Italy attractions

The Sistine Chapel ceiling, Vatican Museums, Rome travel, Italy, Europe January

Italy attractions: The Sistine Chapel ceiling in Vatican Museums, Rome. Photo by Boutique-Creativa.

Italy attractions & how to skip the queues/lines!

Italy attractions #1 – Rome and the Vatican

***Rome. One of the planet’s greatest cities for culture and awesome artifacts, Rome has so much to see that a lifetime isn’t enough. See Rome Pictures, Rome Travel

***The Vatican, an independent state situated in the middle of Rome. You can not be less-than impressed by St Peter’s size and decor as well as the incredible Vatican Museums, even non-Christians. Vatican Pictures and information.

 of Vatican Museums entrance queue, Rome, Italy

A normal summer queue outside the Vatican Museums, Italy attractions skip the lines!

The Colosseum

There are usually long lines to get in so avoid queues by buying a combined ticket with the adjacent Palatine Hill, a lush and lovely green space that doesn’t have lines.
A combined ticket is valid for two days and includes not only the Palatine and Colosseum but also the Forum, all of them essential tourist sights.

Alternatively buy a two or three day Roma Pass online or in various places in Rome when you arrive. This gets you straight into the Colosseum via a special gate, free travel on buses and the Metro (subway/tube), a couple of free attractions and discounts on others.

The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

The queues for Vatican tickets are likely to be long (well over 100m) and time-consuming (1-2 hours) at busy times. Closed Sundays. The Museums are FREE on the last Sunday of the month from 9. a. m – 12. 30 a. m. and September 27th (World Tourism Day). Alternatively  skip the lines for a few $$!

– Go to Rome Museums, pay the fee and get a booking number for any/all of these sights which you deliver to an office at the front of the queue and kaboom! you’re in (tho’ you still have to pay the standard entry fee).

– Or pre-purchase your ticket at the Vatican ticket office (link as Rome Museums) for a small extra fee and reserve your half hour time slot, but don’t be late or you’ll end up at the end of the queue. Buy tickets months in advance if possible.

– Join a guided tour that gets in to the museums through a special entrance. You won’t have to book in advance for these, just cruise Piazza San Pietro (in front of St Peters) and pick what suits. Naturally you will pay a hefty surcharge on top of the entry fee. Vatican Pictures, Vatican Museums Pictures.

Borghese Gallery

This superb collection of sculptures and paintings, including Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, requires an advance reservation in advance to get in. Borghese Gallery  is closed on Mondays. Opening times 9. a. m. – last entry (for 2 hours) 5 p. m. ; 2 hours is maximum time inside.

– Go to Rome Museums, pay the fee and get a booking number for this sight. Then call to reserve a time slot. Reservations are for 2 hour time slots and you pick up the ticket promptly 30 minutes beforehand.

Florence, Tuscany

Ponte Vecchio sunbathing, Florence, Italy, European cities

Florence’s Ponte Vecchio bridge.

***Florence (Firenze), prime symbol of the Renaissance, is one of Europe’s most loved cities, with fantastic architecture, great collections of art and an enchanting (if crowded) atmosphere. Florence Travel.

Visiting the Uffizi Gallery

Another magnificent Italian collection of art in a superb environment, with the waiting-in-line pain cured by application of a little money lotion+know how.
The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 8. 30 am – 7 pm. Go to Uffizi online to book a day and time slot or show up and (probably queue to) buy advance tickets in the reception of the new Uffizi’s ‘Palazzo Pitti’. Prices vary according to age, numbers in party, EU citizenship etc.

After receiving or printing your advance ticket you will go to a reserved tickets counter at the correct day and time (don’t be late or you will lose entry rights) to get the ticket that permits you to enter through a no-queue door.

Pisa, Tuscany

Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Cathedral, Tuscany, Italy

The Pisa Tower which was originally the bell tower for the cathedral on the left.

**Pisa, thanks to the world-famous Leaning Tower is inevitably one of the over-rated Italy attractions and thus packed with day-tourists, but the town itself is also charming, if sedate. The tower is actually a part of Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), one of the world’s most spectacular squares, including three other awesome structures – the Duomo, Baptistry and Camposanto.

Pisa is little known as the birthplace of Galileo Galilei, the world’s greatest physicist and astronomer.

Lucca, Tuscany

***Lucca, a small, tranquil old town sporting some unusual medieval sights and all contained within a stupendous defensive wall that is a joy to cycle or walk around. Lucca Pictures and information.

***Siena, one of the loveliest Italian cities, with an historic style and medieval atmosphere. Siena Travel Guide.

**SanGimignano, a stunning Tuscan hilltown, known for its skyline of medieval towers (now 14 remain out of an original 72) and world famous gelateria (ice cream shop).

For more local colour, try less touristy Volterra, with excellent Museo d’Arte Sacra (though not as pretty as SanGimignano), or Massa Maríttima.

Venice, Veneto

Venice, Rialto bridge Gondoliers, Italy pictures

Rialto bridge in Venice. Photo by W. Lloyd MacKenzie.

***Venice (Venezia) is, yes, saturated with visitors, and yes, expensive, but this atmospheric city is utterly unique.
The Venice Carnival in February/March is super touristy but very special and worth the effort, even taking along some fancy dress costumes. Venice Pictures.

**Verona, this pretty ‘Romeo and Juliet’ city is famous for its superb summer opera season at the Arena, an imposing Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra.
Verona also hosts the most genuine carnival in Italy, though Venice wins in the colour stakes.

St Mark’s (San Marco) Basilica

The highlight of this gorgeous cathedral in the centre of Venice is the incredible mosaic work, 8000 sq. m of ancient gold, bronze and semi-precious stones. However, this is only lit up at 11. 30 am during the week and 2 pm on Sundays. Inevitably every tourist in-the-know wants to see this display so large queues form beforehand.

The Basilica is open during the week from 9. 45 am – 5 pm and and from 2pm on Sundays. Tourists are not supposed to hang about, 10 minutes is suggested.

The best way to skip the lines and suck up some interesting, free information is to join an official tour, 11 am daily except Sundays, April thru October. Tours meet in St Mark’s atrium next to the centre doorway, on the right and we believe that prior booking is not required for individuals. However if you want to be sure (or if you represent a group) then book at San Marco online from April to October; booking costs €1, the tour is free.

n. b. Suitable clothes only (no tank tops! ); no suitcases, backpacks or large bags allowed; no photos or video can be taken; the visit lasts for 10 minutes; and lastly, silence!

Milan, Lombardy

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele shopping centre, Milan, Italy

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele shopping centre, Milan. Photo by Chensiyuan.

**Milan (Milano), the country’s commercial centre and home to some of the world’s leading designers labels.
The 360-degree panoramic view from the roof of the Duomo, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, is wowissimo, especially on a clear day with the view stretching to the Italian Alps.

Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ is in Santa Maria delle Grazie and visible Tues-Sun 9am – 7. 30pm; visits are for 15 minutes and will need to be booked two or three weeks in advance by phone.

Milan’s stylish urban atmosphere attracts affluent shoppers, but is also an ideal gateway to the beautiful Italian lake district.

Turin, Piemonte

*Turin (Torino), Italy’s second largest industrial city, is one of Europe’s most majestic baroque cities and excellent for a short break. It has outstanding museums, like Museo Egizio, the world’s largest Egyptian Museum outside Egypt, stunning churches, like the Duomo (San Giovanni Battista) that houses the ‘Holy Shroud of Turin’ (even if it is a fake).

*** Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso (Valle d’Aosta), Italian Alps, bordered by Europe’s tallest mountains including Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, this is home to some of the best Italian ski resorts, such as Courmayeur and Cervinia.

Far north Italy attractions – the Italian Lakes

Bellagio and Lake Como, Italy

Bellagio, Lake Como and the Italian Alps.

***The Lakes at the foot of the Alps are marginally less popular than cities but still number among Italy main attractions, though the region gets tediously stuffed in holiday time. Lake Garda (Lago di Garda), the biggest and most popular of all, is relatively clean and good for many sports and activities. This is one of Europe’s top windsurfing spots.

Lake Como (Lago di Como), the most scenic and romantic lake, has masses of gorgeous villas visible from good-value ferries and some worthy hiking trails attracting middle class tourists and walkers, while Maggiore (Lago Maggiore) is geographically the least dramatic, but provides sophistication and tranquility. Lake Como Pictures and information.

If you are not staying on the shores of the lakes, the most ideal base for the lakes, especially Como, is **Bergamo, starring the Citta Alta old town, is one of Italy’s prettiest medieval walled towns. Bergamo has an an international airport.

**Mantua (Mantova), best known from a scene in Verdi’s opera Rigoletto is one of the most off-beat must-sees, particularly if you are an Italian art lover. Two palaces, Palazzo Ducale and Palazzo Te, sparkle with frescoes by Mantegna and Guilio Romano, some of the finest Renaissance treasures in the world.

Cinque Terre, Liguria

Monterosso beach, Italy beaches

Monterosso and the Cinque Terre path.

***Cinque Terre, which means ‘Five Lands’, comprises five very Italian villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) along the scenic coastline of Riviera di Levante.

Although it gets tourist overload in the summer and the beaches are small and pebbly, the scenery is worth the trip and hikers love it. Walkers on the famous Cinque Terre path are just visible on the right of the image.
It’s on the coast just north of La Spezia. See northwest coast map and Italy Beach Pictures

Genoa, Liguria

**Genoa (Genova), gateway to Italy’s Riviera has a confused layout (so avoid driving there) but sports some stunning buildings and has a lively local culture. Genoa Pictures and information.

Bologna, Emilia-Romagna

Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, Italy

Piazza Maggiore in Bologna. Photo by Jean Housen.

***Bologna has one of Italy’s most exquisite city centres with 44km of soaring arcades, Europe’s oldest university and is loved for its grace and dignity, similar to Florence but far less touristy.

Fear for your bella figura here, the city is known as the gastronomic capital of Italy and nicknamed La Grassa, Fatty! (or alternatively La Rossa, the Red; La Dotta, the learned; and the Three T’s, towers, tortellini and tits! )

Assissi, Umbria

Basilica di St. Francesco, Assisi, Umbria.

Basilica di St. Francesco, Assisi, Umbria.

**Assisi is mainly known as the birth and burial place of St Francis, an extraordinary 12th century saint and founder of the Franciscan order.
The main attraction is the Basilica di St. Francesco, one of Italy’s greatest and most inviting churches, containing wonderful frescoes on the life of St. Francis by Giotto. The place attracts pilgrims and tourists all year round, but reverts to a delightfully tranquil hilltown after the day-trippers have gone.

Also try *Gubbio, another attractive walled town, the most medieval in the Umbria region, with restrained tourism. It is also known for its mind-boggling festival, Corsa dei Ceri in May.

Southern Italy attractions – Amalfi, Campania

Amalfi town in south, Italy pictures

Italy’s Amalfi coast, Positano town.

***Amalfi Coast, one of Italy’s most scenic coastlines, stretches between Sorrento and Salerno with dramatic cliffs and picturesque resort villages with close-packed, steeply terraced houses on cliffs, including the classy, upmarket resort town of **Positano or the artist’s favourite Italian destination (among others, D. H. Lawrence, Gore Vidal, Greta Garbo), **Ravello. Ravello’s dramatic Villa Rufolo offers concerts through the summer until the end of October. The views are breathtaking, as are the prices so budget travellers will need to do a lot of leg work.

Blog Post – Southern Italy in winter – Hi bugcrew…

Just back from our trip with a great many souvenirs of Naples splattered liberally over our arms, hands, legs, faces and bodies.

When we woke up Day 1 we couldn’t work out why our eyes were all swollen, like aliens. We did not imagine it was an allergic response to the little critters who’d been feasting on us in the bed.

Day 2 and husband looks like he has measles. I explain in my non-existent Italian that there are animals in our bed biting us and the receptionist does not look at all surprised but changes our room.

Day 8, back in the UK, the bites take a turn for the worse and I have to take Piriton to stop the itching and get to sleep. Very strange toxin. In all our days of grotty travelling, this is the first time we get bed bugs – in a 3* hotel! Mind you, Naples is the filthiest, strangest, scariest, most ill-organised and anarchic city we have ever seen. You have to go there. No, don’t. It also has the best pizza I have ever tasted – by far.

An area of superlatives – Pompeii and Herculanium totally fascinating and outstanding.

Vesuvius covered in snow – closed but that never stopped us. Husband slithered the car through thick snow as far as we could go, then nipped through a fence and trudged up in the company of a pack of large dogs, which seem to accompany you wherever you go in this part of the world – the crater immense, steaming, extraordinary how half a vast mountain can re-locate in a very short period of time.

Herculanium was covered by sixty feet of volcanic material – it used to be on the beach, but the sea is now 800m away!

The Amalfi coast lived up to its reputation of being the most beautiful coastline in Europe – tho’ a bit of sunshine would have made it even more beautiful.

Stayed in the most outstanding B&B in the world, I’m sure – tell everybody to go there – Villa Oriana, Sorrento. It was sensational – the welcome, the view, the fire, the lemon groves, the room, the breakfast, the level of care.

Walked the Pathway of the Gods and that was amazing – tho’ started in the rain. Have to say, the weather was crap. Also, only Feb but so little space that cars were parked everywhere and it was hard to find a space. It must be hell in summer. The hotel keeper told us that everyone travels by boat as the roads are impassable.

So that was our holiday. Not as relaxing as our usual breaks – the weather, the bugs, the ugliness of trash city and its vast sprawl and the endless cars lining the wonderful coast roads.

Scratch that, Mandy

Naples, Campania

Naples, the true home of the pizza, is not one of Italy attractions for us – it’s polluted, noisy, shabby and chaotic, making the old saying ‘see Naples and die’ sadly ironic. It can be a fascinating city though, if you live like a Neapolitan and watch your wallet constantly.

The Museo Archeologico Nazionale is worth checking for Greek and Roman artefacts and Naples is an ideal gateway to Pompeii, Herculaneum, the Villa Oplontis and the island of Cápri. See our Italian Islands Guide.

The resort of Sorrento, a package-tour favourite, can be another good base for those sights.

***Pompeii, one of the greatest Roman cities was abruptly terminated by Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD; it offers magnificent walks along genuine Roman alleyways past well-preserved villas, bars, bathhouses and brothels in Europe’s greatest archeological site. Although a combined day-ticket with Herculaneum is available, it is rather optimistic to do both, since seeing Pompeii alone should take 5 to 6 hours. It opens 8. 30am-6pm in the summer and until 3. 30pm in winter.

**Herculaneum, another Roman site buried under the lava of the Vesuvius is smaller and less impressive but better preserved than Pompeii.

**Paestum, magnificent ruins of a 7th century BC Greek city, with three of the world’s best preserved Doric temples and a fine archaeological Museum. An hour bus or train from the port town of *Salerno.

Far south Italy attractions – Puglia, Basilicata

**Matera, the abandoned ancient city of ‘sassi‘ (stone cave houses), used be home to 20, 000 habitants, is now listed as one of Italy’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

**Puglia (aka Apulia), the heel of Italy bordering both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, is a dry, barren region rich in archeological sites; it’s been settled by Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Goths, Byzantines and Normans, among others. It’s also rich in pasta (supplying 75% of Europe’s pasta), olive oil, wine, litter and cute little pointy houses called trulli.
Factor in a year-round fine, warm climate, easy 3 hour flights from London, great golf courses, uncrowded beaches (though pebbly, not sandy) and fantastic local cuisine that specialises in seafood and this area is one of the best Italian destinations, though as usual July and August will be busy and less attractive.
One village containing 1, 500 15thC trullis is Alberobello, now a UNESCO site.
Apulians take a siesta from 2-5pm (i. e. everything shuts) and react better to visitors if they speak a few words of Italian.