What are the most beautiful cities and towns you should visit in Italy?
A must for any traveller, Italy is a must-see country in Europe thanks to its romantic way of life, its cuisine and its historical sites. Each region has its own characteristics, offering varied and sumptuous landscapes, but above all cities steeped in history and romance, with monuments that have been very well preserved. Moreover, many Italian cities are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The popular tourist destinations such as Venice, Florence or Rome no longer have anything to prove, but Italy is not just about them, and from north to south the country is full of little-known cities and villages that are well worth a visit. In this list we will look at the well-known destinations that rightly attract many tourists, but also the more confidential and remote ones, located all over Italy. Among all the towns and villages presented in this selection, some deserve to be discovered for their location in a wonderful setting, their architectural and medieval heritage, or simply their romantic atmosphere.
From Venice to Urbino, Florence and Siena, here is the top 30 must-see cities, small towns and villages in Italy (not including Sardinia and Sicily). Even if Italy alone deserves several trips, I hope this list to help you plan your trip there if you don’t know where to go or which city to visit in Italy. Many are already famous and easily accessible like Rome or Venice, but others are off the beaten track and you will absolutely need a vehicle to get there. Even if they are far from the tourist circuits, you will see that some of Italy’s little-known towns and villages are well worth the trip.
This is the top 30 most beautiful cities, towns and villages in Italy:
1. ROME (ROMA)
The capital of Italy, is a vast city both modern and full of history that houses many monuments such as the Colosseum, ancient medieval churches, museums, beautiful Baroque fountains, and superb Renaissance palaces. Rome also has excellent restaurants and a lively nightlife. St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican City are also easily accessible from Rome. There is a lot to visit, try to spend at least three days there to see the essential sites.
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2. FLORENCE (FIRENZE)
Located in Tuscany, Florence is the cradle of the Renaissance in Europe. The city is a real open-air museum, and the Duomo is really impressive when you see it in the distance for the first time. Florence also has several excellent museums such as the Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses impressive collections of famous paintings and sculptures with artistic treasures by Michelangelo, Botticelli… We also eat very well (don’t miss the Mercato centrale). In short, Florence is for some people THE most beautiful city in Italy, and rightly so.
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3. VENICE (VENEZIA)
Located in the northeast of the country, Venice is a unique city, built on water and cut in half by the magnificent Grand Canal. It is really one of the most beautiful cities in Italy and Europe, which should be seen at least once in a lifetime. Exploring the narrow streets and bridges along the canals is a delight for amateur photographers. The heart of the city is located near the magnificent Piazza San Marco and the Basilica of San Marco. Venice also has many museums and palaces to visit. The ideal is to sleep one night on site to enjoy the place without the hordes of tourists, but remember to book as soon as possible.
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4. MILAN (MILANO)
The Italian capital of fashion, design and architecture, Milan is the ideal place for shopping addicts with its designer boutiques. Despite its modern architecture, Milan has a rich artistic and cultural heritage, and you can visit superb historical buildings such as the Duomo, Milan’s spectacular Gothic cathedral.
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Located in the south-east of Italy, Lecce is one of the largest cities in Puglia, but also one of the most charming. It has many interesting sites, including a superb castle and historic centre, a 2nd century Roman amphitheatre and the Santa Croce Basilica, a masterpiece of Baroque art from the XVIIᵉ century.
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Located in Tuscany, Siena has a medieval city centre that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the 14th century, the city was a major power before its defeat by Florence. Being poorer than the latter, its medieval architecture has never been demolished and replaced by Renaissance style buildings. It is therefore one of the best preserved examples of medieval architecture in Italy today. Even if Siena is not as touristy as Rome or Florence, it is well worth a visit.
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Mantua is a small medieval town in Lombardy, located in a vast plain and surrounded by artificial lakes dating from the 12th century (beware, many mosquitoes!). Strangely ignored by tourists, the city is very pleasant to visit, and it is also famous for its gastronomy. Mantua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its remarkable Renaissance architecture. The main attraction not to be missed is the immense Palazzo Ducale (or Ducal Palace). Mantua can be visited over a weekend or on a day trip by car or train from Milan, Bologna or Venice.
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A magnificent city, located in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, with the Italian Alps on the horizon and dominated by the 167.5-metre high arrow dome of the Mole Antonelliana. Turin has been a literary centre for centuries. There are excellent museums (the cinema museum and the Egyptian art museum), beautiful shops and good restaurants. You can discover very beautiful examples of Baroque architecture and historical palaces, old chic cafés of the 19th century, craftsmen’s workshops and streets with arcades. Turin is also the Italian chocolate capital. Among the must-see visits, do not miss the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Cathedral.
