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12 Places You Must See When Visiting Italy: A First Timers Guide

There are many places you must see when visiting Italy, but your personal interests, timeframe, and budget will dictate how exactly you plan your itinerary.

I just love Italy. I’ve planned and led more trips here than to any other country in Europe since founding Guidester in 2014. I know the country well, and never tire of this beautiful place – each visit comes with a new adventure.

What I’ve learned is there are really two types of planned trips to Italy – those that have never been and want to see the highlights, and those that have been and want a deeper dive. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive and you can always create a healthy blend.

This guide is geared toward first time visitors to Italy. I’ll cover the must sees and major highlights that will give you a fantastic overview of Bella Italia!

Suggested Italy Itinerary

castel san angelo rome

For first time visitors to Italy my recommendation is to choose either Rome + the south (Naples and the Amalfi Coast), or Rome + the north (Florence, Tuscany, Venice). Do not try and do both the north and south on the same trip unless you have more than two weeks.

This guide is focused on first time visitors, highlighting the more popular, well-known areas of Italy. There’s a variety of combinations you could do, but this will give you a great starting point on dreaming up your best trip!

Total trip time: Range from 8-12 days. I highly recommend at least 10 days if you want to get a good overview of Italy

How to See Italy If You Have Less Time:

 

  • Cut out Venice – if you’re starting in Rome or Naples then getting up to Venice will take quite a bit of time
  • Limit your time in major cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice
  • Get on a guided tour that includes multiple sites

Tip: If you only have a week or less in Italy I would recommend picking just one or two places and work from there. Rome or Tuscany (Siena) would be my choice if you had just a few days. Do not try and stretch yourself too thin.

1. Rome

vittorio emanuele rome

It’s impossible to really experience Italy without seeing Rome. Not only is this the country’s capital, but she is also one of the most ancient and beautiful cities in the world.

Rome truly is the Eternal City, where history layers upon itself like pages in a book, or to use an Italian reference – like the layers of a lasagna.

The storied streets define more than two millennia: the Colosseum echoes with the roars of ancient gladiators, while St. Peter’s Basilica murmurs with centuries of whispered prayers. Every corner reveals a story, from the bustling cafes of Trastevere to the solemn ruins of the Roman Forum.

I’ve been to Rome twelve times and sometimes I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. You really could spend a lifetime exploring the depths of Roma!

‘Must Sees’:

  • The Ancient Forum and Colosseum
  • Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica
  • The Pantheon
  • Spanish Steps
  • Trevi Fountain
  • Castel San Angelo
  • Trastevere
  • The Appian Way

—> Read More: Rome Travel Tips For First-Timers: Top Things To See and Do

2. Florence

florence italy

Florence, the cradle of Renaissance art and culture, feels like a city painted by history itself. The Tuscan capital is home to some of the world’s most iconic artworks and architectural marvels, including Michelangelo’s David and the majestic Duomo.

The streets of Florence offer more than just a history lesson; they are a canvas of vibrant markets, artisan workshops, and bustling cafes, all steeped in centuries-old traditions. As the Arno River meanders through, its banks provide a picturesque setting for evening strolls and sunset views.

‘Must Sees’:

  • Duomo
  • Accademia Gallery
  • Ponte Vecchio
  • Uffizi Gallery
  • Piazzale Michelangelo

—> Read More: A Quick Florence Travel Guide for First-Time Visitors

3. Venice

venice canals italy

Venice is a city like no other, built entirely on water over centuries. As you navigate its canals, the sight of gondolas and ancient buildings reflect a rich history that dates back to the Roman era.

Explore its network of canals, arched bridges, and hidden passageways which are a canvas for explorers seeking mystery and beauty. The heart of Venice beats in St. Mark’s Square, where the majestic basilica and its campanile reflect centuries of artistic achievement.

‘Must Sees’:

  • Piazza San Marco
  • St. Marks Basilica
  • Doge’s Palace
  • Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal
  • St. Mark’s Campanile Bell Tower

—> Read More: Top 12 Things To Do In Venice

4. Siena

piazza il campo siena

Siena is a treasure of Tuscany, its medieval heart remarkably well preserved through the centuries. Walk its winding alleys and main square il campo, famous for the electrifying ‘Palio’ horse race that fills the air with vibrant tradition each summer.

The majestic Gothic cathedral, Duomo di Siena, also stands as a testament to artistic mastery, with its detailed mosaics and storied artworks captivating the eye. The city pulses with life beyond its historical landmarks, offering cozy cafes and artisan markets.

Tip: Siena is the perfect base to explore Tuscany. Rather than staying in Florence, I would recommend staying a couple nights in Siena. The city is centrally located right in the middle of Tuscany, and enjoys a more authentic Italian vibe – over Florence which is a touristy destination.

‘Must Sees’:

—> Read More: The 7 Best Wineries in Tuscany

5. San Gimignano

san gimignano tuscany

San Gimignano rises from the Tuscan landscape like a medieval skyline, its ancient towers pointing to the heavens. In fact, it earned the nickname Manhattan of the Middle Ages due to the proliferation of its towers.

As you stroll through the town, you’ll be captivated by the striking silhouette of the stone towers, remnants of a time when feuding families showcased their power through such grand structures.

The town squares pulse with history, echoing the footsteps of pilgrims who traversed these routes centuries ago. Beyond the towers, San Gimignano offers a palette of local flavors, from the famed saffron-infused dishes to the crisp, distinctive Vernaccia wine.

‘Must Sees’:

  • Piazza della Cisterna
  • Palazzo Comunale
  • Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta
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Planning a Trip to Italy?

We can help create your perfect itinerary!

  • Worried you'll miss the hidden gems?
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  • What should you see and what to avoid?
  • Should you rent a car, train it, or both?

