Nowhere on earth can compare with Italy’s astounding cities. Drenched in history, their ancient streets are lined with fantastic palaces, churches, museums and more, and the range of sumptuous architecture on show is simply dazzling. With iconic landmarks wherever you look, each of the best cities in Italy has something spectacular to offer, whether it is fabulous art collections, renowned cuisine, beautiful landscapes or great nightlife. Dreamy and divine, enchanting and enticing – wandering these fantastic Italian city streets will live long in the memory.
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Set on a hill surrounded by lush fields, this small and picturesque city’s historic center is a delightful mix of cobbled streets, steep staircases and hidden piazzas that tumble down the hillside. The capital of Umbria, Perugia is a fantastic university town, full of life and verve. With great nightlife, lots of bars, and cheap yet delicious food options, Perugia’s historic buildings make a beautiful backdrop to all the life surging through its streets. Head here during the summer for one of the best jazz festivals in Europe.
Simply divine. It is not without reason that Lecce has been nicknamed ‘the Florence of the South’. Set in Puglia, its gorgeous baroque buildings and uniform architecture makes it a charming, sun-soaked city to visit. Wandering along its streets is enchanting, as beauty abounds from every angle and there is a relaxed vibe. With a large student body, there are some fantastic bars and restaurants to check out. From here, you can easily explore the surrounding region with its multitude of beautiful, secluded beaches.
This beautiful Sicilian city houses ancient Greek ruins which are interspersed among verdant, sprawling orchards. Lively, cafe-lined piazzas and small alleys dot the center of town. Once the largest city in the world, Syracuse’s heyday has long gone, although the fantastic Parco Archeologico documents much of its fascinating history. Looking out over the beautiful blue sea to the main island, Ortygia is the city’s delightful center. Lovely to wander around, it has a laid back vibe and chic nature, and its buildings look even better as the sun sets over the sea.
Bordering the Adriatic and almost surrounded by Slovenia, for much of its history Trieste was controlled by different powers and was formerly ruled by the Hapsburgs. Due to its location at a cultural crossroads, there is an intoxicating mix of Slavic, Germanic, Greek and Italian influences. There is also a little bit of Vienna about its beautiful cafes. Although there are no particular landmarks to visit, it’s a pretty city to stop by – from here you can easily head to the nearby wine regions.
Lying not far from Venice, Padua is lovely to explore; its beautiful medieval marketplaces and extraordinary frescoes are dazzling to behold. In sharp contrast is the architecture dating back to the dark days of Mussolini, who made many speeches here and used it as a military and industrial center. Thanks to its ancient and prestigious university, Padua was home to a large resistance movement and the city still attracts large numbers of students every year – hence the great nightlife scene.
The historic capital of Sardinia, Cagliari is actually closer to Tunisia than Rome. Taking the boat here is mesmerizing, as you sail across the beautiful blue waters before seeing the city impressively rise up ahead. With imperious domes and lovely facades surrounding it, Il Castello is the centerpiece of Cagliari. The peaceful streets around it are lined with cafes and restaurants. The seafront marina is lovely to walk along and history is literally everywhere you look – Roman ruins, museums and churches jostle for space. If it is sun and sea you are after, then head to the nearby Poetto Beach with its vibrant party scene.
Lying on the border with the Alps, Turin is an elegant and wealthy city that has delightful leafy boulevards, beautiful palaces, and numerous fine art collections. The home of Fiat, the suburbs with their factories are not the prettiest places but the center more than makes up for it with a lively music scene, cafe culture, and innovative gastronomy – making it well worth a visit. Its fine piazzas have fantastic local chocolate shops and upmarket boutiques lining them, as well as some great museums.
With beautiful colonnades weaving their way around the city, Bologna is a fusion of elegance and charm that contrasts with the grit and graffiti of its alternative side. While there is a rich and posh part of the city where you can visit world class restaurants and the opera, Bologna has the world’s oldest university and a large, down-to-earth student population. Full of beautiful architecture, lively bars and cafes, it is a fun city to visit and live in.
The famed home of Romeo and Juliet, Verona is romantic and gorgeous. Its lovely piazzas are connected by delightful, cobbled streets that pass by beautiful old palaces, churches and monuments. Weaving its way around the city is the Adige River, with picturesque bridges crisscrossing over it. With a spectacular Roman amphitheater at its heart, sumptuous cuisine and fantastic wines – plus its proximity to the lovely Lake Garda – Verona is a place that just must be visited.
