“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” (Giuseppe Verdi)
Though Italy has only been an official republic since 1946, it is the fifth most-visited country in the world by foreign visitors. The boot-shaped nation contains more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other, was once the heart of the mighty Roman Empire, and has inspired artists, travelers, and lay people for centuries.
It’s difficult to choose a single city to visit in this Mediterranean country, which is why many visitors frequent several during the same trip. But in a country full of history, art, architecture, romance, great food, stunning scenery, and beautiful coastal towns, narrowing your list can seem nearly impossible.
Here are some suggestions:
FOR HISTORY BUFFS — ROMA
Founded: 753 B.C.
Known for: Being the capital of Italy and the seat and namesake of the once-powerful Roman Empire.
Top attractions: Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Vatican City, Spanish Steps
Best time to visit: October to April
Why you should go: If you’ve always been fascinated with the Roman Empire, a trip to the Italian capital should be top of your list. The busy streets and modern metropolitan areas, coupled with the ancient arenas and cobblestone sidewalks combine to give the city a unique atmosphere.
FOR ART-LOVERS — FIRENZE
Founded: 59 B.C.
Known for: Being the birthplace of the Renaissance and the home to Michelangelo’s famous “David” statue.
Top attractions: Florence Cathedral & Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, Galleria dell’Accademia
Best time to visit: May, June, or September
Why you should go: Though it’s one of the more well-known cities in Italy, Florence still maintains a small-town feel since it’s possible to walk from one end to the other in a mere hour. The piazzas, yellow-tinted buildings, museums, gelato shops, and street art make this Tuscan city a quintessential Italian experience.
FOR ROMANTICS — VENEZIA
Known for:Its twisting canals, charming gondoliers, and masked traditions.
Top attractions:St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica, Rialto Bridge, the Grand Canal, Doge’s Palace
Best time to visit: September to November
Why you should go: Venice’s lack of motor vehicles makes it easy to believe you’ve stepped back in time. The maze of canals and bridges and alleyways is a delight to navigate, and the entire city is reminiscent of an empire lost to time. Ditch your map and make sure you visit soon!
FOR THE FASHION-OBSESSED — MILANO
Founded: 600 B.C.
Known for: Being the fashion capital of the world and the economic power of Italy.
Top attractions: Milan Cathedral & Duomo, Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” Sforza Castle, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Best time to visit: April, May, or October
Why you should go: While Rome, Tuscany, and Venice get the Hollywood treatment, fast-paced Milan will give you a good look at what everyday life is like in Italy. Its more compact size also makes it easier to digest than the enormity of Rome.
FOR FOODIES — BOLOGNA
Known for: Being home to the first university in the Western world, and the birthplace of a pasta sauce with a similar name.
Top attractions: San Petronio Basilica, the Leaning Towers, Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
Best time to visit: September to November
Why you should go: Only 30 minutes from Florence, this hidden gem flourishes in the Emilia-Romagna countryside. Bologna is full of interesting museums, cathedrals, and towers, and its rusty red color will charm any traveler. Don’t forget to try pasta alla bolognese.
FOR ARCHITECTURE FIENDS — PISA
Part of Italy Since: 110 B.C.
Known for: A certain famous leaning tower.
Top attractions:Leaning Tower of Pisa, Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa Baptistery, Camposanto Monumentale
Best time to visit: April to June
Why you should go: Come for the Leaning Tower, but stay for everything else. Pisa is home to more than 20 other historic churches, medieval palaces, and beautiful bridges over the Arno River. Make sure to venture inside the Cathedral and churches, too, as sometimes what’s inside is even more stunning.
FOR SUN-SEEKERS — THE CINQUE TERRE
Part of Italy Since:10th-11th century
Known for: Its five colorful, cliffside towns and connecting hiking trails.
The five cities (from north to south): Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore
Best time to visit: June or September
Why you should go: The five villages of the Cinque Terre may be known as one, but, if you take time to explore each, you’ll find that they have unique personalities. Choose one as a home base and explore all five, using the local train, ferry, or hiking trails to get from one to the next.
FOR BEACH BUMS — THE AMALFI COAST & CAPRI
Part of Italy Since: 1137
Known for: Sun-drenched days, a citrus fruit and the liqueur it produces, and the winding roads along the coast.
Popular towns of the Amalfi Coast: Amalfi, Positano, Ravello, Atrani, Vietri sul Mare
Best time to visit: May
Why you should go: There’s a reason it is believed part of Odysseus’ story took place in this coastal area. The Amalfi Coast — and the nearby island, Capri — sparkle in the constant sunlight. A winding road leads through towns full of colorful buildings and beach umbrellas, lemon trees and limoncello, handmade sandals and expensive trinkets.