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15 best things to do in Italy for a culturally immersive experience

best things to do in italy

Probably the most popular destination in the world, Italy is loved by travellers everywhere due to its rich history, appealing cuisine, immense legacy in art and architecture, and last but not least stunning and diverse landscapes.

Attempting to list out all the best things to do in Italy as a tourist would be an impossible mission! But here at Contiki we are nothing short of determined, so we’ve compiled the absolute creme de la creme, or fior fiore if you will, into one neat and tidy article here for you. If you really want to deep dive into Italian history and have a truly culturally immersive experience, these are all the stops you should make!

Without further ado, here are our picks for the top 15 best things to do in Italy for all our travel-obsessed culture vultures out there. (and once you’ve read this, why not check out our trips to Italy to get your road trop started?)

20 best places to visit in Italy (if you don’t know where to start)

20 best places to visit in Italy (if you don’t know where to start)

Steve Powdrill
by Steve Powdrill Aug 20, 2023

1. See the Colosseum

The Colosseum is one of the main Italian tourist attractions and a pretty cool UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite being over 1,900 years old, it’s still known as the largest standing amphitheatre in the world. Built under the Flavian Emperors of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum was used as an entertainment venue for gladiatorial combat, animal hunts, and even mock naval engagements (I know, right?!).

For a more in-depth experience, we recommend scheduling your visit in advance and booking an expert guide to learn more about how this iconic landmark was used by the Romans and why it’s so significant even to this day.

While you’re in Rome, make sure to head to the iconic Trevi Fountain and make a wish!

2. Check out the leaning tower of Pisa

Built between 1173 and 1373, the tower of Pisa is famously known for its noticeable lean (now sitting at approximately 4 degrees) due to the foundation stones being set on soft ground made of clay, shells, and fine sand, but ultimately the result of poor judgement during the initial design phase. Oops!

Today, the leaning tower of Pisa attracts millions of visitors who flock here to take pictures and creating quirky and lasting memories of their time in Italy.

Be warned that if you want to go up and enjoy the view, you should be in a decent physical condition as there are 251 steps to climb, so it is not recommended to anyone with cardiovascular or muscular conditions, and you should book tickets in advance where you can.

3. Visit all the Vatican Museums

You cannot truly say you’ve visited Italy without going to the Vatican, particularly the Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel. To get through all of them a day trip is in order. While not technically an art museum, the Sistine Chapel houses the forever iconic The Creation of Adam fresco painting by Michelangelo which is reason enough to visit.

The museum contains a huge collection of artwork obtained by the Catholic Church and the Papacy throughout time, of which 20,000 pieces are currently on display. For a smooth experience, make sure to buy your ticket in advance and avoid peak hours because it’s gonna get busy. And also remember to wear a less revealing outfit when visiting the Vatican City.

4. Go on a tour of Naples’ hidden food spots

One of the best things to do in Italy is of course stuff your face with all the delcious local meals. If you’re up for the challenge and looking to fully discover and embrace Italy’s food culture, a visit to Naples is an absolute must.

Known as the birthplace of pizza, Naples is known for simple but delicious recipes that focus on local ingredients like olive oil, garlic and tomatoes. Some of their most popular dishes are lasagna, Neapolitan ragu, Neapolitan pizza, and friggitorie (fried food) such as Crocche di patate, alici fritte or mozzarella in carrozza. Sound positively scrumptious to you? Hop on our Italian Escape trip for a taste.

5. Take a guided tour of the lost city of Pompeii

If you’re a true history buff, you will not want to miss a guided visit of Pompeii. The well-preserved ruins of this ancient lost city offer tourists a glimpse into what life must’ve been like for its inhabitants before the eruption of the once active volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

From what has been uncovered by scientists, it appears that Pompeii was a popular holiday spot for wealthy Romans even back in the day! They used to come here to soak in public baths, watch gladiators, and engage in other entertainment activities like go to the theatre or even attend musical concerts. Who knew our lives were so similar?

Getting there from Naples is quite easy, as there are two direct trains from Napoli Centrale station, which take roughly 35 minutes to reach the destination, so if Naples is on your itinerary, taking a short detour for this tourist attraction is an absolute must, or for full access and ease, do it on our Italian Escape trip!

6. Visit a local, sustainable Italian lemon grove

For a more in-depth cultural experience, we encourage you to take the time to connect and actively engage with the local community and in the process you will learn more about their traditions and current way of living. A good way to do it is to visit a local, sustainable Italian lemon grove. Lemons are a huge part of Italy’s food culture and they’re highly prevalent across Sicily and along the Amalfi Coast.

The Amalfi Lemon Experience is a family-owned business with a 200-year old tradition and a strong focus on sustainability. They welcome travelers from all over the world, offering them cooking classes and lemon tours and giving them a glimpse into Amalfi’s culture and traditions. Do it on our Italian Escape trip!

7. Enjoy a scenic cruise along the Amalfi coast

This 50-km stretch of coastline is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Italy, and one of the most beautiful as well. The coast is filled with beautiful towns of sunset coloured buildings and lush rocky surfaces. The scenery is idyllic, the accommodation is top-notch, and the villages are picturesque!

