You’ve already tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome, floated along the canals in Venice, or maybe even attended a wedding near Lake Como—amazing experiences, to be sure, but that’s still only scratching the surface for a country as large and culturally rich as Italy. The list of the best cities to visit in Italy is long, and there are many destinations worth visiting in this charming country. If you’ve already hit the hot spots or you just want to get off the beaten path, there’s no shortage of under-the-radar cities in Italy offering art, history, jaw-dropping views, and (of course) excellent food.
On your next trip to Italy, try skipping already booming tourist locales like Venice and Cinque Terre in favor of Italian cities that attract fewer visitors and crowds. From catching a show in an ancient Roman amphitheater to poking your head into Emperor Tiberius’ seaside grotto, there’s so much to see and do in some of Italy’s more underrated destinations. Time to start building your itinerary: These are the best cities to visit in Italy.
The Best Cities to Visit in Italy
1. Best for Unique History: Matera
This hidden gem in the Basilicata region of southern Italy is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world—and one of the most underrated destinations in Italy. The Sassi, an area of buildings and cave dwellings perched on cliffs, was evacuated in the 1950s due to poor living conditions, but it later received a UNESCO grant and government assistance that has helped transform it into a bustling hub of Italian art and history. Stay in one of the many cave hotels carved into the rock (see below for a rec), pop into historic churches like the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Idris, hike to breathtaking vistas, and more.
Where to Stay: For a true Materan experience (and incredible views of the city), Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita is centrally located but above the noise—it’s located up flights of stone steps carved into the Sassi. Expect bowls of simple fruit and white beeswax candles waiting for you in your cavernous (literally) abode, and don’t miss the complimentary breakfast served in a stunning cave dining room.
2. Best for Renaissance Art and Architecture: Bergamo
If you’ve already paid the fashion-forward city of Milan a visit, set your sights on nearby Bergamo next. Around an hour’s drive northeast from Milan and only fifteen minutes away from an international airport, Bergamo is a charming and romantic destination located in the foothills of the Bergamo Alps. The northern Italian city’s stunning architecture gives visitors a plethora of things to see, including ornately designed chapels, museums inside former palaces, charming piazzas, and more. Bergamo’s must-do activities range from climbing up the Campanone bell tower in the Piazza Vecchia to experience panoramic views of the Alps to viewing Renaissance masterpieces at the Accademia Carrara.
Where to Stay: It’s hard to beat the location of GombitHotel: It’s mere steps from the Cappella Colleoni church in Upper Bergamo and less than ten minutes on foot from the Civico Museo Archeologico. A historic stone exterior houses a surprisingly clean and modern interior, with spacious rooms and suites that offer WiFi.
3. Best for a Coastal Getaway: Sperlonga
Roughly halfway between Rome and Naples you’ll find the medieval coastal town of Sperlonga built atop a cliff overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Its Old Town area is full of restaurants, cafes, and narrow bougainvillea-filled alleyways that connect whitewashed buildings. Romantic al fresco dinners at Ristorante Gli Archi are a must, as well as freshly caught fish and harbor views at Restaurant Il Porticciolo. Long stretches of sandy beach create the perfect backdrop for lazy afternoons in the sun, and you can even pay a visit to Emperor Tiberius’ ancient villa.
Where to Stay: Apartment-style rooms at the Florenza Residence offer a spacious, comfortable stay, with balconies that overlook the picturesque Spiaggia di Sperlonga.
4. Best Cultural Melting Pot: Trieste
Almost completely bordered by the country of Slovenia, Trieste is the capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in northeast Italy. Those who have spent time in other areas of Italy will be surprised (and delighted) by just how unique Trieste is. Not only does it retain its own Triestini dialect that incorporates the elements of several languages, but it also boasts its own distinctive port town atmosphere and multicultural attitude. Experience panoramic views at the top of the 15th century San Giusto Castle, sip coffee in one of the city’s many historic cafes, and pay a visit to the photo-friendly Canal Grande.
Where to Stay: Design lovers will appreciate the contemporary atmosphere of The Modernist Hotel. It’s located on one of the city’s main thoroughfares in a 19th-century palazzo that has been completely renovated on the inside. Rooms are chic and include free WiFi, and the hotel has a hip restaurant and bar, too.
5. Best for Art Gallery and Vineyard Hopping: Florence
Home to some of the most famous galleries in the world, Florence is a must-visit hub of art, and the city is considered to be the cradle of the Renaissance. Visitors can experience everything from globally renowned museums like the Uffizi Gallery to small, independently owned galleries like Studio Iguarnieri Florence. Besides the city’s buzzy downtown atmosphere, though, we also suggest stepping away to experience the rolling hills of surrounding Tuscany, where quality vineyards are plentiful and the scenery offers true Italian magic. Family-run Poggiopiano produces traditional Italian wines and its own orange wine, and Castello del Trebbio offers ceramic amphora-aged Chianti in a castle setting.
