Home » 6 cities in Italy to visit before everyone else does

6 cities in Italy to visit before everyone else does

written by Melissa Ariganello April 2, 2017
Parma Italy

When you think of Italy, famous cities like Rome, Venice and Florence definitely come to mind. And while these are home to wonderful landmarks such as the Trevi Fountain, St. Mark’s Basilica and the Statue of David, they are also some of the biggest tourist traps in the country. Of course visiting them should be on your travel bucket list, but if you want to escape the crowds and discover a part of Italy that isn’t often talked about, read on.

Here, we recommend six underrated cities that will help you get a sense of what the country and culture is truly about.

Bologna

Bologna Italy

The city of Bologna, home to the world-renowned sausage known as Mortadella, is a bustling city for locals and a quiet one for tourists. It’s a hard-working city, but hidden in-between alleys and side streets are trattorias that will please your foodie heart. Make sure to take a food tour at the Mercato Di Mezzo or the Quadrilatero, where you can delight yourself with Bologna’s many delicacies.

After you’ve enjoyed the hearty eats, spend some time roaming around the city, simply looking up at the buildings around you. Bologna is an old but beautiful city, filled with juxtaposing architecture and graffiti. As you discover this modern but Gothic city, head over to the two main landmarks, the Abbazia di Santo and the Basilica di San Petronio, to get a taste of its abundant history.

RELATED: VISIT BOLOGNA ON THIS FOODIE TOUR OF ITALY (PASTA-MAKING CLASS INCLUDED!)

Siena

Siena Italy

Visiting Siena is like going back in time to medieval Italy, where everything is still preserved to the time when it was first built. Peaceful yet vibrant, the streets of Siena have plenty to offer, including tiny authentic restaurants and stunning landmarks such as the Duomo and Chiesa di San Domenico. The most interesting landmark, however, is the Piazza del Campo – the central square where a traditional horse race called The Palio is held twice every summer.

Aside from exploring the narrow streets and landmarks of this World Heritage Site, you’ll also want to relish in Siena’s traditional dishes. This city and province is home to the very best wines the country has to offer: Chianti, Brunello and Montepulciano. We recommend pairing a few glasses of wine with two classically delicious dishes: Pappardelle pasta with rabbit sauce and Ribollita, a Tuscan vegetable soup.

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Bari

Bari Italy

This small but historic port city on the Adriatic Sea simply cannot be missed. Just a ferry away from Greece, Bari is made up of narrow streets that make it a joy to get lost in. As you wander through the maze-like town, you’ll come across Romanesque churches, elegant medieval piazzas and a Swabian castle known as the Castello Normanno-Svevo. The main city of Puglia, Bari is also home to one of Europe’s most sacred destinations, the Basilica di San Nicola, which features the relics of St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus).

As you roam around the town, you may even come across a tucked-away alley where Italians make fresh homemade pasta out on the street. Bari is known for classic Italian dishes enriched with meat, seafood and vegetables, such as minestrone soup and orecchiete (ear-shaped) pasta. You mustn’t forget to end your stay in Bari with a taste of their local limoncello – a sweet and strong lemon-infused drink.

RELATED: VISIT BARI ON THIS 10-DAY TRIP THROUGH SOUTHERN ITALY

Parma

Parma Italy

This small yet prosperous city is worth visiting if you want to see where Parmesan cheese and prosciutto are made – two of Italy’s most famous (and delicious) exports. It’s a quaint city with barely any cars, you’ll need to walk or take a bike to get around, which tends to make the visit even more enjoyable. Visiting Parma is like visiting the birthplace of Italian products – aside from the world famous ham and cheese that gets produced here, Parma is also home to musical composers Verdi and Toscanini, and is just a day trip away from Sant’Agata Bolognese, the headquarters of Lamborghini.

As for sights and landmarks, Parma offers beautiful botanical gardens, castles and historic churches. You can also walk around the campus of University of Parma, one of the oldest universities in the world. Essentially this city is like one big museum. Gorgeous.

