Italy has all the art, architecture and history that a traveler could want. But many travelers don’t know that it’s also a paradise for outdoor lovers – If you’re looking for a mix of culture and action, or just a full-on adrenaline-filled vacation, here are some of our favorite outdoor adventures in Italy.
Hiking in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are an adventurer’s best friend. In these dramatic mountains you can ski, snowboard, parasail, raft, kayak, mountain bike, and cycle, among other things. But by far the best and most accessible adventure in the Dolomites is good ol’ walking. Hiking in the Dolomites can be as easy, or as wildly difficult as you want. For those really looking to shake things up, try braving the via ferrata, or “iron way,” the original World War I mountain routes made with iron cables, bridges and ladders. Unless you are a seasoned veteran, the via ferrata are best approached with a guide – they are one of the most stunning, but also stomach tingling adventures in Italy. (Read our Guide to Hiking in Italy for more great hiking locations!)
Camping in Puglia
Camping is a great way for budget travelers to see Italy. It’s also downright fun. Called “campeggio” in Italian, camping sites are available in nearly ever part of Italy. For the sake of diversity, we suggest camping in Lecce, Puglia, in southern Italy. Here you can find sea and forest in the large Riva di Ugento campsite. For those who don’t want to rough it too much, campers or mobile homes are available, bathrooms are available for all and there is a nearby supermarket and tennis courts. Any time of year, but especially in the off-season, your tent and hammock will seem like the front porch of paradise.
Cycling in Tuscany
Cycling in Tuscany is a favorite activity of visitors to the beautiful region and it’s easy to see why! The sun kissed hills and small, carless cities are a perfect invitation to cycle. Take a wine tour by bike or go it alone to link UNESCO world-heritage listed cities like Florence, Siena, San Gimignano and Pienza. Just keep in mind that the hills might seem undulating from the car, but on two wheels you’ll feel those ascents much more!
(If you’d prefer to visit some some of those towns in a more, ahem, relaxed manner, check out out Tuscan day trips with air conditioned vehicle transfers.)
For those looking for something a bit easier, head to the bike paths along the Adige river in Veneto. Running from the Austrian border all the way to Verona, the paths connect between major cities like Venice, Verona, Mantua and the beautiful Lago di Garda and most are traffic-free.
Mountain biking in Abruzzo and Molise
The Dolomites have by far the most extreme mountain biking in Italy, but for those looking for great trails, fewer crowds and beautiful scenery complete with plenty of wildlife, try mountain biking in the Apennine Mountains. Here you can explore the little-known region of Molise and neighboring Abruzzo in central Italy. Green, beautiful and still quite rustic, these two regions in the center of Italy will give you a glimpse of a different style of Italian life, one still dictated by nature and less visited by tourists and Italians alike. Surrounded by the Apennines, Abruzzo hosts some of Italy’s wildest terrain and little Molise isn’t much tamer, just less-visited. Try biking the plateaus and trails in Abruzzo National Park or the famous tratture paths, or shepherd paths, in Molise.
Skiing in Val d’Aosta
At 3,500 meters of altitude, Cervinia in Val d’Aosta is one of the highest mountain resorts in Italy and one of our favorite skiing locations! It’s often the first mountain to get snow and the last to end the season. Cervinia offers a top-of-the-line resort town with reasonable prices. In fact, it uses the same mountains as Zermatt across the border in Switzerland but for much cheaper prices. For those looking for a bit more Adventure in Italy, Alagna Valsesia in Monterosa Ski offers excellent off-piste skiing and well as heli-skiing with the beautiful Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc) as a backdrop.
Cave exploring in Le Marche
The little-explored Le Marche region of Italy is an outdoor enthusiasts dream and home to some of the best adventures in Italy. As stated above with the Apennine mountains, visitors can hike, ski in the winter, mountain bike, and explore – all in one region. But one of the most unique draws to the region is the Grotte di Frasassi, some of Italy’s most spectacular caves. Explore the stalactite and stalagmite formations in the multiple underground caverns. One is so large that Milan’s enormous cathedral (the fifth largest church in the world) could fit inside!
