Italy is home to pizza, pasta and gelato, world-famous cities, medieval little towns, incredible architecture and history and beautiful landscapes. As one of the most travelled destinations in Europe, it is hard to visit all of its highlights in just one visit but that’s no bad thing, because once you’ve been, you will just want to go back to see more – even if it’s just for the mouth-watering food!
Where best to start than Italy’s capital, Rome. Rome is famous for being one of the most historical, cultural and romantic destinations in the world. Go back in time as you explore the ruins of the Roman Forum which was once the heart of the city as the social, political and commercial hub of the Roman Empire with temples, basilicas and bustling public spaces. From there, walk up to Palatine Hill to see the ruins of the imperial palaces and impressive views across the city. According to legend, this is where Romulus established Rome in 753 BC after he killed his twin brother Remus in a fit of rage.
Next stop is Italy’s top attraction, the Colosseum. Inaugurated in AD 80, the 50,000-seat great gladiatorial arena was built for entertainment as spectators watched gladiators fight wild animals or each other. Today you can go on a tour around this ancient sight to get a feel for what life was like 2,000 years ago.
Other highlights in Rome include the 2,000-year-old temple, The Pantheon; tossing a coin in the waters of the Trevi Fountain to ensure you will one day return to Rome – on average around $3,000 is thrown in every day; and climbing the 135 steps to the top of the Spanish Steps, made famous by Audrey Hepburn’s 1953 film, Roman Holiday.
The Vatican City is home to the Pope and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a treasure trove of iconic art and architecture. Visit St Peter’s Basilica, Italy’s largest, richest and most spectacular basilica. It was consecrated in 1626 after 120 years’ construction and has a lavish interior containing many spectacular works of art, including Michelangelo’s Pietà. You must also visit the Sistine Chapel to see Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes which he painted between 1508 and 1512 depicting the stories from the book of Genesis.
Florence and Pisa
Get lost in the winding streets of the ancient city of Florence. Make sure you visit the centrepiece of the city, the Duomo di Firenze as well as the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David and the Ponte Vecchio which dates back to 1345 and is a wonderful bridge with jewellery shops across the length of it.
One of Italy’s signature sights, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, is 58 metres tall and took nearly 200 years to build. Building began in 1173 under the supervision of Bonanno Pisano but his plans were foiled almost immediately when the tower started leaning. Work resumed in 1272, with artisans and masons trying to strengthen the foundations, but again they failed miserably. Over the next 600 years, the tower continued to tilt at an estimated 1mm per year. If you are ever in Pisa, you have to take the iconic photo of you leaning against this fascinating tower.
Welcome to the city where everything goes by boats and bridges. Venice is one of the world’s most unique cities and is an absolute must-see when you travel to Italy. When you’re here, you must go on a gondola ride along the Grand Canal; visit one of the finest squares in the world, St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco); walk along the Ponte de Rialto, which like the Ponte Vecchio, has shops all along it; and visit the Bridge of Sighs, one of the most famous bridges in Italy. It was originally connected to the prison so prisoners had to cross the bridge, causing them to “sigh” as they entered jail. The Italian adventurer and author, Casanova, was Venetian and actually escaped from that very same prison. The bridge has now become a symbol of love and it is said that if you kiss your lover under the Bridge of Sighs, your love will last forever.
The Amalfi Coast and Pompeii
The Amalfi Coast is one of the most beautiful stretches of Italy, famous for its crystal blue waters. Along the coast is the ancient ruins of Pompeii. In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompeii under a layer of lapilli (burning fragments of pumice stone). The site was lost for nearly 1,500 years until its initial discovery in 1599 and rediscovery in 1748. This city has been remarkably well-preserved and gives you an insight into life during Ancient Rome. You can walk down the Roman streets and look around 2,000-year-old houses, temples, shops, cafes and amphitheatres. It truly is incredible.
Cinque Terre is a national park with five beautifully picturesque villages overlooking the Mediterranean coast. There are many hiking routes between Riomaggiore, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Corniglia and Vernazza so you can explore them all. Grab a gelato, have a coffee, sit back and relax.