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Things to Do in Italy

Well-known for its boot shape, Italy boasts a staggering number of renowned pieces of art and an abundance of UNESCO World Heritage sites, and welcomes visitors with a warm, friendly atmosphere. Let a private or small-group tour with an expert guide show you how to walk in Caesar’s footsteps through the Forum in Rome. Take a gondola tour of Venice to glide by the city’s classic architecture. Stare in awe at the colorful frescoes in the Vatican Museums’ Sistine Chapel one day, and hike the Path of the Gods along the Amalfi Coast on another. Italy is an art lover’s paradise, as masterpieces by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Raphael await. Learn about the birthplace of the Renaissance in Florence, and admire the Botticellis in the Uffizi Gallery. Then switch gears to explore hilltop villages in remote parts of Tuscany, or browse for the latest fashions in Milan. Foodies flock to Italy to taste pizza in its hometown of Naples. You can also take a cooking class to learn the secrets of Italian cuisine, like gnocchi and tiramisu in Sorrento, or risotto with prawns in Venice. And then there’s the vino: Book a wine tour to the Frascati region of Rome for reds and dessert wines; or to Florence for Chianti. Other tours let you take in a Venetian concert or drift in a boat on Lake Como. Your trip to Italy promises to excite all of your senses.
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Colosseum
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The world’s famous Colosseum was built in 80 AD for the Roman emperors to stage fight to-the-death gladiator battles and hunt and kill wild animals, whilst members of the general public watched the violent spectaculars. Entry was free, although you were seated according to your social rank and wealth. Gladiatorial games were banned in 438 AD; the wild beast hunting continued until 523.

The Colosseum is amazing for its complex and advanced architecture and building technique. Despite being used as a quarry for building materials at various points in history, it is still largely intact. You can see the tiered seating, corridors and the underground rooms where the animals and gladiators awaited their fate. Today the Colosseum has set the model for all modern-day stadiums, the only difference being today's teams survive their games.

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St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)
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St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) is filled with centuries of history and is still the symbolic heart of Venice; it has even been referred to as the drawing room of Europe. With the grand St Mark's Church at one end, the Campanile bell tower rising in the middle and the elegant colonnaded arcade of famous cafes on three sides, it is a wonderful place to be - and the hundreds of pigeons think so too.

Sit and have coffee (you'll only be able to afford one) and watch the whole world pass by while a tuxedoed band plays. Then plunge north into the narrow streets full of shops leading towards the Rialto Bridge, or west into the city's pocket of high fashion designer stores finishing with an extremely expensive Bellini at Harry's Bar, the place that invented the peach/champagne drink. Alternately, head out of San Marco to the east and stroll the waterfront on the Riva.

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Roman Forum (Foro Romano)
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In Ancient Rome, the Forum was the centre of the Roman Empire. Until the 4th century AD, a thousand years of decisions affecting the future of Europe were made here. When Roman soldiers were out conquering the world in the name of the Emperors, temples, courts, markets, and government buildings were thriving in the Forum.

Located between two of Rome's famous hills, the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, it is now a collection of ruins having spent centuries as a quarry for marble and a cow paddock. The Forum became a very dense collection of buildings in its time but mostly all that remains today is columns, arches, and some scattered marbles so it can be difficult to make sense of it all. Ongoing archaeological work continues, and getting a map or a guide can really bring the bustle of the ancient site to life. You can get a great view over the Forum from the overlooking hills in the Farnese Gardens and from Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio.

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Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
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Until 1797, the Doges ruled the Venetian Empire and the Palazzo Ducale was where they ruled from. It was one of the first things those arriving in Venice saw as their ships sailed through the lagoon and landed at Saint Mark's Square. The Doges lived here and the government offices were also in this building. Justice was meted out here and the Golden Book, listing all the important families of Venice, was housed here. No one whose family was not in the Golden Book would ever be made Doge. It was an extremely political process ruling Venice and residents could accuse others of wrong doing by anonymously slipping a note into the Mouth of Truth.

Inside the palace is wonderful art (paintings by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese), majestic staircases, the Doge's apartments, the government chambers, the prison cells and the Bridge of Sighs. Outside, along the piazzetta, each column is different.

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Murano
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Murano is one of 118 islands in the lagoon of Venice, famous for its glass factories. This is where the unique colored glass of Venice is made, in family-owned factories. Once located in the main city of Venice, they caused too many fires and were exiled to Murano in 1291 - that's how long the industry has been going.

