One of the most asked questions I get about traveling is: “What’s your favorite country?”. That really is an impossible question to answer. I left pieces of my heart in so many countries. Jordan, Cambodia and Australia to name just a few. I live in The Netherlands so it’s very easy for me to visit European countries more often. If it was up to me I would visit Germany and Italy at least once a year. Unfortunately my wallet and my job don’t agree with me. And there are so many places that I haven’t visited yet. I made myself a promise to visit a new country at least once a year and you simply can’t have it all. I’m so happy that I’m fortunate enough to get to travel the world in the first place, so I can’t and shouldn’t complain.
I’ve been to Italy many times already. I love the people and the landscapes are so diverse that it seems like your driving into another country every other hour. And the food, oh mamma mia, the food is absolutely amazing. I have to say that I haven’t eaten that good in any other country, including my own. The cities are actually open air museums. Turn a corner, it doesn’t matter which one, and you’ll be mesmerized by what you see. Every time you go back to Italy you’ll get enchanted all over again. So here it is, a post about my favorite cities in Italy. One of my favorite European countries.
I’ve been to Milan twice. The first time I wasn’t really charmed by it. I saw lots of fashion forward people, the food was great, but the vibe of the city wasn’t mine. Sure, the Duomo Santa Maria Nascente and the square in front of it were impressive and so was Castello Sforzesco, but it didn’t give me the chills like other cities in Italy. The second time I was there it was different. I think that when I first visited the city I was expecting the vibe I felt in cities like Rome and Florence. But the strength of this city is it’s diversity. It’s more modern in every way, but it also has lots of history. The architecture isn’t dominated by one architectural period, but because of it being the financial capital of Italy lots of architects have been making their marks on the city. Renaissance, Art Nouveau, Urban you name it. The diversity is what makes this city all the more interesting. And if you’re done looking at buildings you can always sit down with a cappuccino (never after 10am though, Italians hate it when tourists do that) and just stare at all the fashionistas on their way to work. You will feel highly underdressed, I can assure you that, but you will feel like you just sat front row at a show during fashion week. Oh, and the food!! Every region in Italy has their own signature dishes that are to die for. When in Milan eat risotto, ossobuco, polenta and Gorgonzola. Heavy foods, unfriendly for the hips, but superdelicious.
Oh Rome, how you take my breath away. I’ve only been there once and that trip lasted a week and was still to short. I never felt that way in any other city. I’m usually perfectly satisfied with a long weekend, but in hindsight I was so happy that for some reason I choose to stay in Rome for a week. The whole city is like an open air museum and when you walk through places like the Forum Romanum or the Colosseum it isn’t hard to picture yourself walking through Ancient Rome in times when they ruled over large parts of Europe and even Africa. Being the capital of the Roman Empire, it isn’t much of a surprise that in this city you will find the most remnants of that period. Of course you can still find loads of ancient Roman cities in other countries, like Ephesus in Turkey or Jerash in Amman for example. But when you’re interested in the history of the Roman Empire nothing beats its namesake. And after checking out all these ancient marvels head on over to Piazza Navona where you will find gelaterias, restaurants and the Musea di Roma.
Oh, you know what I haven’t mentioned yet? You can cross another country off of your bucket list whilst in Rome: Vatican City! Yep, the smallest country in the world completely devoted to the Vatican and Catholicism. This country is only one kilometre squared, so you can explore the whole country in a day. Easily. And if you’re really lucky you can even spot the Pope if you can arrange a ticket to the papal audience for the weekly address of Pope Francis on Wednesdays. Or you can spot him every Sunday at noon when he will wave at peepz out on St. Peter’s Square.
And while you’re in Vatican City you should really visit the Vatican Museum and see the Sistine Chapel. It’s worth it!
After all this sightseeing you should have some of Rome’s signature dishes like cacio e pepe, pasta carbonara and supplí. Just skip all of them if you’re on a diet ;).
No list of favorite cities in Italy is complete without Venice. Unfortunately that is the reason why the city is constantly flooded (pun intended) with tourists. That’s why I decided to not stay in the city itself but visit it on a day trip while staying in Garda, a gorgeous little town located at the Garda Lake. That turned out to be a smart decision. We went during summer (in July) and arrived early in the morning. It was already swarming with tourists. But this is one of those cities where you don’t really mind it, because it really is that beautiful. Piazza San Marco is a dream. The canals are a dream. The gondola’s are a dream. Spend a few hours in Venice to soak it all in.
Have a squid risotto or risi e bisi for lunch and leave after that. Because around two or three it gets too busy and that’s when you go back to the village or city you’re staying at with a daypack full of memories of this beautiful place while leaving all the people and noises behind you.
Ok, so now that we’ve talked about the three most visited cities in Italy. It’s time for some other Italian pearls.
Florence is one of my favorite cities in the world. I can’t get enough of it. It is so beautiful with its terracotta roofs and renaissance architecture. And if you invest in a Firenze Card (72 euros for 72 hours) you can get into most of the museums in the city. More importantly you can skip the lines. The lines are huge in front of places like the Accademia Gallery and the Uffizi, so it’s really nice if you can skip those.
