Introduce the topic of “Italy” to a group of seasoned travelers and you’re almost guaranteed a room full of far-off, dreamy stares as people begin to fondly recall trips through The Boot. Ask a bunch of travel bloggers – via email, no less – about their Italy trips and what places they consider the best places in Italy and you can practically hear the oohs and aahs in their replies.
Italy is kind of special. It’s also incredibly popular.
There’s really no right answer to where you should travel in Italy. Every corner of the country has something marvelous to offer, and everyone’s travel style will dictate different needs for a trip. When you’re up to your eyeballs in planning a trip to such a popular location, though, sometimes it’s helpful to hear about the places that wow experienced travelers. And since I’ve never been good at narrowing down my own love of Italy to one particular favorite spot, I’ve asked a variety of travel bloggers – many of whom live in or focus on Italy – for their favorites. And keep reading for a special bonus “favorite,” which is especially useful since it covers the entire country at once.
Here are the best places in Italy, according to travel bloggers.
Salento Peninsula, Puglia
Image courtesy of TUI
Since I wax poetic about the beauty and charm of Umbria in my blog, you would think that this lush region in central Italy would be my favorite place. Though I do have many favorite places in Umbria, I harbor a secret passion for Puglia, or, more precisely, the Salento peninsula that forms the heel of Italy’s “boot.” The endless coastline, the whitewashed villages, the expansive people, the spicy food… Puglia is the yang to Umbria’s yin, and together they form the perfect home and home-away-from-home in Italy.
Where should you visit in the Salento? Any trip should include the elegant provincial capital of Lecce, with its Baroque churches and palazzi, traditional paper mache crafts, and indulgent custard-filled “pasticciotti” pastries. The tiny hill town of Ostuni is the perfect spot for an aperitivo, so grab a table in the piazza overlooking the ornate Duomo as the Mediterranean heat wanes come evening. And be sure to include stops in the picturesque fishing villages which dot Puglia’s coast; my favorites are Otranto to the east and Gallipoli to the west. – Rebecca Winke, Brigolante
Val Gardena, Südtirol
My Italian friends don’t understand why we go back time and again to the Val Gardena in Italy’s Dolomite mountains instead of visiting new places. It is cool in the summer months, unlike the beaches it is uncrowded up on the trails, and it offers a wonderful mix of Alpine beauty, Teutonic organization, and Italian food. What’s not to love? – Laurel Barton, Good Day Rome
Santa Croce Beach, Amalfi Coast
While there’s no shortage of tempting beaches along the Amalfi Coast, there’s one in particular that is my happy place. Just west of Amalfi and only accessible by boat, the Santa Croce beach is a rocky cove with brilliant turquoise water. Plan a day lounging on a sunbed and don’t miss dining at the Ristorante Santa Croce – on their terrace overlooking the beach or right on your sunbed just steps from the sea. The restaurant offers free boat service back and forth from Amalfi. – Laura Thayer, Ciao Amalfi
Valpolicella Wine Region, Veneto
This region is home to the heavy-hitter Amarone wine, but the other less-famous wines are also excellent. And, unlike the wine areas in Tuscany, the Valpolicella has very few tourists. It’s full of quiet towns and endless hills of rolling vineyards, yet is spitting distance from Verona and Lake Garda. Because the wine makers are mostly small, family-run operations, visitors need to do a bit more planning, and call ahead before a visit. – Madeline Jhawar, Italy Beyond the Obvious
I realize that I may be biased as this is where I got married, but Pienza is one of the more beautiful hill towns in Tuscany. This was reaffirmed when we visited again for our 10-year anniversary and looked at it with fresh eyes after visiting other parts of Italy and so many other areas of the world.