Of all the sights to see in Italy the Amalfi Coast should be at the top of your list, and the best way to see them is by taking a cruise. Sail around the beautiful island of Capri and then walk the narrow, pebbled streets of Positano, stopping by one of the many cafes to enjoy the dramatic view.

8. Live a life of luxury on Lake Como

Lake Como is not just where celebrities come to feel glamorous. In addition to being one of the most beautiful destination spots in Italy (and it is beautiful!), Lake Como is actually one of the deepest lakes in Europe, with some of the finest restaurants surrounding it. Taking a cruise here is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Italy.

Surrounded by mountains and blue skies, Lake Como feels like another world and it’s the perfect place to escape to live our your most luxurious fantasies. Make sure to snap some gorgeous pics for the ‘gram and make all your friends jealous. Maybe you can all came back together on Contiki’s Italian Espresso trip.

9. Stroll through Bellagio

Of course, a trip to Lake Como would not be complete without a visit to the pearl of the region, which is Bellagio, known for its beautiful villas overlooking the water, charming boutiques and tiny alleys.

This place feels and looks like an actual fairytale land where you’d expect princesses and dukes to be strolling around. This is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Italy if you’re looking to feel regal for a few hours and let your eyes rest on some dazzling sights.

Lake Como with views onto Bellagio

10. Enter another world at the Blue Grotto

Off the coast of Capri, nestled in the rock face of the cliffs, is a sea cave known as the Blue Grotto and it looks like a portal to another dimension. Because of the sun reflecting into the cave against the water, the walls of the cave are given a glowing blue hue which looks downright ethereal and is sure to be one of the most interesting destinations you visit.

You can take a boat tour here with small groups and venture into the cave. You can even hop out of the boat and take a dip for a really unique swimming experience that you can tell all your friends about.

Shopping In Italy On Any Budget

Shopping In Italy On Any Budget

by Vy Spear Aug 19, 2015

11. Learn how to make risotto overlooking the Tuscan hills

The Tuscan countryside is one of the most peaceful and awe-inducing places in Europe. Dotted with vineyards and rolling hills, Tuscany has a hazy and dreamlike vibe which will make you want to relax and live a life of total bliss.

We’ve talked a little bit about Italy’s food scene already, but what better way to immerse yourself in a country’s culture and truly experience their tradition than through a cooking class? Make your way to Florence and learn how to make risotto from the experts, overlooking the Tuscan hills. Best of all, you can experience it with your new Contiki friends and share the sun on our Simply Italy trip. Now that’s what we call perfection.

drinking wine in a Tuscan vineyard

Image source:Contiki

10 delizioso foods you MUST try in Italy

10 delizioso foods you MUST try in Italy

Katherine Novakovich
by Katherine Novakovich Aug 17, 2020

12. Float in a gondola down Venice’s Grand Canal

Venice is probably one of the most popular places of interest in Italy and for good reason. Venice’s layout with the many canals flowing between enchanting buildings makes the city a truly special place and it shows: Venice received 1.4 million tourists back in 2021!

But the Grand Canal is the most beautiful and most show-stopping of all the canals and it’s the city’s major water-traffic corridor. If you’re truly committed to doing all the best things to do in Italy then this is it, and we recommend you book a tour on a gondola and relax as you float past the classic architecture and Venice’s many art museums.

13. Go on a shopping spree in Piazza del Duomo

Ah Milan, Italy’s fashion capital, and one of the major fashion cities of the world. It makes sense then that you would shop ’til you drop at the gorgeous Piazza del Duomo! This is the central and most important piazza (which means square) in Milan and it acts as the epicentre for the city, connecting everything there. They say all roads lead to la Piazza del Duomo!

The most iconic place here is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, today’s oldest active shopping gallery and you can find stores belonging to all the finest designers here.

14. Visit Santa Maria delle Grazie and gawk at The Last Supper

If you’re an art buff (which you must be if you’re looking to get fully culturally immersed in Italy) then you won’t want to skip a day trip to Santa Maria delle Grazie. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a church and Dominican convent in northern Italy, not far from Milan, and it contains Da Vinci’s forever famous The Last Supper.

No Italian tourist is worth their salt if they haven’t made the pilgrimage to see Da Vinci’s magnum opus with their own two eyes.

15. Learn about the Mafia from the picturesque historic centre of Palermo

Palermo is often referred to as Sicily’s cultural, economic and touristic capital. Before the pandemic, it used to bring in a little over 1 million tourists every year, due to its refined gastronomy, warm climate, but also because of its interesting architectural style – a mix of Baroque, Art Nouveau, Gothic and Romanesque churches and palaces and its ties to the Sicilian Mafia.

Sign up for a walking tour through its picturesque city centre to learn more about the history of the Mafia in Palermo and the civil anti-Mafia movement that became synonymous with this city. Join us on our Real Sicily trip for a taste of the sunny good life and so much more.

You must be dying with wanderlust right about now, so we’ll make things easy for you. Check out all our Italy trips here and decide which adventure is the right one for you to explore and live a life of paradise with brand new friends and everything planned for you.

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