20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Italy
As the birthplace of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, it's not surprising that Italy should be so rich in masterpieces of art and architecture, or that it should have more UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites than any other country in the world.
But Italy's top attractions for tourists are not all art and architecture; the country is blessed with lakes, mountains, and a dramatic coastline that give it outstanding natural attractions, as well. You could plan an entire itinerary inspired by a single interest, from Renaissance art to hiking, but most first-time visitors like to get a sampling of the best Italy offers in several different kinds of experiences.
The attractions that follow show off Italy's art, architecture, stunning landscapes, and history, and provide opportunities for active pursuits, as well. To be sure you find the best places to visit and things to do, plan your itinerary using this list of the top attractions in Italy.
The stately Venice remains a place that awes and amazes visitors. Its most famous attraction is undoubtedly the grand beauty of its Venice, where gondolas float along canals through narrow cobblestone streets, and history comes to life with small museums, intriguing museums, and hushed museums. Its major landmark, St. Mark's Basilica is a masterpiece of architecture and is best enjoyed when the sun shines in this picturesque city. Beaches for swimming are located around the island in the Gulf of Venice, but the best swimming is in the sea, which remains warm even in winter.
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Pisa is not a city that catches visitors by surprise. It's famous for the leaning tower, or Torre Pendente, a partially constructed marble tower that tilts to an acute angle and has become the symbol of the city. Unfortunately, Pisa's architectural highlights are not something that one typically spends more than a few minutes admiring, for Pisa has a few other marvelous sights that get crowded, and one needs to learn to weave around a great number of foot and bicycle traffic. The main attraction in Pisa is the Duomo, although that has been reconstructed in its entirety following a devastating 14th-century flood. Today, this grand cathedral is one of the largest Gothic buildings in the world. Standing under its magnificent arches is one of the best views in Italy, with the entire Piazza dei Miracoli and the River Arno laid out before you. The remaining sections of the cathedral are not that exciting, but the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo has some exceptional painted panels by master painters, which are among the oldest in the country. For a less crowded view of the city's main attraction, take the elevator to the top of the Torre Pendente to get a view of the cathedral and the rest of Pisa.
Italy's second-largest city and the financial center of Europe is made up of a mixture of modern buildings, gothic cathedrals, ancient monuments, and an abundance of art and culture. The best way to enjoy Milan is by walking around. Start at the Renaissance Duomo di Milano, or the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping mall. Walk through this and other historic buildings to the Galleria d'Italia, an art museum whose walls are covered with magnificent Italian paintings, including the famous Caravaggio and Titian works. If you have a choice, take a boat to Lago Maggiore, the city's largest lake, which is surrounded by historic villas and vast forests. The city is just one of the most enjoyable stops on a grand tour of the country, which combines historic monuments, picturesque towns, charming food, beautiful scenery, and friendly people.
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Rome has something for everyone; its amazing ancient sites, awe-inspiring history and rich culture, and spectacular modern cityscape make Rome a top vacation spot. Ancient Rome at its peak was the most powerful city in the world, surpassing even London and Paris in size and importance. To see its ancient ruins and mingle with crowds of tourists is an unforgettable experience. Rome's unique local cuisine, the Roman way of life and the beauty of the Eternal City itself are what sets Rome apart from all other places. Visitors can even enjoy the beauty of the city from a different perspective, on the go on a Vespa (scooter). Tourists will find that Rome is easy to get around. The principal sights are within easy reach of the Termini train station and Termini Centrale, Rome's main bus station. The city is also serviced by a light rail (or subway) system. There are several highways in the city that connect to the periphery, which is covered by a car service.