RELATED: 7 UNIQUE ITALIAN DISHES TO TRY, BY REGION

Campobasso

Campobasso Italy

Not often seen on travel lists, Campobasso is a small city in the region of Molise, with a population of just 52,000 – but don’t let that deter you from visiting this charming locale. Sitting right by the scenic mountains of Sannio and Matese, you can expect temperatures that range from cool in the winter to blazing hot in the summer.

This old-fashioned city offers the most authentic art, history and food you’ll likely find in the entire country (!), as age-old traditions still carry on today. It’s definitely worth visiting the Il Castello di Monforte and the Castello di Capua a Gambatesa, two castles that were built in the mid-15th century and are often rebuilt due to earthquakes hitting the area. Other attractions include tiny trattorias, historic churches and museums galore.

LOVE ITALIAN CUISINE? CHECK OUT THIS 8-DAY FOOD TRIP DEDICATED TO IT

Turin

This historically elegant city, once the capital of the country, is a great place to enjoy Italy’s art and culture. With the number of art galleries, opera houses and theaters it has to offer, you’ll likely never get bored. As you tour around the northern Italian gem, you’ll notice grandeur in the architecture, as you spot the Palazzo Reale, the Palazzo Madama, and La Venaria, Italy’s equivalent to Versailles.

Turin is also the birthplace of renowned food that’s full of originality and flavor. The chocolate hazelnut spread known today as Nutella was created here, and it’s no surprise, therefore, that the city is home to a full-on chocolate festival in its honor. Switching over to the savory side, Torino is also the place to enjoy homemade breadsticks (grissini) and pasta with local mushrooms and cheese. Of course, to top off your meals, you’ll have to enjoy a sweet drink to end the night, an Italian tradition started in Turin.

Want to discover Italy’s many hidden gem cities for yourself? Check out our small group tours.

Image Credits (top to bottom): iStock, Intrepid Travel, Shutterstock x3, Unsplash

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87 comments

Asinh Singh March 8, 2021 - 7:16 pm

Such a useful and detailed post, thank you so much for sharing your tips.

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Bob Giannetti December 2, 2020 - 8:59 am

if you want to get the full Tuscany check out “The most beautiful hill towns of Tuscany” and” The the most beautiful Villages
in Tuscany”. These two coffee table books are full of great foots act and Places to stay and places to eat.
Have you ever had someone say You did visit the ——- didn’t you while you were there. non preoccupare There’s ways
always Rome It wasn’t build in a day’

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Kitty Martini June 4, 2019 - 5:23 pm

Thanks for the info. I’m addicted to Italy and I have to go there EVERY YEAR. Im always discovering new little towns and amazing places there.

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Cheryl March 24, 2019 - 2:13 am

Tropea – another no one is mentioning. Apart from the pock marked ruins of WW2, the cafes, the bars, the fantastic locals, the beaches – all make it an off-the-beaten-track destination….public transport access a little challenging (probably why it’s great) – but also boats & ferries to Volcano & close to Sicily. Spent a week there and loved it.

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Dana December 7, 2019 - 5:30 am

Yep. Calabria has many gems and all I say Tropea is MUST. Spent a few days there after 2 weeks of traveling around the country and now considering going for a much shorter length of time to stay just in this amazing place!

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RS February 2, 2019 - 10:47 am

Pretty much most of Sicily….Palermo, Trapani, Marsala, Erice, Ragussa, Modica, Syracuse, Catania, Piazza Armerina, Sciacca…….all wonderful. Also love Naples and Lecce. Can’t wait for Bologna, Parma, Modena, more Naples, Procida and Ischia next time…Italy really is the gift that keeps giving. Like one of the above posters, normally we don’t return to places as the world has so much to see, however, Italy sneaks back on the list every 5-10 years with so many great places to see.

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Francesca March 21, 2019 - 4:47 am

Rapallo, San Remo and Cefalu

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Sue December 5, 2018 - 9:56 pm

San Gimignano, Volterra and Arezzo are amazing places to visit

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Neesha Sousa September 12, 2018 - 9:01 am

Do you have any conducted tours to Portugal & Italy say from 20th of this month?

