Italy, stretching into the middle of the Mediterranean, is one of the most visited countries in the world. While modern Italy is a vastly different place to its ancient ancestor, the awe-inspiring majesty of the Roman Empire can still be glimpsed in thousands of historic sites all around the country.
To begin, the Dolomites, in the eastern Alps, are a great place to experience the diversity of Northern Italy. This area feels more like Austria than Italy, with Austrian food and a German dialect rather than Italian.
Next, Venice. This famous, romantic city is slowly sinking into marshy foundations, so travellers are advised to visit before it vanishes forever. Hang out in St. Mark’s Square, stroll through tiny cobblestone alleys, and cross the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the former halls of justice to the city prison. Venice is hideously expensive, but survivable, particularly if you are willing to graze on pizza sold by street vendors. Venice in the summer is the most hideous place imaginable, with streets as crowded as a New York subway during rush hour.
Every visitor to Italy has to stop by Rome, but if you are here only for a day choose your itinerary carefully. You can choose to explore the Colosseo district, which houses most of the ancient sites, but make sure to see Vatican City (an independent state, the smallest in the world) and visit the Sistine Chapel. Then just sit at a cafe and watch the sophisticated world loudly go by.
Florence, birthplace of the renaissance, is the spiritual home for all art lovers and foodies. Allow some time for a day trip out into Tuscany’s wine country while you are there. Visit Pitti Palace, the former residence of the infamous Medici family, view Micaelangelo’s David, and try the gelato.
The walled medieval hill town of San Gimignano, Tuscany is famous for its medieval architecture, especially its high towers. Of the 72 that once existed, 13 remain. It is possible to reach San Gimignano on a day trip from Florence, but spending the night here allows you to appreciate quiet town as it must have been back in time.
Next, visit Naples for some gastronomic history and stop off at nearby Pompeii, which was famously preserved by the erupting Mount Vesuvius in 79AD.
If you want to visit Pisa, stop first at Livorno, modern Italy’s 3rd largest port on the west coast and in the past a major port for the western Mediterranean. Quite close to the north is Pisa, home of the famous Leaning Tower.
Fashion lovers must stop at Milan, the fashion capital of the world. Do a little shopping in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, which is a converted 19th-century palace. To visit the Cenacolo Vinciano, were Leonardo da Vinci painted ‘The Last Supper’, you must purchase tickets months in advance, but you may be able to buy cancelled tickets in the mornings if you forget.
Visit the oldest university in the world, Alma Mater Studiorum in Bologna, founded in 1088. While here, check out the Tower of the Asinelli and Tower of the Garisenda, which are two of the few remaining towers left of the 180 which dominated the city’s skyline in the 12th century.
Another must-visit is Mount Etna, the biggest active volcano in Europe. Its highest point is found at 3292 above sea level. The northern side of the volcano is forested and cooler than the southern side.
Finally, Sicily. One of the most formidable areas of Italy, Sicily has a long history of foreign domination, resulting in an eclectic and unique culture which is different to anywhere else in Italy, and a perfect way to round off your Italian experience.