Things to Do in Italy - page 5
Prosecco has grown world famous as the sparkling wine of Italy. Grown in the Prosecco Hills just north of Venice, a visit to the wine region is not only tasty but excessively scenic. As opposed to champagne which refers to a region, the name ‘prosecco’ refers to the grape itself, though it is also called ‘glera.’ It is grown in this lush valley of Italy, surrounded by green hills and framed by the Dolomite Mountains. Prosecco has been grown here for more than ten centuries.
Three main towns can be found in the region: Valdobbiadene, Conegliano and Vittorio Veneto. Mild climate and rich soils make this the Vineyards, tasting rooms, and local restaurants all offer opportunities to taste the dry, light sparkling wine at its source. Many of the vineyards have small terraces on steep slopes that offer great views of the surrounding countryside. Wine-centered events take place during the summer months.
Trieste’s magnificent Piazza Unità d'Italia, also known as Piazza Grande, facing the Adriatic Sea, is one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. This large open space—the largest seafront square in Europe—lined with sumptuous 19th- and 20th-century palaces and historic cafés, is the very heart of the city.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Piazza Duomo is both a jewel of the Sicilian baroque and the vibrant heart of Catania. Home to some of the city’s most sumptuous architectural treasures, including Palazzo degli Elefanti, the Cathedral di Sant’Agata (Duomo), and the Fontana dell’Elefante, this square is a highlight of Catania city tours.
To stroll through Turin’s Piazza Castello is to walk through the city’s history, as this vast square is home to sumptuous buildings like the Savoy Royal Palace and Palazzo Madama, the first seat of the Italian parliament. Lined with elegant porticoes, shops, and cafés, the square is a highlight of this vibrant city.
Palermo’s most famous piazza, the Piazza Pretoria, is just a few steps from the busy Quattro Canti - but a world away in terms of the kind of piazza experience it delivers.
The centerpiece of the Piazza Pretoria is the fountain, known as the Fontana Pretoria. It’s huge, designed in the 1550s by a sculptor from Florence named Camilliani. The fountain was originally commissioned for a private villa in Tuscany, but was gifted to the city of Palermo in 1574. City officials had razed several homes to make way for a grand fountain, meant to show off Palermo’s impressive city plumbing, but locals weren’t quite prepared for the fountain’s decorations when it was unveiled.
There are 16 figures on the Fontana Pretoria, all of which are entirely or partially nude, that circle the fountain. There is no side from which you can simply enjoy the water itself without seeing a nude statue - which many Palermitans in the late 16th century found scandalous. There are two churches facing the Piazza Pretoria - Santa Caterina and San Giuseppe dei Teatini - which may have added to the perceived inappropriate nature of the fountain’s decor.
La Scala Opera House (Teatro alla Scala), one of the world’s greatest opera houses, has hosted some of Italy’s most famous opera and other performances. Located in downtown Milan, this 18th-century theater and cultural landmark—magnificently restored in 2004—seats many of its 2,000 spectators in elegant boxes adorned with gold leaf and red velvet.
Italy often shakes, rattles, and rolls with seismic activity from volcanoes and earthquakes. This geothermal energy has formed countless hot springs, many used as natural thermal spas since ancient Roman times. One of the most famous is the Garda Thermal Park (Parco Termale del Garda), part of the 18th-century Villa dei Cedri estate near Lake Garda.
Piazza delle Erbe is the beating heart of Mantua’s elegant Renaissance historic center. It is also home to three of the UNESCO World Heritage–listed city’s most famous monuments: the 13th-century civic hall, Palazzo della Ragione; Bartolomeo Manfredi’s 15th-century clock tower; and the 11th-century Rotonda di San Lorenzo, the city’s oldest church.
The White Grotto(Grotta Bianca) is one of several scenic caves along the coastline of the island of Capri, which sits just off the coast of Naples, Italy. Less crowded than the popular Blue Grotto, it gets its name from the white stalactites that hang from the roof of the cave and the white layers of calcareous material that coats its sides. One of the stalactites is said to resemble the Virgin Mary in prayer. The grotto consists of an upper and lower cave, although the upper is not easily accessible. The lower cave is about 24 feet at its tallest and is wider above the water (about six feet) than it is at the surface. According to Mario Puzo’s book “The Sicilian,” the famous Sicilian bandit Salvatore Giuliano spent his first nights as an outlaw in the White Grotto.
