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Make your upcoming trip to Italy an exciting, magical, and memorable one by adding stops to these beautiful Italian cities to your travel itinerary.
From the ancient history of Rome to the rustic beauty of Alghero, the cities of Italy come in all shapes and sizes. Glorious architecture, delicious food, electric nightlife, and secluded beaches can all be found in Italy, making it a country travelers from all over the world can fall in love with.
Guided by a native writer, let us scale this wondrous land, and take a whirlwind tour of 15 of Italy’s most beloved cities. Some you’ll have heard of, and others are gems waiting to be discovered.
Italian Cities to Visit
1 – Rome
Italy’s capital city is an essential stop when traveling to the country. Bearing witness to the passing of time, a walk around Rome’s city center is like a walk through the centuries, with incredibly well-preserved ruins from the Ancient Roman times towering over you, to be admired thousands of years later, among newer buildings that pale in comparison.
There’s much to discover in Rome, from the renowned Colosseum or Fontana di Trevi to hidden little squares and lively neighborhoods. Discovering the historical center is a must, and be sure not to miss the Piazza Navona, Piazza Venezia, Piazza del Popolo, via dei Fori Imperiali, Circo Massimo, and the many beautiful churches.
Explore the cobblestone streets of the Monti neighborhood with its vintage stores and flea markets, go for lunch in Campo de’ Fiori, and stop for an evening drink in Trastevere.
And of course, once in Rome, you’ll get the chance to visit a country within the country: Vatican. Saint Peter’s Chapel and the Vatican Museums are must-see places in Rome.
But when it comes to museums, you may also want to check out Galleria Borghese and Museo di Castel Sant’Angelo. Plan to spend at least five days in Rome for a chance to discover most of its history and culture, and don’t forget to try the traditional Roman dishes.
2 – Milan
Much smaller than Rome, the Italian capital of fashion, Milan, has so much to offer, especially when it comes to nightlife, museums, and food.
The symbol of the city is the Duomo, a gothic cathedral in the heart of Milan and one of the most iconic places in Italy. Right next to the Duomo, you can go shopping in the renowned shopping center, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Aside from the Duomo, other must-see sights in Milan are the 15th century Sforza Castle, the Royal Palace of Milan, and Pinacoteca di Brera, where you can see some of the most famous paintings in the world. In the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can admire Leonardo’s Last Supper.
Go for a stroll along Milan’s canals, the Navigli, where you can stop for a drink at happy hour, and stay to experience the city’s vibrant nightlife. Discover the medieval history of Milan in Merchants Square, and go see a play at Italy’s most famous theatre, Teatro alla Scala.
3 – Venice
Known as Italy’s most romantic city, Venice is without a doubt one of the most unique Italian places to visit. Built over 100 islands, the city is a cobbled web of canals and bridges, with the main means of transportation being beautiful canal boats.
The city is divided into six main areas, called sestrieri. These comprise of San Marco, the heart of the city and where you’ll find the main tourist attractions; Cannareggio, with its Jewish neighborhood; San Polo with the famous Rialto Bridge; Castello, home to Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo; Dorsoduro, the lively and hip student neighborhood with many museums; and Santa Croce, the only sestriere connected to the mainland through land transportation.
The best way to explore Venice is by foot, crossing its iconic bridges as you explore. These include the Bridge of Sighs, which used to give prisoners one last glimpse of the city as they were taken to jail, and the glorious Bridge of Rialto, lined with shops.
St. Mark’s square is the most popular spot in Venice, surrounded by many popular attractions like St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, and the Clock Tower.
In Dorsoduro, you can behold one of the most impressive churches in Venice, the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, at the very edge of the island, appearing as if it were emerging from the water.
4 – Florence
A trip to Italy would be incomplete without a few days in Florence, Tuscany. Italy’s beloved city of art, Florence is the place to go if you want to visit museums, discover much of Italy’s art and culture, and drink good wine.
Home to the third-largest church in the world, Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, or simply Duomo di Firenze, Florence showcases beautiful examples of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Visit Giotto’s Bell Tower for a view over Florence, and stroll on Ponte Vecchio, to check out the shops.
Discover Palazzo Vecchio, once the seat of the Medici family, and of course spend a day at the Uffizi Gallery, home of the largest Renaissance art collection in the world. Florence is also the birthplace of the famous poet Dante Alighieri, whose house is now a museum that you can visit.
If you wish to spend some time outdoors, you can go for a walk along the gorgeous Arno river or explore the beautiful Boboli Gardens. Complete with Renaissance sculptures and fountains, like the wonderful Neptune Fountain and Isolotto’s Basin with Perseus on Horseback, this is an evening walk you will never forget.
5 – Verona
You may have heard of Verona through Romeo and Juliet, the famous Shakespeare play. Juliet’s balcony, which appears in the movie Letters to Juliet, is one of the main attractions in the city. However, all of Verona is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its architecture.
