Explore Italy: What To See and Do In The Different Regions of Italy

colloseum rome
"Italy is the source of some of the world’s most incredible art, culture and history, but its natural attractions are just as dazzling as its man-made ones."

Few places in the world have a greater hold on the imagination than Italy, partly because its rich history has left such an indelible mark on Western culture. Yet it’s also the fact that there is so much to be experienced within this boot-shaped country: Italy is synonymous with romance, fabulous food and a zest for life; with varied and magnificent natural landscapes, vibrant cities and charming villages; with wonderful wine, dazzling art and extraordinary architecture.

Of course, this wealth of attractions can make it very difficult to know where to start your exploration of the country – but, in the words of the proverb: ‘All roads lead to Rome,’ so let’s start our journey in Italy’s breath-taking capital. From there, we’ll venture to the glamorous Amalfi coast, the country’s verdant wine regions, the canals of Venice, glorious Florence and stylish Milan, ending our journey with Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii.

Article Published: June 9, 2021
Last Update: June 28, 2022

Table of Contents

Rome, Italy

roman forum

Known as one of the birthplaces of civilization, Italy’s capital, Rome combines astonishing ancient history with stylish modernity – so whether you want to explore its array of historical landmarks or shop ‘til you drop in sleek boutiques, you can literally do it all. That said, there is so much to see and do in Rome that it can be a little overwhelming in the crowded heat of summer: you’d be better to plan your visit for the Spring or Fall months, when the city is much easier and more pleasant to navigate.

piazza del campidoglio

Rome is a city best explored on foot. You can easily make your way between its unmissable sights, such as the Colosseum, the Piazza Navona, The Spanish Steps and Campo dei Fiori, taking in other aspects of the city that you might otherwise miss at the same time – battered old shutters, washing strung out to dry across narrow laneways, locals engaged in animated chatter and hole-in-the wall cafes and restaurants. Take time to marvel at the huge, unsupported dome of the Pantheon, with sunlight angling through its oculus – and don’t miss the photo opp at La Bocca della Verità (the Mouth of Truth), which will allegedly bite your hand off if you’re a dishonest person! Some time at the Trevi Fountain is also a must – legend has it that if you stand with your back to it and toss a coin over your left shoulder, your return to Rome is guaranteed.

The Vatican, the heart of Catholicism, is a city within the city and could easily occupy a full day of exploring. Start at Saint Peter’s Basilica and be prepared to be awe struck by its sheer size and grandeur, as well as its soaring dome, designed by Michelangelo, and its huge collection of art and sculpture. Elsewhere in the Vatican, there are around 2000 rooms filled with immeasurably precious art collections – including, of course, the Sistine Chapel. Meanwhile, away from the tourist crowds, the charmingly authentic Trastevere neighbourhood, across the river, lends itself perfectly to hours of aimless wandering and happy exploration.

Rome In Pictures

View our slideshow that includes contributions from our followers or social media and amazing photos we've curated from around the web.

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Roman Colosseum
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Arch of Constantine next to Roman Colosseum
the roman forum
Roman Forum
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Temple of Saturn in Roman Forum
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Basilica Ulpia - Forum of Trajan
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The Mausoleum of Augustus (before restoration)
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The Pantheon, Rome
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Spanish Steps
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Trevi Fountain
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Fountains of Piazza Navona
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Vatican Museum Stairs
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St. Peter's Basilica
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Roman Aqueduct
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Alter of the Fatherland
piazza del campidoglio
Piazza del Campidoglio
Castel Sant'Angelo
Castel Sant'Angelo
basilica di san pietro in vincoli
Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli
piazza del popolo
Piazza del Popolo
campo de'fiori
Campo de'Fiori
villa borghese
Villa Borghese
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Largo di Torre Argentina

Things To See & Do in Rome

1. The Colosseum

colloseum rome

It’s astonishing to think that people and animals were once killed for public entertainment, but it’s in such bloodthirsty beginnings that The Colosseum has its roots. The largest amphitheatre ever built, it was constructed by around 60,000 Jewish slaves in just ten years, and was opened in 80AD. The fact that it is still standing is extraordinary – especially as it has, over the centuries, endured looting, earthquakes and bombing. With seating for more than 50,000 people, it hosted executions, gladiatorial contests and battles between men and exotic beasts – it is even believed to have been flooded so that audiences could enjoy the spectacle of naval battles.

It’s magnificent enough from the outside, but if you want to explore its vast interior, you’ll need a ticket. You can skip the queues by going online to book a guided tour, which will also take in the nearby Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.

To learn more about the Colosseum check out our section on the Colosseum in our Rome Travel Guide.

2. Vatican City

rome vatican museum stairs

Vatican City is a 121 acre, independent city state, located within Rome, Italy. There are many interesting things to experience in Vatican City with the most popular being St. Peter's Basilica, The Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums, and the Vatican Gardens.

In the Sistine Chapel, its walls and ceiling are smothered in exquisite paintings executed by Michelangelo. It is also worth taking your time to linger in the other Vatican Museums: you must pass through all of these in order to reach the Sistine Chapel. Marvel at the Gallery of Maps and the Sala Rotunda, as well as the collection of Greek and Roman sculptures in the Gallery of Statues and Hall of Busts. In the Raphael rooms, you’ll find four rooms featuring frescoes by famed Renaissance artist Raphael.

To learn more about Vatican City check out our section on Vatican City in our Rome Travel Guide.