It takes ten years to master the art of making proper Venetian glass. It's such a specialized art that in centuries past glass-makers were forbidden to leave Venice, and if they looked likely to betray industry secrets they were killed! These days the handmade glass is expensive and the industry is dying out - you are enthusiastically encouraged to purchase when you visit. Murano is home to 4,000 people. In its heyday it had 30,000 residents and the rich Venetians built their summer houses with lush gardens on the island. In fact, Murano had Italy's first botanical gardens.

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Venice Islands
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Of the several islands in the Venetian Lagoon, the 3 main ones are Burano, Murano and Torcello. Though small, each island has developed its own name and fame separate from Venice. The people of Burano are known internationally for their lace industry. Murano's inhabitants have a reputation as artisans as well, producing world-famous glassware. Torcello was the first of Venice's Islands to be populated, making it home to some of the areas oldest buildings and finest cathedrals.
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St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
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Basilica di San Marco (St Mark's Cathedral) is magnificent. It is both a wonderful architectural flurry of Gothic, Byzantine, Romanesque and Renaissance styles declaring the wealth of Venice over centuries, and a spiritual place of worship. Its domes and turrets, and gold mosaic stand out over the square and over Venice, and four ancient classical horses top the entrance, taken from Constantinople (Istanbul) when Venice sacked that city around 1200. Inside the church is dazzling.

The church was begun in 828 when the body of St Mark was returned to Venice, smuggled by merchants from its resting place in Alexandria, Egypt. An angel had told St Mark his final resting place would be Venice (which did not even exist at the time) and the Venetian leaders were keen to make it happen. Over the years, churches were built, burnt, rebuilt and expanded resulting in the incredible building we see today.

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Piazza Navona
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The term “piazza” is often translated as “square,” but when you arrive in Piazza Navona you’ll understand why that doesn’t always work. This oblong-shaped space was once a stadium, where citizens of Ancient Rome would come to watch games and races in the 1st century AD. The stadium may be gone, but the shape of the space remains. Today, the Piazza Navona is home to a selection of beautiful Baroque churches and fountains, some fabulously expensive outdoor cafes, and (often) vendors selling tourist trinkets. During the holidays, a Christmas market fills much of the piazza. At the center of the Piazza Navona is Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s famous Fountain of the Four Rivers, with an Egyptian obelisk sitting atop the sculpture. There are two other smaller fountains, one at each end of the piazza, both by Giacomo della Porta. The most prominent building lining the piazza is the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, at the center facing one side of Bernini’s fountain.
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Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
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Rialto Bridge or Ponte di Rialto was the city's first bridge over the Grand Canal. Connecting the highest points on the lagoon islands settlement, the first bridge was built in 1180 and this more solid marble one in 1588-92. The bridge is an elegant arch with steps and shops, a mass of water traffic passing underneath, and huge numbers of tourists and Venetians heading across it.

The area around the bridge was, and still is, full of important city functions. Nearby are the city's markets: the fresh produce and the fish market. They have been there for 700 years. This area was also where the first banks were established, where the traders who made Venice rich set sail from and sold their goods on return, where courts met, prisoners were held and punished, and new laws were declared.

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Borghese Gallery (Galleria Borghese)
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The Borghese Gallery boasts the most famous art of Baroque Rome. Among the collection are several paintings by Raphael, Titian & Caravaggio. The immense property holds the grand palace where Cardinal Scipione Borghese lived with his famed art collection as well as Rome's most beautiful park, the Borghese Gardens. Here see Bernini's famous statues of Apollo and Daphne, David, the Rape of Proserpine & Canova's reclining nude of Paulina Borghese. Also enjoy stunning views over Piazza del Popolo.
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More Things to Do in Italy

Pantheon

Pantheon

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The Pantheon in Rome is a remarkable building architecturally. Basically a cylinder with the floating dome on top of columns, it is the largest masonry vault ever built. In the center of this dome is a hole bringing in a shaft of light to show the beauty of this building and its relatively simple, open interior. Being inside the Pantheon feels very special.

Originally built in 27 BC and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 120 AD, the temple has been damaged and plundered over time. In 609 AD it became a Christian church dedicated to the Madonna. In the 17th century some of its bronze ceiling was taken and melted down for use in St Peter's Basilica. Important figures such as King Victor Emmanuel II and the artist Raphael are buried in the Pantheon.