Verona has a surprisingly rich Ancient Roman heritage, lesser-known than in Rome, because it is not in plain sight. While there are Roman-era buildings, such as the Arena or Porta Borsari, most of the Roman buildings lie almost intact underground. Many large houses even have cellars built within ancient Roman structures.
In 1117 a huge earthquake destroyed many of the early medieval buildings in Verona, which were later rebuilt in Romanesque style. Piazza delle Erbe, built on top of the ancient site of the Roman forum, is considered among the most beautiful squares in Italy. For an evening of wine, great food, and watching the sunset, it is a must-visit area of the city.
6 – Siena
Siena is a medieval city in the Tuscany region, just south of Florence. With a historic center that was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Siena is filled with stunning churches, narrow streets with colorful houses, and beautiful squares.
Siena Cathedral is an impressive example of Gothic-Romanesque architecture dating back to the 12th century and one of the mains sights in the city.
Piazza del Campo, with the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia, is one of the greatest medieval squares in Europe, and the place where the Palio di Siena takes place. The Palio is a horse race commonly held twice a year, where riders representing ten of the city’s seventeen contrade (city wards) race around the square.
The contrade are districts created during the Middle Ages, each of them with the name of an animal or symbol. Although the districts were in place in other cities in Italy, Siena is the only Italian city still preserving this tradition.
7 – Naples
Naples is the place to go to try traditional, heart-warming food and delicious sweets, getting a taste of the lively Italian spirit in the process.
The third-most populous city in Italy, after Rome and Milan, Naples has a long and fascinating history. It was first settled by Greeks around the sixth century BC, when it was one of the most important cities of the Magna Graecia.
Naples’ historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with landmarks such as Piazza del Plebiscito, the Royal Palace of Naples, the seaside 12th century ‘Egg Castle’, in Italian Castel dell’Ovo, and Castel Nuovo, also known as the Maschio Angioino.
In the neighborhood of Vomero, built on a hilltop near the historical center, Castel Sant’Elmo offers stunning views of the city, the port of Naples, and Vesuvius. Via Chiaia, near Piazza del plebiscite, is the go-to shopping street. It is lined with high-fashion stores, boutiques, and gelato shops.
Under the city, you can explore an intricate network of tunnels, filled with ruins dating back to the Roman era. You can only visit these areas by taking a guided tour of Naples Underground. In the northern part of the city, you can explore a series of catacombs, such as San Gaudioso and San Gennaro.
Naples is also conveniently located close to some of the most important archaeological sites in Italy. These include Herculaneum and Pompeii, and the ominous active volcano Vesuvius, if you’re looking for hiking opportunities.
8 – Salerno
Just an hour south of Naples, Salerno is a seaside city in Campania, once an important port of the Mediterranean. With a long history dating back to Roman times, Salerno is filled with a mix of medieval and baroque churches and buildings. In fact, it has one of the best-preserved historic centers in the country.
The seafront promenade, Lungomare Trieste, is considered one of the most beautiful in Italy. Atop a hill not far from the historic center, a trip to Arechis’ castle will reward you with views of the entire gulf of Salerno. In addition, Minerva’s Garden, not far from the castle, is the very first botanic garden of Europe, created in 1300.
Salerno is also the gateway to the beautiful Amalfi coast, extending all the way to Sorrento. It includes beautiful seaside villages, such as Amalfi and Positano, built along the dramatic coastline and famous for lovely beaches, fresh seafood, fragrant lemon trees, and of course, Limoncello.
9 – Palermo
Sicily’s capital city Palermo is over 2700 years old, and rich in culture, arts, culinary traditions, and of course, history. Palermo is also one of the warmest cities in Europe, and it is a great escape destination if you’re looking for some sunshine and warmth, even during the winter months.
Renowned for its Norman architecture, due to the Norman conquest of the Middle ages, Palermo is home to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Royal Palace, Palazzo della Zisa, Ponte dell’Ammiraglio, and five churches, with the Palermo Cathedral being one of them. This makes Sicily the region with the most UNESCO sites in Italy.
Along with the many beautiful churches, other sights worth seeing are Villa Giulia, the first public garden in Italy, and the impressive Capuchin Catacombs.
From late spring until autumn, Palermo and its surroundings are great beach destinations. Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro, a beautiful natural reserve, and beaches like Baia dei Francesi, with its turquoise waters and rock formations, are two of many places to soak up the sun.
Of course, Palermo, like all of Sicily, is also a great destination to try delicious Sicilian food. In particular, you simply have to try Sicilian sweets like cannoli, gelato, or granita.
10 – Siracusa
A city famous for Greek and Roman architecture, Siracusa is a gem of an Italian city worth discovering in the south-east of Sicily. With splendid amphitheaters, churches, and well-preserved Greek temple ruins, the entire city of Siracuse is in fact listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The tiny island of Ortigia represents the historic center of Siracusa and is connected to the mainland by two bridges. Here, you can visit the baroque Cathedral of Syracuse, built in place of the Greek Temple of Athena. Here, you can lay eyes on its magnificent ruins, including the columns, the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, and piazza Archimede, with the fountain of Diana.
