Florence is filled with beautiful churches.

Travelers arriving in the Renaissance city are right away greeted by the massive, red-tiled cupola of the Duomo. Visible from most parts of Florence, the Duomo is a clear and striking icon of the city. Travelers could spend hours exploring this Florentine gem, whether climbing to the top of the Dome to enjoy panoramic views  over Firenze or studying the intricate details of the Baptistry doors.

However, there are myriad breathtaking churches throughout Florence, some of which visitors often overlook. We understand. Florence is so rich in art, history, and culture it can be difficult to know where to start. So let us help!

The Most Beautiful Churches in Florence: Centro Storico

A little background knowledge can go a long way when planning a trip to Florence. Here’s the rundown on the churches in the historical city center of Florence.

Santa Maria del Fiore

Also known as The Duomo of Florence, this is the city’s most iconic landmark.

Beautiful churches in Florence: The Duomo

Florence began construction on its magnificent cathedral in the 13th century but it wasn’t until nearly a century later that work on its massive dome began. Designed by Renaissance founding father Filippo Brunelleschi, it is one of the most significant architectural achievements of the period and a lasting symbol of the city. Brunelleschi wasn’t the only famous artist to leave his mark on the church. Ghiberti completed the ornate bronze doors on the baptistery, and Giotto the bell tower. All told, hundreds of architects, artists, and engineers worked on the cathedral during its more than 100-year construction.

This is by far the most important church in Florence. To see it all you’ll need The Great Duomo Museum ticket. This includes the Cathedral, Brunelleschi’s Dome (beware, there are 463 steps to climb), Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistry of San Giovanni, the Crypt of Santa Reparata, and the Opera Museum.

Santa Croce Basilica

The largest Franciscan church in the world and burial place of the greats.

Santa Croce is one of the most important churches in Florence, and holds just as many impressive statistics as the Duomo. The largest Medieval Franciscan church, Santa Croce was also a convent and theological school that can cite Dante Alighieri as a pupil. An excellent example of Gothic architecture, as the church’s fame and importance grew, the original modest façade was replaced and the structure was continuously made more grandiose.

Artists, theologians, and politicians visited, lived or studied here, and many were buried here as well. Today visitors can see the tombs of Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli and Galileo Galilei in Santa Croce. There is also a memorial to Dante, although his actual body is housed in Ravenna after having been exiled from Florence.

During the flood of 1966, water from the Arno River filled the church up to 5 meters, causing severe damage. Volunteers formed human chains to save as much artwork as possible. Visit the Refectory to see Vasari’s ‘The Last Supper’, which was submerged in floodwater for hours. It has since been restored and, only recently, returned to the Basilica, 50 years after the flood.

Santa Maria Novella Basilica

Florence’s first great basilica and a true art-lovers church

Beautiful churches in Florence: Santa Maria Novella
A massive square to match the beautiful Santa Maria Novella Basilica

Once a small church in a tiny square, the namesake square and basilica have matured into one of the biggest and most important in Florence.

Today, Santa Maria Novella is a gorgeous basilica with a white and green marble façade. Founded by the Dominicans in the 13th-century, the façade was completed during the Renaissance by Leon Battista Alberti. The bottom half was already done in Romanesque style, so Alberti had quite the task to complete it in a more modern aesthetic, while still maintaining a uniform face.

Though the outside itself is a work of art, the inside of Santa Maria Novella is a treasure trove of historical art. Here you can see a crucifix and marble pulpit designed by Brunelleschi. The famed crucifix by a young Giotto, and the incredible perspective shown in the Trinità by Masaccio. You’ll find frescoes by Ghirlandaio and Lippi, and a bronze memorial by Ghiberti.

Located just in front of the Santa Maria Novella train station, the Basilica is easy to find and well worth the visit.

Orsanmichele Church and Museum

A multi-faceted church with an uninterrupted view of the Duomo from the third-floor museum.

Orsanmichele might just be one of the most overlooked churches in Florence. That’s because it’s hidden in plain sight. Located right in the center of town between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, you won’t be able to find a façade even if you look for it. The church is housed in a three-story building, and the entrance to is located around the corner in what seems like the back.

The church has undergone many transformations. Said to be built during Roman times in place of a temple for Isis–the Egyptian goddess of fertility–it was then a Benedictine oratory in the monastery St. Michael (San Michele). The original structure was destroyed in the 13th century, and an arcade grain hall, office space, and general market hall was built in its place.

Though the structure was commercial, a beautiful fresco of the Virgin Mary remained with multiple “miraculous events” attributed to it. Over time, so many pilgrims flooded the hall that everyday commerce became impossible. So, in the 14th century, the arcade was reconverted back into a church.

Today, the Orsanmichele boasts a mix of civic and religious architecture and art. When visiting, be sure to walk around the outside of the building to see the striking statues standing in the church’s niches, created by artists like Verrocchio, Ghiberti, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia.

Basilica di San Lorenzo

One of the largest churches in Florence as well as one of its oldest, San Lorenzo is ground zero for Medici family religious history.

San Lorenzo Basilica's unfinished façade
Don’t be fooled by the rough façade of the San Lorenzo Basilica; inside, it’s a masterpiece of the Renaissance, with art and architecture by Brunelleschi, Donatello, and more. Photo by Richard Mortel

The Basilica of San Lorenzo is one of the oldest churches in all of Florence. The complex is immense, spanning the basilica, cloisters, library, and the Medici chapels. Its history follows the Christian community in Florence as well as the personal history of the Medicis, Florence’s ruling family.

The powerful Medici family was the most influential in Renaissance Florence. They brought together artists and masters of the time for various commissions, including the San Lorenzo Basilica.

Built atop a 4th-century church, San Lorenzo was designed by Brunelleschi for Cosimo the Elder, one of the most famous members of the Medici family, for use as a family temple. Michelangelo designed a white marble façade to showcase the church in all its splendor, but it was never completed. Donatello was commissioned to sculpt two bronze pulpits, among other artwork, as well.

Today Donatello, Cosimo the Elder, and 50 members of the Medici family are buried in the crypt of San Lorenzo.

The Most Beautiful Churches in Florence: Oltrarno

Florence’s Oltrarno district is the neighborhood on the other side of the Arno River (literally, beyond the Arno). A historically residential part of Florence’s center, it remains a hip neighborhood with artisan studios, restaurants and some of Florence’s most beautiful churches. 

San Miniato al Monte Basilica and Abbey

Located atop a hill in the Oltrarno, just outside the city walls, San Miniato enjoys the best views over all of Florence.

San Miniato al Monte from afar
San Minato nestled among the Tuscan hills above Florence. Photo by Neil (flickr)

An Abbey built between the 11th and 13th centuries, San Miniato’s hilltop location provides a prime panorama over picturesque Florence. Covered with green and white marble in the same vein as Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, the interior is Romanesque in style, and dark and atmospheric. Be sure to check out the mosaic floors and painted wooden ceiling, as well as the crypt in the back decorated by Gaddi. The church itself is surrounded by a cemetery where illustrious Florentines were buried, including the author of Pinocchio!

To get to San Miniato, head to the Oltrarno then follow signs for the 30-minute walk up the hill, or catch the bus to Piazzale Michelangelo and then take the stairs up a bit further to San Miniato al Monte.

Santa Trinita Basilica

A free, hidden gem in the Oltrarno

After a walk down the elegant via Tornabuoni you’ll find Piazza Santa Trinita and the 11th-century church of the same name. The church was enlarged and renovated in the Gothic style in the 14th century and the façade was added in the 16th century.

Be sure to see Ghirlandaio’s altarpiece and visit the Sassetti Chapel with 15th-century frescoes by the artist with references of the time (Lorenzo the Magnificent, a self-portrait, Piazza della Signoria, and Piazza della Trinita).

Santa Maria del Santo Spirito Basilica

A Florentine church where the architecture is the art.

Santo Spirito church in Florence

Not many people take the time to truly explore Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood, the area on the other side of the Arno. If they do, they might pass Santo Spirito more than once before going inside or taking in the Basilica’s perfect proportions.

Despite the stark façade, Santo Spirito Basilica is one of the most important churches in Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood.

The structure was originally an Augustinian convent located outside of the city walls; however, as Florence grew, the Santa Trinità bridge was built and wealthy families in the Oltrarno district decided to renovate their neighborhood church. They commissioned Brunelleschi to design and build the church, to show the neighborhood’s rising status. Today the church walls are decorated with art by Cimabue, Simone Memmi, and Giottino (Tommaso Fiorentino)

Inside, it’s an exemplar of Renaissance architecture. Brunelleschi designed a meticulous church but died before it was ever finished. His apprentices finished the work as best they could, since the renowned architect left few notes behind.

A young Michelangelo often sought refuge in Santo Spirito. Here he was able to dissect and analyze corpses from the convent’s hospital to learn more about the anatomy of the human body.

sunlight over the Arno River in Florence, Italy

Florence is filled with Renaissance treasures and historical wonders, and many of these masterpieces can be found throughout the city’s churches. These magnificent basilicas offer a glimpse into what made Florence into such a cultural powerhouse over the centuries. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the options – there are dozens of churches in Florence after all! – it’s nothing that a bit of context and curiosity can’t help solve 🧡

Experience the best of Italian art and antiquities in the cultural capitals of Rome, Florence, and Venice with Ciao Andiamo’s Italy for First Timers bespoke itinerary

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The Ciao Andiamo guide to Piedmont: Food, wine, castles and capitals – why you should visit this region that has it all.  

Piedmont is Italy’s second-largest region, and one of its most important historically and economically. Home to FIAT, Nutella and Lavazza coffee, it’s also the birthplace of the Slow Food Movement. Italian unification got its start in Piedmont with the help of the royal Savoy family. Torino was even named the nation’s first capital city, prior to Rome. 

Piedmont is known for its high-class wine, cuisine and culture. Lonely Planet picked Piedmont as the world’s top region to visit in 2019 calling it a “savvy, arty, foodie traveler’s secret.”  

Tucked beneath the Alps, travelers to Piedmont can ride and sip their way through the rolling hills of the Langhe, tour the gorgeous museums in Torino, ski the piste of Monte Rosa, and feast upon region’s delectable dishes. 

What to know before you visit Piedmont:  

Visit Piedmont in style with the help of our Piedmont guide.

mountains in Piedmont, Italy
Piemonte, literally “the foot of the mountains” is nestled under some of the most gorgeous peaks of the Alps. Image by alessandra barbieri from Pixabay

Where is Piedmont and how to get there 

Piedmont is in Italy’s northwest corner, bordering Switzerland and France, and with the regions of Lombardy and Liguria as neighbors on the Italian side. The name Piemonte literally means “foot of the mountain,” and rightfully so. Piedmont is surrounded on three sides by the Alps and home to the highest peaks and glaciers in Italy.  

Travelers can fly directly into the Torino airport or any of Milan’s international airports–Torino is just a 2-hour drive from Milano Malpensa airport.

Ciao Andiamo can provide private car service, and for guests who join our insider journey of Piedmont, your dedicated tour leader will pick you up right in Milan’s city center.

When to visit Piedmont  

Piedmont is beautiful and accessible year-round. Choose the season based on your goals in the region. Skiers will want to visit in winter, while hikers should choose summer or fall. Fall is prime time for foodies who want to savor food and wine at the height of the harvest, and for those who want to experience the famed White Truffle Festival of Alba.   

a bridge in Torino
With nature and cities to explore, Piedmont is an excellent destination no matter the season. Image by Francesco Riosa from Pixabay

Best Places to Visit in Piedmont:  

Piedmont’s geography span’s gorgeous lakes, rolling valleys, and Italy tallest peaks. Here’s a brief guide to Piedmont’s top destinations, from elegant cities and charming villages to storied castles and more: 

The capital  

skyline of beautiful Torino in Piedmont, Italy
Torino’s skyline is well-known thanks to the unique shape of the Mole Antonelliana. Image by nonmisvegliate from Pixabay

With elegant palazzi, attractive contemporary art and nearly a dozen museums to choose from, visitors to Piedmont could spend all their time just in Torino.  