3. Trevi Fountain

trevi fountain

With its intricate Baroque confection of white Travertine marble, contrasted with the pure blue of its waters, the Trevi Fountain is a box that needs to be ticked on every traveler-to-Rome’s list. The problem - especially in the summer months - is that it gets outrageously crowded: head here as early in the morning as you can if you want that coveted uninterrupted shot. And the shot that you’ll probably take is, of course, the one that shows you throwing a coin over your left shoulder: legend has it that throwing one coin means you’ll definitely return to Rome, throwing two means that you’ll find love and throwing three means that you’ll marry. Even if you don’t care about any of these things, it’s worth knowing that all of the money collected daily from the Trevi Fountain’s waters is donated to charity.

To learn more about the Trevi Fountain check out our section on the Fountain in our Rome Travel Guide.

4. Spanish Steps

rome spanish steps

These iconic steps have long been a meeting place for locals, travelers and lovers - although you’ll have to stand as you wait, since legislation passed in 2019 forbids people from sitting on them. The 138 steps link the Piazza di Spagna, with its boat-shaped baroque fountain, Fontana della Barcaccia, to the Piazza Trinità dei Monti, so called because of the church of the same name that towers over the steps. From her, take a stroll down the super-stylish Via Condotti and stop off at Antico Caffè Greco for a refreshment: as Rome’s oldest coffee house, it was a famed haunt of poets like Byron, who drew heavily upon their 19th century experiences in Rome for poetic inspiration.

To learn more about the Spanish Steps check out our section on the steps and surrounding area in our Rome Travel Guide.

5. Roman Forum

roman forum

Dating back to 500 BC, this site was the heart of Roman life for many centuries: the place where political, social and religious activities were held. The ruins themselves are impressive enough, but if you take a moment to imagine the bustle and activity that they witnessed so many years ago, you really do get an overwhelming sense of ancient life. This is also where gladiatorial contests were held before the Colosseum was built; the two sites are close to one another and one ticket gains you access to both, as well as to Palatine Hill.

To learn more about the ruins of the Roman Forum check out our section on it in our Rome Travel Guide.

Rome In Video

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Amalfi Coast Region

amalfi coast

So glorious is the landscape along this 50 km stretch of coastline in Italy’s Campania region that it may well already look familiar to you: it’s provided the backdrop to many a movie, with its precipitous cliffs that plunge down to the sea, along with whole pastel-colored villages clinging to those sheer drops. Each city along this coast has its own charms, although Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi & Atrani tend to be among the most popular with tourists - indeed, many tours offering exploration of the Amalfi Coast, either by sea or by land, depart from Sorrento, so this is a useful hub if you’re not planning to wander through the region at your own pace.

If you have the time, and a reasonable level of fitness, then hiking these coastal hills is an incredibly satisfying way to explore this area: you’ll be treated to incredible views, as well as really working up the kind of appetite that will make your evening meal even more delightful - and with wonderful local wines and freshly caught fish on offer, you’ll definitely want room for seconds! Travelers who aren’t faint of heart may even choose to rent a Vespa, to zip from village to village in true Italian style. By night, take to the waters on a sunset boat tour or simply wander the narrow, winding streets to witness local life, and to eventually stumble across a small, family-owned restaurant at which to try one of the local specialties.

The Amalfi Coast in Pictures

Check out some great shots of the Amalfi Coast that include some contributions from our followers on our Facebook and Instagram pages. If you have a photo that you'd like to contribute visit our Facebook page for more details.

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Positano - Amalfi Coast
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Coastline - Amalfi Coast
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Amalfi - Amalfi Coast
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Furore Beach - Amalfi Coast
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Atrani - Amalfi Coast
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Amalfi - Amalfi Coast
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Near Positano, Amalfi Coast
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Near Positano, Amalfi Coast
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Near Positano, Amalfi Coast

Things To See & Do Along the Amalfi Coast

1. Amalfi, Italy

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As one of the less precipitous villages in the Amalfi region, this one lends itself well to people whose fitness is not quite up to steep hikes. There’s plenty of history to be soaked up here, too - thanks to its position, Amalfi was once a trade port as significant as Pisa or Genoa, and has a rich maritime past. Take some time by the water’s edge to walk the promenade and admire the marina, full of boats from all over the world. Architecturally speaking, the Piazza del Duomo is Amalfi’s focal point: the piazza in front of it is lined with cafes and boutiques, while the sixty steps that lead up to the church itself are well worth the climb for the colonnades, frescoes, arches and crypt that lie within.

Lemons feature heavily on the menu here: this citrus fruit grows in great quantities in this region, so be sure to sample a refreshing limoncello, or to try a satisfying pasta meal dressed with lemon, chilli and anchovies. The lemons are the perfect accompaniment to the area’s abundance of seafood, too: look out for dishes combining them with octopus or shrimp. And if your appetite for the sea has been piqued, make sure that you head for the Emerald Grotto, a natural marvel located at Amalfi’s Cape Conca, illuminated by the light play of an underwater crevice to a dazzling shade of green.

To learn more about the Amalfi, Italy check out our section on the city in our Amalfi Coast Travel Guide.

2. Positano, Italy

amalfi coast positano

Positano is often already familiar by sight to travellers, because this postcard-perfect location ticks all of the advertising boxes: it’s perched precariously on the side of steep cliffs that fall directly into the sea, with candy-colored houses forming an Insta-perfect photo opp. Those sheer drops don’t come without a side order of steps: be prepared to tackle many of these as you explore the town (depending on the time of year, you may also need to be prepared to tackle crowds,which these narrow passages were not designed for).

Of course, this popularity means that there’s also plenty to choose from in terms of shopping, eating and accommodation - all of which makes it a useful base from which to explore the coast. For those who have a decent level of fitness (and don’t suffer with vertigo) the Sentiero degli Dei is a must: it’s a 7.2 kilometre walk that links Agerola, a tiny hilltop town, with Nocelle, the upper part of Positano. Its name - which means ‘the Path of the Gods” scarcely does its beauty justice: the views are truly out of this world. Allow around three hours for the walk; afterwards, you can enjoy a refreshing swim at Arienzo beach, board a boat tour out to Capri Island or sample the area’s fiordilatte, a type of mozzarella, at one of the local restaurants. >> Read More

To learn more about the Positano, Italy check out our section on the city in our Amalfi Coast Travel Guide.

