Nearly everything in Italy could be considered a must-see. The country is a treasure trove of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, a rich culture that’s only matched by the opulence of its food. As the once epicenter of the Roman Empire and origin of the Renaissance, elements of its amazing past are evident everywhere you look. Your eyes flit from Michelangelo’s David to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, taking the best of Italy in. You could spend a lifetime exploring the land from corner to corner, but if you only have a short time in the country, these are the five Italian experiences smart travelers know not to miss:
JeniFoto | ShutterstockGuided Tour of the Vatican Museums |
If you didn’t major in art history, the Vatican Museums can be an overwhelming experience or gilded frames and baroque patterns. Pieces have been amassed by popes over the centuries, with everything from Egyptian mummies to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes. Founded in the early 16th century by Pope Julius II, the collections have only continued to grow with every successive pontiff.
The maze of exhibits is large and vast, and could eat up a whole day of your time if you let it. By taking a guided tour, you are taken to the most revered pieces. There are more than 4 miles of exhibits. Being selective is key and you don’t want to miss some of the most important pieces of art throughout history because you didn’t know where to wander. Your guide will also be able to expand on what you see, offering insight into their importance and meaning. One hint, though? Make a side-stop to the Pinacoteca. This picture gallery is often overlooked and contains Raphael’s last work.
ShutterstockClimb the Florence Duomo |
You can look at the Duomo from all sides and every angle, but nothing compares to climbing to the top of the cupola. Florence and its historic center spreads before you, the hike to the apex giving you an up-close look at Filippo Brunelleschi’s masterpiece. The architect won the competition for cathedral’s commission in 1418, an engineering feat with its egg-shaped dome made without scaffolding. It was the largest in the world for its time.
The only way to see inside of the dome is to climb the 463 steps that also lead you to admire Giorgio Vasari’s fresco painted on the interior. After your descent, pause on the Piazza del Duomo to reflect on the Baptistery and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Here you can see original statues and decorative details along with Ghiberti’s legendary Baptistery doors. Known as the Gates of Paradise, this Renaissance masterpiece depicts Old Testament subjects in gilt bronze.
ShutterstockTry the Pizza in Naples |
The universal favorite dish of pizza got its start in Naples, making this the first on a long list of must-try Italian dining indulgences. The restaurant that’s said to be the very place to have invented the meal is even still turning out pizza pies.
What constitutes a true Neapolitan pizza is actually decided by a very strict set of rules, set by the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana. The chefs must meet the criteria of an 11-page document, showing just how serious the business of pizza is in Naples. These pies aren’t like the crispy New York style or substantial Chicago Deep Dish you’re accustomed to in the U.S. Instead a Neapolitan pizza will have a soft center and a topping of tomatoes, olive oil, fresh mozzarella di bufala and basil leaves cooked in a traditional domed-wood-fueled oven that has been the baking apparatus of choice for several hundred years. When you’re hungry, simply go for a walk down Via Tribunali. It’s impossible not to run into an amazing pizzeria here.
ShutterstockDrive the Amalfi Coast |
This snaking stretch of road borders the Italian coastline for the most scenic drive that’s worth the trip. Precarious and perilous, you’ll need to balance your time staring off into the horizon and keeping your eyes on the road. If you want to add an extra dose of adrenaline to the ride, make it on a motorcycle that allows you to smell the sea and hear the crashing waves.
Flanking the Sorrento Peninsula, this cliffside path takes you through the area’s most famous towns – Amalfi, Positano and Ravello. The region has served as the muse of many artists over the centuries, including the writer Giovanni Boccaccio, the composer Richard Wagner and playwright Tennessee Williams. Begin your way in Salerno and continue on an increasingly spectacular journey weaving your way past hills, ravines, waterfalls and gorges to the coastal villages of Praiano and Positano.
Spend Time with the Last Supper |
Milan is an oft-skipped destination for tourists, but that’s a crucial mistake a smart traveler won’t make. It’s the only place in the world where you can see the best of Italy immortalized in Leonardo da Vinci’s magnum opus, “The Last Supper.” You’re allowed only 15 minutes with the work of art, but it’s a moment that will be etched into your memory forever.
Da Vinci’s depiction of Christ and his disciples is one of the most iconic in the world, one you’ve only seen reproductions of. The mural is touted as one of the most significant ever created, continuing to find its way into culture today. It has a reverence that surpasses generations and times, regardless of religious background. To see it yourself, you’ll need to book a tour anywhere from two weeks to several months ahead. But it’s worth it to see this piece of marvelous history in person.
You tell us. Are These Really Italy’s Most Beautiful Coastal Cities?
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