and sizes (and prices) for sale, and, if you’d like, buy your own. During this time, restaurants both in town and in the surrounding countryside often feature special truffle tasting menus, where you can sample the local delicacy shaved on top of many types of dishes, for a price, of course, but well worth it for foodies and other truffle-lovers.
Taste Outstanding Wines
One of the top wines in Italy, if not the world, Barolo is a robust, complex red wine made from the Nebbiolo grape and much-prized by wine collectors for its cellaring potential. But it’s also just a great wine to enjoy by the glass, which you can do in one of the many enotecas in Piedmont’s Barolo region. Plus, the area is simply a beautiful one to visit, filled with hill towns and wonderful vistas. While in the region, be sure to make an appointment for a tour and tasting at one of the many wineries; Famiglia Anselma and Marchesi di Barolo are two good ones to visit.
Sail Down the Grand Canal
Venice wouldn’t be Venice without its beautiful canals—and you can’t truly see Venice without sailing down its main passageway, the Grand Canal. Two-and-a-half miles long, the Grand Canal flows past insanely gorgeous palazzi—about 200 of them—that once belonged to Venice’s most prosperous families. For the most romantic, though priciest, Grand Canal experience, hire a gondola; otherwise you can take the Line 1 vaporetto (water bus) from Piazzale Roma to San Marco. You will have the option to stay on the boat for the entire 35-minute ride for unbeatable views, or hop on and off at your leisure, exploring more of Venice’s treasures within.
Don a Mask for the Carnevale
For the 10 days before Lent, usually during February, Venice plays host to the biggest festival in Italy—the Carnevale. Millions of revelers don masks to dance at balls, attend parties, and generally make merry at events held across the city. While some exclusive events are very expensive—with the period costumes that are required wear upping the price even more—there are also free public events including video projections on palazzi and a carnival just for the kids. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience you won’t soon forget.
Sip a Caffé While You People-Watch
Venice’s Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), flanked by the gorgeous Basilica di San Marco, is certainly one of the loveliest squares in the world—and there’s no better way to enjoy the views than while sipping un caffé at one of the elegant (though touristy) cafés lining the square. Caffé Florian is the classic place for a drink or snack; it was Italy’s first café (opening in 1720), and is decorated in a beautiful neo-baroque style. Elegant Grancaffé Quadri is also a top choice. No matter which café you choose, sit back and order a coffee paired with a brioche or pastry and watch the world go by.
Admire Giotto’s Beautiful Fresco Cycle
One of the most well-preserved artworks in Italy, Giotto’s 14th-century frescoes in Padua’s Capella degli Scrovegni (Arena Chapel) are amazingly beautiful. Depicting the lives of Mary and Joseph, they cover the entire walls of the chapel. Since these wonderful frescoes are, rightfully, extremely popular, it’s necessary to make advance reservations for specific visit times online, by phone, or at the ticket office.
INSIDER TIPVisits are limited to 25 people and last approximately 15 minutes.
See 15th Century Fresco Masterpieces
Andrea Mantegna, who was a court painter in Mantua in the 15th century, was a protégé of the famed painter Raphael. You can see some of Mantegna’s best surviving work in Mantua, a walled city about 119 miles southeast of Milan. His most famous work here is the Camera degli Sposi, painted over a nine-year period, in the Palazzo Ducale. Since only 20 people at a time are allowed to view the Camera degli Sposi—and only for 10 minutes, tops—reserve your place in advance either online or by phone to not miss out.
Take in Palladio’s Villas and Palazzi
Sixteenth-century architect Andrea Palladio created beautiful palaces and villas for his wealthy patrons in a style that emphasizes order and harmony using arches, columns, and domes. Today the best examples of his elegant dwellings can be found in his hometown of Vicenza, halfway between Padua and Verona. See Palladio’s first masterpiece, the Palazzo della Ragione, before strolling through town to visit the fabulous Palazzo Barbaran da Porto, the Palazzo Chiericati, and the wonderful Teatro Olimpico. Last but not least, you’ll find La Rotanda, considered to be the best expression of Palladio’s architectural philosophy, on the outskirts of town; though you’ll need to make an appointment to visit the lovely interior, the grounds are also well worth a stop.