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Nelly May 25, 2018 - 4:30 am

Hi I have a question. It will be my first time in Italy this July. The trip will be 8 days starting in Rome and ending in Milan. I was thinking of 3 days in Rome 2 days in bologna, 2 days (I’m not sure where to go looking for suggestions) and final 2 days in Milan. The entire travel in Italy will be by train. Is this too much to do in 8days?

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Anonymous March 30, 2018 - 9:55 pm

Alghero Sardinia

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Mark Gillespie February 10, 2018 - 10:12 am

Lecce for baroque architecture, and the Puglia area in general, for so many interesting Towns. Great in October, when the North can be cool and or wet.

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David December 26, 2017 - 11:52 pm

Love italy for me it’s Florence Rome and Amalfi yes they are crowded but that a buzz. On our list Amalfi this year. Bologna soon. God bless italy and it’s cool people xx

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Liv December 25, 2017 - 7:40 pm

Finally someone has mentioned Bologna!! It is such a wonderful city! Thanks for writing about my hometown!! Buon Natale!!

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Beverley Siddle December 3, 2018 - 10:57 am

Hi Liv, we visited Bologna this year as part of our travel 2018 adventure! It has won a place in our hearts, we loved it! Food, people, vibe and old city charm xx

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Emer December 25, 2017 - 5:30 am

Give Bari a miss. Dirty and not a lot to do. Lucca not mentioned here is wonderful

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Anonymous May 8, 2018 - 1:25 am

Yes, Lucca is a gem that few know about — and it’s an easy train ride from crazy crowded Florence!

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Francesco F December 22, 2017 - 3:42 pm

Ginogiovinazzo guys..magic !!! You have to visit this city..nice people,nice churches andò the icecream is superlative

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Indulgence December 14, 2017 - 10:04 pm

Oh Bologna is my favourite city – La citta rossa (the red city). When I was a student in Florence, I used to sometimes need to escape the unfriendly clubs there and go to Bologna. People there were much friendlier and easier to get to know and I fell in love with the city.

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andrea December 13, 2017 - 10:19 am

Guys…..VERONA is amazing!! 😉

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Anonymous April 20, 2019 - 6:36 pm

I agree!

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Mark October 13, 2017 - 7:28 am

If you want the beautiful but less known and less visited try any of the following – Bologna, ancient university city with great food (not called The Fat for nothing). Bergamo north of Milan. Mediaeval with views of snow capped mountains. Lucca just north of Pisa, beautiful. Ravello in hills above Amalfi. Varenna on lake Como, great setting and not full of tourists like Belagio. Perugia , mediaeval again and ancient university. Palermo and of course Napoli , both scruffy messy places but fabulous buildings, history food and atmospheres.

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Kieran September 14, 2017 - 5:18 am

Surprised to see Turin on this list, but then again I hadn’t realised it was once the capital.

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Anonymous August 11, 2017 - 5:47 pm

Palermo

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DECoxPhoto June 28, 2017 - 8:33 am

Spent a week based in Montalcino, south of Siena, last month. Driving around the Val d-Orcia seeing the spectacular landscapes was wonderful.

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Anonymous June 28, 2017 - 2:35 am

Cinque Terra❤️

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Anonymous June 26, 2017 - 9:35 am

Gubbio! A tiny Umbrian town that looks like a medieval movie set.

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Donna F May 8, 2018 - 1:14 pm

Yes! One of my favorite towns also!

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tom June 26, 2017 - 6:34 am

Cremona, Ferrara, Matera, Ascoli Piceno….and,, gee, what about Napoli?

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Stefanie June 29, 2017 - 11:07 pm

My family lives in Ascoli Piceno! ❤️

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Rose June 24, 2017 - 1:20 pm

Nutella festival! I love nutella so that’s when I’ll go to Turin.

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Rose June 24, 2017 - 1:10 pm

I meant other parts of Italy but good to bear in mind though for next year.

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Rose June 24, 2017 - 1:07 pm

I think I have better places to visit.

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John Poulton December 16, 2017 - 8:47 pm

Such as?

