There are 20 regions in Italy and deciding which one to visit isn’t easy. Where to travel depends most of all on your interests. Whether you’re passionate about art, history, food or just want to lie on a beach Italy has something for everyone. Here’s an introduction to each Italian region and suggested destinations based on what you like to do:
If you like history: Rome and Lazio
Rome, Italy’s capital and largest city, is the most visited destination in the country. Each cobblestone is soaked in history, and the center features one breathtaking monument after another—from the Pantheon to the Sistine Chapel. The countryside around the city is a day-tripper’s dream, with volcanic lakes, ancient cities, the tombs of Cerveteri and the Gulf of Gaeta.
If you like art: Florence and Tuscany
Many of Italy’s trademark sights exist in this region, including the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Michelangelo’s statue David. Florence, in the center of the region, features the world-class Galleria degli Uffizi, and Siena has one of the country’s best preserved medieval centers. Between these cities are rolling hills and cypress-lined roads leading to countless fortified castles and hill towns that haven’t changed since the 15th century.
If you like the sea: Liguria
Known as the Italian Riviera, this region features small pastel-colored fishing villages in the Cinque Terre, where coastal paths provide an endless series of spectacular views. Genova, the largest city in the region, boasts some of the finest collections of paintings and sculptures in northern Italy and the largest aquarium in Europe.
If you like mountains: Piedmont and Aosta Valley
Turin, the capital of Piedmont, hosted the Winter Olympics in 2006 and is home to the Museo Egizio, which houses the world’s second-largest collection of Egyptian artifacts. Beyond the city is breathtaking countryside and Italy’s first national park. The smallest region of Italy, Aosta Valley, offers winter sports and summer hiking among magnificent mountain backdrops.
If you like design: Milan and Lombardy
Milan is a cosmopolitan city and Italy’s financial, fashion and design capital with an ever changing skyline. A short distance from the urban action are Italy’s largest and most stunning lakes, including Lake Maggiore and Lake Como. You’ll also find Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper inside Milan’s Santa Maria delle Grazie.
If you like snow: Trentino-Alto Adige
Formed by two distinct provinces, Trentino-Alto Adige is an entirely mountainous region with the Dolomite Mountains as a continuous backdrop. The small towns scattered along the tree-lined valleys exude an Alpine charm and offer an ideal base for exploring the region’s infinite trails and ski slopes.
If you like canals: Venice, Veneto, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Venice is the unmistakable star of the region, with its maze of canals and vaporetto boats that ferry legions of tourists from San Marco to dozens of small towns around the lagoon. Inland, Verona is the site of the third-largest Roman arena in the world, and Friuli is full of Roman, Venetian, and Hapsburg influences.
If you like food: Emilia Romagna
Emilia Romagna has a reputation for producing some of the finest food in the country, and Bologna is a good place to sample the local dishes. The piazzas in Piacenza and Parma are renowned for their inventive use of stone, Ravenna’s mosaics recall the days when the city overshadowed Rome, and the Po River provides a wonderful habitat for many species.
If you like beaches: Le Marche
A rural region along the Adriatic, Le Marche boasts a long culinary tradition and some of the best-preserved medieval towns in Italy, such as Urbino, San Leo, and San Marino. The landscape is varied here, from the Monti Sibillini to the secluded inlets and bays along the region’s extensive coastline. Pesaro is the largest resort here and Conero Riviera possesses some of the most pristine beaches.
If you like hill towns: Umbria
Umbria combines verdant green countryside and rugged terrain with enchanting towns. Examples of medieval architecture can be easily reached from the regional capital of Perugia, and exploring the steep narrow streets of Gubbio and Todi is the best way to walk off the region’s smoked ham, truffle, and lentil specialties. Events such as Umbria Jazz and Eurochocolate provide cultural dynamism.
If you like tranquility: Abruzzo and Molise
Undiscovered Italy starts in these once-united regions. Abruzzo has more acres of parkland than any other region in Europe. Pescara, Abruzzo’s most densely populated city, is the center of an active beach scene. Molise is wild and sparsely populated, with stunning mountain views.
If you like ancient ruins: Naples and Campania
Naples, a major metropolis and the largest city in Southern Italy, is known for opera, pizza and ancient eruptions. The ruins of Pompeii are just one of the many archeological parks in Campania that reveal ancient temples, mosaics, and other Roman treasures. The islands of Capri, Ischia, and Procida and the Amalfi Coast feature some of Italy’s most spectacular coastal scenery and its most charming hotels.
If you like to swim: Puglia
Greek influence is strong in Italy’s easternmost region, and many of the fortified towns lining the Adriatic and Ionic coasts—including Bari, the region’s capital—have inherited temples and amphitheaters from antiquity. Brindisi is where Via Appia ends and Caesar embarked for his rendezvous with Cleopatra. A vivid past is equally present in the circular trulli houses lining the streets of Alberobello and the Baroque city of Lecce.
If you like discovering: Basilicata and Calabria
Like Sicily and Puglia, these southern regions share a strong Greek heritage. Basilicata provided a home for Byzantine religious refugees who left their mark in churches and caves carved into the soft tufa stone around Matera. Although tourists are generally attracted to Calabria’s enchanting coastline, it is almost entirely covered by highlands and plateaus. Both regions boast unspoiled landscapes throughout their rugged interiors and deserted beaches.
If you like volcanoes: Sicily
Italy’s largest island could easily be mistaken for another country. The dialects are different, the food is spicier, and the vegetation is sub-tropical. Palermo, with its multiple Euro-Afro-Asian personality, is the best example of Sicily’s cultural crossroads. Hills and mountains prevail here, with the highest running along the northern coast towards Mount Etna, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
If you’ve been everywhere else: Sardinia
Although often overlooked by visitors on a tight schedule, the island of Sardinia is arguably the best region in Italy and boasts some of the country’s cleanest beaches and most postcard-perfect coastlines. There are few large towns here and culture takes a backseat to nature. Costa Smeralda features clear emerald waters that don’t disappoint, and Arcipelago della Maddalena is a big draw for scuba divers.