Looking to travel to the birthplace of legendary artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci? Or to walk the same streets the ancient Romans did before they set out to conquer the world in the first century?
Or maybe you just want to chow down on some delicious, authentic gelato or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, or take a stroll along the sandy beaches and stare into the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
All of these things and more await you in Italy, known by many as the bel paese (beautiful country).
Read on for even more reasons to put it on your itinerary.
Entry Requirements to Visit Italy
Over the past few years, COVID-related entry requirements to visit Italy have changed many times, but you can always check online to view the latest travel and safety updates from Italy’s health department, Il Ministero della Salute.
Best Things to Do in Italy
There are so many things to do in Italy that you may not know where to start. To get you off on the right foot, begin by focusing on these three incredible experiences you can’t get anywhere else in the world:
Italy has some of the best food on the planet, and it would be foolish to miss out on your chance to eat as much of it as you possibly can. You can visit various ristoranti (restaurants) where they serve everything from pasta and steak to local delicacies like shellfish and octopus, pizzerias where they serve pizza with just about every combination of toppings you could ever imagine, or a gelateria, where you can eat your fill of delicious, authentic Italian gelato (ice cream).
You can also check out the lesser-known Italian “street food” like arancini in Sicily (deep fried balls of saffron-flavored rice with meat sauce and cheese inside) and panzerotti (small, calzone-like turnovers filled with cheese and tomato sauce) in Puglia. Everything is worth a try, so come to Italy hungry!
Obviously, one should come to Italy to see the well-known monuments and tructures like the Trevi Fountain, the Roman Colosseum, and the stunningly decorated chapels and cathedrals that date back centuries or even millennia. But don’t forget that there are other sights to see as well, like the snow-capped mountains in northern Italy, the sunny, sandy beaches in the south, and even volcanoes like Mt. Etna and Mt. Vesuvius. Whether you are more interested in historical architecture or spending time in nature, there is something here for you.
Italy is one of the fashion capitals of the world, and visitors would be remiss if they didn’t take some time exploring the clothing stores in cities like Milan and Florence. Italy is also known for its beautiful art and handmade jewelry, which you can see in shops or being sold from booths along the streets when the weather is fair. You can find some great souvenirs this way, or even a whole new wardrobe!
Best Places to Visit in Italy
Italy has a long and fascinating history, and many of its landmarks have origins that date back to ancient times. The list of sights you should see is nearly infinite, but if we were forced to pick a top three, this would be it.
Can one really say they have been to Italy if they haven’t seen the famous Roman Colosseum in person? This masterpiece of architecture (and Italy’s most-visited site) has been around since 70 A.D. and was the battleground for countless gladiators from times long past. It is the physical symbol of the ancient Roman Empire, and as you stare up at its weathered walls, you’ll feel like you’re a part of history.
The Archaeological Park of Pompeii
The city of Pompeii was completely buried by ash when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., but since the 1700s, it has been slowly being uncovered by archeologists. Now you can visit the Archaeological Park of Pompeii and walk the same stone streets as the Pompeiians who lived there thousands of years before we were born. You can see the temples, the artwork, and even the bones and plaster casts of the people whose lives were tragically cut short, as it was all perfectly preserved by the ash. New discoveries of long-lost artifacts are being made here every day — perhaps even by a visitor such as yourself.
The Canals of Venice
Venice is full of art, jewelry, and mystery, but the one thing that makes it stand out the most among Italy’s other cities is the fact that its roads are not made of concrete, but of water. Instead of traveling by car, you can travel by boat along the canals. There seems to be more water here than land, making it the perfect spot for those who love sparkling views and want the chance to take one of those world-famous gondola rides.
Best Vacation Spots
Let’s be honest: all of Italy is a great vacation spot. There is no shortage of beautiful places to see, but we’d recommend starting with these.
