There is so much to see in Italy that it is hard to know where to start. Practically every little village has one or two interesting places, plus a few other things to see.
- Etruscan Italy. If you’re short on time and can’t travel outside the big cities, don’t miss the incredible collection of the Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia in Rome. With a rental car, you can visit the painted tombs and museum of Tarquinia or the huge funerary complex of Cerveteri, all within easy reach of Rome.
- The Greek influence. The well-preserved Greek temples of Agrigento, in south-western Sicily, and Paestum, south of Naples, give a good idea of the extent of Greek influence on Italy.
- Roman ruins. In the south, in Sicily, in the north of the country, Italy is full of reminders of the Roman Empire. In Taormina, Sicily, you can visit the Roman theatre, with stunning views of Mount Etna on a clear day. Also in Sicily, don’t miss the well-preserved mosaics in Piazza Armerina. If you go north to south of Naples, you will find Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were covered in lava by Vesuvius and are therefore amazingly well preserved. In Rome and in every street in the centre, it seems that some pieces of inscribed Roman stones have been incorporated into newer buildings. Don’t miss the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the aqueducts, the Via Appia and a dozen museums dedicated to Roman ruins. Further north, don’t miss the Roman amphitheatre of Verona.
- Christian Italy. The Vatican is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Although it is located within Rome, it has the status of a separate state. Don’t miss St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum. Rome itself has over 900 churches, many of which are worth a short visit. Throughout Italy you will find truly amazing Christian architecture, spanning Romanesque (700-1200), Gothic (1100-1450), Renaissance (1400-1600) and ornate Baroque (1600-1830) styles. Although theft of works of art is a problem, churches and cathedrals in large cities keep a large number of paintings and sculptures, and some have been moved out to city and church museums. Frescoes and mosaics are everywhere, and they are quite amazing. Don’t just look for churches: There are fascinating monasteries to discover in rural areas. If you plan to visit churches, note that all but the largest are usually closed between 12:30 and 15:30.
- Byzantine cities. The Byzantines controlled northern Italy until they were driven out by the Lombards in 751. Venice is of course world famous and nearby Chioggia, also in the lagoon, is a smaller version of it. The churches of Ravenna have incredible mosaics. Visiting Ravenna requires a bit of a diversion, but it’s worth it.
- The Renaissance. Start with a visit to Piazza Michelangelo in Florence to admire the famous view. Then explore the many museums, both inside and outside Florence, that house Renaissance masterpieces. The Renaissance or Revival (Rinascimento in Italian) lasted between the 14th and 16th centuries and is generally thought to have begun in Florence. The list of famous names is endless: in architecture, Ghiberti (the bronze doors of the Duomo), Brunelleschi (the dome) and Giotto (the bell tower). In literature: Dante, Petrarch and Machiavelli. In painting and sculpture: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Masaccio and Boticelli.
- Streets and squares. You could visit the cities of Italy without ever going into a church, museum or Roman ruin and still have a good time. Just walk around and keep your eyes open. Apart from the northern Po and Adige valleys, most of Italy (including the cities) is hilly or mountainous and offers magnificent views. Look up as you walk around to see the stunning rooftop gardens and classic bell towers. In cities like Rome, note the constant juxtaposition of expensive shops and small workplaces for artisans. Look for interesting food shops and places where you can get a good gelato. Above all, enjoy the atmosphere.
Operas. If you are interested in the famous Italian operas, they are performed in various cities: Milan, Verona, Parma, Rome, Venice, Turin, Spoleto, Florence, Palermo, Genoa.
- Aeolian Islands,
- The Tremiti Islands,
- The Aegadi Islands,
- Pelagic Islands
- Dino Island
Every major city has a number of local museums, but some of them have national and international significance.
These are some of the most important permanent collections.
- Uffizi Museum. In Florence, it is one of the largest museums in the world and a must-see. Due to the large number of visitors, it is advisable to book tickets in advance to avoid hour-long queues.
- Brera Art Gallery. In Milan, a beautiful seventeenth-century palace houses a prestigious museum with a number of paintings, including some notable Renaissance ones.
- The Museum of the Etruscan Academy of the City of Cortona. In Cortona, Tuscany.
- Egyptian Museum. It houses in Turin the second largest Egyptian collection in the world, after that of the Cairo Museum.
- The Aquarium. In Genoa, one of the largest and most beautiful in the world, the Porto Antico (old harbour) is located in an area that was completely renovated in 1992 by the architect Renzo Piano.
- Museum of Science and Technology. In Milan, one of the largest in Europe, it houses collections on ships, planes, trains, cars, motorbikes, radio and energy. Recently it also acquired the Toti submarine, which is open to visitors.
- Museum of Roman Civilisation. Rome has the world’s largest collection on ancient Rome and a wonderful replica (scale 1:250) of the entire urban area of Rome in 325 AD, the time of Constantine the Great.
- National Museum of Cinema. In Turin, inside the beautiful Mole Antonelliana, historic building and symbol of the city.
- Automobile Museum. In Turin, one of the largest in the world, with a collection of 170 cars covering the entire history of the automobile.
- The Vatican Museum. Strictly speaking, not in Italy, because the Vatican is its own territory. Visit the museum to see the Sistine Chapel, rooms painted by Raphael, amazing old maps and much more.
- The Etruscan Museum in the Villa Giulia in Rome. Amazing collection of Etruscan art.