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Perched on the top of a 600-metre-high hill and visible from miles around, Montepulciano is a medieval town in southern Tuscany, very well preserved and surrounded by green hills and vineyards. It is also where Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, an excellent red wine, is produced. By its position the city offers a superb panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, but it also houses superb historical buildings, churches and palaces. Montepulciano is an ideal base to discover and explore the Val d’Orcia, Lake Trasimeno, Val di Chiana and the Crete Senesi, which are among the most beautiful landscapes in Tuscany.
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10. SAN GIMIGNANO
A small fortified town in Tuscany, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited in Tuscany. It is famous for its medieval towers, which rise impressively on the horizon (the highest is 54 metres high). At the height of its glory, there were about 75 towers, which were a demonstration of the wealth and power of the rival noble families who ruled there. Only 14 towers remain today, offering impressive views of the city and the surrounding valley. Fall is the best time to visit San Gimignano because in summer the city is beset by tourists.
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Easily accessible by train from Florence, the fortified city of Lucca is a well-kept secret in Tuscany. Protected by imposing Renaissance ramparts that can be discovered on foot or by bicycle, the city has a network of cobbled streets, magnificent gardens and charming little squares. Don’t miss the extraordinary San Martino Cathedral with its superb facade, and the church of San Michele in Foro.
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One of the most beautiful villages to visit in southern Italy, Castelmezzano deserves its title mainly for its unique location, totally surrounded by rocks. Very nice to visit during the day, Castelmezzano is especially spectacular to see at night. Don’t miss a visit to Pietrapertosa, on the other side of Castelmezzano. For 40€ and as long as you like thrills, you can reach both villages thanks to a cable stretched between the two places, which allows you to drive at 110km/h above the void, and poetically nicknamed the “Volo dell’Angelo” (the angel’s flight).
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An often neglected jewel located near Milan in northern Italy, located on a raised plateau and home to superb medieval and baroque architecture. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is divided in two, with the upper part and its old winding cobbled streets, and the lower part more modern. Both parts are accessible by funicular and the view from the upper part of the city is magnificent. The breathtaking view of the surrounding Dolomites makes Bergamo one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. It is an ideal place to relax and enjoy its special atmosphere for a weekend.
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14. NAPLES (NAPOLI)
In terms of architecture, it is not the most beautiful city in Italy but its presence in the classification is justified by the proximity of sites to see absolutely: Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii, Herculaneum and the beautiful island of Capri (which deserves to stay at least one night on site). In addition, there is one of the best pizzerias in the country (the Da Michele pizzeria), in short, Naples necessarily has its place among the best cities in Italy to visit.
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15. CINQUE TERRE
Technically, it’s not a single city but a national park located in northern Italy that shelters five small fishing villages perched along a steep coastline. The five villages are from north to south: Monterosso (the largest), Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. You can see some of the most beautiful landscapes on the Italian coast, with steep cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean and terraces of vineyards and olive trees.
There are three ways to explore Cinque Terre: by train, the Cinque Terre line connects the five cities together. You can also explore the coast by kayak or take a ferry trip (there are day passes). Otherwise, easily accessible hiking trails connect the villages through spectacular landscapes. The best way to explore the area is to choose one of the five cities as a base and make day trips to visit the others. The ideal is to spend two or three days on site, out of season to avoid hordes of tourists.
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Located 50 km north of Bologna, it is one of the best preserved cities in medieval Italy and has one of the most beautiful walled areas in the region (still a UNESCO listed city!). The splendour of Ferrara is linked to the Este family, the dynasty that ruled the city from the late Middle Ages to 1597. Do not miss the visit of the medieval fortress of Castello Estense, designed in 1385, which dominates the city centre. Also worth seeing is the Via delle Volte, a street with beautiful arches. Ferrara is easily accessible by train from Bologna (30 to 45 minutes).
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Located 20 minutes by train north of Venice, Treviso is a charming, well-preserved fortified town with superb medieval streets lined with painted facades. Despite this, Treviso sees few tourists, eclipsed by Venice. Yet it is an interesting place to explore, where you can easily spend a relaxing day strolling along the canals and red brick arcades that cross the city centre.
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Perugia is located in the Umbria region, one of the greenest regions in Italy. It is a fortified city perched on a hillside that offers superb views of the Italian countryside and has several important monuments. Among the places of interest, there is the superb Piazza IV November (the main square) where you can admire the Fontana Maggiore in pink and white stone that stands in front of the Duomo. Also worth seeing are the church of San Pietro and the Palazzo dei Priori.
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19. BELLAGIO (LAKE COMO)
Located on the point where the two arms of Lake Como meet, Bellagio is a charming little resort located in an exceptional setting at the foot of the Italian Alps. This is the perfect place to fall in love! Bellagio is home to two parks open to the public, Villa Melzi and Villa Serbelloni. In addition to Bellagio, you can also visit Varenna, another very charming city located on the shores of Lake Como that you can easily reach by ferry.
