The Wonderful Land of Pesto & Pasta. Heading to Italy anytime soon? What a great choice in destinations you have made! There is so much I love about Italy and something about it that always keeps me coming back. It may be the fact that I’m Italian, but I think it also has something to do with the culture itself. It is such a special place for so many different reasons, but what I love most is that there is always so much to see! So keep reading below for my personal list of favorite 8 Must-See Destinations in Italy that aren’t (completely) overrun with tourists!
I may be a little bit biased about this one because this was the town I got to study abroad in and it was also my first time in Europe. However, it’s such an authentic place I had to share it with you guys. Viterbo is an amazing little town located about two hours north by train from Rome! This ancient little city holds such a special place in my heart and brings back so many great memories. The town is lined with cement walls, which keeps the medieval feel. There are very few people that speak English here so be prepared to learn the basics.
The food here is absolutely incredible, and the town holds so much culture within the walls. If you are visiting, La Spaghetteria is a must. They literally have an entire alphabet menu of only pasta. Meaning over 300 different creations listed A to Z for you to choose from. You can visit the gardens of Villa Lante, stroll the shops (they’re big on antiques), or immerse yourself in the community. There is always a celebration of some type going on here, and I loved that about it. Visit during soccer season & you’re in for a treat. On the outskirts of town, you will find luscious hills with hot springs, and local farms that may let you ride their horses. There are also a few lakes nearby worth visiting, Bracciano, Bolsena, and Vico. I highly recommend taking a day to visit Viterbo or staying the night in a cute and well-priced Airbnb!
Assisi made it on this list because it is such a cute and quaint little place. It is located just outside of the Tuscan border in a region called Umbria. Assisi is a UNESCO heritage site and pictured above is the Basilica of San Francesco d’ Assisi. St. Francis was buried inside the church and you can purchase tickets to walk through and see all the stunning architecture. The inside is truly beautiful, and so is the view! Assisi is located near Tuscany, so as you can imagine everywhere you look you will see absolutely beautiful rolling hills. After visiting the church you can walk along the cobblestone streets and grab a pizza and a glass of vino for lunch! Yes, an entire pizza like the one below… Have you ever tried potatoes on your pizza? Comment below and let me know. There are lots of local shops with handmade goods to window shop or get yourself something special. The locals will brighten your day and be sure to stop for a scoop of gelato because eating is what you do in Italy.
LAKE COMO –
Lake Como reminds me of Italian Lake Tahoe. Nestled up in the mountains in Northern Italy, it is just a train ride away from Milan or Venice and I would highly recommend putting it on your Italy itinerary! We took the train from Milan Central to Varenna, where we took a ferry across the lake over to our hostel in Menaggio. We decided to visit during December, which didn’t make for the most spectacular weather so I would recommend visiting in summer. Menaggio had most of its stores and restaurants shut down, but we made do with wine and bread and actually got to take a bus into Switzerland for the day! You can take a ferry to any different town on the lake. We really enjoyed Bellagio. It had lots of shops, restaurants, and locals hanging out! Even at the peak of summer, I have heard Lake Como doesn’t get overrun with tourists. It is a less visited area, which makes it that much more peaceful! You can rent a boat for a day or spend your time visiting all the towns. Either way, you won’t be let down! This place is a photographer’s dream with the sunset behind the alps! And last but not least, George Clooney owns a house on the water and rumor has it he lives there most of the time so make sure to keep your eyes peeled for him!
This one might not be so hidden, but I still think it deserves to be on this list due to its charm. Verona is such a cute little town with a beautiful river that runs through it. You can rent bikes and ride them around the city, or it is walkable as well! Visit Juliet’s house, Castelvecchio Bridge, Basilica of San Zeno, Castelvecchio Museum, the Roman amphitheater in Piazza Bra and more. The cool thing about this city – James and I got into town extremely late and found that most of the restaurants were still open for business. We sat down in the main part of town with a view of the amphitheater around 11:00 pm. We enjoyed the best Caprese salad and a bottle of wine! During the day you can visit Juliet’s house and write her a letter. Verona has an endless amount of wine bars to refuel at and some amazing shopping! So whether you are on a solo excursion, romantic getaway, or a girls trip, there is something to do!
MURANO & BURANO –
Two of the cutest islands in all the world! Located right off the coast of Venice lies both Murano & Burano. They are only a short boat trip from Venice and can both be seen in one day! Murano is known for their hand glass blowing and is a lot less busy. Here there are shops where locals sell their art pieces and you will find some of the most stunning pieces! They turn the hand-blown glass into jewelry, decorations, house furnishing, etc. You can walk the island and see that everyone is working very hard to provide for their families. After that, hop back on the ferry and head over to Burano. Burano is known to be the “land of lace” and you will also find many locals here living and selling their products to support themselves. The island is warm, friendly, and they’re welcoming of tourists. Lots of little shops line the canals as well as cafes and restaurants. This is the perfect spot for a photo op or grab lunch and relax for a little. These islands are so fun and authentic. There really isn’t anywhere else in the world like them so I would definitely stop here if you are in Italy!