Visit the Museo Egizio, the biggest Egyptian Museum outside of Egypt; the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile to discover the history of Italy’s own FIAT; or Palazzo Reale to see Greek and Roman archaeological treasures and the personal art collection of the Savoy dynasty, among other masterpieces. Stroll through Palazzo Reale’s magnificent gardens, from the same designer who created the renowned gardens of Versailles.   

Visitors can’t help but notice Torino’s Mole Antonelliana, the 167-meter-tall domed building that marks the city’s skyline. Originally built as a synagogue, today it is home to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, showcasing equipment and film memorabilia from the very first motion pictures to modern day cinema.   

Finally, find a rival to Versailles in the Reggia di Venaria Reale. A hunting lodge for the Duke of Savoy Carlo Emanuele II, this enormous baroque mansion is impressive for its sheer scale and gilded decorations.  

If museum fatigue sets in, stroll the elegant boulevards and piazzas of Torino, tour the massive flagship Eataly store, or take a break in one of Torino’s historical coffeehouses like Caffè San Carlo or Caffè Torino.  

Torino has the grace of Paris and the splendor of Vienna, mixed with the rich culture and utter beauty of Italy.   

  

The mountains   

The Piedmont side of Monte Rosa is home to stunning peaks and characteristic mountain valley towns. Ski resorts abound. The most famous of which are likely those of the Via Lattea, or “Milky Way.” Made up of two different valleys, the northern Val di Susa and southern Val Chisone, many of the 2006 Winter Olympics events were held in the state-of-the-art facilities of the Via Lattea. Visitors can ski roughly 400km of runs through at least seven different resorts, including a jaunt into France to Montgenèvre’s slopes, all included with the Via Lattea ski pass.   

Piedmont is ruled by mountains and beautiful valleys, making it a great destination for winter sports lovers as well as Alpine aficionados looking to hike in the warmer months.   

Summertime visitors can go sightseeing in Susa to see the Arco d’Augusto and the Roman ruins, or hike the remote terrain on the border of France in the Maritime Alps National Park.   

  

The lakes  

San Giulio Island on Orta Lake in Piedmont, Italy
San Giulio Island on Orta Lake in Piedmont, Italy. Image by alessandra barbieri from Pixabay

Piedmont is also home to most of Lago Maggiore, Italy’s beautiful resort lake that sits across Piedmont and Lombardy. The lakeside town of Stresa has been a favorite destination for artists and writers since the 19th-century (parts of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” was set here). Not only is it the perfect distance between Torino and Milan, it’s also the perfect jumping-off point to visit the ancient villas and luxurious gardens of the Borromean Islands.   

Though Piedmont shares Lago Maggiore with Lombardy and even Switzerland, Lago d’Orta is all Piedmont’s. Circled by forest, Lake Orta is perhaps the most peaceful of Italy’s northern lakes. Orta enjoys far fewer international tourists, making it the perfect place to escape the crowds. Swim or enjoy a boat ride on the lake, tour the narrow streets of medieval Orta San Giulio or ferry over to tiny Isola San Giulio for a unique day trip.  

  

The valleys   

The rolling valleys of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato are a wine lover’s paradise. It’s the land of Piedmont’s famed white truffles, sweet hazelnuts, and outstanding chocolate production. Here Barolo, the king of wines, is produced, along with other world-class wines made from the prized Nebbiolo grape. The beautifully cultivated vineyards of the area stretching from Asti to Cuneo are interrupted only by hilltop towns and charming castles.   

Visit Bra, the hometown of the Slow Food Movement; Barolo, the namesake of the famed Barolo wine and site of the Museo del Vino; and Barbaresco, with its 11-century medieval tower and equally noteworthy wines. As you tour the vineyards, dedicate some time to sleepy hamlets like Serralunga, La Morra, and Grinzane Cavour.  

Don’t miss ultra-charming Alba, the capital of the Langhe and home of the annual Fiera Internazionale di Tartufo Bianco (“The International White Truffle Festival”). Just 30 kilometers to the north is Asti, home of the sparkling white Asti Spumante.   

  

What to Do in Piedmont: 

Besides the stunning geography and delicious food, there’s even more to explore with the UNESCO Sites and the annual festivals of Piedmont. 

Visit the Venaria Reale 

interior of the Venaria palace in Torino
The Galleria Grande in the beautiful Venaria Palace in Torino. Image by loveombra from Pixabay

With a roughly 862,000 square-foot floor plan, the Venaria Reale is one of the biggest palaces in the entire world. The 17th-century palace, together with the other buildings that make up the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A Baroque masterpiece just outside of Torino, visitors can tour the palace, including the breathtaking Galleria Grande, the Theater of History and Magnificence dedicated to the Savoy family and legacy, and approximately 10,764 square feet of frescoes. Thanks to a hefty eight-year, multi-million dollar restoration, visitors can also stroll more than 120 acres of restored gardens, with 24 acres of vegetable garden and nearly 200,000 new plants. Originally designed as an estate for hunting and leisure for Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy and Duchess Maria Giovanna Battista, the Venaria comprises the palace, gardens, a park for hunting grounds, and an entire village, not to mention sculptures, fountains, staircases, terraces, ponds, and frescoes. It is a display of wealthy and beauty that rivals Versailles.

Hike in the Sacred Mountains  

The nine summits of the Sacri Monti (two of which are in Lombardy) have been given UNESCO World Heritage status for the 16th and 17th-century chapels built upon its peaks. Designed to celebrate different aspects of Christianity, these tiny structures not only have a deep spiritual history, but are also beautifully integrated into the surrounding nature of Piedmont’s valleys, forests, and lakes.

Relax in the terme (thermal baths)

Visit the thermal spas of Acqui Terme in the Monferrato valley. A spa and resort town since the ancient Romans – the town’s name means “thermal waters” – Acqui Terme offers various spa options and the relaxation and serenity of a small town. The town’s connection to the area’s hot thermal waters is represented in marble and stone with La Bollente, a fountain in the town’s main piazza that spews boiling hot thermal water. Rising from the earth at 75 degrees C, townspeople come at all hours to fill up on the spring water and enjoy its curative properties.  

Tour Castello di Rivoli Museum of Art  

artistic shot of the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art building
The Castello di Rivoli Art Museum is located in a former residence of the Savoy Family. Image from Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea

Though Torino seems to be ground zero of museums, there’s one museum just outside of the capital city that’s well worth a visit. The Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art is the envy of Italy’s contemporary art scene. The first museum devoted to contemporary art in Italy, the massive Rivoli Museum has a robust Arte Povera collection, hosts educational events and rotating exhibitions, and has approximately 44,000 books on art, architecture, photography, and design in its public library. 

Take part in the festivals   

Finally, check if your visit coincides with any of the region’s internationally-acclaimed festivals. Of course, the international white truffle festival is held in Alba each fall, but there’s also the famous Cioccolatò chocolate fair every year in Torino. The Palio race of Siena enjoys worldwide acclaim, but each September Asti holds a Palio of its own, considered the oldest horse race in Italy. There is the Cheese Festival held every two years in the town of Bra. Or, for the adventure seeker, visit Ivrea during the epic Battle of the Oranges, a massive food fight celebrated each year during Carnival.   

  

What to Eat in Piedmont  

No guide to Piedmont is complete without a note on its delicious local cuisine. When in Italy, it’s always best to eat local, and the Piedmont region is no exception.  

homemade Tajarin noodles with ragù
Tajarin noodles come with many different sauces, like these homemade Tajarin with ragù. Image by Lou Stejskal via flickr

Piedmont is a veritable Epicurean paradise. Home of the renowned white truffle, and its namesake annual festival, it’s also a land rich in dried fruits like walnuts, chestnuts and hazelnuts, homemade cheeses, soft delicate veal, and all the fresh veggies for which Italy is known.

When in Piedmont, stick to Piemontese classics, like the typical bagna cauda. Literally, “hot bath”, it is a hot sauce made with anchovies, olive oil, and garlic, and used as a dip for Piedmont’s delicious fresh vegetables. Another dip of the region is the classic fondue, thanks to the border shared with France.  

Down in the valley, bordering the seaside region of Liguria, sample Piedmont’s renowned beef in the form of a classic vitello tonnato–cold sliced veal in a tuna, anchovy, and caper sauce. Or, try the esoteric snails from Cherasco, served in or out of the shell, pan-fried, roasted, or stewed with onions, parsley, walnuts and anchovies.

Of course, those same valleys are home to the bold, red wines made from the Nebbiolo grapes. Read all about Piedmont’s prestigious wines.   

No summary of Piedmont’s cuisine is complete without a nod to the white truffles of Alba. Truffles can be found throughout central Italy, but only Piedmont is a hub of the tartufo bianco. Try this pricy treat shaved over local fresh pasta like the long, skinny tajarin noodles or the tiny agnolotti al plin stuffed with meat or vegetables.   

Finally, indulge your sweet tooth in the birthplace of modern chocolate. Choose chocolate in nearly any form, including liquid like with a glass of bicerin, made of hot chocolate, espresso and whipped cream. Or travel south to Cuneo, the birthplace of gianduja, chocolate with hazelnuts. The delicious treat was invented when a Cuneo resident decided to mix expensive and difficult-to-find chocolate with the local and plentiful hazelnuts of the valleys, creating the precursor to the famous Nutella chocolate and hazelnut spread.   

The vineyards of Piedmont

See the beauty of Torino, tour the vineyards of the Langhe, and delight in Piedmont’s gastronomic delights with Ciao Andiamo on our Castles, Truffles and Barolo insider journey.   

  

  

 

 

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Each Italian region is unique. For such a small peninsula, the diversity of history, art, culture, and cuisine from region to region is remarkable. At first glance, Umbria and Tuscany seem to have a lot in common. Both are celebrated for their hilltop towns, spectacular scenery, and delicious rustic meals; but don’t be fooled: each has its own charms, atmosphere, and traditions.

How to choose between Umbria and Tuscany

When designing an Italian adventure, it can be difficult to choose which of Italy’s breathtaking regions to visit. The travel experts at Ciao Andiamo love every pocket and corner of Italy for reasons unique from one area to the next, and this is why the authentic journeys we design are always individually tailored with our travelers in mind. We’ve written this guide to help you learn more about the acclaim of Tuscany and allure of Umbria so that you can decide for your next visit: Umbria or Tuscany (or both!)?

Visit Umbria and Tuscany for the impressive cathedrals

Orvieto Cathedral, Umbria
Each region boasts beautiful cathedrals, like this one in Orvieto, Umbria. Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Brunelleschi’s Duomo of Florence is an architectural masterpiece and must-see for visitors to the region, while the Duomo complex of nearby Siena, in Tuscany, merits a full tour inside, out…and up, as visitors can now explore the eaves of the magnificent cathedral.

In Umbria, finding striking basilicas in small town settings–like Orvieto’s magnificent cathedral–is all the more impressive. The sensational gothic cathedral stands out against Orvieto’s austere city center. Inside, frescoes that rival those in Rome grace the walls. Then there is the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular destination for religious pilgrims, the cathedral boasts massive paintings and frescoes by Cimabue, Lorenzetti, and the school of Giotto.

Art and architecture are on full display in the many basilicas, cathedrals, and chapels of Tuscany and Umbria.

Umbria and Tuscany are great for nature lovers

Active travelers can find outdoor fun in both regions. Visitors to Umbria and Tuscany can hike and bike, mountaineer, and horseback ride. Each region has multiple national and regional parks to explore. Kayak and sail along the coast in Tuscany or spelunk, raft, and kayak in Umbria. For a new perspective in either region, take to the air to paraglide or hang glide over the breathtaking landscapes, or take it slow with a hot-air balloon ride.

