Whenever you hear the word Italy, do you find yourself dreaming of destinations in Italy?
Do you envisage yourself lapping up sunshine under magical blue skies?
Or is your mind fixating on dining alfresco, eating lots and lots of pasta while enjoying a glass of delicious red wine?
Whatever your imagination has inspired, your bucket list can quickly become an endless itinerary of must-see destinations in Italy.
Italy, I do love you so much.
Whether you are travelling to Italy for the first time or returning to see more of Italy.
We have found 20 must-see destinations in Italy, including smaller towns and villages.
What other unique places can you visit besides Rome, Venice or Florence?
20 Must-See Destinations in Italy
Italy is one of Europe’s popular destinations, and it still continues to surprise.
The fabulous Italian cities of Rome, Milan, Florence, and Venice are beautiful.
This is why we want to help you navigate your way in the big cities of Itay; you’ll want to grab our European City Walks.
However, many stunning towns and cities are not as well-known.
We have found the 20 best destinations in Italy, from large cities to small villages. With one thing in common, they are places you will always remember.
And having visited each place, we can personally recommend you visit.
So, let’s get planning.
1. Trieste, Friuli Venezia Giulia
Trieste is the capital city of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region in northeast Italy. A port city, it occupies a strip of land between the Adriatic coast and Slovenia’s border.
Gran Canal de Trieste was built by the merchants of Trieste. You will be in awe of the canal, which you will find linked with the squares, churches and historic cafés.
Castello di San Giusto and the mosaic-filled Trieste Cathedral sit on the hillside above. The Cathedral was built on Roman ruins, some of which are still visible.
The hillside also has spectacular views of Trieste and the harbour.
Unità d’Italia, the main square in Trieste, looks out upon the waterfront. It is surrounded by grand buildings and cafes, with a landmark fountain.
You can click here for more of What to see in Trieste.
2. Padua, Emilia-Romagna
Padua’s architecture and history will have you adding this city to your Italy travel itinerary. With overhanging portico, narrow cobblestoned streets and youthful vibrancy.
The University of Padua is Italy’s second-oldest university, founded in 1222.
The most impressive sight is turning the corner into Via Cesaroti and seeing the Basilica of St Anthony rising at the opposite end. Opened in 1238, the Byzantine Domes and Turkish Minarets will attract your attention.
Prato della Valle, at 80,000 square meters, is the largest square in Italy and one of the largest in Europe. The square is a must-see when in Padua.
The square was once a Roman theatre, but in 1775 was changed to a plaza with a statue-lined canal. This area is where festivals and markets are held near one of the old city gates.
For more places to see near Padua can be found here A Road Trip of Northeast Italy.
3. Vicenza, Veneto
In between Verona and Venice is another beautiful town starting with the letter V – Vicenza. It is a small city, and most of what you want to see can be found near the beautiful Piazza dei Signori.
The impressive 16th-century Basilica Palladiana lines one side of the piazza. A climb up to one of its three levels provides wonderful views down onto the Piazza dei Signori. As well as a view across the rooftops of the city.
Palazzo Chiericati is a museum of art and sculpture from the 13th to 20th centuries; it is housed in a 16th-century palladium building. It is worth the short walk down Corso Andrea Palladio, the main street of Vicenza, just to see the building.
Another must-see is the Teatro Olimpico, a theatre constructed in 1580-1585. It was the first covered theatre anywhere in Europe.
4. Verona, Veneto
Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Verona has been made famous due to the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet, as the play is based in the city. But there is so much more to the medieval town than Juliet’s Balcony (despite the crowds, it is worth a visit.)
Other places of interest in Verona include the impressive 1st-century Verona Arena. The arena still hosts concerts and large-scale opera performances.
The incredible Castelvecchio Bridge is a fortified bridge built between 1354 and 1356, with the Castelvecchio Museum alongside it.
The Piazza della Erbe is surrounded by buildings and monuments that have marked the history of Verona, including the City Hall and Lamberti Tower. It is a vibrant place filled with markets and people buzzing everywhere. And it was the town’s forum during Roman times.
