Let’s explore Italy from North to South… Here are some of the best cities to visit in Italy, in every season!
What drives us to put our nose outside our comfortable routine? Travelling is the continuous search for oneself through the world. It is a way of pulling forgotten parts of our lives out of the drawers of memory, through sunsets, stone houses, scents, chaos or the silence of nature. In the places we do not know, we find ourselves, and that is where the journey becomes a surprise.
So many cross the ocean to visit the old world, and mind you that “old” is not old-fashioned but just immensely rich in history. On the most charismatic peninsula in Europe, there are many cities to visit in Italy: just think that 330 are the most beautiful villages in Italy. This is followed by the most liveable cities such as Trieste or Parma and the UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Siena, Assisi, Urbino, Matera or Ferrara.
Italy gives you many reasons to put that fateful nose out of your home, whatever the season and whatever the budget. In the north, you can easily move around by train while the islands require less easy travel (but are always worth it)! You don’t necessarily need the excuse to do this, just the desire to discover what surrounds you – even at a stone’s throw from home!
From seaside-only, alpine-only or hilly destinations to cities that offer a bit of everything and please everyone. Whichever place you want to visit in Italy, whether for a weekend, a short trip out of town or a long relaxing holiday, the absolute certainty is that wherever you go, you will eat well!
A taste of the top cities to visit in Italy
MILAN AND PAVIA
The great Mediolanum, the industrial centre of Italy, is a city that is always one step ahead in fashion, design, architecture and eco-sustainability. The imposing Duomo is almost always the first attraction one visits when going to Milan, but there is also shopping at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and a tour of the Castello Sforzesco.
Although today almost everyone loves sushi and in Milan this food is particularly popular, the tradition of rice is much more deeply rooted in Lombardy: in Pavia, the rice paddies of the Lomellina Valley were teeming with “mondine” (rice-pickers) who harvested the rice bent over. Risotto alla Milanese remains an undisputed must among Italy’s risottos and is well worth tasting on the spot!
The treasures of ancient civilisations are kept in the Savoy capital. Starting from far away, many artefacts from ancient Egypt are well preserved in one of the world’s largest museums dedicated to this civilisation, the Egyptian Museum. The city offers many characteristic sights such as the twin churches of San Carlo and Santa Cristina in the famous “drawing room of Turin“, Piazza San Carlo.
The monarchy has made history here, and there are plenty of monuments dedicated to royalty, so you can visit the Royal Palace in Piazza Castello, the Royal Museums or the beautiful Villa della Regina.
In the centre, it is impossible not to admire the Mole Antonelliana, take long walks and enjoy a heart-warming bicerin with its mix of chocolate, coffee and cream in one of the city’s historic cafés!
It is located in the heart of the Langhe and is a courageous and revolutionary city. Awarded as a City decorated for military valour for the war of liberation, in 2017 it also won the title of “Creative City for Gastronomy“. The liveliest time of year in Alba is October, when the White Truffle Fair has been held since 1929. It is a national event that has hosted celebrities such as Joe di Maggio or Gérard Depardieu. Also in October, the Palio degli Asini and the Giostra delle Cento Torri complete the festive picture. All that is left of those hundred towers is a few turrets, but Alba, with its city walls and historic buildings, can offer you a cultural as well as a fantastic gastronomic stay.
From the Belvedere Spianata di Castelletto, the entire panorama of the historic centre of Genoa lets you imagine what goes on between the alleys and inside the houses. The harbour is the oldest soul of the city. From there, you can walk through the carruggi leading to the historical centre where you can taste Genoese pesto, made according to tradition. In addition to a visit to Palazzo San Giorgio, a walk along Strada Nuova, between Palazzo Podestà and Palazzo Doria Tursi, is a must. And don’t forget to immerse yourself in the magical marine world in Europe’s largest aquarium.
Padua’s Grand Doctors love to stroll in Prato della Valle, a stone’s throw from the huge Church of Santa Giustina. From there, it is a short walk to the better-known Basilica of St Anthony of Padua, and on to popular squares such as Piazza dei Signori, where you can enjoy a classic aperitif with a spritz. Near the station there is something unique: the Scrovegni Chapel, where Giotto’s intense blue sky stands out. Not far from Padua, the Euganean Hills will give you the peace and quiet you need to disconnect from work and city stress, among vineyards and trekking routes.
