20 Things Everyone Should Do in Italy

20things_colosseumWhen it comes to travel, I’m not one of those people who says stuff like, “You can’t visit Italy without seeing [fill in the blank].” I know that everyone’s “must-see” lists are going to be a little different depending on their personal preferences, and trying to impose my idea of what they can’t miss is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Yes, I’ve told you what I think the perfect 2 week itinerary in Italy is for a first-time visitor, but even there I couldn’t just come out and declare what you should do for your two-week trip. I built in all kinds of alternatives along the way so you could tailor it to your own personal whims.

Which is why it’s hard for me to sit down and write a list of the 20 things that everyone should do in Italy without some kind of disclaimer. And the disclaimer is twofold. First of all, I’m not saying you should try to cram all of these things into one visit to Italy. If you want to give it a try, then knock yourself out – and in bocca al lupo (good luck) – but this list isn’t meant to form some kind of crazy itinerary. Second, if something on this list doesn’t appeal to you, don’t do it just because it’s on someone else’s list of what you have to do. And that goes for any other “must-do” list you ever see. Ever. Take what you like and leave the rest. And tell them I said you could.

>> Also, for first-time visitors to Italy especially, be sure to read through my Italy first-time visitor’s guide – it’s a must-read for those who’ve never been to Italy before, but all Italy travelers can find something helpful in there!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way and you’re all independent and free-thinking travelers, here’s my list of the 20 things everyone should do in Italy!

  1. Take a night ride on the #1 vaporetto in Venice – I know plenty of these lists include a Venice gondola ride on them, but if you’ve been paying attention to this site for awhile you know how much I think they’re unnecessarily expensive and not the romantic experience they’re made out to be. Instead, one evening before or after dinner, hop on the slow-moving #1 vaporetto at one end of its run and ride it to the other end. This is preferably done with a serving of gelato in hand and someone to cuddle with in the dark. And be sure you can snag a spot with a view, so you can see the moonlit sights of Venice as you glide past.
  2. Spend 15 minutes with “The Last Supper” in Milan – Most tourists skip Milan, and that’s probably fine, but this is the only city where you can see Leonardo’s masterpiece of “The Last Supper.” It’s a heavily regulated 15-minute time limit, and you’ll need to get your tickets well in advance, but it’s worth it.
  3. Overdose on Renaissance art at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence – The Uffizi Gallery is on just about every must-do list for Italy, and there’s a good reason for it. Nowhere else on earth will you see such an amazing collection of Italian Renaissance art, all contained in gorgeous buildings once roamed by Medicis. The artists on display here are like the rock stars of Florence.
  4. Get a guided tour of the Vatican Museums – You could walk yourself through the Vatican Museums, but for everyone but the hardcore art historian it’s probably better to follow a guide who’ll point out the truly important pieces and keep you from spending too much time on the rest of it. And as a bonus, with most tours you’ll get a guided visit to St. Peter’s Basilica as well.
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  6. Climb Florence’s Duomo – This is perhaps not for those with fear of heights or small spaces, but for a spectacular view of Florence’s historic center and an interesting lesson in architecture and engineering, you could do worse than to climb to the top of the dome of Florence’s Duomo. If you’d prefer to have the dome itself in your rooftop view, then climb Giotto’s bell tower instead.


