The history of Rome, the shops of Milan, the music of Venice, the magic of Florence: Italy indeed has it all. Home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as half the world's artistic and cultural treasures, any trip to Italy, is bound to create some unforgettable memories. Everyone knows the beaten paths, though. For a truly unique Italian experience, consider adding one or more of the following activities to your next trip.
Discover the tragic history of Pompeii, a city both devastated and preserved by a volcanic explosion in 79 AD. This UNESCO World Heritage Site allows you to walk freely through excavated streets, houses, temples, and baths--all that remains of a once-great city. Catch a bus to nearby Mount Vesuvius, the now-dormant volcano, and hike to the crater for a stunning panoramic view of Pompeii and the surrounding countryside.
Experience Tuscany's vineyards, olive groves, and ancient villages from the bird's eye vantage of a hot air balloon. Known for its red wines and sheep's cheese, the romantic Tuscan countryside spreads out before you in both sunrise and evening excursions. This is the perfect trip for professional photographers, as well as shutterbugs, and anyone wanting to see the best that Italy has to offer.
The Pantheon, a former Roman temple and now a Catholic church, has been in continuous use since its completion in 126 AD. Generally reckoned as the best-preserved ancient building in Rome, the central dome (called the oculus) is the largest unsupported dome in the world--a feat of engineering unrivaled by modern architecture. The Pantheon contains the tombs of several famous Italians, including two kings, the painter Raphael, and the composer Arcangelo Corelli.
Soak up the romance in a quintessential Venetian experience: a shared gondola ride through the Grand Canal. Venice is one city spanning 118 small islands, which creates the famous canals and waterways seen in paintings and photographs. Gondoliers in traditional garb can be hired to take you through the city. Some Gondoliers even serenade their customers with a song or two.
Founded in the 16th century by Pope Julius II, the Vatican Museums display famous works of art amassed by the popes throughout the centuries. It also has well as thousands of cultural artifacts and documents. Tours wind through underground passages, taking in excavations of the Vatican Hill cemetery, galleries of ancient maps, the apartments occupied by the Borgia family, and ending in the famous Sistine Chapel.
The Tower of Pisa, known for its famous but unintended tilt, is actually a freestanding bell tower on the grounds of the local cathedral. Built on an inadequate foundation, atop soil too soft to bear the weight, the tower began leaning even before the structure was completed in the 14th century. Climbing to the top is a unique and scary opportunity, but the surrounding countryside is delightful.
Though pizza has been eaten in Italy since the classical era, modern pizza derives from the city of Naples. While legends conflict over who created it, why it was created, and even what the toppings were, what's not in question is that Naples and pizza go together. Hundreds of pizzerias dot the city. But only a few get the certificate of authenticity from the Association for True Neapolitan Pizza. To qualify, a pizzeria must meet exceptionally high standards, following time-honored traditions that make it clear this is the real thing.
Situated in the deep blue Tyrrhenian Sea, Capri is a garden spot known for its rugged landscape and upscale shopping. Enjoy dinner in Anacapri, a hilltop village with breathtaking views. Or tour the Blue Grotto, a sea cave bathed in ethereal light. Don't forget to spend time in the iconic Piazza Umberto, the heart of the old city of Capri.
William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet is set in "fair Verona," and thousands of people each year travel to the walled city, known far and wide as the "city of love." Companies of actors perform scenes in or near sites associated with the legendary lovers. You can catch the balcony scene in front of Juliet's House, a 14th-century house associated with the Capulet family. Or watch a reenactment of Romeo and Tybalt's duel in the city streets. You can tour the tomb of the Capulets, and even eat dinner in rooms once occupied by members of the Montague family.
Called the Path of the Gods because of the magnificent, almost aerial views of the Amalfi Coast and the Sorrento Peninsula, this rugged footpath hugs the cliffs and introduces you to the beautiful Mediterranean countryside. Guided hikes from Bomerano to Nocelle wind past picturesque hamlets. There you can stop and refresh yourself with a glass of wine. Just don't forget your camera and your hiking boots.