If you’re considering a trip to Europe this year, here are some of the top reasons to visit Italy. Whether you’re an avid pasta eater, a lover of the arts, or a history buff, there’s something for you to fall in love with in Italy. The country is also a great spot for beginner travelers because Italian is relatively easy to understand and the locals are patient, often mixing English and Italian when necessary to facilitate communication.
I visited Italy for the first time in 2021 for my birthday, and I’ve been back twice since to explore new cities and regions. My first trip was to Cinque Terre, Pisa, and Florence – all areas within central Italy. My later trips were to Naples, one of my favorite places in Europe, and then a train trip that included Milan, Rome, and Naples.
Italy is a country of about 59 million people, all of whom live on an approximately 620-mile-long peninsula in the Mediterranean. Rome is the capital city of Italy, and the birthplace of the Roman Empire. Italy also contains the micro-country of the Vatican, which is located within the city of Rome.
Like most of Europe, Italy’s currency is the euro. I’ve found that Italians prefer to receive cash, with more places refusing credit cards than, say, Ireland or France. The national language is Italian, and English is only widely spoken in large cities. Be sure to learn a few words in Italian before you visit.
Reasons to visit Italy
So, without further adieu, here are some of the best reasons to consider a trip to Italy this year!
1. It is the birthplace of pizza
One of the first things I picture when I think of Italy is a pizza. Specifically, I picture a Pizza Margherita from L’antica Pizzeria da Michele Taverna and Cafe in Naples, the restaurant made famous by Julia Roberts from a scene in the movie Eat, Pray, Love. There is a long line to get in, but the pizzas from da Michele are really magnificent.
Although da Michele is arguably the most famous of the pizza restaurants in Naples, there are two others that you’d be remiss to skip if you’re in the city. Starita is regarded by locals as the most consistent of the pizzerias, and Sorbillo is a fabulous spot located right in the heart of the historical center of Naples.
Despite being internationally renowned, the pizzas in Naples are generally very affordable. You can buy a simple pizza for less than 10€ at most restaurants throughout the city.
2. The architecture is magnificent
Italy is known for its architecture, with stunning buildings in its major cities. In Florence, for instance, the Duomo complex is located in the center of the city. The ornately decorated green and white buildings offer an intriguing yet imposing focal point for visitors of the city.
If you visit Rome, you can see the Colosseum, one of the most famous structures in the world, and walk around the perimeter or take a tour through the interior. The Colosseum was built during the first century AD, around the same era as the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum by Mount Vesuvius.
Even the casual viewer will appreciate the ornate structures, careful designs, and strategic placement of Italy’s architectural wonders. If you’re wondering how it is that Roman concrete has survived so many centuries, scientists have just determined that the secret ingredient may have been seawater.
3. The wine is fabulous
Italian wine is generally known for being robust and easy to pair with food. Tuscany, in particular, is known for its wines, including the Chianti and the Montepulciano (two of my favorites!). However, there are varieties available throughout Italy and significant variations from region to region.
If you’re not a wine snob, or if you just enjoy the occasional glass, order the house wine with dinner. This is typically a palpable red or white wine that will pair nicely with all of the restaurant’s dishes. As a bonus, the house wine is usually the cheapest wine on the menu.
For those who are more serious about Italian wines, I’d recommend that you join a wine tour and tasting. You could choose a tour that explores wines from the various regions of Italy, or a tour of a single vineyard – both would be great experiences while visiting Italy. There are many people who live and breathe Italian wine, and my amateur explanations will be no match for their expertise!
4. It is a wonderful place to learn about history
You can read about the history of Italy, but nothing compares to seeing and experiencing the places where it all happened. Italian history is wide and varied, but includes Roman civilization, the destruction of Pompeii, and the Renaissance. Walking through the streets of Italy or meandering through the ruins, the historical events you may have read about or watched in documentaries will take on new meaning.
I first learned about the destruction of Pompeii when I was in elementary school. I remember reading about the bodies that were covered in ash, including the bodies of at least one dog, and the mosaics that were left behind. In 2022, I visited Pompeii and had a chance to see the city for myself, and it was entirely different than I had pictured.
I didn’t realize how urban a city that was destroyed in 79 A.D. could feel. There were buildings that looked almost modern, with grand entryways and stunning pieces of artwork. One small display even had bits of dried dates and nuts that had been preserved by the eruption. I had pictured life nearly 2000 years ago as being far more primitive, and I was surprised to see how wrong I had been.