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The largest port in the country, Genoa is full of grand old buildings that are slightly falling apart. While it does appear charming, the city is a bit squalid in places. Having ruled the Mediterranean in the 12th and 13th Centuries, history is everywhere you look and the old city is a fantastic labyrinth of streets for you to explore. The Palazzi dei Rolli is beautiful and there are lots of museums, restaurants and bars to visit. Nowadays, many people stop by Genoa on their way to the nearby Cinque Terre.
Capital of Sicily, Palermo’s location has long meant that different civilizations and cultures have left their mark on the city. Nowadays, you can fine Byzantine mosaics and beautiful Arab influenced buildings lying alongside Gothic palaces and Renaissance mansions. With some fantastic markets to explore, as well the largest opera house in the country, this vibrant city has a lot to offer – the decaying grandeur about its streets is enthralling.
Much more than just the iconic Learning Tower, the former maritime power of Pisa now relies on tourists to fuel its economy. Beautiful to wander around, architectural styles from throughout the ages are delightfully shown off, as Renaissance piazzas and Gothic churches jostle for space among the other fantastic buildings on show. More authentic than many Italian cities which have become inundated by tourists, Pisa’s prestigious university means the city has a large student population – this manifests itself in the lively atmosphere evident in its bars and cafes.
A large city, Milan is home to Italy’s fashion industry. Numerous other big businesses are based in the stylish metropolis. With innovative and creative designs emanating from its workshops, there are an endless array of shopping options to explore. Home to numerous breathtaking art collections, the city’s museums are captivating and its streets are lined with beautiful art-deco architecture, among other styles. At the heart of Milan is the gorgeous Duomo, which is simply spectacular. Throughout the city, you will find fantastic dining wherever you turn; Milan has the most Michelin Star establishments in all of Italy.
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Lying on the Gulf of Naples, this energetic city is full of life and vigor, with a wealth of cultural and historic sites to visit. There are two royal palaces to explore, as well as three castles and numerous ruins dating back over the ages – not to mention the vast array of architectural marvels on offer. Its fantastic museums showcase stunning frescoes and masterpieces by Caravaggio and others, while its gastronomic scene is the stuff of legends. Do a bit rough around the edges and much less popular as some other big Italian cities, Naples is a joy to visit.
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A simply magical city, Venice is like no other place on earth. Located in the middle of a lagoon, its beautiful canals and waterways are lined with stunning buildings, palaces and churches. The winding alleys between them lead you on to yet more delights. While the Grand Canal and Piazza San Marco are two of the must-see sights, simply wandering around this charming city is a dream. Although it is very crowded with tourists, you can still find deserted back streets, atmospheric restaurants and bars hidden away here and there. The food here is divine, with awe-inspiring views often accompanying your meal. Take a gondola along the canals to see interesting boutiques and upmarket stores as well as souvenir shops. Aim to visit during February for its amazing costume-filled carnival.
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The birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is mesmerizing to walk around and its historic center is full of beautiful art and stunning architecture. This enchanting city is located alongside the Arno River. The Ponte Vecchio bridge spanning it is one of Florence’s most famous sights, along with the incredible Duomo at its heart. Its delightful piazzas are marvelous to stroll through, with heavenly churches and impressive statues lining them. Masterpieces by Botticcelli and Michelangelo are generously shown off to the world in its fantastic museums. Delightful cafes and restaurants look out over the ancient cobbles, and with fantastic shopping on offer, as well as sumptuous Tuscan cuisine and delicious wines, Florence will never disappoint.
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While Rome’s iconic landmarks – such as the Colosseum and Roman Forum – need no introduction, with over three-thousand years of history, the city is saturated with fantastic historical monuments, piazzas, churches, mansions and more for visitors to explore. Wandering around its ancient streets is a heavenly experience; amazing architecture and beautiful ruins are everywhere you look. In the center of the city you can find the Vatican – the heart of the Catholic Church. Here, the impressive St. Peter’s Basilica is just one of the must-see sights. While incredible art is found everywhere in the city, the breathtaking Vatican Museums are unrivaled when it comes to the stupendous array of paintings, sculptures and frescoes that they have on offer. The Sistine Chapel ceiling is the highlight of this divine collection of art. Although the art, history and culture is why people visit Rome, it is a bustling city with loads of fantastic restaurants, bars and cafes lining its streets, with many locals and tourists heading to the lively Trastevere in the evening.
Read more: Top Rome Attractions