The allure of Italy’s diverse landscape, rich history and dedication to the perfectly simple pasta recipe consistently lands this European country on bucket lists across the world.
In Tuscany, you can soak away your worries in natural hot springs hidden amongst the region’s gentle hills that kiss the countryside. Or in Veneto, you can drink the delectable wines that course through this region’s veins. And in Liguria, you can traverse the hills etched into the coastline, connecting the sleepy fishing villages to where land meets water. But with a country rich in sites and experiences for everyone, where does the traveler even begin?
The most beautiful cities spreading across Italy’s history and landscape are bound to fulfill every traveler’s wanderlust, and camera roll.
Even though Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, it’s a hidden gem that offers medieval architecture, Europe’s oldest university and sultry hues of that Italian orange pantone. Travelers often skip over this charmingly stunning city for it’s more popular neighbors, Milan and Florence. But Bologna is quintessential Italy without the hustle and bustle of tourists. Come here for a walk through the medieval era as the entire city, from looming towers to hidden alleys, offers a glimpse into the centuries past. Stay here for the well-established aperitivo scene that will pull you into cafes and trattorias where locals and tourists alike are enjoying the taste of Italy.
While you’re at it, be sure to visit the University of Bologna, Europe’s oldest university. The University of Bologna is a magnificent and expansive structure that just radiates tradition and sophistication at every turn and classroom. Also, don’t forget to stop by the Leaning Tower of Bologna, a distant cousin of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And to really find the beauty of Bologna, travel beyond the city center to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca for an encompassing view that’s bound to highlight your entire Italian experience.
Florence is in the heart of Tuscany, and in the hearts of all who wander through here on holiday. It’s mesmerising charm can be felt in history’s greatest art and literature, but it’s still best experienced in person. As you wander through the cobblestoned streets and get lost in the maze of burnt oranges and aged brick, you’ll start to feel inspired too, just like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
Get lost under the watchful eye of Brunelleschi’s Dome, a 500-year-old architectural masterpiece that protects the Duomo, an Italian cathedral. Although the Duomo is not just any other cathedral, but instead it’s a portal to the very essence of the Renaissance period as its walls and ceilings merge to create the very artwork that defines an era, and Florence. For a bucket list experience, venture to the top of the dome for views that will seal your love for one of Italy’s most beautiful cities. And before you leave Florence, be sure to spend your last evening watching the sun kiss the city goodnight over the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio, the Old Bridge. A 600-year-old view that no camera can truly capture, so you’ll have to go see for yourself.
Milan wears its beauty like the models and designers who flock to the city for Fashion Week every year. This global fashion mecca in the Lombardy region is one of the more piercingly beautiful cities in all of Italy. It’s not afraid to strut its stuff for both tourists and locals. And the Piazza del Duomo has something to do with the enticing attraction of this city. The Piazza del Duomo is an expansive church that soars into the sky and strikes the clouds. It’s a massive architectural phenomenon, so much so that it is the fifth largest Christian church in the entire world. Visit the church at various times of the day to see it gleam and glint different colours under the Italian sun.
Whether you’re fashion forward or not, a visit to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is still a must as it’s Italy’s oldest shopping mall, and only fitting to experience for a city known for its luxury goods. And you don’t even need to buy anything, the mall’s massive interior offers priceless windows into the city’s art and architectural foundation.
Part of the intrigue of Milan is its fusion of diverse lifestyles – think New York trends with European architecture and that tasty Italian cuisine. And while other parts of Italy boast a more subtle allure, Milan is a fast-paced city begging to walk the runway day and night.
Before you jet off to the Italian Riviera, give the city known for its wealth and blue jeans a chance to charm you. Genoa is the capital of Italy’s northwest Liguria region, but well off the radar of bucket lists. Travelers generally only pass through when they fly into the nearby Genoa airport, but that’s the first mistake. Because Genoa is not only known for pesto and focaccia, but also comes with sides of medieval history, lavish architectural accents and picturesque views, where you can capture the sea lapping at the shores of this city practically etched into the cliffside. Plus, it’s home to Europe’s first bank, and a popular holiday destination for history’s most famous elites, like Ernest Hemingway.
This is the place to go if you want to bathe yourself in Italian culture. Search for famous frescos decorating the city’s finest sites, walk in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo, wash yourself in the sunset and the sea by the Boccadasse quarter and allow Genoa to entice all of your senses. And as you wander the winding streets, feel and see the wealth that bloomed from the medieval era and Genoa’s history as a trading power. It’s actually one of the world’s wealthiest cities, which you can see from the well-maintained vibrant rainbow of buildings and intricate gates welcoming you into its beauty.