  8. Eat pizza in Naples – There’s nothing like eating something as universally well-known as pizza in the place where it was born, and for that you’ve got to go to Naples. I’ve heard that the pizzeria which claims to actually be the very place which invented pizza is turning out less-than-lovely pies these days, but you’ll find plenty of great restaurants ready to take its place.
  9. Visit the Greek ruins in Sicily – When you think of Italy, you probably think mostly of Roman ruins. But on Sicily you can branch out a bit by touring both Roman and Greek ruins, and the stuff the Greeks left behind is even older than the stuff from ancient Rome. A walk through the Valley of the Temples is highly recommended.
  10. Tempt fate driving along the Amalfi Coast – Whether you decide to do the driving or not, the road that snakes along this stretch of Italian coastline is well worth the trip. It’s precarious at best and dangerous at worst, but the Italians seem to make it work – and the views are simply stunning. On second thought, perhaps you should let someone else do the driving so you can just stare out the window at the Amalfi Coast and pretend you’re not scared out of your mind. Oh, and for a truly heart-stopping ride, hop on the back of a local’s motorbike for the journey.
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  12. Sunbathe on Sardinia – Yes, lots of places in the South of Italy get loads of sun, but the Costa Smeralda boasts some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere on earth, let alone in Italy. Plus, while it’s wildly popular with Italians on vacation from the mainland, you’re less likely to see hordes of other foreign tourists on Sardinia.
  13. See an opera in Verona – Opera fan or no, there’s nothing quite like sitting in a Roman amphitheatre, just as people have done for thousands of years, watching a show. Okay, so you’re not watching chariot races or lions fight gladiators, but Verona’s famous opera company, which fills the night air with music every summer, is still a grand spectacle.
  14. Find all the “David” statues in Florence – Don’t be one of the people who thinks the “David” in the Piazza Signoria is the real one, but likewise, don’t be one of the people who’s satisfied with just seeing the real one in the Galleria dell’Accademia. “David” is all over Florence, and seeing him pop up here and there (including overlooking the historic center from the Piazzale Michelangelo) is one of the charming games you can play as you wander the city.
  15. Wander the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome – When Rome wears you out, or you’re tired of overpriced meals around all the tourist attractions, look no further than the Trastevere. This old neighborhood is full of twisting cobbled streets, peace and quiet during most days, cheap eats, and boisterous groups of young people at night.
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  17. Go back in time at Pompeii – While the residents of Pompeii in 79 A.D. probably were none too pleased with nearby Mount Vesuvius blowing its top and covering everything in sight, what it gives us today is a unique look at a Roman city frozen in time. Both Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum are well worth a visit, but don’t forget that much of what archaeologists have discovered is in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
  18. See an Italian soccer game – It matters not one bit if you’re a soccer fan, or even a sports fan, for that matter; going to a game of calcio makes for an unforgettable trip. Italian soccer can be considered a second religion in this country, and experiencing a game first-hand lets you witness the passion Italians feel for their clubs. Whatever you do, however, just don’t make the mistake of cheering for the visiting team.
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  20. Hike the Cinque Terre trail – I’ve said before that I think the Cinque Terre trail is overcrowded and posited that people should be let in on a permit system, but the fact remains that as long as there’s room on the path, the hike between these five picturesque villages is a great way to spend half a day. If you plan well (here’s a Cinque Terre hiking guide) and go when it’s not quite as overrun, all the better.
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  22. Eat two scoops of gelato daily – This is easy to do no matter where you are in Italy, so I don’t want to hear any excuses for not accomplishing this task. Remember, Italian gelato is made with milk, not cream, so it’s a lot less fattening than you think. And you’re walking everywhere, anyway, so it’s a well-deserved treat.
  23. Get lost in Venice – Some places require a map. Some places require that you forget the map. Venice is in the latter category. It’s an island, people, so you’re not going to get too far off track. With that in mind, leave your map in your hotel (maps are all but useless in this city anyway) and get yourself good and lost in Venice. It’s by far the best way to spend a day in the canal city.
  24. Take shelter from rain (or sun) inside the Pantheon in Rome – No matter the season or the weather, there’s always a good excuse to duck into the Pantheon in Rome. For one thing, it’s free. And for another, although it’s got a giant hole in the ceiling to let in the light, it’s always cool in summer and dry when it’s raining outside. Plus, just setting foot on stones that have been walked on for 2,000 years is, in my book, pretty incredible.
  25. Go for a drive in Tuscany – The roads that connect the famous hill towns of Tuscany might get short shrift with all the gushing people do about the towns themselves, but the views out of a car window when you’re cruising along windy country roads are enough to make anyone understand why someone might drop everything and buy a rundown Italian farmhouse. And if you’re beyond the Tuscany thing, you’ll get the same kinds of views (with somewhat smaller crowds) in nearby Umbria, too.
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  27. Walk in Caesar’s footsteps in Rome – History buff or no, it’s impossible not to marvel at a structure like the Colosseum, or stand in awe on the cobblestones of the Roman Forum and think about who walked there before you. An afternoon spent surrounded by the ruins that once made up the center of the Roman empire is an afternoon very well spent in my book.

