Walks of Italy runs a wide range of immersive, small group walking tours in Italy. Whether you’re coming to Italy for the first time or the 10th, our local experts would love to take you past the well-worn tourist trail for an experience you’ll never forget.
Italy is on everyone’s bucket list, but it’s a long way for many to travel and the country is so jam-packed with spectacular sites and amazing things to do that choosing what to do in Italy on a two week vacation is nearly impossible. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. We’ve combed through our extensive archives, talked to our tour guides, and had some serious debates among ourselves to whittle down a short list of the 8 sites that will change your life, drop your jaw, break your heart, fill your chest with wonder, and absolutely leave you dying to return to this incredible county. You might not make it to every single corner of Italy on your visit, but this list should at least give you one thing to see or do no matter where you go. Get those bucket lists ready, here are the 8 Italian places to visit before you die.
1. St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice
Venice is a city full of nice churches, so what sets St. Mark’s apart? The interior. The inside of this 9th century AD Basilica is covered in over 85,000 square feet of mosaics. One of the most famous Byzantine churches in all of Italy, the art and jewels, accumulated when Venice was one of the biggest maritime powers in the Mediterranean, would put Scrooge McDuck to shame.
Uffizi Gallery and Duomo in Florence
The Renaissance capital of Italy, Florence has a wealth of incredible art and architecture with the lion’s share of the paintings sitting in the Uffizi Art Gallery. Here you’ll find some of the best Italian Renaissance art in the world, including Botticelli’s Primavera, Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation, and Adoration of the Magi and other major works by Caravaggio, Lippi, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian.
After spending at least a half-day in the gallies, you also can’t miss the Duomo di Firenze. Though not as visually impressive as some of Italy’s other cathedrals, its important for another reason: it’s construction literally changed the history of the world. Its architect, Brunelleschi used ancient engineering knowledge that had been lost to humanity, built the entire thing without a wooden support frame (once thought impossible), didn’t tell anyone how he managed to do it, and even created a now-common stew for his construction workers to eat on the job. Talk about a Renaissance man. If you want to really appreciate his masterpiece, try climbing up its 436 steps to the top. It’s a lot of work, but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views over Florence! And back on the ground you can always go for a big bowl of Peposo Beef Stew – Brunelleschi’s favorite.
The Vatican Museums in Vatican City
The Vatican Museums house one of the most culturally significant collections of art in the world. Moving, impressive, and inseparable from the very fabric of western culture, the museum is a must-see for those looking to understand the history of Rome, Italy, the Catholic church, and the history of art as we know it! Perhaps no other collection has so thoroughly influenced the way we think about art and its place in our society. Most visitors skip the majority and go straight to the awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel, but we encourage you to take your time wandering through the enormous building to truly get the most out of your visit. Don’t know where to start? Don’t worry, we’ve created a Guide to the Vatican Museums just for you! Hint: the map rooms are an under-appreciated gem!
Colosseum and Trevi Fountain in Rome
The beautiful Trevi Fountain in Rome is a bastion of the city’s impressive history and an icon of the ancient empire. One of the first water sources in Rome, the fountain was a literal life-saver for many citizens, bringing fresh, clean water into the center of the city. We especially like to visit the fountain at night when its massive statues and crystal water are all dressed up in lights! If you go, you can only see it from behind clear fences. Although construction is scheduled to finish soon, these things often drag on. If you’re planning to visit the Trevi Fountain in the near future, practice your throwing arm to make sure you can clear the barriers with your coin!
The Trevi Fountain is actually made from the same stone as the world-famous Colosseum. Though no one would dream about skipping the Colosseum during a visit to Rome, be sure to take the time to visit the inside as well – there’s more to the historic structure than what can be seen just from the outside and you’ll need to go underground to really understand its impact on Ancient Rome!
Finally, we know we shouldn’t but we can’t resist because Rome has too many great sites to see: our runner up is The Pantheon because, along with Brunelleschi’s Dome, it’s probably the most impressive in the world.
The Duomo in Milan
There’s nothing quite like the way the sun glimmers off of the pink-white marble of the massive Duomo di Milano. This is actually one of the most polarizing of Italy’s great churches. It’s facade is festooned with more than 3,000 statues and spires which some consider divine and others consider, well, overdone. Either way this gothic marvel has to be seen to be believed. No trip to Milan is complete without a giro in the Piazza del Duomo, but we especially suggest a trip to the terrace atop the historic building for the best views of the city and a close-up view of the magnificent cathedral. Want to know more about the Duomo of Milan? Read here to discover more amazing facts about the Duomo di Milano.
Pompeii in Campania
Before Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD, Pompeii was an important port town for the ancient Roman Empire. A UNESCO world heritage site, it’s one of the most visited archeological sites in the entire world. But it’s not just any old site, it’s an entire city preserved almost completely intact. Nothing can prepare you to wander the streets of this ancient metropolis exactly as they were two thousand years ago. It’s wonderful, it’s awe-inspiring, and it’s also a little sad considering the way the lives of so many of its inhabitants were snuffed out. When you go don’t miss the Roman Forum, the theatre, (whose acoustics are so good you don’t need microphones to be heard from the stage) and the public baths with their looming columns. If appropriate for the group, you also can’t miss the red light district for some saucy frescoes.
Alberobello in Puglia
For those looking for a truly unique experience away from tourist crowds, head south to Alberobello, Apulia (Puglia in Italian). Step back in time by touring the famous trulli houses, or ancient cone-shaped pheasant houses. Alberobello is now one of the many UNESCO World Heritage sites in Italy. Puglia, though less visited by foreigners, has some of the best wine and and seafood in the country. You won’t eat better for less money than you will in the region’s stunning coastal towns. For a taste of Italy off the beaten path this is a must-visit.
The Dolomites in Trentino Alto-Adige
Although the alps get the most press as Europe’s premier mountain range, Italy’s Dolomites are just as good and maybe even less touristy. With dozens of gorgeous Alpine towns, unique food, and 18 different peaks, each with tons of unique hiking trails, the mountains’ charm and rugged beauty will inspire even the biggest city slickers. Head to the northeast of Italy to explore a different side of the country – one where the language (and food) has a heavy Austrian influence and the great outdoors rule. If you need some recs on where to go, Here are six of our favorite spots in the Dolomites.
Did we miss any sights that you think need to be on the list? Let us know in the comments!