Italy is filled with beautiful cities and the list could go on forever. But are these cities good for travelers? We delve into the things to see and do from the major cities of Rome and Milan to the lesser-visited gems like Rimini and Siena. Italy is filled with incredible architecture, world-class museums, and incredible cuisine. Find out which cities in Italy are on the list and what put them there below!
The Very Best cities in Italy
Italy is a relatively small country by area (about the size of Arizona) but what it lacks in size it makes up for in culture, museums, food, and experiences. Some of the best experiences we had in the country were definitely in its urban centers.
Whether you are a first-time visitor or a seasoned Italian expert, these are the best cities to add to your Italian travel bucket list. Each Italian city has its own unique flair and identity. Some are popular with the tourists and some are lesser know. Read on to see which one is right for you.
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The most popular city for tourists is without a doubt Rome. It is often considered one of the best cities in Italy for first-time visitors. At its height, this capital city ruled the Roman Empire, and the ancient ruins scattered throughout put that power on display. With famous landmarks like The Colosseum, the Pantheon, The Roman Forum, Vatican City, and the Trevi Fountain, one could visit again and again getting lost in its architecture.
Not only are there many things to see, but the Eternal City is also one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe blending the ancient with the new. Plus, where else do you find a sovereign nation inside a city? Saint Peter’s Basilica, The Sistine Chapel is located within The Vatican and is one of Rome’s top attractions.
Once you have explored its main attractions, enjoy its vibrant food scene with a Rome Food Tour, sit on the Spanish steps and relish in the lively atmosphere or sip cappuccinos at one of its many cafes. Rome needs at least three days to explore and we have the complete three-day itinerary to help you out. 3 Days in Rome – The Ultimate Rome Itinerary
Plan a Rome trip with our in-depth travel guides:
Venice is the city of dreams. You may have heard people say to not go to Venice, but if you spend some time there (not just on a cruise or day trip) you too will fall in love with its Grand Canal and beautiful old town housing Saint Mark’s Square, Doge’s Palace, Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs. (Ah, sigh).
Known for its canals, cathedrals, and the odd gondola or two, Venice is a place for romance especially after the crowds disappear. When the cruise ships and day tours leave, you have the streets and alleyways to yourself in the wee hours of the morning or after sunset. We suggest three days in Venice. There is a lot more to see than you think. Follow this guide to help plan: 3 Days in Venice – The Complete Venice Itinerary
Bologna may be overlooked by the bigger cities of Italy, but after spending nearly a month exploring it and the Emilia Romagna region, we feel it should be put at the top of your list. Known as the culinary capital of Italy, there are plenty of things to do in Bologna besides eating. The old city walls that date back to the middle ages can still be seen and the city’s unique porticoes remain intact. Make sure to visit the main square of Piazza Maggiore where you’ll see the Fountain of Neptune.
We spent nearly a month exploring this city in Northern Italy and it alone is worth visiting in its own right. But there are so many day trips to surrounding villages, you will fall in love with the region of Emilia Romagna. Bologna is also home to the oldest University in the world, churches, and its own leaning tower that gives Pisa a run for its money! Bologna has plenty of attractions and day trips to keep you busy for at least a week. We suggest exploring the Emilia Romagna region for at least a few days.
More guides for Bologna and the Italian Apennines
Another city located in Emilia Romagna is the coastal town of Rimini. Most of the Italian cities we’ve been talking about boast historical sites, cathedrals, castles, and art, but even though Rimini is a beautiful beach town it isn’t without art. Known as the birthplace of Fellini and hosting artists throughout the ages including Leonardo Da Vinci it also houses Roman monuments such as the Arch of Augustus and the Tiberius Bridge. With endless sand and beaches located along the Adriatic Sea, it is one of Europe’s most popular seaside resorts. We visited Rimini on a weekend escape from Bologna to bask in the sun and relax at its divine spa. Read more: Riminiterme Spa – Rimini Italy
Florence is the heart of Tuscany with renaissance art including masterpieces by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Visit the Galleria dell’Accademia to marvel at the statue of David and witness The Birth of Venice by Botticelli in the Uffizi Gallery. Walk through the Piazza del Duomo and view the Florence Cathedral.
The UNESCO historic center of Florence is easily known as one of the most romantic cities in Italy with heart-melting views over the Arno River from Piazzale Michelangelo where you can see a replica of David, (Read our Walking Tour of Florence – A tale of two Davids here). If you are looking for romance, Florence is the city for you. Walk hand in hand along its cobblestone streets toward Ponte Vecchio, and visit the romantic cafes at Piazza Della Signoria. We think that Florence only needs two days to visit, but Tuscany requires a week.
More Florence Travel Guides
Famed for the leaning tower of Pisa, it is often this one attraction that draws tourists to Pisa, but there are plenty of other reasons to visit and to spend a night or two. Located in the Tuscany region, Pisa is often overlooked as a city to visit as most simply go on a day tour to see the famous leaning tower, but with historic cathedrals and palaces and bridges, it is a wonderful place to visit.
Many people visit Pisa en route from Rome to Florence on a day trip, but we suggest spending at least a night to delve deeper into its top attractions. Read more: Tips for Visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Siena is another gorgeous city in Tuscany that we stumbled upon during our third visit to the region. In fact, it was in Siena that we received a traffic ticket by driving too close to Piazza del Campo after getting lost in its maze of streets. Siena is home to the oldest bank in the world but it is the square that is truly the draw. Climb to the top of Torre del Mangia for dramatic views from the 85-meter high tower at Siena Cathedral or sit back and relax at one of its many restaurants and patios to enjoy an Aperol Spritz as you people watch the day away.