3. Atrani, Italy

amalfi coast bus tour

With a population of fewer than one thousand, Atrani very much benefits from being in nearby Amalfi's shadow: it’s less touristy and provides an opportunity to experience a more authentic slice of the region. As a coastal fishing village, you can definitely expect your meals here to be sparklingly fresh and delicious; for those who aren’t so keen on seafood, the pizza and pasta must also be tried to be believed.

Don’t expect glitz here, whether in terms of restaurants, accommodation or shopping - this is proper old school Italy, with a tumble of colorful houses backed by rugged cliffs, winding streets, smiling locals and a pristine beach lapped by pure, clear water. As the afternoon eases towards evening, drag yourself away from the beach and into town, where the Piazza Umberto I will be coming to life with children playing and adults - locals and tourists alike - gathering. It’s the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere before heading to your choice of restaurant.

To learn more about the Atrani, Italy check out our section on the city in our Amalfi Coast Travel Guide.

4. Furore Beach, Amalfi Coast

amalfi coast bus tour

Furore is like no other town on the Amalfi coast - for starters, it doesn’t have a main square. Even more unusually, it is based around a fjord that seems as if it would be more at home in Norway than here on the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a true hidden gem, which is situated between Amalfi and Positano and very easy to miss as you travel from one to the other - but, with its steep cliffs and picturesque bridge, it’s worth looking out for.

One might wonder how such a peaceful and scenic spot has garnered such a name (‘Furore’ means ‘fury’ in Italian) but the waves that crash onto its rugged rocks during stormy weather provide something of an answer. In the meantime, on calmer days, look for daredevils leaping into the water from the bridge, which is about 30m high. For a more sedate activity, look for a number of well-marked walks, including “La Volpe Pescatrice’ path (the path of the Fishing Fox’), which takes in an old fisherman’s village, steep stairways and caves in the cliff walls, and ‘I Pipistrelli Impazziti’ path (the path of the crazy bats), a walk lined by majestic trees that leads past old mills and canals, eventually arriving at an abandoned paper mill.

To learn more about the Furore Beach check out our section on the inlet fjord in our Amalfi Coast Travel Guide.

The Amalfi Coast in Video

Check out incredible footage of the spectacular Amalfi Coast. This gives a great overview of the top 10 places to see along the Amalfi Coast.

Discover More About The Amalfi Coast

Italy's Wine Regions

italy wine regions

Italy is consistently one of the largest producers of wine in the world - in fact, thanks to its varied terrain, ranging from the cooler regions of the mountainous north, to the warm sunshine of the Mediterranean, every region of the country produces some type of wine, although each variety has its own characteristics. Equally as enticing is the fact that Italy is so well known for its produce and cuisine, as well as for a genuine passion for cooking and eating. Combine this with its wine offering and you are in for a treat for the tastebuds! Whether your preference is red, white or sparkling, your palate is bound to be delighted by the variety of wine on offer in this country.

The subject of wine is often as complex as its taste so, suffice to say, it wouldn’t be difficult to pen a lengthy article on each particular region, what it produces and what makes it; its grapes; its methods of production and its conditions so unique. For now, however, we will simply concentrate on six of the most popular: Tuscany, Lombardy, Veneto, Sicily, Umbria and Piedmont (pronounced, for maximum authenticity, ‘Peh-ah-MON-tay’)

Italy's Wine Regions in Pictures

Check out images of vineyards and wineries from across Italy. If you have a photo you’d like to include in our slideshow check out our FB page for details on how to submit. We love to get images from our visitors to include in our current and upcoming articles.

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Lombardy Wine Region
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Tuscany Wine Region
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Chianti Classico Wines
italy wine region
Piedmont Wine Region
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Lombardy Wine Region
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Sicily Wine Region
italy wine region
Sicily Wine Region

Featured Wine Regions of Italy

1. Tuscany

italy wine region tuscany

Wines: Chianti (Red)
Grapes: Primarily Sangiovese, a thin-skinned grape that makes near-translucent wines

The wonderful quality of Tuscan wine may be demonstrated by the fact that, although the region only produces about 5 percent of Italian wine by volume, it accounts for more than 10 percent of total value. This is partly due to the fact that the Sangiovese grape does particularly well in its native terroir: attempts to reproduce it in other sunny climates, such as California and Australia, have generally been unsuccessful.

Tuscan wines are best paired with dishes comprising rich meat or tomato-based sauces. One popular pairing is Chianti with Bistecca Alla Fiorentina, a dry-aged porterhouse steak. Another classic combination is to try Chianti with ribollita, a hearty Tuscan bread soup containing cannellini beans and vegetables such as kale, carrot, onion and potato.

Tuscany is divided into a number of DOC (controlled origin) regions, including Chianti Classico, Chianti Rufina, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, San Gimignanoa and Bolgheri. All of these areas produce wines based on the Sangiovese varietal. Look out, too, for a range of Super Tuscan wines, which blend Sangiovese with non-native grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.

2. Piedmont

italy wine region piedmont

Red Wine Grapes: Barbera, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo
White Wine Grapes: Moscato Bianco, Cortese, Arneis

Located in the north-east of the country, Piedmont is bordered by the Alps at its top end, and by the less imposing Apennines at its bottom. It is in this lower region that quality grape production occurs, due to the temperature variations (diurnal range) created by the conflict between the cold temperatures from the north and the warm ones from the Mediterranean. In short, cool nights, foggy mornings and sunshine-filled days combine to create exceptional wines.