And there’s my list of 20 things to do in Italy. It was actually harder than I’d anticipated limiting myself to 20 – partly because I wanted to include enough variety on there so that everyone who reads the list will find something they want to make sure they put on their itinerary, but also because there are just too many amazing experiences one can have in Italy. And I didn’t even include one of the most popular attractions in the entire country, the leaning tower of Pisa!

Perhaps I’ll take up the challenge again someday and make another list. Until then, I welcome your thoughts – what do you think of my list? What did I leave out that you would have put in? What did I list that you would take off? And finally, if you had to list your top 5 things everyone should do in Italy, what would they be?

photos, top to bottom, by: lightmatter, krossbow, xiquinhosilva, robad0b, James Trosh, j_bary, xiquinhosilva

46 thoughts on “20 Things Everyone Should Do in Italy

  • Karen

    Can I toss in, 1) eat at an agriturismo and 2)drink a big, fat red wine from the area it was made (like, Chianti in Chianti, Brunello in Montalcino, Vino Nobile in Montepulciano, or a Sagratino in Montefalco)? That is, if you’re into good eating and all πŸ˜‰ Great list, KL

  • Alex

    Excellent list Jessica! Some great ideas for places to see and things to do.

    All I might add is to visit Capri, and then have your pizza in Naples. Even better, eat a Neapolitan pizza on Capri!


  • Cristina

    Excellent list!

    1) I wouldn’t skip drinking an espresso in one of the superb cafes in a lovely square;
    2) eat real spaghetti made from a real Italian recipe;
    3) Kiss under the Bridge of Sighs (taking a gondola ride – I know, it’s a rip off but …);
    4) attend the Sunday mass in Vatican;
    5) visit the Romeo and Juliet related places in Verona (although I *know* that’s not the real Juliet’s house)

  • Mara

    This is an awesome list and actually includes a number of my top five items (Numbers 1, 3, 16, and 20 in particular).

    I would add stops in Siena to see the Duomo and a walk around Capri (when I went to the latter we stayed in Sorrento, up on the hill – avoided Naples altogether except for the pizza).

    I have to tell you that when we left Italy the last time it was agreed in my family that the leaning tower was not worth a stop.

  • Jason

    Try to get lost (on foot) in a few small towns in the less popular regions on your trip. That is the real Italy.

    “Wine Wine” in Pescara (Abruzzo) is one of the best seafood experiences I’ve had in Italy to date.

  • Parisgirl

    Next time I go to Italy, I’d definitely want you as my guide! Those are EXACTLY the things I’d want to do on a trip to Italy. (Some of them we’ve done – like climbing the Duomo in Florence (it’s about 420 steps I think!).

  • GG Husak

    I love the list. We’ve seen the sets for the opera in Verona, but never the opera and still haven’t seen a soccor game. But most of your list is worth repeats.

  • Matthew

    Speak the culture: Italy is a book I look forward to. I am not sure Italy is a place I wanna go to after the book and now the film Camorra where it really depicts the underside of Italian life and fear.

  • dodonnell

    I was expecting another top 20 things to do in Italy that is pretty much the same as 1,000 other similar posts, but I was pleasantly surprised by not only what you included, but also the things you decided to leave out.

  • Jessica Gennuso

    Hi Jessica,

    We are trying to decide if we should spend the last 3 Full days and 4 nights of our honeymoon in Sorrento or Positano. We think we would prefer to stay in Positano as the accommodations overall seem more appealing. However, with time and additional cost for traveling as a consideration, a trip to Pompeii needed for one of the days and a flight leaving from Naples it seems a better idea to stay in Sorrento. Do you think a stay in Positano is really out of reach and will further only be a nuisance?

    So confused?

