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There is so much to do and see in Italy that you need to narrow it down based on your interests. Here are a few suggestions to get you started. Scroll down to read about what to do in Rome, what to do in Tuscany, what to do in Venice, and what to do on the Amalfi Coast.
Famous Art Museums in Italy: Go see Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan. Go see the original David in the Accademia Gallery in Florence. Visit the famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence or the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel in Rome. See the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, and the Accademia Gallery in Venice.
Famous Architecture in Italy: See the Colosseum and Forum in Rome, visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, walk over the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence and the Rialto Bridge in Venice. See the views from Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence or from the top of St Peter’s dome in Rome (photo above). Visit medieval castles, Renaissance town centers, and famous piazzas or squares like Siena’s Campo or Rome’s Piazza Navona.
Famous archaeological sites in Italy: Go south of Rome to visit Pompeii or Herculaneum or Paestum or one of the many archaeological sites near Naples. Visit Taormina, Siracusa, the Roman Villa in Piazza Armerina, and the Valley of the Temples in Sicily. Visit Etruscan sites just north of Rome, or any number of archaeological sites in the city of Rome.
Iconic landscapes in Italy: Go to the coast near the Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast for some incredible seaside scenery. Hike or bike or drive through fields of poppies or sunflowers in the summertime in Tuscany. Enjoy incredible mountain scenery in the western Alps or the eastern Dolomites. Take a boat on a lake with a backdrop of mountains on Lake Garda, Lake Como, or Lake Maggiore.
Food and wine in Italy: Take a cooking class in Tuscany or hire a private chef to come to your villa. Visit a parmesan factory, see how balsamic vinegar is made, take an olive oil class, or visit a chocolate factory. Tour vineyards in Tuscany, Umbria, Puglia, Sicily or the Veneto. Or, just stop for lots of gelato and enjoy every bite.
Have an active trip in Italy: Go for a half-day hike on Lake Como or with views of the Mediterranean, then have a long lunch and a rest. Or, go for a tough bike ride in Tuscany or an easy bike ride in Puglia. Go canyoning in Liguria or rafting in Piedmont. Go rock climbing in the Dolomites, or rent a sail boat off the Amalfi Coast. Climb a volcano in Sicily or do three days of hut to hut hiking near Bolzano. Or just drive really fast in a Ferrari test drive.
Shopping in Italy: Visit outlet malls, small boutique stores, artisanal shops, or local markets. Shop for leather bags, jackets, belts or wallets. Bring glass souvenirs or masks home from Venice. Buy shoes and pottery.
Explore iconic small towns in Italy: schedule a brain-intensive museum or tour in the morning but then in the afternoon, allow time to wander, to explore, to duck in and out of churches, to sit and people-watch in piazzas or sit at a cafe and write postcards. Enjoy sea views from Ravello on the Amalfi Coast. Walk up the steep hill into Montepulciano, Tuscany. Get up early and hang out with the fisherman in Camogli, Liguria. Enjoy the student vibe in Bologna. Stay overnight in Venice and walk the quiet streets after the day trippers have left.
Enjoy La Dolce Vita: Have a cappuccino and a brioche for breakfast, standing up at the counter at a local bar, elbow to elbow with the locals doing the same thing. Have a rest after lunch, or sit in the sun over a long lunch. Have a gelato about 4 pm and enjoy the afternoon passeggiata, when locals come on to the streets to say hello to friends. Take advantage of the aperitivo hour, about 6 pm, and enjoy a prosecco before dinner.
What to do and see in Italy? That’s a start, but read below for more details about what to do and see in Rome, Venice, Tuscany, and the Amalfi Coast.
If you’re thinking about what to do and see in Italy and you’ve never been before, Rome should top the list. It’s impossible to see everything in Rome in a year, let alone a few days, but most people start with a visit to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, and see the Colosseum and Forum. You could also do a city overview tour by vespa, or buy tickets for the hop-on-hop-off (HOHO) bus. Or you could walk between some of Rome’s most iconic sights including Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Campidoglio, and maybe the Catacombs or the Baths of Caracalla. Art lovers could also add a visit to the Borghese Gallery. Rome has some incredible restaurants but do your research so you don’t fall into tourist traps, and make reservations. Stay somewhere central, and absolutely do not rent a car to get around.
