Once you have decided to visit Italy, your next decision is even tougher – what should you do while you are there? Italy might not seem like a big country, but there are so many things to do and see that a lifetime would not be enough time to see it all. Your first task will be to prioritize your must-see list and work from the top down, seeing how much time you have. Plan on visiting Italy again to catch the rest of your list, so during each visit you can avoid rushing too much and enjoy each trip more.
>> Whether you’ve visited Italy before or not, there are some things you’ll want to think about when planning your trip – so be sure to have a look at my first-time visitor guide to Italy!
>> And if you’re really on a budget, don’t miss my lists of free things to do in Italy, too.
If you’re in a hurry, you can get straight to Italy’s most popular tourist attractions with these posts:
The Holy Trinity – And Beyond
While Italy is home to the Catholic church’s headquarters, when we say “Holy Trinity” we are not talking about the Vatican. Instead, we are talking about the three biggest tourist destinations in Italy – Rome, Florence and Venice. They might be crowded cities, often with as many visitors as residents (if not more), but they are heavily touristed for a reason.
Rome is where you will find ancient remnants of the center of the once-vast Roman empire, the Vatican with its collection of world-famous art and its centuries of religious history, and some of the most amazing architecture you will see anywhere. As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is home to several museums which contain even more famous pieces of artwork than you can imagine, and the city’s restaurants will let you see just why Italian food is so talked about. Venice, that one-of-a-kind canal city, is a wonderland where the ultimate goal is to get lost and explore the intricate mazes.
These three cities are generally the ones that people visit on their first trip to Italy, and they offer a nice overview to what makes people keep coming back to Italy every year. And for those of you who find that you like what you saw the first time around, the good news is that there is plenty more beyond the Holy Trinity. Other popular cities to visit are Pisa, Siena, Naples, the Cinque Terre, Milan and Positano, and many people just come to hang out in a whole region – like Tuscany, Umbria, Liguria or Puglia. Wherever you go in Italy, you are likely to enjoy incredible food and scenery and the warm hospitality of the Italian people.
Travel With a Focus
Often a great way to visit a place is to pick a focus – something you particularly enjoy – and create a tour of Italy around it. For instance, a wine enthusiast or food lover could travel around Italy seeking not art highlights but long meals of regional specialties and great Italian wines. A sports fanatic could get into the athletic events that dominate Italian culture – soccer (called calcio in Italian) and cycling – by going to soccer games in different cities or following the country’s national bike race, the Giro d’Italia, around in May. And anyone who likes life in the fast lane will appreciate visiting the factories of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati and Alfa Romeo – and maybe even driving around Italy in one of the legendary cars, too. Of course, even someone with only a marginal interest in art will be head-over-heels in love with the incredible art and architecture which seems to be everywhere you look in Italy.
It is easy to find something to focus on in Italy and to create a trip around it that will be memorable and personal, and which you will remember forever. But also, don’t forget to be open to those moments of serendipity – when an opportunity that could be fun or exciting presents itself unexpectedly, whether it’s one of the many free concerts in Italy that happen during the summer, or a local Italian festival that takes over a town.
photo at top by Andy Hay