CINQUE TERRE –
One of the most magical places in Italy. Cinque Terre, also known as the Five Villages, is another hidden gem in Northern Italy right on the Italian Riviera. This is one of my favorite places in Italy and still pretty touristy but definitely worth seeing if you are here. Each village is unique in its own way and you will find the sweetest locals here! Located in the province of La Spezia, Cinque Terre has its own National Park. Here you can hike from village to village and see the beautiful views! There are a few different larges beaches to swim at in the village of Monterosso (you can find places to swim in all five villages too) or head to Manarola to catch the sunset and the picturesque houses perched along the cliff. Enjoy a bottle of wine, maybe stroll the shops, but be sure to try pizza made on focaccia bread while you are here! The locals will say the best focaccia bread comes from the areas between Cinque Terre and Genoa, add a little pesto on top or whatever you are craving and you will be in heaven! You can stay in any of the five villages or stay outside in the town of La Spezia and take a 5-minute train ride in! I have seen Cinque Terre in one day and I also went back and saw it in two separate days. It is possible to do a no sleep trip through here and see everything but I would recommend coming and staying for a few days, enjoy everything it has to offer! Click here to plan your trip to Cinque Terre!
AMALFI COAST –
If you have yet to explore the southern coast of Italy then you must put this on your bucket list!!! The Amalfi Coast is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to Located in the Campania region of Italy, the Amalfi Coast is a popular tourist destination, but still deserves some recognition for its stunning beauty. It has extremely sheer cliffs and a beautiful shoreline with hidden beaches and pastel-colored fishing villages. One of my favorite towns on our Amalfi tour was Sorrento, which was one of the first towns where the Amalfi Coast starts. It is located cliffside and the town is filled with charm. From gelato shops to handmade leather good stands Sorrento has so much to do. Take a small elevator down for a fee and within minutes you are down on the beach soaking up the sun. I would give yourself a few days, if not a week or two to enjoy the entire coast. You can rent a car if you are feeling brave enough and make your way down the winding coast. If you stop in the actual town of Amalfi be sure to check out the Museum of Paper. I know it sounds weird but you get to see the entire paper mill in action, make your own paper, and learn about the history of paper in Amalfi! After that there are many beaches you can rent a chair to layout and relax on, go for a swim or enjoy a drink oceanside! I could probably go back to the coast and stay there until they find me and my expired visa and kick me out. Let me know in the comments below your favorite town on the Amalfi Coast!
MOUNT VESUVIUS –
So who doesn’t want to hike up an active volcano? I had to put this on the list because I found Mount Vesuvius to be so cool. You can stop here on your adventure heading towards the South of Italy, or if you are staying in Naples I would highly recommend taking a day trip here! The history, the nature, the views, I was pretty stoked when I found out that this was going to be one of our stops during my study abroad trip. Located in Naples near the coast, this volcano is best known for destroying its nearby towns Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 A.D. The volcano is the only active one located in Europe and people say it is not “if” but “when” it will erupt again. Still, around 600,000 people risk living in the 18 towns that make up its base and is what they call the “red zone.” When Vesuvius does erupt again, scientists are predicting it to be ugly. Rock and ash flying 100 mph reaching zones 12 miles away. This is insane to think about when you are just hiking up the side of it casually. The thing could blow at any minute!!! Okay, maybe not any minute but still pretty crazy to put into perspective.
There is one thing I must warn you about when visiting, you have to take a bus or rent a car and drive halfway up the mountain before you can start the hike. The road is very narrow and has multiple switchbacks. Our study abroad tour bus ended up getting stuck on the mountain (see below) and after hanging out for about two hours, we all decided to hike down the hill to the bar at the bottom and go drink wine. Our tour bus driver had to get himself unstuck while all of us college kids went for wine. We decided to try the hike a different day and we ended up doing it, and it was so worth it! The views are beautiful! After the hike, you can go into the old town of Pompeii and explore tons of ruins of houses and streets kept intact from the explosion. There is so much history to absorb and after that, there are plenty of street vendors, cafes, and shops to keep busy or grab a bite to eat!
I hope that you enjoyed my favorite top 8 spots in Italy! If you are planning a trip to Italy feel free to send me an email for any advice, recommendations, or help planning your trip!
Comment below and let me know your favorite city or town in Italy!