Italy, the historical centre of the Roman Empire, boasts more cultural sights and attractions than you could ever hope to see in a single visit. In fact, Italy lays claim to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country in the world (47 in total), and many of these awe-inspiring attractions - often rather casually located amid the hustle and bustle of modern city-life - are essential to an understanding of contemporary western civilisation. From the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to the intricate Gothic architecture of Cathedral Square, to the almost obscene wealth of artwork housed in the galleries of Tuscany, a holiday in Italy is nothing short of a compulsory experience.
Of course, Italy's culture does not only belong in the past - the country remains on the cutting-edge of haute couture, and watching the famously stylish locals clip along cobblestoned streets in six-inch stiletto heels is almost a tourist attraction in itself. Shopaholics will feel as though they've found paradise, browsing the boutique stores of Milan's Fashion Quadrilatero; while gastronomes should prepare themselves for a holiday punctuated by unforgettable meals. The world-famous Italian cuisine is, naturally, even more delicious when prepared in its homeland - and visitors to Italy can look forward to trying interesting regional variations of their favourite pizza and pasta dishes.
Whether you opt for a holiday in Venice, where the songs of gondoliers are carried on the evening breeze; or you choose to relax on the staggering Amalfi coastline; or you find yourself in Verona, sipping an espresso in a crowded piazza while the sun sinks behind a skyline of Gothic spires; one thing's for sure, your holiday in Italy will be an experience you won't soon forget.
Best time to visit Italy
Most people visit Italy in summer, between June and August; however, the best times to visit Italy are in spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October), when the weather is cool and dry, the skies are generally clear, and - since there are fewer tourists around - accommodation is usually cheaper. The sea is warm enough for swimming between June and September. Most Italians take their vacation in August, and many shops and restaurants are closed during this period. The ski season runs from December to April, and the best time to go hiking in the Alps is between June and September. Read more on Italy's Climate and Weather.
Where to visit in Italy
The rugged southern shore dividing the Bay of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno is a restful and picturesque area. Miniature towns shelter in precipitous coastal ravines and tranquil seas calmly lap the shores of quiet pebbled beaches. The Amalfi Coast is a great relaxation spot from which to enjoy coastal Italian culture.
Stretching between the towns of Postiano and Vietri sul Mare, near Salerno, the area is renowned for its breathtaking scenery and towering mountain cliffs that plunge into the Mediterranean Sea. Precariously perched and threatening to tipple into the sea, the small town of Positano is a great attraction for tourists with its cluster of multi-coloured houses and remarkable setting. A cliffside stairway provides the perfect vantage-point from which to admire its glorious sea vistas.
Four miles (6km) down the coast is the quaint town of Praiano, framed by caves, castles and sharp cliffs. A stroll from here towards Amalfi will take you to a ramp leading to Marina di Praia, a 400-year-old fishing village nestled in the embrace of a tiny ravine. Another notable stop between Praiano and Amalfi is the Grotto dello Smeraldo.
The busy seaside town of Amalfi basks in the glory of its longevity as the first Sea Republic of Italy, and as the hometown of Flavio Gioja, the inventor of the compass. It is referred to as the 'pearl of the coast' and has a bit of everything for the weary traveller. A pebble's throw away from here is the quiet village of Atrani. Its tranquil beach rests languidly on the water's edge against a superb backdrop of mountains.
Further down the coast is Minori, notable for its lemon exports, a gentle place with villas and beaches to explore. The quiet town of Ravello retains the charm prized by Bocaccio who dedicated part of his famous work, the Decameron, to the town. The coastal road that twists its way between the rocks affords glimpses of small villages, bays and inlets, and a journey along this southern route will take travellers to towns of worldwide fame as well as to lesser-known spots of equally enchanting beauty.
Rome, known as the Eternal City, is an ancient and fascinating travel destination, which tops the bucket list of many a historical sightseer and Catholic pilgrim:
Hundreds of thousands of visitors travel to Rome on holiday every year to steep themselves in the remnants of the ancient Roman Empire, glory in the artistic treasures of the Vatican City, and gorge on pasta and pizza in pretty piazzas. Rome boasts possibly the best historical sightseeing in the world, with priceless ancient attractions strewn all over the city. Gems like the Pantheon and the Colosseum can single-handedly justify a trip to Rome. Though it may feel eternal, the Italian capital also offers some modern thrills, with a stylish fashion scene and good shopping, sumptuous restaurants, a proud and lively population, and a laid-back, fun nightlife.
For many Catholics, a visit to Rome and the Vatican City is an unforgettable religious pilgrimage, and even non-Christians will be awed by Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel and the numerous treasures and beauties of the Pope's seat. Art-lovers will find marvels on every street corner and some of the most astounding galleries, museums and churches on earth.
One of the most romantic and unique travel destinations in the world, Venice's fame is perennial and well-deserved; the watery city is full of treasures and surprises and is guaranteed to delight visitors:
Floating on its blue lagoon with an almost dream-like quality, Venice is just as romantic and beautiful as it looks in travelogues and movies, making it extremely unlikely that anybody who realises their ambition of a holiday in the city will be disappointed. The charming piazzas and singing gondoliers, idiosyncratic buildings and crumbling palaces are all there to be seen, admired and photographed for posterity. Venice's art galleries, museums and churches house some of the masterpieces of European art and the difficulty for tourists is choosing what to see when so many treasures are accessible. A Venice holiday may be crowded and expensive but will surpass all expectations.