Marvel at 5th and 6th Century Mosaics
Some of the greatest Byzantine mosaics in the world can be found in the unassuming city of Ravenna, 47 miles east of Bologna. You can view the most elaborate ones in the 5th-century Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, which contains richly colored mosaics in deep blue and gold; if you visit from March through mid-June, you’ll need a reservation in advance. Other great places to get a gander at gorgeous mosaics include Basilica di San Vitale, built in AD 547 (reservations recommended from March to mid-June); Battistero Neoniano, from the early 5th century; and Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, with mosaics dating from the early 6th century.
Gawk at the Superyachts
Long a destination for the rich and famous, the lovely village of Portofino hugs the coast of the Italian Riviera, with the Santa Margherita cliffs on one side and the Ligurian Sea on the other. Portofino’s charm isn’t so much in the sights to visit, which are few, but in the opportunity to relax at a (pricey) café near the harbor and watch the amazing yachts, and the people who go along with them. There are also some lovely walks, including up to the castle (Castello Brown) and over to the lighthouse (Punta Portofino) at the port’s southern end. If you don’t want to splurge on one of the expensive hotels in town, consider staying in pleasant Santa Margherita Ligure, from where you can reach Portofino by boat, bus, or a 40-minute walk along the waterside.
Hike Along Coastal Cliffs
WHERE: Cinque Terre
The five former fishing towns that make up the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera—Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore—appear to hang off the cliffs, allowing for absolutely stunning views of the vineyards above and the blue waters below. Footpaths connecting these towns allow for an incredibly scenic hike from one to the other, with stops along the way for drinks or to relax on one of the stony beaches. The most popular trail, the Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail), runs for eight miles and takes about five hours end-to-end (though sections of the trail are often closed for repair work). Ferries can also shuttle you between most villages if your legs grow weary.
Sample Italy’s Greatest Cheese
WHERE: Reggio Emilia
Cheese-lovers shouldn’t miss the little Emilia-Romagna town of Reggio Emilia, about a half-hour east of Parma, and the birthplace of renowned Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Whether grated on top of pasta, eaten in chunks, or enjoyed for dessert, perhaps with a little honey or the region’s famed balsamic vinegar, Reggio Emilia is the place to sample this full-flavored cheese. Embark on a guided tour of a cheese farm (make a reservation in advance) or visit Reggio’s street market, held on Tuesdays and Fridays; either way, don’t forget to have cheese wrapped for packing so you can continue to enjoy it long after you leave.
Try One of the World’s Best Restaurants
Awarded the top spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2016 and 2018, three Michelin star Osteria Francescana, helmed by chef Massimo Bottura, is a bastion of modern Italian cuisine in the small town of Modena, best known for its balsamic vinegar production. With only 12 tables, a meal here is an intimate affair and must be booked three months in advance online. The restaurant offers two tasting menus as well as a la carte options—though a tasting menu, offering wine pairings for those interested, is highly recommended to experience the amazing flavors and beautiful artistry on display.
Visit the Birthplace of Tortellini
Bologna, in the region of Emilia-Romagna, is known as a foodie paradise, not least because it’s the birthplace of tortellini pasta. Most commonly stuffed with beef, tortellini can be found asciutta (dry) and served with a sauce, a simple butter and cheese, or in brodo (served in a savory beef broth). You can try it at restaurants all over town, though it is especially good at Trattoria Gianni. Alternately, swing by specialty food shop Tamburini for lunch or to pick up some fresh pasta to take with you.
Climb the Leaning Tower
Construction of the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, designed as a bell tower for the Duomo, began in 1173; the tower started becoming lopsided once construction began on the third story. Attempts to fix it only made the lean even worse, and by the 20th century, the tower threatened to collapse altogether. It’s now been securely rooted to the ground, lean intact. Climbing the 251 steps up the tower is a great experience, though be aware that the spiral staircase combined with the tilt can cause some vertigo.
INSIDER TIPSince the climb is very popular, book your ticket online a maximum of 20 days before you want to visit. Otherwise, tickets may be available that day at the ticket office, but there’s no guarantee.
Immerse Yourself in Art at the Uffizi
One of the world’s great art galleries, Florence’s Galleria deglia Uffizi, opened in 1591, making it Europe’s oldest modern museum. It contains the collection of art from the Medicis, including such highlights as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, and Caravaggio’s Bacchus. Since the museum can get extremely busy, it’s suggested to book tickets in advance online or by phone at least a day in advance.
