The chance to visit Italy is a priceless opportunity to explore everything from historical treasures and priceless art to stunning national parks and hidden gems. It’s no surprise that during the 17th to early 19th centuries, young aristocrats from throughout Northern Europe considered a “Grand Tour” of Italy the height of cultured travel.
These days, Italy’s rich history attracts visitors from all over the world, from guided tour groups to solo female travelers. But a common problem for first-time visitors is that Italy’s list of main attractions is a mile long.
That’s why we’ve put together an Italy travel guide that helps break down some of the best destinations in Italy. We’ll help you craft the perfect itinerary with recommendations on everything from Italy’s top sites to the best places to stay throughout the country.
We’ll even go over some Italy travel tips that contain important insights that are often overlooked. Whether you plan to stick to major cities or seek out charming villages and natural beauty, we’ll cover recommendations for every type of traveler.
Best Things to Do in Italy
Explore Venice By Gondola
Built on over 100 small islands, Venice sprawls along the coast of the Adriatic Sea in Northern Italy. You’ll find no roads in this ancient city, where the “main street” is considered the Grand Canal.
Nonetheless, Venice offers a thriving public transportation system comprising gondolas, boats, and water taxis that whisk travelers through its famous canal system. First-time visitors often discover that the Grand Canal is a destination in its own right, as the waterway is lined with magnificent architecture dating back to the 13th century.
Venice is packed with so much history that the entire city is considered a UNESCO world heritage site. Be sure to experience some of the city’s most notable landmarks, such as the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica, which you’ll find in the legendary Piazza San Marco. Located in the heart of Venice, San Marco is home to some of the city’s most popular attractions, as well as plenty of local shops and cafes.
While it’d easily be possible to spend your entire trip admiring the city’s beautiful architecture, Venice is also home to a variety of fun hidden gems. Create your own Carnival mask with a master Venician artisan, enjoy a traditional 18th-century opera, or discover Venice from a local’s point of view with a private tour. You might even consider taking a day trip to nearby destinations such as Verona, Amarone, and the stunning Lake Garda.
Discover Everything Milan Has to Offer
Milan may be widely known as a global hub of high fashion, but the Northern Italy metropolis is also home to plenty of other reasons to visit Italy. You’ll find Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Last Supper painting tucked away inside the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie there. Explore Milan’s other main sights, such as the majestic Duomo di Milano or the famous La Scala Opera House and museum.
From the fascinating exhibits at Leonardo da Vinci Science & Technology Museum to guided gourmet food tours, Milan offers plenty of options to add to your Italy travel guide.In addition to all the main highlights Milan has to offer, you’ll also discover that the city is a great home base for plenty of amazing day trips. Hop aboard the Bernina Red Train and enjoy a breathtaking trip to the nearby cities of Lake Como and St. Moritz.
Or enjoy the best of Northern Italy and Southern Switzerland in a single day with a tour of Lake Como, Lake Lugano, and Bellagio. You may even discover a new stop worth spending a few days exploring.
Take in the Art and Wine of Tuscany
As you travel down toward central western Italy, you’ll come across the rolling hills of Tuscany. From bustling cities like Florence to charming country vineyards, Tuscany is a great choice for first-time visitors who want to experience everything a trip to Italy has to offer.
Art lovers will find themselves in paradise when visiting Florence, home to some of the greatest treasures of the Italian Renaissance. Experience masterworks like Michaelangelo’s David or Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” firsthand at some of the world’s most prominent art museums.
Experience the marvels of the Medici Chapel and Boboli Gardens or visit the Leonardo Interactive Museum, where you’ll find over 50 working devices based on the designs of da Vinci himself. While you’ll find plenty of cultural attractions to explore in Florence, don’t forget to enjoy the wonders of the Tuscan wine country.
It’s definitely worth signing up for a wine-tasting tour to explore the many exceptional countryside vineyards in the area. Some tours even include stops at famous attractions such as the leaning tower of Pisa.
