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Must See Italy Attractions
The world’s most famous amphitheater stands just down the street from the Roman Forum. While it is a ruin, it’s a well preserved one, and it’s not hard to picture thousands of Roman spectators cheering or jeering gladiators who fought to the death here.
Portions of the massive structure are regularly under construction for conservation purposes, but the Colosseum is almost always open for tourists. Lines form quickly so get there in the morning, or visit on a guided Italy tour for special access and the opportunity to learn about the history of Rome from an expert guide.
Tuscany is world renowned for its beauty. The region is quintessential Italy, with rolling hills, enormous villas, wineries, and small local towns with overflowing hospitality and welcoming presence.
Wine tasting and eating in Tuscany is an Italian experience one should not miss. You could take a day trip from Florence or Siena or maybe stay a few nights in a villa in the countryside to truly get away from it all.
Venice gondola rides are a cliche, there’s no doubt about it, yet there is something so enjoyable about succumbing to the experience. As you glide through the canals, under bridges and passing tiny shops selling glass figurines and ornately decorated masks, you’ll get a feel for the layout of the city.
You might imagine yourself back to a time when this was the only mode of transportation available. Depending on who your gondolier is, you may be serenaded with a classic Italian song or given a detailed account of city life from a local.
4. St. Mark’s Basilica
Besides the Grand Canal, Venice’s greatest landmark is St. Mark’s Basilica, which rises at one end of wide open San Marco Square. As remarkable as it is to view on the outside, with its multiple domes and spires, its Byzantine interior – lined with gold and bronze mosaics -- is even more breathtaking. Be sure to take the stairway up to the second floor for the view overlooking the St. Mark’s Square from the balcony.
Tip: Be sure to wear modest clothing, or have a scarf with you to cover bare shoulders.
The world’s largest church is technically in another country (Vatican City), but since the Vatican is entirely surrounded by Rome and you can just walk across the street to enter, it qualifies. St. Peter’s, a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture, is said to have been built over the burial spot of the apostle Peter.
The basilica is simply immense, with multiple chapels, altars, and niches, one of which holds one of Michelangelo’s greatest masterpieces, the Pieta. It looks out over St. Peter’s Square, where popes often address huge audiences.
And one simply cannot visit the Vatican without experiencing the Sistine Chapel. Regardless of whether you enjoy religious art, the ceiling completed by Michelangelo in the x century is a sight to behold purely for the artist achievement.
And most guided tours of Italy that visit the famous chapel either arrange private viewings or go during off hours. This is arguably the only way one should see it - it allows you to truly have the time to take in the mastery; without jostling among a large crowd, craning your neck so as to not miss a corner.
After a major shoring up operation in the 1990s, the Leaning Tower doesn’t lean as much as it once did – about four degrees rather than the previous 5.5 -- but then it’s not as likely to topple over, either.
The Leaning Tower is actually the bell tower for the cathedral in Pisa. It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries on soft soil and clay and has been leaning from the beginning – more so as the centuries passed. Now it’s been anchored and it’s safe to climb again – seven stories with about 300 steps. Don’t do it if you have vertigo.
7. Roman Forum
The central public meeting place for the citizens of ancient Rome and the heart of one of the world’s great empires, the Roman Forum survives as a remarkable ruin in the middle of the city at the base of two of Rome’s seven hills, and truly one of the top attractions in Italy, as well as Europe.
While the Forum is a “ruin,” there’s still plenty to see here: the remains of great temples, public buildings, and walkways where Julius and Augustus Caesar once strode and where orators addressed the issues of the day. Walking amongst the columns and ruins it’s impossible not to imagine all the hundreds of thousands of others who have walked the same paths in their daily lives.
With its pink, white, and green marble exterior and distinctive red dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the massive Duomo – the main cathedral of Florence – dominates the city’s skyline in Gothic splendor.
While the exterior is more impressive than the rather bare interior, there are still mosaics and frescoes to see, and you can climb up to the top of the cupola -- but that’s not for the claustrophobic or the acrophobic.
For sheer Gothic wonder, nothing compares to the exterior of the cathedral in Milan. The façade is composed entirely of gleaming pink-hued white marble, and the 600-year-old cathedral is decorated by some 3,400 statues and hundreds of other figures and spires. The world’s fifth largest church, it covers an entire city block, and cleaning it requires constant attention (which means scaffolding may ruin your picture).
The famous island being kicked by Italy’s mainland boot, Sicily is perhaps the most non-traditionally Italian destination - sharing more in common with Greece historically. Be sure to visit the Valley of the Temples, Agrigento. This is the world’s largest archeological site contains seven Doric temples, including the Temple of Concordia, which reflect the height of ancient Greek civilization in Sicily.
4,548 Italy Tour Reviews - Summary
Perfect 'first timer' itinerary September 20165.0
(This trip is a public transport trip, so make sure to pack light, as you will need to carry your own bags through train stations, etc.)
Operator Peregrine Adventures
Our Amalfi Coast walking trip was so amazing from start to finish. September 20165.0
Operator Butterfield & Robinson
S+J in Sicily August 20165.0
Happening upon a wedding in Cefalu Duomo. Before the brides's arrival on the arm of her father a choir of friends and relatives rehearsed a hallelujah chorale that the sang as the bride and her father entered. The youthful beauty of the bride, her father wearing a suit in which he didn't look comfortable, the swelling choir and the underpinning bass chords of the organ- wonderful!
Salvatore was excellent- a true Sicilian with a passion for his country and a wish to share that with us. His care and attention was exemplary.
Be prepared to budget a good amount for food. I feel that the trip would be improved if all food was included in a trip price. Also some places charge a tourist tax per head.
The Palermo day and the local guide was a case of over-guiding and too much information. Monorail and the Palermo cathedral were both unmissable but we appreciated the free afternoon hours to get our own flavour of Palermo. I appreciate it is a question of balance in the allocation of places and events.
On our departure date we had a free full day in Taormina which upgraded our appreciation of this tourist honey-pot. We also discovered the location for a 1943 pen and ink sketch done by my wife's father whose medical dressing station was sited here after the Allied invasion of Sicily.
Operator Exodus Travels
Met My Husband on my first cycling trip! July 20165.0
Excellent! October 20155.0
Operator Rick Steves
It was a great experience. March 20155.0
Operator G Adventures
The top Italy tour operators often have a regional focus - introducing travelers to the food and culture or a particular area such as Tuscany. Or they may even go more specific. If you are traveling to Italy with a tour company, know that your day may involve a lot of walking and a lot of historical information - and you're sure to end the day on a high note with good food and wine!
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