As a music theater major in college Verona always intrigued me. The city came up once or twice while studying Shakespeare and even today the city attracts romance lovers to follow the footsteps of Romeo and Juliet. Crowds flock to the balcony of Juliette’s house for a glimpse of the famous balcony scene leaving love letters on the walls. But Shakespeare isn’t the only reason to visit Verona. The Verona Arena is one of the best-preserved Roman Amphitheatres in the country. There are churches and bridges, basilicas, and the old medieval bridge of Ponte Scaligaro which leads to Castelvecchio.
Genova (Genoa) is another Italian port city with a popular waterfront. One of the lesser-visited cities in Italy, it still boasts a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a historic center housing one of Europe’s largest medieval quarters. With its long maritime history, Genoa is Italy’s main seaport. Tour the UNESCO designated Via Garibaldi to marvel at the palace facades, see the Acquario di Genova (Aquarium), one of the largest aquariums in Europe, and visit the Roman Cathedral of San Lorenzo.
Palermo is Italy’s fifth-largest city and the capital of Sicily with a population of just over 600,000 inhabitants. According to guest blogger Robert Connor, Palermo doesn’t really feel like ‘Italy’ at all. Its bustling markets and numerous motorbikes whizzing past give the city a real North-African flavor. Like all Italian cities, Palermo boasts a grand cathedral, Cattedrale Di Palermo but this cathedral stands apart with its unique Arab/Norman architecture. After exploring the historic center and shopping at the markets, be sure to hit Mondello Beach, one of the most famous beaches in Sicily. Read more: 10 Of the Best Things to Do In Palermo, Sicily
The second-largest city in Italy should not be missed. The fashion capital of Italy (heck it’s the fashion capital of the world) and a center of finance, Milan is filled with countless things to see and do. Milan has no lack of Italian art in fact, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper is on display at Santa Maria Delle Grazie. The beautiful Porta Sempione City Gate stands proud as trams whisk you from one grand landmark to another. Plus Milan houses one of the largest cathedrals in the world.
Naples isn’t a place we spent a lot of time in, but it is a city that is worth visiting for its pizza alone. Pizza was invented in Naples and as you make your way to the Amalfi Coast, make a pit stop in Naples to try what most consider the best pizza in the world. Plus, Pompeii is located near Naples. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and is the area’s main attraction.
Naples (Napoli) is the third-largest city in Italy making it a must-stop on an Italian trip. This highly-rated tour of Naples gives visitors a chance to discover Naples, from the bay to its historic city center. You’ll explore all the major attractions including the Royal Palace, Naples Cathedral, Galleria Umberto, and Piazza del Plebiscito. Learn of its rich history as you also explore the underground Roman ruins with a local guide.
This Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius day tour takes you to the site of the eruption of 79 AD that buried Pompei freezing it in time to 2000 years. Learn of the Forum, Thermal Baths, the Lupanar, and the Greek Theatre. Plus enjoy a Naples pizza lunch.
Amalfi Coast Towns
The Amalfi Coast hosts a cluster of smaller cities to visit in Italy. Starting with nearby Sorrento, this is a great base to explore Naples and Pompeii. Being a gateway to the Amalfi Coast, it is also an affordable base to base yourself when exploring the Amalfi Coast towns. Read more at 10 Most Romantic Italian Coastal Towns for Couples
While the Amalfi Coast doesn’t house the large cities of Italy, the towns that line this iconic stretch of highway are legendary. From our favourite and the most beautiful town of Positano to the historic cobbled streets of Ravenna, exploring the UNESCO designated coast along the Northern coast of the Salerno Gulf on the Tyrrhenian Sea in southern Italy is a must when visiting Italy. From its shores you will see Capri, so make sure to get on a boat and take a tour of this lovely stretch of the country. Read more: The Best Things to Do in Amalfi Coast, Italy
The Cinque Terre is comprised of 5 villages and while they may not be considered cities but they are still urban centers and we loved walking from village to village, so we are going to include them as a bonus. Similar to the Amalfi Coast, but on a smaller scale, the Cinque Terre consists of five picturesque villages that make for some of the most scenic views in all of Italy. Read next: Hiking Cinque Terre – The Beautiful Five Villages in Italy
When is the best time to visit Italy?
The best time to visit Italy is during the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall. During the summer months, temperatures can get quite hot and crowds are at their highest. Plus, summer is where you will see higher prices for accommodation and tours. Be aware that many people take their summer vacations during August so many places will be closed.
The most populated cities in Italy are Rome with a population of 2.7 million, Milan with 1.3 million inhabitants, Naples has a population of 959,470 followed by Palermo, and Turin.
The first city you should visit in Italy is Venice. Not only because it is sinking and we have no idea how long it will last, but it truly is breathtaking. It is everyone’s dream to take a gondola ride through the canals and get lost in the back alleys. It is a city that deserves more than a day.
Rome is the most beautiful city in Italy because of its incredible mix of modern and ancient. Nowhere on earth do you see ancient monuments and historic architecture at every turn.
Rome, Venice, and Florence are some of the most popular cities to visit in Italy, and with good reason. They are filled with art, historic architecture and famous attractions. These are usually the first places people visit in Italy.
Planning a trip to Italy? Read more of our Italian travel guides to get travel inspiration and information.