The best cities in Italy demonstrate exactly how diverse this small European country is. We associate Italy with food, history, art, gardens, beaches, fashion, and football. Landscapes encompass dense cities sprawled across hills with others having wine regions as backdrops. There is even a scattering of volcanoes.
So where to start? We’ve rounded up some of the best Italian cities that cater to the needs of all traveler styles.
Getting to Italy for an Italian City Break
If you are looking for a place to take an Italian city break from around Europe, these are some of the best cities to explore and all have easy access to airports.
Most of the airports in these Italian cities are easy to get to with budget airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir. Be sure to check prices on Kiwi.com to make sure you get the best deals available.
The Best Cities in Italy
Get inspired with this guide to the best Italian cities to visit for foodies, history enthusiasts, culture seekers, and beyond. Each listing includes links to where you can read more about specific attractions and reserve tickets in advance.
This country is one that steals the hearts of many, ours included. We have written extensively about Italy on this blog and continue to regularly, so feel free to browse all of the content for this magical country here.
As the nation’s capital and former seat of the Ancient Roman Empire, Rome is one of the best cities in Italy to visit for a blend of contemporary society and history. Expect to spend most of your time in the city exploring ancient monuments – armed with a scoop of gelato.
Highlights of Rome include the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. These three landmarks are located in the historic Monti neighborhood and you can visit them in tandem with a multi-ticket.
Do purchase a skip-the-line if you want to step inside the gigantic amphitheater and get a sense of how the gladiators might have felt.
Meanwhile, the Roman Forum is a sprawl of imperial residences, political offices, temples, and statues from Ancient Rome. Back in the day, it was packed with markets and bustled with everyday life.
Other sights to swing by in Municipio I include the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. The ornate fountain sits atop a prominent aqueduct that fed spring water to the city in classical times. Equally photogenic, the Spanish Steps connect the Piazza di Spagna with the Trinità dei Monti church. Photography is permitted but you can no longer sit on this landmark.
You’re advised to spend at least a couple of days exploring Rome. This way, you can squeeze in a day trip to Ostia, tour Vatican City, and spend an evening restaurant-hopping in Trastevere.
However, with only one day in Rome, you can make excellent headway on the key monuments in the city center.
Perhaps the second most famous tourist destination, Venice is one of the most beautiful Italian cities. The road-free capital of the Veneto region consists of a series of tiny islands floating in a lagoon off the northeast coast. That means the only way to get around is on foot or via the Venetian vaporetto – a commuter-friendly water bus service.
One of the best things to do is simply roam the tiny streets of San Marco and San Polo and soak up the atmosphere. Yes, Venice is crazy touristic, but you won’t be able to resist being spellbound by the Renaissance architecture.
St Mark’s Piazza is the setting of the majestic 11th-century cathedral which you can visit for free (donations are appreciated). Otherwise, you climb up St Mark’s Campanile for a bird’s eye view. As with any paid attraction in Venice: pre-booking is recommended.
Doge’s Palace served as the residence for the Doge of Venice. It was also used as a prison and courthouse, among other guises. The interiors are as wonderful as the facade; visiting gives you the chance to see antiques, paintings, and sculptures while learning about the building’s history.
Subject to your budget, you can choose to take a gondola ride along the canals. Although touted as one of the most romantic things to do in Venice, 30-40 minute rides cost a hefty €80-100. But, cruising around on a vaporetto offers much of the same thrill for a fraction of the price.
The average visitor will find that two days in Venice is the perfect amount of time to see the highlights. Otherwise, things can get a little pricey!
Aim to organize a trip to the outlying isle of either Burano or Murano during your stay for a different perspective on Venice.
Bergamo is a small city northeast of Milan. Often overlooked on Italy travel itineraries, this is one of the best Italian cities to escape the crowds. You can visit Bergamo on a day trip from Milan or spend a night there.
One of the number one things to do in Bergamo is to walk or ride the funicular up to the Città Alta. This is the upper level of the city and where you’ll find the oldest foundations of the city.
Constrained by medieval-era Venetian walls, the warren of streets leads you to the likes of the Piazza Vecchia, the Bergamo Cathedral, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
Besides strolling around the walls, Bergamo is one of the places in Italy where you can put your feet on a road from Ancient Rome. Head to the junction of Via Tassis and Via Vagine to see it for yourself.
While the old town is the heart and soul of the tourist attractions, the lower part of the city is equally worthy of your time. Make a beeline for Porta Nuevo; this gate marks the heart of the new town. It’s surrounded by monuments in honor of prominent Italian figures and war victims.
Bergamo is a foodie haven where you can get acquainted with the cuisine of the Lombardy region. Polenta and risotto is king in the area and you can expect to get your fill while roaming both sectors of Bergamo.
Situated in the northwestern region of Liguria, Genoa is one of the best cities in Italy to visit for a taste of the Italian Riviera.
Genoa is a large port city on the Mediterranean Sea coastline. Therefore, wandering around Porto Antico is one of the top things to do in Genoa. The old port was renovated into a modern waterfront zone complete with restaurants, shops, museums, tourist attractions, and commercial buildings. This is a great place to visit around dusk in time for sunset.
Not far from Porto Antico, Palazzo di San Giorgio is a former prison that, according to legend, once held Marco Polo. Do make a pitstop to see the beautiful murals that adorn the facade.
Piazza de Ferrari marks the epicenter of the city and is the perfect spot to start your wider exploration of the elevated parts of the city.
