Home to beautiful villages, epic beaches, amazing nightlife and unspoilt countryside, there are enough places to visit in Italy to last a lifetime. Add an endless supply of delicious pasta to the mix and it’s no wonder Italy is so high on every backpacker’s bucketlist. Despite its almost universal appeal, Italy isn’t as expensive as you’d expect, and there are loads of ways to make your budget go further: think tasty cheap wine, free fruit and nuts growing wild all over the place and hostels with unlimited free pasta.
The only problem is knowing where to start with a country this epic. To help you out, we’ve put together our guide to the best places to visit in Italy. So grab your passport, pack your sunnies and get yourself a piece of la dolce vita!
1. Manarola, Cinque Terre
Can’t get over the amazing colours of Cinque Terre ?@wisobenitezinglott
Manarola is one of the smaller towns in the iconic Cinque Terre, but don’t be fooled into thinking there’s not much to see and do. After hopping off the train, grab yourself some of that famed Italian gelato, take a dip in the Mediterranean sea and pose up a storm in front of this colourful little beauty. For a little ramble to work off that ice cream, head on the ‘Lovers’ Trail’ that goes between Manarola and Riomaggiore, which is especially picturesque at sunset.
The architecture in Florence is unreal ?@lola.photography
Top tip: book a wine tour from your hostel and explore the countryside outside Rome ?@lola.photography
Florence is one of Italy’s most iconic and truly romantic cities, and one that’s well worth a visit. Take a stroll across Ponte Vecchio, visit Piazza della Signoria and head up to Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sunrise over the city for a truly special experience. For some cheap grub, avoid the tourist-trap prices on the main streets and walk 30 seconds into the side alleys to see a dramatic difference in the price and quality of the food.
3. San Gimignano
Italian charm at its finest is found in San Gimignano ?@handluggageonly
This quaint Italian hill town is another of Italy’s stunning UNESCO World Heritage Sites. With bags of charm, the whole town has historical origins that go back thousands of years. Filled with beautiful Romanesque and Gothic architecture, the tiny town is famed for its many towers: 14 in total! Refuel at Echoes, one of the best bruschetterias in the region, where you can feast on a mouth-watering prosciutto & artichoke bruschetta for around €5.
Yes, it’s touristy, but there’s a reason the Colosseum is so popular! ?@lola.photography
#InstagramGoals at the Trevi Fountain ?@lola.photography
A list of the best places to visit in Italy wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Rome, Italy’s oh-so-Instagrammable capital and one of the best cities to party in the world. Rome is more than its fountains and grand monuments, and part of its magic lies in its small cobbled streets, unusual shops and romantic plazas. Brave the tourists and pay a visit to the Colosseum, Basilica, Trevi Fountain and Vatican City – there’s a reason these places are amongst the most popular attractions in the world, but the earlier you get there in the morning, the fewer selfie-sticks you’ll have to contend with. Once you’ve finished being a tourist, join the locals at Freni & Frizioni for an aperitivo, before heading to Fa-Bio for cheap eats. If the pizza and pasta get too much, the the Fish Market is an amazing spot for fresh seafood. For more budget foodie tips, check out our guide to the best cheap restaurants in Rome.
Orvieto is steeped in history and beauty like much of Italy ?@handluggageonly
Orvieto is a clifftop village on top of a massive volcanic mound. It’s a bit of a climb to the top, but worth it for the incredible views. The star attraction in Orvieto is the ornate cathedral, which is well over 800 years old. The city’s clock tower aka Torre del Moro is also worth a visit. After all that climbing reward yourself with some simple and delicious authentic Italian food at Trattoria la Mezza Luna, where you can get a plateful of pasta for less than €7.
Save a fortune by taking a Venica gondola off-season ?@lola.photography
Venice’s gelato-game is pretty strong ?@lola.photography
Venice can be eye-wateringly expensive, but don’t be fooled into thinking that you can’t afford to visit this fairytale Italian city. Make the most of the numerous free sites such as St Mark’s Square, Torcello and the many other stunning historical monuments dotted across the city. Hire a gondola to take you around the city – it will blow a little of your budget but is a wonderful experience, and if you’re visiting off-peak then you can often haggle the price down. Oh, and another crafty way to save is to fill up your bottle from one of the many public water fountains are scattered across the city – this can save you a pretty big amount over a few days.
The beautiful town of Sorrento lies in the middle of the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, the countryside and Capri, so you’re spoilt for choice for nearby places to explore. Italian culture is rife here with picturesque views of Mount Vesuvius and Naples, and cute cobbled streets and cafes abound as you wander the charming streets. Visit Kebab Ciampa if you fancy an extremely cheap break from Italian food.
