Italy has a huge line-up of man-made attractions. Piazza del Duomo boasts one of the most iconic of the lot – the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This freestanding bell tower was never supposed to be so jaunty, but would it be as famous without the tilt? We don’t reckon so.
Trace a path to the heel of Italy’s boot, and you’ll find some of the oldest buildings in the country. The village of Alberobello is home to a conical scattering of huts, known locally as trulli. They date back to the 14th century, and one of the most popular ways to see them is by doubling up your visit with a tour of one of the settlement’s traditional farms.
Head across to Naples, and you can roam the extravagant grounds of the Royal Palace of Caserta – one of the biggest palaces in the world. It’s a little inland from the coastline, but the fountain-filled gardens and intricate Baroque architecture make it a must-visit. If you’re looking for an equally swanky base nearby, try the Grand Hotel President in Sorrento, which knows a thing or two about luxury. But if something a bit more rustic is your thing, the Club Due Torri Hotel is probably a safer bet.
Statues, water features and interior design aside, Italy has so much more to shout about. Let’s talk natural wonders.
The most-visited of the lot is found on the island of Sicily – anchored just off Italy’s pointy toe. Mount Etna towers above the surrounding towns and villages, and daytrips to the volcano are seriously popular for holidaymakers in these parts. Taormina is one of the closest places you can stay, where the traditional-style hotels come with vistas of Etna’s snow-capped peak.
Tuscany also throws its name in the ring when it comes to postcard-worthy views. One of the best bits is the Val d’Orcia region, which earned its UNESCO stripes in 2004. Made up of rolling green hills and leafy vineyards, painting aficionados will recognise it from any number of Renaissance works. If you’re planning a trip here, the Medieval town of Montaione is close to the countryside and local big-hitters like Florence, Pisa and Siena.
Over on the eastern coast, Salerno is the final spot worthy of a mention. Follow the coastline towards Sapri, and you’ll reach a vast national park – the Parco Nazionale del Cilento. Walking trails and panoramic picture spots come as standard here, but it’s also home to some of Italy’s best-preserved Greek ruins. Paestum is where you’ll find the ancient Temple of Neptune, the Basilica of Hera, and the Temple of Cerres – all of which date back to 450 BC. If one time-worn city isn’t enough, there’s a second – Velia – which shares the World Heritage tick, as well.
Famous for its gondola-filled waterways and iconic stilted houses, Venice is considered one of the most romantic getaways going. The maze-like centre of the city, and its charming old town, earned it a place on UNESCO’s list way back in 1987.We’re so keen on Venice, we created a new way to see the City of Bridges – where you split your holiday between the beaches of Lido di Jesolo and the famous canals and piazzas.
Florence joined the UNESCO ranks even earlier than its water-bound counterpart, in 1982. The churches and galleries here are the real deal, showcasing high-profile works by Botticelli, Michelangelo and Brunelleschi. There’s still a historic feel to the winding streets, but you get a dose of modernity from the stylish boutiques and trendy cafés which have set up shop in the old buildings.
Now you probably will have heard of the first two, but we’ll forgive you if San Gimignano is a relative unknown to you. It’s not too far from Florence, and although it’s only a fraction of the size, the Medieval architecture is on a different level. At one time Florence was filled with stone towers, which fell during wars or catastrophes, but San Gimignano has managed to preserve 14 of its own. They date back to the 13th century, and earned the town its nickname – La Città Dalle Belle Torri, the Town of Fine Towers.
The tragic story of Pompeii propels this town to the top of our list, but not everyone has heard of its neighbour, Herculaneum. Both settlements were devastated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, when the cloud of volcanic ash left them frozen in time.
The story of Pompeii is one that’s well-known, but there’s a bit more mystery around our second ancient pick. The Su Nuraxi are dotted all around Sardinia, but there’s one which counts itself as the island’s only UNESCO-accredited site. Su Nuraxi di Barumini is a rocky settlement in the middle of the island, but its purpose is still debated to this day. Some think it’s a religious site, others think it’s a fort. All we know is that it dates back to the Bronze Age and it’s pretty impressive to look at.
Just across the water in Sicily, you’ll find the Necropolis of Pantalica – a network of 4,000 tombs carved into a rocky cliff face. They’re close to the city of Syracuse, which has also earned a UNESCO certificate, and the surrounding valleys are great for country walks. If you want to see even more of ancient Sicily, drive west across the island to Agrigento – home to the stunning Valle dei Templi. It’s one of the best surviving examples of a Greek temple, and a national monument of Italy, too.
So we’ve shown you crumbling ruins, cosmopolitan cities, and natural beauty – and we haven’t even reached Italy’s famous coastline. There are so many stretches that deserve recognition, but the Amalfi Coast wins by a nose. Pretty villas are studded into the Mediterranean-facing cliffside, and the boat trips are a must-do for any holidaymaker here.
Take a look at some of our Italy holidays.
If you want to read more about Italy, have a browse of our list of Things to do in Sardinia when you’re 3… and 33 and our guide to the Italian aperitivo - this summer’s hottest food trend.
Author: Shaun Ringwood
Grand Hotel Poltu Quatu couples a harbour-front setting with its own private beach, close to Sardinia’s exclusive Porto Cervo area.
is located right in the heart of Sorrento, and has a rooftop pool with top-drawer views of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Hotel Cefalu Sea Palace knows a thing or two about luxury. It boasts a lagoon-like pool, a private beach, and a swanky spa.
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