Spend Time in the Duomo
Dominating Florence’s skyline, the magnificent Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) is an architectural marvel. Construction of the Duomo began in 1296 and lasted all the way up to 1887, when its façade was completed in a neo-Gothic style. The dome, which uses 4 million bricks, was Filippo Brunelleschi’s masterpiece and climbing its 463 steps offers spectacular views of the city skyline. Since the Duomo is Florence’s most-visited attraction, try to visit first thing in the morning—though even then, expect a wait for a dome climb. In the Piazza del Duomo, be sure to also visit the Battistero to see the famous bronze Renaissance doors designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti (the ones now there, while still beautiful, are copies).
INSIDER TIPFor a less-crowded look at the dome, climb the campanile where you’ll still get to experience incredible views without any of the pushing and shoving.
Soak in the Renaissance in the Palazzo Ducale
Once one of Europe’s major centers of culture in the 15th century, the hill town of Urbino, located in the Marches region, still exudes a Renaissance feel, with its brick-and-stone buildings with tile roofs. It’s now a lively university town, with one of the oldest schools in the world, the Universita di Urbino. The gorgeous Palazzo Ducale is Urbino’s definite highlight and a must-visit. The beautiful palace now contains the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche (National Museum of the Marches), with a wonderful collection of paintings and sculptures including Piero’s masterpiece The Flagellation of Christ.
Stop at Wineries with a View
WHERE: Chianti Classico
Between Florence to the north and Siena to the south lies the most beautiful wine country in the world: Chianti Classico. Chianti, made from the sangiovese grape, can be tasted at dozens of wineries in the region—if you make an appointment in advance. (While some wineries do allow spontaneous drop-in visits, they tend to not be the ones producing the highest-quality wines.) To fully experience the area, drive the scenic roads (a designated driver is recommended) toward pretty Radda in Chianti, near where you can wine taste at Badia a Coltibuono, see the castle (and do more wine-tasting) at Castello di Brolio, and stop for lunch at charming La Vin Osteria, which serves up a menu of Tuscan classics.
Enjoy a Beautiful Tuscan Hill Town
WHERE: San Gimignano
While many Tuscan hill towns are full of charm, the walled city of San Gimignano is a bit different—it’s filled with 14 medieval towers (originally there were more than 70). The towers were built both for defense and as a competition to see which noble family’s tower could be the highest. Though San Gimignano can be filled with tour groups during the day, if you stay until the evening, it becomes much quieter—and sitting on the steps of the town’s main church, the Collegiata, is a wonderful way to watch the sun go down after enjoying a glass of the area’s famed white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
Hang Out in the Piazza del Campo
Perhaps Italy’s best-preserved medieval city, Siena makes a lovely place to stroll, exploring its narrow streets and Gothic Duomo —and the city’s Piazza del Campo is certainly one of the most beautiful squares in the country. Built in the late 12th century, il Campo features bricks patterned in nine sections to represent the medieval Government of Nine. The Palazzo Pubblico has been Siena’s town hall since the 1300s; climb the steep steps for wonderful vistas. There are plenty of places around il Campo to get a gelato before taking a seat in the square to soak in its beauty.
Rent a Villa in Tuscany
WHERE: Southern Tuscany
One of the supreme pleasures of a visit to the gorgeous countryside of Tuscany is the chance to stay in a villa—preferably one with a swimming pool and vineyard views. Southern Tuscany, home to the beautiful hill towns of Montepulciano, Montalcino, and Pienza, is an ideal place to find a historic converted farmhouse that’s convenient for wine tasting and excellent dining, as well as for exploring palaces and churches.
INSIDER TIPJuly and August can be hot—and pricey—so for the best deals, look for a villa in the shoulder seasons of May, June, or September, and get a group of friends or family together who want to experience the relaxed Italian way of life.
Visit the Basilica di San Francesco
One of the most important religious centers of Italy, the peaceful medieval town of Assisi (in the Umbria region) also just makes a lovely place to wander. The enormous Basilica di San Francesco consists of two churches: the darker Romanesque Lower Church and the Gothic Upper Church, both covered in wonderful frescoes. The undisputed highlight of the Basilica is the St. Francis fresco cycle in the Upper Church, which includes 28 frescoes showing the life of St. Francis and thought to be painted by Giotto (though that is of some controversy).
