What to do in Italy
Italy needs almost no introduction, but it does require a guide (at least a written one) with so much to see and do. One of the world’s most popular travel destinations, its impact on the world can be seen throughout in everything from crumbling ruins to grand palaces and gorgeous works of art. The lively cities offer an enticing mix of old and new where one can marvel at centuries-old landmarks and then delve into world-class shopping and buzzing nightlife. The landscapes are awe-inspiring from the sparkling lakes and mountains in the north to vineyard-covered rolling hills in the Tuscan countryside, glorious beaches along the Amalfi Coast, Italian Riviera, and the unspoiled Adriatic. Of course, there are islands too, like sun-soaked glamourous Capri, popular since Roman times, Sicily with its collection of beaches, mountains, national parks and ancient villages, and Sardinia, with Costa Smeralda boasting fine white sands and emerald waters.
This country is also a place where one should include time to just wander at a slow pace, taking it all in for a more authentic look at daily life where grandmothers can often be seen hanging the laundry out their windows. Linger over meals with fine wine and be sure to master the art of the aperitivo, an important part of Italian culture. It’s a light meal and a drink enjoyed at the end of the workday that can be enjoyed throughout the country, perfect for people watching and relaxing as well as taking the edge off hunger with Italian dinners usually not served until at least 8 p.m.
Best things to do in Italy
Below you’ll find a sample of guided tours and activities we offer across Italy. This is just the tip of the iceberg: using our first-hand experience and extensive local contacts we can cater for all manner of interests. Let us know what intrigues you most about Italy, and we’ll map out the perfect itinerary.
Stand in the Steps of Gladiators at the Roman Colosseum
The most famous recognized symbol of Rome, the Roman Colosseum was inaugurated in the 1st century AD. The classical ruin once held 50,000 spectators who witnessed many brutal fights between gladiators with the last occurring in 532. While it’s been nearly 1500 years since that final battle, it’s managed to remain incredibly well intact. It’s best to visit twice, during the day so you can take in all of the little details and again after dark with it illuminated against the night’s sky. The admission price includes Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum that lies adjacent. It was the center of life in ancient Rome, hosting celebrations, funerals, and festivals. Stepping into the huge archaeological site is like stepping back through time. As you stroll through the ruins, it’s easy to imagine the Romans as they walked the cobbled streets, sometimes with sacrifices on their way to the temples.
Toss a Coin Into the Baroque Trevi Fountain
Rome’s largest fountain and one of the most famous in the world, your visit to the Eternal City wouldn’t be complete without tossing a coin into it. An elaborate baroque masterpiece, it includes a marble statue of Neptune surrounded by tritons. There are several legends behind the coin tossing, including that throwing one from your right hand over your left shoulder will ensure your return to Rome. Another tells that three coins should be thrown in, the first of which guarantees your return, the second ensuring a new romance, and the third, marriage. The coins don’t go to waste as the municipality of Rome collects an average of $3,500 from the fountain every day which helps to fund food programs for the poor. While it attracts big crowds, if you visit during the early morning hours or late at night, the experience can be magical.
Admire the Magnificent Works in the Vatican City
Vatican City is an independent city-state in Rome that has its own militia to protect the Pope and around 800 full-time citizens along with visiting residents. It even has its own flag, coins, and stamps. The main reason to visit, other than to catch a glimpse of the pope, is to visit the massive Vatican Museums complex which includes museums and galleries with frescoes, paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and classical antiquities. The Sistine Chapel is a must-see with its ceiling famously painted by Michelangelo as a cornerstone of High Renaissance works. The Raphael Rooms and St. Peter’s Basilica are two of the other highlights, with St. Peter’s considered the most magnificent in Italy, in a country renowned for its gorgeous churches. It was built on the site of a 4th-century church and took 120 years to complete, finished in 1626 AD. It holds Michelangelo’s Pieta and a large baroque sculpted bronze canopy.
Pompeii is the city that was destroyed in the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD, left buried under several feet of ash for nearly 1,700 years before being rediscovered. It was frozen in time, providing a remarkable look at life in Roman times with even human residents preserved in the positions they were in. It’s like an open-air museum, with bath houses, villas, shops, bakeries, a meat and fish market, law courts, and even a brothel. As you wander the ancient streets look down to see chariot tracks left by the chariots that were used for transport. The forum at the center was the political, economic, and religious hub, the place where religious events and public debates were held, while the amphitheater is the oldest stone amphitheater of its kind ever discovered, dating back to 80 BC. A guided tour is the best way to see it all with expert insight.