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Anonymous June 23, 2017 - 9:35 pm

We have been to Italy 10 times and I believe that Positano will remain with us till we leave this earth. Get some friends and rent a villa. As far as shoes are concerned, wear what is comfortable for you. No one has the right to judge you by what you wear on your feet . Be comfortable, you will be walking miles a day. Be kind and respectful . The Italians are wonderful

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Anonymous December 17, 2017 - 7:43 pm

Thank you.
From an Italian

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Anonymous June 19, 2017 - 3:40 pm

We are

We visied Italy for 3 weeks, Venice, Florence, Sena, Rome, Perugia, Modena and Milan, they are all beautiful cities…. altought Rome is quite crowd, we enjoyed so much being the Vatican church and musseum. I will go back to visit Parma and Turin in the future…. we loved it so much the authentic Italian food , coffees and pastries and wines…

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Michael Hazen June 14, 2017 - 10:42 am

Try Todi in Umbria. Not crowded, beautiful small city on hilltop. Great restaurants, friendly people. Great countryside with many great touressimos.

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Gail June 14, 2017 - 9:08 am

Going Home by Gail M. Murray c 2015

Since boarding the plane in Rome
I’ve longed to return.
Italy, you’ve cast your spell
How I envy Frances Mayes – two homelands.
Verdant hills and golden Tuscan villas
narrow cobblestone streets
David’s smooth, cool marble form
Botticelli’s Venus and Primavera
Tart gelato, strong cappuccino
Each region; a different slice of the Italian pie.

I dream of Renaissance villa gardens
on deep blue cerulean lakes
Carlotta, Meltzi, Balbianello.
Brightly stacked rose, orange and yellow houses
clinging to cliffs in fishing villages
Positano, Ravello.
Will I hike the Cinque Terre’s perilous trails,
eat pesto in a seaside piazza?
Once a backroad, Rick Steve’s made you a must see
Will I walk among marble saints
on Milan’s Duomo?
From rural villages to ancient Gothic cathedrals
You call me home.

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Gail June 14, 2017 - 9:06 am

I have a poem about Italy called Coming Home. After three sojourns it remains my favourite -where my heart is. Please add Ravello to your list and Bellagio. Italy is best seen one region at a time!

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Nick June 11, 2017 - 2:40 pm

Ever been to Napoli? You should!

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Carroll Koerber June 11, 2017 - 3:48 am

Some great information there

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Alison May 28, 2017 - 4:40 pm

Of all my travelling Italy will always be where my heart is. I have a rule never return as too many unknown to visit. This does not apply to Italy. I will return and return. Florence is beautiful. Almalfi coast is breathtaking.Lucca is my all time favourite I would love to live there. Venice get your camera out and get lost down back streets. Pisa lovely Base to stay. Positano views and steps but magical. Sorrento cried when had to go home. I could go on for ever. Italy is a place you have to return return return and keep finding your next favourite ❤

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Michael June 11, 2017 - 11:16 pm

Add Bolsena to the list. What a quaint town, and NO tourists,……………..just yet.

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Nina January 13, 2018 - 2:03 pm

I’ve been to same places your been to, been to Italy 3x and still can’t get enough of it, yearning to go back again and again! Fell in love with Amalfi,Positano&Sorrento. Still has to visit Capri and Sicily, and other places. Just love Italy period….

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Mikey May 23, 2017 - 7:14 am

Might want to update this list. Siena’s been mobbed for 20 years. Too many day trippers from Rome.

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Susan December 18, 2017 - 6:13 pm

But remains stunning & captivating. Best thing to do is stay in the city as you get an even better feel for the city once the hordes of day trippers leave. I was there in May & loved wandering through the quiet streets early morning as the city woke up. But even through the day you can quickly lose yourself in the back streets & find quiet spots.

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Anonymous May 21, 2017 - 3:14 pm

I enjoy Genoa too.

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Anonymous May 20, 2017 - 10:34 am

My favourite is Montepulciano and Cortona

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Doug June 21, 2017 - 11:18 am

Two of my favorites as well.

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Erika May 16, 2017 - 3:32 pm

What? No Trieste on the list? You have to go to Trieste! Trieste is just a couple of hours (by train) from Venice and on the border with Slovenia. It used to be part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire for hundreds of years and this reflects in its architecture, food, etc. You can enjoy the beach, the old town, or the “Carso” (the hills) and its caves all on the same day and feel you just visited 3 different cities.