Explore the Colosseum
One of the most iconic landmarks in Italy, Rome’s Colosseum is a fascinating piece of history. Opened in A.D. 80, the Colosseum was used for gladiator combat until the 5th century. Today you can walk around part of the outer ring and climb the stairs for prime views of the Colosseum itself as well as to the Arch of Constantine, Rome’s best-preserved triumphal arch from A.D. 315, and to the Palatine Hill. To avoid lengthy lines, buy your tickets online at least a day in advance.
Get Lost in the Roman Forum
You need to use your imagination to picture what the ruins of the Roman Forum once were—temples, law courts, shops, and other remnants of life at the heart of Ancient Rome. Here you’ll find the Arco di Settimio Severo, built in A.D. 203, where Marc Antony gave the funeral address to Julius Caesar; the Tempio di Vesta, where vestal virgins kept the sacred fire going; and the Arco di Tito, constructed in A.D. 81 to honor Emperor Titus. Reserve tickets online in advance to save time, and consider either renting an audio guide or hiring a real-life guide to help make most sense of the jumble of columns, arches, and temple ruins.
Toss a Coin in the Trevi Fountain
The can’t-miss-Instagramming Trevi Fountain, in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna district, is a Baroque fantasy of sea beasts, seashells, and mermaids in front of a triumphal arch. Legend says that if you toss a coin into Rome’s Trevi Fountain—with your back to the fountain and tossing with your right hand over your left shoulder—you’re sure to come back someday. (Tossing two coins means you’ll not only return, but also fall in love; three coins means you’ll do all that plus get married!) The Trevi Fountain makes an especially beautiful visit at night, when the entire fountain is illuminated.
Savor Mouthwatering Gelato
Gelato wasn’t even invented in Rome—that distinction goes to Florence—and yet Romans and tourists alike consume gallons of the stuff. Whether you prefer more traditional gelato flavors (pistachio is especially favored in Rome) or a more “new-wave” style, using liquid nitrogen or flavors like black sesame and gorgonzola, you’re sure to find your perfect concoction in the city. For more classic gelato, try Fior di Luna in Trastevere or Il Gelato di San Crispino near the Trevi Fountain. If you’re in to something different, swing by Torcè, Otaleg!, or Sciascia, near the Vatican. No matter where you get your cone (or cup), you can’t go wrong.
Ride in a Vespa
It seems so romantic—riding on a Vespa through the streets of Rome, whizzing past historic sights, wind blowing in your hair. But the reality is that unless you’re a very experienced scooter or motorcycle rider, Rome’s incessant traffic, aggressive drivers, narrow cobblestoned streets, and limited parking can turn Vespa riding in Rome into a nightmare. Instead, hire an experienced “Vespa guide” who can drive you through the city on the back of their bike while you sightsee.
INSIDER TIPBesides their Classic Rome Vespa tour, Scooteroma offers specialized trips including street food, street art, and cinema.
Visit St. Peter’s Basilica
WHERE: The Vatican
The largest church in the world, the Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica) is completely breathtaking inside and out. Though the original church dated from the 4th century, it was torn down in the 16th century to make way for the Renaissance Basilica, worked on by five of the greatest artists of the time, including Raphael and Michelangelo. Don’t miss such masterpieces as Michelangelo’s Pietà and, what’s thought to be the largest bronze object in the world, Bernini’s Baldacchino. If you’re not afraid of heights, climb the dome for some amazing views. Though the Basilica is pretty much always crowded, try to get there either early or late in the day for the best chance of avoiding some of the madness.
See the Sistine Chapel
WHERE: The Vatican
Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling inside the Vatican is one of the most gorgeous examples of artistry of all time. Commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1504, the 12,000-square-foot ceiling, which took four years to paint, depicts the Creation of Adam through to his expulsion from Eden and the fall of Noah. Though you’ll always find crowds here, increase your chances of skipping some of the craziness by booking your tickets in advance online, and either visiting at lunchtime or when the Pope is in St. Peter’s Square.