VENICE, MURANO AND BURANO
The thousand-year-old city on water is always a sight to behold because it is truly unique! Nothing could be more romantic than crossing the Grand Canal via the Rialto Bridge, admiring the gondoliers and reaching the nearby islets of Murano and Burano. In these colourful settings, the practices of glass-blowing or hand-embroidery and lace-making are alive. The busiest time of year to visit Venice is the Carnival, which crowds the streets and St Mark’s Square. Don’t miss a food and wine tour among cicchetti and bacari, and don’t forget to taste the sarde in saor!
Best known as the city of Romeo and Juliet’s love, Verona is certainly romantic but also rich in history. Before you decide on the date of your trip to Verona, give yourself the chance to buy a ticket for a concert inside the Arena. It is one of the most beautiful theatres in Italy, and to visit it only during the day would be reductive. From the Arena then, you can enter the historic centre and admire Verona from above from the Torre dei Lamberti. During the Christmas period, the city is enriched with markets and delicious aromas… Pandoro, on the other hand, was invented right there!
Here, food and wine are the driving force for those who love to travel with taste! The beauty of this Emilian city can be appreciated by getting on a bicycle and letting your instincts guide you, riding along the Via Emilia, Piazza Grande and immersing yourself in the Figurine and Enzo Ferrari Museums. The Albinelli Covered Market will be a must-see, as will the Acetaia Comunale. The excellence of the territory, such as Lambrusco wine, balsamic vinegar of Modena or Parmigiano Reggiano are the elements of a table that provides the opportunity for authentic food and wine experiences.
Fresh, young and obviously tasty (like its Mortadella), Bologna is a city to visit in any season. The towering Torre degli Asinelli (about 97 metres high) in the middle of the historical centre allows you to admire the city’s red rooftops from above. Lucio Dalla used to sing about Piazza Grande, overlooked by the Basilica of San Petronio. A walk under the arcades and a plate of steaming tortellini (or lasagne, or passatelli…) will be a great reason to enjoy the hospitality this city has to offer.
The capital of the verdant Trentino Alto Adige is this magnificent town enveloped in the mantle of forests. Visiting Trento means approaching the world of Trento DOC sparkling wines, as well as wandering around the historic centre between Piazza Duomo and the Neptune Fountain or immersing oneself in the wonderful world of the MUSE, the science museum designed by Renzo Piano. In winter, Trento is filled with lights at the Christmas Markets. This is certainly one of the most beautiful times of the year, which you can also take advantage of to travel along the Apple and Food Trail.
On the small tongue of land overlooking the Gulf of Trieste, the more recent past of the Second World War is vivid in this city shaken by the Bora. You can’t help but visit the quaint Piazza Unità d’Italia, take romantic strolls along the Grand Canal or Molo Audace and visit the fairytale-like Miramare Castle. Dinner will be based on gulash or jota, a soup that is anything but light but delicious!
Siena is a thriving little town in the vicinity of the Val d’Orcia. Going to Siena during Italy’s most famous Palio will be the right opportunity to get to know the fervour of the town animated by this competition that takes place on the cobbled Piazza del Campo. In addition to the rich historic centre, the surroundings of Siena reserve you medieval atmospheres in wonderful villages such as San Gimignano or Montepulciano, where the wine tradition is excellent.
FLORENCE AND PISA
Tuscany offers more than one cue for cities to see: Florence is first, followed by Pisa. They are almost a package deal because they are both part of the glorious Renaissance history that saw Italy innovate thanks to artists such as Leonardo da Vinci (there is a beautiful museum dedicated to him in Florence), Michelangelo Buonarroti who sculpted the famous David or Brunelleschi who frescoed the Dome of Florence Cathedral. If the day turns grey, the San Lorenzo Market in Florence will provide you with shelter and excellent local food! In Pisa, the world’s most famous leaning tower is worth a visit along with the Duomo and Camposanto Monumentale, but to refresh your mind, the nearby Chianti region will take care of you!
