Italy, surrounded by the Mediterranean, is steeped in rich Western culture. It is one of the top European countries you should visit if you are interested in arts, architecture, history and, of course, gastronomy. Known around the world as the home of pizza and pasta, Italy has an interesting cuisine that most travellers find hard to resist.
Thinking of coming to Italy for a vacation? Here’s a list of the most interesting things you can do, see, and eat while you’re in the country!
1. Da Vinci’s masterpiece in Milan
Depicting an important scene from the Bible’s Gospel of John, The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci has been one of the most popular paintings in the world since the 15th century. Come and see this masterpiece in Milan, specifically located at the refectory of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The fresco painting was spared despite the war and the bombings in 1943. Efforts have been made to preserve the painting and, today, it remains a great Catholic symbol and a must-see for pilgrims. A maximum of 25 people can enter the refectory at once to keep the painting within room temperature.
2. Brick-oven pizza in Naples
There’s no better way to jumpstart a getaway in Italy than by having a taste of the country’s culinary specialities. If you’re craving some delicious Italian food, make sure to put Naples on the top of your travel itinerary. Known as the “Birthplace of Pizza,” it is where authentic Italian pizza can be found — hot and fresh from the brick oven! Some of the most popular places in Naples serving brick-oven pizza are La Vera Pizza, Da Michele and Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente.
3. Rome’s architectural icons
The Colosseum, the largest amphitheatre ever built, is an architectural gem one shouldn’t miss when visiting Italy. Featuring Ancient Roman architecture, it was constructed from 70 to 80 AD and was used for gladiatorial contests, as well as other public spectacles. Today, it has a partially ruined state, but it is still a worthy sight and an important part of the Roman Empire’s history. Although now unable to host large events, many shows and concerts are held just outside the Colosseum, where it serves as a stunning backdrop.
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4. Chocolate products of Turin
Indulge yourself in Turin’s most popular products: hand-made chocolates! Located in Northern Italy, the city is home to the country’s best chocolatiers, most of which are family-owned businesses that have passed their legacy from generation to generation. A 10-day festival called CioccolaTO (Turin Chocolate Festival) is held in Turin during November every year to celebrate the existence of these awesome Italian-made goodies. If you’re coming to visit during this month, expect eye-catching chocolate displays and a wide variety of chocolate samples! Some of the most popular local chocolate specialties in Turin include Gianduja, Cremino, Nocciolati, Tris di Nocciole and, of course, the ever popular Nutella made by Ferrero.
5. Gondolas in Venice
You know you are in Venice when you see the famous Grand Canal and its gondolas. Soak up the city’s romantic vibe by taking a ride! You may even opt for a gondola serenade tour where either the gondolier or another musician entertains the guests while passing along the canal. Gondolas can usually carry 6 passengers, so if you’re travelling in a small group, you can save some euros by sharing the gondola with other travellers. Other things to note before riding the gondola: there’s a standard fare for all the gondolas and there’s an extra charge if you want a gondola ride during the night.
6. Wines and cheeses of Tuscany
Head over to Tuscany for a classy weekend of wine and cheese tasting! As one of Italy’s major producers of wine, you will learn a lot about the industry by taking a tour to wine estates and cellars. Many of these tours include wine tasting and lessons on how to pair them with other popular products from Tuscany: artisan and organic cheeses! You may also go to a local farm and see how cheeses like fresh ricotta and pecorino are made from scratch. If you wish to bring home a bottle of Tuscan wine, grab the chance and opt for Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
7. Trani’s fishing villages
Trani is a small yet lovely seashore town nestled along the Adriatic Sea. If you wish to get away from the huge crowds and bustling neighborhoods, a visit here is a must. Travellers visiting Bari are recommended to make time for a short day trip in Trani, where one can enjoy walking along the promenade while watching the boats come and go. The structures in this town are mostly medieval, including the quaint cathedral near the sea. Tip: in case you get hungry after hours of walking and sightseeing, there are plenty of restaurants and bars serving delicious seafood along the promenade!