Stop for Pizza
Crazy, chaotic Naples tends to inspire either love or hate—but no one disputes the superiority of the pizzas found here. Neapolitan pizza must be made in a wood-burning oven, and high-quality ingredients have to be used for the pizza to be certified DOC or STG. The Margherita pizza is the classic kind, using either buffalo-milk mozzarella or fior di latte cheese and San Marzano tomatoes. Marinara pizza, with tomatoes, oregano, garlic, and olive oil, is also popular. You have your pick of pizzerias along Via dei Tribunali, but you can’t go wrong with long-time favorites Di Matteo and Gino Sorbillo; Da Michele (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) near Piazza Garibaldi is also one of the top choices.
Tour an Ancient Town
The best-preserved excavated site in the world, the commercial center of Pompeii was frozen in time when Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79. You can see everything from markets to temples to law courts to bakeries, baths, and brothels, as well as homes belonging to Pompeii citizens from all walks of life. Don’t miss seeing the oldest amphitheater in the Roman world, built around 80 B.C., and the Villa dei Misteri (Villa of the Mysteries), which contains beautiful frescoes painted around 50 B.C. You should plan on giving yourself four to five hours to explore Pompeii, though you can save time if you hire a guide or rent an audio guide on-site.
Hike to a Secluded Beach
WHERE: Costa Smeralda
The island of Sardinia is justly famed for its beautiful white sand beaches—in fact, beaches line more than 1,200 miles of the country’s coastline. While there are some gorgeous stretches of sand that can be easily accessed, much of the most pristine coastline requires either a boat ride or a hike to reach. The Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast), on Sardinia’s northeastern coast, beckons with red cliffs, golden sands, and turquoise seas. Spiaggia del Principe, about a 15-minute walk, is one of the most popular beaches here, but if you want a more secluded place, walk the 10 minutes to Pevero Beach, with its soft sand and calm, shallow water.
Sail Away for the Day
The fabled island of Capri, off the coast of Naples, has long stood for glitz and glamour. It’s a lovely space to visit for a day, with frequent sailings leaving from both Naples and Sorrento—or even an overnight stay, if you just can’t get enough of the island’s delightful beauty. Once your boat reaches the main harbor of Marina Grande, you’ll want to take the funicular up to Capri Town, 450 feet about the harbor; after you’ve finished exploring, hop on a bus or taxi up to Anacapri for more lovely walks. Make sure not to leave the island without visiting the stunning blue waters of the Grotta Azzurra, reachable by boat from Marina Grande.
Soak in a Hot Springs
Though not as well-known as the island of Capri and not as immediately appealing, volcanic Ischia, also in the Bay of Naples, boasts its own claim to fame (besides being one of the settings of Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan Novels): more than 100 thermal baths. Either head for a standalone place to soak in the hot springs, like Giardini Poseidon Terme, Ischia’s largest spa, or if you want to stay overnight, choose one of the many hotels that have their own spas: Mezzatore Resort & Spa or Terme Manzi are good picks. Numerous ferries and hydrofoils sail to Ischia from Naples and Pozzuoli—but be sure to plan your return trip carefully as boats often don’t run past the early evening, except for in the highest season.
Gaze at Endless Views
A honeymooners’ favorite, the Amalfi Coast boasts incredible scenery, and nowhere inspires as many oohs and aahs as the magnificent town of Positano. Pastel-colored houses seemingly spill off the mountainside, and you’ll need to navigate down endless scalinatelle (narrow steps) to explore the town—and especially to reach the lovely beaches. Walk along Via Positanesi d’America, a seaside path that runs from Spiaggia Grande to Spiaggia di Fornillo, for drop-dead gorgeous coastal views. Or if you’d prefer to take in the scenery over a drink, head for the outdoor terrace of the legendary hotel Le Sirenuse—prepare to take lots of pics.
Stay and Eat in Ancient Cave Dwellings
Cave dwellings, called Sassi, cluster in the town of Matera, located in the Italian region of Basilicata on the instep of Italy’s “boot.” Many of them were lived in until the 1960s without electricity or running water, but once the area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was cleaned up, and some caves have now turned into highly atmospheric hotels, restaurants, and bars. It’s great fun to stroll around the Sassi. You’ll also see churches, called chiese rupestri, built into the rock, and can visit a few of them to see wondering medieval frescoes. If you choose to spend the night, some of the best cave dwellings-turned-hotels include Hotel Sant’Angelo, I Sassi, and Locanda di San Martino.