Visit Tuscany for the unmatched art

exterior of Uffizi Gallery
Florence’s famous Uffizi Gallery holds priceless Medieval and Renaissance art

The explosion of art and architecture in the Middle Ages and Renaissance derived in part from the historic rivalries between towns. Though there were frequent wars, outdoing your neighbor in artistic wealth and architectural feats was just as important as a victory on the battlefield. The various cities in Tuscany and Umbria spent centuries trying to outdo one another, much to the benefit of visitors today.

Great art abounds in Umbria, with artists such as Perugino, Giotto, Cimabue and Pisano leaving their mark in cities from Città di Castello and Terni to Orvieto and Assisi. The Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia’s beautiful Palazzo dei Priori holds work by one of Umbria’s most famous locals: Pietro Vannucci, known as Perugino, who was also the teacher of Raphael.

That said, the sheer quantity of Tuscany’s Medieval and Renaissance art is unparalleled. The Uffizi Gallery alone holds some of the world’s most priceless art. There, you can find masterpieces by Raphael, Lippi, Caravaggio, as well as the Birth of Venus and the Primavera of Botticelli, to name a few. No matter where you are in Tuscany, you’re sure to find some world-class art.

Visit Umbria for a unique food experience

a butcher shop in Umbria
You can get high-quality cured meat in Umbria and Tuscany, but only Umbria enjoys the fame of these norcinerie. Image by GBSurf from Pixabay

You may be familiar with the olive oil, fresh pasta, and steaks of Tuscany, but know less about the specialties of Umbria. In many respects, Umbrian and Tuscan cuisine is quite similar. Both are born of a cucina povera tradition, and feature myriad vegetables and legumes, rustic flavors from game meat like wild boar and rabbit, and homegrown olive oil.

But only Umbria has the highly-prized tartufo nero. May to August is black truffle season, but you can get this pungent delicacy shaved over your pasta or omelet or simmered in a gravy sauce any time of year.

Also worth noting are Umbria’s renowned norcinerie–high-quality pork butcher shops from Norcia–whose butchers take the art of processing pork to an art form. Try it for yourself with a roast porchetta panino or an appetizer of affettati (sliced meats) including the classic Norcia prosciutto.

Visit Tuscany for some of the most famous wines, and Umbria for smaller producers and wines of equal stature

vineyards in Umbria and Tuscany
Image by alohamalakhov from Pixabay

Tuscany is home to some of the world’s most well-known wines and wine regions. From Chianti to Montalcino, Montepulciano to Bolgheri, Tuscany’s winemaking prowess is proven. Here you can taste Brunello and Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino and a wealth of Super Tuscans. For a white wine, try the Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Although Tuscan wines may enjoy more worldwide fame, Umbria’s vineyards have equally noteworthy, delectable options. Try the Orvieto DOC white wine made with the region’s star white grape or the Rosso di Montefalco, a dark red made with Sangiovese grapes.

The king of Umbrian wines, however, is the ancient Sagrantino di Montefalco. A DOCG red wine made with the eponymous grape, Sagrantino is 100% native, aged in oak barrels and, when cellared correctly, can be kept for up to 30 years.

Visit Umbria for cashmere and Tuscany for leather

There’s no better souvenir than a genuine “Made in Italy” product, and the gifted craftsmen of Tuscany and Umbria produce myriad artisanal goods. Artisans in both regions work with gold and precious stones, wood, marble, oil paints, and watercolors, and, of course, various fabrics and textiles. When shopping for clothes and accessories in central Italy, get your leather in Tuscany, and fine cashmere in Umbria.

Leathercraft has been practiced in Tuscany for centuries and the tradition continues today. Get the perfect fit with a pair of tailor-made shoes or go simple with a quality belt, purse, or wallet. Before purchasing anything, be sure to verify that it is truly made in Italy or, better yet, go straight to the artisan’s studios!

Umbria is where you can purchase a beautiful sweater, warm scarf, or elegant purse directly from local cashmere producers. In some cases, you can even visit the cashmere workshops, which are clustered in and around Montefalco, Bevagna, and Marsciano.

Visit Tuscany if you want a seaside vacation

a view of the sea in Tuscany
Visit the Tuscan archipelago for a seaside vacation like this one in Isola d’Elba. Image by DanieleFiaschi from Pixabay

Tuscany is the only option of the two for those looking for a Mediterranean seaside vacation. There, visitors can enjoy beaches along the coast or head off shore to explore the Tuscan Archipelago with its beautiful islands like Elba and Giglio.

Umbria might be Italy’s only landlocked region, but it still enjoys some bodies of water. There are mountain springs in the Foligno area, thermal springs north of Orvieto, and prominent lakes, including Lago di Piediluco near the border with Lazio, and Lago di Trasimeno, the largest lake in central and southern Italy.

For those visiting Umbria but still looking to include a visit to the sea, the new tunnels carved into the Apennines can bring travelers from Umbria’s Spello area to the Adriatic Sea in about 30 minutes for an easy seaside day trip.

Visit Umbria for small-town charm 

In general, Tuscany is the perfect place to explore iconic city centers, while Umbria is ideal for soaking in the Italian experience.

It’s true that Tuscany also has small towns that feel less “discovered,” but Umbria has more, and it’s generally easier to escape the crowds in the region known as Italy’s “green heart”.

With only two true cities – Perugia, the region’s capital, and Terni, its industrial powerhouse – Umbria is a region of villages and towns. Of course, Perugia, Assisi, and Orvieto are all must-visits, but we recommend you go beyond the most famous cities to tap into Umbria’s charming small-town ambience. Visit Gubbio, considered the oldest village in Umbria, Spello with its narrow walls and enchanting balconies, or the butcher shop-lined streets of Norcia. Explore the islands on Lago di Trasimeno, the small town of Narni, with its recently excavated underground, or the less-visited village of Bevagna. Tour the ancient streets of Spoleto and enjoy panoramic views from Montefalco.

In Umbria, you can find that authentic Italian spirit, untarnished by international influences. The pace of life is slower and the travel richer with local experiences. In Tuscany, you can live out a scene straight from an iconic film, but you’ll have to share the set. In Umbria, the set is yours!

Small town in Umbria from above
Castelluccio is just one of the many tiny towns that dot the Umbrian countryside. Image by Alberto Agostini from Pixabay

Still can’t decide? Visit both! Venture through the heart of the Italian countryside on our Food, Wine and the Rolling Hills insider journey exploring Umbria and Tuscany through the eyes of locals.

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With abundant natural beauty, famed ancient history, and noteedly diverse culture, the spectacular island of Sicily has enticed travelers to explore it’s many treasures since ancient times. Sicily’s rich history can be seen in; the Arab-Norman jewels in Palermo, the Doric temples in the Valley of the Temples, and the ancient Greek architecture of Syracuse. Baroque beauty abounds in the Noto Valley, and extensive religious art is abundant, as you discover Sicily.

Sicily countryside and hills

Sicily’s history can also be found in the unique food it offers. A result of many different conquerors, the cuisine is perhaps the most culturally-infused of all of Italy. Here you can find classics, such as pistachios and almonds, citrus and swordfish, along with more exotic spices and ingredients, like saffron and sugar, baccalà and couscous.

Then, of course, there are the landscapes; first and foremost the formidable Mount Etna on Sicily’s east coast. One of Europe’s highest active volcanoes, Etna still erupts from time to time and can dictate life in the area. Then there are the stunning coastline nature reserves including the Zingaro Nature Reserve west of Palermo, or the Vendicari Nature Reserve in Sicily’s southwestern corner. Citrus groves, olive orchards, vineyards, and salt pans, wherever you are, you’re sure to have a stunning backdrop.

What to Know Before You Discover Sicily:

Discovering Sicily in comfort means you need to know its location and how to dress with the season.

Where is Sicily

Map of Places To Go in Sicily

One of 20 regions of Italy, Sicily is an island just off the mainland. It’s the ball to Italy’s boot, located in the extreme southwest of Italy.

Italy’s largest island, Sicily’s most important cities are coastal ports, grown powerful by the bustling sea trade since the ancient Greeks. Though there is a small airport in Trapani and another in the Val di Noto, most flights to Sicily fly into Palermo or Catania, two of Sicily’s largest cities.

The Weather in Sicily

It’s southernmost point, Sicily is hotter than the rest of Italy. In January average highs in Catania can easily reach 60°F, while August sees an average max of 90°F. Though skiers will be hoping for snow on Etna, it’s not impossible to see sunbathers in December, with sea temperatures reaching 59°F. In August, most cities in Sicily empty as residents go north on vacation or head to the beach to stay cool. If you’re not going in the summer, be sure to bring a cover-up as morning and evening can cool down.

Best Places to Discover in Sicily

The island of Sicily truly has it all; bustling port cities, small hill towns, coastal resorts and complete wilderness. There’s a lot to see on just this one Mediterranean island, but here’s where to start:

Palermo and Monreale

Beautiful Piazza Pretoria — Palermo

Palermo is an Arab-Norman jewel of a city with strong character, and a world of history, and culture to discover.

Long gone are Palermo’s days as a violent city. Today, it is a favorite for Italian hipsters, ground zero for the start of many a Sicily vacation, and was named the Italian Capital of Culture in 2018.

After Phoenicians founded a colony there in the 8th century, Palermo has since been ruled by Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, the Holy Roman emperors, Aragonese, Bourbons, and Austrians…to name a few. This important port city has always been strategic in the Mediterranean, leading to an intriguing mix of cultures, tastes, and ideas. Go see the beautiful Piazza Pretoria and its “shameful” fountain, the Palermo Cathedral and the Teatro Massimo. Palazzo dei Normanni is a must-see, if only for the Palatine chapel inside, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. See the Zisa Palace, the Capuchin catacombs, and the trifecta of gorgeous churches around Piazza Bellini.

Finally, head up the hill to tour the Cathedral of Monreale, a masterpiece of Arab, Norman, and Byzantine art.

Trapani

Salt flats and salt harvesting — Trapani

An important trading city since the 13th-century, Trapani’s port still bustles with ferry traffic to and from the nearby Egadi Islands. Tour the kilometers of salt flats along the coast in a pungent nod to the city’s salt harvesting history. The biggest draw is, without a doubt, the ancient salt pans of Trapani and Paceco. Visitors can tour these kilometers of salt flats along the coast, not only to see a glimpse of the area’s long history (many of the same techniques from 1000 AD are still used today) but also to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Today the salt pans are part of a nature reserve, still allowing a small amount of production, as well as the return of native flora, and fauna.

Piazza Armerina

Located in the hinterland of Sicily, Piazza Armerina is an off-the-beaten-path gem. The town itself has an 18th-century Duomo, and nearby you’ll find the Aidone Archeology Museum. But the real draw is the Villa Romana del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and archeological treasure worth an entire day.

Agrigento

Valley of the Temples — Agrigento, Sicily

Agrigento is home to the Valley of the Temples, one of the most famed archeological sites in all Italy. Founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century BC, it quickly became one of the leading cities in the Mediterranean. This is still seen today in the massive collection of Doric temples that lie intact in the area’s fields, along with excavations of Hellenistic ruins, and early Christian sites. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, for its great row of Doric temples, considered to be “among the most extraordinary representations of Doric architecture in the world.” A “testament of Greek civilization” and an example of an “important interchange of human values,” the area once considered the “most beautiful city inhabited by man,” according to the Greek poet Pindar, is now one of the most beautiful archeological sites to be visited by man.