5. Turin, Piedmont
Turin is the capital city of Piedmont in northern Italy, known for its refined architecture and cuisine. There are many wonderful buildings, including churches, palaces, and defensive structures.
One of the main points of interest in Turin is the famous Shroud of Turin.
The shroud is housed in the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, built 1491–98, and has been guarded for four centuries. Even if you are not a believer, the story portrayed in the video within the church is fascinating.
While in Turin, visit the Piazza San Carlo, the main plaza of Turin. It is a big area lined with many cafes and the churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo at the southern end, known as the “twins” of Turin.
The Palazzo Reale di Torino is the historical residence of the Savoy family, who controlled Verona for more than 300 years.
6. Dolceacqua, Liguria
Dolceacqua is a small commune near the border with France. It is worth the 10km diversion as you head towards Nice from Italy. It very much feels like time has stood still for centuries. With buildings in good condition and people going about their lives in an ancient setting.
The 15th-century Ponte Vecchio is an arch bridge, the subject of a painting by Monet. It crosses the river Nervia to the wonderful old medieval village full of winding lanes climbing the hill to the Doria Castle.
The narrow lanes with tall buildings on either side give the feeling of walking in a canyon.
Doria Castle dates its origins to the 12th century, built by the Counts of Ventimiglia. It began as a circular tower and a smaller building. This was added over the years to become a fortified noble residence for the Doria family.
7. Genoa, Liguria
The port city of Genoa is the capital of the Liguria region in northwest Italy. Over the centuries, it has played a major role in maritime trade, and the famous explorer Christopher Columbus called Genoa home.
Piazza de Ferrari fountain is the main attraction of Genoa’s main square. The piazza is surrounded by impressive buildings, including Palazzo Ducale, a 13th-century mansion with an inner square.
Genoa Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Lorenzo) is a medieval church built in the 12th century. In 1941 a shell was fired into it from a British warship, it failed to detonate, and the shell is now on display in the church.
The cathedral is also known for its frescoed interior and unique holy relics.
A lot is going on down at the Port of Genoa, including the Galeone Neptune, a floating, climb-aboard replica of a 17th-century Spanish galleon built for the 1985 film “Pirates.”
8. Modena, Emilia-Romagna
Between Bologna and Parma is the lovely town of Modena, known for its wonderful food.
Modena is where delicious balsamic vinegar is produced. And don’t just try any balsamic vinegar. It needs to be the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, aged at least 12 years. Delicious.
Torre Civica – Ghirlandina provides magnificent views of the city. The Duomo di Modena, next to the Tower, is a UNESCO building where the sunken nave is one of splendour to visit. It was at this church the funeral of Luciano Pavarotti was held.
And for those who love cars, Modena was the birthplace of Enzo Ferrari. The Ferrari Museum has some great showpieces.
9. Bologna, Emilia-Romagna
Bologna is the capital of the Emilia Romagna province in northern Italy, and if you love Spaghetti Bolognese, you have found the city to try the authentic dish.
One of the best things to do in Bologna is to climb the 498 steps to the top of 97.2m tall Torre degli Asinelli. Along with Torre Garisenda, Asinelli is one of the famous Due Torri of the city.
Piazza Maggiore is the place to find a seat and take in the splendour of the City Hall, the Fountain of Neptune and the Basilica di San Petronio.
Basilica di San Petronio is the world’s largest church built of bricks. At a length of 132m, a width of 66m, and a height of 47m, it is the world’s 10th largest church by volume (258,000 m³). Although construction started in 1390, the cathedral wasn’t completed until 1663.
More insights into Bologna can be found at A Road Trip of Northeast Italy.
10. Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna
Ravenna was the capital of the western Roman empire from 402AD and then the Byzantine capital in the 5th-6th centuries.
Behind the old city walls of Ravenna, you will find eight UNESCO-listed buildings.