Otherwise, head to nearby Umbria in the Monte Cucco Park to explore the Grotta di Monte Cucco, one of the world’s deepest cave systems. The entrance starts with a very-vertical set of stairs on a 27-meter drop into the cave. Once inside, you can tour the three major caverns, the Cattedrale, Sala Margherita and Sala del Becco.
Scuba diving off Capri
Head to Capri to dive one of Italy’s best known sea caves, the Grotta Azzurra or Blue Grotto. Glowing with iridescent blue light, the grotto has attracted visitors since the ancient Romans. The entire Cilento Peninsula, just south of Positano is filled with peaceful coves and grottos, including the Grotta d’Argento (Silver Grotto), Grotta del Sangue (Blood Grotto) and the Lantern Cove, or Cala della Lanterna. For those on Capri, after the Grotta Azzurra, head to the tiny island of Procida for some peace from the crowds and an incredible dive from the Lingua beach.
If you want to visit Capri on a guided tour, check out our partner tour to Capri.
Snorkeling in Sicily
Sicily and the Aeolian Islands have pristine waters, plenty of fish and even more nooks and crannies to explore than the Amalfi Coast. Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, snorkelers can explore all three sides of the island. There’s also another sea cave, the Grotto Azzurra of Taormina, Sicily. A short boat ride from the shore, it’s not yet overwhelmed by tourists. Wherever you ultimately decide to snorkel, you’re sure to find multi-colored algae, sea sponges, red coral in deep areas and all kinds of fish.
Sea-Kayaking off Elba Island
The largest and most popular island in the Tuscan Archipelago, Elba attracts thousands of visitors every year for its beaches, snorkeling and manageable size. The best way to see the island, however, might just be from the sea. Located in the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, a protected maritime area, the flora and fauna are gorgeous in Elba and worth seeing up close. With 147 kilometers of coastline to explore, kayakers can paddle the tranquil seas and stop off at the beach. Did we mention all the inlets and caves in between?
Sailing off Sardinia
Sardinia has some of the best sailing in the world. With bays, coves, crags and beaches, you’ll never tire of the scenery. Though Italian sailors flock to Sardinia every summer, foreign sailors often sail elsewhere, meaning things rarely get too crowded. Tour the beautiful Costa Smerelda, check out the dunes of Costa Verde, and roll in the pink coral sand of Budelli Island. There’s no doubt that Sardinia is a beautiful island, and from the water it’s even more majestic.
Wind-Surfing on Lake Garda
The enormous Lake Garda is not only a beautiful vacation spot, it’s a prime wind-surfing location because of its non-stop winds. The wind known as the Pelér blows from north to south in the early morning while the Ora blows from south to north in the early afternoon until evening. Head to the northern part of the lake for the best wind surfing and join the dozens of other people already out there – there are plenty of windsurf centers dotting the coastline to choose from!
Heli-skiing in Piedmont
Probably the best heli-skiing in all of Italy is the Monterosa ski park heli-skiing complex. Many of the drop zones are above 4,000m and just a few minutes’ helicopter ride away. Sign up for a three-day program complete with avalanche training and a guide and then get started at Alagna.
Hang gliding in Umbria
If you want your adventures in Italy to take you off terra firma completely, you’ve got to try hang gliding. And what better place to calmly fly over than the rolling hills of Umbria? Head to Castelluccio, the highest village in the Apennines and find one of the many hang gliding schools located there. Soar over the hills in the springtime when the entire region seems to burst into blooming flowers.
Paragliding in Veneto
You can paraglide all over Italy – in the footholds of the Alps along Lago di Como, over the beautiful Sicilian coastlines for water lovers, and also over the rolling, never-ending hills of Umbria. But head to Veneto for the widest variety of options. Paragliders in the region can choose to fly over beautiful Lake Garda, to look down on the jagged, pink-hued Dolomites from Cortina d’Ampezzo, or soar over the region from Monte Grappa. The peak is protected from northern winds, so flyers can be nearly sure to find ideal weather conditions. There you’ll fly over the Brenta Valley as far as the Slovenian border.
Have you been on your own Adventures in Italy? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!