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Uffizi Galleries (Gallerie degli Uffizi)

Uffizi Galleries (Gallerie degli Uffizi)

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The Uffizi Gallery houses the world’s most important collection of Florentine art, so unless you have Skip the Line tickets you’ll need to get ready to queue! The collection traces the rich history of Florentine art, from its 11th-century beginnings to Botticelli and the flowering of Renaissance art. At its heart is the private Medici collection, bequeathed to the city in the 18th century.
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Da Vinci's Last Supper (Il Cenacolo)

Da Vinci's Last Supper (Il Cenacolo)

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Whether you visit Milan due to your love of art or as a reader of Dan Brown Da Vinci Code, you’ll be sure to head to Il Cenacolo Vinciano to see Leonardo da Vinci’s mural The Last Supper, or Cenacolo. The famous wall painting covers the wall of the refectory next to the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, on the western outskirts of central Milan. The painting represents the moment when Jesus predicts that one of his Apostles will betray him. The wall painting has suffered dreadfully over the centuries from the depredations of damp, war and poor restorations. A recent restoration program was completed in 1999, toning down the gaudy colors of previous restorations to more subdued pastels.
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Naples Historic Center (Napoli Centro Storico)

Naples Historic Center (Napoli Centro Storico)

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It's too much to try to take Naples as a whole. This city is all noise and speed and grit, thrown at you from the moment you step out of the train station or off of a cruise ship, and the greater metropolitan area of Naples spreads so far it even creeps up the sides of the surrounding mountains, including one very famous volcano – Mount Vesuvius. If you're willing to look beyond the sensory overload, however, you'll see why UNESCO named the historic centre of Naples a World Heritage Site in 1995.

The historic centre of Naples – sometimes called the “centro storico” or “antico storico” in Italian – is made up of more than 10 different city neighborhoods that funnel down the hills to the port. Walking through this historic centre gives us a chance to walk back in time – Naples is something of a museum piece, one that's never been off-limits behind red velvet ropes. This is the sort of museum that rewards those who dig in.

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Rialto Fish Market (Mercato di Rialto)

Rialto Fish Market (Mercato di Rialto)

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Venice is a city of many traditions, and one of the oldest is the way residents get groceries. The Rialto markets have been serving the population of Venice since 1097, making them an authentic part of life in the city.

The best-known of the markets is the Rialto Fish Market, called the “Pescheria” in Italian. In addition to familiar seafood you'll see for sale, you'll also find specialties of the Venetian lagoon. Browsing the aisles is a great way to get an idea of what's local and fresh before you browse restaurant menus later in the day.

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Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi)

Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi)

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The Trevi Fountain is one of the most famous and most beloved sights in Rome. A huge Baroque flurry (85 by 65 feet or 25 by 20 meters) where water spills from rocks under the feet of Neptune, Triton and sea-horses into a large pool, it's always surrounded by coin-tossing tourists. Superstition has it that if you toss a coin into the fountain you will one day return to Rome. It shows how much people love this city that up to $3,500 a day is thrown in! The money is collected at night by the city and distributed to charity. The Trevi Fountain began as a humble water outlet, the end of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct built in 19 BC to bring water to Roman Baths. The name comes from its location at the junction of three roads ('tre vie'). Around 1735 Pope Clement XII commissioned Niccolo Salvi to design the fountain we still love today.
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Castel Sant'Angelo National Museum (Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo)

Castel Sant'Angelo National Museum (Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo)

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The Castel Sant'Angelo is actually a tomb, Hadrian's Mausoleum. The Roman Emperor built it for himself and his family; their ashes were placed there in 138 AD. Other emperors are also buried there, but the tomb became a fortress in 401 AD; in 410 it was raided and the ashes were scattered. It is likely that Hadrian himself ended up in St. Peter's where a lot of the finest ornamentation of the mausoleum and other Roman buildings were taken.

It was named Castel Sant'Angelo after 590 AD when the Archangel Michael is said to have appeared on top of the building, signifying the end of the plague. From the 14th century, the popes turned the place into a residential castle, connecting it with St. Peter's by a fortified corridor. Since 1925, it has been a museum. The complex maze of rooms and corridors now house beautiful furnishings, paintings, sculptures, archaeological finds and historic weapons.

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Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs

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Built in 1602, the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) connected the interrogation rooms in the Doges Palace with the prison cells. It got its name from the fact that prisoners passing across it sighed for their lost freedom and their final view of Venice through the barred windows. The prison cells were small, dank and often a final stop before death. You can see them on a tour of the Palazzo Ducale (Doges Palace).