In fact, Pienza was actually rebuilt by Pope Pius II in the 15th century to be an “ideal town” and this Renaissance architecture and careful urban planning are still seen today. And if you get tired of roaming the cobblestone streets and small alleys, just head out to one of the town’s overlooks where you can look down into the Val d’Orcia across to other hill towns in the area like Montepulciano or Montalcino. The setting for the town is just stunning. – Audrey Scott, Uncornered Market
I love Modena particularly for its food. This is the home of real balsamic vinegar, aged for 12 or 25 years in barrels and served on not only salads, but steaks and ice cream, as well. It’s magnificent. The town also has a popular, bustling farmer’s market, the top restaurant in Italy (Osteria Francescana), and plenty of regional specialties scattered throughout its shops (parma ham, anyone?). – Gigi Griffis
Monastero Santa Rosa, Amalfi
I have been to Italy some 40 times and love each and every corner of the country so much that to be asked to pick a favorite spot, well, that’s like picking favorite children. But I will say that the cliffside infinity pool at Monastero Santa Rosa in Amalfi and the gardens surrounding it offer truly one of the most mind-blowing views in all the land. From the cliff, it looks like the Mediterranean Sea simply goes on… To infinity. On a recent visit, I spent almost an entire day just looking at the sea, in between swims and a delicious southern Italian lunch. – Kathy McCabe, Dream of Italy
Nothing provided so much of a visual slap in the face (in a good way) as my first gaze upon Matera, Basilicata’s city of “sassi” with ancient dwellings, churches carved out of its sinuous limestone rock. It’s one of the few places where people can sleep where people did almost 9,000 years ago, however nowadays the town is filled with interesting boutique hotels that let you into a nicer, more modern version of the “cave” experience. – Georgette Jupe Pradier, Girl in Florence
I’ve long identified with St. Francis – maybe because I’m such a nature and animal lover as he was; maybe because I’m named after him (kind of; I have the feminine version of his name). So, when I was planning my first trip to Italy, I knew I had to visit Assisi, his birthplace. I quickly fell in love with the medieval hilltop town. While I’m not a hard-core churchgoer, there definitely is something spiritually uplifting about walking the same streets of Assisi that St. Francis once walked, all while admiring the town’s gorgeous natural setting. – Francesca Mazurkiewicz, The Working Mom Travels
Siracusa, Sicily, had a distinctive Greek feeling to it because of all the marble and the ruins, yet the delicious cannoli reminded us that we were still in Italy. It’s a popular enough place but didn’t feel overly touristy, and in the evenings we could wander through the pedestrian streets without feeling crowded. And no matter where we went, the Mediterranean Sea was always nearby. – Ali Garland, Travel Made Simple
Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome
Entering Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo for the first time, I sat with the parishioners, listening to the priests wrap up mass and looking for the Cerasi Chapel, site of two Caravaggio masterpieces: Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion on the Way to Damascus. Smartly though, that chapel is unlit during services. Afterwards, however, I – along with much of the rest of the congregation – made a beeline for the chapel and gazed in awe at the two paintings. Every time I return to Rome, I revisit that basilica. – Zach Everson
I lived and taught writing to American university students in Cagli, a small town in the Le Marche region for two summers, and the experience left me convinced that the region is one of the great, untapped (by tourists!) parts of Italy. While scores of tour groups head to Tuscany or Umbria, Le Marche remains relatively untouched by masses of tourists. Beach lovers can explore Adriatic coastal towns like Fano and Rimini, as history and art aficionados explore tiny towns tucked into the foothills of the Appenines. – Valerie Conners, Passenger Conners
La Taverna del Duca, Puglia
In Locorotondo a gorgeous small white hill town in the Valle d’Itria area of central Puglia is a restaurant called La Taverna del Duca. This one-woman operation by Antonella Scatigna is a delightful small restaurant where she cooks and serves whatever is in season in the slow-food tradition that is very typical of this area. – Linda Martinez, The Beehive
Have you ever loved a city so much that from you moment you left you needed to go back? That your very being required you to return? A place you’ve always wanted to go, except now the desire is so much worse than before because now you’ve had just a slight taste of it; a short visit that was not nearly enough? That’s me and Florence. I ate lunch at a cafe where I had a roast beef with peas that reminded me so much of my Italian grandmother’s cooking that I cried right there at the table. – Casey Cipriani, Casey Out of This World
Italy has so much coastline so it’s hard to choose (I love being near the water), but I have a special place in my heart for Sicily and the coastline between Palermo and Trapani, particularly Castellammare del Golfo, Scopello and Lo Zingaro, San Vito Lo Capo. There are tons of beaches and little towns to check out, and the food is so good in Sicily, it’s hard to go wrong! Make sure you rent a car so you can really get off the beaten path. – Sara Rosso, Ms. Adventures in Italy
I lived in Rome for three years and tried to travel as much as possible. One of my favorite places still has to be Orvieto, a small hill town in Umbria. The views of rolling hills are fantastic, the cathedral with its gold facade is stunning and reason enough to visit, and it’s home to Orvieto wine, which pairs perfectly with a steaming bowl of umbricelli pasta with fresh truffles. – Rebecca Holland, Curiosity and a Carry On
Celano has a beautiful castle at its center, around and in which cultural and artistic events are scheduled during the rich summer festival in August. There are beautiful hiking trails and skiing just up the mountain in a town called Ovindoli. There are some amazing restaurants where you can enjoy quality meals at affordable prices.
Tagliacozzo is a gorgeous town. There is a rich summer cultural and arts program and a rich history. It is a lovely place to walk around. Scanno is a beautiful town on a lake – it’s one of my favorite places because it is just so pretty. Narrow streets wind through the center, and there’s lots of uphill walking, but it’s worth it.
None of these towns are big cities, so there will not be much night life or many museums or art galleries, but they are restful and beautiful. They are specifically for mountain lovers and are great for both summer and winter holidays. – Joanne Natale, Frutto della Passione
Herculaneum is a Roman site rich with artifacts, frescoes and buildings, preserved after the eruption of Vesuvius. Unlike Pompeii, the site is more manageable and fewer tourists make it more pleasant to visit. – Linda Moore, Love Art Travel
Trastevere Neighborhood, Rome
I’m not a big city girl but I fell really, really hard for Rome. I could envision myself living there. I love the Trastevere neighborhood – it’s just across the Tiber River but it feels miles away from the tourist hordes. I spent a few days strolling through its narrow, colorful streets, popping into art galleries and bookshops, listening to musicians on the sidewalk, and eating everything in sight. It amazes me that apartment blocks stand next to Roman ruins. – Candice Walsh, Free Candie
Bologna has a very special magic about it. I was there in January and the alleys were lined by folks selling roasted nuts and spiced wine. By chance, we stumbled into the Mercato Antiquario Città di Bologna, an antique market that sets up afront St. Stephen’s Basilica the second Saturday and Sunday of each month. It was like a movie set. Old women in full-length vintage fur thumbed through old art, postcards, brooches, armoires, and antique lace. There were fully-gowned Catholic priests reading old hardback books and men smoking pipes, admiring the curiosities. Old oil paintings and frames were hung along the brick buildings and ancient furniture was wheeled in, standing atop equally ancient cobblestone.