Taormina

Taormina Teatro Greco — Sicily

Taormina has been a resort town since the time of the ancient Greeks. With a spectacular location on the side of a mountain along Sicily’s east coast, it’s easy to see why Taormina has a long history of delighting the rich and famous. The town is breathtaking! Perhaps most famous for its Teatro Antico, an ancient Greco-Roman theater still in use today, most visitors are attracted by Isola Bella. Attached to the mountain coast by a small strip of sand, Isola Bella is a tiny nature reserve set in a natural cove. Once the home of Englishwoman Florence Trevelyan, it can now be enjoyed by all. Then, visit the nearby Giardini Naxos, the first Greek colony in Sicily, before taking time to relax somewhere and soak in the wonderful view – this won’t be hard to find.

Syracuse and Ortygia

One of the oldest settlements in Sicily, Syracuse was founded in 734 BC by the Corinthians, who landed on the island of Ortygia (Ortigia). Once the largest city in the ancient world, a visit to Syracuse means stepping back in time through the ruins of the original city in the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, one of Sicily’s greatest archaeological sites. Here you’ll find Greek ruins, like the Teatro, along with beautiful Baroque buildings framing sun-kissed piazzas. The most beautiful corner is surely it’s minuscule island of Ortygia. Just 1 square kilometer, it’s difficult not to fall in love with the island’s breathtaking views, characteristic streets, and Mediterranean atmosphere.

Noto

Cathedral Noto - South-Eastern Sicily

Located in southeastern Sicily in the eponymous Val di Noto, Noto is the epicenter of Baroque architecture in Sicily. The entire town is filled with grand central roads, elegant Baroque palazzi, and beautiful historic town squares. Gorgeous, no matter when you visit, the golden hour is favorite for the delicious hue that reflects off it’s red-gold buildings.

After the original town of Noto was destroyed in a 1693 earthquake the entire town was rebuilt a bit higher on the hill in the 18th-century. Traces of the same style can be found in Modica, and Ragusa, both located in Val di Noto and both worth a visit, thanks to a local architect who worked on all three.

Catania

Catania has long had a reputation as a gritty, chaotic city. Though this might still be true, the city still has atmosphere and attitude. It’s one of the few cities in Sicily that feels like a city, with nightlife and energy to match. Catania is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with Noto, thanks to its Baroque architecture. Visit the Piazza del Duomo, the Roman Amphitheater, and the famous Pescheria fish market, for a taste of authentic Italy. As you tour the city, you’re sure to see Mount Etna sitting in the distance, patiently watching over it all.

The best way to discover Sicily is by car – let us handle the stress of transit for you, with completely private transfer service as well as expert guides on our Discover Sicily Trip.

Sources:
Lonely Planet
UNESCO
Visit Sicily
NY Times

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There are few places as innately romantic as Italy. A sentimental land of beauty and indulgence, Italians embrace romance in all its forms. Here beauty is appreciated for beauty’s sake – in the art, the architecture, in a truly good meal, and in the details of a finely-stitched dress. It’s easy to find love, fall in love, and appreciate love in a country as glamorous and passionate as Italy. Not only that, but the entire country is absolutely breathtaking. Each location serving as the perfect backdrop to your romantic dreams. You don’t need to come to Italy in February to tap into the country’s romance – it permeates the air year-round!

Here’s How to Find Romance in Beautiful Italy:

Walk along the water 

A beautiful view over Lake Como in Italy, one of the most romantic places in Italy
Image by Burghard Mohren

Little beats a romantic water walk with a breathtaking landscape. Set against the foothills of the Alps, northern Italy’s lakes offer the perfect backdrop for a scenic lakefront walk. Whether it’s the popular Como, or less well-known Iseo, Garda, Maggiore, or Orta, the landscape and charming villages have plenty to enjoy. Try the brief but suggestive lungolago in Varenna on the Lago di Como, aptly named the “lover’s walkway”, or stroll the elaborately paved path along Como’s lakefront.

Visit Limone sul Garda, an ancient fishing town with suggestive alleys on Lake Garda, the largest of the northern Lakes. Check out the sunset at the lemon grove of the town’s castle (because shouldn’t every romantic Italian town have a castle?) or criss-cross the lake with the ferry. Another favorite is beautiful Sirmione, often called the pearl of Lake Garda. 

Though it’s usually overlooked for the above-mentioned lakes, Lake Iseo is just as beautiful as its big sisters. Smaller than Como and Garda, Lago di Iseo is intimate and cozy and described as the most romantic lake by its own tourism board. Tour the area’s quintessential towns or catch a ferry to Monte Isola, Europe’s largest lake island. Iseo also happens to be nestled in the gorgeous Franciacorta wine region, known for its high-quality, sparkling wines. From some vineyard tours, you can catch glimpses of the sparkling water beyond. 

In Italy’s northern lakes, it’s all about enjoying beauty for beauty’s sake, whether you’re strolling the promenade, eyeing the expansive mountains from the water, or surrounding yourself with the lush gardens of the elegant villas.

Soak in a thermal spa 

Find romance in Italy with beautiful views like this one over the bay from Ischia

 

You may not think to travel all the way to Italy just to visit a spa, but Italians are masters of la dolce vita, and a huge part of that includes some classic self-care. Thermal springs were used by the ancient Romans to cure what ails, thanks to the aqueducts that allowed the Empire to control the flow of water. 

Today, try the Bagni Vecchi in Bormio, Lombardy, an ancient spa complex roughly 2,000 years old. Written about by Pliny the Elder and mentioned by Leonardo da Vinci in his Codex Atlanticus, it was visited by the Archduchess of Austria and her husband, Archduke Ferdinand, and possibly even Napoleon during the Napoleonic period. Located in the mountains, the baths have a natural steam cave, Roman baths dug into a cave, a sauna with a view, and a massive panoramic outdoor pool looking out across the valley. 

Or, follow the sun to the beautiful island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples. The volcanic geography of the region has created hundreds of natural thermal springs, cementing the relaxed island as a premier thermal destination and wellness retreat. The sulfuric waters are thought to provide relief with arthritis, skin conditions, and respiratory diseases. Between the relaxing thermal springs and the gorgeous seafront views, you can easily turn on the romantic vacation mode with a full day of pampering on Ischia.

Watch the sunset

Twilight over the romantic city of Florence

The sunset in Italy is beautiful in just about any location, but there are a few views worth planning for. 

One of the best views of Florence is from atop the hill at Piazzale Michelangelo at the evocative San Miniato del Monte church. Though it is just a thirty-minute walk from the banks of the Arno, visitors can choose to catch a bus to the top of the hill if they prefer. Time your visit just right to catch the last rays of the golden Tuscan sun set over this spectacular city.  

Or, head to the top of the Duomo of Milan – a massive terrace that brings you up close and personal to the beautiful marble, spires, and gargoyles of this infamous Gothic cathedral. Though you won’t be able to watch the sun officially set (it closes before dark), you can enjoy the setting sun with views over the city and, on a clear day, to the Alps beyond. 

Finally, we can’t forget a classic beachfront sunset. Take a romantic vacation to one of Italy’s famous islands, like Sardinia, and be sure to carve out some time to sit on the beach and enjoy nature’s free event. There’s little as simple, effortless and memorable as a sunset with a loved one.

Stroll the streets of an ancient city

Love locks on a bridge in Verona, one of Italy's most romantic cities
So called “love locks” can be found in city’s throughout Italy, supposedly symbolizing eternal love and commitment.

In Italy, romance is everywhere. It rises from the cobblestone streets and sweeps across the scenery. The truth is, much of Italy’s romance is simply in the atmosphere. Filled with charming villages to stroll and explore, grab your loved one’s hand and enjoy the details of Spello, Umbria, officially one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, or head to the true via del amore in Pienza, Tuscany.  

Of course, there’s always the cobbled streets and architectural icons of Verona— the setting of Shakespeare’s celebrated Romeo & Juliet. Italy’s veritable city of love, travelers can step back in time with a visit to Juliet’s balcony, and after, find their own romance among the stylish shops on via Mazzini and impressively frescoed houses of in Piazza delle Erbe. Besides just enjoying the beauty of the pink limestone Arena di Verona (built before its Colosseum lookalike), visitors in the summer can actually see an opera inside the arena, sitting under the night sky on the same stone seats as citizens in 30 AD. We have all the details for you on How to See an Opera in the Verona Arena.

Tour a garden in bloom 

beautiful orange vase and a view of the sea from the Amalfi Coast

Italy knows how to do gardens. With a spring that arrives earlier than most American temperate regions and a summer that extends well into October in some areas, there’s no shortage of gorgeous blooms, perfectly hedged pathways, and magnificent sculptures to see. There are gardens from knee to toe of Italy’s boot, but one of our favorites is the unexpected splendor of the Isola Bella gardens in Piedmont. Located on an island of Lago Maggiore, Isola Bella is a botanic and architectural dream; a craggy rock-turned paradise. Literally, ‘beautiful island’ in English, tons of soil was shipped to the island in the 17th century to build what we see today: a perfectly terraced Italian garden with greenery on staircases, a show-stopping amphitheater, statues, obelisks, and of course, peacocks. It truly lives up to its name! 

Further south is the widely famous Villa d’Este gardens in Lazio. A UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tivoli, just 20 minutes outside of Rome, they’re considered some of the most beautiful gardens in all of Italy. Built on the grounds of a 16th-century villa, the Villa d’Este gardens were an impressive feat of hydraulic engineering, with fountains that sprayed nearly 50 feet without the use of pumps, water that flowed uphill, and an organ fountain that could play a musical composition by water alone. Though the musical fountain no longer plays, the garden is still mind-bending, with more than 600 fountains, spouts and water jets, 64 waterfalls and nearly 900 meters of canals, each working entirely by the force of gravity without any mechanical intervention. 

With beautiful weather, beautiful surroundings, and more than impressive sights, why not take your loved one through a stroll of one of Italy’s most beautiful gardens? There are plenty to choose from at 13 of The Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy.


 

Relax seaside

The beautiful beach in Polignano al Mare, Puglia: Where to Find Romance in Beautiful Italy

Little can compare to the atmosphere and beauty of Italy’s coastal towns. Whether you just want to soak in the salt air or spend your days in luxury on the beaches, with nearly 5,000 miles of Italian coastline, you just have to take your pick!  

Try the scenic Amalfi Coast with quaint towns built into the green hillside. Here you can tour the coast, shop for ceramics or olive oil, and enjoy a seafood dinner with local, homemade limoncello. With dramatic landscapes, winding roads, and non-stop coastal views, it’s hard not to feel the romance in a place like the Amalfi Coast. 

Then, cross the country to visit the Adriatic coastline in gorgeous Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. There you can visit charming seaside towns such as Monopoli, Ostuni, or Polignano a Mare, with dramatic limestone cliffs and crystalline water that can take your breath away! A jutting peninsula between the Adriatic and Ionian seas, travelers can find sandy beaches, pebble beaches and steep cliffs among the many Blue Flag awarded beaches. There are hundreds of beaches and beach towns to enjoy in Puglia, here are some of our favorites

Revel in the seaside beauty of southern Italy on our Mediterranean Escape trip to the Amalfi Coast and Puglia. 

Get your hearts pumping

find romance in the snow-capped peaks of the Dolomites

For some, the best romantic date is action-packed. Luckily, Italy has a wealth of outdoor activities and adrenaline-packed adventures. By far the easiest place for this is the Dolomites, with skiing and snowshoeing options in the winter (and even heli-skiing for thrill-seekers) and hiking and biking in the summer. You could even try skiing or hiking on an active volcano. Mount Etna in Sicily is Europe’s biggest volcano and one of the most active in the world! A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Etna is a fundamental part of Sicily’s history and geography, and also happens to offer some great adventures for active travelers!  

Travelers to Italy can tour caves in Le Marche, sea-kayak off the coasts of Elba and Sardinia, ride bikes in Tuscany, and cliff-jump in Puglia. There are plenty of active options in Italy. Sometimes getting moving and trying something new together is romance enough in such beautiful destinations! 