A real whirlwind for artists like Raphael Sanzio or Piero della Francesca. Perugia is a university town and therefore full of life and harmony: you will cluster around Piazza IV Novembre, with the Fontana Maggiore and the Palazzo dei Priori surrounding it. Numerous gates and arches from different eras will transport you to distant atmospheres. If you love reading, there are about 40 libraries located in historic, private or municipal buildings in this city. Not to be missed is a chocolate tour, a source of delicious pride for this city.
With its historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Urbino imposes its magnificence in the vision of the Duomo, next to which the Ducal Palace stands. This town in Le Marche region should be visited on foot to discover the charm of its historic centre, while enjoying a crescia with the Casciotta di Urbino cheese and Prosciutto di Carpegna. You can also devote yourself to the surrounding hillside areas to enjoy the region’s fine cuisine together with Food Experts, on a wellness weekend in central Italy.
Between Civitanova Marche and Ancona, Recanati is a town that leaves room for “infinite” possibilities! It is the ideal destination for art lovers who can explore poetry, music and painting in this town. You can delve into the life of poet Giacomo Leopardi, visit his House, stroll through the streets of the village between Palazzo Antici, the Church of San Pietrino and the Piazzola del Sabato del Villaggio to end up in the peaceful Orto sul Colle dell’Infinito. Opera music represented by tenor Beniamino Gigli is explored at the Museum dedicated to him, while the Civic Museum of Villa Colloredo Mels exhibits the works of art by Lorenzo Lotto.
In the city of the “awakening”, a giant sculpture in the Faul Valley, you can breathe in a medieval air that starts in the San Pellegrino district. This magnificent town in Tuscia will give you the relaxation you are looking for amidst the oldest thermal waters in central Italy. History and traditions shape the past of Viterbo, today devoted to its patron saint, Rosa. She is honoured in procession on 3 September with the “Macchina di Santa Rosa“, an obelisk carried on the shoulders of 100 porters. September could be just the right month to visit!
The capital is obviously one of the most popular cities in Italy, that cannot be missing from a traveller’s background (and even those who do not like to travel should see Rome once in their life!). Apart from its architectural wonders, the most famous of which are the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument (“Altar of the Fatherland”), the Circus Maximus, the Imperial Forum, the Trevi Fountain (I could go on and on), Rome is perhaps the best city to visit in Italy because it is welcoming, hospitable, sincere. It also offers some unique dishes like pasta Carbonara or Amatriciana, but also special experiences like diving into the world of drinks. Rome is a city full of surprises that you can visit every day of the year!
Benevento is a city in Campania full of mysteries and legends, dominated from above by the Rocca dei Rettori. Not only has it witnessed the Samnites and Lombards to whom the legends of the witches or Janare are linked, but also a glorious Roman past testified by the remains of the Theatre or the Aqueduct. For an excursion into the green, the “paesaggi Sanniti” cycle-pedestrian track reaches the foothills of the Taburno massif. Not far from Benevento, relaxation is assured at the spas of Telese Terme, for a food and wine weekend in Sannio.
On the south-eastern side of Sicily, Syracuse and its small island Ortigia boast a very atmospheric as well as cheerful historic centre. On a visit to the city, in addition to the historic centre and the distinctive cathedral, you cannot miss the Greek Theatre and the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Lacrime. Plenty of fun and adrenalin-fuelled experiences with quad bikes or on horseback will allow you to explore the Alcantara Gorges near Syracuse.
“Panormus“, a multi-ethnic city, always busy and always awake. The hot Sicilian sun warms the Cathedral and illuminates the boats in the Cala. The smell of street food (arancine, panelle, crocchè and pani ca meusa) floods the streets in the morning and evening, the Teatro Massimo illuminates its columns and hosts international artists. Churches, Art Nouveau buildings, historic markets such as Ballarò, the Capo or the Vucciria are the soul of this city that must be visited at least once in a lifetime!
Among the seaside resorts in the area, Mondello is the beach of Palermo’s people but many move to the neighbouring cities. An hour’s drive away, Cefalù is a pearl overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea: the two towers of the Duomo look out over the sea and welcome many visitors, especially in the summer months.
