Italy is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. High art and monuments are to be found everywhere around the country. Its great cities of art, like Rome, Venice and Florence are world famous and have been attracting visitors for centuries. Besides its art treasures Italy also features beautiful coasts, alpine lakes and mountains. No wonder it is often nicknamed the Bel Paese (beautiful country).
With so many amazing sights, putting together a compilation of top tourist attractions in Italy is no easy task. The following list however should give a good indication of why over 40 million foreign tourists visit Italy ever year.
The city of Verona is largely known for its role in the play Romeo and Juliet, but dating back even further is the Verona Arena. This incredible arena is actually a Roman amphitheater constructed 2,000 years ago. Despite its age, the Verona Arena is remarkably well preserved, and at its peak it hosted performances for more than 30,000 people. Today, visitors are still able to attend musical performances at the arena, bringing Italian culture and history to life.
At the base of Mount Vesuvius is the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum. Nearly 2,000 years ago, a volcanic eruption destroyed Herculaneum. However, just like its larger rival Pompeii, the eruption and resulting layer of mud preserved and fossilized much of the architecture. Visitors to Herculaneum can see original homes, refurbished to appear as they did 2,000 years ago, as well as fossilized skeletons, ancient advertisements and beautiful mosaics that showcase art from millennia past.
The island of Elba has a long history, and it was previously inhabited by Ligures Ilvates, Greeks, Etruscans and Romans. Elba’s most famous resident, however, was Napoleon, who was banished to Elba in 1814. Napoleon’s winter and summer homes still stand, and they are available for the public to tour. Italy’s third largest island boasts more than 150 beaches too, from wide stretches of sand to sheltered coves.
Nestled in the Graian Alps is Gran Paradiso National Park, a gorgeous destination with stunning mountain views and incredible hiking opportunities. The Gran Paradiso National Park was first established as a way to protect the local ibex population, and wildlife today includes those ibex as well as badgers, wolves, lynx, ermine and more than 100 bird species. Seasonal activities include summer hiking, spotting the foliage in autumn, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in winter and photographing flowers come spring.
Palazzo Ducale, or the Ducal Palace, is a Renaissance building located in the city of Urbino. Built in the 15th century, the palace is enormous, housing an average of 600 residents at its peak. The Palazzo Ducale is now open to the public, with many of the rooms refinished to look like they did in the 15th century. The palace is also home to the National Gallery of the Marche, which displays an enormous collection of Renaissance paintings.
One of the must-see attractions in the city of Rome is the Trevi Fountain. The fountain was constructed in 1762 by Nicola Salvi, and it depicts the god Neptune surrounded by underwater creatures in battle. Trevi Fountain is known as a place to throw in a coin to secure a return trip to Rome, and throwing two coins can secure a loving relationships with a Roman man or woman. At night, the fountain is illuminated, making it a magical and romantic place to visit.
The Holy Mary of Grace, or Santa Maria delle Grazie, is a convent and church located in Milan. The structure is a striking example of Renaissance architecture, boating details like a decorative nave and a bright, light-filled entrance. Most notably, the Santa maria delle Grazie is home to the famous mural The Last Supper, which was painted by Leonardo da Vinci. Many visitors come to the church specifically to see this iconic painting in person.
Off the western coast of the mainland, and in the heart of the Tyrrhenian Sea, is the island of Sardinia. While Sardinia boasts a number of stunning beaches, none is so picturesque or well-known as La Pelosa. The beach is so spectacular because of its sandy shores and shallow waters, making it easy to see right down to the ground through crystal-clear sea. La Pelosa is often compared to the Caribbean, bringing some of the tropics to Italy. Surfing, kayaking and even scuba diving are all possible at or near La Pelosa.
The city of Ravenna in Northern Italy was once the capital of the Western Roman Empire, and today it is best known for the Basilica of San Vitale. The basilica was constructed in the sixth century, and it is home to an extensive collection of mosaics. These mosaics depict stories from the bible, and they cover every inch of the available surface in certain rooms. Bold designs and a cacophony of color make these Ravenna mosaics a popular spot for religion, architecture and art enthusiasts in Italy.
The Dolomites are a mountain range located in Northern Italy, and they are a popular spot for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. Whatever the season, the Dolomites beckon thanks to incredible scenery. At sunset, the peaks can look a pink or purple hue that is almost otherworldly. Visitors can hike in the region or shop at Trento, a charming town in the Dolomites with a spectacular castle.