Steeped in history and culture, featuring some of the world’s most important art and architecture, Italy is understandably a country at or near the top of many travelers’ lists. Obviously, for most visitors famous cities like Rome, Florence and Venice will be part of the itinerary. However, these cities are but a taste of what this majestic country has to offer. In compiling this list of the top 10 best cities in Italy my goal is to enlighten travelers about some of the other highlights they can see if they take the opportunity to venture out of “the big three” and some of the lesser known destinations.
Italy has an extensive train network, and the cost of traveling from city to city is relatively inexpensive. This, in my opinion, is the best and least stressful way to travel in Italy, renting a car, taking domestic flights and even taking a river boat are all good alternatives to traveling within Italy’s borders. Remember to try and plan your itinerary in advance to make the best use of the time you have. Here are my picks for the best cities to visit in Italy:
10 – Perugia – Located smack dab in the center of Italy, this city is nearly 3,000 years old and is the capital of the Umbria region. Perched atop a hill, this walled city offers magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. It is famous for its annual jazz festival, and its University for Foreigners is considered one of the best places to learn the Italian language.
9 – Turin – This city probably wasn’t on a lot of people’s radars prior to 2006, but ever since the Winter Olympics that year this has been a hot tourist destination. Located in Northwestern Italy, and situated at the foothills of the Alps, Turin (or Torino) offers travelers incredible access to winter sports. Even if you aren’t inclined to strap a pair of thin planks to your feet and race down a mountain at ridiculous speeds there are plenty of things to enjoy in Turin. Visitors can spend days exploring the historic palaces and taking in the breathtaking baroque architecture. Turin also features some world class cuisine, and gourmands will be in their glory sampling the tasty treats of the many fine restaurants the city boasts.
8 – Genoa – Italy’s main seaport, Genoa is located on the northwest quadrant of the country. Made famous by Christopher Columbus, this port city features the usual line-up of historic museums and churches. However, perhaps its most fascinating highlight is the relatively new (built for Expo ’92) aquarium. The second largest aquarium in Europe, the facility welcomes well over a million visitors a year. This is a must visit, particularly for those with kids, who will love the science centers, petting pool, and the turtle rescue and release program. They even offer a summer camp.
7 – Verona – Most famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Verona trails just Rome, Venice and Florence on the list of the most visited cities in Italy. Offering a world-renowned opera festival, and one of Italy’s biggest Roman coliseums Verona has plenty beyond just the Bard’s tale to offer visitors.
6 – Bologna – The capital of the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy, Bologna is famous for its opulence, its world-class cuisine and its breathtaking beauty. Its reputation as a great place to eat has earned it the nickname “The Stomach of Italy”, and even once full it is hard to resist the tempting treats displayed in the windows of the city’s many bakeries. History buffs will appreciate its rich medieval center, and academic types will enjoy a wander through the halls of one of Europe’s oldest universities.
5 – Milan – Only the expense of visiting this beautiful city kept it from the #4 spot on the list of Italy’s best cities. Home of La Scala, one of the world’s best known opera houses, and, of course, the world famous Italian football club, A.C. Milan, the city also boasts a rich history of art and culture. However, it is arguably its world-class shopping that makes it such a popular destination among tourists. Be prepared for some sticker shock though. Milan holds its own with the world’s most expensive cities and its stylish shops will quickly empty even the fullest purse or wallet.
4 – Naples – The largest city in Southern Italy, Naples is also the main transportation hub of the region. Two hours from Rome, the city serves as a gateway to such destinations as Pompeii and the Isle of Capri. Pizza lovers will be in their glory here. As the birthplace of pizza Naples takes its reputation as the home of gourmet pizza very seriously. There are no shortage of delicious pizza places, and you’ll enjoy the mouthwatering difference a woodburning oven makes. For lovers of history and architecture visits to the National Archaeological Museum and to the world-famous Duomo (Naples Cathedral) are a must.
3 – Venice – One of the world’s most romantic cities, Venice is also one of the planet’s most unique. Built over a lagoon, the city features hundreds more than 100 waterways, or canals, where couples can take a romantic, if touristy, gondola ride. The highlight of a visit to Venice is the Piazza San Marco with its world-renowned church. With over 400 bridges, and over 100 different bodies of land Venice can be quite confusing for the first time traveler to navigate. However, there are massive crowds of tourists here, so providing you don’t mind striking up a conversation with a stranger you can always find your way.
2 – Florence – Some might question the fact that I’ve put Florence ahead of Venice on the list of the top 10 cities in Italy. They are both magnificent cities, and in the end personal choice decided the matter. The gateway to Italy’s beautiful Tuscany region, Florence also offers easy access to Pisa, where you can view the world-famous leaning tower. Must see attractions include Piazza della Signoria, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Bell Tower, the Galleria dell’ Academia, home of Michelangelo’s world-famous Statue of David, and the Galleria Degli Uffizi, which houses the world’s most important collection of Renaissance art.
1 – Rome – Little surprise this famous city made the number one spot on the list of the greatest Italian cities for visitors. The capital of modern Italy, Rome is a near perfect blend of historic and contemporary significance. The highlights include The Coliseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and The Pantheon. This barely scratches the surface of what there is to see and do in Rome though. This booming metropolis has enough delights to keep visitors entertained for weeks, and is one of those rare destinations that requires repeat visits to sample everything it has to offer.
Featured image by Grace.Donaghue