Nebbiolo, which is used in the production of Barolo and Barbaresco wines of the region, is very particular to its site and climate, and attempts to duplicate it elsewhere have been unsuccessful. It has flavors of cherry, tar and rose, with a high acidity and tannins. Barolo is best drunk when aged, which gives the tannins time to settle: they are kept for 18 months in the barrel and aged for at least three years before release. Barbaresco is slightly less tannic, thanks to the limestone-based soils in which the Nebbiolo grapes are grown, and you can expect a fruitier, less tarry wine as a result, which is aged for about two years, with at least 9 months in the barrel.

Barbera grapes are held in less esteem than Nebbiolo: they grow plentifully in the low valleys and produce wines known as ‘the wine of the people’ - which is to say, it’s inexpensive and can be drunk while young. It has fewer tannins than Nebbiolo and is rich, full-bodied and fruity - ideal paired with grilled meats, mushrooms and pasta dishes. The Piedmont region is also famed for its truffles, which pair remarkably well with this type of wine.

The region is better known for its reds than its whites, but you should look out for varieties such as Arneis, which produces medium-bodied wines that pair well with a variety of dishes, and Cortese, which tends to have a fruity flavor and a hint of bitterness. There’s also sweet Moscato, a dessert wine that combines flavors of honeydew, peaches and orange blossom.

3. Lombardy

glass lombardy sparkling wine

Red Wine Grapes: Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir
White Wine Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero

This region is particularly well known for its sparkling wines: Franciacorta, for example, is the area that gives its name to the fizz that it produces. Differing from Prosecco in terms of the grapes it is made from - usually Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, rather than Glera - it is also made along the same lines as French Champagne, having its second ageing in the bottle rather than in the tank, so that the resultant CO2 is absorbed back into the wine. The result? A drier, less fruity and satisfyingly balanced wine. Each year, from May until September, Franciacorta hosts a festival with a variety of food and wine events, so it’s worth timing your trip to coincide with this.

Producing more than half of Lombardy’s total wine output, the Oltrepo Pavesè region is known for its DOC sparkling wine made with Pinot Nero grapes, as well as Cuase, a sparkling rose. As well as sparkling wines, the area also produces red wines, from its Pinot Nero, Uva Rara and Vespolina grapes, plus whites from Pinot Grigio, Cortese and Sauvignon Blanc.

Lombardy also produces red wines, including those made with Nebbiolo grapes, like the ones grown in Piedmont. Thanks to the cooler climate and higher elevation, however, the Nebbiolo wines from Lombardy are lighter-bodied and less tannic than those from the neighboring region.

4. Veneto

amarone corvina grapes

Red Wine Grapes: Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara
White Wine Grapes: Soave

This region, which is also home to the magical city of Venice, produces large quantities of Pinot Grigio, as well as Glera, which is used for Prosecco. It is also where the Corniva variety of grape is grown which, along with Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara, is the main grape used in Valpolicella wines. These wines - which include the rich Amarone della Valpolicella and the intense Recioto della Valpolicella - vary according to their method of production. Valpolicella DOC tends to be easy to drink; light, fresh and fruity, whereas the Recioto is made from grapes that have been dried for anywhere between 100 and 200 days, which results in a concentration of flavor and sugars, producing a sweet, dessert-style wine.

Valpolicella wines have overtaken the Soave white wines in popularity in recent years, thanks, in part, to the fact that Soave’s former popularity led to enthusiastic overplanting, which in turn resulted in inferior production and loss of favor. Nevertheless, the area, which lies to the east of Verona, is entering a period of renaissance and beginning to produce quality wines again, which must contain at least 70% Garganega grape, with the remaining 30% made up of Chardonnay and Verdicchio.

5. Sicily

sicily etna winery

Red Wine Grapes: Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio
White Wine Grapes: Grillo, Chardonnay, Carricante and Catarratto

Sicily produces some of the country’s finest wines, a fact that certainly complements the island’s incredible cuisine. With a dry, warm climate and moderate rainfall, it’s an area with ideal wine-growing conditions; indeed, it’s thought that Sicilians have been making wine since around 4000 BC, although the Greeks are credited with refining these processes and helping to make Sicily the producer it is today.

The most commonly found red wine grape of the region is Nero d’Avola: it yields deep, robust wines which frequently have flavors of fruit and spice. It is sometimes blended with Frappato, in order to make Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG. In fact, Frappato is most often blended with other grapes, although it can be bottled on its own, resulting in a light, fruity, easy-drinking wine. The other commonly found red in the area, Nerello Mascalese, grows in the volcanic soils around Mt Etna, and produces a wine that’s deep, earthy and fruity. Unsurprisingly, these Sicilian reds pair wonderfully well with pasta disease and tomato-based sauces, as well as hearty meat dishes.

The island produces some quality whites as well: on Mount Etna, the Carricante variety is the grape used in wines often referred to as Etna Bianco, which tend to be dry and slightly acidic. Grillo is used for easy-drinking, light wines with a touch of peach flavor,; it’s also used in the base blend for Marsala, which accounts for a large amount of the island’s white production. Despite the fact that Catarratto is the most widely-planted grape in Sicily - and despite the fact that it is capable of making pleasantly soft, dry wines, it is most often considered as a volume variety, and tends to be sent to the mainland to be blended with other grapes. Sicily has a thriving fish and seafood culinary tradition, so opt for dishes like Pesce spada alla siciliana, a swordfish steak topped with olives, tomatoes and capers, or Sarde a beccafico, sardines flavorfully stuffed with anchovies, pine nuts, raisins and parsley.