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Heather May 6, 2017 - 8:12 am

I’m a fan of Orivieto. If you like pinot grigio, here’s where to find it. If you love art, check out the doumo. The “day of judgement ” painted on the chapel walls by luca signorelli is thought to have inspired michelangelo’s sistine chapel.

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Michael June 11, 2017 - 11:17 pm

AGREE!

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Carlos Rodriguez Sr. May 3, 2017 - 12:36 pm

I have been traveling to Italy since 1978 because of my love Italy so much we are semi retire and I been begin my wife to move there.any small town or Y favorite (Florence)so I may have lunch in The mountains of Pistoia. Venice and all the small towns Bassano Del Grappa. Milano and all the small towns,even Meda.I told you guys don’t get me starring.

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Kathy April 24, 2017 - 8:23 am

Loved Siena. Totally magical.

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Anonymous April 24, 2017 - 10:13 am

I totally agree! Even the gelato was amazing!

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Anne Reilly April 20, 2017 - 8:23 am

Will be visiting Bari next month and did visit Sienna a few years ago- it was mobbed.

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Angela April 20, 2017 - 3:58 am

I would add Ravenna to that list! Beautiful!

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Anonymous April 20, 2017 - 3:57 am

I would add Ravenna to that list. Such a beautiful city!

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Anonymous February 22, 2018 - 1:15 am

Judit that true

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Mary April 20, 2017 - 12:02 am

I just came home from 2 weeks in Italy. You are wrong about athletic shoes. In Florence, lace up athletic shoes in bright colors and glitter or sequins are everywhere among the Italians for day wear! I wish I would have gotten a pair in bright pink!

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Sivy April 22, 2017 - 11:02 am

Hi are you serious about the shoes I am going in June for 3 weeks And some people tell me not to wear sneakers or shorts, or jeans either

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Anonymous April 26, 2017 - 11:04 pm

No shorts if you want to visit churches.

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Amanda June 22, 2017 - 2:10 pm

You can wear whatever you like – people wear it all. Just covered shoulders and knees in churches.

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Jane October 30, 2017 - 11:15 am

People dress much more casually all over Europe than in the past. Where good comfortable walking shoes. Don’t worry about what they look like. Shorts are fine when it is hot, they can’t be worn in churches though, and there are lots and lots of churches!

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Anonymous April 17, 2017 - 10:31 am

Hello Dale Have you ever been to Ohio? Where are you from—-outer space?

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Ferit Aliaj April 16, 2017 - 1:50 am

Never been to Italy, just passing through the airport, Rome and milan…wishing to visit Italy next year….starting from North…vippiteno…bolzano…trento…milan bologna…roma….and flying to Tirana….

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Karen April 14, 2017 - 12:20 pm

We are in Bari right now! Turin next.

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Anonymous April 13, 2017 - 5:25 pm

It may be worth mentioning that Bologna is home to the oldest university in Europe. I consider that a draw.

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Marcia Bailey April 12, 2017 - 8:35 am

Your choices are wonderful, sadly I have not had the opportunity to visit Campobasso but the others are favorites of mine. In addition many of those cities mentioned in comments are special as well. I spent a month in Bologna and consider it one of the real gems of Italy. Otranto and Lecce in Apuglia should be considered as should Erice in Sicilia. How about those olives in Ascoli Piceno?? One cannot go wrong when exploring the backroads of Italy. Before the earthquakes I would have added Norcia. I don’t know how they are doing now.

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Wayne Emde April 11, 2017 - 8:53 pm

You omitted Lucca. Sure, it can be crowded at times, but it’s a gem of a place to visit, to walk the wall, to get lost in the narrow winding streets and to eat in the tiny cafes.

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Anonymous May 5, 2017 - 5:41 am

Loved Lucca! A must! Beautiful gem that must be experienced!

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Jen April 11, 2017 - 6:21 am

We would add Pitigliano for sure and Basano Del Grappa! For something a little larger, we always love Verona. Also, Montepulciano and Anywhere in the Cinque Terre. You can’t go wrong anywhere in Italy, it’s so wonderful!