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When you first come into the medieval, leaning, narrow streets of Siena, you notice the classical appeal of the Duomo and its dome and colorful stucco. However, this is a later embellishment. The facade is medieval and so are the proportions of the square. The houses and palazzi are colorfully painted and, inside, the walls are decorated with frescoes. The people are kind and courteous. They are proud of their city and delighted to show you Siena and its art, which you will recognize as being deeply European, with elements of Florentine and Roman style, yet with a unique identity of its own. The best museums in Siena are the Cathedral Museum, which is attached to the Duomo, and the Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana, which is housed in the former theatre inside the Palazzo Pubblico. The latter museum houses a varied collection that includes historic toys, ceramics, gold, documents, and paintings. Although Siena can be used as a base from which to explore Tuscany, there are lots of good day trips from the city. It is possible to see the famous Pisa Tower and the medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano and for a slightly longer day trip, you can go to Volterra, the birthplace of the medieval medieval philosopher, Petrarch. A must-do is to visit the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, located in the Palazzo Pubblico. This, the cathedral, is a medieval jewel with the most wonderful views.
It's not only the art that makes Florence so alluring. Just by walking the streets one can feel the joy of a living, breathing past. The city can be accessed by train, car, or bus from Rome. You will have no difficulty finding the train station, Piazza della Stazione. In a short drive or taxi ride from the center of Florence are the main sights. The Duomo (Palace of the Church) and Baptistery are a few blocks apart. Palazzo Vecchio, the Palazzo della Signoria, and the Uffizi Gallery are all in or near the centro storico. It's a very walkable area and worth a visit. The walk from one of the stations into the centro storico takes an hour and, as you walk, you'll feel like you're in a different time zone. The Ponte Vecchio is a bridge crossing the river, and the start of the galleria dei mercato. It is a great place to shop for a souvenir of Florence.
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Trevi Fountain, Rome's most famous attraction, is one of the most enchanting sites in the world. A fountain of sorts, the Trevi was constructed in 1762 by Nicola Salvi as a replica of a similar fountain in Rome. Its most famous feature, however, is the Trevi fountain's Triton, a figure of a mythological sea god who strikes a pose. One of the most photographed sites in Rome, the fountain was also the location of a film featuring the film actor Richard Gere, the song "The Final Countdown" from the rock group Europe, and the Disney cartoon movie "Hercules." The fountain is located in the center of the Piazza di Trevi, which is bordered on the north by the 17th century Palazzo Poli and the Chiesa di Sant'Agnese in Agone. The Salvi fountain was originally located on the other side of the square, but was moved here in the 19th century. The Trevi Fountain is surrounded by shops and restaurants.
The beaches of the Cinque Terre are among the most beautiful in the world. Located just off the Riviera di Levante on the west coast of the Liguria region, this is one of Italy's most popular destinations. The Cinque Terre has a special place in the hearts of those who vacation on the sea, particularly the resort towns of Monterosso and Vernazza, which attract visitors year round. Monterosso is a quaint old-fashioned town with steep streets, a lively main square, plenty of lovely restaurants and shops, and a convenient place to stay. Vernazza is more youthful, more artsy, and prettier with many beautiful cottages. The resorts of Monterosso and Vernazza can be reached by boat, train, or car from Florence or La Spezia, the nearest larger cities. Visitors are restricted to the area surrounding the five villages; in Monterosso, for example, there is no entry into the five small villages except on guided tours.
Gorgeous, elegant, and self-contained medieval town in Tuscany, Italy. Visit the medieval towers that surround the town. See the famous "Romanesque Frescoes" on the side of the "Cathedral of San Gimignano" - houses are painted on the inside walls to keep the wet weather out. Visit the archaeological museum. Take a drive to the villages and see where the "Birthplace of the Tuscan Olive Oil" is located - so much so that the oil extracted from olives that are grown here is said to be of a richer color than the oil from other places.
Built around AD 80 by the Emperor Titus and named for Colosso, a general in his army who died after being carried inside by his men, the Colosseum is Rome's most famous ancient monument. The monument consists of four oval buildings, joined by arches that run along the walls, with 20,000 spectators standing shoulder to shoulder within to witness the gladiatorial contests. The gladiator contests started in the stadium in the year AD 70 when the Emperor Vespasian granted a contest between two prisoners of war, Musa and Taurus, the winner of which would receive his freedom. The arena was built over a large underground arena which was originally lined with limestone. Today, it is famous for its great vaulted ceilings and frescoes. For a break from walking around, take a 10-minute ride through the Colosseum. As it meanders through the perimeter of the stadium, it offers visitors a unique perspective of the Roman past.