Explore the breathtaking Dolomite mountain range by day and relax in mountain lodges at night on our Alpine Adventure trip in the Dolomites


 

Ignite your taste buds with a wine tasting

The vineyards of Piedmont: Where to Find Romance in Beautiful Italy

Dive into the sights, aromas, and tastes of Italy with a romantic vineyard tour and wine tasting. For many, Italy is synonymous with wine, and what better way to try it than with a fully immersive experience? Some favorite vineyards are in Tuscany, but remember, it’s not the only world-class wine produced in Italy. Try a wine tasting in the verdant green hills of Montefalco, Umbria or in Piedmont’s Langhe region, a UNESCO World Heritage site for its wine production. 

It’s in Piedmont that you can find the “king of wines” made from the delicious Nebbiolo grapes: Barolo. Home to Barolo and Barbaresco, challenge your loved one to find different varietals and discover different native grapes, like Ruchè, Grignolino and Moscato Bianco, or Arneis and Roero. Wine, cheese, the pungent and decadent white truffle, charming villages and rolling Italian vineyards – it’s everything you need for romance. 

Tour vineyards and delight in Piedmont’s gastronomical delights with Ciao Andiamo on our Castles, Truffles and Barolo trip. Click here to learn more!


 

Indulge in a lingering, Italian dinner

Wine for two at a romantic table in ItalyHere’s How to Find Romance in Beautiful Italy

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The easiest way to “look like a local” is to eat like a local. Italians love their food and they wholeheartedly enjoy a good meal. So, when in Italy, get caught up in the dolce vita and don’t rush it! Whether you’re in the Eternal City soaking in the romance of Rome, in the sun-kissed land of Sicily, or the tip-top of the Alps, you can enjoy a lingering Italian dinner. 

Order an antipasto, primo, secondo. Enjoy the conversation, the company. Take a break before dessert and coffee. Linger, indulge, and soak in the true romance of Italy. Buon appetito! 

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The holiday season is a wonderful time to see Italy. Though winter is technically the low season, December sees a peak of visitors and festivities with a wealth of special events and seasonal sights.   

No matter where you are in the Bel Paese, you’re sure to feel the festive atmosphere. Italian cities big and small decorate their centers with lights, garland and trees, and shops deck out their windows for the holidays. All of Italy is beautiful in December, but here’s where to go for that something specific.

Where to Go and Why: 

Vatican City for the religious festivities 

St. Peter's Basilica in lights during the holidays in Italy
St. Peter’s Piazza decorated for Christmas. Photo by Giuseppe Milo on Flickr 

Italy is a predominately Roman Catholic country and the holiday season reflects that. Even if you’re not religious, seeing or participating in a mass is a chance to get to know the local culture and Italians Christmastime traditions. Each year on December 24th there is midnight mass held by the Pope in Saint Peter’s Basilica. (It’s often held before midnight, so check online). For those with only a passing interest or simply without a seat, join the crowd in St. Peter’s Piazza to follow the mass on a big-screen TV. Come back at noon on Christmas Day for the Pope’s Christmas message which he gives from his apartment overlooking the square. The square itself is decorated with a massive Christmas tree and a life-size nativity scene. 

Bolzano for the over-the-top Christmas markets 

All of Trentino Alto-Adige is known for its beautiful Christmas market coming from its long Austrian heritage, but known as is large or over-the-top as Bolzano’s. Going strong for nearly 30 years, the Bolzano Christmas Market strictly sells only locally produced options. Here you can find the region’s handiwork at play with wooden statuettes, decorations and nativities, as well as musical instruments, decorative candles, slippers, hats, stationary and more. 

Besides the commercial aspect of the market with many handcrafted gifts and artwork, visitors can see the artisans at work in the craft tent, enjoy local dishes like strudel and mulled wine and enjoy horse-drawn carriage wines, a merry-go-round or puppet theatre for the little ones.  

Naples for artisanal Nativity masterpieces 

Nowhere in Italy is more famous for its handcrafted Nativity scenes than Naples, and ground zero for this work is via San Gregorio Armeno. A long pedestrian street in the historic center, there are hundreds of shops featuring handmade presepibut each shop will likely have a slightly different style, color, cut or characters. Not only can you find the classic Jesus, Mary and Joseph figurines, but you can expand on your Nativity to create a veritable city with shepherds, blacksmiths and vendors of all kinds, as well as more modern ideas like pizza-makers, politicians and soccer players.  

If the crowds get to be too much on “Christmas Alley” (as San Gregorio Armeno is often called) head to the Museo Nazionale di San Martino in Naples to see the largest Nativity scene in the world, with more than 500 different people, animal, angel and object figurines. 

Matera for the living Nativity scene 

Known as the presepi viventi, a living nativity scene is when costumed people act out some or all of the Christmas story, usually on Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s on December 26 and the Epiphany on January 6 (when the Three Wise Men brought their gifts to Jesus). There are dozens of living Nativity scenes throughout Italy. In Chia, Lazio there are more than 500 actors. Barga in Tuscany includes at least a hundred costumed people walking through the town behind Mary and Joseph asking for lodging and of course Greccio, Lazio is said to be the home of the very first Nativity scene when Saint Francis of Assisi constructed one in a cave there in 1223.  

Still, only one has the nearly surreal backdrop of the sassi di Matera. Houses, churches and monasteries were carved and created in caverns of Matera’s rocks. A completely unique destination no matter the time of year, the landscape is even more evocative with these biblical reenactments. 

Turin for the heart-warming coffeehouses  

A decadent Bicerin is just what you need to warm up after sightseeing in December. Photo by Jeremy Hunsinger on Wikicommons

Turin is known for its chocolate, and what better time of year to indulge in this local treat than the holiday season? You can try the Gianduia chocolate or a creamy hot chocolate, but to experience the coffeehouse culture at its most decadent, order a Bicerin. A traditional drink from Piedmont, it’s a mix of chocolate, coffee and cream that will for sure warm you up on a cold winter day.  

Orvieto for the week-long Jazz Festival 

Umbria’s winter edition is held each December in the suggestive town of Orvieto for five days. That’s five days of music starting from noon and running late into the night at different times and different venues. From the Emilio Greco Museum to the Sala Etrusca in the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo filled with pianists, food, wine and jazz in the Palazzo dei Sette or the by now annual send off with the Funk Off band in the streets where the city itself is the true location.  

Rome for massive Hanukkah celebrations  

Though the city is home to the seat of the Roman Catholic religion, Rome, and all of Italy, has a large Jewish population and a long Jewish history. A huge, twenty-foot menorah is set up in Piazza Barberini, with crowds to match the size every night for the lighting ceremony. A smaller menorah can be found in Piazza Bologna for those wanting to escape the crowds. Mid-December you can join a lively Hanukkah street party on Via del Portico d’Ottavia, in Rome’s Jewish quarter with dancing, processions and, of course, food and wine. And instead of a jelly doughnut, go for the Roman version: the Fritelle de Chanuka. Sweet dough fritters mixed with raisins and anise seeds, fried in oil and topped with hot honey, they’re delicious, local and the perfect way to celebrate Hanukkah in Rome! 

Milan for the Christmas shopping and panettone

The galleria in Milan with lights and a tree for the holidays in Italy
The beautiful ‘Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II’ in the centre of Milan all lit up for the holidays. Photo by Ralf Steinberger on Flickr

Milan and shopping go hand-in-hand and that doesn’t change for Christmas shopping. Beyond the lights and enormous Christmas tree in front of the Duomo, shops big and small go all out on their window displays. Worth it even just to window shop, it also makes last-minute gift buying a breeze. When in doubt, go for the city’s hometown Christmas dessert and buy an artisanal panettone. A sweet bread with candied fruits and raisins, panettone has its origins in Milan, but is now a staple throughout Italy during the holidays. 

Agnone for a river of fire parade

Every year in the small region of Molise, the town of Agnone gives a nod to its roots in their Christmas fire festival, called the Ndocciata. On Christmas Eve locals in traditional dress carry large, fan-shapped wooden torches through the town, creating a river of fire and light to vigil the coming of Christmas. The parade ends in a huge central bonfire. Recently, the town has held a symbolic festival another weekend before Christmas Eve to allow even visitors to participate.  

Bologna for a unique New Year’s Eve tradition 

Bologna celebrates New Year’s Eve with the Fiera del Bue Grasso, or the fat ox fair. The ox is decorated with flowers and ribbons and is the prize for a lottery held to see who will win the ox! People join the procession with candles and fireworks until it ends just before midnight in Piazza Maggiore. There, all of Bologna rings in the new year and symbolically “burns” the old year at midnight by throwing a special dummy known as the Vecchione into a large public bonfire. Designed by a different artist each year, the dummy is worth a look before his destruction and the Piazza has live music, performances and a street market as well.  

Venice for a mass New Year’s Eve kiss 

There's no place or time as atmospheric as the holidays in Italy

There are few places as romantic as Venice. The atmosphere is charged with beauty and love and on New Year’s Eve it’s even more electric with music, fireworks and a plethora of sparkling wine toasts. See the traditional concert in Teatro la Fenice, but hustle to Piazza San Marco before midnight for the classic “mass kiss” when the bells ring in the New Year. 

Otranto to see the first dawn of the year in Italy 

The white city in Puglia, Italy’s heel of the boot, celebrates the New Year with the “Alba dei Popoli” festival, or Dawn of the People, a local party that ends at dawn. That’s because the Punta Palascia lighthouse in Otranto is Italy’s easternmost spot, separating the Ionian Sea from the Adriatic, and the first opportunity to see the dawn of the new year in Italy.  

Florence for traditional Epiphany celebrations 

The Epiphany on January 6th is the day the three wise men finally reached baby Jesus. In Italy it’s traditionally celebrated by an ugly but friendly “witch” known as La Befana who comes during the night to fill children’s shoes or stockings with candy, toys and sweets. In fact, most people in Italy refer to the Epiphany as “la Befana” and celebrations throughout Italy feature her. In Florence, however, the holiday’s holier roots are still visible every year with a historical procession through the heart of the city. Known as the Calvalcade of the Magi, participants dress in traditional costume to represent the journey of the Magi to Jesus. The parade starts from Palazzo Pitti, crosses the Arno River and ends at the Duomo, with a stop in Piazza della Signoria for a flag throwing performance! 

Massive christmas star decoration set up for the holidays in Italy
The Christmas Star leaping from the ancient Verona Arena. Photo by Gianni Crestani from Pixabay

Italians have a saying, “l’Epifania tutte le feste porta via,” meaning with the Epiphany the holidays are over. The holiday season is long in Italy – trees are up well past New Years – but come January 6th it’s time to take down the tree, pack up the decorations and put a close to the festivities. That is, until Carnival season!

Want to celebrate the holidays in Italy? Give yourself the perfect gift with a tailored trip just for you! Contact us today for help designing your dream journey for a no-stress, hassle-free holiday in beautiful Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Everything You Need to Know About Florence’s World-class Museums

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The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is home to some of the greatest art and architecture in the entire world. Florence’s rich art history can be found at every turn, from incredible piazze and palazzi to ancient sculptures and hidden frescoes. The city itself feels like a massive open-air museum. But don’t just see the city from outside – Florence houses more world-class museums than nearly any other Italian city. 

From art to sculpture to archeology and even fashion, there’s a museum for everyone in Florence. The entire city seems to have been designed and built by the leading painters, sculptors and architects of the time. Visitors can see priceless works by Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Caravaggio… the list goes on!

It’s impossible to see them all in one trip, but with a well-planned itinerary you can hit all your must-see sights. Learn the opening days and times, prices and the can’t-miss artworks of Florence’s top museums to best see the incredible art that Florence has to offer.

What to Know Before You Go

Double check closing days

When planning a trip to Italy it’s important to note that museums, restaurants and other sites have at least one closing day per week, and it might not be what you expect. Many museums in Florence, including the Accademia, the Uffizi and even Palazzo Pitti are closed on Mondays. 

