Probably the most popular destination in the world, Italy is loved by travelers 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 multitude of things one can do in this country as a tourist would be a mission impossible, which is why for this article we thought we’d narrow it down to the absolute essentials if you really want to dive deep into the Italian culture and have a truly culturally immersive experience. Without any further ado, here are our 10 best things to do in Italy if you’re just starting out:
1. See the Colosseum
The Colosseum is one of the main tourist attractions in Italy and despite being over 1,900 years old, it is 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.
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.
Discover it on our Ultimate Italy trip.
2. Take a guided tour of 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. 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.
3. Check out the leaning tower of Pisa
Built between 1173-1373, 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. Today, its appearance attracts millions of visitors who flock here to take pictures and have a cool and interesting reminder of their time in Italy.
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.
We recommend booking your visit in advance, to avoid long ticket lines.
4. Go on a tour of Naple's hidden food spots
If you’re 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, friggitorie (fried food) such as Crocche di patate, alici fritte or mozzarella in carrozza.
Discover Naple’s street food and more on our Italian Escape trip.
5. Take a guided tour of the lost Roman 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 Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
From what has been uncovered by scientists, it appears that Pompeii was a popular holiday spot for wealthy Romans, who 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.
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.
Do it on our Italian Escape trip.
6. Go on a scenic coastal cruise along the Amalfi coast
This 50-km stretch of coastline is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Italy, due to its idyllic scenery, top-notch accommodation and picturesque villages.
Take a cruise 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.
7. 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.
8. Take a cruise on Lake Como and wander the cobbled streets of Bellagio
Lake Como is not just where celebrities come to feel glamorous. Despite being one of the most beautiful destination spots in Italy (and one of the priciest), Lake Como is actually one of the deepest lakes in Europe, with some of the finest restaurants surrounding it.
And, 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.
Do it on our Italian Espresso trip.
9. Learn how to make risotto overlooking the Tuscan hills
We’ve talked a little bit about Italy’s food scene, 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. Now that’s what we call perfection.
Do it on our Simply Italy trip.
10. 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 Mafia in Palermo and the civil anti-Mafia movement that became synonymous with this city.
Do it on our Real Sicily trip.