Where to Stay: Located just 20 kilometers away from Florence among the hills of Carmignano, Tenuta Di Artimino is a gorgeous hotel that includes a former Medici residence, Villa Medicea La Ferdinanda, which guests can tour. It’s also home to a winery with centuries-old vines said to have been brought there by Catherine de’ Medici herself.
6. Best for Foodies: Bologna
An often overlooked Italian destination, Bologna is considered by those in the know to be one of the best, if not the best, foodie cities in all of Italy. Bologna has three nicknames, one of which is La Grassa (The Fat). That moniker is due to its position in the Emilia-Romagna region, where many of Italy’s most beloved foods—parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, Parma ham—are produced. It goes without saying that a food tour is a must-do here: Book one with highly rated Secret Food Tours to explore narrow medieval streets in search of Parmigiano Reggiano and visit Bologna’s oldest tavern. Trips to the local markets are very much encouraged—Mercato Delle Erbe is a great place to shop. Pre-dinner aperitivo culture is also very strong in Bologna, and a leisurely stroll nearly anywhere in the city will take you past numerous bars or cafes where you can stop and sip a Campari spritz.
Where to Stay: To continue on the route of amazing food experiences, book a stay at I Portici. The hotel occupies a grand 19th-century Art Nouveau palace, and it’s also home to the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Bologna.
7. Best for True Puglian Culture: Lecce
Most visitors to Puglia focus on the coast, but Lecce’s dazzling limestone Baroque architecture, delicious food, and winding side streets are worth pulling yourself away from the beach for at least a couple days. Known as the Florence of the south, Lecce’s impressive building facades will have you snapping photos out all day long. The city is also known for Apulian pottery, an ancient style of painted vases. Don’t expect to leave the city empty handed, whether you’re bringing home handmade bowls from Le Terre di Emi, extra virgin olive oil, or quality linens from Society Limonta.
Where to Stay: Walking through an unassuming wooden door and into the stunning and cavernous lobby of Pollicastro Boutique Hotel feels like entering a new world—one full of gorgeous objects and great design. The rooms are modern and stylish, with balconies that provide views onto the charming alleyway below.
8. Best for a Romantic Getaway: Verona
Even if you don’t know anything about Verona, you probably recognize it as the setting for Shakespeare’s epic romance Romeo and Juliet. Today the city still oozes romantic charm: Couples should make a stop at The Well of Love, where visitors are prompted to concentrate on a wish before tossing in a lucky coin into the water. Travelers can also stroll through secret gardens fragranced by citrus groves and catch a show at a well-preserved Roman amphitheater built in 30 AD.
Where to Stay: The Due Torri, across from the Sant’Anastasia church, is one of the Leading Hotels of the World—a selective global collection of five-star luxury hotels. It’s located in a 14th-century palace, so expect stunning architecture accompanied by Renaissance frescoes and marble floors. Take in the sunset while sipping aperitivi from the hotel’s private roof deck, or pay its Art Nouveau restaurant and bar a visit.
9. Best for Art and Elegance: Turin
This gem in northern Italy has been compared to both Paris and Vienna thanks to its elegant boulevards and stately Baroque architecture. But in Turin, that beautiful cityscape is paired with views of snow-capped mountains in the distance (the city lies at the foot of the Alps). Spend your time strolling through breathtaking art and culture museums, from the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica in the Palazzo Madama to the city’s globally revered Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum). Turin is a center for Piedmontese cuisine, so arrive with a big appetite and prepare for lots of antipasti: nosh on tagliere at Caffè-Vini Emilio Ranzini, people watch from quirky Caffè Torino, and feast on a six-course menu in the same dining room Mozart once ate in at Del Cambio.
Where to Stay: The historic city center is the place to be—especially if you’re planning a stay at the charming, family-run Hotel Victoria Torino. It’s located on a quiet, pedestrian-only cobblestone street (so you’ll sleep well), but it offers quick access to the most bustling part of the city.
10. Best for a Venice Vibe Without the Crowds: Treviso
If the thought of navigating a city packed with tourists is a turn-off (looking at you, Venice), hop on a quick train ride north to find yourself in Treviso instead. Picturesque canals, medieval architecture, ancient city walls, and more await you here. There are no gondola rides to be had, but a leisurely stroll along the city’s historic canals should more than suffice. Once you tire of exploring Treviso’s museums, restaurants (it’s the birthplace of tiramisu—get some at Antica Pasticceria Nascimben) and historic churches, head to the nearby hills for a tour and some excellent prosecco at family-run winery Col del Lupo.
Where to Stay: Get the full waterside experience with a stay at Le Camere di Palazzo Bortolan, a stunning, adults-only hotel in the heart of Treviso. Original details like exposed wooden beam ceilings and a circular staircase make for a charming stay, and the free WiFi and canal views aren’t bad, either.