Jul 15

5 must-see cities in Italy

by in Europe, History, Top Tips

There are hundreds of interesting, historic, vibrant villages, towns and cities in Italy. Their very names resonate in our shared cultural knowledge – Rome, Venice, Florence, Bologna and so many more. Here are five other fascinating places to add to your list of ‘must-see’ cities in which to enjoy a luxury holiday in Italy.


Castello Sforzesco Expo Milano Italy - photo zoe dawes

Castello Sforzesco and Expo Milano

Nowhere near as alluring as Rome, the vibrant city of Milan is fashion-crazy and has many attractions for a short stay or weekend break. Top of the list has to be Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ on the refectory wall of 15th c Santa Maria delle Grazie convent. (Don’t make my mistake and just turn up expecting to get in to see it! You must to book in advance.) Make sure you go inside the magnificent ‘Il Duomo’ which is truly impressive. Look out for the rather gruesome statue of St Jerome with his flayed skin flung over his shoulder like a macabre wrap. Nearby is the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a cathedral to fashion and uber chic. Home to all the luxury fashion labels, the beautiful ones parade around looking stylish as only the Italians can. Order a Campari at Camparino and look out for Borsalino’s the renowned hat-maker. Leave time to wander round the Renaissance Castello Sforzesco, originally owned by the ruling Visconti family and now home to some seriously impressive artworks, including Michelangelo’s last piece sculpture, the unfinished ‘Rondanini Pieta’.

Search out Trattoria Burlagio for a delicious lunch with the Milanese – I loved it!


Genoa-Genova Italy - Collage by DanieleDF1995

Genoa-Genova – collage by DanieleDF

Crucial to Italy’s seafaring might, Genoa (Genova) has been an important maritime port for thousands of years. The Greek and Byzantine empires based their navies here and the powerful Lombardy families gave it prominence in the Middle-Ages, gaining serious strategic importance during the Renaissance. Christopher Columbus was a native of Genoa and donated 1/10 of his income from the discovery of the Americas for Spain to Genoa for the relief of taxation on food. Garibaldi left from here to conquer Southern Italy. The Port area gives a flavour of the city’s ongoing relation to the sea with its ancient lighthouse, modern marina and annual Boat Show. There are a number of impressive edifices including the Porta Soprano (East Gate), near where Christopher Columbus was born, 13th c San Lorenzo Cathedral, Palazzo Ducale and the huge fountain in the Piazza de Ferrari.


Neapolitan Pizza Margherita Naples - photo Valerio Capello

Neapolitan Pizza Margherita – photo Valerio Capello

I visited Naples many years ago when, as a teacher, I accompanied a group of rowdy school kids around the city during a cruise aboard SS Uganda – and I long to return. It’s got a raucous, edgy, rawness to it that other more sedate Italian cities lack. Renowned for its food, pizza is at its best in Naples. I still remember the flavours of a simple Margherita, with slightly charred crispy crust, fresh tomato base, curves of mozzarella and a scattering of basil leaves served at a rickety table in a narrow backstreet.  One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, Naples oozes history.  The Archaeological Museum, housed in a lovely building, has many treasures from the nearby sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum. There are plenty of luxurious palaces and castles to explore including medieval Castel Nuovo, Sant’Elmo, imposing Palazzo Real and Castel Capuano, now used as a courthouse, plus lots of attractive churches. Piazzas, parks and promenades provide places to walk and sit. Find a little trattoria off the beaten track, order a local dish, a glass of crisp white wine and follow up with a Neapolitan ice-cream – perfect …


Palermo Siclly - collage by DanieleDF1995

Palermo – collage by DanieleDF

I’ve never been to Sicily but as an ardent fan of ‘Montalbano’, the Sicilian detective and Giorgio Locatelli, the exuberant chef, I feel I know the island and will certainly visit one day. My father went once and talked of baking hot streets, sand-coloured buildings slowly crumbling in the relentless sea air, Roman and Arabic ruins, all with a laid-back air of ennui, laced with a very faint dash of menace. It sounded exotic and enticing. Mount Etna provides a fertile land of luscious citrus fruits, abundant vines, walnuts and – aubergines. Palermo’s port is a busy hub of ferries, container ships, cruise liners, excursion boats, luxury yachts and fishing boats. The city has a wealth of galleries, museums, villas and of course, churches. Top of my list would be the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, with its comprehensive collection of Sicilian art, housed in the Palazzo Abatellis. One day …