In the shadows of Florence, Lucca offers a cityscape draped in the beauty of the Renaissance. Including the walls that protect this city’s swirls of warm colours and vibrant accents. You can follow the history built into these walls all around Lucca via the various cycling and running paths that course along with this city’s heartbeat. And there’s something to be said in the quiet murmurs of this city that allow you to explore it’s elegance and tradition with ease. Since it doesn’t receive the kind of foot traffic as the neighboring Tuscan cities, you can experience the plethora of palaces and churches as if Lucca’s Italian hospitality was for you, and you alone.
Including the panoramic view from the Torre del Ore, a looming tower overlooking Lucca. From here you can capture Torre del Guinigi, another gem hidden in the heart of this city’s captivating aura. Torre del Guinigi is home to an aged oak tree that crowns the tower, the city and your perfect view.
Not including Rome on a list of the most beautiful cities in Italy is like visiting the country and not going to Rome – a tragedy greater than William Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Rome is the largest and most frequented city in all of Italy, and for good reason too. It is one of the county’s greatest preserved masterpieces. And maybe that’s why it’s the country’s capital. This 2,500-year-old relic offers experiences for every kind of traveler, with an aura of timelessness and captivating beauty at every museum, ruin and church.
From afar Rome looks as if it was painted at the hand of Raphael during the Renaissance, and up close the masterpiece becomes an experience for all who wander. Sites like the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and the Sistine Chapel come to life as if they weren’t an artifact from a far away time in history, but instead their divinity breathes life into the heart and soul of Italy, and any bucket list.
And while Rome is constantly humming with crowds, the city is so massive and intricately designed that travelers can easily find their way off the beaten path to hidden gems throughout the city. Imagine obscured cafes and perfectly concealed piazzas that are just as stunning. The pure beauty and historical significance of this Italian city will forever be entwined in the heart of Rome.
Imagine a city that outwardly flows, pushing towards the countryside with the typical burnt hues of Italy and mossy green shutters that open to a view of a medieval landscape set above the rolling hills of Tuscany. And that’s what makes Siena one of the most beautiful places to visit in the entire country. A southern shadow of Florence, Siena is more modest in revealing what it offers to the wandering tourist, but there’s so much here to explore and marvel over.
As a city dedicated to a slower flow of life and the importance of socialising among neighbors, locals and tourists, the best place to be is in the Piazza del Campo when you visit this city. It’s a large square marked with cafes, aged buildings and a formidable tower dawning its history with pride and grace. Piazza del Campo is one of the most popular squares in the entire country, and that’s saying something for a country that is famous for such. Come here to wander or for a spritz and leave mesmerised.
Another experience to really capture the magnitude of Siena is hiking to the top of the Torre del Mangia, the previously mentioned tower overlooking the Piazza del Campo. It’s a 400-step climb, but completely worth the views of the entire city, and surrounding countryside. From here you will fall in love with Siena as the medieval-inspired city falls away from its perch on three sloping hills into the romanticised Tuscan countryside.
Everything about Siena is simply idyllic, including the Nannini.
List to the water lap along the canals as you take in Venice, one of the world’s architectural marvels. One of the most bucket list-worthy and Instagrammable destinations, tourists flock here for good reason, and you should to. The crowds are worth visiting this Italian staple. Venice spreads across a cluster of islands nestled in the northern Veneto region. And it’s architecture dedicated to the ways of the water leave it entirely carless, a unique experience across the world of modernity. And beyond the relaxing seafaring mindset deeply ingrained in this city’s foundation, there’s so much here to offer visitors and tourists alike even beyond the highly-recommended gondola trip under the rays of sunrise or sunset. From the hustle and bustle of the Rialto Market to the absolutely inspiring St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice is Italy through and through, and the ultimate culture trip.
But the most beautiful part of Venice? The absolute ease of being able to fall into the lull of Venice’s way of life with the tranquil canals, the busy, but small hole in the wall restaurants and the crisscrossing bridges that connect you to and through this beautiful Italian gem.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Verona. Situated in northern Italy, this alluring city has embodied it’s romantic history in every dreamy church steeple, quaint bridge and, of course, the hopes that rest atop of one balcony forever immortalised in the hearts of romantics. In Verona, you can wander hand in hand with Romeo and Juliet’s love story as this is where William Shakespeare’s tragedy unfolds. Leave a letter to Juliet or follow the arts to Verona Arena amphitheater, a relic of 1 AD.
Beyond the love story written on the walls, travelers can find history in the Roman ruins, connect to the past wandering through traditional churches and taste some of Italy’s finest wine made in and around Verona. Plus Lake Garda surrounds the city with a natural hue of beauty that only makes Verona that much more dreamy in the eyes of both Italians and holidayers.
To discover more about these cities and the rest of your Italian holiday, check out Italian Breaks for where to go, where to stay and what to do.