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Easily accessible by train from Florence, Bologna is a very beautiful city easily accessible by foot, with beautiful arcades, porticoes and brick walls. The city has many monuments that testify to its rich cultural past, such as the Church of San Petronio, which is one of the largest brick buildings in Italy. If you are not afraid of heights, you can also climb to the top of the Asinelli tower (the largest of the two former towers in the medieval centre). Don’t miss the Fontana di Nettuno, with its magnificent bronze statues.
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A little off the beaten track and not easily accessible by public transport, but it is really worth going if you have a car. Located in the Marche region, in the centre of Italy, this university town perched around a Renaissance palace has a remarkable artistic heritage and a perfectly preserved historic centre. The city’s imposing palace, the Palazzo Ducale, is one of the most impressive in Italy. There is a superb collection of Renaissance paintings.
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Although it is one of the smallest cities in Italy, Ravenna has an important history. In the 5th century, the city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Today, it is best known for its early Christian buildings, which have remarkable mosaics, among the most beautiful in the world. This is why it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ravenna is a must-see for lovers of architecture, art and religious history.
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Halfway between Florence and Rome, Orvieto is one of the most beautiful fortified cities in Umbria, perched on the top of a volcanic hill that offers a spectacular view of the countryside and the surrounding vineyards. Its peaceful medieval alleys are dominated by the Duomo, which has one of the most beautiful cathedral facades in Italy. Another must-see site is the labyrinth of underground tunnels in Orvieto, carved by the Etruscans for defensive purposes in volcanic rock.
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The Amalfi coast is home to some of the most beautiful places in Italy. One of the most photogenic is Positano, a village clinging to a steep cliff. Be careful, everything is very expensive there because it is a very posh place where movie stars and other celebrities come. However, with its colourful houses and spectacular location, the place remains beautiful. It is also very touristy and it is better to stay one night on site to get up early and enjoy the calm surroundings.
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A well-preserved medieval town, one of the most famous in Umbria. Perched on a hill, it was made famous by Saint Francis of Assisi, a monk who founded the Franciscan religious order in 1208. Thus, this city has become a very important place of pilgrimage for Italians, who come all year round. The main attraction is the magnificent Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, the sanctuary where Saint Francis rests, which was built in 1228 and decorated with magnificent frescos by the greatest artists of the time. Even if you are not interested in religion, Assisi deserves to be visited for the striking beauty of its historic centre and monuments. To enjoy a magnificent view, don’t miss the medieval fort of Rocca Maggiore at sunset. Even if you can visit the city centre of Assisi in one afternoon, treat yourself to a night or at least a full day to really immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the place.
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About forty kilometres south of Siena, this charming medieval fortified city dominates the plain from its hill topped by an impressive fortress. Located at an altitude of 564 metres, it enjoys a splendid view of the surrounding vineyards where Brunello di Montalcino, a renowned Tuscan red wine, is produced. Time seems to have stopped here, with its historic centre and ramparts unchanged over the centuries.
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Pitigliano is an ancient medieval city perched at the top of a tuff cliff (volcanic debris) with caves and tunnels. The show is amazing to see by its grandiose location. Inhabited since Etruscan times, it was also a refuge for Jews fleeing Catholic persecution. The area is relatively easy to discover on foot, with superb buildings (including an aqueduct) and spectacular views from the edge of the cliffs. Near Pitigliano are also the villages of Sovana and Sorano, which are also worth a visit.
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Known for the history of Romeo and Juliet, Verona has many monuments dating back to Antiquity and the Middle Ages, including incredibly well preserved Roman arenas, and the church of San Zeno Maggiore, a masterpiece of Romanesque art built between 1123 and 1135. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, with its historic district where you can see ancient medieval palaces built of pink limestone typical of the region.
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29. CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO
Not far from Orvieto, Civita di Bagnoregio is actually two villages, the most interesting to see being Civita, which is located at the top of a rocky peak overlooking a vast gorge, accessible only by a footbridge that starts from Bagnoregio. Located in a spectacular panorama, Civita is under constant threat of erosion and earthquakes. With its old buildings flush with crumbling cliffs, this is a truly unique place to see and worth a visit. Today, there are only about ten residents all year round.
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A tiny coastal village with a few shops, a small port and pastel-coloured fishermen’s houses at the bottom of a natural creek. It is very quickly made around, for a day trip, but the panorama is worthy of a postcard. To know before going there: the prices are very high (take food and drink with you), it is difficult to reach by car and therefore it is better to use the ferry to get there, or the bus from Santa Margherita Ligure.
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Before you go to Italy:
- Book your hotel in Italy on Booking.com
- 25€ of credit offered on AirBnB
- Buy the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Italy 2019 on Amazon.com