It’s hard to think of a nation with a higher density of iconic tourist sights than Italy. With a rich cultural heritage and a wealth of historic architecture, Italy has so much to offer the visitor that you could spend your entire life touring it and still feel there’s more to see. Whether it’s Roman ruins, artistic masterpieces or natural beauty that most pique your interest, you’ll never go without something incredible to feast your eyes on here. So where to begin? Well, the top Italy tourist attractions on this list offer a fairly solid start.
The Colosseum, Rome
It might be an obvious choice, but so many people have been to the Colosseum for a very good reason: because it really is worth going to! Rome can be a little overwhelming for the first-time visitor; with thousands of years of history staring you in the face everywhere you turn, and ancient ruins sitting in the middle of busy intersections, it can be hard to know what to look at first. The Colosseum, however, is surely the most spectacular historic site in the city. This vast Roman amphitheatre, the biggest anywhere in the world, was created as a stadium for sporting events and other (often violent) forms of public entertainment. Nowadays, you may have to queue for a while to get inside; but even from the exterior, the structure is incredibly dramatic.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Again, perhaps not an obscure pick, but still one that very much belongs on any list of top Italy tourist attractions. This is arguably the most famous building in the country, and certainly one of the most famous in the world. You might travel to see it as a mere box-ticking exercise, but you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the complex in which the tower stands, the Piazza dei Miracoli. The elaborate Romanesque Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is right next door.
The tower was once predicted to collapse in the year 2000, but don’t let that put you off climbing its steps to see the impressive views from the top. Having managed to stay standing since the 12th century, it’s likely it has plenty of life left in it yet
Pompeii, Close to Naples
The preserved ancient Roman city of Pompeii is a marvel to behold, a wonder that stirs deep emotions in many who visit it. This site is a good stop to include on itineraries for any family holidays in Italy, as children’s active imaginations tend to respond especially strongly to the vivid picture it builds of Roman life.
The tragedy that destroyed the city is also the reason that so many of its relics can still be seen today. Look up and you’ll see the volcano Mount Vesuvius, which erupted in 79 A.D, wiping out everyone who lived in Pompeii and burying the settlement beneath ash and lava. The ruined city went undiscovered for centuries, until excavations revealed that the eruption had protected many of its buildings, artworks and even people’s personal belongings. This means the city offers a clearer picture of Roman civilisation than any other ruin.
Some of the residents can, movingly, still be seen as they were in their final moments, thanks to plaster casts made of the cavities their bodies left in the ash.
The Uffizi, Florence
Florence is steeped in the spirit of the Renaissance. You’ll constantly find yourself face-to-face with the legacy of this crucial point in European cultural history as you wander the streets. The architecture, the statues, the inescapable presence of art… it all recalls the glory days of the Italian thinkers and artists whose influence spread first to other regions of Italy then eventually across the entire continent.
But if you want to be utterly immersed in the Renaissance, there really is only one place to go: the famous Uffizi gallery. Consistently ranked among the world’s top art museums, this enormous building houses many of the most significant artistic treasures anywhere on the planet. Its opulent interior spaces are artworks in themselves, enhancing the powerful feeling of finally seeing iconic, much-photographed works such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in real life.
Lake Como, Lombardy
Gorgeous Lake Como has long held a reputation as a playground of the rich and famous, but nowadays people on all kinds of budgets flock here to bask in the natural beauty. Several regions of Italy are famed for their gorgeous landscapes, but the area around this glittering lake really does put Lombardy in a league of its own. The banks of the lake are dotted with little towns, each one picture-perfect, and there are (of course) historic sites to visit too. Dramatic mountains form a breath-taking backdrop. Those planning active trips, quiet retreats, extravagant yachting getaways or family holidays in Italy will all find their needs catered to here.
St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice
Like Florence – and, indeed, like all of the destinations mentioned on this list – Venice is filled with gorgeous buildings. These range from charmingly dilapidated canal-side houses, painted in pastel colours, to grand structures that dominate whichever street they stand on. One of the grandest is St. Mark’s Basilica, the icon of the city, which marks the epicentre of Venice’s key tourist area, Piazza San Marco (or St. Mark’s Square).
The building’s magnificent façade is almost too complicated and beautiful to fully take in. Look at it for long enough and you might find yourself getting lost in its details. The inside is equally grand, with immense golden mosaics and a jewel-encrusted altar among the many lavish features.