Italy is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. However, many visitors spend most or all of their time visiting the major attractions within the country. The historical landmarks in Rome and Florence are undeniably remarkable, but Italy has a lot more to offer. Veering just a little off the beaten track can deliver spectacular rewards. Try local prosciutto in Parma, see the baroque buildings in Lecce and relax on the beach in Cefalu. All of these experiences are possible when you explore some of the underrated destinations in Italy. Pack your itinerary with as many of these highlights as your schedule will allow.
See also: 12 Best Day Tours in Italy
The city of Trieste was once considered to be a hub of politics and culture. Today, it is overshadowed by larger cities, but it is still an underrated and fascinating destination in Italy. Located on the border with Slovenia, and situated right on the water, Trieste has a culture that is all its own. Be prepared for quadrilingual residents and a very sophisticated, cosmopolitan atmosphere. Trieste is home to a mostly pedestrian old town called the Città Vecchia, which features winding cobblestone streets and plenty of medieval homes. You’ll also want to explore the Austrian Quarter and the 2,000-year-old Roman Theater.
A large city of about one million inhabitants, Turin was the first capital of modern Italy. It is less than an hour’s drive from the Mediterranean Sea, an hour’s drive from the French border, and it is even home to the former royal family. Sprawling tree-lined boulevards set the scene, and you could spend several days admiring the vast collection of baroque churches and castles. Piazza Castello is largely considered the heart of the city, and it is just a short stroll from the plaza to the Porta Palazzo Market. The market is a bustling spot where you can buy everything from antiques to food.
Ragusa is an incredible destination on the island of Sicily. It can be divided into two major sections: Ragusa Superior and Ragusa Ibla. Ragusa Superior is the newer part of the city, while Ragusa Ibla is where most visitors head in order to admire the historic architecture. Although the city has struck by an earthquake in the 17th century, many buildings were restored or rebuilt using the original materials. Be sure to check out the beautiful Duomo and the baroque Palazzo Bernini. Then, stroll across the Ponte Vecchio, built in 1825, to cross between the two sections of Ragusa in style.
The region known as Emilia-Romagna is home to Parma, a small city that is easy to traverse on foot. While Parma has plenty to offer for anyone, it is a must-visit spot for foodies. You’re probably already familiar with Parma’s most famous exports, but they will certainly taste best right from the source. You can spot cows grazing right out of the city, and then see Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese being made from their milk. Dig into the salty cured ham known as Prosciutto di Parma, and pair with a glass of the sparkling local red wine called Lambrusco.
Head to the center of Italy, and you’ll arrive at Perugia. Home to a large university, this Umbrian city boasts a diverse, educated and youthful population. It’s known for its medieval art and its chocolate production, which makes it an obvious place to explore! While the architecture in Perugia is impressive, even more spectacular is what’s underneath. Walk through the remains of a fortress called Rocca Paolina, and you can actually walk right underneath the heart of the city. Above ground, make your way to the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, which stands right next to the 13th century Gothic-style Palazzo dei Priori, or Town Hall.
The coastal resort of Cefalu, located on the northern shores of Sicily, was once little more than a small fishing village. While fisherman still haul in their catches each day, Cefalu is now a bustling resort with plenty to offer visitors. If you make it to Sicily, Cefalu is the perfect place to get active outdoors and soak up the sun. Climb The Rock, or La Rocca, for a brief hike that promises spectacular views over Cefalu. Take a dip in the sea at the beach, and then catch sunset at the harbor before an oceanfront Italian dinner.
There are many destinations in Italy packed with Renaissance culture and architecture, but Urbino still stands out as one of the most significant. It is home to one of the largest medieval palaces in Italy, called Ducal Palace. This so-called Duke’s Palace is open for public tours, and it is also home to the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, an art museum filled with Renaissance works. Continue your art adventures by visiting Raphael’s House, where the famed Renaissance painter Raphael was born and raised. In addition to the magnificent art in the city, Urbino is home to fantastic nightlife.
Anchored between the Italian peninsula and North Africa’s coastline, Sardinia has been home to a succession of civilizations, many of which have left their mark on the second largest island in Italy. From prehistoric stone structures to medieval castles and churches, visitors interested in history, architecture and culture won’t be disappointed. The capital of Cagliari is home to an impressive archaeology museum as well as the Bastione di Saint Remy, which boasts amazing views. In the medieval town of Alghero, don’t miss the historic Palazzo d’Albis. With its quintessential Mediterranean beauty, the island is also loved for swimming, boating, windsurfing, hiking and camping in the wilderness.
Lecce may be one of the most underrated destinations in Italy. Known as the Florence of the South, Lecce is full of baroque buildings and cultural attractions. Start your sightseeing in the Piazza S. Oronzo, a medieval plaza that is the hub for city residents. Then, walk over to the baroque cathedral, which you can enter and explore on your own. Walk through the city’s famed 16th century arch called Porta Napoli, and then find one of the many bakeries in the Lecce. If you only eat one thing in Lecce, make sure it is the pasticciotto cake. This cake is sweet and rich, but it is still easy to eat as you walk through the streets.
The birthplace of Christopher Columbus, Genoa has always played a big role in Italian maritime trade and is still one of the largest ports in Italy. Though Genoa is often overlooked as a tourist destination, it is a wonderful Italian city, and definitely worth visiting. The aquarium in Genoa is the largest in Europe, and it is perhaps the most popular tourist attraction in the city. If you gravitate more towards art and architecture, then the art galleries found at the Prince’s Palace and in the Raccolte Frugone are well worth a visit. Foodies love Genoa, and it is easy to see why. Pesto originated from Genoa, and the affordable flat-bread called focaccia is also delicious and readily available throughout the city.