It was our son Richard who told us about the mosaics. We made sure to stop on our way to Moresco, but we were unprepared for the beauty we saw.
Basilica di San Vitale had us standing still, heads up and taking in the beauty of the mosaic depictions. The Basilica was completed in the year 548. The mosaics completely cover the walls and ceilings of the church and are as vibrant today as when they were created 1500 years ago.
A €10.50 ticket gives entry to 5 places of interest – Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Basilica di san Vitale, Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Battistero Neoniano and Museo Arcivescovile e Cappella di Sant’Andrea.
11. Urbino, Marche
Urbino is a lovely walled city in the Marche region dating back to Roman times.
The magnificent Ducal Palace was built in 1454. It now houses the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, one of the world’s most important collections of Renaissance paintings. It includes paintings by Titian and Raphael, who were born in Urbino.
The home of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino known as Raphael houses more of his paintings. Most of his work is now found at The Vatican.
From a distance, the Cathedral of Urbino dominates with its large domes.
There has been a religious building on this site since the 6th century. The current version was completed in 1801 following damage to parts of the former church (built from 1021 to 1604) by an earthquake in 1789.
12. Siena, Tuscany
Siena is one of the jewels of Tuscany and is famous for its cuisine, art, museums and its medieval cityscape.
The Piazza del Campo is the main square in the city of Siena. Unique for its shell shape, it is a stunning piazza and a great place to people-watch.
Palio di Siena horse race has been run for over 500 years from this Piazza. Horses and riders dressed in the colours of 10 city wards contest three laps of the Piazza. This is in front of 40,000 passionate fans.
Also located here are the Palazzo Pubblico, the Gothic town hall, and Torre del Mangia. This slender 14th-century tower has great views from its 88m height.
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (Siena Cathedral) is a towering edifice and will leave your jaw on the floor. On entering the cathedral, you will be further astounded by the opulent beauty, the columns, the black and white marble, the artwork, and the mosaics.
The interior is stunning, making Siena a must-see travel destination in Italy.
13. Assisi, Umbria
The amazing hilltop town of Assisi is the birthplace of St Francis of Assisi (1181–1226).
Assisi has beautiful paved streets and lanes lined with flower boxes, speciality food stores, and cafes.
A walk to the top of the hill through the town’s lovely lanes, and you will come to Rocca Maggiore, a medieval fortress with panoramic views over the town and valley below.
The Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, built-in 1253, will have you captivated.
A sculpture called Pellegrino di Pace (Pilgrim of Peace) captures the moment when, in 1204, Saint Francis heard the voice of God telling him to leave the war and return home.
Here in the Basilica, the stone sarcophagus of St Francis lies. And to be in the presence of the body of such a religious figure evokes powerful emotions.
St Francis is the Patron Saint of Italy.
14. Orvieto, Umbria
If driving along the Autostrada del Sole in the region of Umbria, you can’t miss Orvieto sitting high on a rock cliff.
The 14th-century Orvieto Cathedral is, without doubt, the highlight of a visit to this lovely town. To walk into the Piazza del Duomo and see the huge building with similarities to Siena Cathedral is startling.
The golden mosaic façade is so beautiful it will take your breath away. Inside the church, the polished marble floor is stunning.
View the Pozzo di San Patrizio is a 16th-century well shaft with a 248-step double spiral staircase. Also, a network of underground caves, tunnels and wells was created over 2500 years ago by the inhabitants of the time.
The town has cobblestoned lanes, with many boutique shops, restaurants, and bars.
15. Sorrento, Campania
Sorrento is one of the many towns to visit on the Sorrento Peninsula, including the Amalfi Coast. With such stunning places nearby to visit, such as Positano, Amalfi, and Capri, Sorrento is a great place to base yourself.
Sorrento is one of several places that claim the liquor Limoncello as its own. Famous for the narrow streets, Sorrento is a great town to walk in as much of it is pedestrian. You also have the bonus of walking down to the marinas to see the fisherman working on their vessels.