Climb Mount Vesuvius
Lying just east of Naples, Mount Vesuvius is mainland Europe’s only active volcano and one of the most famous in the world, in part because of the eruption that covered unsuspecting Pompeii. It’s produced some of the continent’s largest volcanic eruptions and is the main feature of Mount Vesuvius National Park. It’s considered safe to climb with plenty of warning usually given should an eruption be imminent. The hike to the crater is fairly easy, suitable for most, taking just 30 minutes to reach. Once there, you’ll see what looks a bit like the surface of the moon. You’ll be able to stroll alongside the crater, peek in, and take in a jaw-dropping view of Campania from above. As many tours combine a visit to Vesuvius with Pompeii, it makes it easy to check both off your list in a day.
Sip Wine Under the Tuscan Sun
2003’s “Under the Tuscan Sun” made Tuscany a star and one of the top things to do here is to sip wine in the sunshine, with the light touching the picturesque vineyard-covered landscapes. There are plenty of vineyards where you can do just that, often alongside some of the local pastas. Many also offer the chance to learn about the wine-making process before sampling. This is a vast region, so you’ll want to figure out where to go – Chianti offers many vineyards with areas dedicated to wine tasting and opportunities to see the production of its famous Chianti Classico, with its famous medieval town of San Gimignano boasting some of the finest wineries in all of Italy. White Vernaccia wine is the local specialty. The classic walled hill town is also known for its medieval towers that create a breathtaking skyline that can be seen from the surrounding countryside.
Glide Across Venice’s Grand Canal in a Gondola
Just watching the gondolas and vaporettos cruise along the Grand Canal from Venice’s Rialto Bridge is a dreamy experience, particularly at sunset. The Grand Canal is one of the world’s most famous waterways, known for its serenading gondoliers that make it popular among romance seekers and honeymooners who can pop open a bottle of wine and sip while watching the iconic sights go by. If you want to avoid the crowds and long lines, you might take a vaporetto, or water bus, that winds through less-traveled canals, complete with pretty bridges and traditional Venetian homes. They provide the surreal beauty of it all with more tranquility and at a much lower price too. Another option is to go for an early morning ride before the tourists take over.
Cruise the Amalfi Coast
Taking a boat trip from one of the world’s most stunning coasts is sure to be a highlight of your time in Italy. The Amalfi Coast is where you’ll find those colorful clifftop villages overlooking the turquoise sea and there are numerous options for excursions that leave from Sorrento, Positano, and other towns. One of the most popular options visits the island of Capri, known for its awe-inspiring natural beauty, world-class shopping, and delicious cuisine. It’s a place to see and be seen, with many celebrities and VIPs of all sorts anchoring their superyachts here. Tours often include visits to the Blue Grotto, a unique sea cave that gets its name from the brilliant blue light that filters through the water via an opening below sea level. You’ll board a rowboat that can get through the opening to witness the surreal turquoise glow.
Discover the Italian Lakes District
The Italian Lakes District in Italy’s north is home to five clear sapphire lakes, Como, Maggiore, Garda, Iseo, and Lugano. Lake Como is known for its magnificent villas, some owned by celebrities like George Clooney, with the surrounding landscape covered with alpine forest and backed by soaring mountains, looking like a postcard-perfect Italian masterpiece. The small town of Menaggio is ideal for active explorers who want to enjoy the outdoors surrounded by the beauty, including everything from hiking and biking to boating and swimming. There are cruises available that will bring you to many of the famous sights, or you can even rent your own boat. Picturesque Varenna on the eastern shores is only 37 miles from Milan and overlooks the central part of the lake toward popular and ritzy Bellagio, with old fishermen’s homes and charming lanes. It’s also hosts the beautiful gardens of Villa Cipressi and Villa Monastero.
Admire Michelangelo’s David and Climb the Bell Tower of Florence’s Duomo
Renowned for its Renaissance art and architecture, Florence is where you can marvel at Michelangelo’s David up close under a skylight, the best way to understand the passion that the artist had for human anatomy. You’ll be able to see the flexing thigh muscles in his leg, the pulsing veins in his hands, and the watchful eyes that make it feel as if the gleaming masterpiece of white marble has come to life. Michelangelo was only 26 in 1501 when he took on the challenge to sculpt the large-scale, 17-foot-tall David and is said have worked tirelessly for three years to complete it. While in Florence you won’t want to miss the chance to climb to the top of the bell tower of the Duomo in the heart of the city. One of the four main monuments on Piazza del Duomo, it’s a fine example of 14th-century gothic-style architecture standing nearly 300 feet high. From the top you’ll enjoy fabulous views of the piazza, the city, and beyond. The cathedral museum displays original works of art created for the bell tower, including pieces by Pisano and Donatello.
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