8. Street food in Palermo
When visiting Palermo, ditch the fancy restaurants and try the local street food instead. It is a unique gastronomic experience you should not miss because the city is labeled as the Street Food Capital of Europe and the 5th Best City in the World for Street Food! For starters, there is arancina, a deep-fried stuffed rice ball usually filled with meat and cheese. Then, go for cazilli or potato croquettes and panelle or thin chick pea fritters. If you are ready for more unusual fare, try the pani ca’ meusa, more commonly known as the “spleen burger.” It consists of soft bread stuffed with chopped veal spleen and lungs with some sesame.
9. Museums of Genoa
Regarded as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, the port city of Genoa has a string of interesting museums attracting thousands of tourists yearly. There’s Palazzo Rosso for instance, a 17th century mansion-turned-museum, which houses art collections and furnishings. Meanwhile, at Palazzo Bianco, you will see exhibitions of 15th century to 18th century pictorial art. For decorative art pieces, go to Palazzo Tursi and marvel at the ancient tapestries and ceramics. Other must-visits are Castello D’ Albertis, Oriental Art Gallery, Maritime Museum, Sant'agostino Museum, San Lorenzo Cathedral Treasure Gallery and Diocesan Art Gallery, among many others.
10. The 15-kilometer stretch of beaches in Rimini
Located on Italy’s east coast, the town of Rimini has a 15-kilometer stretch of beaches offering a nice getaway for travellers coming from the big cities. It is an offbeat yet worthy destination, featuring family-friendly resorts with facilities such as beach huts and loungers, as well as areas for recreational sports. After basking on the beach, take the time to see the town’s old yet charming Roman landmarks like the Augustus Arch and Tiberius Bridge. Another must-see is a museum containing exhibits dedicated to the popular Italian director named Federico Fellini.
11. Motorcycles and cars in Bologna
Learn about the history of Bologna’s booming car industry by paying a visit to one of the local automotive museums. First off is Ducati Museum, where you will see a collection of motorcycles, which were the first products of the company before it produced high-end cars. Next, there is Lamborghini Museum, a two-storey gallery that opened in 2001. It is attached to the factory and features iconic Lamborghini cars. Last but not the least is Ferrari Museum, the oldest among the three museums. Open since 1990, it contains a remarkable Formula One collection and a technological innovation exhibit, among other things.
12. Theatres and cinemas of Modena
Aside from being the hometown of the Italian operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Modena is noted for its theatres and cinemas. Located mostly in the town centre, you can enjoy a ballet show, a drama or an opera in one of the following theatres: Luciano Pavarotti Municipal Theatre, Teatro Storchi, Teatro delle Passioni, and Cinema Teatro Michelangelo. Meanwhile, Modena has a total of 16 cinemas where you can catch the latest releases or attend a special film event.
13. Juliet’s House in Verona
Relive the love story of Romeo and Juliet, the young star-crossed lovers from Shakespeare’s play, when you come to the charming city of Verona. Juliet’s House is known locally as Casa di Giulietta, a Gothic structure featuring the famed balcony where Romeo promised his everlasting love for the young woman. It is a popular destination for lovers and unmarried people alike. There is a belief that touching Juliet’s statue is a sign of good luck for single people in finding the love of their life. Meanwhile, if you leave a love note addressed to your loved one in Juliet’s courtyard, it is said that you two will be together forever!
14. The Leaning Tower of Pisa
You have probably seen it a lot on photos and postcards, but nothing beats marvelling at the Leaning Tower of Pisa when it is right before your very eyes. This Romanesque bell tower is famous worldwide for its unintended tilt. It was designed by architect Bonanno Pisano and it first opened in 1360. If you wish, you can also go inside the tower and climb up to the top, where amazing views are waiting for you. This activity requires a ticket, which you can either buy online or at the location on the day of your visit.
15. Fashion shops in Pescara
The city of Pescara is where you will find some of the most popular Italian fashion brands. Visit its main shopping district and get ready to shop until you drop! There is Imperial with edgy and stylish clothes for teenagers and United Colors of Benetton with casual clothing for both men and women. Meanwhile, if you forgot to bring a swimsuit for one of your beach trips in Italy, you can easily find one in Calzedonia. Other brands you should not miss are Intimissimi, and Tezenis.