Situated on a flat plateau in Umbria in the Apennine mountains, Orvieto is an enchanting town, with great views over the Roman walls of the town from atop the Pieve di San Gregorio. Orvieto is a perfect base from which to explore Tuscany and Umbria and is famous for its food and wine, as well as its medieval architecture. The city center is ringed by the medieval city walls, which were built in the 13th century and restored in the 18th and 19th centuries. They enclose the colorful Piazza del Duomo, with its elegant Palazzo dei Conservatori and the huge stone Ponte della Maddalena, which dates back to the early 11th century. For a spectacular panorama over the city, the steep ascent to the towering bell tower of Pieve di Sant'Andrea starts at the west end of the Ponte Vecchio. With its narrow medieval alleys, pastel buildings, and many winding staircases, Orvieto is a delightful place to wander. An ideal base for exploring the hinterland, there are a number of charming hill towns, such as Sansepolcro, San Gimignano, and Cortona, less than a half hour's drive away. Orvieto is easily reached by car, bus, train, or plane. Regular trains run to and from Rome. An airplane to Venice takes an hour.
In the middle of Italy lies Verona, a modern town not terribly well known outside the immediate area. Yet, the famous city of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers will likely prove irresistible for many tourists. From the age of 14-year-old Romeo to 19-year-old Juliet, the history of Shakespeare's life and times is dramatically set in Verona, which, with the Arena, justifiably claims to be the most visited site in Europe. Much of the town's fame stems from its elaborately walled center. Dating from the 15th century, it remains almost as original as the city itself. The town's Opera House and the long Linea d'Arte, one of the world's longest, is a highlight of the Verona Card. If you are in need of refreshment, many hotels provide in-room coffeemakers and fruit baskets. An air and rail hub, Verona also has a useful airport.
Set on the coast between Sorrento and Salerno, the Amalfi Coast is truly Italian in character, but accessible to other parts of the world as well. Amalfi City itself, where your hotel is likely to be located, has a wealth of history: from the 12th century, it's home to magnificent churches, convents, and castles; the Duomo di Sant'Andrea, the Basilica di Sant'Andrea, and the Sant'Andrea's Gran Madre, whose ceiling depicts the Last Judgment. East of Amalfi, the seaside towns and villages of Ravello and Positano are famed for their cliff-hanging views. And the coast itself offers wonderful scenery, with its verdant forests of cypress and olive trees, citrus orchards, terraced hillsides, and vast white-sand beaches backed by towering cliff-side cliffs. Positano, and its quieter neighbor Amalfi, are often visited on a day trip from Sorrento, but the Amalfi Coast offers all kinds of lodging for those who want to stay a while. The best are set in picturesque fishing villages that sit on the ocean cliffs overlooking vast seas and fragrant gardens.
Spacious, sun-filled, and sheltered by the Alps, Lake Como may appear to be the perfect spot for a relaxing, country getaway. However, there's more to the area than its beautiful countryside and picturesque towns, such as the Lake Como resort towns of Bellagio, Menaggio, and Lugano. The lake itself, up to 1,100 meters wide and 165 meters deep, is in reality a long narrow arm of the Lago Maggiore, the largest lake in Italy, with several other lakes forming part of its smaller system, including Garda Lake and Iseo Lake. However, it's the spectacular scenery of the lake's hills, Alpine meadows, and waterfalls that make Lake Como so picturesque. Numerous lakeside villages, including Lugano and Domodossola, as well as the scenic towns of Rivoli, (and the resort towns of Varenna and Menaggio) offer plenty of sights, hotels, and restaurants to suit all budgets. Lake Como is a favourite resort destination for Italians, as well as for visitors from Germany, Switzerland, France, and other European countries. It is also a popular site for golf. To reach the lake, take a train to the town of Como, a beautiful city, and stop off for a couple of days.