6. Umbria

tuscany wine region

Red wine grapes: Sagrantino, Sangiovese, Colorino
White wine grapes: Grechetto and Trebbiano

Frequently in the shadow of its glamorous neighbor, Tuscany, Umbria is the only region of Italy that’s landlocked, and home to no fewer than 13 wine regions, including Orvieto, Montefalco and Torgiano. You’ll find two DOCG wines in Umbria, one of which is the Torgiano Rosso Riserva: made from around 50-70% Sangiovese grapes, it must be aged for at least 3 years, with a minimum in-bottle period of 6 months. Expect lots of berry flavours, as well as a deep, juicy color and bold tannins with coffee notes. The other DOCG offering from Umbria? Montefalco Sagrantino: made from Sagrantino grapes, which are high in antioxidants and tannins. It pairs beautifully with roasted meats or aged cheeses and has a bold, plummy taste with hints of cocoa. Montefalco Rosso, a DOC wine, is often unfairly assumed to be a lower-grade version of Sagrantino, but it is, in fact, an excellent wine, with flavors of cherry and berry, in its own right.

Umbria’s white wines have been overtaken in popularity by its reds in recent years, but are still well worth a try. The majority of these come from the Orvieto DOC, which produces wines with a satisfyingly refreshing and light crispness, qualities that make them ideal for pairing for spicy foods. Those made from grapes that have been grown in the area’s ‘traditional’ zone earn a ‘Classico’ designation, while those meeting certain minimum requirements for alcohol content and ageing may also qualify as “Superiore.”

Italy's Wine Regions in Video

Venice, Italy

Venice is nothing short of beguiling, and has captured the imagination of artists, poets, travelers and lovers for centuries. The otherworldly quality of the light, enhanced by those watery canals, in which the faded colors of the architecture are blurrily reflected is just one part of it. There’s the sheer romance of the gondolas gliding past, the dazzling opulence of St Mark’s Square, the complete lack of traffic and exhaust, the way that sound is absorbed and echoed by the water, the lapping of water at crumbling facades.

You could happily spend your time here simply wandering the narrow lanes and traversing the bridges that span the canals, envying the locals as they go about their days and admiring the architecture, but there are treasure troves of art and culture to be plundered here as well, including the Galerie dell’Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Hedonists should plan their stay to coincide with the gilded masks, spectacular headpieces and decadent revelry of February’s Carnevale, whie a boat trip to Burano, with its houses painted in a rainbow confection of colors, is an Instagrammer’s dream.

Venice in Pictures

Check out some great shots of Venice and its many canals - there is so much to see in this unique city!

Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco - Venice, Italy
Murano Glass Being Made
Murano Glass - Murano Island
Murano Glass
Murano Glass - Murano Island
Venice Grand Canal
Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
Lion of Venice
Lion of Venice - Venice, Italy
gondola ride
Gondola Ride - Venice, Italy
venice grand canal
Grand Canal - Venice, Italy
Teatro la Fenice
Teatro La Fenice - Venice, Italy

Things To See & Do in Venice

1. Piazza San Marco

piazza san marco

In a city full of squares, Piazza San Marco, the main one, is remarkable for its scale and grandeur; indeed, Napoleon referred to it as ‘the world’s most beautiful drawing room.’ Some of the city’s most famous buildings are located here, including the magnificent St Mark’s Basilica, which dates back to around 830, although it has been transformed many times over the years, resulting in a beautiful blend of styles. Striking though it is from the outside, the interiors are jaw-droppingly ornate, with glittering mosaics decorating huge expanses of its walls. You can also climb to the top of the bell tower - the campanile - for awesome panoramas over Venice.

Down in the Piazza itself, you’ll find a mix of contemporary designer and traditional artisanal shops, as well as elegant coffee houses with outdoor seating for watching the world go by. One of the most lavish of these is Caffé Florian: established in the 18th century, it is popular with locals and tourists alike. Don’t miss the Doge’s Palace, adjacent to St Mark’s Basilica, and connected to the Bridge of Sighs.

To learn more about Piazza San Marco check out our section on it in our Venice Travel Guide.

2. Grand Canal

venice grand canal

As the main waterway in Venice, which links most of the city’s primary attractions, the Grand Canal is usually a hive of activity, with elegant gondolas navigating its waters, as well as more sturdy barges delivering goods and produce.

In its opulent glory days, prime Venetian real estate was that which faced the canal: dukes, nobles and wealthy merchants occupied these grand palazzi, and the range of architecture, dating as far back as the 12th century, is best appreciated from the Grand Canal itself. You can board a tour on a vaporetto, which will offer you a better view than in a gondola (save these for the smaller, quieter canals) and take you past sights such as Santa Maria della Salute, Palazzo Grassi, the late Gothic splendor of Ca’ Foscari and the previously gilded, but still magnificent, Ca’d’Oro.

To learn more about the sights along the Grand Canal check out our section on it in our Venice Travel Guide.

3. Murano

murano glass

Located about 1.5 kilometres north of Venice, Murano is a series of seven small islands in the Venetian lagoon, linked by pedestrian bridges. It’s a popular destination for a day trip via vaporetto, a type of boat, thanks to its long history of glassmaking. As well as picking up their own souvenirs of the famed craft to take home, visitors can watch demonstrations of Murano glass being made. If you’re interested in the history of glassmaking, stop by the Museo del Vetro, where examples from as far back as Ancient Egypt can be viewed.

It’s not all about glass, however. At the Basilica di Santa Maria e San Donato, you’ll find intricate Byzantine mosaics inlaying its dome and covering its floors, as well as the intriguing legend that the altar houses the bones of a dragon slain by San Donato, as well as the bones of the saint himself.

To learn more about Murano check out our section on it in our Venice Travel Guide.