  • Jessica Post author

    Hi, Jessica:

    You’re right, getting from Sorrento to Pompeii and also back to Naples is a quicker trip than getting from Positano to Naples… And yet if you’re seeing more appealing accommodation options in Positano, then here’s what I’d suggest – you can spend most of your time in Positano, and then spend the last night in Sorrento before you fly out of Naples. And if you get to Sorrento early enough the day before you leave, you could go to Pompeii that day, too. It does mean that you’re not spending as much time in Sorrento, but maybe that’s not as big of a deal if you’ve already spent a couple of days in Positano.

    Alternately, if you find a hotel you love in Positano, send them an email to find out whether they’ve got a recommendation for the best/fastest way to get from there to the Naples Airport. They might have an airport service, or some kind of service they could suggest that would make it so getting to the airport from there would be easy and quick.

    Good luck!

  • isango

    Well, first timers in Italy certainly don’t want to miss Rome, Florence and Venice, but for those who are into food and wine the best unbeaten track is Torino and the Langhe region.

    In Torino you can’t miss hot chocolate. That’s the place where they invented hot chocolate and “cafe’ shops” in 17-somehting, many of which still operate, and remember it’s the people of Torino who taught the Swiss how to make chocolate. Chocolate from Torino is mixed with a rare kind of hazelnut that only grows in the region (they also make the more commercial Nutella spread). One hour drive south of Torino you’ll find the Langhe where they grow the famous Barolo wine and season food with rare (and expensive) white truffles from Alba.

  • ER

    Awesome list, Jessica. I think I’ve done about 13 out of 20. I did a study abroad program in Verona and have seen 2 operas in L’Arena. Definitely a unique experience. And getting lost on purpose in Venice is the best way to experience the city.

    If I could add one thing to the list, it would be renting a small boat and going around Capri. Costs about 200 euro for 4 hours and you cruise around the island, taking your time, stopping at every grotto and bay you want to, and soaking in the sun. I’ve done it twice and it is the best thing I’ve ever done in Italy!

  • Anis Salvesen

    Great list! I went to Italy a couple summers to absorb the culture and learn the language, and while sadly my knowledge of the language has begun to fade, my memories of the country have not. This list reminded me not only of all of my favorite experiences but also of what other fabulous things to do await me there!

  • adelalemadi

    its so unfortunate that Abruzzo does not seem to enjoy its fair share of the international Italian lime light. It has so much to offer. While Venice, Milan, Florence etc… are very lovely destinations abruzzo also merits a mention here. it has so much to offer as it is rich in culture and has some of the most beautiful nature reserve parks in all of italy and it is renowned as a model of conservation. abruzzo also has the glorious adriatic beach coastline and has won most of the “borghi piu belli d’italia” awards for its medieaval villages and so much more… and as it has not been invaded by mass tourism the costs are reasonable and you have a much warmer welcome

  • Dave and Deb

    I totally ate two scoops of gelato, but that was for each cone I ate a day which was two. So I actually had 4 scoops of gelato daily and loved every minute of it. We hike the Cinque Terre so I worked off some of my excess weight:)

    • Jessica Post author

      Yeah, I exceed that two scoops per day thing all the time, & I have yet to feel a single pang of guilt about it. πŸ™‚

  • Fiona

    Glad I found this list! My fiancee, Michael, and I are planning a honeymoon to Italy this September. I plan on taking this list with me, and I think I’ll start out with two scoops of gelato πŸ™‚

  • hajra

    Hi Jessica
    I am planning to visit Itlay in April after Malta . I have 10 days to spend in Itlay. Naples,Capri,Rome,Florence,Pisa & Venice. We are also travilling with our 11 month baby.Please give me advice,itineraries ideas on how to plan aswell as best transport either drive fly or bus ,train.
    Also if you have any info on cruises from Malta to Capri, I would appreciate it a lot! Thanks

  • Brooke

    Hi Jessica,
    Thank you for sharing your “must sees” for Italy. My fiancΓ© and I are planning our honeymoon for this summer to Italy. So far we are planning on spending a few days in Florence, Rome, and the Amalfi Coast. We were wondering what city you would suggest for the coast? We have been planning on Sorrento, but have heard mixed reviews. We want the best coastal views, relaxing beaches (not over roared by tourists), and unique Italian experience! Please let us know what you would do!
    Thank you!
    Brooke & Kennon

    • Jessica Post author

      Congrats on your upcoming wedding!