6. Naples

naples italy

Naples is a city of vivid contrasts, where vibrant street life meets the solemnity of ancient history. Wander its bustling thoroughfares and enjoy the aroma of freshly baked sfogliatella and the lively calls of market vendors.

The city’s soul is captured not only in its opulent palaces and churches but also in the mysterious underground catacombs that weave beneath the urban landscape. Above ground, the looming presence of Mount Vesuvius serves as a constant reminder of nature’s power.

In Naples, every experience, from exploring the art-laden corridors of the National Archaeology Museum to savoring a slice of authentic Neapolitan pizza, feels like a dive into a deeply layered cultural mosaic.

‘Must Sees’:

7. Sorrento

sorrento italy

Sorrento sits elegantly atop cliffs that separate the town from its busy marinas, offering sweeping views of the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius in the distance. Certainly one of the best places you must see when visiting Italy!

The town’s heart, Piazza Tasso, is a vibrant tapestry of outdoor cafes, historic hotels, and the buzz of scooter-filled streets. Sorrento offers a refreshing blend of relaxation and exploration, from the serene cloisters of San Francesco to the lively shops offering artisanal crafts, especially leather made goods.

‘Must Sees’:

  • Old Town
  • Piazza Tasso
  • Sant’ Antonio Basilica
  • Marina Grande
  • Isle of Capri

8. Amalfi and Positano

amalfi coast italy

Amalfi and Positano, the two jewels of the Amalfi Coast, offer a breathtaking blend of natural beauty and historical charm.

The town of Amalfi, situated at the mouth of a deep gorge, bustles with life leading up to the majestic Cathedral of Saint Andrew, where the scent of citrus merges with salty sea air, reminiscent of its maritime heritage.

In contrast, Positano clings elegantly to the hills, its pastel-colored houses and chic boutiques weaving through a labyrinth of steps that offer stunning views at every corner. Both towns provide a mesmerizing experience – Amalfi with its dramatic cliffs and rich history, and Positano with its vibrant beachfront and rustic seaside charm.

—> Read More: Visiting Italy’s Amalfi Coast: What To See and Do

9. Milan

milan duomo

Milan, Italy’s fashion and financial capital, offers a dynamic blend of modern innovation and deep-rooted cultural heritage. Renowned for its high-end shopping districts, like the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and the glamour of its fashion week, Milan also boasts significant historical sites.

The iconic Duomo di Milano, a stunning example of Gothic architecture, dominates the cityscape with its intricate gleaming facades and spires. Nearby, the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent houses Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” underscoring the city’s rich artistic legacy.

Beyond fashion and art, Milan serves as a gateway to exploring the broader Lombardy region and Lake Como.

‘Must Sees’:

  • Duomo di Milano
  • Teatro della Scala
  • Sforza Castle
  • The Last Supper
  • Vittorio Emanuele Gallery

10. Cinque Terre

cinque terre

Cinque Terre features five stunning villages along the Italian Riviera, each showcasing a unique blend of breathtaking landscapes and timeless charm. Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore cling to rugged cliffs with panoramic views of the azure sea and steep terraced vineyards.

The absence of cars and the presence of scenic trails enhance the tranquil atmosphere. Visitors can explore vibrant harbors, enjoy fresh seafood, and embrace the slower pace of life that defines coastal Italy.

‘Must Sees’:

  • Vernazza
  • Monterosso
  • Riomaggiore
  • Manarola

—> Read More: 7 Awesome Things to Do In Cinque Terre

11. Bologna

bologna italy

Bologna stands out among Italy’s other well known cities with its distinctive medieval architecture, vibrant academic life, and culinary fame. Known affectionately as “La Grassa” (The Fat) for its culinary riches, Bologna is referred to as the food capital of Italy, from traditional Bolognese sauce to fresh tortellini.

The University of Bologna, the oldest continuously operated university in the world, fills the city with youthful energy. Visitors can wander under the city’s extensive porticos, explore the Piazza Maggiore, and climb the Asinelli Tower for sweeping views.

‘Must Sees’:

  • Piazza Maggiore
  • San Petronio Basilica
  • Leaning Towers
  • Pinacoteca National Gallery
  • Archaeological Museum of Bologna

—> Read More: A Guide to Bologna, Italy’s Food Capital

12. Perugia

Perugia italy

Perugia sits atop a hill in the heart of Umbria, a city celebrated for its historical richness and cultural vibrancy. Known for its annual EuroChocolate festival, the city becomes a confectionary wonderland, drawing visitors from all corners of the world.

The medieval core features the impressive Palazzo dei Priori and the Gothic San Lorenzo Cathedral, which anchor the lively Piazza IV Novembre. Home to the prestigious University for Foreigners, Perugia buzzes with youthful energy, blending ancient art and history with modern life, making it a captivating destination for those exploring Italy’s heartland.

‘Must Sees’:

  • San Lorenzo Cathedral
  • National Gallery of Umbria
  • Piazza Novembre
  • Sant’Arcangelo


And That’s A Wrap!

In conclusion, whether you’re eager to explore the iconic landmarks of Italy ready to delve deeper into its hidden gems, planning your trip with a clear understanding of your interests, timeframe, and budget is crucial.

As someone who has led numerous trips to Italy, I can attest that every adventure to Italy is unique and filled with new opportunities for discovery and delight. This guide aims to equip you with the essential highlights and must-see destinations that capture the spirit of Bella Italia, ensuring your visit is nothing short of spectacular.

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Jack Baumann

President of Guidester

Jack Baumann has lived and traveled throughout Europe for over 15 years, creating Guidester in 2014. Over the years Guidester has developed into a unique travel concierge and tour company helping travelers make the most of their trip to Europe.

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