16. Classical music events in Vicenza
Vicenza, a city in North Eastern Italy, has been included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1994 because of its remarkable architectural structures. With a variety of music events and theatre performances taking place in stunning locations, it is an ideal place to get a glimpse of the Italians’ love for the performing arts. One of the best places to watch such performances is Teatro Olimpico, an enclosed theatre, which is the oldest of its kind in the world. Here, most performances take place during the city’s Jazz Festival in July and the Classical Theatre cycle in October.
17. Watersports in Cagliari
Craving an adrenaline rush? Cagliari in Sardinia has its fair share of wonderful beaches where you can try different watersports! Included in the list of the town’s famed destinations for watersport enthusiasts is Poetto Beach, located just a couple of miles away from the city centre. It is eight kilometres long and is dotted with beach clubs and facilities offering activities such as windsurfing and flyboarding. Other options are Chia Beach and Tuerredda Beach. Meanwhile, for those who prefer a relaxed holiday, you can opt for a sailing trip in Cagliari or simply go sunbathing on one of the sandy beaches.
18. Cafes in Trieste
Any coffee-lover would love Italy in general because of its gorgeous cafes and great-tasting coffee. However, if you would like to indulge a little more and learn about the local coffee culture, you should come to Trieste — Italy’s coffee capital! One of Trieste’s oldest cafes is Caffe San Marco, where many renowned Italian writers like Claudio Magris go to get a dose of caffeine while working on their pieces. Another thing to note: Trieste’s cafes have a very different menu lexicon, so make sure to do some research before going. For example, if you want black coffee, order a “nero.” Meanwhile, if you want your espresso with milk, get a “macchiato.”
19. Perugia’s Minimetro
Perugia, a hill town, has its major attractions located at the hilltops. Access to cars are difficult in this area and walking is not suitable unless you are in the city centre and you are extremely fit. In 2008, a local conglomerate opened a convenient transportation option called Minimetro. Today, many travellers can enjoy and explore the town easily aboard the cable-propelled driverless train, which has a maximum capacity of 8,000 passengers per hour.
20. Cooking classes in Lecce
In the recent years, cooking classes have become an attraction for travellers coming to countries with a rich gastronomic culture, like Italy. Should you be interested to try one during your trip, there are lots of interesting cooking classes you can join in Lecce, a city in Southern Italy. A good example is the Awaiting Table Cookery School, which has been operating for ten years now. There’s also the Lezioni di Cucina Salentina, including a trip to the local market and a sample of the most common local ingredients. Other options are Stile Mediterraneo Cooking Wine and Language School, Il Gusto Del Tacco and Piccola Casa Cooking Class.
21. Bicycles in Reggio Emilia
Filled with quaint and quiet streets, Reggio Emilia is an ideal place to go biking. Whether for sightseeing or for everyday use, locals prefer using bikes. It might not be popular to most tourists, but this city has the longest bike trails in Italy and it is something you shouldn’t miss. You don’t even need to be a cycling expert, just soak up the views and enjoy meeting locals sporting their own stylish bikes! Bike rentals are affordable and widely available in Reggio Emilia, but if you are a keen cycling enthusiast and you are staying here for a long time, you might want to consider buying your own.
22. Parma’s dry-cured ham
Another culinary treat awaits travellers in Parma, a city famed for the production of the sweet-tasting Prosciutto. It is an Italian version of dry-cured ham, usually made from a pig’s or a wild boar’s hind leg and thigh. It can be eaten uncooked and is usually served as an antipasto, where it is wrapped around a breadstick or grissini. For lovers of Italian food, you can also put it in your Tuscan pasta sauce and even use it as a topping for pizza!
23. The Planetarium in Ravenna
Ravenna is commonly regarded as an old town and is an ideal place for those who like to go sightseeing by foot. Some of its gems are unknown to many travellers from foreign countries, including the Planetarium. If you are interested in the study of celestial bodies, you should visit this 56-seater facility covered by a dome of 8 metres (26 feet). Settle down in one of the seats and be amazed as the lights are turned off and an image of the sky is revealed! Other things you will find here are a sundial and a device used to calculate the moment of equinoxes.