Pompeii is a wonderland for archaeology buffs ?@handluggageonly
The historic Pompeii is a must-see in Italy ?@handluggageonly
Italy is steeped in history from the pretty to the awe-inspiring to the things that you’ve just GOT to see – the city of Pompeii being one of them. Destroyed by Mount Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago, the city makes for some fascinating exploring.
Expect crowds at the UNESCO World Heritage Site – arrive early to avoid the majority of visitors and the midday heat. Make sure to keep an eye out for the body casts that were discovered within the fallen ash over the city and wander down Via dell’Abbondanza, one of the main streets in the city. Stay in the nearby city of Torre Annunziata or Naples for easy access to the site.
Milan is a photographer’s dream ?@lola.photography
The architecture in Milan is unreal ?@lola.photography
The fashionable shopping metropolis of Milan is not cheap, but oozes chic fashion, amazing art and exquisite food. Don’t miss Leonard da Vinci’s The Last Supper, the most famous mural of Milan. See it at the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie on a city tour, and don’t miss the Duomo, Milan’s beautiful cathedral. For cheap grub check out Luini for amazing panzerotti (mini calzone), a hole in the wall which always has a queue (it moves quickly!) behind the Duomo.
Time for a cheesy Leaning Tower of Pisa picture
You’re in Italy, which means a classic ‘holding up the Leaning Tower’ picture is a must. It may be cheesy, but it’s almost an institution when visiting this impressive site. But don’t be fooled into thinking Pisa is only about the tower – head over to Knights’ Square, see Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, and gorge at Gusto Giusto, a family-run joint that makes an epic panini. The city itself is easily walkable, meaning there’s no need to spend lots on transport when exploring.
Romeo, wherefore art thou?
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene… sound familiar? Yep, Verona is the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet. Though it is a little busier than some of its neighbours, Verona is still a pretty epic city to explore. Make sure to visit the Roman Amphitheatre in Piazza Bra and watch the sunset over the city at Piazzale Castel San Pietro.
For a relatively cheap breakfast, head over to Gnam Gnam Buonissimissimo for some of the tastiest baked pastries in the city – in case you hadn’t guessed, it’s best to forget about your diet whilst you’re in Italy!
12. San Miniato
San Miniato is the cutest little town, perfect for getting away from the city
If you’re looking to experience the quieter side of Italian life, head to one of the small towns in the countryside like San Miniato. Cheaper than cities like Milan or Rome, San Miniato is the perfect place to spend a few days relaxing. Make sure to visit the the Tower of Frederick and the gorgeous Duomo that’s totally free to enter. For a whopping freshly cooked Napoli pizza, head over to La Smorfia who’ll cook you up a fresh one (that’s big enough to share) for less than €6.
The castle of the gorgeous Lake Garda
Perched on the banks of Lake Garda, Sirmione is an old town jutting out of a spit of land onto the lake. This picturesque place gets very busy around weekends but don’t let that put you off, head over on a Monday or Tuesday (try to arrive in the morning) when visitor numbers are lower. Wander through Scaliger Castle, head inside the church of San Pietro in Mavino and enjoy a cheeky glass of wine at Enoteca delle antiche mura. They also serve some pretty tasty bruschetta boards that are budget friendly, too.
14. Vernazza, Cinque Terre
Another ridiculously pretty Cinque Terre village
Yup, Cinque Terre again… we just can’t get enough of this region. This time, head to Vernazza (which is literally minutes on the train from Manarola). Keep costs lower by staying in one of the budget-friendly towns just outside the Cinque Terre region (like La Spezia or Levanto). Don’t forget to gorge on the cheap and freshly caught calamari that you can pick up on the streets, too. It’s an easy way to stay within a backpacker budget whilst still enjoying the stunning town.
The centre of Naples is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which might give you an idea of the importance of its archaeological history. Its churches, castles, and archaeological sites such as Oplotnis give an otherworldly feel to the city, and the food is amongst the best in Italy. Check out the Mercato di Porta Nolana, a busy market where you’ll find ridiculously fresh fish, and Museo Archeologico Nazionale which showcases spectacular Greco-Roman art.