5. The museums are world class
Some of the most famous works of art in the Western canon are on display in Italian museums. The Laocoön Group is a statue on display in the Vatican Museum, the Birth of Venus by Botticelli hangs in the Uffizi in Florence, and The Last Supper by Leonardo is on display at the Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.
If you visit an Italian museum, expect big crowds and long lines to see the most popular pieces of art. Don’t be surprised, however, if some of your favorite pieces aren’t really famous at all. Sometimes the joy in wandering through a gallery is in simply noticing what catches your attention or draws you in.
6. Beautiful, expansive gardens
My first introduction to Italian gardens was actually in Wicklow, Ireland, when I visited Powerscourt Estate. The property is known for its stunning grounds, designed to represent different garden styles from around the world. There is an English Garden, a Japanese Garden, and, of course, an Italian Garden – the latter being the most expansive and grand of the three.
During my first trip to Florence, I visited the Boboli Gardens – part of the Uffizi Gallery – and immediately recognized the grandeur that Powerscourt had tried to convey. The gardens are carefully manicured and offer peace and respite in otherwise bustling cities.
If you decide to visit a garden while you’re in Italy, wear comfortable shoes and prepare for long walks. The gardens may be tranquil, but they’re also enormous. Bring a book or a sketch pad if you’d like, they’re a great place to get lost in your own world.
7. Pasta. Do I need to say more?
There is evidence that pasta was eaten by Italians as early as the 4th century B.C., and it was a staple in Italy by the Renaissance. You’ll find pasta on restaurant menus throughout Italy, though you should expect significant regional differences.
As an example, Rome is known for cacio e pepe – literally “cheese and pepper” – a dish with three primary ingredients: pasta, cheese, and black pepper. There are dozens of versions of the dish and variations, with many claiming to be the original or most authentic version of the dish. You can find this pasta all over Italy (in fact, the best version I’ve had was actually in Milan), but it is indisputably a staple of Rome.
8. Aperol Spritzes: The perfect Italian drink to sip at sunset
Italy is known for its wine, but I’d argue that it should be just as well known for its liqueurs and aperitifs. If you’ve never tried an aperitif, start with Aperol, a bitter drink that is a trademark shade of bright orange. You could drink it on its own, but most people prefer it mixed into a spritz with prosecco (sparkling wine), seltzer water, and a slice of orange.
These drinks are widely available in Italy (as well as other parts of Europe), and they’re usually served iced in a wine glass. If you order an Aperol spritz in southern Italy, it’ll probably be served with a few small snacks for you to enjoy while you sip.
9. Beginner friendly; People give you credit for even trying to speak Italian!
As someone who thinks about travel an awful lot, I have started to mentally categorize the places I visit based on how challenging I think they are to navigate. For people traveling from the United States, I would consider Italy to be a fairly easy destination to navigate, especially the central and northern regions.
Although English is not widely spoken, in my experience Italians are quick to appreciate any attempts to use their language. Further, people are generally open to using whatever means necessary to communicate (Google translate and photos I’ve taken on my phone have helped me navigate many social interactions).
Further, the food is somewhat familiar to visitors from the US, given the significant Italian immigration over the years. It’s worth noting, however, that restaurants in Italy tend to be very carb-heavy, so to stay healthy while traveling be sure that you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. If you’re planning a longer trip, it could be helpful to find a rental that includes a kitchen so that you can cook some of your own meals.
10. The tomatoes are the freshest you’ll ever have (probably)
Interestingly, tomatoes weren’t introduced to Italy until around the 16th century. It would be another several centuries before they made their way into popular cuisine in Italy, where they finally gained in popularity around the 19th century. Regardless, the tomatoes in Italy are incredibly ripe and fresh, seemingly even in the months that they are out of season.
Today, there are seemingly countless varieties of special tomatoes used in Italian cuisine. When I visited Ischia, a friend told me that I simply had to try the tomatoes from the island. The rich volcanic soil is perfect for cultivating heirloom varieties like the piennolo tomato, known for its low water content. I found piennolos for sale in the local Carrefour on the island, ready to be made into a bruschetta or tomato paste.
