Italy spoils you for choice when it comes to vacation spots. You’ve got the glamour of the Amalfi Coast and the Italian Lakes, the rolling hills of Tuscany, plus the gorgeous islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
But for many travelers, Italy’s historic cities are the biggest pull.
Their heady combinations of culture, architecture and cuisine help this relatively small country rank fifth in the world for international tourist arrivals. And Italy’s compact geography – compared to the U.S. and larger European nations such as France and Spain, at least – makes it totally doable to tick off several cities in one indulgent Italy vacation tour.
Of course, if you have the luxury of time, you could easily spend months getting to know this charming Mediterranean nation. But if you’re on a tighter schedule or simply want to prioritize the best Italy has to offer, here are the top three cities to explore!
Let’s start with the headline attraction. The capital of Rome is one of the most iconic and popular cities in Europe and the world, drawing the most visitors of all the Italian cities with its rich history and mix of cultures.
You’ll find a wealth of famous sites to discover as you wander its buzzy streets. There’s the Colosseum, an awe-inspiring structure that used to host thousands of spectators for fierce gladiator battles. And who can forget the Vatican City, a tiny state surrounded by Rome and home to none other than the Pope himself!
Other big-hitters include the Trevi Fountain – perhaps the most famous fountain in the world – as well as the Pantheon church and the Roman Forum.
Worried that’s too much to fit in? You’ll have plenty of opportunities to carb-load on pizza and pasta!
Florence might not have quite the fame and attractions of Rome, but it certainly isn’t far behind. This more compact but equally gorgeous city has a distinct feel all of its own.
Its biggest claim to fame is as the birthplace of the Renaissance, and you’ll find great art all over the city. Book ahead to see Michelangelo’s iconic David sculpture, then browse the greatest collection of Italian paintings anywhere in the world at the Uffizi Gallery.
But for the biggest sight in Florence in more ways than one, you can’t miss the Duomo Cathedral. This stunning structure looms over the city center – and you can even climb its dome for the best view in town.
The city makes a great base for day trips too, with Tuscany, Cinque Terre and other spots all very much reachable.
If it’s gondola rides you picture when thinking of Italy, then Venice is the city for you. Its famous canals slice through its main streets, creating stunning waterways for you to float down at sunset. It really is just like the photos – promise!
Once back on dry land, make sure to stop in at the dazzling St Mark’s Basilica before enjoying an espresso - or aperitif - in Piazza San Marco. You’ll gaze over the Campanile Belltower and Doge’s Palace, two more of the city’s top attractions.
It can get hectic here at peak times of day but you don’t have to venture far for some privacy, be it in a narrow street, grand gallery, or local wine bar.
Which Italian city is first on your list?