And if you don’t want to visit musea then there are more than enough outdoor sculptures and statues to be seen all over the city. Of course most of you know know about the Piazza Della Signoria (next to the Uffizi Gallery). It’s a loggia filled with sculptures. And on the piazza itself you will spot a replica of Michelangelo’s David and see Neptune’s Fountain.
Another highlight is the Ponte Vecchio. From the Uffizi Gallery you get a great view of this bridge with shops built along it, which used to be very common, but is now very rare. You will find lots of jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers on this bridge.
After all this sightseeing it is time to sit yourself down at one of the many terraces for a nice glass of wine. What are the signature dishes in and around Florence? Of course bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine Steak), my personal favorite: tagliatelle fungi porcine e tartufo and crostini.
I ate a lot of gelato in Italy and the best ones I’ve had in Florence, so don’t leave without having a cone.
Another Tuscan city that you shouldn’t skip is Lucca. It is known as the city of 100 churches, for reasons I probably don’t have to explain. One of the highlights is its 16th century city wall. It’s completely accessible on foot or bike (cars are forbidden). There is a four kilometre walkway that is very panoramic and we loved it. There is a botanical garden that you could visit. We didn’t, but I did hear that it is beautiful.
What we did do is check out two of the many churches. We choose the cathedral of St. Martin and St. Michael’s Church.
But we were the most enthralled with the Roman Amphitheatre. Standing in the middle of the oval square it becomes clear to you that all the buildings were built around the square to give it the elliptical structure that amphitheatres are known for. The amphitheatre itself doesn’t exist anymore, but the shape still exist and is now the basis for many restaurants. We choose one of them and stayed there for two hours just admiring the buildings having a nice lunch. Have one of the signature dished of this region, like zuppa Lucchese, stewed rabbit or necci and end your lunch with Lucca’s famous version of a chocolate cake.
We went to Pisa for the reason most of us do: the leaning tower. We wanted to see it while the sun went down and that was a great choice. It was during high season, but because it was around 17.00hrs most people were leaving the Piazza dei Miracoli and we had the place practically for ourselves along with about 50 other people. Which is nothing when you’re on this beautiful and large square.
Of course the highlight is the leaning tower, but there are more things to see here. The baptistry, the Duomo and the Monumental Cemetery. We didn’t go up the tower (our toddler wasn’t up for it and we like to pick our battles), but we didn’t really mind. Strolling through the square was just as fun. And with the sun slowly setting it felt quite magical. If you want to see all the sites take about 2 to 4 hours, depending on how many of the sites you will enter.
After visiting the piazza we had dinner in one of the many restaurants around the square. Signature dishes: ravioli al mucco pisano, trippa pisana and cheese biscotti.
The city of Romeo and Juliet, one of Shakespeare’s most famous stories. And well, let’s just say that the city knows how to capitalize on that. In reality the story didn’t take place in Verona at all, but in the region Friuli Venezia Giulia in a small village called Ariis. But when in Verona there’s no way that you can skip out on visiting Casa di Giulietta, right? It still is a very romantic idea and the courtyard is really nice, albeit full of tourists that are waiting in line to touch Juliet’s right boob. Just to be clear, I’m talking about touching a statue here, not a real persons boobs. Legend says that it will bring you luck in love. The cute, but fake, balcony is very picturesque. On the way out, don’t forget to leave a love letter behind on the walls, securing it with a piece of used gum (yeah, I don’t get the logic in that either).
But Verona is so much more than Romeo and Juliet. Our highlight was visiting the Roman Arena, still very much in use during summer when outdoor performances are held there. Another thing you shouldn’t skip is Lamberti Tower. You get a great view of the city after a climb to the top.
Lastly, walk on over to Piazza dei Signori. A beautiful square where you will find a statue of Dante and a few other important signori. After all this sightseeing you are not only hungry for love, but also for food. So what signature dishes are to be found in Verona? Try risotto all’Amarone, bigoli with duck or horse steak (they really love eating horse in Verona).
Siena is known for Il Palio, the horse race held in the city twice every year on the Piazza del Campo. It’s almost impossible to get to the city centre during this event. And honestly the highlight of a trip to Siena is the Piazza del Campo. You want to stroll through the square, have a drink at one of the many terraces on the piazza, admire the Fonte Gaia (the largest fountain of the city) and visit the Palazzo Comunale and its tower. You can’t do that when the horse race is taking place.
After visiting this piazza it’s time for another: Piazza del Duomo where you can visit the magnificent Cathedral, Crypt and Piccolomini Library. Lots to see and honestly you can do it all in one day, after which it is time to try the local dishes like chicken liver crostini, pan co’ santi and panforte. Siena’s cuisine is mostly known for their biscuits and desserts.
If you’re missing some cities in this listing then chances are that I haven’t visited that city yet or maybe I didn’t appreciate a certain city as much as you did.
There are lots of cities that I still have to visit and I am definitely going to do that in the years to come. I’ll be in Puglia for a few days later this year and that trip will probably inspire me to explore more of that region.
And going to Sicily is very high up on my bucket list. What Italian cities are on your favorite list? And which Italian cities are on your bucket list? Please let me know in the comment section below.