One of the most pleasant surprises when I first traveled to Italy was the quality of the coffee. Italians take their coffee seriously! Most anywhere in Italy, you’ll find fabulous, Italian-style cappuccinos and espressos for only a few euros.
Naples is especially renowned for its coffee. There, you’ll find enormous stainless steel espresso machines with long levers that baristas expertly use to pull perfect shots into ceramic cups. There’s an almost musical quality to the rhythm of the coffee in Naples, with small spoons clattering against small saucers as the perfectly pulled shots of espresso are slid across the counter to waiting customers.
If you want to see the magic in progress, visit Caffe Gambrinus or Cafe do Brasil in Naples and stand at the espresso bar.
There are simply fabulous pastries in Italy and many bakeries have been perfecting their craft for generations. Naples is perhaps better known for their pastries, but my favorites were actually from Rome. I loved the sfoglia, puffy pastries that are split in half and filled with chantilly cream – then smoothed over to appear perfectly rounded on top.
If you enjoy pastries, be sure to try a rum-soaked baba while in Italy. My favorite variety is stuffed with a sort of pistachio flavored white chocolate ganache, which is also a filling option for the sfogliatella, lobster tail shaped pastries with a crunchy, flaky shell.
13. Great train system
Although you may want to rent a car for some Italian itineraries, most can be done using only the country’s high speed and traditional trains. When I’ve traveled in Italy, I’ve used ItaliaRail to book my trains, and I would recommend booking them as early as is practical for your group.
Given the quality of the train system and its extensive list of destinations, most travelers will find that they don’t need to rent a car. To have the best experience on the trains, pack light enough that you can easily transport and monitor your luggage. Additionally, always beware of pickpockets when using the trains in Italy.
14. See the landmarks you’ve learned about your whole life
From the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the Colosseum, Italy is full of landmarks that you’ve probably been reading about your entire life. Most of them are open to visitors, where you’ll have the chance to ride in a gondola in Venice or toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome. You’ll probably even find yourself saying aloud, “When in Rome!” because the glee of it all is too irresistible.
15. Vatican City is in Rome – home of Catholicism
Whether or not you’re religious, you may want to make a trip to the home of Catholicism and one of the few absolute monarchies in the world: Vatican City. Located entirely within the city of Rome, Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, both by population and land mass. It’s also the location of the Sistine Chapel, where you can see the famous ceiling that was painted by Michelangelo.
16. Landscapes are stunning
When I think about Italy, one of the first images that comes to mind is the view out of the train between Rome and Naples. We thundered past mountainsides, vineyards, and small towns, all nestled into the countryside within eyeshot of the train.
No matter where you go in Italy, you’re likely to see some pretty incredible landscapes. From the Alps in the north to the lesser known mountain ranges in the south, there are hillsides and mountaintops for you to feast your eyes on throughout the country.
17. Jaw-dropping coastline
The coastline of Italy is often the stuff of daydreams. The western coast of Italy is better known, including the Gulf of Naples and the five towns of Cinque Terre. All along the coastline are towns, villages, and small cities that have likely been bustling areas of commerce for centuries.
Probably the two most popular coastal areas are Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast, both known for their incredible views. Between the two, I’d recommend the more backpacker-friendly area around Cinque Terre.
18. There are fabulous hikes
One of the best hikes I’ve completed in Europe was along the coast from Porto Venere to Riomaggiore in Liguria. This area is known internationally as Cinque Terre, Italian for “Five Towns,” where visitors flock to see the fishing villages that overlook the Mediterranean.
The trail was challenging without being overwhelming, and there are places along the way to grab a snack. One of my favorite spots was a food truck that was set up overlooking the sea, and from it a woman sold sandwiches, espressos, and cups of wine. By the time we arrived in Riomaggiore, our feet were sore and we were tired, but it was a fabulous journey.
19. You can shop until you drop
Italy can provide just about any shopping experience you could ask for, depending on where you visit. Prefer a small handmade piece of art from a vendor? You can find it in Rome. Want an Italian leather bag? Plentifully available in Florence.
Similar to shopping in Paris, you’ll want to determine ahead of time what you’d like to buy. Note the prices as soon as you start shopping, and be aware that most places without price tags will expect you to haggle.
20. Some regions are very budget friendly
Southern Italy is warm and budget-friendly, great for a more budget-conscious traveler. Naples, for instance, is famous for its pizza Neapolitans – traditional woodfired pies. The most famous spots in Naples tend to sell basic versions of their Margherita pizzas for less than 10€, with many places coming in closer to 5€.