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to keep track. Some museums do happen to be open on Mondays. For example the Duomo and Duomo Museum, Palazzo Vecchio and the Bargello, but only sometimes. It closes the first, third and fifth Mondays of the month. 

With that in mind, check ahead for each of the sites you plan on visiting to avoid wasting time or being disappointed on your trip.  

Book ahead 

Though reservations aren’t required, book ahead for Florence’s most popular museums, namely the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria Accademia, if you don’t want to waste an entire day in line – especially in the summer! April through October and nearly any weekend of the year sees long lines all day long, so your best bet is to make a reservation. 

Other Florence sights, like the Bargello and the Pitti Palace, offer reservations but they’re not as necessary as the Duomo, Accademia or Uffizi.

You can book online directly at each museum’s website, via phone (English options available) or check if your hotel can make reservations for you. 

Or if that all seems a bit too complicated, you could always visit Florence’s top museums with a private tour. 

Consider a private tour 

You can choose a tour that focuses on one museum, or a tour that hits the highlights of Florence, such as the impressive Palazzo Vecchio

There is a lot to see in Florence’s museums. So much so that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the art and history there to take in. The Uffizi is one of the largest museums in the entire world and that’s just one of many impressive museums.

Private tours, even if just for a day, allow you to see the sights with a knowledgeable and expert guide. Not only that, but they help you to skip the line and maximize time. Everything’s taken care of for you!  

Both our Uffizi Gallery Tour and our Florence Highlights Tour with David are led by experts in the subject and both grant skip-the-line access to the two most famous museums in Florence. After your visit to see the David statue, see the highlights of the city’s historical center, including the Duomo and Baptistery and then venture off-the-beaten-path to explore our favorite churches, piazzas, artisanal shops, coffee bars and markets throughout Florence. Ensuring that you have enough time to see it all on your trip to Florence!

A Closer Look at Florence’s Three Most Popular Museums:  

Uffizi Gallery 

The Uffizi Gallery holds the world’s most important collection of Renaissance art. The massive museum covers two floors and holds work by Raphael, Giotto, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Caravaggio, to name a few. One of the most famous art museums in the world, it’s also one of the oldest. It was designed by Giorgio Vasari, architect and author, and has housed masterpieces since its construction began in 1560.

What to See

You could easily spend an entire day in the Uffizi Gallery, but for those without that kind of stamina or time, there are museum maps with set itineraries passing the most famous works. It’s nearly impossible to list all of the museums incredible pieces, but some favorites include The Birth of Venus and La Primavera by Sandro Botticelli; the Laocoön and his Sons by Baccio Bandinelli; The Annunciation by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci, one of his first works; The Medusa by Caravaggio; and Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the Renaissance’s few known female artists. 

Hours and Prices

Open: Tuesday – Sunday, 8:15 – 6:50 pm (ticket office closes at 6:05 pm) 
Closed: Mondays, January 1, December 25 

Full price March 1 – October 31: €20 
Full price November 1 – February 28: €12 
Reservation cost: €4, online or by phone at +39 055 294883 

Free entry on the first Sunday of each month, no reservations permitted. 

Note: You can visit the National Archaeological Museum for free with the Uffizi ticket!

Galleria Dell’Accademia 

The David in the Galleria dell’Accademia is one of the most captivating statues in the world. Sculpted in white marble by Michelangelo in the 16th century, it’s considered a masterpiece in proportion, beauty and art. And though you can find a copy outside of the Palazzo Vecchio, the original location for the David statue, it’s absolutely worth seeing in a building constructed solely to house this special masterpiece. 

What to See

Beyond the David, the Accademia has other incredible works by Michelangelo, including the four Prisoners, four unfinished sculptures designed for the tomb of Pope Julius that today flank the hallway leading up to the magnificent statue of David. Visitors can also see paintings of Florentine artists from the 13th to 16th centuries, musical instruments from the private collections of the dukes and ruling families of Tuscany as well as sculptor Giambologna’s original full-size plaster model for the infamous Rape of the Sabine Women sculpture.

Hours and Prices

Open: Tuesday – Sunday, 8:15 – 6:50 pm (ticket office closes at 6:20) 
And, from June 4th – September 26th 2019, the Museum will stay open in the evening from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays
Closed: Mondays, January 1, December 25 

Full price: €8 (Ticket prices may change on occasion of temporary exhibitions.) 
Reservation cost: €4 

Note: The Accademia doesn’t have a coatroom so entrance isn’t allowed to visitors with large bags or backpacks and water bottles over 0.5 l are not allowed.  

Il Grande Museo del Duomo 

Today, most of the works of art that once were housed inside the Duomo are now on display in the Duomo Museum, where they were placed after the Florence Flood of 1966 that filled churches nearly 6 feet deep.  

Though most of the works of art were specifically designed to decorate the interior or exterior of the Duomo’s religious monuments, there are still enough to fill twenty-five rooms on three floors.  

Along with the museum, The Great Duomo Museum ticket includes the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo), Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistry of San Giovanni and the Crypt of Santa Reparata and is valid within 72 hours of the first visit.  

The museum visit itself ends on a panoramic terrace with an incredible view of Brunelleschi’s infamous dome.  

What to see 

The Gates of Paradise, Ghiberti’s bronze panels made for the baptistery door; Michelangelo’s unfinished Pietà; a striking wooden sculpture of Mary Magdalene by Donatello, titled the Penitent Magdalene; and the silver altar of the baptistery.

Hours and Prices

Open: every day of the week, 8:30 am – 7:00 pm 
Closed: first Tuesday of each month 

Full price: €18 
 
Note: Reservations are mandatory for the climb on the Dome. The service is free. 

Florence is filled with priceless art. Get more out of your visit with a passionate and knowledgeable guide. Learn about the Italian Renaissance and see the highlights on our Uffizi Gallery Tour or Florence Highlights Tour with David. Book your tour today!




 

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Located in the heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia has romantic white-walled towns, dramatic landscapes and ancient culture. 

It also has some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Italy.   

With roughly 800 kilometers of coastline, Puglia has an incredible diverse coastline. Travelers can find sandy beaches, pebble beaches and steep cliffs. There are rocky coves and grottoes, pine woods that grow right up against the sea and towns teetering atop cliffs, barely protected from the sea foam. 

Not only that, but Puglia’s beaches are regularly awarded with the Blue Flag, an international eco-label “awarded to beaches, marinas, and sustainable boating tourism operators” who follow a series of strict environmental, safety and accessibility criteria.

There are hundreds of beaches in Puglia to choose from, so let us help you find the region’s best beaches

We’ll start in the north in the Gargano area, a nature reserve and small peninsula that juts into the Adriatic Sea like a spur on Italy’s boot.

Nearly all of the Gargano promontory is protected by a national park. With approximately 150 kilometers of coastline, this overlooked oasis has dozens of notable beaches. Travelers can choose between pebble beaches or lush sand, as well as caves, rocky inlets and even islands off the coast to explore! 

Then we’ll head south down the Adriatic coastline to explore the beaches of Salento, the area sandwiched between the Ionian and Adriatic seas and the dream of travelers to Puglia.

Explore the best beaches in Puglia:

Baia delle Zagare (Mattinata) 

The Zagare Bay is a small pebbly beach with a gorgeous view of two distinctive white sea stacks near the shore. The beach is protected and only allows 30 people to visit per day beyond the hotel guests from one of the two hotels located on the site, making it one of the most pristine, not to mention exclusive, beaches in the region. Though not the easiest of Puglia’s beaches to visit, it is certainly something special! 

Mattinatella Beach (Mattinata)

Mattinatella, though technically one beach, feels like two with two totally different directions, geographies and atmospheres. Photo by Vito Manzari (flickr)

This beach, also called the Fontana or Acqua delle Rose, is actually two beaches separated by a rocky spur. The north side can be reached only by sea, so it’s free and all but untouched. The beach to the south has lidos and other services but both beaches share the gorgeous blue sea, striking cliffs and green Mediterranean vegetation. 

Pizzomunno Beach (Vieste)

The Pizzomunno beach is located just south of Vieste, a charming Medieval town with whitestone houses and a popular hub for visitors to the Gargano. Named after the 25-meter tall limestone monolith (a natural obelisk) that rises out of the sea, Pizzomunno is one of the longest beaches in the Gargano with a sandy beach and an unforgettable sea.  

The Beaches of the Tremiti Archipelago (Gargano)  

The Tremiti Archipelago is a group of five tiny islands off the coast of the Gargano peninsula. A part of a marine reserve, the islands ar eprotected, pristine and stunning. Only two of the islands are inhabitated but all can be visited by boat. San Domino is the largest of the islands and most popular for its beauty. It’s the perfect place to go snorkeling or diving or just to relax on all but wild sandy beaches. 

Lama Monachile (Polignano a Mare)

The beautiful town of Polignano a Mare is often called the pearl of the Adriatic. The oldest part of the white town sits atop the limestone cliffs overlooking the sea. Here you can find the smallest of bays providing a town beach, Spiaggia Lama Monachile (also called Spiaggia Cala Porto) made of fine white pebbles and beautiful water. When the beach gets too crowded you can escape to the cliffs above to watch the locals do daredevil dives into the sea below, or dive in yourself!  

Torre Guaceto (Brindisi)

One of the most popular beaches in the area around Alberobello is Torre Guaceto, named after a 16th-century defensive tower built on the shore. Today it’s a natural protected marine reserve and home to cave men archaeological ruins for history buffs looking to take a break from the sun. The beach is long, ensuring that you’ll always find a patch of sand to lay your towel.

Torre dell’Orso (Lecce)

Beware: Torre dell’Orso can get packed in the summers, but it’s iconic Two Sisters sea stack is worth seeing! After, stay to enjoy the beautiful waters or visit any of the other nearby beaches of Melendugno. Photo via Wikicommons

Located relatively near to Lecce, Torre dell’Orso is most known for its two sea stacks known as the Due Sorelle, or two sisters. The tale is that two sisters came to the beach to swim every day. One day after diving into rough waters they weren’t able to make it back to shore. So the gods took pity on the lost sisters and turned them into two beautiful sea stacks.  

The crescent-shaped bay is just short of a kilometer long and packed with lidos and beach resorts, but the extra-fine white sand and Le Due Sorelle are a picture-perfect image of Puglia. Torre dell’Orso is one of the Marinas of Melendugno, a long stretch of coast from Torre Specchia Ruggieri to Torre Sant’Andrea, nearly all worth exploring!

Baia dei Turchi (Otranto)

The Baia dei Turchi is one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Puglia. Legend has it that this is where the Ottoman Turks landed in the 15th century to sack the city of Otranto. Today it’s hard to imagine the gorgeous beach as the site of a bloody massacre. A part of the protected oasis area of the Alimini Lakes, it can only be reached by foot or bike, helping it to remain one of the most pristine beaches in Puglia.  The fragrance of the Mediterranean pines and the sea air along with the filtered light and the sound of the lapping waves create its own little paradise.   

Porto Badisco (Otranto)

Porto Badisco is one of the few notable beaches along the rocky coastline between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca. According to legend Porto Badisco was the site of Aeneas’s first landing in Italy after his escape from Troy. Today mostly locals visit the small fishing village town and the even smaller sandy beach, but the natural harbor is a beautiful place to snorkel, dive or have a picnic under the trees just beyond the beach. Nearby you can also find the famous Grotta dei Cervi, an underground caves complex that hosted first inhabitants of the area and still preserve thousands of inscriptions and paintings. 

Marina di Pescoluse (Maldive del Salento) 

Located in the Maldive's of Salento, Marina di Pescoluse's crystal-clear water (shown here) is one of the best beaches of Puglia
Photo by Brunokito (wikicommons)

The area’s evocative name isn’t without reason: the Pescoluse beach is roughly 5 kilometers of fine white sand, shallow water and dunes that form tiny islands along the coastline. Dunes behind create a natural barrier between the beach and the main road. Besides the white sand, the beach gets its name from the crystal clear but vibrant blue, turquoise and green water. One of the longest beaches in all of Puglia, its shallow waters make it a great option for those with small children.

