Maybe you’ve been to Florence four times and want to branch out. Or you fell in love with the mosaics of St. Mark’s Basilica and want to explore more. Whether it’s your first trip or your 18th, there’s always a new place to see in Italy, always a place beyond your original itinerary, always a reason to come back.
Some are a continuation of your favorite destinations in a new region and others are an option with fewer crowds. Whatever the case, get inspiration beyond the the highest publicized places and thing where you might go instead.
Instead of Venice, try Ravenna
Many tourists first experience with Byzantine mosaics in Italy is in Venice’s beautiful St. Mark’s Basilica. Ravenna, however, has dozens of mini-St. Mark’s, each with jaw-dropping mosaic art covering floors, walls and ceilings – likely with half the crowds. Once the capital of the Western Roman Empire and then of Byzantine Italy until the 8th century, today that period is visible in one of the most impressive collections of early-Christian and Byzantine mosaic artwork in the world. Keep in mind that Ravenna is incredibly small, so high season will still be packed, but the town’s cultural history is much more welcoming than Venice’s imposing monuments and confusing alleyways. Easy to navigate and located in incredibly-friendly Emilia Romagna, Ravenna is a cultural powerhouse on a much more human level.
Check out A Guide to Ravenna, Mosaics and More to plan your visit!
Instead of Rome, try Verona
The Roman Empire stretched far and wide, but a favorite remaining Roman monument of mine is the Verona Arena. Essentially a mini-Colosseum, the Arena di Verona was actually built roughly 50 years before the Roman Colosseum. Not only that, but it’s much more accessible than the real Colosseum – they even hold concerts there in the summer – and the town itself is beyond pleasant. After the Roman’s left Verona was predominately ruled by the wealthy Venetian Empire, and it shows in the wide streets and decorative piazze. Check out the outcome of a different ruling empire, see an amphitheater just as gorgeous and try food just as soulful as Rome’s in Verona.
Instead of Liguria, try the Tuscan Archipelago
Just two-hours from Milan, each summer the Lombardi flood out of their overheated cities to claim a stake on the all-to-small coastlines of Liguria. Instead, try something new and get off the coast altogether to explore the beautiful islands of the Tuscan Archipelago. Seven in all, these “pearls of Tuscany” are a part of a protected marine environment, explaining their pristine natural landscapes. The biggest and most popular island is Elba, but look beyond for even fewer crowds or take a boat to explore the different islands of the area.
Instead of Florence, try Lecce
Florence is known as the “cradle of the Renaissance” and Lecce is known as the Florence of the South for its impressive Baroque architecture and monuments. It’s a particular Baroque style though, one unique to Lecce noted because of its versatile and light local stone used for the city’s churches, piazze and buildings. In the heart of beautiful Puglia, the elegance of Lecce is the perfect introduction to this overlooked (by international travelers) region. It’s also located between two gorgeous coastlines, making it a decent base for exploring. Afterall, the town has a history and culture as rich as Florence but with half of the crowds.
Instead of the Dolomites, try Val d’Aosta
A Shangri-La of hikers, the Dolomites attract people from all reaches. They attract so many people, in fact, that “getting off the beaten track” feels like a faraway idea among the rose-tipped peaks and prices reflect that. The Dolomites are gorgeous, no doubt, but there is another area of the Alps magnificent mountain range with just as much adventure, luxury and all the in-between as the Dolomites: Val d’Aosta. Here, rather than the Tyrolean/German subculture found in the Dolomites, you’ll find the perfect fusion of Northern Italian and French in the language, food and sensibilities. With ski hotspots like Courmayeur, the wonder of Monte Bianco (or Mont Blanc) and the beauty of Italy’s Gran Paradiso National Park, Val d’Aosta rivals the Dolomites on all fronts, yet is far less frequented by overseas travelers.
Instead of Milan, try Turin
Torino, like Milan, has long been overlooked as an unimportant industrial town. Now that we know the truth about Milan – that it’s a gorgeous city filled with incredible food, art and nightlife – it’s time we give Turin a chance as well. Once the capital of Italy, Torino is home to grandiose buildings, Italy’s coffee par excellence and world-class museums and temporary art exhibitions.
Instead of the Amalfi Coast, try the Zingaro Nature Reserve
There are few places as suggestive as the towering cliffs and gorgeous coastline of the Amalfi Coast. One of those places might just be the Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro. Located west of Palermo between two of Sicily’s most beautiful beach towns, San Vito Lo Capo and Scopello, the Reserve is a natural paradise stretching across roughly 7 km of coastline along the Gulf of Castellammare. The area is completely protected and has a wealth of flora and fauna, steep cliffs and tiny bays and trails throughout it all to explore. The only way to visit the Reserve is on foot, meaning that unlike the Amalfi Coast you won’t risk getting stuck in traffic jams or jostled by the crowds. The Riserva dello Zingaro is the coastline you’ve been waiting to explore.
Italy is big and beautiful and has hundreds of worthy destinations to explore, so don’t just get stuck on the classic tourist trail. Branch out and you’ll surely be rewarded!