4. Teatro la Fenice

teatro la fenice

Fenice means ‘phoenix’ in Italian and, like the mythical bird, this theatre has risen from the ashes multiple times, having been burned down on no fewer than three occasions. Oddly enough, however, it was so named long before the first of these fires: In fact, the impetus for the name came from the fact that the association in charge of theatre in Venice had suffered various reversals of fortune.

The theatre hosts a year-round program of opera, ballet and orchestral performances and, even if you don’t consider yourself to be much of a culture buff, it’s well worth attending one of these for the opportunity to witness the jewel-box interior of the theatre in action. Otherwise, self-guided audio tours are available, which also take in the theatre’s five anterooms, including the Sala Grande, which was completely destroyed by fire in 1996 and rebuilt to host balls and screenings during the annual Venice Film Festival.

To learn more about this grand theatre check out our section on it in our Venice Travel Guide.

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Florence, Italy

florence italy

Known as the cradle of the Renaissance, Florence is an absolute Aladdin’s Cave of art, culture and architecture. It’s relatively small, and therefore easy to explore on foot, but with such riches crammed within it, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so planning your days is essential. It’s worth noting, too, that there is more to this glorious city than art: it also has a lively restaurant and nightlife scene, so be sure to spare some energy for the evenings.

You could literally spend hours in the museums and galleries here, but If your itinerary doesn’t allow for this, just take your time to wander the cobbled streets: the whole city is like an outdoor museum with statues and art at every turn. If, on the other hand, you intend to spend time in any of the city’s many renowned institutions, such as the Palazzo Pitti and the Galleria degli Uffizi, then it’s a good idea to buy tickets in advance so that you’re not stuck in lengthy queues.

Florence in Pictures

There is much to see and take in when in Florence. This slideshow gives you a taste of what this beautiful city has to offer.

Florence Cathedral
Florence Cathedral - Florence, Italy
accademia gallery david
Statue David in Accademia Gallery - Florence, Italy
gelato
Gelato - Florence, Italy
vasari last judgment florence cathedral
Vasari Last Judgment - Florence Cathedral
Florence Cathedral & Skyline
Florence Cathedral & Skyline - Florence, Italy
uffizi gallery florence
Uffizi Gallery - Florence, Italy
Narrow Street in Florence
Narrow Streets - Florence, Italy

Things To See & Do in Florence

1. Florence Cathedral

florence cathedral

Instantly recognisable, with its terracotta dome dominating the skyline, construction on this Gothic-style church began in 1296 and was only completed in 1436. One of the primary reasons for this lengthy period of time was that nobody was quite sure how to build such a large dome: this final step was left unfinished for years, until Filippo Brunelleschi devised the solution (which he demonstrated with eggshells) of building one dome on top of the other, employing a herringbone brick design that helped to evenly distribute weight. Today, you can climb the 463 steps to the Dome’s top and enjoy panoramic views of the city, but be aware that the climb is arduous and quite claustrophobic. Inside the cathedral itself, the highlight is Vasari’s frescoes of The Last Judgement, executed between 1572 and 1579, but other features, such as Uccello’s clock at the entrance and the ornately mosaiced floors should also be noted.

To learn more about the Florence Cathedral check out our section on it in our Florence Travel Guide.

2. Vasari Last Judgment - Florence Cathedral

vasari last judgement

Located within Florence Cathedral, on the interior of its magnificent Dome, this fresco painting remained incomplete when Vasari died, after working on it for two years before his death in 1574. It took Federico Zuccaro an additional five years to finish the project.

Restored in the mid-nineties, after being hidden from public view behind scaffolding for fourteen years, the fresco covers an astonishing 4,500 square metres and is arranged into six concentric rows divided by eight vertical segments. As was the case with many religious works of the Renaissance period, the painting is intended as much to inspire fear as devotion: its lowest section, and consequently the one most visible to church-goers, depicts the ravages of hell, with sinners suffering the fate of eternal damnation. Tiers located above represent angels, saints and allegorical figures. Over the years, it has attracted criticism from those who believe that Zuccaro was less talented than Vasari, and that he did not remain true to his predecessor’s vision; nevertheless, it is an artwork of astonishing scale and importance.

To learn more about the Vasari's Last Judgement check out our section on the Florence Cathedral in our Florence Travel Guide.

3. Accademia Gallery

statue david

As the place in which Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the statue of David, is housed, this gallery is a must-visit while in Florence. There are other works by the celebrated artist here as well, including Prisoners and St Matthew - but, while these are undeniably the lure that draws thousands of visitors to the Accademia each year, don’t miss the opportunity to feast your eyes upon paintings by Botticelli, del Sarto, Orcagna and others, which adorn the walls of the other main halls. Music lovers should also pay a visit to the Accademia’s recent ‘Museum of Musical Instruments’ section, where a collection of one-of-a-kind instruments, including a viola made by Stradivari in 1690, are on display.

To learn more about the Accademia Gallery in Florence check out our section on it in our Florence Travel Guide.

4. Gelato

gelato

Not only is Florence the birthplace of the Renaissance - it’s also widely believed to be the birthplace of gelato, so this is a sweet treat you absolutely must try during your visit. Unsurprisingly, there are any number of gelaterias claiming to be the ‘best’ in the city, each with their own devotees, and each with their own specialities. For an authentic experience, try to steer clear of the tourist traps, which can generally be identified by the huge mounds of brightly colored cold confection piled in their display cases. Some of the most highly recommended stores include Gelateria della Passera, where the flavors change daily, in the Santo Spirito neighborhood, and My Sugar, which features unconventional flavor combinations and is located near the San Lorenzo market. Other options? I Gelati del Bondi, opposite the Santa Maria train station, is the ideal place to indulge in salted caramel gelato before you set off on a journey, while Vivoli, situated on Via Dell’Isola delle Stinche, can lay claim to being the city’s oldest gelateria, as well as one that uses only natural ingredients and absolutely no preservatives.