Nearby Torre Vado and Torre Pali and even Torre San Giovanni in Ugento are great options to check out right “next door.” 

La Purità (Gallipoli)

Gallipoli’s name means the “beautiful town” in Greek, and in fact this beautiful town has been invaded and conquered for centuries. The pearl of the Ionian Sea, it also has a variety of gorgeous beaches to choose from. While Baia Verde teams with beach clubs that attract those looking for non-stop nightlife, the real beauty is la Purità, or the Purity Beach. A crescent-shaped beach with pure golden sand and a fluorescent blue beach, the ancient city walls and the iconic lighthouse of Gallipoli only add to its charm.

Porto Selvaggio (Nardò)

A wide view of the blue waters of Porto Selvaggio's bay, one of the best beaches in Puglia.
The bay of Porto Selvaggio. Photo by Yellow.Cat (flickr)

Located in a national park and protected marine area, this beach’s name is apt. “Wild,” in Italian, Porto Selvaggio can only be reached on foot from near Santa Caterina. A short hike through a pine forest will lead you to the completely unspoiled pebble beach. Follow different routes in the forest to find even more solitary inlets and bays.

Punta Prosciutto (Porto Cesareo)

Punta Prosciutto on the Ionian coast offers far fewer amenities than the Adriatic coastline, but for many that is its biggest draw. Here you’ll find high dunes covered with classic Mediterranean plants and scrubs and wetlands beyond that. There are few beach resorts but plenty of white sand and clear sea, giving it the ultimate tropical beach feel. Nearby Torre Lapillo deserves a mention in its own right. A four-kilometer-long bay flanked on either side by two towers, Torre Lapillo and Torre Chianca, the water is shallow and crystal clear. Also located in the Porto Cesareo area, this is the perfect beach for those wanting a slightly less wild feel.

Marina di Ginosa (Ginosa)

Finally, we come up the Ionian coast to Marina di Ginosa, a long, sandy beach with a low, shallow sea. Marina di Ginosa is to the west of Taranto and just 17 kilometers from Matera. It’s been awarded a Blue Flag several times for its gorgeous sea and is another great location for families or those vacationing on this side of Salento.

If you’re looking for a beach vacation – Puglia is the perfect option. It’s got hundreds of beaches, not to mention islets, bays, coves, grottoes, cliffs and islands. Though these are some of our favorites, if you find the beach crowded or not to your liking, pack up and head ten minutes or so in another direction on the coast, there will be another beach to try out before you know it!

Revel in the seaside beauty of southern Italy on our Mediterranean Escape trip to the Amalfi Coast and Puglia. Tour UNESCO World Heritage sites and quaint towns, indulging in beach days and delectable cuisine. Sign up now!

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Popular for its fast finances and fashion, Milan isn’t always considered for its culture or art history. Long overlooked for Italy’s more famed culture capitals like Florence and Rome, this cosmopolitan city might surprise even the most astute art fans.

Milan has some of the country’s most infamous works of art — the Last Supper, anyone? — but it also has the resources and reputation to host some of the world’s top-notch temporary art exhibits, attracting masterpieces from all over the world.

With hometown heroes, museums filled with Italian masterpieces and rotating international art exhibits, it’s time to add Milan to the list of art capitals of Italy.

Here’s where to find the best art in Milan:

Pinacoteca di Brera

The Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Andrea Mantegna, a Renaissance master whose work with perspective seems to come to a culmination with this painting. Photo from the Pinacoteca di Brera’s online collection.

A first stop in Milan has to be at one of its only permanent fine art museums, the Pinacoteca di Brera. A national gallery of ancient and modern art, it’s located in Palazzo Brera in Milan’s fashionable Brera art district. Here you can see Mantegna’s Lamentation of the Dead Christ, notable for its unique perspective from Christ’s feet; the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael; Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio as well as The Kiss by Francesco Hayez.

The building is also home to the Brera Library, the Astronomic Observatory, the Botanical Garden, the Lombard Institute for Science and Art and the Academy of Fine Arts.

Museo Poldi Pezzoli

A native-born Milanese, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli inherited his father’s wealth and his mother’s love of art and culture. Well-educated and well-traveled, Pezzoli began collecting art from a young age. It was his own idea to turn his house into a museum. Each room of his apartments is decorated in a different art period and filled with paintings, sculptures and applied arts. The Renaissance room is particularly worth visiting but you can find work by Bellini, Botticelli, Raphael and Mantegna, among others, throughout the house.

Santa Maria delle Grazie Basilica

The Last Supper is one of the most famous paintings in the entire world.

Though Leonardo da Vinci is usually associated with Florence, the Renaissance man actually spent nearly 18 years in Milan serving under Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. It’s there that the artist completed the Last Supper, or Cenacolo in Italian. Located in the refractory of the beautiful Santa Maria delle Grazie Basilica, the church itself merits a visit as well.

Just be sure to book your tickets far in advance – it’s your only chance to actually see the Last Supper as they daily limit gets filled quickly.

Pinacoteca Ambrosiana

A museum and library, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is a must-see for art history lovers. Founded in 1618, it’s the oldest museum in Milan and home to priceless works such as the sketch for Raphael’s The School of Athens, Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit as well as work by Titian, Botticelli and others. The adjacent Ambrosian library is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Codice Atlantico, a collection of the Renaissance man’s drawings, notes and ideas.

Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco

Castello Sforzesco is a powerful symbol of Milan and glimpse into its ruling history, but perhaps the biggest draw is the incredible art that now fills the fortress’ halls.
Photo by CHeitz

Right in the city center sits Castello Sforzesco, the impressive fort originally built by the Visconti family, patrons of Milan, and then rebuilt by Duke Ludovico Sforza. Today visitors mainly pass through its gates to stroll through the Parco Sempione or eye the sculptures in the Triennale Museum’s garden, but the castle itself is an impressive museum. Beyond the Pinacoteca art museum there is an ancient art museum, a museum of musical instruments and an archaeological museum with prehistoric and Egyptian sections. The biggest draw, however, is without a doubt the Pietà Rondanini by Michelangelo, his last ever creation.

Palazzo Reale

The former royal palace, the Palazzo Reale has prime real estate in the Piazza del Duomo and incredible art exhibitions from the world’s most notable artists. The Palazzo Reale draws huge crowds for shows ranging from Caravaggio to Escher, Hokusai to Rubens. Though not necessarily dedicated to Italian art, it’s well worth a stop to see which artist is exhibited and take advantage of Milan’s blockbuster status to see amazing art.

Gallerie di Piazza Scala

The newest of three national galleries owned by Intesa San Paola Bank, the Gallerie di Piazza Scala is located in Piazza della Scala, next to the infamous La Scala opera house. The gallery houses art from the 19th and 20th centuries. The museum starts with 13 beautiful bas-reliefs by Antonio Canova then passes on to the Renaissance and the romanticism of Francesco Hayez all the way to the pre-futurist Umberto Boccioni. The gallery is continuously rotating out its works but depending on when you’re there you can see Italian masterpieces by Giorgio de Chirico, Lucio Fontana and Giacomo Balla as well as work by non-Italian artists such as Picasso, Kandinsky, Warhol and Mirò.

Museo delle Culture di Milano (Mudec)

Designed by architect David Chipperfield to fulfill Milan’s goal of repurposing industrial spaces, Mudec’s building is itself a work of art. Photo by Fred Romero.

Just opened in 2015, Mudec is entitled the “Culture Museum of Milan”. The large permanent collection includes approximately 7,000 works of art, textiles and objects from Central and South America, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and Oceania from 1200 to the 1900s but it’s the temporary exhibitions that get the big crowds, each of which mirrors the museum’s overall worldwide theme. Past exhibits have featured work by Frida Kahlo, Paul Klee, the photographer Steve McCurry and the street artist Banksy. In May 2019 the museum is hosting work by Roy Lichtenstein. The museum also has excellent children’s workshops based on the temporary exhibitions.

Galleria d’Arte Moderna

Located in the Villa Reale – the one-time residence of Napoleon Bonaparte – Milan’s Modern Art Gallery (GAM) is filled with 19th-century Italian and Lombard masterpieces. It’s likely the most significant collection of Italian art of the era with works by Modigliani, Segantini, Canova, Previati and many others, in particular those associated with the Brera Arts Academy. There are also familiar works by non-Italian artists such as Gauguin, Cézanne, Picasso, Van Gogh and Manet.

Museo del Novecento

Museo ‘900 also has one of the best views of the Duomo available to the public. Photo by Lian Chang

As its name implies, the Museo del Novecento is dedicated entirely to 20th century art. Previously Milan’s Arengario, a space used by Mussolini to speak to large crowds from, the beautiful building now is a hub for contemporary art. With more than 4,000 pieces as well as temporary exhibitions the entire permanent collection is organized chronologically. Walk up the spiral ramp to see work by Paul Klee, Giacomo Balla, Georges Braque, Giorgio de Chirico and Amedeo Modigliani. From Avant-garde movements, Futurism, Italian Novecento, abstractionism, Arte Povera and then Pop Art and large-scale installations. Not to mention, one of the most well-known views of the Duomo in the entire city!

At Ciao Andiamo we’re happy to specially tailor one of our curated trips for a bespoke luxury experience! Want to explore more Italian art? Then let’s get started!

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Italy is a country that has something for everyone. It has sea and mountains, countryside and city escapes. There’s art and food and architecture.

With hundreds of worthy towns and cities to explore, it can feel impossible to narrow down your options. How can you choose which destinations with so many jaw-dropping options? It’s enough to overwhelm a first-time visitor to the Bel Paese.

Our answer? Start with the absolute must-see cities. After all, the classics are classics for a reason! Deep dive into Italy’s history, architecture and art with a trip to Italy’s cultural capitals: Rome, Florence and Venice.

Between the three you’ll find the vast majority of Italy’s world famous sites. Here you can visit the country’s top museums and cathedrals and experience the best of Italian food and wine.

Most first-time visitors to Italy try to see too much in too little time but if you have at least a week, you’ve got to dedicate it to Italy’s holy trinity: Rome, Florence and Venice. An itinerary of the three gives a perfect overview of Italy’s prominent regions and historically significant sights.

Rome

The Eternal City, Caput Mundi, the City of Seven Hills – Rome is the stuff of dreams and a worthy start to any Italy trip. 

There’s the Colosseum, Appia Antica, Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. There’s the Vatican City with its incredible Vatican Museums as well as St. Peter’s Basilica. There are parks and villas, museums and churches galore. There’s 2,000 years of history to see here, but you can see the headline acts with three days to explore if you plan it well.

Our Italy for First Timers itinerary offers a half-day tour with a private local guide. You can choose from a selection of half-day touring options such as Ancient Rome, Vatican City, or a culinary walking tour.

In your free time, take a walk in the city center’s nucleus to see Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, each within easy walking distance from the other. Or stroll through the old Jewish Ghetto then sip cocktails in the hip Trastevere neighborhood. The political and cultural capital of Italy, you can’t visit Italy without seeing Rome!

What to know:

Book tickets in advance to get into the Colosseum or St. Peter’s Basilica to avoid the lines and allocate at least half a day to view the museums well.

Despite the importance of the tourism industry in Rome, not everyone speaks English. That said, everyone is quite used to dealing with people who speak different languages and almost anything can be understood with a bit of patience and miming. Also keep in mind that even more than in Florence or Venice, most shops in Rome close for lunch – usually between 12:30 or 1 until 3 or 3:30 – so be sure to do your shopping in the morning or late afternoon.