Expect to find higher prices in central and northern Italy. These areas are more popular with tourists and therefore garner higher prices.
21. There is always more to see
It feels like one could spend a lifetime wandering the streets of Italy and trying desperately to take it all in. There’s life and evidence of life everywhere you look. From the graffiti on the city streets to the clothing draped over the streets at night to the manicured vineyards on the hillsides, Italy looks deeply and profoundly lived in.
After you’ve spent some time exploring the highlights, start to look for the hidden gems. Wander into a church with its doors open. Check Google maps for a nearby hike. Hop a train to a town you’ve never heard of. All of it’s fair game in Italy (just be respectful wherever you go).
22. Art is everywhere
In addition to the enormous and renowned museums throughout Italy, you’ll also find smaller examples of artwork in the country. With such a rich and storied history, there are examples of Italian artwork that date back centuries, and it’s a point of pride for locals. You’ll find small brass statues mounted in restaurants, murals made of spray paint on crumbling walls, and small altars built into stone facades.
If you enter an Italian city, be sure not to walk too quickly, especially in the historical centers. It’s common to find little artifacts tucked into alleyways, piazzas, and restaurants, all of which give the city a distinctly loved and lived in feel.
23. Incredible use of public spaces
When you’re walking through an Italian city, you’ll notice that there are piazzas, or open squares, everywhere you look. These squares usually have statutes, water features, or other landmarks to help differentiate them and to make them feel like public space.
24. Living arts: Theater and operas
One of my favorite experiences from all of my travels have been seeing live performances. When I first visited Prague, my partner and I bought a couple of the cheapest tickets to an opera in a gorgeous old building. Later, on a trip to Naples, we bought slightly less cheap tickets to a concert in the Teatro di San Carlo, an opera house that was built in 1737 and where Johann Christian Bach once played.
There are fabulous theaters, opera houses, and concert halls throughout Italy, and the tickets may be cheaper than you think. In Europe, many venues have access to funding intended to make the arts more accessible, so you may be able to get a ticket to a live performance for 15-20€.
25. There are Italian trips for every type of traveler
Italy can offer trips for most every type of traveler, diversifying its appeal. You can complete a budget-friendly, culinary-focused trip to the southern parts of Italy or a glamorous and high-end trip to the north. You could explore one large city for a week or spend all of your time hopping from one village to another.
If you’re not sure what type of Italian trip is right for you, start by asking yourself what you’re most looking forward to and what you can’t live without seeing. If your answer is food and the canals of Venice, you might stick to a northern trip. For pizza, swimming, and history, the south could be ideal for you. For those who simply can’t choose and don’t mind moving around, start north and work your way south, or vice versa, by train.
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about visiting Italy.
When to go to Italy?
The best time to visit central or southern Italy is during the shoulder season, either in the spring (April/May) or the fall (September/October). The summers in Italy are hot and densely packed with tourists, so it can be challenging to enjoy some activities. My favorite time to visit Italy is in late September or early October, when the nights have a little bit of a chill but the days are plenty warm.
If you’ll be visiting northern Italy, the weather will be much cooler than the southern portion of the country.
What are 5 interesting facts about Italy?
- Italy wasn’t unified until 1861. Before this time, Italy was a collection of smaller territories that all functioned independently.
- Tomatoes were not introduced to Italy until the 16th century.
- Within the city of Rome is Vatican City, the world’s smallest country by population and land mass.
- Pizza was invented in Naples.
- Italians only drink cappuccinos in the morning, so don’t order one after about 11am unless you can withstand a strange look from your barista.
What is Italy known for?
Italy is known for its beautiful architecture, incredible gastronomy, and its central role in the history of western civilization. If you’ve taken a European history course, or even a Western civilization course, it probably extensively covered the history of Italy.
Whether your trip is intended to explore the glittery coastline, the world class museums, or a series of vineyards in Tuscany, there’s an Italian itinerary for you.
What is the prettiest place in Italy?
Of all of the places I’ve visited in Italy, I would say that the areas around Cinque Terre were the prettiest. Italy is a diverse and interesting country, with a mix of coastline, mountains, and urban centers. So, there’s truthfully not a simple answer to this question!