Padua is a lively city in the Veneto region of northern Italy. Once the capital of the powerful Republic of Venice, it has a stately, medievale-like center with Renaissance palaces, towers, narrow cobblestone streets, and plenty of canals. A highlight of Padua is the cathedral, a building inspired by Brunelleschi's design for the dome of Florence's cathedral and considered one of the greatest churches in the world. The Palazzo della Ragione is just behind the church and is decorated with frescoes by Tintoretto and the school of Titian, as well as with gilt decoration by Veronese. Padua is a place to shop and sightsee, with stores and art galleries both inside and outside the city walls. Be sure to visit the Museo Civico, the Palazzo del Podestà, the Palazzo della Ragione, and the Teatro delle Arti.
The best preserved and most beautiful part of the Italian city of Lucca is its historic center. The Guinigi Palace is the main attraction as it includes the Collegiata, or parish church, a magnificent example of the Gothic style. Also within the walls, on Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, is the popular museum Villa Guinigi. On the edge of the city, the ex-town hall, Palazzo della Ragione (or Palazzo della Torre, built in the 13th century), now houses a collection of rare paintings, while the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pieve (built in the 15th century) houses the parish church. The city is also a major center for the artistic heritage of Tuscany.
Pompeii was destroyed by an explosive volcanic eruption in AD 79 that killed most of the inhabitants in their homes. Excavations of the famous site began in 1819, after the locals found the bricks and mortar of the buildings and then the ruins. Excavations have brought to light the atmosphere of daily life in Pompeii in the first century AD. The resulting museum on-site and several audio-visual presentations of the excavations, found on the site or in the National Archaeological Museum, Rome, help put the tragedy of the eruption in perspective. One thing that distinguishes Pompeii is its remarkable, and somewhat creepy, degree of preservation. The best way to visit is to walk around the streets of the city. While you do need to be relatively fit, no archaeological site is more worth it. The archaeological site consists of more than 150 acres and has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The Uffizi Gallery in Florence
A building designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect of the Duomo in Milan, the Uffizi Gallery (the Uffizi, 'office of affairs') is one of the finest and largest galleries in the world, with art dating from the 13th century to the 20th. The collection boasts the masterpieces of the Renaissance, such as Botticelli's "Primavera" and Piero della Francesca's "Madonna del Parto," as well as paintings by the greatest masters of the 18th and 19th century, from Caravaggio to Salvator Rosa. When entering the Gallery, be sure to locate the Uffizi Giardino, a beautifully decorated public garden designed by Giuseppe della Porta in 1643. You'll find a lovely café there and a tranquil place to admire the gardens.
Piazza Navona is a central, charming, open space in the heart of Rome, built around an oval-shaped lake. Its architecture is a mix of Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical and early 20th-century styles, making it one of Rome's best-loved and most visited squares. Around the perimeter of the oval are a number of small shops, cafes and bars and a beautiful fountain built in 1893 by the French sculptor Despujols. This fountain has a rotating figure depicting The Four Seasons, each 15 meters (49 feet) tall. Sights near Piazza Navona include the Chiesa della Trinità dei Monti and the Palazzo della Pilotta.
The famous and spectacular Galleria Borghese is in Rome. It is Rome's oldest public art gallery and houses the most impressive collection of classical and early Renaissance masterpieces in Italy. The museum was begun in 1612, though additions and renovations have been carried out over the years. The gallery is known for the works of Caravaggio (1573-1610), including the masterpiece of David in the Sala Borghese. The gallery is one of the most important art museums in the world, both for its extensive collection of paintings and sculptures of the Renaissance and Baroque periods and for the architectural character of the buildings in which it is housed. Sala Dardel, the fine Rococo-style room that holds the Gallery's most famous piece, "Venus" by Titian, was redesigned by Bernini in 17th century and is the entrance to the gallery. The huge room offers a spectacular view over the cupolaed central hall of the museum, which is lined with important paintings by Raphael, Tintoretto, Domenichino, Guido Reni and others.