Visit Italy for its world-class art, history, and cuisine, as well as its diverse landscapes that may take you across continents.

Choosing just a few places to visit in this lovely country is difficult, from its art- and architecture-filled towns to its stunning natural settings – dramatic coasts, tranquil lakes, pristine mountains, and those famed rolling hills.

To choose where to go? It depends on what you want from your Italian vacation—history, art, beaches, trekking, or gastronomy. Here are some must-see Italian destinations that should start your journey, whatever your passion.

Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast

Italy’s most famous coastline is a thrilling strip of steep crags, sun-bleached settlements, and rocks rising behind the water. Mountaintop hiking trails offer majestic Tyrrhenian views from sea to sky.

Some say Liguria’s Cinque Terre or Calabria’s Costa Viola is the peninsula’s most beautiful shore, but the Amalfi shore has captivated and inspired Tennessee Williams, DH Lawrence, Elizabeth Taylor, Virginia Woolf, and Jackie Kennedy. Undoubtedly, its stunningly charming appearance makes it one of Italy’s top couple’s destinations.

Driving along the Amalfi Coast is one of the world’s most famous road excursions, but it seems like everyone else has the same idea. Parking is scarce, and traffic is nose-to-tail. Take public transportation or the ferry between towns.

Pompeii

Pompeii’s time-warped remains plunge you 2000 years back in time. Explore chariot-grooved Roman alleys, frescoed villas and bathhouses, food stalls, theaters, and a historic brothel.

In the eerie quiet overlooking Mt. Vesuvius, consider Pliny the Younger’s horrific depiction of the town’s dying hours: “Darkness came on again, again ashes, thick and heavy. We stood up constantly to brush these off or we would have been buried and crushed.”

Visit Herculaneum, the second great eruption-damaged city, if time allows. Its smaller size, greater preservation, and location, surrounded by Ercolano, make it more interesting than Pompeii. As with Pompeii, the Circumvesuviana train makes it accessible.

Emilia-Romagna

Emilia Romagna

Emilia-Romagna’s capital, Bologna, is known as “La Grassa” (the fat one) because of its gastronomic culture. Mortadella, tortellini, and tagliatelle al ragù are popular Italian dishes originating here. Take the train to Modena for world-famous aged balsamic vinegar after shopping in the Quadrilatero neighborhood, which has been home to food stalls since medieval times.

Save room for Parma, home to parmigiano reggiano and prosciutto di Parma. Toast with a glass or three of Emilia-Romagna’s Lambrusco, a far cry from the excessively sweet wine exported in the past.

Como Lake

Even mortals can enjoy it if the Clooneys and vacationing Obamas do. Lago di Como, Lombardy’s most beautiful lake, is shaded by the Rhaetian Alps. The gardens of Villas Melzi d’Eril, Carlotta, and Balbianello, which flush pink in April and May with azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias, are among the lake’s siren calls. Movie moguls, fashion royalty, and literal royalty live in its sumptuous Liberty-style villas

Como’s Gothic cathedral and Palazzo Terragni, the Fascists’ party headquarters, are stunning examples of Italian 1930s Rationalism and a stark reminder of the regime’s crimes.

Como is like the Amalfi Coast—clogged roads and parking issues. The ferry, bus, and rail along the lake’s eastern border are great alternatives to driving.

Rome

Rome

Rome, once caput mundi (capital of the world), was legendarily birthed by a wolf-suckled kid, became a large empire, became the Catholic church’s home, and now has more than two millennia of art and architecture.

Rome should be the focus of your first vacation to Italy, but there’s too much to see in one visit, from the Pantheon and Colosseum to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Caravaggio’s masterpieces. Like countless others before you, toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain and make a vow to come again.

With limited public transport in the city center, your hotel choice can be vital with so much to see. Avoid the Colosseum if you want to see the Vatican at opening time.

Tuscany

Tuscany

Florence is beautiful, from Botticelli’s Venus emerging coyly from the water at the Uffizi Gallery to its cathedral’s mind-boggling dome. This was the Renaissance’s capital, and Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael are everywhere: Accademia, Bargello, and Uffizi.

Cypress trees, olive orchards, and gems dot Tuscany, Italy’s most idealized area. Explore Chianti’s vineyards and the Val d’Orcia’s cypress-studded hills after admiring Siena’s Gothic magnificence and San Gimignano’s Manhattan-esque skyline.

Tuscany’s superb train network makes major cities ideal for car-free travel. You’ll need a car to explore the countryside.

The Dolomites

There are taller, bigger, and more geologically dynamic mountains around the world, but few are as romantic as the pink-hued granite Dolomites.

They may have severe, craggy peaks, brilliant spring wildflower skirts, or rich Ladin stories. However, it could be Cortina d’Ampezzo’s allure of money, elegance, and glamour or Sappada’s linguistic quirks. Whatever the cause, this tiny northern Italian town is tempting to the max.

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