Experience the Natural Beauty of Cinque Terre
A little over two hours northwest of Florence, the UNESCO-listed Cinque Terre sprawls along the rugged coastline of Northern Italy. Cinque Terre is a collection of five colorful towns, each of which offers visitors a gorgeous glimpse of the unspoiled Italian Riviera.
The hillside towns of Cinque Terre offer an escape from tourist crowds, as the region is known more for its beautiful beaches, dramatic cliff-side views, and hiking trails. The Sentiero Azzurro or “Blue Trail,” which runs through Cinque Terre National Park, is one of Italy’s most popular hiking trails as it offers incredible views and connects each of the five villages.
Don’t be afraid to work up an appetite because Cinque Terre is legendary for its culinary offerings. The birthplace of pesto, you’ll find plenty of incredible restaurants and even cooking classes in the area.
You’ll also find plenty of great outdoor adventures amid the picturesque landscapes. From kayaking and snorkeling to sunset cruises in a historic Ligurian boat, the coastal towns of Cinque Terre are a great choice if you’re looking to escape huge crowds and enjoy Italy’s natural beauty.
Take a Tour of Rome’s Historical Treasures
No Italy travel guide would be complete without mentioning Rome, the capital city of Italy. Known as the “eternal city,” Rome and its ancient ruins have fascinated visitors for centuries.
Tour the underground chambers of the Colosseum or the treasures of Vatican City, complete with visits to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. The Roman Ghetto, a Jewish ghetto that dates back to 1555, is one of Rome’s hidden gems and is often a stop on local culinary tours.
The Roman Ghetto area is also the home of the Jewish Museum and a variety of historical synagogues. While Rome itself has plenty to offer, its central location makes for a great home base for day trips to a variety of nearby areas.
Set out on an Archaeologist-guided tour of Pompeii. This ancient city was remarkably well preserved the after being encased in lava from the explosion of Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano. Some tours also offer options like visits to the Amalfi Coast or Mount Vesuvius.
Bask in the Beauty of Naples
If you’re planning a trip to Southern Italy, then you can’t go wrong with a visit to Naples. Naples is the king of Italian coastal towns, among the most famous Italian cities on the Mediterranean coast.
As the birthplace of pizza, it may come as no surprise that Naples is widely regarded as the culinary capital of Italy. From street food tours to wine-tasting trips at Italy’s oldest vineyards, visiting Italy has never been so delicious.
Naples is also home to attractions like the National Archaeological Museum, which features many of the world’s most fascinating Greco-Roman artifacts. If you want to get the inside scoop on the city’s history, then consider an underground tour, which features the remains of the Roman Theater and a Greek-Roman aqueduct.
While in Naples, you should have no problem finding a tour company that offers trips to some of the most beautiful hill towns along the Amalfi coast, such as Sorrento and Positano. You might even consider booking a private tour of the luxurious island of Capri, home of the famous Blue Grotto.
Soak in the Beauty of the Amalfi Coast
While cities like Naples offer plenty of trips along the Amalfi Coast, some visitors stay in the region for a few nights or even choose it as their primary destination. One look at the beautiful hill towns and majestic sea cliffs that line the coast will leave you with no questions about the region’s allure.
Set out on an Amalfi Coast snorkeling tour with an experienced captain on a traditional Amalfitan Gozzo boat. Or set out from Sorrento on a vintage Vespa tour with plenty of stops at some of the coast’s best sites.
You can even book a visit to an Amalfi Coast farmhouse, where you’ll enjoy a farm-to-table cooking lesson (and plenty of great wine) with an expert chef. Nature lovers need to look no further than the Path of the Gods for the hike of a lifetime.
Originally designed to connect the villages of the Amalfi Coast, the Path of the Gods features some of the most stunning scenery in the world. If you’re looking for a place to relax and soak up the sun, it’s hard to go wrong with a trip to the Amalfi Coast region.
Where to stay in Italy
If you plan to visit Italy, rest assured you’ll have no problems finding a great place to stay. Whether you’re looking to save money or want to go all out on the best hotels the country has to offer, here are a few of our top picks from a variety of different areas and price ranges.
