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Italy Travel Guide: What to Do in Italy

Italy is so much more than a bucket list country. Not only does it consistently top just about every list of most desirable travel destinations, but people return again and again. And it’s really not surprising. Italy offers visitors such an extensive variety of experiences that you probably don’t even know half of them exist.

For instance, did you know that in southern Italy you can stay in a hotel situated in the very same caves man lived in thousands of years ago? Or that in Venice, rather than sit back and let a gondolier show you around, you can take the pole and do it yourself? You also can also immerse yourself in local culture by learning to make pizza in Sorrento or wielding a gladiator’s sword in Rome. There truly is more to do in Italy then can possibly be done in just one visit.

Whether you’re still in the dreaming stages or you’ve been to Italy many times over, has you covered. From the nitty-gritty details of where to stay and how to get around to an inspirational slideshow of unique experiences, we’re here to help you explore, experience and engage during your Italy travels.

Click through our slideshow above to see all the magical experiences you can have on your trip to Italy.

Rent a Villa in Tuscany

What’s more memorable than cooking pasta and making sauce from scratch with your extended family, while surrounded by the same olive groves your cooking oil originated from? It’s easy to make your own “Under the Tuscan Sun” memories when you rent a villa in Tuscany. Not only will you make lasting memories, but by traveling with others and eating in, you’ll also have more money to spend on sightseeing, souvenir buying and wine tasting.

Renting a villa is as easy as going online. Sites like, and offer a variety of villas in all sizes and price ranges. For more information, check out our Italy accommodations guide.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

European Whirlwind by Amanda M.R.
“We couldn’t leave Florence without seeing the Tuscan countryside, so we took a semi-private tour of a 15th-century working winery in the Apennine foothills, followed by Italian cooking lessons and dinner in a private home. I highly recommend this all-day experience through Accidental Tourist. The cooking lessons consisted of us, along with one other couple, learning how to make pasta from scratch in a 900-year-old farmhouse basement.” Read more!

Learn to Pole a Gondola in Venice

No visit to Venice is truly complete without seeing the city from the water. Venetians have been navigating the canals by gondola since the 12th century, and for many tourists it’s still a must-do activity. But for those worried about the “tourist trap” stigma of gondola rides, there’s another way. Instead of simply sitting back and letting someone else do the steering, why not take the helm yourself?

Opportunities to learn this age-old art range from tours created specifically for visitors to rowing club lessons open to all. If you want something more tourist-focused (meaning, you can count on someone speaking English!), try Artviva’s 90-minute “Learn to be a Gondolier” tour. For the more adventurous, Row Venice offers classes in English and Italian aboard a variety of gondola-like vessels. To learn more about Venice, check out our complete Venice travel guide.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Gondola Lessons in Venice by Carolyn S.B.
“Rowing from this position, with feet planted firmly on the boat’s bottom, toward the front, is the beginner’s way to start. Because clumsy handling of the oar means it jerks out of the forcola’s rungs on a regular basis, slapping into the lagoon with a splash, Jane ties the two together, loosely, with a shoestring. Ah, now that’s easy. And so we move along, accompanied by the music of the relatively consistent slap, slap, slap of the oar against the water.” Read more!

Stay in a Cave in Matera

Heading to southern Italy and looking for something unique to try? How about spending a night caveman style? Well, caveman style with all the modern amenities, that is. Humans have inhabited the area in which the small town of Matera sits since Paleolithic times, living in cozy caves that developed over centuries into modern homes. Located in the most ancient section of the city (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Sassi are homes carved straight into the rock. Tourists can stay in one of several cave hotels that have been renovated and modernized with private baths, Internet, heating and air conditioning.

Among the hotels to check out are the Locanda di San Martino, the Caveoso Hotel, L’Hotel in Pietra, the Hotel Sassi and the romantic Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita.

Immerse Yourself in Art in Florence

Think Florence, and it’s impossible not to think art. This birthplace of the Renaissance is home to the Uffizi Gallery, with its plethora of Renaissance masterpieces, and the Galleria dell’ Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s David. Art lovers can spend every waking hour in Florence marveling at works by Da Vinci, Botticelli, Donatello and Michelangelo. If the classics aren’t enough, visitors can also visit living artisan communities and even try their hand at painting and photography.