It’s hard to fathom if you’ve never been to Venice, but there really are no cars. People get around this city completely, 100% either by boat or on foot. That means you and your luggage. This creates a setting unlike anywhere else in the world, especially during the evening hours, when boat traffic calms down and day trippers leave.
Start in St Mark’s Square and see the Basilica. See Venice from above, by going up one of its bell towers like the Campanile in St Mark’s Square. Get lost in Venice’s small streets. Take a public boat or vaporetto down Venice’s Grand Canal for just 7 euros per ticket or hire a private boat to see the small, quiet canals. Venice has some amazing art: go to the Accademia Gallery, the Peggy Guggenheim museum, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco’, or visit the Biennale show which is on every two years and has some incredible modern art. Walk over the Rialto Bridge and past the Bridge of Sighs. Pre-book a guided tour of the Doge’s Palace or the Clock tower in St Mark’s Square. If you have extra time, spend a day visiting the islands of Murano and Burano in the lagoon. And maybe, take a ride on a gondola, which is an experience you can only have in Venice. Do a mask-making class. Eat some cicchetti. Those are just a few ideas for what to see and do in Venice – just to get you started.
Unlike Rome and Venice, which are cities and can be explored for the most part in a few days, Tuscany is a region. There is no one spot in Tuscany that you can use as a base to explore the entire region, it’s just too big. Florence is Tuscany’s most well-known city, and deservedly so. If you only have a few days and want to see some of Tuscany, a base in Florence and day trips to the countryside works well. From a base in Florence, visit the Chianti countryside, with its wine and castles. Visit the gorgeous city of Siena and if possible book a local tour guide to get the most of your visit. Explore nearby iconic towns like Volterra, San Gimignano or Monteriggioni. Take the train to the pretty city of Lucca and if you’re up for a long day, add a trip to nearby Pisa and climb that Leaning Tower.
To experience Tuscany’s iconic countryside scenery, head southeast from Florence to the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Val D’Orcia. Explore Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino, and nearby towns from Under the Tuscan Sun including Cortona. Tuscany is the perfect place to rent a villa, do a cooking class, ride a vespa or a bike, visit vineyards or see how olive oil is made. In the Spring, you’ll see fields of poppies or sunflowers. You could spend months exploring Tuscany, so what you decide to see and do in Tuscany depends on your interests and your travel partners.
Italy’s Amalfi Coast is known for its seaside towns of Positano, Ravello, Amalfi and Sorrento and its iconic coastal scenery. This isn’t a place you visit for art museums, but it’s a wonderful place to do a cooking course or just get acquainted with southern Italian food and wine. It’s not a place you want to rent a car, either, as there’s just one main road, narrow and winding, that skirts the coast.
The island of Capri is a short ferry ride from Sorrento and is a great base for a couple days: stay over night and enjoy the peaceful evenings after day trippers have left. See the Amalfi Coast from the water by doing a boat tour, or rent a sail boat or a dinghy. Enjoy coastal views from above on some of the fantastic hiking trails. While there certainly are some pretty beaches, most of the coast is rocky and not really an ideal destination if your primary goal is to have a beach holiday.
If you’re going in high season and don’t enjoy crowds, go south of the Amalfi Coast towns to explore the Cilento area and the archaeological site of Paestum. Or go north to the gritty and chaotic city of Naples, stopping to see the archaeological site of Pompeii and the volcano Vesuvius that buried it. What to do and see on the Amalfi Coast depends on how much time you have: you could stay just a few days or a month.
A holiday in Italy can be fantastic for any traveler: whether you’d like an active vacation or a hands-on trip; whether you’re traveling with toddlers or teenagers or as empty-nesters; whether you’d like a hedonistic itinerary or you’d like to delve into Italy’s rich history, there’s something for you. Contact us to help you plan the Italy trip of a lifetime!
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