Rome is the most visited city in Italy, and for good reason. Italy’s capital city is located in the region of Lazio, and is home to the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, and the Spanish Steps that were made even more famous by the blockbuster film Roman Holiday starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Not to mention the fact that you can also go to the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City (even if Vatican City is technically its own city-state). If you are looking to experience Italy like the characters you see in travel books and movies, Rome should definitely be your first stop. We did an extensive list on the best things to do in Rome, so do check it out if you’re curious.
Venice, the capital of the Veneto region, has no actual roads, just canals (see above). The Grand Canal in particular is an amazing sight to see, but that’s not all Venice has to offer. Those famous waterways are lined with churches and palaces dating back to the Renaissance and Gothic eras, and Piazza San Marco in the heart of the city contains St. Mark’s Basilica and its mosaic tiles. which were crafted during the Byzantine Empire. For our full list of recommendations, check out our article on the best things to do in Venice.
Another capital city (this time of the region of Tuscany), Florence is renowned for its Renaissance architecture and art. The whole city looks like a picture as you view it from the tops of the many hills and lookout spots, and its gorgeous Duomo is featured on postcards and book covers around the world. It is also the birthplace of Dante Alighieri, writer of The Divine Comedy and the man many consider to be the father of the Italian language as we know it today, as well as the home of Michelangelo’s enormous sculpture of David, housed in the Galleria dell’Accademia. For a detailed list, hop over to our list of best things to do in Florence.
Located within a stone’s throw of the infamous Mt. Vesuvius volcano, Naples is close enough to Pompeii and the similarly doomed city of Herculaneum to reach them easily and relatively quickly by train, but it also has its own amazing sights and experiences to offer. At the top of the list are its catacombs and underground aqueducts that you can tour below the streets of the bustling city, as well as the multiple castles and history museums you can visit aboveground. Naples is also famous for its unique approach to pizza-making, which can be sampled at one of its many (many, many) pizzerias. For a full list, check out our take on the best things to do in Naples.
Sorrento is another popular tourist destination not far from Naples. In fact, visitors to the craggy cliffs of the Sorrentine Peninsula can have a bird’s-eye view of Naples, Vesuvius, and the beautiful Isle of Capri all at once. This southern Italian city boasts multiple marinas and the one-of-a-kind Cloister of San Francesco, as well as beautiful natural pools you can swim in near Villa Pollio Felice. Add to that some ancient Oscan ruins and its signature limoncello liqueur, and this becomes one city that should surely make it onto your itinerary. For more recommendations, do check out our list of the best things to do in Sorrento.
What is the Best Time to Visit Italy?
If you want to avoid the crowds and the (sometimes overwhelming) heat of the Italian summer, the absolute best times to visit Italy are the “off-seasons,” like September through November or March through June. These parts of the year typically see weather that is on the milder side, and you won’t usually get stuck in such long lines at popular tourist spots because there are fewer people there on vacation.
The one month savvy travelers always try to avoid is August, as this is the month where almost every single Italian goes on vacation within Italy themselves. The beaches are crowded, restaurants are full, and many stores and shops are closed while the owners are off taking a well-deserved break. Tickets for planes, trains, and other transportation are also at their most expensive during this time of the year, so more frugal travelers would be wise to avoid the August rush.
What Currency Does Italy Use?
Italy’s current currency is the euro, the most common banknote in the European Union. This means that no currency exchanges are necessary if you are coming from another EU member state that uses the euro. If not, you can check the current exchange rate on websites like XE and Wise.
Interestingly, the euro is a fairly new addition to Italy’s financial structure, as it was only introduced in 2002. Before that, Italians paid for things with lire, which were still able to be exchanged as recently as 2012.
To visit Italy is to visit the place where so many incredible events in history happened. From the dawn of the Roman Empire to Dante writing his famous Divine Comedy, it all happened here. You can visit all the places where true legends were born, or you can enjoy the natural beauty of the country that changes from region to region. Or, if you’re like us, you can go grab some pizza fritta in Naples and try to do it all at once!