The ornate 17th-century facade of Syracuse Cathedral (Duomo di Siracusa) is typical of many Sicilian baroque churches, but belies the unusual interior of this former Greek temple. Built in the fifth century BC and dedicated to the goddess Athena, the building was converted into a Christian church over a millennium later.
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From a road winding through the Sicilian countryside, family owned Gambino Winery (Vini Gambino) appears atop a hillside in the Etna wine region. The unique climate and soil of the area produces some of Italy’s tastiest wines, both white and red. Most wines are derived from either Nerello mascalese or Nerello cappuccio grapes, many of which are given DOC designation. Innovative winemakers in this region are making some of Sicily’s best wines, and while not all are available to taste Gambino Winery allows you to sample quite a few.
Mount Etna being an ancient volcano (the largest in Europe,) views from the winery are scenic and the surrounding landscape is beautiful to take in. There’s nothing like drinking a glass of wine right in the place in which it was produced, and there’s no shortage of great wine or views at Gambino. The winery also serves delicious food, cheeses, and local olive oils.
Te Palace (Palazzo Te) is a half-hour’s enjoyable walk from the heart of gorgeous Mantua, a wonderfully OTT summer palace built for Federico II Gonzaga between 1525 and 1535. Designed by Renaissance architect Giulio di Piero Pippi de’ Iannuzzi (known as Romano), the palace was Federico’s retreat from royal life, which centered on the Palazzo Ducale in Piazza Sordello. A seemingly endless series of lavishly adorned apartments were decorated by leading artists of the day and reflect his pet obsessions with love, horses and astrology, from statuesque equine portraits in the Hall of the Horses to alarmingly suggestive frescoes by Romano in the Chamber of Amor and Psyche.
The palazzo was also built to remind the great unwashed of Mantua who held political supremacy over them; the vast and fantastically ornate Sala dei Giganti (Room of the Giants) is a metaphor for Gonazga power, which sees Titan overthrown by the gods in a dazzling trompe l’oeil that creates the illusion that the ceiling is collapsing. Tucked away among the upper floors of Palazzo Te is the town’s Museo Civico, where displays include a jumble of armory, medals, coins and Egyptian artifacts along with Gonzaga family portraits by 20th-century artist Armando Spadini.
The extensive formal gardens include loggias, a shell-encrusted grotto, stuccowork cloisters, fish ponds and Federico’s pretty garden retreat.
Of Venice’s 100-plus outlying islands, the group that forms Murano is the most famous. This tight cluster of small islands has been the center of the Floating City’s historic glassmaking industry since 1291, when the city center’s glass factories were forcibly moved across the lagoon—just north of Venice proper—after a number of devastating fires. Today, travelers visit Murano to see how expertly trained artisans blow glass into exquisite stemware, chandeliers, vases, and sculptures. Those particularly interested in the history of glassmaking should stop by the Museo del Vetro, which traces the art back to ancient Egypt.
One of several natural sea caves along Capri's rugged coastline, the Green Grotto (Grotta Verde) is known for the unique green light that filters through the water and reflects onto the walls, creating a striking, dreamy atmosphere inside.
Some Italian piazzas are picturesque squares where locals stroll in the evenings, or watch their children play, or gossip with the neighbors. And sometimes, as is the case with Palermo’s Four Corners (Quattro Canti), they’re busy intersections.
Despite the fact that the Quattro Canti - also known as the Piazza Vigilena - is an intersection that’s often full of cars, it’s still one of the attractions visitors seek out in the city. This is largely because of the four buildings that sit at the four corners of the intersection - “quattro canti” means “four corners” - which are Baroque buildings dating from the early 17th century. The four buildings are almost identical, save for a few details.
Each of the four buildings is slightly curved, giving the piazza a rounded footprint, and there are statues in niches that represent the four seasons, the four Spanish kings of Sicily, and the four patron saints of Palermo. Each building is connected to a different Palermo neighborhood, and the patron saint on that building is the patron of that neighborhood.
The Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani) is an enormous complex of galleries holding some of Italy’s most important art, from paintings and sculptures to tapestries and classical antiquities. Adjoining St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums' miles of corridors connect buildings and courtyards housing the Pinacoteca, Egyptian Museum, Gallery of Tapestries, Pius-Clementine Museum, and Gallery of Maps. But the crown jewels are the Sistine Chapel, famous for Michelangelo's ceiling andThe Last Judgment, and the 16th-century frescoes in the Raphael Rooms.
In the fashion capital of Italy, the soaring, glass-domed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade never goes out of style. Started in 1877, Europe’s oldest shopping mall connects the Milan Duomo to Piazza di Marino and the La Scala Opera House (Teatro alla Scala) by way of a bright and airy, four-story center lined with busy restaurants and shops. Come for the Neoclassical architecture, stay for the brands and fresh baked panzerotti.
Collegio del Cambio - Perugia’s exchange guild - was built sometime between 1452 and 1457 and originally operated as a bank. Today, this stunning example of Roman architecture is a destination for travelers who want to experience the beauty of the best-preserved Renaissance frescoes in the nation.
Though only two rooms are open to the public at a cost of about five euros, visitors say what lied behind the massive wooden doors is definitely worth a visit. Stunning works from the artist Perugino, ornate wood carvings and a truly spectacular ceiling make this an attraction that is not to be missed while in Perugia.
Tiny Ravello, an idyllic village along the Amalfi Coast, has a long history and vibrant cultural life. Founded by Romans in the sixth century, this picturesque clifftop town is today a haven for travelers drawn to its views, villas, and gardens. Home to Villa Rufolo, which has hosted luminaries from Richard Wagner to Jacqueline Kennedy, and Villa Cimbrone, known for its panoramic views, Ravello is an elegant respite from the crowds along the coast.
With its crumbling ruins perched atop a precipitous mountaintop and reachable only by a footbridge that climbs up the cliff side, Civita di Bagnoregio is surely one of Italy’s most dramatically situated towns. Originally built by the Etruscans more than 2,500 years ago, Civita di Bagnoregio boasts a fascinating history and, thanks to its remote location, a wealth of well-preserved medieval buildings.
With erosion causing most inhabitants to move on, the cobbled streets and stone-brick houses of Civita di Bagnoregio are now near deserted, leaving it as a hauntingly beautiful reminder of times past. The uniquely situated town still springs to life in summer as part-time residents return to welcome tourists and visitors gather to enjoy the jaw-dropping views and wander around the town that time forgot.
Cinque Terre National Park (Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of postcard-worthy landscapes: sweeping sea cliffs dotted with sandy coves, brightly painted villages clinging to steep terraces, and forested plateaus blooming with wildflowers. Stretching some 4,300 acres (1,740 hectares) along northern Italy’s rugged Italian Riviera, the park dazzles visitors with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean coastline.
Escape the bustle of Naples with a visit to Terme Stufe di Nerone (The Baths of Nero Stoves). These hot springs are located just outside the city in the volcanic area of the Phlegraean Fields, which offer waters as hot as 165°F (74°C) and have been a popular natural thermal spa since ancient Roman times.
Turin’s most recognizable landmark—and home to the National Museum of Cinema—the Mole Antonelliana dates to 1889. This soaring tower, with its pyramidal dome and 551-foot (168-meter) spire rises above the Turin skyline, and its viewing platform offers top-notch city vistas.
Just south of the Amalfi Coast, the seaside town of Salerno is home to the magnificent 11th-century Cathedral of Saint Matthew—one of the most beautiful medieval churches in Italy, with an ornate baroque crypt containing the remains of the Apostle Matthew. It’s an easy day trip from Sorrento, Positano, or Amalfi.
- Things to do in Rome
- Things to do in Naples
- Things to do in Florence
- Things to do in Venice
- Things to do in Milan
- Things to do in Pompeii
- Things to do in Salerno
- Things to do in Messina
- Things to do in Positano
- Things to do in Trieste
- Things to do in Croatia
- Things to do in Slovenia
- Things to do in Umbria
- Things to do in Tuscany
- Things to do in Lazio