Mandarin Oriental, Milan
If you want to live it up in Milan, look no further than the Mandarin Oriental. Located in a series of luxuriously renovated 18th-century buildings, this high-end resort is just a stone’s throw from the city’s iconic fashion district.While not the cheapest accommodation on our list, the Mandarin Oriental spares no expense regarding service. You will enjoy incredible accommodations, an on-site 2-star Michelin restaurant, an indoor pool, and a wellness center.
La Veneziana Boutique Rooms, Venice
If you want to enjoy Venicean luxury without breaking the bank, then this boutique hotel in the Castello district is a great option. Located within walking distance of the Doge’s Palace, San Marco, and a nearby bus station, you can’t beat it when it comes to location.The accommodations are also gorgeous, featuring marble bathrooms and old-world decor. With beautiful views and highly-rated service, La Veneziana Boutique Rooms are an exceptional choice.
The Gritti Palace, Venice
Okay, this one is a bit of a bucket list choice, but we couldn’t resist mentioning it. Venice’s Gritti Palace is a breathtaking 15th-century palazzo that served as a private noble residence until being transformed into a hotel in 1895. Decked out in historical splendor, the Griiti Palace is less a hotel and more a work of art. With incredible decor, on-site restaurants, and gorgeous views, your main problem will be finding the will to venture outside during your stay.
Hotel Pendini, Florence Tuscany
If you’re looking for a great mid-range place to stay in Florence, then be sure to check out the Hotel Pendidi. A family-run hotel that dates back to 1879, it features plenty of antique furniture that only adds to its charm. It also boasts an unbeatable location above Piazza della Repubblica Square, just 1,000 ft. from the Florence Cathedral. The hotel is also within walking distance of local attractions like the Ponte Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery.
Hotel Artemide, Rome
Regarding great hotels in the heart of Rome, Hotel Artemide tends to be a guest favorite. The hotel is located in a beautiful 19th-century building right on the Via Nazionale, just feet from the Repubblica Metro Station. Guests enjoy access to the luxurious Artemis Spa, a fitness center, and many great amenities. The on-site Ambrosia Rooftop Restaurant & Bar features amazing views of Rome and is worth visiting whether you stay in the hotel.
Hassler Roma, Rome
As one of Italy’s most famous hotels, it may come as no surprise that Hassler Hotel is the stuff splurges are made of. The Hassler sits at the top of the iconic Spanish Steps and is within walking distance from the Metro, though it also offers guests a free shuttle service to shops in the area. Relax after a day of site seeing at the on-site sauna, Turkish bath, and gym. Or enjoy cuisine from the Michelin-starred Imàgo or one of the hotel’s other incredible restaurants.
Locanda Il Maestrale, Cinque Terre
If you’re looking to spend a few days in Cinque Terre, then make sure you check out this adorable B&B in Monterosso al Mare. Set in a lovingly renovated 18th-century building overlooking the historic town center, the family-run B&B features a gorgeous terrace surrounded by colorful flowers. Just 1,700 feet from the train station, Locanda Il Maestrale offers guests the chance to stay in a beautiful country village at an unbeatable price. Wake to fresh coastal air and a wonderful breakfast buffet beneath the frescoed dining room ceiling.
Decumani Hotel De Charme, Naples
The Decumani Hotel De Charme is in a gorgeous historic building in the heart of one of Naples’ most historic districts. Each room is decked out with gorgeous antique furniture, offset with flat screens that feature a number of international channels. The hotel’s lounge is truly exceptional and features beautiful 18th-century mirrors and period stucco. Enjoy the views from your private balcony, and feel free to ask the staff for advice, as they are happy to help you arrange visits to nearby attractions.
Palazzo Doria Napoli, Naples
If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to live the life of a European royal, then a stay at Palazzo Doria Napoli can give you plenty of great hints. Located in the Campania region, the hotel’s interiors are among the most gorgeous in the country. Throughout your stay, you’ll enjoy the splendor of Sistine Chapel-style ceiling murals, sparkling chandeliers, and four-poster curtain beds. While the hotel offers all the modern amenities you’d expect, the incredible period furniture would be enough to make it worth a stay, even if it didn’t.