Here, the mouth-watering Modica chocolate PGI guarantees a tasty Sicilian experience, full of new knowledge. You can visit the workshop and learn all the secrets of this tradition that characterises the town. In addition to this wonderful gastronomic experience, Modica is a town that will impress you with the austerity of the Cathedral of San Giorgio, a symbol of Sicilian Baroque.
In this city situated in southern Sicily, the Mediterranean Sea makes its torments felt, bringing with it echoes of the ancient Greeks who ruled the island. The marvellous Valley of the Temples looks over Agrigento from afar and bears witness to the existence of that noble civilisation. Near Agrigento, the “Stair of the Turks” is a spectacular promontory of white rock reflected in the water and offering a unique panorama. In Pirandello’s town you can taste typical sweets made with almond paste and visit his house and the theatre dedicated to him, as well as relax in the nearby seaside areas such as Eraclea Minoa or Punta Bianca!
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Matera is one of the oldest cities in Italy, carved out of tuff by prehistoric ancestors. It is a town that cannot be compared to other Italian cities. Admiring it from the various viewpoints is as beautiful as finding yourself inside one of the houses carved out of the rock in the Sasso Caveoso. In the central area, the Civita of Matera houses the Cathedral and the many craft shops. Matera is an incredible place, and at night, when the lights are on, watching it illuminated is a thrilling sight.
Baroque in Apulia is represented by this sunny city, perfect for a summer weekend or perhaps at the end of the season. From the stone-paved streets of the historic centre to the surrounding countryside, in Lecce you can stay at a typical masseria and exjoy local wine tastings. There is more, however: papier-mâché here is an art that should be handed down, so much so that workshops for adults and children are still organised today. There is no shortage of ancient fortresses such as the Castle, built at the behest of Charles V, or the Park Tower, in the heart of the city!
Puglia offers emotions in so many ways, and Bari is not lacking in any one thing: the sea, the historic centre, the food and wine. From the seafront you move on to places of worship such as the majestic Church of San Nicola, while in the old part of Bari, headed by the Swabian-Norman Castle, you can visit the Cathedral of San Sabino. And through the streets of the city centre, you can take a food and wine route that passes by the “strada delle orecchiette” – imagine what it would be like to learn how to make them with your own hands!
It is typically white and charming! A walking tour of this Salento town will take you through the alleys of the historic centre that make it characteristic, where every colour here seems brighter and more beautiful, like the blue of the sea at Ostuni Marina. From Piazzetta Martiri delle Foibe, it is possible to admire it from afar in all its beauty, but the suggestion is to penetrate the Aragonese Walls and reach the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta or the Arco Scoppa. To top it all off, there are the green vineyards and ancient masserias that can accommodate you on your beautiful trip to Apulia.
Visiting the Sardinian capital is an important stop when travelling to Sardinia, often for summer holidays. Culture is not lacking in this location surrounded by a wonderful sea. In the oldest Castello quarter, which runs from the Piazza of the same name, you can visit the Royal Palace, the Episcopal Palace, the Tower of the Elephant or the Tower of San Pancrazio. A visit to the Botanical Garden, which contains more than 2000 species, is not to be missed, and the walls of the Bastion of Saint Remy are very impressive. Obviously, good food will accompany your trip among typical recipes such as Fregula and wines such as Nuragus.
In the heart of Calabria, on a terrace built on a rocky ridge, Tropea admires the sea from its many overlooks. They can be reached from the narrow streets of the centre, where a square is dedicated to Hercules (founder of the city according to legend). Not to be missed is the Church of Santa Maria dell’Isola, which stands on a promontory almost in the middle of the sea. Nearby, the Costa degli Dei is the bathing area that stretches along a long stretch of coastline, from the Grotte di Zungri, small stone villages overlooking the coast, to Capo Vaticano or Pizzo Calabro. It is certainly a summer destination suitable for all ages!
As you may have guessed, in Italy there is no shortage of opportunities to travel and taste something new… And this was just “a taste”. I wish you a pleasant journey among the most beautiful Italian cities to visit! 🧳