Sitting around the dinner table one night, after a few bottles of Chianti with some old friends (pre-Rona), most of whom had spent time as European tour guides and backpackers, I asked them to name the best Italy tourist attractions to see & the essential things to do in Italy. There was a lot of noisy conversation in the restaurant as some of them wanted to praise the less obvious stuff above the more mainstream, but there was still a lot of unanimous consensus with others. In no special order, I present to you the top essential things to do in Italy, as my friendly locals have decided.
1. Nun watching in Piazza San Pietro
There’s something serene about seeing a line of nuns on a tour, particularly on unique Saints’ Days, taking pictures of the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica, or walking behind each other in the large cathedral. They’re overshadowed only by the pigeons encouraged by parents to sit on their offsprings’ heads, maybe hoping they’ll pick them up and fly them away, on the other side of the Roman Forum. 🙂
2. Eating gelato three times a day
This is mandatory for those traveling during the months of June, July, and August. How the Italians manage to make it that smooth, delicious, and creamy is beyond me. And it never makes you feel full.
It’s one of the top things to do in Italy after spending hours queuing in the heat to admire all those beautiful artworks! After tasting gelati made with fully natural ingredients, everyone claims to have found the best gelato shop in Italy. Others dive in even deeper, searching for and trying unusual flavors like tomato and even basil.
Besides gelato, another thing you should be trying is the local wine.
3. Hold the leaning tower of Pisa for Italy
You’ve seen it in so many photos! A required photo of someone and their friends holding the Leaning Tower, either with one finger or both hands. Or photos of guys kicking it or girls turning it into gelato by “holding” it into their cones.
It’s probably the next best thing to climbing the tower, which is one of the essential things to do in Italy while you’re visiting Pisa. Taking the photo of it is the cheapest one, although access to the Basilica is also free. Personally, I much recommend the latter!
4. Dodging cars in Rome
After sky diving in Switzerland and a taxi trip in the Czech Republic, this is definitely the most thrilling experience you can do in Europe. To cross the lane, you have to keep walking, making sure you have an eye on the next car, like a bullfighter, and keep going. Cars and motorcycles are going to come really close, never really hit you, as long as you keep going.
5. Parking on the curb
Everybody ends up doing this during their trip to Italy. If you arrive by car or rent one while you’re visiting Italy, you’ll end up doing it, too. I do recommend using public transport instead of driving when you’re exploring big Italian cities.
6. Singing a duet with a gondolier
He may not be the next Pavarotti, but your gondolier is expected to have a pretty decent voice. They remember all the old classics, and that makes the atmosphere all the more real. Usually, they ask for a little more money for this treat, in addition to the hire fee, but it’s definitely one of the essential things to do in Italy when you visit Venice.
The best moment is at sunset when the lamps ger turned on. All the lights reflected in the water contribute to the beautiful atmosphere of Northern Italy.
7. Hanging out with the Pope on a Wednesday
Tourists, nuns, priests, locals, and even pigeons flock to Piazza San Pietro for the weekly address of Pope Francis at around 10 am. Then, you get to admire the interior of the Basilica, climb on St. Peter’s Dome, and visit the crypt where St Peter’s remains are kept.
8. Checking out David
You might queue up and pay to see the original inside the Accademia Gallery of Florence (one of the best places to visit in Italy), where it was moved towards the end of the 1800s to shield it from vandals and elements. Or you could admire his copy up close in Piazza Signoria (Duomo Square) for free. Or you could ascend the hill above the Ponte Vecchio to see the bronze version standing tall in Piazza Michelangelo. Or you can go see all three of them and make a comparison. Either way, spending some time with David is one of the essential things to do in Italy when you visit Florence.
9. Drinking wine and watching the sunset in Cinque Terre
There’s something very special about sitting on the rocks next to where the fishing boats pull in, the lights flickering around the wires across the bay in the sea breeze, listening to a man singing his baritone opera through an open window, watching the sun fall over the Cinque Terre horizon, sipping on a locally made red after eating homemade pasta with pesto sauce. It’s absolutely fantastic!
10. Eating a pizza in Naples
Home of the Pizza Margherita! The popular local pizza maker Rafaelle Esposito learned that the Queen of Naples was interested in trying a pizza, so he made a patriotic one with basil, tomato, and mozzarella, in the colors of the Italian flag. She loved it so much that she gave it her name!
To be appreciated when watching the kamikaze scooters and cars going hell for leather in the narrow lanes. 🙂
11. Cliff Diving at Sorrento
Not for the weak-hearted! Locals, usually boys, scramble up the steep cliffs to jump off, falling tens of meters into the blue waters below. If that’s too much for you, you should still take some goggles and go snorkeling in the area.
