Ten Must-See Cities in Italy
Positano, Campania
destination
Positano
When you picture the Amalfi coast, with its cliffside, colorful homes and teal-blue water, this is the town you are thinking of. Positano is part of the Amalfi coastline located in Southern Italy, which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. This well-known vacation destination is categorized by a pebble beach front and steep, narrow streets lined with seafood restaurants and boutiques. If you are studying abroad in Europe and want to visit the Amalfi coast, the easiest way to do this is through a weekend tour.
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Campania, Italy
destination
Capri
The gateway to the island of Capri is from the Amalfi coast, specifically Sorrento, where I visited in 2014. Capri is a luxurious vacation destination located in the Bay of Naples that is famous for its perfume, lemons, Blue Grotto- a sea cave that glows a fluorescent blue color, and Caprese salads! This island has an upper level that can be accessed by a gondola, which will bring you to the main square, Piazza Umberto I. This island is also characterized by unique rock formations scattered along the coastline, which I recommend seeing from a boat tour.
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Liguria, Italy
destination
Cinque Terre
Another jaw-dropping place to visit in Italy is Cinque Terre in the north. Cinque Terre is a string of five seaside villages located on the rocky Italian Rivera coastline. The five villages all have colorful homes and shops that are built into the cliffs, making it inaccessible to drive through this UNESCO World Heritage site and protected national park. Luckily, there is a train that will get you from La Spezia Centrale station (entrance into the park) to each of the villages. If you want to experience Cinque Terre in its full glory, I recommend opting to hike between the villages instead. The trails are well-marked and will bring you alongside the turquoise coastline. When I visited in August, my friends and I hiked from the fourth village, Vernazza, to the fifth and last village, Monterosso al Mare. The hike was difficult and took about two hours, but the award of swimming in the crystal-clear, warm ocean, followed by a gelato made it all worth it.
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Viareggio, Tuscany
destination
Viareggio
Viareggio is a seaside city in Tuscany, located about an hour from Florence. This city comes alive in the summertime, making it a popular vacation destination among locals. This city has amazing shopping, delicious restaurants- all with outdoor seating, and a boardwalk. The beach is phenomenal, with its mountainous backdrop and a ferris wheel! Viareggio is famous for its Carnevale that takes place between the months of January and March each year. The floats made in papier-mâché are the highlight of the parades.
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Taormina, Sicily
destination
Taormina
During my semester abroad, I spent a weekend in Sicily for my art history class. We hiked Mt. Etna- an active volcano, toured Catania, and spent a day wandering around Taormina. This city quickly became one of my favorite Italian cities, and is worth the flight or train ride if you can get to it! Taormina is a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily that is known for the ancient Greco-Roman theater that is still used today. Also, there are a lot of quaint shops, specializing in pottery and unique jewelry. The restaurants all serve authentic Sicilian cuisine, setting it apart from mainland Italy. While visiting Sicily, be sure to try a traditional Sicilian cannoli… the one (or five) that I ate during my visit were life-changing.
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Venice, Veneto
destination
Venice
A trip to Italy isn’t complete without a visit to Venice. Despite what is commonly heard, Venice does have roads. And many lovely squares. However, the roads are extremely narrow and for pedestrians only. I visited during the off-season and still found myself getting frustrated with the crowds, so keep this in mind if you choose to visit during the warmer months when the city is at its peak. The main form of transportation around Venice is via water taxi- very expensive, but worth the ride. If you opt to walk around Venice instead, be sure to carry a map with you- Venice is EXTREMELY easy to get lost in and is actually quite confusing. However, every canal stems from the Grand Canal, so that helps. As for gondola rides, they cost around 80 euro and last about 20-30 minutes long. Since they are a famous tourist attraction, they are indeed overpriced, but still worth the experience; however, the gondolier will not sing to you… unfortunately. I found the canals and the city itself to be quite clean and the seafood dishes that I tried were incredible. I only spent one day in Venice, but I recommend staying for 2-3 days. You can see the city of Venice in only a day, but the surrounding islands need more time. The beautiful, colorful islands such as Burano and Murano are accessible via ferry from the city and are renowned for their long tradition of glass-making.
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Vatican City, Vatican City
destination
Vatican City
Vatican City is located within Rome and is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. It is the smallest country in the world, both in area and population. Within Vatican City are religious and cultural sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican museums. There are also several gift shops located within Vatican City where you can get your purchases blessed by the Pope… for free! You can also purchase tickets in advance to get blessed by the Pope or attend a Papal Mass on Wednesdays and Sundays. You should plan on arriving here in the morning to allow yourself enough time to clear security and avoid crowds.
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Veneto, Italy
destination
Verona
Verona is located in Northern Italy, about an hour train ride away from Florence. It is the historical setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and where the movie Letters to Juliet was filmed. Verona has a medieval old town that surrounds the Adige river and lots of shops and restaurants. You can visit Casa di Giulietta, a gothic-style home from the 1300s that was an inspiration for Shakespeare and is said to be Juliet’s home. Just like the movie, hundreds of people visit this area seeking love advice from Juliet and leave notes behind. For a small fee, you can go onto the balcony that overlooks Juliet’s courtyard and visit the museum. Verona also has the Verona Arena, which is an ancient Roman amphitheater that still hosts concerts.
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Siena, Tuscany
destination
Siena
Siena is located within the Tuscany region of Italy and is characterized by its seashell-shaped main square, Piazza del Campo. Surrounding this square are hilly streets of shops and restaurants. I visited Siena for a field trip for one of my classes during my semester of abroad, and quickly fell in love. The city is organized into 17 neighborhoods, or contrade, all characterized by an animal or symbol. For example, I ate lunch (famously delicious Pici pasta) in the goose neighborhood. Every year during the summer, two horse races called the Palio are held. Each contrada elects a jockey and a horse to represent them in the race, and compete against each other in the main square. The city itself, and the races, are dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
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Lucca, Tuscany
destination
Lucca
Lucca is a well-preserved city located about an hour train ride from Florence in Tuscany, Italy. The city is known for is Renaissance walls, that now make up a park with walking and bike trails, that encircle the city. Lucca has cobblestone streets, a round main square, and countless cathedrals. I was told to visit this city before returning to the US, and ending up doing so spontaneously and alone.
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