To learn more about the Gelato in Florence check out our section on it in our Florence Travel Guide.

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Milan, Italy

milan duomo sunrise

As a financial hub, Milan is arguably not as beautiful as other major Italian cities - its skyline tends to be pierced by modern skyscrapers, rather than ancient spires - but it is a stylish and cosmopolitan city, with a vibrant nightlife and an impressive historical quarter, replete with palaces.

It is also, of course, the beating heart of Italy’s inimitable fashion industry and, as such, home to dozens of high-end boutiques, designer stores and impeccably dressed, impossibly glossy denizens. Even if shopping isn’t your thing, the people watching is incredible. And, of course, like all Italian cities, it features many cultural attractions ranging from churches to art galleries to museums.

Unsurprisingly, for such a stylish city, the bar and restaurant scene in Milan is top-notch. To experience the evening the way a Milanese does, make time for an aperitivo in one of the bars lining the Navigli canals, which are believed to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci, who lived in the city for several years. Naturally, his works are one of Milan’s most compelling attractions, including the enormous ‘Last Supper’, which took four years to create and can be found in its original location, in the dining room of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grande; access is limited, so advance booking is a must.

Milan in Pictures

Check out some great shots of this stylish city in northern Italy.

Duomo Cathedral Milan
Duomo Cathedral - Milan, Italy
Arch of Peach Milan
Arch of Peace - Piazza Sempione Milan, Italy
Inside Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II Milan, Italy
Sforza Castle
Sforza Castle Milan, Italy

Things To See & Do in Milan

1. Duomo Cathedral

Duomo Cathedral Milan

In a country known for its sheer number of churches (there are well over 60,000 of them!), it’s not difficult to see why Milan’s Cathedral is so famous – not only is it Italy’s largest, but it also took almost six centuries – from 1386 until 1985 – to complete. Naturally, this means that the styles of different periods influence its appearance: it was designed in a French Gothic style, with flamboyant and sculptural ornamentation, but also includes elements of Renaissance and Romanesque. Co-operation in terms of the final outcome is evidenced by the fact that a number of experts, including architects and artists, contributed to its creation as part of a ‘Cathedral Factory’ (Fabbrica del Duomo)

There are five central naves within the cathedral, which is crafted from rosy-hued white marble. Despite its imposing exterior, it exudes a feeling of warmth and security, with gorgeous stained glass windows casting their colourful light upon the floors and the opportunity to climb to the ceiling in order to take in the city’s breathtaking views.

2. Parco Sempione

Arch of Peach Milan

Located just behind Sforza Castle, this is an unexpected oasis in the middle of Milan, which covers around 95 acres and is a boon to anyone feeling hot, sweaty or exhausted by the pace and crowds of the city. Whether you wish to simply lie on the grass, have a stroll or rent a bicycle, there is abundant flora and fauna to beguile you, as well as a number of impressive statues. When entering the park, make a beeline for Arco della Pace (Arch of Peace) which is crafted from marble and is one of Milan’s most recognised symbols, with its 23-meter height and impressive horse-drawn chariots.

A handful of other attractions are located within the park, including the Arena Civica, which Napoleon opened with a chariot race in 1807, and which now plays host to a number of sporting and cultural events. There is also a small but well-stocked aquarium, to which entrance is free, and the steel Torre Branca, which was erected in 1933 and can be ascended (via elevator) for incredible views of Milan and beyond.

3. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Inside Galleria Vittorio Emanuele

Milan is synonymous with fashion, so it stands to reason that at least some of your time in this stylish city will be spent browsing, if not buying – and where better to do so than in Italy’s oldest shopping mecca? Expect all-out glamor – this elegant arcade: built in the second half of the 19th century, is sometimes referred to as ‘Milan’s drawing room’ (Il salotto di Milano). Thanks to its location, near Milan’s impressive Duomo, it’s very easy to fit in a visit to the Galleria, where the presence of high-end brands such as Gucci and Prada means that the people-watching can be fabulous.

Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to a meal in one of the arcade’s many restaurants, it’s free to walk around, and to look up and admire the central dome, with its mosaic representing Asia, Europe, America and Africa. Nor will it cost you anything to avail yourself of some legendary good luck: there’s a mosaic on the floor beneath the dome which depicts various animals and if you step with your right foot on the bull and turn in a full circle with your eyes closed. Want good luck for an entire year? Do this at midnight on New Year’s Eve. And if you want an inexpensive refreshment afterwards, then you can always swing by what may be the world’s most glamorous McDonald’s (complete with black and gold décor), which can also be found within the arcade.

4. Sforza Castle

sforza castle

Built as a fortress in the 14th century, the Sforza castle now houses a number of exceptional museums, including the Museum of Ancient Art, where you can see Michelangelo’s last (and unfinished) work, the Rondanini Pietà, as well as a number of works from antiquity, collected by the Sforza family. Other collections include The Archaeological Museum of Milan, The Museum of Musical Instruments and the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, which comprises a collection of more than 1,500 thousand works of art from the period between the13th and 18th centuries.

The entrance ticket covers admission to all of the museums, but if you prefer a free outing, then simply have a wander in the castle’s imposing central courtyard to contemplate its colourful history, during which it has been destroyed numerous times, including by Napoleon in the early 19th century, and by the building of the Milan Metro in the 1960s.