Bolzano – South Tyrol

 South Tyrol Italy - photo zoe dawes

Piazza Walther Bolzano

Also known as Bozen, Bolzano is the capital of Italy’s most northerly region, German-speaking South Tyrol (Alto Adige/SudTyrol). The impressive Dolomites gaze down onto the city, giving it a strong Alpine atmosphere. The open space of the Piazza Walther (named after a medieval troubadour) is the perfect place to grab an expresso and do a little people-watching. With its combination of Italian style, Germanic orderliness, Gothic and Baroque architecture, Bolzano is a delight for all the senses. The 15th century Cathedral has beautiful mosaics and down the road you can marvel at the well-preserved ‘Iceman’ in the Archaeological Museum. The colourful street market displays local South Tyrol food delicacies, including speck, mountain cheeses and fragrant honey. Alto-Adige is famous for its top-notch wines. Make sure you try the Gewürztraminer – like drinking the scenery in a glass.

Dolomites from above the city of Bolzano - phot zoe dawes

The Dolomites from above the city of Bolzano

This article on cities in Italy is written in collaboration with Original Travel.

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16 Responses to “5 must-see cities in Italy”

  1. From Heather on her travels:

    I’ve been to Bolzano and Genoa – loved them both although quite different being North and South!

    Posted on July 17, 2015 at 5:32 pm #
  2. From Kathryn Burrington:

    I recently went to southern Sicily and had a fascinating time. Didn’t get to Palermo this trip but there are two more great reasons to visit that you haven’t mentioned – it’s just been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site AND it has reputedly the best street food in the world.

    Posted on July 17, 2015 at 7:12 pm #
  3. From Zoe Dawes:

    Every time I write about Italy I think I must go there more often. We have an Italian greatx3 grandmother from Venice called Letitia Menelli. One day I’d love to return to Venice and see if I can trace her …

    Posted on July 18, 2015 at 10:51 am #
  4. From Zoe Dawes:

    It was good to visit South Tyrol with you Heather and yes, there is definitely a very strong ‘north/south divide’ isn’t there, in geography, history, food, drink and peoples.

    Posted on July 18, 2015 at 10:55 am #
  5. From Zoe Dawes:

    Thanks for the extra info in Sicily Kat. Hope to get there some day …

    Posted on July 18, 2015 at 10:56 am #
  6. From John MacBeath:

    We nearly went to Genoa instead of Gerona once – serious mix-up at Manchester Airport 😉

    Posted on July 18, 2015 at 11:30 am #
  7. From Zoe Dawes:

    Bit of a difference John but easy mistake to make!

    Posted on July 18, 2015 at 11:49 am #
  8. From Suzanne - Travelbunny:

    I’m ashamed to say I’ve not visited any of these places in Italy (something I need to correct!) I visited Matera in the Basillicata region of Southern Italy and as well as being beautiful it had a fascinating history.

    Posted on July 19, 2015 at 9:06 pm #
  9. From Zoe Dawes:

    Just looked up Matera and Basillicata region Suzanne. Not heard of it before – fascinating. Thanks for the recommendation 🙂

    Posted on July 20, 2015 at 2:58 pm #
  10. From RussinMaine:

    Just returned from two weeks in Italy, one in Cinque Terre, (based in Levanto), and a second in the heart of the Amalfi Coast in Praiano. Our second two week trip to the always wonderful world of Italy and her culture, people and cuisine! Love it!

    Posted on July 20, 2015 at 10:25 pm #
  11. From Zoe Dawes:

    Sounds like a magical trip – how lovely to spend two weeks seeing more of Italy, a country you’re obviously love very much 🙂

    Posted on July 21, 2015 at 11:40 am #
  12. From Carol Jennings:

    I’d never heard of Bolzano – looks very pretty. Been to Milan (only stayed a night) and love Naples. Thanks for tips.

    Posted on July 31, 2015 at 11:32 am #
  13. From Zoe Dawes:

    You’re welcome Carol. I’d never heard of Bolzano either – always good to discover new places. It’s got the best of Italy and the Alps – quite different from Italian cities further south.

    Posted on July 31, 2015 at 12:04 pm #
  14. From Dyson:

    Sienna for the Tuscano charm and good feel for history. Get a southern city to pad it out and escape exhausted and savour the knowlege you will not do it that way again and really go to see Italy next time.

    Posted on August 8, 2015 at 11:37 am #
  15. From 123 London:

    Italy is all time favorite place for me to spend my vacation. Bolzano really looks awesome and i love to spend time there with my family. Loved it.

    Posted on August 14, 2015 at 9:54 am #
  16. From Zoe Dawes:

    Highly recommend Bolzano Jackie and South Tyrol. There’s so much to see and do in Italy- be nice to live there for a while!

    Posted on August 14, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

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