What to see in Italy
Medieval villages and towns are dotted across rural Italy, and make for pleasant day trips or scenic places for a more relaxed holiday. Two notable examples (and UNESCO World Heritage sites) are San Gimignano, known for its profusion of thin towers, and Assisi, known for Saint Francis of Assisi and the Basilica di San Francesco dedicated to the saint and filled with breathtaking frescos.
Etruscan Italy. If you have limited time and no potential to travel outside the main cities, then don’t miss the amazing collection at the Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia in Rome. Hiring a car gives access to the painted tombs and museum of Tarquinia or the enormous burial complex at Cerveteri and those are just the sites within easy reach of Rome.
Roman ruins. From the south, in Sicily, to the north of the country Italy is full of reminders of the Roman Empire. In Taormina, Sicily check out the Roman theatre, with excellent views of Mt. Etna on a clear day. Also in Sicily, don’t miss the well-preserved mosaics at Piazza Armerina. Moving north to just south of Naples, you find Pompeii and Herculaneum, covered in lava by Mt. Vesuvius and, as a result, amazingly well preserved. To Rome and every street in the center seems to have a few pieces of inscribed Roman stone built into more recent buildings. Don’t miss the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Aqueducts, the Appian Way, and a dozen or so museums devoted to Roman ruins. Further north, the Roman amphitheater at Verona is definitely not to be missed.
Florence’s cathedral; bell tower by Giotto to the left and the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio in front
Christian Italy. The Vatican is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Although inside Rome it has the status of a separate state. Don’t miss St Peter’s and the Vatican Museum. Rome, itself, has over 900 churches; a large number of these are worth a quick visit. Throughout Italy there is some truly amazing Christian architecture covering the Romanesque (700-1200); Gothic (1100-1450); Renaissance (1400-1600); and ornate Baroque (1600-1830) styles. Although theft of artwork has been a problem, major city churches and cathedrals retain an enormous number of paintings and sculptures and others have been moved to city and Church museums. Frescoes and mosaics are everywhere, and quite stunning. Don’t just look for churches: in rural areas there are some fascinating monasteries to be discovered. When planning to visit churches, note that all but the largest are usually closed between 12.30 and 15.30.
The Byzantine Cities. The Byzantines controlled northern Italy until kicked out by the Lombards in 751. Venice is of course world famous and nearby Chioggia, also in the Lagoon, is a smaller version. Ravenna’s churches have some incredible mosaics. Visiting Ravenna requires a bit of a detour, but it is well worth it.
The Renaissance. Start with a visit to Piazza Michelangelo in Florence to admire the famous view. Then set about exploring the many museums, both inside and outside Florence, that house Renaissance masterpieces. The Renaissance, or Rebirth, (Rinascimento in Italian) lasted between 14th and 16th centuries and is generally believed to have begun in Florence. The list of famous names is endless: in architecture Ghiberti (the cathedral’s bronze doors), 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.
The Streets and squares. You could visit Italy’s cities, never go in a church, museum or Roman ruin, and still have a great time. Just wander around, keeping your eyes open. Apart from in the northern Po and Adige valleys most of Italy (including the cities) is hilly or mountainous, giving some great views. Look up when walking around to see amazing roof gardens and classical bell towers. In cities such as Rome, note the continued juxtaposition of expensive stores with small workplaces for artisans. Search for interesting food shops and places to get a good ice cream (gelato). Above all, just enjoy the atmosphere.
Western Alps. Visiting Western Alps you will have the chance to wander amongst lots of green valleys, as Val Pellice, Val Chisone, Val Po, and many others, in the shade of the highest european peaks. All valleys are full of wandering paths, of any difficulty level, whether you want to softly walk around a mountain lake or try something harder, in the higher valley, inside scenarios of colossal pine woods and space-like high mountain landscapes. People in mountain villages are often quite friendly, as long as you show respect to them and to the place they live in, obviously. The towns you might start your trip from are Cuneo, for the southern valleys;
Pinerolo, for the central ones, Susa and Lanzo for the northern, all easily reachable from Turin.
Eastern Alps. Eastern Alps include a little known but surprisingly beautiful region, Trentino-Alto Adige as well as the regions of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The two provinces comprised in the Trentino-Alto Adige region are actually quite different, both culturally and geographically. While Alto Adige is mostly German-speaking, Trentino belongs to the Italian cultural area. Trentino is one of the most popular Italian regions. It holds an extraordinary variety of landscapes such as woods, wide valleys, streams, waterfalls and lakes. Its mountains, most importantly the chain of the Dolomites, represent a natural monument recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. But Trentino is also a territory rich in art and culture with its castles which offer a fairy-tale atmosphere and its modern and sophisticated museums such as “The Museum of Contemporary Art – Mart” in Rovereto and the Science Museum “Muse” in Trento. Both in summer and in winter the region offers the opportunity to spend a holiday enjoying nature, practicing sports or simply enjoying the local culture.
UNESCO World Heritage
- Aeolian Islands,
- Aegadi Islands,
- Pelagie Islands
- Dino Island
Every major city has a number of local museums, but some of them have national and international relevance.
Uffizi Museum in Florence, is one of the greatest museums in the world and a must see. Given the great number of visitors, advance ticket reservation is a good idea, to avoid hour-long queues.
Brera art gallery in Milan is a prestigious museum held in a fine 17th-century palace, which boasts several paintings, including notable ones from the Renaissance era.
The Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona in Cortona, Tuscany.
The Aquarium in Genoa, one of the largest and most beautiful in the world, is in the Porto Antico (ancient port) in an area completely renewed by architect Renzo Piano in 1992.
Science and Technology Museum in Milan, one of the largest in Europe, holds collections about boats, airplanes, trains, cars, motorcycles, radio and energy. Recently has also acquired the Toti submarine, which is open to visitors.
Roman Civilization Museum in Rome, hold the world’s largest collection about ancient Rome and a marvellous reproduction (scale 1:250) of the entire Rome area in 325 A.D., the age of Constantine the Great.
National Cinema Museum in Turin, located inside the wonderful Mole Antonelliana, historical building and symbol of the city.
Automobile Museum in Turin, one of the largest in the world, with a 170 car collection covering the entire history of automobiles.
The Vatican Museum. Not, strictly speaking, in Italy as the Vatican is a separate territory. Visit the museum to see the Sistine Chapel, the rooms painted by Raphael, some amazing early maps and much, much more.
The Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia, Rome. Amazing collection of Etruscan art.
Some of the State Museums such as the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, Accademia and the Medici chapels offer free tickets to European citizens under the age of 18 or over 65. EU citizens between the age of 18 and 25 are eligible for reduced price tickets. BUT remember to bring your passport as a valid form of identity.