      Summer on the Amalfi Coast is going to mean the beaches are pretty crowded, almost regardless of which town you stay in. Sorrento isn’t technically on the Amalfi Coast, although it’s a popular homebase for the area. I’d suggest you take a look at my Amalfi Coast page here:


      The town of Amalfi is central, has a larger bus stop, and has good boat service to other towns and the islands – but just about any town on the coast is going to have good views and some beach access (as long as it’s not a town high up on the cliffs).

  • Carissa

    I’m going to Italy in June its my second time to go but I was needing some help on what food is where regionally like I know in Naples=pizza. What kinds of food should I try while gone and wine also. Thanks

  • Julie

    You should totally try a list for more “local” inspired activities, for people who spend longer periods of time in one city. Like going out in the evening for aperativo with friends, or ordering espresso nel bar in the morning amongst all the other Italians. The chaos is so charming sometimes.
    I’d definitely recommend the Duomo in Siena. It’s just amazing. I’m spending 4 months in Tuscany right now, working in a restaurant (and blogging about it!) and I’ve loved getting to know Siena. Awesome city! πŸ™‚

    Love the list!

  • Dani

    While I agree that Venice, Florence are are very beautiful places to visit the Abruzzo region of Italy too has so much to offer and fast becoming a destination on the Italian tourist circuit (especially with the ever increasing number of airline routes into Pescara airport) Abruzzo has so much to offer from medieval towns, gorgeous natural reserve park, vast stretches of glorious beaches to ancient festivals that still go on today and earmarked by UNESCO.

  • Michael Andreula

    I completely agree with this list. You should go to Italy!!! I’m running a ReBoot Camp Retreat in Venice Sept 1 to the 20. You can come for any 6 day you would like. We will be in the breathtaking medieval city of Venice from September 1-15th. Members (and non-members) are invited to join us for any amount of time during that period. We will be holding urban-inspired training sessions each day, and meeting for delicious, healthy meals while discussing nutrition and how to choose the best foods for your individual needs. This program is kept to a maximum of 10 people, as the goal is to achieve the maximum results per person. Daily video and photo documentation of your entire experience and transformation is also included– how many vacations can offer you that??!!

    I’m always available (and excited) to discuss this amazing opportunity further with you– WE’RE GONNA CRUSH IT IN VENICE!!! EAT PASTA–GET RIPPED… GUARANTEED!!!

  • Invador Zim

    Thank you SOOOO much!!! You helped me get an “A” ion my Language Arts progect!! i love you sooo much!! haha no I don’t, but still thankyou a million!!

  • Mel Rowsell

    Thanks for your inspiration, about to spend two weeks in Lucca studying Italian with weekend excursions in Rome (to see the Forum and if I get time a guided tour of the Vatican thanks to your suggestion), Florence (definitely will see David plus I hear there are some fabulous old graveyards off the tourist track that traces the history way back) and Venice (wasn’t going to go but thought I’d better not miss it.) As some other people have said also looking forward to hanging out in Lucca pretending to be a local for a couple of weeks, drinking espresso in the local bar and trying my hand at buying fresh produce at the market. Can’t wait.

  • Sidnee

    Thank you for the information and the great tips. I would be going to Italy in June (1st time) and this will really help in planning my vacation. Is there a simplest way of printing all the documents without the ads? I would like to go to Cinque Terre from Florence. What is the departure station in Florence and the arrival station in Cinque Terre? I know I have to take the regional trains when I get there but not sure what the closest station to the 5 towns? Is there a luggage storage at the arrival station in CT? how much per luggage? I booked a B&B at Monterrosso but now re-thinking whether it is easier to book closer to the train station. I did not want to lug my luggage around and having to walk uphill.

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