Admire Baroque Architecture
A lively, bustling city filled with plenty of cafés and nightlife, Lecce (in the region of Puglia) is also an amazingly well-preserved Baroque town. The stunning 17th century Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta, built of rose-colored stone, makes for a particularly impressive visit at night, when the Piazza del Duomo becomes illuminated. For other prime examples of beautiful ornately decorated Baroque buildings, don’t miss the Santa Croce Basilica or the Palazzo della Prefettura. July is an especially good time to visit to see theatrical productions performed outdoors in lovely courtyards and squares throughout town.
See Ancient Greek Statues
WHERE: Reggio Calabria
Though Reggio Calabria itself, in the southern tip of Italy in the Calabria region, is a rather gritty port town, it’s worth visiting to see the ancient Greek statues (Bronzi di Riace) from the 5th century B.C.—two of the only full-size Greek bronze statues in the world. Discovered off the Calabrian coast in 1972, they can now be viewed up-close in the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia. There are also other wonderful archeological finds to be viewed here, making the museum well-worth a few hours of your time.
Sip Volcanic Wines
WHERE: Aeolian Islands
Just a ferry away from Sicily’s northeast coast sit the Aeolian Islands; comprised of seven volcanic islands, they offer dramatic scenery as well as wonderful snorkeling and scuba diving. Visitors go to Lipari for the largest choice of restaurants, as well as to relax in the hot springs. The island of Volcano is favored for its black sand beaches, and the lush island of Salina is the place to try volcanic wine—specifically its renowned Malvasia delle Lipari dessert wine.
INSIDER TIPA handful of vineyards produce this luscious wine by drying the ripe grapes on bamboo mats before pressing them, but a great place to stay and to try the wine is at the lovely Relais & Chateaux resort and vineyard, Capofaro.
Admire Amazing Golden Mosaics
Just 6 miles southeast of Palermo, Sicily, the town of Monreale is best known for the spectacular mosaics in its Duomo (also considered one of the best examples of Norman architecture in Italy)—with the church’s interior covered in 68,220 square feet of glittering gold. The mosaics show events from the Old and New Testaments. The bronze doors, finished in 1186, are also worth a look. While you’re there, also make a stop at the charming Cloister adjacent to the Duomo; from the belvedere behind the cloister you’ll find panoramic views all the way to Palermo.
Stroll Around Greek Temples
WHERE: Valle dei Templi
Thought to be some of the best Greek ruins in the world, the Valle dei Templi near the western Sicilian town of Agrigento is an amazing sight, especially when lit up during the evening. Most of the seven temples date from the 5th century B.C., with the best-preserved being the Tempio della Concordia (Temple of Concordia), and the oldest the Tempio di Ercole (Temple of Hercules), from the 6th century B.C. You’ll need a few hours to wander through the archaeological zone, and there’s also a worthwhile Museo Archeologico Regionale that displays items found on the site. If you want to spend the night, Villa Athena is a gorgeous place to stay; it’s only a 10-minute walk to the temples and offers wonderful views.
Hike Across Lava Fields
WHERE: Mt. Etna
The largest and highest volcano in Europe, Sicily’s Mt. Etna can be viewed at a distance from some of the nearby towns, such as Taormina and Catania; but to really get a sense of its majesty, you can’t do better than a hike across its flanks. From the northern side, near Linguaglossa, you can walk across its moonlike dunes; from the southern side, at Rifugio Sapienza, you take a cable car (the Funivia dell’Etna) partway up. To reach the higher levels you’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle, so it’s a smart idea to sign up for a tour and guide through Gruppo Guide Etna Nord or Club Alpino Italiano. For a more relaxing experience, the Circumetnea railway runs between Catania and Riposto, offering truly dramatic views.
See the Best-Preserved Greek Theater
Within Siracusa’s Parco Archeologico della Neapolis you’ll find the Teatro Greco, built in the 5th century B.C. and renovated in the 3rd century B.C., it is the most complete Greek theater remaining from the ancient world. For a great view, climb to the top of the seating area. If you can, try to catch one of the Greek tragedies performed here from May to July every year during the Fiesta del Teatro Greco. It’s also worth seeing the other Greek and Roman ruins in the archeological park, including the 2nd-century Anfiteatro Romano (Roman Amphitheater), the Ara di Ierone (Altar of Hieron), once used for animal sacrifices, and the Orecchio di Dionisio (Ear of Dionysius), an enormous ear-shaped entrance into a limestone cave that is well-worth exploring.