Numerous tour operators offer skip-the-line tickets to the Uffizi so you can avoid languishing in long queues. But simply getting to the art faster isn’t what art immersion in Florence is about. To kick off your experience, choose a guided tour of the main galleries from Artviva, Viator or other major operators. Then visit some of the unknown art gems on Italy Hotline’s “Secret Door to Florence: Hidden Jewels of Florence” walking tour. Finally, hook up with Viator for a visit to Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood with its living, but centuries-old, craft traditions. Learn more about the city in our Florence travel guide.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Florence by Host Ciao
“I will admit that I prefer my religious art in churches, but these galleries have a lot of amazing religious paintings. I don’t use an audio guide because I can pretty much read enough Italian to tell what’s in the pictures. When it gets to be too much, I start to play guess the saints before I read the description. I hope nobody minds. I don’t do it to be disrespectful. Some are easy like St. Sebastian with anywhere from 1 to 20 plus arrows, Lucy with her eyes on a plate, Lawrence with his grate, St. Peter Martyr with the knife in his head, St. Peter with his keys and St. Paul with a sword.” Read more!

Trek Cinque Terre

Dramatically perched atop cliff edges or nestled between them, with starburst-colored homes stacked one on top of the other, the five villages that make up Cinque Terre just beg to be explored on foot (driving actually isn’t permitted inside the villages). Each of the villages — Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore — is crisscrossed by well-trodden hiking trails that wind through flowering fields, past medieval churches and alongside fragrant vineyards. Passes to walk the trails between the villages must be purchased for a small fee. When your feet get tired, hop on a local train or ferry to get to the next village.

Whether you want to hike the entire 11-mile distance between Cinque Terre’s villages or just do a segment here and there, your choices are endless. From Viator day trips that depart from Milan or Florence to an immersive five-day Cinque Terre walking tour from Girosole Walking Tours, you can choose to do as little or as much as you want.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Northern Italy Road Trip Part II by Jim and Donna C.
“Our next stopping point was Manarola. This was a larger town and not as pretty or easy to get around as Vernazza. What we wanted to do, however, was to walk the cliff side from Manarola to the town of Riomaggiore. This walk is called Via Dell Amore (The Lover’s Walk).” Read more!

Learn to Make Pizza in Sorrento

Just as there are certain cities you must visit when traveling to Italy, there are certain activities you shouldn’t pass up either. Eating pizza in the country in which it was born is one such must-do activity. But is just eating pizza enough? We think not. To truly understand how pizza fits into the history of Italian cuisine, you need a guide. And what better guide than an Italian pizza chef teaching you how to make your very own pie?

Sorrento is a great place to learn how to make a true pizza pie. Villa Ida offers well-reviewed pizza-making lessons, while Ciao Laura leads a three-course workshop that includes an appetizer, your self-created pizza and dessert. Viator also offers a Sorrento Farm Experience that includes a pizza-making lesson.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Sorrento by Host Ciao
“My favorite driving company, Sorrento Limo in the person of the boss himself, Gennaro, picked me up and brought me here to Sorrento. On Thursday we had a beautiful day and he picked me up again and we went to Herculaneum for a day of ruin running.” Read more!

Ride a Bike in Lucca

One of the best places to look out over medieval Lucca’s ornate churches, wide piazzas and traditional red-roofed buildings is from the thick stone walls that surround this Tuscan city’s historic core. Atop these 16th-century fortifications runs a tree-lined, 2.5-mile path that’s perfect for biking. Sure, you could walk it, but getting around on two wheels gives you the opportunity to venture into the surrounding countryside as well, traveling along back roads to local wineries and organic farms, or coasting along the scenic Serchio River.

Several companies offer bike tours and rentals in Lucca. Try for a wide range of tours both within the city and in the countryside. also offers cycling excursions. If you’d rather go it alone, Chrono Bikes rents out several different models by the hour, day or week.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Spring Break in Italy by soliteyah
“Lucca itself is very small, at least the part within the old stone walls, and seems to have a church every couple of blocks. We wandered into one our first day, the San Frediano; after dinner I sat on its steps as the sun was going down and soaked up the atmosphere … a quiet, open square with a few little shops closing their doors and a few people walking or biking through on their way home.” Read more!

Live Like George Clooney on Lake Como

One of the most beautiful lakes in Italy, Lake Como is best known for its stunning lake-side villas and celebrity visitors, most notably George Clooney. But you don’t have to be rich or famous to live the fabulous lifestyle — at least for a few nights. Villa rentals on the lake can start at $200 a night when couples share the cost with others. And when you’re not “star” gazing at a cafe, there’s also plenty of art and culture to keep you busy. Leave time for simply wandering the narrow streets and lush gardens of lake-side towns like Bellagio and Varenna.

The best way to experience Lake Como is to spend a few days there (in a villa if you can), but day tours are a possibility as well. For instance, Viator offers a full-day tour from Milan that gives you time for shopping and dining and includes a boat tour. Or try Lake Como Cycling’s bike tours of the area.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Greece/Italy Odyssey by Monte K.
“We took the ferry everywhere. For 10 euros you have run of the lake. Every stop revealed new adventures. Lake Como is beautiful. We tried to see everything. Most memorable was the funicular ride in Como. What a neat adventure.” Read more!