Florence

 

Here you can choose the incomparable art in the Uffizi Gallery, the majesty of the David at the Accademia or a half-day spent exploring the massive complex of the Florence Cathedral – including a trip to the top of the dome! Whichever you choose, be sure to book your tickets ahead – tickets to the Uffizi sell out before midday and the lines seem to last for hours. You can book tickets ahead of time online for individual museums and other sites that you plan on visiting at Uffizi.org.

If you have the time and energy, consider a hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo for gorgeous views over Florence and a bonus visit to the suggestive San Miniato Church.

Florence is filled to the brim with important and impressive churches to choose from: Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, Santo Spirito and more but if you’re strapped for time, we’d dedicate it to the Duomo for your first trip to the city. Then of course, it’s time to consider the food! Though you could spend days in each of these cities, now is your chance to jaunt out into the Tuscan countryside to enjoy the wine and culinary secrets of Tuscany’s most beautiful hilltop towns. Take a day or a half day to visit a winery or beautiful Tuscan towns like Siena or Chianti.

This itinerary  offers multiple walking tours of the city, as well as a half-day private guided walking tour to see Renaissance treasures such as David. On day 6 of your journey you’ll have the choice of either exploring hilltop towns and family-run wineries with a knowledgeable local driver, or learning the secrets of Tuscan cooking with a private chef in her 17th-century Chianti estate.

What to know:

Expect to walk everywhere in Florence. The entire city center is a pedestrian zone and even taxis are limited to where they can take you so wear comfortable shoes and be ready to hit the pavement.

One of the most popular cities in Italy, but also quite small, the crowds can dampen any trip, but there are a few things you can do to ease the discomfort of the crowds like coming in the off-season, booking your museums ahead of time or finding some open space in the beautiful Boboli Gardens. 

Most museums are closed on Mondays in Florence. The Accademia, the Uffizi, even Palazzo Pitti are all closed on Mondays but you can still see the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio as well as most of the city’s churches. 

Florence and Tuscany in general is renowned for their fine leatherwork. Now’s the time to splurge on that handmade leather jacket, purse, belt or shoes! For a real glimpse into the craft, head to the Oltrarno (the neighborhood beyond the Arno River) to peek into the studios and see the artisans at work.

Venice

Many travelers visit Venice in a short day trip, but they miss out on the water city’s evocative evening atmosphere. Allow at least one overnight to really discover the city. Only in the early morning when the cruise ships haven’t arrived yet or in the evening when the tourists have drained out of the city will you be able to enjoy Venice at its most serene.

A tangle of alleyways and bridges, here you want to explore each unique neighborhood, the San Marco Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale. Cross the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs or go for something unique at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum.

After touring the main sites, take a water bus or water taxi to neighboring Murano to see its famed blown glass craftwork and to Burano to admire the brightly colored houses. And when it’s time to eat, seek out a café or bar for Venice’s traditional cicchetti appetizers. Great for a light lunch or a pre-dinner aperitivo, cicchetti are small plates of food served with a glass of wine. You can choose from a variety of small bruschettas topped with a different patès, meats, seafood or cheeses. Less expensive and more authentic than most restaurants in Venice, cicchetti are a great way to dive into the local culture. 

Our knowledgeable local guides will lead you through the major sites such as San Marco, artisanal shops and neighborhoods, followed by a one-hour private water taxi ride through Venice’s famed canals on our Italy for First Timers trip.

What to know:

Though summer is hit by throngs of tourists, visitors during the autumn and winter months risk being there during the aqua alta, when the seawater floods the city and pedestrians can only get around on raised planks throughout the city. 

Check ahead for festivals and holidays in Venice. Beyond the world-famous carnival season, every other year there is the Biennale d’Arte event, as well as an architecture one in the off years and the Venice Film Festival as well. Though the Biennale event is up all year, the Giardini della Biennale has 30 permanent Biennale pavilions and is one of the largest garden spaces on the island. 

What to Know Before You Go

You’ve chosen your destinations and booked your flight but before you leave, there’s a few things you’ll need to prepare to help you have the best trip possible. Read our post on what to do before your trip to Italy.

The best way to get the most out of your time on a first trip is to have a rough itinerary for each day. You could spend weeks exploring Rome, so decide ahead of time what you absolutely have to see, then fill in any free time beyond that with secondary desires.

If your list is particularly long and you’re not already on our Italy for First Timers tour, consider booking a day tour or two to travel efficiently. A tour led by a local expert means that you don’t have to worry about navigating your way around a new place and that you actually get some background on what it is your seeing!

We have a whole article on how to pack for your Italian vacation, but one piece of advice is worth repeating: remember to bring clothes that cover shoulders and thighs to visit religious sites. Scarves work in a clinch for one of the two exposed areas. Also be sure to bring walking shoes. In Rome, Florence or Venice you’ll want comfortable sneakers for the cobbled streets. Plus you’ll be in good company; Italians tend to wear flats or tennis shoes year round, keeping the sandals for the beach.

Italy in summer is hot. Don’t be beat down by the sun – bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen to ensure you’re able to take advantage of all the time you have.

On your first trip to Italy you have to start somewhere so why not start with Italy’s three biggest destinations? After all, there’s a reason they’re on everyone’s list! There’s no better introduction to Italy than Rome, Florence and Venice, Italy’s “Holy Trinity” of cultural cities. Don’t worry about the destinations you didn’t get to – you’ll be back.

Want to experience the best of Italian food and wine, art and antiquities without the stress of planning? Let Ciao Andiamo help! Ask us about our Italy for First Timers Private Trip.

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As a Ligurian native, I’ve seen the Cinque Terre evolve over the years into the well-known Italian jewel it is today. Cinque Terre translates to English as “the Five Lands,” and during my childhood, I knew them as the remote fishermen villages, with friendly locals bouncing around small shops, booths of fresh vegetables, and the church, which was always open, all overlooking the breathtaking Ligurian Sea. The Cinque Terre are idyllic Italian coastal villages, and as a teenager, my friends and I would take Sunday trips down to the small towns on the Ligurian coast. We would ride our moto over 50 miles down the Via Aurelia – a coastal road built by the Romans in 241 BC – past dozens of little villages, on an epic journey to Monterosso and Vernazza, the most lively towns of the five. We would hike the paths between the villages and the vineyards, sometimes passing the local farmers coming to and from their fields, and hunt around the villages for a good lunch.

 

In the past two decades, the Cinque Terre have evolved from the quiet, remote fishermen villages to bustling, lively travel destinations, filled to the brim with boutiques, hotels, and tourists. Seeing these small towns explode with international popularity has been bittersweet; while it is fantastic to see so many travelers come to enjoy the Cinque Terre, the villages are packed with tour groups, bustling through the hotels and tourist shops. Yet the authentic Ligurian coastal towns are not all lost, and I take great pleasure in bringing my guests to the hidden corners of Cinque Terre, climbing through the right streets to re-live the coastal charm and quaint atmosphere from my youth.

The “Five Lands”

The Cinque Terre consists of five towns, once small fishermen villages, that span the coast of the Ligurian Sea. From east to west, the towns are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.

Riomaggiore and Manarola

As the smallest of the towns, Riomaggiore and Manarola resemble the old fishermen villages the most, with only one narrow main street and many small paths that climb up the mountains to reach the buildings above. The views are idyllic; I love to visit Manarola to enjoy the regional troffie al pesto* in my friend Cesare’s little restaurant, overlooking the majestic cliffs and blue Mediterranean Sea.

The path between the top of the two towns to the bottom of the coast and bay is both lengthy and downhill, taking 10 to 15 minutes on a typical day, and is perfect for the adventurous traveler. The bay hosts fishermen boats that rest in small platforms next to the water for safety, and in Manarola, you might even catch sight of the cranes lifting the boats to and from the water.

There are no beaches, so one should not expect to be relaxing by the waves in these quaint towns; the coastline consists of ragged rock, best experienced with sneakers instead of flip-flops. In the summer, the coastal rocks are extremely hot, so travelers must consider the heat if they plan on taking the trek downhill, making sure to pack water accordingly.

Corniglia

The least crowded of the towns and yet still picturesque, Corniglia sits at the top of a hill, far above the water. The scenic cliff is 100 meters above sea level at its peak, and the top of the village provides a spectacular view, full of colors especially towards sunset.

Corniglia is the most difficult of the towns to reach, as the train station is closer to the water with a 30 minute walk to the village. Luckily, the town is also typically the least crowded, so the trip is well worth the walk.

Vernazza

My personal favorite of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza boasts the traditional charm of the Ligurian fishermen villages coupled with modern features for the 21st century traveler. The town hosts a small beach, many little shops, lots of trattorias, and delectable bakeries, where you can find the local specialties such as the focaccia alla genovese o al formaggio* and the best spaghetti con vongole or pansoti con salsa di noci*. The main street is lively and often bustling, and the square at the end of the street has the perfect balcony to relax with a glass of wine before dinner.



Monterosso al Mare

The western-most village is also the most visited; Monterosso al Mare has the most conveniently-located train station, and it also boasts the best parking of the Cinque Terre. The town has a wide, relaxing beach, set just below the colorful town. The area is renowned for both its lemon trees and its white wines, so make sure to try a glass of vino bianco at lunch or dinner.

Monterosso hosts many historical sites, including a castle, convent, churches, and the Monterosso Giant, Il Gigante, a massive sculpture of Neptune bearing a villa terrace on his shoulders. The town is a perfect match for travelers who wish to explore the wonders of historical Italy and relish in the natural beauty of the coast.

The Paths of the Cinque Terre

The five villages of the Cinque Terre are interconnected through a web of both roads and trails. The walking paths throughout the Cinque Terre have been used for centuries, and today, they are well-known and well-maintained, often featuring breathtaking views. My favorite path, 2D from Vernazza to Monterosso is unbeatable, with the view of both the villages and the sea, best experienced close to sunset. Many paths also have impressive terraces where the locals still cultivate gardens, full of grapes or veggies. In my childhood, we used to pass farmers on these routes, on their way from producing the local wines, il Pigato* or the precious sciacchetra*.

The most famous of the paths, the Via Dell’Amore or Love Path from Riomaggiore to Manarola, is partially closed due to a mudslide that destroyed parts of the pavement. It is set to be reopened in late spring 2019.

The walking paths are not the easiest of treks, as they are no walk in the park. The Ligurian coast is entirely mountainous, so all of the paths are steep and narrow. While they are not dangerous, travelers best be prepared for an adventure with sneakers, water, and even walking sticks to really enjoy the landscape.

Visiting the Cinque Terre

When to Go

The most important factor that a traveler should consider when seeking out Cinque Terre is timing. For three or four months out of the year, between June and September, it is nearly impossible to navigate the villages because of the seas of tourists bustling through the streets. During this time in the main areas within Cinque Terre, prices skyrocket compared to neighboring towns.

How to Get There

When traveling to the Cinque Terre, avoid trying to travel by car. Due to the small nature of the villages, parking lots are few and far between, and they are filled to the brim between April and October. The road connecting the Cinque Terre is extremely steep, narrow, curvy, and dangerous, and only the most experienced Italian drivers try to drive it. Instead, take the train from Milan (3 hours) or Rome (4.5 hours).

Taking the train between the villages will also save you time, money, and frustration. Travelers will often stay in or drive to nearby towns, such as the coastal Sestri Levante, to travel via rail to and from the Cinque Terre. Of the five towns, Monterosso has the largest capacity of parking spots, so many tourists park there to take the train to the other villages. The train ride between Monterosso and Riomaggiore, the outermost towns, is a mere 15 minutes. A special pass, the “Cinque Terre card,” allows travelers to use the regional train to and from the town with no limitations and free shuttles from the stations to the heart of the towns, as many of the train stations are located at a distance. The pass is little more than 10 Euro a day and allows natives and travelers alike to move between the Cinque Terre with ease.

Ready to explore the Cinque Terre? Visit like a local on our tour of Italy’s Finest: Cuisine to Coast.

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