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Anonymous April 9, 2017 - 1:56 pm

Assisi also….

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victoria April 9, 2017 - 2:56 am

Also Bergamo, Sirmione, Isola Bella and Bellagio on Lake Como

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Kay Leibowitz April 8, 2017 - 11:54 am

I wpild also add to the wonderful list you provided, Urbino in Le Marche region very near the Adriatic. It is a perfectly preserved Renaissance city.
Other favorites are Padua, Mantua and Vicenza.

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Lola April 8, 2017 - 7:06 am

Nice list!! And How about Bergamo and Lake Como? Great places too!!

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Francesco Baldessari April 7, 2017 - 12:21 pm

Padova

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Donna Maurillo April 7, 2017 - 2:36 am

And Becky, I agree about Siena. I was surprised to see it on the list because it’s quite popular, especially for those who are familiar with St Catherine of Siena, a major Catholic saint. And the Palio, I thought, was something world-renowned.

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Donna Maurillo April 7, 2017 - 2:30 am

Proud to say that I’ve visited all of these cities… and many more. I much prefer going to out-of-the-way places where I won’t be running into busloads of Americans wearing white athletic shoes (a real indication that you’re American) who never meet the local people. It’s much more fun to meet Italians who rarely see tourists, and who are flattered if you try your rudimentary Italian when conversing with them. They’ll be delighted to help you along. And if you’re having lunch in a little trattoria, the owner may call the rest of the family out from the kitchen to meet you and ask if you know Clint Eastwood.

My grandparents came from Campobasso (actually the tiny village a mile south, Ferrazzano) and Bari (from the adjacent villages of Bitetto and Monopoli), so I was delighted to see them on this list. If you do visit Ferrazzano, ask about my mother’s cousin (twice removed) Robert DeNiro. His family is also from there, and they even have a film festival to honor him.

I’d have added Orvieto to this list. It’s a town situated on top of a plateau north of Rome. Take an empty suitcase because you won’t want to leave without a full supply of their gorgeous hand-decorated pottery.

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Dale April 8, 2017 - 10:32 am

I too love Orvieto as a place to spend some days, certainly not just one. Their cathedral is one of the finest in Italy. Love your remark about white athletic shoes. I don’t even wear them at home, and would never bring them to Italy. If you can’t show some fashion sense, go to Ohio maybe.
We have discovered the joy of staying in apartments, figuring things out like trains and buses, and eating at a place with one sitting, and having to make a reservation to get in on Friday or Saturday. Parma is a favorite. Our Italian is not very good, but our level of politeness is.

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Rita Shisler April 9, 2017 - 7:41 pm

Hey, Dale….
We do have fashion sense in Ohio. Shame for the comment. Come to Amish Country, our Amish neighbors NEVER wear white shoes!!!!!☺☺☺☺

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Anonymous April 7, 2017 - 1:00 am

Ravena is a great short visit.

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Louis Ciarallo April 7, 2017 - 12:21 am

As a very proud Molisano, I read with joy your mention of Campobasso. It truly offers a tourist the opportunity to see Italy behind the scenes so to speak. Great list.

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Suzette | TrySomethingFun.com April 4, 2017 - 12:46 pm

Nice work, Melissa! You’re probably enjoying Vancouver’s incredible display of cherry blossoms right about now, but as for Italy, I enjoyed reading here about places I didn’t know of such as Campobasso. I just spent a good 5+ weeks in Italy and really enjoyed Nocelle, the town above Positano and walking on parts of The Path of the Gods, being treated to fresh orange / lemon juice and vegetables and herbs picked right in front of you. And Ravello too. While it’s visited by many day trippers, very few stay overnight and sometimes those quiet mornings and evenings are what become most memorable. I’d love to see another Italy article on smaller towns if you revisit this subject <3

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Becky Livingston April 3, 2017 - 7:47 am

Great list. But Siena? Doesn’t everyone go to Siena! Ascoli Piceno I thought for sure would be named here.

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Dale April 8, 2017 - 10:34 am

Have to agree about Siena. Way too full of tourists. If you are lucky to go on market day though it is a great visit. Being there for the evening stroll feels magical, as it does in many cities.

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