Siracusa is also famous for the Neapolis Archaeological Park, home to a complex of limestone caves, a Greek theatre, and many Roman relics. The Ear of Dionysus is a limestone cave, shaped like a human ear, that according to legend, used to be a prison for political dissidents to eavesdrop on their plans. The cave is also famous for its acoustics, as your voice can echo up to sixteen times within the cave.
Siracusa is also surrounded by stunning beaches with crystalline waters and impressive rock formations such as Punta Asparano or Sbarcatore dei Turchi.
11 – Agrigento
A trip to Sicily could not be complete without a visit to Agrigento and the famous Valley of the Temples. The valley is an incomparable example of well-preserved Greek architecture.
Some of the valley’s most iconic temples include the Temple of Concordia, the biggest temple of the valley and one of the best-preserved Doric temples in the world; the Temple of Hera Lacinia, also known by the Roman name Temple of Juno; the Temple of Hercules, the oldest temple in the vallet; and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, of which only a massive atlas and few other ruins remain.
Although Agrigento is a little further from the coast than other Sicilian cities, it is also popular because of the nearby Scala dei Turchi (Stair of the Turks), a white cliff shaped like a staircase that is said to have been a popular docking spot for pirates.
12 – Matera
Get off the beaten track and explore a small city in the Basilicata region, built on top of a rocky outcrop. The name of the historical city of Matera is in fact Sassi di Matera, meaning the Rocks of Matera, and it consists of a series of cave dwellings.
The city has an ancient history, and it is believed the area was inhabited during the Palaeolithic era. Through the centuries, the city was occupied by many civilizations, from Greeks and Romans to Byzantines and Bourbons. Today, Sassi di Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city, and especially the old town, had been abandoned for centuries, up until as recently as the 1980s. Thankfully, over the last several decades the city has been revived, largely with the help of Hollywood and the movies filmed in the area, such as The Passion of the Christ and The Young Messiah.
Today, Matera is a beloved tourist destination for both Italians and international visitors. Although not a large, populous Italian city, it is definitely worth the trip to see it in all its glory.
13 – Ostuni
Deep in southern Italy, on the heel of the boot, Ostuni is a small city in the region of Apulia. It is known as ‘The White Town’ (la Città Bianca), due to its white houses.
The name of the city derives from the Greek Astu-neon, meaning ‘new town’, as it was rebuilt by the Greeks after being destroyed during the Punic Wars.
The city has a deep, fascinating history, dating back to the Stone Age, as it was discovered during many excavations.
Ostuni is also famous for its baroque and gothic architecture, typical of its many churches, its narrow white alleys and stairways, and the clear blue waters of the Adriatic Sea.
This little while pearl of an Italian city has become increasingly popular among international visitors in the last few years, today having one of the largest British communities in Italy.
14 – Cagliari
Sardinia is renowned for its beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters, and famous nightclubs. And while the Sardinian cities to many are unknown, they are no less impressive.
Located in the south of Sardinia, the city of Cagliari as it appears nowadays was built by Pisans who dominated the area during the 13th century, although its history goes way back to the Neolithic period. It is a historic Italian city, that has stood the test of time.
Cagliari’s 13th-century Cathedral was in fact built after the cathedral of Pisa, although it was later demolished and rebuilt in Neo-Romanesque style. Along with the cathedral, one of the symbols of the city is Saint Remy Bastion, an observation deck built in the place of the old medieval bastions.
Beach-goers can rejoice, as Cagliari is also famous for its beautiful, sweeping beaches. The famous Poetto beach is the closest one to the city center, but locals will often suggest soaking up rays at Calamosca, a smaller beach, or visiting the nearby town of Villasimius for amazing beaches, like Porto Giunco or Punta Molentis.
15 – Alghero
On the opposite side of Cagliari, in the north of Sardinia, Alghero is often referred to as the most beautiful city on the island.
With a deep-rooted Catalan tradition, Alghero’s inhabitants are mostly of Catalan descent, as Sardinia used to be a part of the Crown of Aragon.
As a matter of fact, Catalan is a co-official language in Alghero. Most of the architecture, like the cathedral of St. Mary, is in Catalan-Gothic style.
The city is also famous for its red coral. This coral is some of the most prestigious in the Mediterranean, and it is used to make handmade jewelry and ornaments.
Alghero also has plenty of natural sights worth visiting, from the unmissable beaches to Neptune’s Grotto, a remarkable stalactite cave you simply have to see to believe.
Italian Cities Summary
Be sure to make your trip to Italy a memorable one, by planning an itinerary that is fun, exciting, and diverse.
The cities of Italy offer experiences for all types of travelers. Whether you love energetic nightlife, stunning food, incredible history, or the great outdoors, Italian cities have it all in abudance.
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- Safety Wing for insurance
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Contributor: Roxana Fanaru is a Romanian journalist and writer, who has lived in Rome for nearly two decades. She writes for various publications on Italian-based topics, including culture and cuisine.