A holiday to Italy is guaranteed to be rich in happy memories. The sun, the smiles, the food, the wine and the sprawling golden countryside all make this country as stylish as it is timeless. Yet much of Italy’s character shines in its cities, which hum with whirring scooters, street cafes with locals dining al fresco, and history at every turn.
When you visit Italy for your holiday, keep our top city trips in mind for the best this stunning nation can offer.
Plenty of cities boast a mix of modern life and glimpses into the past, but none carry that off with quite as much panache as Rome, Italy’s capital. Fashion boutiques and swanky coffee shops garland its hundreds of streets like the most magical maze imaginable, and at every turn you’re bound to see an architectural marvel that speaks of times gone by. Shop until you drop and dine at top restaurants aplenty, but definitely don’t miss either the Colosseum or the Pantheon, mementos of bygone eras as breathtaking today as they were in the past.
Florence is the city that really put Tuscany on many a holidaymakers’ map. Its links to both Italy’s unification in centuries past from its formative territories, as well as the birth of the Renaissance through the masterful brush-strokes of da Vinci, give it a timeless chic. Rustic architecture hides gelato shops and fashion houses by the score, yet tourists’ truest attraction is the Piazza del Duomo. The landmark cathedral and its spires makes Florence’s skyline famous, yet words can’t do it justice. You have to see it for real.
There is perhaps no other city in the world to have cultivated as harmonious a relationship with the water as Venice. Spending time at the Venetian Riviera gives you a broader appreciation of what this realm accomplished in its days as a city-state of its own making, but a gondola ride through modern Venice shows that it’s moved beautifully with the times. Expect meals here by the waterfront of the Canal Grande to feature violin quartet serenades, while a visit to the Doge’s Palace museum gives a glimpse into a time when Venice was the champion of merchant cities worldwide.
As the song once said, in Napoli love is king. Yet there’s much more to Naples and the surrounding Neapolitan Riviera than even its romantic reputation. In fact, Italy’s third largest city is perhaps the country’s most culturally loud and proud.
Crammed into every avenue is a story from a bygone era, from the National Museum of Archaeology, packed with statues and artworks from ancient times, to the central Piazza del Plebiscito, whose centrepiece is the gleaming white brilliance that is the San Francesco di Paola. Yet beneath Naples’ surface is an underground realm of even greater treasures. For example, the ancient Greek necropolis of Neapolis survives beneath the streets of Naples, and can be explored by the intrepid holidaymaker.
With creamy buildings and rich red rooftops, Sorrento is truly majestic. Yachts and boats drift throughout its bay, and you’re encouraged to board one if you get the opportunity, although the true marvel here is Mount Vesuvius. The famous volanco looms large, although is tranquil enough today that a natural park has evolved around it, and guided walks let you take in the sights through as downtempo or daring a route as you please. Pack that camera.
Naturally, the most striking thing about this city is its world-famous Leaning Tower, which attracts thousands of visitors from every corner of the world year on year. It’s worth checking out for yourself, if only to have a go at the classic photo trick that makes you look like you’re pushing it back up again.
Yet make no mistake in knowing that it’s education that keeps Pisa active these days. It’s a university city whose smarts are only bolstered by its historic values. You’ll hear students discuss philosophy over cups of gelato and your waiter will likely know as much about modern physics as he does the wine list. Visit in June and you could catch the annual boat races that bring crowds to the banks of the River Arno, which is a tradition dating back to the 1200s.
Although Pisa and Florence are the stars of Tuscany, Siena is as much deserving of your time as either of those hotspots. Siena’s traditions stem from its history of farming and medieval architecture, all visible at every turn. In fact, a great example of that is the Siena Duomo, a gothic cathedral of stunning, dark beauty. Think of it as the edgier cousin to Florence’s own Duomo. The Torre del Mangia is another monument well worth your time, and impossible to miss thanks to it towering over the town, making it visible from any direction. Siena might see less visitors than Florence or Pisa, but it benefits from a quieter feel as a consequence. That said, expect the wine bars full night on night, as a zest for life is a given here.
Italy on the whole
Across the length and breadth of Italy, community spirit, old fashioned values and a keen sense of humour make both its cities and its people truly unlike anywhere or anyone else in the world. Italy deserves pride of place in your favourite holiday album’s most gorgeous photos, and with sights like the ones we’ve been describing to you, it’s definitely worth immortalising some snaps. Even if you venture beyond the Italian cities we’ve mentioned here, or retreat to the country’s stunning lakes, rest assured that Italy will remain a firm favourite holiday destination for years to come.
If you’re ready to start planning your Italian city break, take a look at our travel guide for more information, tips and deals for the perfect holiday to Italy.