One of the most interesting nights of my life happened at a tucked-away alley restaurant called Drogheria della Rosa. We seemed to be the only Americans there and the owner joined our table in the basement wine cellar. There was opera blaring and books stacked floor-to-ceiling. There was an old Vogue ad that was shot in the restaurant, which was once an apothecary. There were drunk ballerinas dancing between tables and a young boy named Luigi who delivered chocolate and Calabrian oranges to us. There were truffles and raviolis and bottomless Italian red. It was a hazy, delicious, perfect night that I’ll never forget. – Ashley M. Halligan, Pilgrim Magazine
This truly is the epicenter of fantastic Italian food and lives up to its nickname, “The Fat One.” From handmade pasta classes, to a gelato university, its ancient town with shaded porticoes that go for miles and a food market that will take your breath away. It’s also a great hub for visiting other delicious Italian cities like Parma for their world famous Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Modena for their balsamic vinegar (and now the number one restaurant in the world!). The most memorable part about Bologna for me, though, was a cappuccino sprinkled with fresh grated chocolate at Cafe Terzi. It should be on every coffee enthusiast’s bucket list. – Rachelle Lucas, The Travel Bite
This southern region has long retained its laid-back atmosphere and rural roots, keeping the time-honored rhythms of life and homey appeal. It is dramatically beautiful with rugged peaks, vast tracts of unhindered woods, and rolling hills studded with grape vines. It is a place that gives a warm welcome because, as they say here, “hospitality is sacred.” – Valerie Schneider, My Bella Basilicata
Il Borgo di Vescene, Tuscany
My favorite place in Italy is a hotel – a country retreat with an idyllic setting. It’s called Il Borgo di Vescene, and it’s in Chianti, which to me is the loveliest part of Tuscany with its rolling hills covered in vineyards. At the hotel itself, the buildings are stone, the walkways brick, and the rooms spacious with a solid Old World feel, starting with notably heavy wooden doors. A small, refreshing pool on a hilltop offers views of the sprawling countryside. Even though Il Borgo di Vescene is in a tranquil area, it’s near small intriguing cities and in easy driving distance of headliners like Florence and Siena. It’s a terrific hub. Stay there and venture out in different directions each day. – Rona Gindin
Caffe Sant’Eustachio, Rome
A true lover of espresso and the art of coffee will delight in the grancaffe magic found at Caffe Sant’ Eustachio near the Pantheon in Rome. The barista’s artful creations are hidden from view so no secrets are revealed in the production process. Just stand and enjoy your ambrosial bliss among the devoted locals and visitors. – Claudia Laroye, The Travelling Mom
Volterra is the perfect Tuscan hilltop village and then some (and less touristy than many). Craftspeople here continue to sculpt objects from alabaster, as they have for centuries. On an unassuming country corner I ate the best meal of my life, with an asparagus dish and a plate of gnocchi that redefined both of those things for me. – Sarah Stodola, Flung
Cilento Coast, Campania
My favorite place in Italy is the Cilento coast, just south of the very touristy Amalfi Coast. This is where Italians go to swim in clear blue water and eat the true Mediterranean diet. In particular I love Castellabate Santa Maria where a truly local Southern Italian town meets a pristine beach. Borgo Castellabate sits just above it, a medieval village of stone streets that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. – Danielle Oteri, Feast on History
My favorite spot in Italy is a hidden gem I didn’t discover myself until six years after I moved to Italy. Located in the Basilicata region, Maratea is known as the the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian. It’s just a few hours south of the always crowded Amalfi Coast. Mostly because of fewer transportation options to reach Maratea, visitors have yet to descend upon one of the most gorgeous stretches of Italian coastline. With hidden beaches in sea caves, the fifth largest Christ the Redeemer in the world, a world class spa at the Hotel Santavenere and delicious southern Italian cuisine, it’s well worth renting a car to explore this part of Italy. – Jennifer Dombrowski, Luxe Adventure Traveler
BONUS: Any local bar, between about 8:30 and 10:30 am
This is the easiest and cheapest way for a traveler to immerse themselves in Italian culture, in every city and town in Italy. The local bar is a place many Italians go for breakfast, which usually involves a croissant and a cappuccino or espresso. I love the sweet breakfast and the coffee of course, but I love watching the locals interact with each other and especially with the barista. – Madeline Jhawar, Italy Beyond the Obvious