Soak up the dolce vita with our essential guide to where to go in Italy. From the glamorous capital of Rome to medieval time capsules in Tuscany, we’ve picked out the best destinations in Italy for your holiday. Food, beaches, history, culture…we’ve got all the Italian highlights covered!
Rome’s ancient ruins, Baroque squares and medieval lanes provide a stunning backdrop for the city’s colourful street life. Packed with outstanding museums, galleries, parks and fantastic shops and restaurants, the Italian capital is a gorgeous and thoroughly contemporary city. The Vatican City, a papal enclave within the city, has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries, and is home to the magnificent Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica.
The Italian Lakes
Set against verdant hills and surrounded by olive groves and orchards, the Italian Lakes have seduced travellers since Roman times. The serene blue lakes, fringed with bijou villages and dotted with fishing boats, have become a byword for low-key glamour. Lake Garda is the largest of the lakes, backed by the peaks of the Dolomites, and dotted with spa towns and vineyards. Lake Como enjoys the most spectacular setting, and its pastel-hued villages and lavish villas have attracted film stars and celebrities. The stunning Borromean Islands emerge from the deep blue expanse of Lake Maggiore, which is surrounded with charming Belle Époque towns.
The Amalfi Coast
Oozing glamour, Italy’s Amalfi Coast is a dazzling stretch of jagged coastline dotted with brightly painted towns and villages overlooking a turquoise sea. The chi chi village of Positano tumbles steeply down the cliff, while Sorrento is arranged elegantly around a miniature bay. Ancient Amalfi is crowned by a 13th-century cathedral that recalls its importance as a medieval maritime power. Handsome Ravello sits aloof on a hilltop, the perfect base for the magnificent hikes that cross the rugged hills.
Florence and Tuscany
Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance, is a breathtaking city filled with sublime art and magnificent architecture. The cathedral, crowned by Brunelleschi’s vast dome, dominates the medieval tangle of narrow streets. The Uffizi and the Galleria dell’Accademia are among the world’s finest art museums. Beyond Florence stretch the hill villages, olive groves and vineyards of rural Tuscany, a serene and beautiful region where time seems to have stood still. Exquisitely preserved medieval towns like San Gimignano, still bristling with medieval watchtowers, dot the landscape. Other historic cities include Pisa, world famous for its leaning tower, and Siena, centred around a magnificent, fan-shaped medieval square.
Venice and the Veneto
The palaces and squares of dreamy Venice sit on a web of canals. The finest mansions line the Grand Canal, which swoops down to the magnificent expanse of St Mark’s Piazza. This vast square is overlooked by the gleaming domes of St Mark’s Cathedral and the immense façade of the Doge’s Palace. Smaller islands, such as charming Murano, are dotted across the Venetian lagoon, and on its fringes are a string of popular seaside resorts. Venice is the capital of the Veneto, a captivating region which stretches up to the shores of Lake Garda (see above, ‘Italian Lakes’), and encompasses idyllic countryside and a string of handsome cities. Finest among them are elegant Verona, which boasts a magnificent Roman theatre, and romantic Padova, which preserves its graceful medieval arcades and porticoes.
The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily has smoking volcanoes, spectacular ancient ruins, flamboyant cities and miles and miles of stunning beaches. Inland, rolling hills give way to forests and orchards, while along the coast you’ll find endless stretches of golden sand or tiny coves with impossibly blue waters. Palermo, the island capital, is a seductive jumble of crumbling palaces and vibrant street markets. Siracusa preserves remarkable Greco-Roman monuments that attest to its past as a mighty power in the ancient world. Taormina is the most glamorous town on the island, a beautifully preserved hill town set against the backdrop of mighty Mount Etna. Beneath it is a string of popular seaside resorts, with their feet in the Ionian Sea. Perhaps the prettiest of all Sicily’s beach towns is Cefalú, which has a glittering Norman cathedral and a handsome historic quarter to go with its sandy beaches and pretty coves.
Sardinia is a huge Mediterranean island with a spectacular coastline that encompasses some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere. Relaxed and laid-back, it’s the perfect summer retreat, and offers an enticing combination of culture-rich cities, vibrant resorts, mysterious Bronze Age nuraghi, and a rugged, mountainous interior where you can escape the crowds on scenic hikes. Olbia, a major port, preserves its historic heart intact, and is the gateway to the Costa Smeralda, a chic enclave of luxury hotels and top-notch restaurants. Alghero, still enclosed by medieval walls, is a beautiful harbour town of honey-coloured stone that fizzes with life on summer evenings.
Bologna and Emilia Romagna
Bologna’s distinctive red-striped porticoes have stood since the middle ages. It’s a beautiful, medieval city as celebrated for its fine cuisine as it is for its rich cultural heritage and ancient university. It is the capital of the Emilia Romagna region, known throughout Italy for the hospitality of its people and mouthwatering cuisine. North of Bologna is Ferrara, another immaculate medieval gem, while to the south is Ravenna, which shimmers with dazzling Byzantine mosaics. The fertile Po Plain spreads down to the Adriatic coast, lined with fun-filled resorts like Milano Marittima and Rimini.
Milan and Lombardy
Italy’s undisputed capital of fashion and design, Milan is a vibrant, modern city, packed with smart boutiques and stylish bars and restaurants. Its old quarter preserves some spectacular sights, including the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie, which contains da Vinci’s celebrated painting The Last Supper. It sits in the heart of Lombardy, one of Italy’s most dynamic and wealthiest regions, which encompasses everything from ski resorts to the picturesque scenery of the Italian Lakes (see above). Don’t miss Bergamo, a handsome mountain town crowned by a beautifully preserved medieval quarter which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.