24. Trekking trails on the Amalfi Coast
Whether you are a hardcore trekker or you simply want to enjoy Italy’s natural beauty, the Path of the Gods located on the Amalfi Coast deserves a spot on your travel itinerary. Running from Positano to Agerola, the trails are easy to follow for most people, but make sure to get a map and wear a comfortable pair of hiking shoes. Catch glimpses of gorges, cliffs, stunning views of the sea, and the hamlets, as well as caves and terraces. Tip: if you wish to see flowers in full bloom, come here during the summer season (June to August). Meanwhile, if you prefer trekking during cooler weather, visit during autumn (September to November).
25. Animal skeletons in Ferrara
Brush up your knowledge of the natural sciences when you visit the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale in Ferrara. Founded in 1838, this museum hosts permanent exhibits that include large mineral collections, models about the natural history of man, and fossils of prehistoric organisms. Some of its most noteworthy displays are dinosaur skeletons, particularly those of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Plateosaurus, an Allosaurus, a Dromaeosaurus and a Stegosaurus. Other things in the museum that might fascinate kids and kids at heart are displays of a giant clam, two Japanese spider crabs, and a 12-metre (39-foot) long sperm whale.
26. Rock formations in Castelsardo
When driving around Castelsardo in Sardinia, you surely won’t miss an elephant-shaped rock formation called Elephant Rock, or Roccia dell'Elefante. More than just a popular photo stop for many tourists, this four-metre-tall (13-foot-tall) landmark has an archaeological importance since it contains two sepulchral structures from the pre-Nuragic period. You can take a peek of what it is like inside, but of the two tombs, only one remains well-preserved. The upper tomb has already been affected by erosion and other natural phenomenon.
27. Outdoor market in Syracuse
Some travellers believe that the best way to be introduced to the local culture is by visiting one of its markets. This could be true in Ortigia, a small island teeming with interesting cultural gems, where you will find an outdoor farmers’ market boasting an assortment of local products. There are rows of fresh produce available for purchase, with vegetables including asparagus and tomatoes and fruits like lemons and grapefruits. Since it is located near a fishing port, the market also has some of the freshest seafood varieties. Other market finds in Ortigia include ricotta cheese, pastries, and pastas. If you don’t have the time to buy the ingredients and cook them by yourself, you can easily find a local restaurant in Ortigia serving delicious Sicilian dishes.
28. Blooming flowers in Monza
You can literally “stop and smell the flowers” when you visit the Niso Fumagalli Rose Garden in Monza, located 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) north-northeast of Milan. It is a privately-owned garden, managed by the Associazione Italiana della Rosa, but entrance is free all year round. It is filled with modern and ancient rose varieties as well as shrubs, climbers and pillars. During the blossoming season, when tourists flock to this side of the city, the opening times are also extended to Saturdays and Sundays. For particular schedules, check Associazione Italiana della Rosa’s website.
29. Water parks in Latina
Beat the summer heat by visiting Latina’s family-friendly water parks! Suitable for day trips, these water parks feature facilities such as adult pools, kiddie pools, slides and sunbeds. There is Miami Beach Acquapark Village, for instance, which spans 100 square metres (1,076 square feet) and also offers other recreational activities such as beach volleyball, basketball, table tennis and a trampoline. You may also take advantage of their wide picnic space or opt to dine at one of the restaurants at the covered dining area. Meanwhile, Acquaparco Scivosplash is recommended mostly for children’s enjoyment, as they offer camps for kids. Adults can also relax under the shades of the trees or cabanas.
30. Vintage cabrio tour in Bergamo
Looking for an alternative way to go sightseeing in Italy? Come to Bergamo and enjoy a drive around the town aboard a vintage convertible! You can visit Maggiore Lake, the longest lake in Italy with gorgeous views of green mountains, and Lake Como, a posh resort area. You may even go further to the wineries and vineyards of Franciacorta, and learn about wine production in the region. Other stops you might want to consider during your vintage cabrio tour are Iseo Lake and Garda Lake, both offering a peaceful getaway.
Italians are known for being friendly and welcoming people. Like the country’s beautiful sights, sounds and tastes, this is a quality that makes Italy such an ideal place to visit.
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