12. Calling your mom from the Campanile in Venice
Believe it or not, there’s a public payphone at the top of the Campanile, so you can make a long-distance call to your mom, or maybe just order a pizza for dinner.
An alternative is to send a postcard from the rooftop of St. Peter’s Basilica while visiting the Vatican.
13. Tasting wine in Chianti
There’s a possibility that the name Chianti derives from the ancient Etruscan word for water Clante (It means stepson, godson, or adoptive son in Etruscan.) I guess it’s an easy correlation to make only if you drink a lot of Chianti.
The strict production criteria set by the Consortium ensures that the quality of all types of this wine is consistent and that it is impossible to find a bad one among them.
14. Tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain
But don’t reenact the scene from La Dolce Vita, because you’ll have to pay a big fine.
One coin means you will go back to Rome, two coins means you will go back and find love, and three coins mean you return and get married. Place the coin(s) in your right hand and toss it/them over your left shoulder. It’s one of the best things to do in Italy after you’ve had your third gelato for the day.
All the money is picked up annually and donated to charity. The authorities also don’t allow people to take any money from the fountain.
15. Visiting the Sistine Chapel
If you survive a 3km walk through the very opulent Papal Rooms of the Vatican Museums, you will be greeted with a breathtaking view of the dome of the Sistine Chapel. Created in situ by Michelangelo, he mostly painted freehand directly on the wet plaster, despite belligerent Papal outbursts, financial troubles, personnel problems, slipping foundations, battles, and eventually finishing in 1512 after four years. It’s obvious why a visit to the Sistine Chapel is one of the best things to do in Italy while you’re in Vatican City.
Take mini binoculars and a written guide to discover each fresco. The echo of someone whispering is drowned only by the guard bellowing silenzio! every so often. Besides keeping quiet, make sure you don’t sit on the steps.
16. Walking the planks of a flooded Venice
This is one of the most original memories of visiting Venice. Winter storms fill the lagoon, and when the tide is high, water will get up to your knees. Practical locals have come up with a workaround in the form of elevated platforms so that you can walk the planks across Piazza San Marco without even getting your toes wet.You should invest in some trendy rubber booties, too.
After suffering centuries of flooding, Venice held back the sea for the first time in 1,200 years in October , thanks to the activation of its long-awaited flood barriers.Source: Cnn Travel
However, the flood barriers had issues after, and the city was flooded again. While walking the planks of a flooded Venice can make a unique memory, it shouldn’t be something you should wish for. Every flood brings damages and destroys a bit of the beautiful city, not to mention all the problems it causes to the locals.
17. Drinking lots of Grappa
Every country has its own firewater. In Russia and Poland, you’ll find vodka, in Mexico you’ll try Tequila, in the Czech Republic you’ll have Absinth and in Italy, you need to taste Grappa.
Distilled from the leftovers of pressed grapes for wine, it is usually consumed at the end of the meal, after the espresso. The first shot will take care of every sensation in the mouth and throat, while the second and third will take care of the remainder of your nervous system. 🙂
18. Buying a Ferrari cap
After football, the Pope, and their own mother there’s Italy’s almost religious following of the little red car from Maranello. Most Italian drivers tend to think of themselves as the next Schumacher, even the truck drivers, but we have to admit that the car is cool. So getting a souvenir related to it is one of the things to do in Italy.
19. Riding a scooter in Tuscany
Winding country roads between rolling green hills, vineyard rows neatly slicing down hillsides, wildflowers in the fields, and thick cypress trees lining the driveway to the medieval villa. In other words, Tuscany!
Riding a scooter in Tuscany is one of the best things to do in Italy to enjoy the fresh air and live like a local for a bit. It’s also an opportunity to have a delightful picnic in the countryside.
20. Finishing a Bisteca alla Fiorentina (T-bone steak)
The revival of the favorite steak of the Florentines made national headlines. Dario Cecchini, a local celebrity butcher from Panzano, organized a public funeral and memorial service when the EU outlawed the selling of beef on the bone goods after Mad Cow disease gave everyone a scare. Now it’s back and everybody can enjoy this treat. Just make sure you’re super hungry because it’s huge!
Heading to the Mercato Centrale in Florence for a Bisteca alla Fiorentina is one of the essential things to do in Italy for an amazing dinner!
The general opinion was that these were all the best things to do in Italy. Add them to the ultimate Italy bucket list and pair them with all the normal immersions in art and culture, of course, in order to get the best out of your trip!
Mirela Letailleur is a Romanian travel blogger living in the South of France. She writes on The Travel Bunny travel blog about affordable travel in Europe, creator of unique free travel guides, local travel expert. Problem solver. Wannabe coffee guru.
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