Seemingly eternal in its allure, Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and a treasure trove of Renaissance art and culture:
Despite being over-run with tourists for centuries, people continue to flock to holiday in Florence, an artistic, architectural and cultural gem. In a relatively small area, Florence contains a wealth of Renaissance art treasures on streets that were once walked by great artists like Michelangelo, Boticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. The entire historic old town of Florence is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is also known for its good shopping and great Tuscan cuisine. Florence is the launching pad for the stunning countryside, wine routes, Etruscan sites, and medieval hill villages of Tuscany, one of the most popular tourist region's in Italy.
No self-respecting European tourist can miss out on a holiday in Florence, which ranks as one of the must-see Italian destinations. Serious art-lovers, who are out to do more than just tick the destination boxes, also rank a holiday in Florence at the very top of their itineraries.
The great northern lakes stretch like sparkling, glass-topped vistas within a sequence of long, cavernous valleys descending from the Alps. Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and Lake Garda emit their unique sparkle onto the magnificent surrounding landscape, and attract diverse tourists to their banks. Younger travellers enjoy the sailing and nightlife experience of Lake Garda, Maggiore provides a tranquil, relaxed respite and can be enjoyed from the comforts of its surrounding luxury hotels, while sophisticates from Milan are drawn to the magnetism of Lake Como.
The pristine waters of Lake Como (known locally as Lago Di Como) are framed by craggy backdrops, and magnificent villas festooned with bougainvillea perch over its watery banks. Three long lakes converge to form Lake Como, joining in the Centro Lago area with the four towns of Bellaggio, Tremezzo, Menaggio and Varenna. These can be visited via the boats and buses connecting the towns in all three areas of the lake. Cultural areas of interest include Como's duomo, which combines the best of Gothic and Renaissance elements. Contiguous to this lies the former communal palace, the Broletto, and two blocks from here is the Church of San Fedele. While on holiday in Lake Como, scenic vistas can be explored from a funicolare to Brunate. Hiking trails lead off from here with overnight accommodation en route in the form of baite (modest guesthouses). Across the lake is the Tempio Voltiano, a memorial museum devoted to Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the battery. There is an outdoor market in Como every Tuesday and Thursday morning and the whole day on Sunday; great for holiday bargains.
The holiday retreat of Lake Garda, known locally as Lago di Garda, is the most popular of Italy's northern lakes and has a temperate climate to complement its magnificent setting. The lake towns of Riva, Gardone Riviera and Sirmione can be reached via buses, hydrofoils and ferries from Desenzano. The town of Sirmione boasts the relics of Roman civilisation and a magnificent medieval castle. The Sirmione Spa, the largest privately owned thermal treatment centre in Italy, offers invigorating therapy from its sulphurous waters. Gardone Riviera was once the playground of the rich and famous and is now the recreational haunt for many a tourist. The hills beyond Gardone are perfect for walking and enjoying the scents of nature bursting from the lemon groves. The alpine cliffs, casting their glorious shadows off Riva del Garda, are a perfect spot from which to hike, mountain bike and windsurf. The picturesque pebble beaches provide a slower, languid soaking-up-the-sun holiday experience.
Lake Maggiore casts a refined glow from its shores, as it is the preferred holiday destination of the elite. The resort town of Stresa is a haven for Italians, French and Germans who flock to its cobbled streets and enjoy the spectacular mountain and lake views from its quarters. Just a heartbeat away from Lake Maggiore lies further splendour in the form of the Borromean Isles. Daily excursion tickets enable adventurous travellers to hop between the islands at their leisure. Of these isles, the Isola Bella is the most visited. Its claim to fame is the magnificent Baroque palace, the Palazzo e Giardini Borromeo, replete with priceless masterpieces, tapestries, furniture and paintings. The terraced gardens reach their dramatic apex with the unicorn, the Borromeo family emblem. On Isola Madre is the Borromeo bambini doll collection, as well as a number of portraits of the family. A magnificent botanical garden flows from the house with plentiful exotic trees, plants and flowers; a must-see while on holiday at Lake Maggiore.
Tuscany's rolling hills are garlanded with cypress trees, lush vines and olive groves, that make way here and there for sleepy villages and medieval hill-towns. The area rests languidly in the middle of the Italian peninsula, with parts stretching to the coastline of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Snaking through the Tuscan landscape from Florence to Pisa and soaking its thirsty banks is the Arno River. Akin to the gentle flow of a river is the ebb of life in the region: people work in the fields in much the same way as their ancestors did before them, producing some of Italy's finest wines and olive oils. From this same landscape emerges a profusion of art and architecture that has grafted Italy onto the world's cultural map. Tuscany was the birthplace of the Renaissance, a period of unprecedented innovation in art, architecture and humanist scholarship. The grandeur of the High Renaissance was enjoyed during the Medici family's reign, when they commissioned the art and architecture that lives on within the elegant precincts of Florence.
Florence is one of the most popular cities in Italy for tourists, and is widely considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is a dreamy destination made up of cobbled streets, picturesque piazzas, a wealth of Renaissance art and architecture, and some of the best galleries and museums in Italy. It is also a conspicuously Tuscan city, with all the sleepy charm of the region and many worthwhile excursions into the countryside.
Tuscany has a mild Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and cool, wet winters. Winter temperatures range from 50°F to 59°F (10°C to 15°C), while summer temperatures range between 77°F and 86°F (25°C and 30°C). Humidity can be high. The best time to visit Tuscany is in May, September and October.