Drive a Ferrari Along the Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast is one of the most scenic spots in a country renowned for its magnificent scenery. Add to the stunning sea views the lavish vineyards and olive groves, and this UNESCO World Heritage area just begs for an opulent approach. Give in Italian-style; rent a flaming red Ferrari and spend the day zipping up and down the curvy Amalfi Drive. When you’re ready for lunch, stop at a local trattoria and try the limoncello, a lemon liqueur produced throughout the Amalfi region.

Obviously you can drive the Amalfi Coast in any common rental car, but if you want to do it the fun way, check out Red Travel or Your Private Italy, both of which offer full-day or longer Ferrari rentals with guides. Another option is Cooking Vacations’ five-day “Rome to the Amalfi Coast, Cooking & Driving a Ferrari” tour. For more ideas, see Getting Around Italy: Planes, Trains, Cars and Vespas.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Celebrity Equinox Review – Mediterranean by Lorene Alston
“We did the Amalfi Tour with Guemar Travel and it was great to go over the mountain on narrow roads, see views, Ravello, Positano and Sorrento for lunch and drive along the Amalfi Coast. Lunch in a quaint old restaurant above the town had an interesting owner who really had good humor with us. Towns are unique as well as churches. It is the home of the lemon groves on terraced hills and homes perched on hilly terrain.” Read more!

Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic in Perugia

While Italy may not be as well known for its chocolate as, say, Switzerland or Belgium, the Italian city of Perugia actually is world-famous in chocoholic circles. Every October, Europe’s largest chocolate fair, the Eurochocolate Festival, is held in Perugia. An annual affair since 1993, the nine-day festival offers chocolate art displays, tastings, cooking demonstrations, spa appointments and more chocolate-centric souvenir options than you ever knew existed.

Can’t get to Perugia in October? You don’t have to miss out on all the chocolatey fun. You can stay at the Etruscan Chocohotel or tour the Perugina factory (whose blue and white wrapped Baci kisses are available worldwide). The factory, now operated by Nestle, features a test kitchen and chocolate museum, and even offers cooking classes. For more ideas, see 12 Places Every Chocolate Lover Should Visit.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Ten Great Weeks in Italy by Host Ciao
“I enjoyed Perugia and found some magnificent views since the town is built on a cliff. I also investigated the four sets of escalators that go up and down from the high Piazza dell’Italia. i have to admit that I avoided some intriguing looking walks because of the hills, but I climbed my share and figured I had better save some hills for Assisi.” Read more!

Train Like a Gladiator in Rome

Among the many iconic sites of Italy that really shouldn’t be missed is the Colosseum in Rome. But considering the adrenaline-filled life the gladiators led, a standard stand-around-and-listen tour just doesn’t seem like the right way to experience this ancient arena. What if you could get a small taste of gladiator life instead? Wouldn’t the Colosseum look different after sweating for two hours while practicing your sword swing?

While there’s only one Gladiators’ School in Rome (about a mile and a half from the Colosseum), several tour operators offer programs there that include a two-hour class with a short museum visit, a drink and Roman attire to wear during your lesson. Check out Viator, Walks Inside Rome and Select Italy for more about their specific offerings. To learn more about the city, see our Rome Travel Guide.

Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There

Roma, Roma, Roma by Amelia Hesson
“We had to walk around and see the great views of the Forum and Palatine hill before we decided to visit the Capitoline Museum. The museum was incredible, filled with some incredible pieces of sculptures, Bronzes, paintings, pottery and figurines, and murals. It took us hours to see all of it because we took our time and savored the beauty of the art. As we are walking through the upper floors I notice the sun is going dawn and I cannot believe it. Sunset was beautiful from the top of The hill and we see it set over St. Peters, as we decide to head back to the hotel for our welcome drink.” Read more!

Best Time to Go to Italy

The most popular time to visit Italy is during the summer months, when temperatures and airfares soar, and crowds teem around famous churches, ruins and museums. Do yourself a favor and travel during the spring or fall shoulder seasons instead — the weather will be more temperate, and you’ll pay less for airfare and hotels. With the exception of the Christmas/New Year’s period, winter is the quietest time to visit Italy. While winter weather is mild in most regions, you may find some smaller attractions and hotels shuttered for the off-season.

Italy on a Budget

Italy can be a bit of a budget-buster, especially in the most popular tourist hot spots like Rome, Venice and Florence. To help keep costs down, consider traveling outside of the summer high season, when airfare and hotels are at their most expensive. As you look for lodging, keep an eye out for pensioni, small guesthouses that offer basic and affordable accommodations. Restaurant meals are another area where you can cut costs; splurge on lunch instead of dinner, and look for small places to eat away from the crowded main piazzas, where you’ll find inflated tourist prices.

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