An empire that changed the course of history, art that gave a new perspective to life, culture that exudes vivacity, landscape that captures the fancies of poets and food that has the power to break geographical boundaries and bring the world together—Italy—is a dream unfolding step-by-step. The 5th most populous country in Europe and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Italy is a place where art and life amalgamate seamlessly. Once home to Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and likes, Italy is also the birthplace of fashion connoisseurs like Giorgio Armani, Donatella Versace, Miuccia Prada and Emilio Pucci and many more. Not to forget, renaissance took its first breath in this very land.
The boot-shaped peninsula hosts over 46 million tourists every year from all over the world, and many of them return over and over again for a magic that can be witnessed nowhere else but Italy. Italy has everything to make it an ideal destination for a picture-perfect vacation. From captivating cities like Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan, the fascinating ruins of its glorious past to the most delectable flavours. With maximum number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites into its lap, Italy presents the most elaborate details of ancient and medieval times. An ideal escape from the mundane, Italy is where romance finds an expression.
With so many historical chapters written here, it is extremely difficult to pick favourites. However, here’s a travel guide for some of the must-visits places and must-do things in Italy. Get lost, quite literally, is perhaps the best thing to do in Italy.
What to do in Italy?
The Colosseum: Also known as Flavian Amphitheater and the most iconic symbol of the Roman history, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheater in the world. Also considered one of the most exemplary architecture and engineering works, the Colosseum could hold 50000-80000 spectators for the Gladiatorial and several other public contests in the Roman Empire. Today, the Colosseum in the capital city Rome is a must-visit site in Italy.
The Vatican Museum: A walled enclave in the heart of sun-kissed Rome—Vatican City— is the Pope’s official residence. And in this very city is the Vatican museum that Pope Julius II had founded in the early 16th century. A must-visit site in Italy, the museum today boasts of some of the most spectacular art collections in the world.
Visit Basilica di San Marco: Also known as Saint Mark’s Basilica, the cathedral is not just a fine example of Italo-Byzantine architecture, but is also a symbol of Venetian power and wealth. Famous by the nickname ‘Church of Gold’, Basilica di San Marco has glittering gold ground mosaics and opulent marble work. Venice’s signature landmark Saint Mark’s Basilica is a must-see in Italy.
Travel Tip: Don’t miss Pala d’Oro, a stunning gold altarpiece, among several other jewels inside the basilica.
Take a Gondola ride on Venice’s Grand Canal: Gothic architecture, glorious palaces, unique art biennials, masquerade parties and glass-blowing studios, everything about Venice is exquisite. But, what defines Venice is the Grand Canal. Lined by the vintage palazzi, 3800 m long and 30–90 m wide, the Grand Canals will capture your imagination, invoke a poetic side in you and when you’ll leave after a Gondola ride, a part of you will be left behind at the Istrian stone shores of this Venetian splendour called the Grand Canal.
Explore Cinque Terre: Cinque Terre, the rocky part of the coast at the Italian Riviera consists of five villages. One of UNESCO’s world heritage sites—Cinque Terre—offers you arguably the most enchanting and picturesque landscape of Italy. The bright and vivid coloured houses, narrow alleys, pretty-hued boats and sun-kissed coastal line, Cinque Terre is a perfect escape from a nerve-wrecking urban life.
Travel Tip: Cars cannot reach this part of the Italian Riviera, therefore, take a ferry, local train to reach here. Spend some time ambling along the spectacular neighbourhood.
Explore Amalfi Coast: An outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape as deemed by UNESCO in its world heritage site listing, the Amalfi Coast is the canvas of an artist called nature. With sparkling coasts, lush forests and mountaintop with lavish villas make Amalfi coast a compelling combination of great splendour and fascinating drama.
Travel Tip: Cinque Terre and Amalfi coast are often regarded as ‘either-or’ destinations.
Visit Sicily’s Valley of the Temples: One of Sicily’s most famous tourist attractions— the Valley of the Temples — is located just outside Agrigento. This spellbinding and largest archaeological site in the world consists of eight temples built between about 510 BC and 430 BC. Listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, The valley of the temple is not just a site, but a rendezvous with the most brilliant art and architecture specimens of Greater Greece.
Ruins of Pompeii: The ancient city of Pompeii was founded in 7th or 6th century BC, conquered to be a Roman colony in 80 BC, and 160 years later with a population of 11000 inhabitants, this historic city was destroyed and buried under pumice and ash due to the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Today, with approx 2.5 million visitors every year, Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famed destinations in Italy.