And you can take ferries to more destinations in Italy like the island of Capri or Naples.
The Piazza Torquato Tasso, lined with cafes and bars, makes the perfect spot for lunch or dinner.
16. Alberobello, Puglia
Alberobello in Italian means beautiful tree, and when you visit this small town, it is certainly beautiful but also unique.
The town of Alberobello, in the Puglia region of southern Italy, is famous for its unique trullo buildings. Dry stone huts with whitewashed walls and cone-shaped roofs.
You can wander the narrow streets in this area with many Trulli now retail outlets and some offering accommodation for travellers.
The Trulli date back to the 14th century when a feudal lord, to avoid paying taxes, had his workers live in a Trulli. The Lord could dismantle the Trulii to avoid taxes for a settlement of people. Very clever.
17. Matera, Basilicata
The town of Matera is only a short drive from Alberobello and is located in the Basilicata region of southern Italy.
Matera is one of the oldest inhabited places in the world and dates back more than 7,000 years.
The old town became known as the Sassi area. A complex of cave dwellings was carved into the mountainside to house people and their livestock. Local people lived here up until 1952, when a lack of electricity and basic sewerage made the caves uninhabitable.
The Sassi have now renovated caves offering accommodation, restaurants, and shops.
It is worthwhile visiting Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario to get a perspective on the layout of a cave-dwelling.
And if you have time, a visit to Casa Noha offers you a multimedia perspective of cave living put together by two local families.
18. Scilla, Calabria
Scilla (pronounced Sheella) is a coastal fishing village with the spectacular Ruffo Castle perched on a cliff above the water. Legend says the castle dates back to the time of Ulysses, and it is the site of the sea monster Scylla who menaced Odysseus in Greek Mythology.
The town of Scilla covers the hillside with houses, local shops and a large piazza overlooking the sea. A visit to Chiesa Matrice (Mother Church) or a walk down the winding path to the old fishing village and beach.
Scilla is one of those seaside towns you tend to fall in love with.
With views across the Strait of Messina, a strategic advantage is to guard the shipping routes. And on a sunny day, you can view the Aeolian Islands, seven small islands off the coast of northern Sicily.
If you plan to travel south of Rome, you’ll want to read 5 Best Places to Visit in Southern Italy.
19. Erice, Sicily
The medieval town of Erice sits on top of a hill at an altitude of 751m offering great views in all directions.
Take the 3km cableway ride (known as the Funivia) from Trapani to enter the city through the Porta Trapani.
Wander the delightful streets visiting boutique artisan shops and restaurants with great views.
And make sure you visit the great bakery shop of Pasticceria Maria Grammatico for tasty sweets and baked goods. It’s one of the best things to do in Erice.
Erice Castle (also known as Venus Castle) was built by the Normans in the 12th Century using stones from a temple originally built for the Goddess Venus.
Erice is a perfect romantic stay with its sweeping views over the land and the sea beyond. Quite spectacular.
20. Syracuse, Sicily
The Ancient Greeks, in 734 BC, founded the city of Syracuse.
You can still see the remnants of that civilization, including the Greek Theatre, built in the 5th century BC in the old city of Ortigia. It is a beautiful old town with narrow lanes and a great view across the blue water.
You will love the hidden plazas to enjoy a drink in bars or cafes.
And as the weather is warm, Ortigia Island is perfect for swimming, like the area known as Forte Vigliena. Then take the steps down to the sea for a swim, then sunbathe on the rocks.
For a walking path, head to Ortigia – the White Pearl of Syracuse
Planning your 20 Must-See Destinations in Italy
From the amazing cities of Italy to many smaller incredible villages and towns, you have 20 wonderful places to add to your Italy itinerary..
And when you hire a car to explore the best of Italy, you set your own pace. Because some of these destinations in Italy make great places to stay a little longer.
Above all, you enjoy delicious pasta as you dine alfresco under the beautiful Italian sun. Because planning a trip to Italy will never disappoint.
It’s one of the reasons we love slow travel.