Amalfi Centro B&B, Amalfi
If you’re looking for a beach getaway in Amalfi, check out this great B&B near Marina Grande Beach. Centrally located near a variety of beautiful beaches as well as attractions like San Lorenzo Cathedral, Amalfi Centro offers an unbeatable rate for budget travelers. With clean, colorful rooms and amazing views, this little B&B makes it possible to enjoy one of Italy’s most luxurious scenic regions without breaking the bank. Enjoy a flat-screen TV, mini bar, and all the free tiny toiletries you can fit into your carry-on.
How to Get Around in Italy
When you visit Italy, you’ll quickly discover many different ways to get around. When traveling within larger cities like Florence, Milan, and Rome, you’ll discover that Italy has an extensive public rail system, including an impressive number of high-speed trains.
If you’d rather have your transportation, you’ll discover plenty of familiar rental car companies in Italy, such as Avix and Budget, alongside their European counterparts. The easiest way to find the best deals is through sites like Booking.com, which features offers from a variety of different companies.
Italy is also one of the few places where gondolas are a valid transportation choice, at least if you’re visiting Venice. But because oceans surround the country, you will find many cruises and boat transport options, particularly when it comes to day trips. Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that many European countries offer city cards. City cards offer holders free access to select destinations for a certain amount of time and often include free transportation.
Travel Tips for Visiting Italy
A trip to Italy will leave you with memories destined to last a lifetime. One of the great things about an Italian vacation is that it’s incredibly hard to go wrong, no matter which part of the country you choose to visit.But there are a few things that first-time travelers may find useful when avoiding issues or surprises. Here are a few travel tips to help you enjoy a more seamless journey.
Get an International Driving Permit
If you intend to drive during your trip to Italy, it’s important to get an International Permit before leaving the U.S., according to the U.S. Embassy and Consultants in Italy. Tourists can also use a valid American license if it’s been officially translated into Italian.
It’s also important to familiarize yourself with local traffic laws in any area where you intend to drive. You should also know that Italian authorities use cameras as traffic enforcement tools.
While driving a rental car is sometimes enough to shield you from a fine, this is not always the case. Should your rental company be forced to hand over your identification, you can be alerted to your traffic fine months after you arrive home!
If you choose to hit the open road abroad, a little extra research into local rules and regulations can go a long way toward avoiding any issues. Otherwise, you may want to look into other transportation options in the areas where you intend to travel.
The Best Time to Visit Italy
Let’s face it. There’s no bad time to visit Italy. But you may score cheap flights more easily in some months than others. Italy’s “shoulder seasons” tend to occur between April and June in the spring and during September and October in the autumn.
The best time to visit Italy is during the spring, from April to June, or autumn, between September and October. Easter is always a fantastic time to visit, as the Pope often appears in person to host various festivals.
Just be aware that if you decide to attend the same event as his Holiness, it’s best to expect huge crowds for obvious reasons. The Autumn months bring some of the world’s biggest film festivals to Italy, as well as a variety of harvest festivals.
With a bit of planning, December can also be a great time to visit. Not only are the crowds pretty tame, but the Christmas markets and festivals throughout the country can be truly magical.
Tours Can Be Very Helpful
No matter which part of Italy you choose to visit, looking into local tours can be an excellent strategy for a variety of reasons. The first is that the primary language in Italy is Italian, which can be tricky if you aren’t fluent.
While it’s certainly possible to get by on a few basic lessons on Duolingo, finding a tour with an English guide can go a long way toward understanding an attraction’s history. Local tours also take care of transportation and allow you to relax and soak up the sites instead of trying to navigate Italian traffic signs.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that Italy is a country packed with endless things to see. Tours are a popular way to see the best of a particular town, or even multiple towns, without constantly reaching for a Frommer’s guide.