Milan in Video

Pompeii & Herculaneum

pompeii with vesuvius in background

Once a hub of busy and prosperous Roman life, Pompeii was destroyed and buried after nearby Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing around 2,000 people. So ferocious was the blast that Pliny the Younger could witness it from across the Bay of Naples, writing that “Darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a dark room.”. The site was discovered – largely intact – by explorers in 1748, but excavations are ongoing – even during the Covid-19 pandemic, finds included an almost perfectly preserved bronze chariot.

On your visit, it’s well worth spending some time in Herculaneum as well as the main Pompeii site: although it’s much smaller (around 4 hm2 as opposed to 44) it’s even more well preserved, and offers valuable insights into how the Romans spent their leisure time, since it is without many of the large public buildings, such as the forum and amphitheater, that are found in Pompeii. Experts advise giving yourself more than one day to visit the two sites; you can also opt to hike up to Vesuvius’ crater; it’s not a particularly arduous climb, but be prepared with sturdy shoes and a bottle of water.

Pompeii & Herculaneum in Pictures

Pompeii and Vesuvius are just things you have to see for yourself but to give you an idea of what to expect check out these shots below.

Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius in background
Pompeii with Vesuvius, Near Naples Italy
pompeii
Pompeii, Near Naples Italy
Herculaneum
Herculaneum, Near Naples Italy
Plaster Citizens of pompeii
Paster Citizens of Pompeii, Near Naples Italy
Ancient Kitchen in pompeii
Ancient Kitchen in Pompeii, Near Naples Italy
Crater Mount Vesuvius
Crater of Mount Vesuvius, Near Naples Italy

Things To See & Do in Pompeii & Herculaneum

1. Pompeii Plaster Citizens

Plaster Citizens of pompeii

Just as the city was preserved, so too were many of the bodies of those unfortunate enough to still be there to lose their lives to the eruption. When the site was excavated in the early 1800s, it was noted that the skeletons of the victims were surrounded by empty space between themselves and the preserving ash; by pouring plaster into these spaces, it was possible to gain an insight into the last moments of these humans’ lives, right down to what they were wearing, how they were positioned and even what their facial expressions were. One famous relic of the disaster is a dog, still attached to its tether and most likely trying to escape the impending disaster. Many of the casts are now on display in Naples, in its Archaeological Museum, but a group of thirteen of them – men, women and children - are laid out as they were found in pompeii’s Garden of Fugitives.

To learn more about the plaster citizens of Pompeii check out our section on this in our article on Pompeii - Things To See & Do In Pompeii Italy.

2. Mount Vesuvius

Crater Mount Vesuvius

Perhaps astonishingly for a natural landmark that had such a huge impact on ancient civilization and history, Mount Vesuvius is easily climbed, with a relatively short 4km there-and-back trail to tackle. The volcano is still active (although it last erupted in 1944) and its crater has drawn visitors, curious to peek over its rim, since the 18th century. From this point, you can also look out over the Bay of Naples, the ruins of Pompeii and the mountains of Abruzzo. The immediately surrounding area is also delightful: Mount Vesuvius National Park is scattered with farms and vineyards, and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to sample Lacryma Cristi (tears of Christ) wine, which is made from grapes grown in this unique landscape.

Buses to the National Park run from both Pompeii and Herculaneum; alternatively, you can drive and park for a €5 fee before hopping on a shuttle up to the ticket office, where crater access can be purchased for €10. The trail to the crater is open from 9am year-round, but closes earlier in the Fall and winter months, so be sure to check your times.

To learn more about Mount Vesuvius check out our section on this in our article on Pompeii - Things To See & Do In Pompeii Italy.

3. Herculaneum

herculaneum

If you are short on time, it’s worth making Herculaneum the focus of your visit to pompeii: it’s smaller and much more easily explored in just a few hours. Additionally, it is even more perfectly preserved than the site of pompeii: it is possible to view details as specific as décor in the site’s homes, as well as personal possessions and even food.

Thanks to its climate and coastal location, Herculaneum was a resort town popular with wealthy Romans when Vesuvius erupted, sealing it under a 16-meter deep layer of ash and volcanic rock. Sights to visit include the Terme Centrali (Central Baths), which date from the first century BC and feature an ornate mosaic depicting Triton, the god of the sea, and various creatures of the deep. The individual houses are also interesting, with the insights they provide into life at the time of the disaster: for instance, the House of the Wooden Partition is so called because it has a perfectly preserved folding wooden door, complete with brass handles and lantern holders, which could be used to provide privacy from the atrium. The Fornici, warehouses located along the beach, feature the skeletons of locals who attempted to flee the blast, as well as many of their personal effects, such as jewellery and coins.

To learn more about Herculaneum check out our section on this in our article on Pompeii - Things To See & Do In Pompeii Italy.

4. Pompeii Tours

pompeii

As an entire city, Pompeii requires time to explore thoroughly: there are temples, squares, baths, shops and private homes spread out over its vast 440,000 square metres, and it’s impossible to navigate it all in just one day. Some of the main sights include The Teatro Grande, an open-air amphitheater used for dramatic performances; there is another well-preserved amphitheater which was used for gladiator battles and sporting events and has seating for up to 20,000 spectators. It’s also fascinating to visit the Lupanar, which was the city’s brothel, a two-storey building with five rooms on each floor: above the doorway of each is an erotic fresco that probably indicated the specialty of the prostitute that worked within that room. The surrounding area features phallic symbols on buildings and pavements, all aimed at guiding customers in the brothel’s direction.

Although you can buy a ticket and wander through the ruined city on your own, your experience will be enriched by joining a tour, with a guide to provide insights into the many fascinating aspects of the archaeological site. Some of these are as short as two hours in length; others can last as long as seven or eight hours and include transportation from Naples (16 miles away), wine tasting and a visit to Vesuvius’ crater.

Pompeii & Herculaneum in Video

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