The historic Palermo provides endless opportunities to explore
This southern Italian city is famed for age-old association with the mafia – but thankfully, there’s little need to worry about that nowadays! Now, Palermo is filled with historic buildings and beautiful scenery to explore. Make the most of this gorgeous city by visiting Chiesa del Gesu, the Cattedrale di Palermo and the dark Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, where you’ll see a display of corpses ‘resting’ and ‘socialising’. These catacombs were once the reserved resting places for the noble residents of the town. For a cheap but delicious eatery, head over to I Cuochini that serves authentic Sicilian street food (savoury pastries) for around 70 cents.
Home of the rich and famous, and it’s easy to see why
Home to the rich and famous, Como can be a very expensive Italian city to explore – but there ARE ways to do it on the cheap. It’s really easy to get to Como by train from Milan (find some cheaper hostels here and head across). For some of the best views of Lake Como, hop on board the Como–Brunate funicular which is particularly beautiful around sunset. To sample the local craft beer, head over to Il Birrivico, who serve some of the region’s best at budget-friendly prices.
Bologna is so underrated – lucky for us to avoid the other tourists ?@miryyta
Bologna is known for its food, music and prestigious university institutions, and a visit here avoids the hordes of tourists who flock to Rome and Venice. Food culture is huge here – the town is literally known as ‘La Grassa’ (the Fat One). For a cheap eat head to Le Stanze in the student quarter of the city. You’re spoilt for choice if you’re looking for a music venue to enjoy a concert or night out, and miles of porticos (covered arcades) cover the streets, meaning strolling from museum to restaurant to nightclub is easy.
The pretty Montepulciano has a gorgeous medieval feel
Montepulciano in the province of Siena is one of the region’s prettiest hilltop towns to visit. Head here on the last Sunday of August when the locals hold a huge barrel race through the city (Bravio delle botti) for a fun experience – but stay well out of the way to avoid being a human skittle! For some of the best coffee and focaccia in town, hop over to La Casa di Edel, where a quality coffee will set you back around €1.
20. Lecce, Puglia
Lecce, in the region of Puglia, is nicknamed “Florence of the South”. Beautiful and quaint, this is one of the best cities in Italy if you want to avoid the crowds – this is where Italians come to holiday. Don’t miss the outdoor fleamarket at Piazza Libertini; the grand Cattedrale di Lecce in the central square; and the Basilica di Santa Croce, a 17th-century Baroque church with intricate sculptures and a rose window. Thanks to its location on the ‘heel of Italy’, Lecce is surrounded by gorgeous beaches on every side.
The region is famous for burrata, a fresh mozzarella-like cheese best served with simple bread and olives. So be sure to try some while you’re here – washed down with an Espressino, a traditional Italian coffee halfway between a cappuccino and a macchiato.
Vicenza is a hidden gem just an hour from Venice, where you can get off the beaten track and explore the real Italy. This was renowned Italian Renaissance architect Palladio’s former home, so as you’d expect there are plenty of architectural wonders to see. Our favourite is his final work before his death: the Teatro Olimpico, a UNESCO-listed 16th century theatre with the oldest stage set in existence, featuring an amazing optical illusion. Today, you can visit the venue cheaply to catch a music festival or live orchestra.
For spectacular views, walk to Santuario di Monte Berico, an exquisite minor basilica at the very top of a step hill overlooking the city. After all that walking an Italian siesta is in order, so head to Parco Querini, a gorgeous park teeming with wildlife. For some very cheap grub, check out Righetti on the Piazza del Duomo, where you can get homemade risotto or pasta for around €5.
22. Lago di Braies
Picture a crystal clear, turquoise lake surrounded by dramatic mountains. Lago di Braies aka the Prager Wildsee is located in South Tyrol in the North of Italy, but it wouldn’t look out of place in a glossy tourist brochure for Switzerland, or maybe even Thailand. In short, this place is the stuff of Instagram dreams.
The lake is about a 2-hour drive into the Dolomites from Venice, but it’s worth it for the insane views, endless hiking opps and air so fresh you can actually taste it. Don’t miss the cute little church built in 1904 on the banks of the lake’s shores, and club together with your friends to rent a wooden rowing boat – or if you’re feeling brave, take a dip! As you can imagine, word has gotten out about this little piece of paradise, and whilst the crowds are not overwhelming, it’s still best to get there early if you want it all to yourself.
Where to stay in Italy
The poolside bar at PLUS Florence ?@lola.photography
The Yellow Hostel in Rome has a pretty amazing roofterrace ?@lola.photography
Aside from being an all-round amazing country, Italy also has some pretty incredible hostels.
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So what are you waiting for?! Go book that trip now! Have you been anywhere in Italy we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below ?