Among over 20 European countries I have visited so far, Italy tops the list in regard to the beautiful landscapes, friendly people and world-famous cuisine. Whether you decide to make a roadtrip, hitch-hike or travel by plane, trains, and buses in Italy, keep these 7 destinations,from the North to the South, in mind.
Milan - the posh fashion centre
The fashion capital, Milan, is for those who love luxurious shopping experiences. At the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the oldest shopping centers in the world, you’ll be able to indulge in some of the biggest fashion brands. The famous Milan Cathedral, or Duomo, attracts hundreds of visitors per day. Milan also offers an alternative atmosphere for visitors at the Navigli area with numerous music stores, art shops, and vintage-style libraries. The neighborhood wakes up in the late afternoon as dozens of bars and restaurants open in the evening, full of people dining and drinking outside after getting off work.
Tips: Avoid visiting Milan between November and February as it’s usually cold and rainy. For nightlife lovers, go to the Navigli area and avoid the central Duomo Square if you would like to experience something more local.
Florence - the old town for architecture enthusiasts
If you love historical medieval buildings, palaces, and sculptures, Florence is the place to visit! The Piazza della Signoria is filled with abundant statues exhibited outside. The city’s most famous cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore with its Renaissance Architecture is a massive piece of artwork that every visitor must visit from the first day in Florence. The neighbourhood around Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is home to dozens of luxurious old jewellery shops and typical medieval buildings.
Tips: Florence is among the top most visited cities, hence secure your accommodation, especially during the high season before arriving. When you are in Florence, take a train or bus to Siena. This small town is also well-known for being a beautiful destination in Tuscany.
Venice - the island for honeymoons
Comprising of many big and small islands, Venice is not only famous worldwide for the annual costume festival, but also its endless romantic beauty of the canals, especially during sunset. There are endless things for couples to enjoy here: taking a dinner cruise or vaporetto to many of the surrounding islands, hopping on a gondola around the canals, or watching an opera show in the Teatro La Fenice.
The annual carnival of Venice is one of the most culturally unique experiences to try, but keep in mind that the streets will be full of crowds and open-air parties. Be prepared to walk a lot. Bring a backpack instead of heavy luggage with trolleys to make it easier through the numerous bridges spreading all over Venice.
Cinque Terre - five villages with adventurous hiking trails
You probably have heard of the famous Cinque Terre - five beautiful small villages lying on the mountain top along the Northern coastlines of Italy. Stop by the closest big city Genova (Genoa) and take a train to one of the five villages. My favourite one is Vernazza. Cinque Terre is a destination for everyone: from adventurous hikers, to romantic couples, and families.
Remember to check the weather before departing to Cinque Terre. Some of the beautiful tracks may be closed if it’s raining. Though the five villages are small and located nearby, you may prefer staying overnight versus hustling for a day-trip because of the long day of hiking up and down.
Rome - the famous ancient capital
The famous ancient city of Rome with its Renaissance-era centre full of beautiful squares, cathedrals, the Pantheon, the Jewish Ghetto, and various museums makes an ideal capital for history lovers. Come to the heart of Old Rome to walk through the Spanish Steps, be enticed by the Colosseo (Colosseum), or indulge yourself into the spiritual beauty of the independent state, the Vatican. Head to the Modern Centre for an Italian dinner out or just to walk around the Trevi Fountain. This city offers endless activities for an ideal vacation to Italy.
Top tips: Beware of pickpockets here as even the locals pay attention to this big issue in Rome. For girls, avoid walking alone at night as Rome is not the safest city in Europe.
Naples - the Southern city for an escape to the seaside
Located along the Southern coastline, the capital of the Campania region, Naples, is the second most populous metropolitan area of Italy. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the home to the Castel dell'Ovo, which lies on the waterline, and the Royal Palace from Piazza del Plebiscito. In the summer, do not miss the chance to experience watching movies under the stars at the open-air cinema festival.
Top tips: the Southern countries can get very hot and humid during the summer months between June and August.
Other popular cities
If you have time to stay longer to see more of Italy, add to your list other destinations, such as Como Lake, Turin, Genova (Genoa), Bologna, Palermo, etc. For low-budget travellers, make sure that the hostel’s quality fits your expectation. I highly recommend staying in a hotel or bed and breakfast while in Italy as many hostels here are old with poor facilities.
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