Leaning Tower of Pisa: An architectural project went wrong and found a place in history, when unintendedly the bell tower of a cathedral tilted to one side. Yes, it is the Leaning Tower of Pisa, one of the most renowned monuments in Italy and one of the world’s architectural wonders.
Galleria degli Uffizi: Located in Florence, the Uffizi Gallery or Galleria degli Uffizi is ranked amongst the oldest and most renowned art museums in the world.
The Last Supper: While on the homeland of Leonardo da Vinci, you can’t miss ‘The Last Supper’, Milan’s most celebrated mural, depicting the dramatic moment when Christ reveals to be aware of the betrayal. One of the world’s most iconic images, The Last Supper is a history in itself.
Mt Etna: No experience can match that of treading on Mount Etna— the largest active volcano in Europe and the highest mountain south of the Alps in Italy. Feel the thumping of your heart, when you know just beneath the ground where you stand, the volcano is in its constant activity and conspiring to erupt almost anytime.
Shopping in Italy: Much to a shopper’s delight, there are plenty of souvenir shops, antique markets and captivating local bazaars all over Italy. Milan, the Mecca of high street fashion has brands that dictate the world of fashion. La Pignasecca, the oldest street market in Naples has a whole lot of goodies at display from the wriggling seafood, local cheeses, discounted perfumes and linen to designer bags and threads in throw away prices.
Rome’s weekend urban bazaar—Monti’s vintage market—is not far behind with a perfect blend of vintage fashion and contemporary ideas. You will find some most amazing stuff in this market from handicrafts, retro clothing, furniture and home-ware items.
Travel Tip: Many shops are closed between 1:00-4:00 p.m. in the afternoon for lunch.
Where to stay in Italy: Italian vacation is not cheap, especially when it comes to accommodation. Even the hostels and dorms charges are pretty steep with around $30-70 per night. Private rooms can cost you a bomb at around $75-100 USD per night. Even a budget hotel can thin your account by $80 USD or more. But, keep calm and head further south for less expensive lodging options. The furthermore you go, cheaper the options are. The best staying option in Italy is renting a room or an apartment from a local, who can also provide extra beds and couches at an affordable rate. If they like you, it can also be free. Staying with locals is also a great way to make new friends.
Food: It won’t be an exaggeration to state that Italy gave the world its most favourite food—Pizza. With an abundance of flavours, Italian cuisine is perhaps the most loved gastronomic fair under the sun. Enjoy the Neapolitan pizza in its hometown Naples. Do as Romans do and dig your teeth into the local delicacies in the land of gladiators. In a country where food features prominently in its culture and history, finding great tastes is not difficult. Every bite in Italy is a revelation.
Italy boasts of some of Europe’s best fine dining options, however a local eatery may take you by surprise with the most delectable Italian cuisines. There are plenty of local favours in every region and city, however no matter where in Italy you eat, the soul of Italian food is superlative ingredients. Modena is the centre of culinary delights in Italy. If you don’t already know, Modena is the birthplace of balsamic vinegar, and also home to famous Lambrusco wine. Don’t miss, Rome’s International Wine Academy for some outstanding varieties. Don’t return home without sipping Milan’s much-loved Lombardy wine. You can buy a bottle of wine for as cheap as $4 USD in Italy. Dinner will only be served between 7:30-9:00 p.m. no matter what and the bill will not arrive at your table unless you ask for it. Italians believe in leisure and spending quality time over food.
Food is expensive in Italy. Buy Pizza or Paninis by slice to avoid an additional burden on your pocket. Restaurants include a Coperta or sit down fee of $3 USD for the service and the bread at the table. Return the bread or the bread sticks on the table to save some bucks. Ask for the tap water or else you will have to pay for the bottled water. You can fill your bottle from any of the drinking fountains in Italy.
Transport: Although Italy is well-connected through trains, some locations can only be accessed by boat. Buses are more cost-effective than trains. Driving can be frustrating. Cycling or on foot is the best way to explore the narrow, curved alleys of Italy.
Male and female are clearly separated on a train travel in Italy. Make sure Mr. or Ms. is specified on your ticket for an overnight journey. Also, you cannot hail a cab on the streets of Italy, you need to go to a taxi stand or call for a cab.
Entertainment: Every major city in Italy has plenty of nightclubs, bars, and cafes. Some bigger Italian cities have number of casinos too. Wine tasting is also a popular form of entertainment.
Points to remember:
Life in Italy is laid-back, don’t rush and spend time appreciating the beauty of life. Take a stroll down the city, feel the air on your face and enjoy the best time of your life. Learn a few words in Italian and witness the hearts of the locals opening up to you. Smile to make new friends. Too much of skin show, unless you are at a beach, is not appreciated.