Designed by Antoni Contino whose uncle designed the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs is covered-in, with bars on the windows, made of white limestone. From the outside it is lovely, from the inside not so pretty.

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Piazzale Michelangelo

Piazzale Michelangelo

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If you want to catch those iconic, sweeping views of Florence you've seen in postcards, head to Piazzale Michelangelo. From an elevated position overlooking the city, the fabulous views take in the city's fortified walls, the River Arno, the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and, of course, the round red dome of the Duomo.

During the day, drink in the views as you stroll along the Renaissance promenade, overlooked by yet another copy of Michelangelo's David. Return in the evening for magical views of Florence floodlit at night.

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Campo de' Fiori

Campo de' Fiori

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Whereas most of us know the term “piazza” roughly equates to a public square, we may not immediately think the same thing when we see “campo” - especially if we know that means “field” in Italian. But Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori - literally, “field of flowers” - is a square in the historic center of the city. The name refers to a time when this was actually a field of flowers, but it also hints at one of the main attractions of the Campo de’ Fiori - the outdoor market. Each morning, the square fills with vendors selling fruit, vegetables, and flowers. It’s a genuine market for Romans to do their shopping, but it’s also a tourist attraction - so the prices have gone up accordingly over the years, driving many Romans to shop elsewhere. The scenery of an outdoor market in a pretty public square, however, is still lovely and worth getting up early.
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Grand Canal

Grand Canal

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The Grand Canal is the main street of Venice. Lined with beautiful, if aging, palazzo, you can hop aboard a gondola and imagine a time when these boats were the main means of transport (once there was 10,000 now there are 400). The impressive palazzo, homes to all the wealthy families, had highly decorated exteriors with colorful paintings and mosaics. These days they tend to have faded to one color but many still have the ornate, oriental facades influenced by the merchant trading with the East which made Venice rich.

Only a few bridges cross the Grand Canal: the Accademia Bridge, the Rialto Bridge and the bridge near the station at Ferrovia. Stand on these and watch boats pass by filled with fruit and vegetables, slabs of soft drink, building materials etc because Venice is still a city without cars and everything the city needs has to be transported by water or handcart.

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Florence Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria dei Fiori)

Florence Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria dei Fiori)

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You'll catch glimpses of the red-tiled dome of the Duomo, or Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori, peeping over the rooftops as soon as you arrive in Florence.

The 13th-century Sienese architect Arnolfo di Cambio was responsible for building many landmarks in Florence but this is his showstopper. The beautiful ribbed dome was creatively added by Brunelleschi in the 1420s.

The building took 170 years to complete, and the facade was remodeled to reflect Cambio’s design in the 19th century.

Inside the Duomo, your eyes are inevitably drawn upwards to that soaring painted dome and lovely stained-glass windows by such masters as Donatello. Visit the crypt, where Brunelleschi's tomb lies, or to the top of the enormous dome itself for stupendous views over Florence.

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Leaning Tower of Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the most famous structures in the world – not because of its gently rising series of arches, but because of its legendary tilt. Constructed as the bell tower to accompany the cathedral, the tower began to shift on its foundations in 1178, before the architect, Bonanno Pisano, had completed the first three tiers. Fortunately, the lean has now been halted, due to tricks with cables and counter-subsidence. The tower now leans on an angle of 4.1 meters (13 feet), rather than the previous 5 meters (16 feet). It’s well worth paying the extra to climb the spiral stairs leading to the top of the Leaning Tower for views across Pisa. Make sure you book ahead as reservations are compulsory and numbers are limited.
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Milan Duomo

Milan Duomo

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Milan’s Cathedral, or Duomo, is a much-loved symbol of the city. The most exuberant example of Northern Gothic in Italy, its spiky spires and towers dominate Piazza del Duomo, Milan’s beating heart.

The Duomo’s exterior is an upwardly thrusting collection of pinnacles, elongated statues and buttresses. The central spire is topped by a gilt statue of the Madonna, called the Madonnina.

Inside one of the world’s largest churches, it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust to the candle-lit ambiance as you take in the cathedral’s nave, altars, aisles and stained-glass windows.

One of the highlights of a visit to the cathedral is the view from the roof – on a clear day you can see the Italian Alps. Take the steps if you’re fit (or the lift if you’re not) to peer over the city of Milan, surrounded by statues and spiky towers.

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