The square is lined with noteworthy tourist and administrative buildings that include the Palace of the Doge, Teatro Carlo Felice, the Chiesa dei Santi Ambrogio e Andrea, and the Accademia Ligustica di Belle Arti.
Genoa is an ideal base for planning a day trip to Cinque Terre.
Fusing the best of Italy’s architecture, art, and food, Florence is one of the most beautiful Italian cities. As the capital of the glorious Tuscan region, the city is surrounded by swathes of green hills, olive groves, and vineyards. You may even want to consider staying at one of the many wine hotels in Tuscany while you’re here.
The Duomo at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the star attraction in Florence. Spend time making a lap around the church to note the colorful marble tiles that adorn the exterior. You can also pay to summit the top of the red dome and survey the view.
Ponte Vecchio is another spot to check out and is a beautiful place to catch the sunset in Florence. This postcard-pretty bridge flies over the River Arno and is brimming with cute little stores.
If you are spending less than three days in Florence then you’re going to need to get tactical over your museum and art gallery picks.
The Accademia Gallery is the resting place of Michaelangelo’s David as well as prestigious Renaissance paintings. Closer to the riverside, the Uffizi Gallery is where you can get a close-up of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus as well as works by Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio.
Meanwhile, it’s more niche but the Museo Galileo is cool if you’re more into science and discovery than art.
And do consider taking a trip to the Giardino di Boboli. This was the 16th-century residence of the Medici family and inspired centuries of “Italian” gardens that followed. You can escape the Tuscan sun with a mooch around the adjacent Palazzo Pitti while you’re in the area.
Tuscan cuisine is worthy of its own blog post. So, here is your comprehensive guide to where to eat in Florence!
Partial to pasta? Addicted to antipasti? Then pin Bologna – one of the best Italian cities to visit for food – to the top of your Italy wishlist.
Much of your trip to Bologna will revolve around eating. It’s recommended that you read all about the food scene and learn where to eat in Bologna so as not to miss out.
After polishing off a mountain of Italian food, what better to do than walk it off with a stroll around the historic sights?
Typical things to do in Bologna include rambling the cobblestone streets and ducking into whichever churches, museums, and galleries take your fancy.
Marked by a colossal fountain depicting Neptune and mermaids, Piazza Maggiore is the center of Bologna. It’s a lovely place to sit and digest your last meal before exploring Quadrilatero, the oldest part of the city.
This is where you will find Le Due Torri – a duo of towers that lean slightly to the side. Built in the 12th century, you can tackle the 500 steps to the top for a gorgeous 360-degree view over the red roofs of Bologna.
Gateway to the Dolomites and the lakes of Northern Italy, Como is one of the most beautiful Italian cities.
Located in the Lombardy region at the foot of the Alps, the city occupies the southwest shores of its namesake lake – the third largest in Italy. It’s a small city with historic churches, plazas, and restaurants to keep you entertained. The lakeside residence of Villa Olmo is worthy of a visit and backs onto a beach club with a lido.
Swimming in the lake is permitted but you will need to brace yourself for chilly temperatures. You can also take boat rides across the water. Best of all are the panoramic viewpoints that rise south of the city. A funicular links the shoreside with Brunate while various trails are available to hikers.
While staying in Como, you can visit smaller towns dotted around the lake as well as check out other lakes in the region.
Milan is one of the best cities in Italy for fashion-minded travelers. The capital of Lombardy and the second-largest city in the country, Milan is one of the most glamorous European destinations.
Naturally, shopping ranks at the top of the agenda when visiting Milan. Packed with designer boutiques, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II claims the title of the oldest shopping mall in Italy. This lavish 19th-century is a pleasure to visit even if you’re not looking to max out your credit card.
Besides malls and upscale stores, Milan has a thriving vintage scene where you can nab legit designer wear at a reasonable price.
No jaunt to a European city is complete without ticking off a couple of churches. The Gothic-style Duomo di Milano is a testament to architecture and took 600 years to complete. One of the most iconic paintings in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, is housed here in Milan’s Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Footie fans can also check out tours to San Siro Stadium, the home turf of AC Milan. Even better, score tickets to a match.
Do also seize the opportunity to potter around the piazzas and gardens of Milan with a steaming coffee and watch the well-dressed folk going about their day.
Situated in the Bay of Naples on the southern coast, Naples is one of the best Italian cities to visit for ancient history. Italy’s third largest city does have a reputation for being somewhat boisterous. However, the sightseeing potential makes it more than worth embracing the bustle.
Mount Vesuvius, the active volcano that destroyed several Roman cities in AD7, looms over the city. You can take a bus up the mountain and then hike the final 45-minutes to the ever-bumbling crater.
Next, visit Pompei and Herculaneum – two of the cities buried as a result of the eruption that present time capsules. Pompei is the larger of the two archaeological sites and includes the old amphitheater. You will also visit beautifully preserved houses such as the House of the Vettii and the Villa of the Mysteries.
In fact, Herculaneum (Ercolano) is better-preserved overall. As the site is closer to the base of the volcano, it actually fared better than Pompei in terms of preservation. Although far smaller, two-story residences remain intact and you can even see original roofs.
If time permits, do plan to visit both cities. You can visit them individually or as part of a tour from Naples or nearby Sorrento (another of the best cities in Italy!)
Naples also deserves a special mention for its cuisine. Did you know that pizza (as we know it today) originated in Naples? Neapolitan brick-oven pizza is crafted with a paper-thin crust that puffs up around the sides to provide a unique blend of chewy and crunchy.
Sfogliatelle is another product from Naples – perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth.