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The Wanderlust Guide to the best of Italy

Food, history, romance – Italy has got it all. Here's your guide to get your slice of la dolce vita


Since the days of the Roman Empire, Italy has been at the forefront of Western civilisation, a cultural powerhouse and energetic innovator. It's also stunningly beautiful, with the mountains of the Alps and the Dolomites to the north and the cones of Stromboli and Etna in the south – though the iconic images of the country are usually the rolling landscapes of its Tuscan heartland.

From the great Renaissance city states of the north to the rugged, sunblasted provinces in the south, it encompasses tiny, postcard-pretty villages, wild national parks and the 'eternal city', Rome.

Want beaches? Take your pick from over 9,000km of coastline, with beaches ranging from the tiny coves of Cinque Terre to the boulder-strewn white sands of Sardinia, lapped by turquoise waters.

Want mountains? As well as the Alps, there are the exceptionally beautiful sheer cliffs, glaciers and karst systems in the Dolomites and, running the length of the country like a spine, the Apennines.

Want culture? Italy has more Unesco-listed culture sites than any other nation. There are Roman ruins, majestic public buildings, domed churches and, of course, the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Italy's ancient towns and cities are still thriving, lively places: see them at their animated best each evening, as the locals take to the streets in their finery for the daily passeggiata (stroll).

And if wilderness is what you’re after, Italy’s got national parks aplenty, many of which you can hike through for days without seeing another soul. The most well-known – Abruzzo National Park – is a haven for nature-watchers with opportunities to spot bear, wolves and wild boar.

As if this wasn't enough, Italy's cuisine is legendary. With the best food and drink in the world, this is one country that it's always a pleasure to explore.

Lucca (Wanderlust)

Looking for inspiration?

Daisy Cropper lists the oldest, most picturesque and tastiest towns in Tuscany in her guide to the Top 5 Tuscan Hill towns, kindly steering you away from the real tourist traps.

Blogger Samantha performs a similar service for Sicily, listing the island’s Top 10 must-see sights.

Will Gray sings the praises of Puglia, Italy’s most overlooked province – home to a dazzling array of monuments and a hearty, tantalising cuisine.

From Puglia, Abagail Hole suggests a walking tour of the instep of Italy's boot in Matera.  It’s a world of underground delights, she says, and offers more than a little religious enlightenment.

If you’re looking for wilderness, it’s closer than you think, says Nick Easen. He suggests visiting the beech forests of Majella National Park, Europe’s largest protected wilderness.

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Top 5 Tuscan Hill towns – Daisy Cropper

Sicily's top 10 must-see sights – Around the World in Heels

Puglia, Italy: southern Italy's overlooked province – William Gray

A cavernous weekend in Basilicata – Abigail Hole

Italy's Majella National Park – Nick Easen

Venice (Wanderlust)

Short break heaven

Italy is perfect for short breaks, with every region, and indeed many towns, offering a delight for every sense in bite-sized portions.

To that end, Sarah Baxter has put together a handy guide to Italy by budget airlines – including where to fly into, and what to do and see while you’re there.

Once you’ve chosen your destination, don’t forget to check out our specific short break guides to ensure you get the most out of the limited time you have. Whether you're heading to Siena, Verona, Venice or Florence, our writers have unearthed the best places to stay and eat and the things you must see and do.

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Italy … by low cost airlines – Sarah Baxter

Short Break in Siena, Italy – Daisy Cropper

Short Break: Verona, Italy – Susie Maggie Thorne

First 24 hours: Venice, Italy – Gllian Price

One perfect day in Florence – Rebecca Goding

Siena (Wanderlust)

Italy’s secrets revealed

Euros too tight to mention? Then you need to read Daisy Cropper’s 10 things to do for free in Siena. Or if you’re heading further south, Christine Fleitz’s tips on free things to do in Naples.

Tiana Kai, meanwhile, reveals the hidden corners of Lucca, a walled gem in Tuscany’s north-west corner. And Michelle Summerville let’s you in on a few of Puglia’s lesser-known secrets, listing the towns, restaurants and beaches the Italians have been keeping to themselves.

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10 things to do for free in Siena, Italy – Daisy Cropper

10 things to do for free in Naples – Christine Fleitz

Your guide to Lucca by bike – Tiana Kai

Puglia's hidden secrets – Michelle Summerville

Venice (Ian Park)

Capturing it all on film

From the rolling hills of Tuscany to the ancient splendour of Rome, there isn’t a corner of Italy that hasn’t been photographed. A lot.

That didn’t stop Ian Park, though. His amazing photo of Venice underwater was a finalist in the icon section of our Travel Photo of the Year competition in 2013. If you’d like to know how to put your own particular spin on Italy’s famous icons, check out Steve Davey’s article on fresh perspectives on familiar sights.

For more inspiration, make sure you check out the photos our readers have taken on their travels to Italy.

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The waters of Venice – Ian Park

Photographing Travel Icons – Steve Davey

Readers’ Photos of Italy

Sardinia (Wanderlust)

Everything you need to know

Ready to start planning your trip? Our Italy Travel Guide is the perfect place to start. Make sure you drop by our Italy Essential Info page too, for more everyday (but equally vital) information.

If you have a particular question about Italy, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum, where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions people have already asked about Italy. The answer to yours might already be there.

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Italy Travel Guide

Italy Essential Info

Wanderlust Forum

Italy Q&A

Vespa in Tuscany

Ready to go?

Here’s a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. From Tuscan cycling trips and gastronomic adventures to art and architectural tours, there’s something to suit every taste and budget.

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Trip Finder can help you find adventures in Italy

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