There are a few universal things that belong on any trip list to Italy, no matter what your Italian destination!
1) Eat gelato twice or three times in one day
Gelato once a day is normal, but the real treat is to indulge more than once in one day! We’ve all done it on a trip to Italy because hey, it’s vacation!
2) Climb a tower
In all of Europe there are churches and towers to climb, and Italy is no exception. Though it might seem like a feat (the Duomo of Florence has X steps!) it’s nearly always worth it. Climb the tower for the amazing view across the city and the amazing close up of whatever it is your climbing.
3) Shop Made in Italy
If you’re going to go home with any souvenir at all, make it a souvenir made in Italy. Here you can still find artisans producing unique, at times one-of-a-kind items. There’s little more authentic or higher-quality than a made-in-Italy product bought while in Italy.
4) Eat one of the most famous local dishes in each destination
If you truly want to get to know “Italian food,” then eat a local (I mean really local) meal. Eat pesto in Liguria and wild boar in Tuscany or Umbria. Try risotto in Lombardia and swordfish in Sicily.
5) Try a new food (or drink!)
Now’s your time to branch out as well. So you would never consider eating boar or donkey in the States? Here it’s melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and normal! Try a glass of wine, a true Italian espresso or an Aperol Spritz, Italy’s favorite summer drink. You’re in Italy, try something new!
6) Have an aperitivo
Speaking of a spritz, go for the experience of a classic Italian aperitivo. The perfect way to take a break during a long day of sightseeing, order a spritz, a cocktail or any of the many non-alcoholic drinks that all Italian bars seem to offer and enjoy the plate of appetizers that come with it. It’s an Italian institution.
7) Eat at an outdoor café or restaurant – no matter the weather!
One of the charms of Europe are the sidewalk cafés and restaurants that line the streets. When in Italy, sit outside! In winter they’ll often have heaters and sometimes even blankets and in the summer large umbrellas to block the sun. Plus, it’s the perfect place to people watch.
8) Get a real Italian pizza and eat it all (it’s easy to do)
Italian pizzas are not meant to be bought and shared slice by slice, but ordered and enjoyed in its entirety, all by yourself. So shed your previous notions and ideas of good and bad and eat the whole damn thing. It’s light, it’s fresh and it’s delicious!
9) People watch in the main piazza
Learn about a country’s culture by observing its people. Find the main piazza, get an ice cream and watch all the people pass by. Their interactions, their course, their clothes — as one of the most Italian of all Italian pastimes, you definitely won’t be the only one doing it.
10) Get lost
Whether you’re in the alleyways and canals of Venice or on an Italian road trip, getting lost in Italy is exactly what you should do. That’s the way to explore new areas, discover new views. That’s what you’re here for!
11) Change up your transportation
Where I come from in America there’s only one way to get around: by car. But in Italy you have a ton of options, and each has its own advantage. Now is the time to take the best one for each destination. Hop on the subway in Milan or navigate the city from its infamous yellow trams. Ride a bike along the walls of Lucca or the vineyards of Tuscany, take a ferry up and down the Amalfi Coast, jump on any funicular you can find because the view is bound to be gorgeous or go hiking among the Alps or Apennines. Practice your Italian with Roman taxi drivers, hop on the high-speed train between cities and when in Venice, use the vaporetto, the city’s water bus.
12) See a pretty church and study it outside and in
So maybe churches aren’t your thing, but you can’t come all this way without touring at least one beautiful church. Italy is awash in them! Church fatigue is real, but you have to dedicate time for at least one major church (or one per city) to explore inside and out.
In Florence the Duomo ticket includes a visit to the Baptistry, the Duomo up top as well as inside and the bell tower. The Siena Cathedral has just as many options along with a Gates of Heaven Tour of the cathedral’s roof and Milan also has a terrace option – you can even get there with an elevator!
13) Learn something new
Whether you tour museums, archeological sights or just various cities you’re bound to discover something new on a trip to Italy. Between the history, the geography and the general culture you’ve got a world and more than 2,000 years of things to learn, enjoy it!
14) Find some art
The Vatican Museums, The Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia, the Last Supper in Santa Maria delle Grazie. Italy is filled with some of the world’s most famous museums and some of the most priceless art. Now’s your chance, go see it!
15) Go underground
If on one hand you should always look up to find the towers, domes and churches of Italy, consider what’s underneath you as well. Most of modern-day Italy is built atop the roads and homes of ancient Italy, and much of it you can go underground to explore today! From the Domus Aurea in Rome to the various catacombs in Rome, Napoli and Pompeii — look underground for another perspective.
16) Exchange a few words in Italian
I know I’m biased, but Italians are the friendliest Europeans I know. Patient with other languages and happy to help you with your stumbling Italian, it’s the perfect place to try it out. They consider their language difficult for English speakers and I’ve found that the judgement most tourists fear just isn’t there.
Read: Adventures in Language Learning if you want a laugh!
17) Find a room with a view (it won’t be hard)
Italian architects kept an eye out for beauty since the start of the Roman Empire. Every castle, fortress, church roof is bound to have a rectangle cut from the bricks with an incredible view. Seek the hotel rooftops or lesser-known museums with high-quality views like the Orsanmichele in Florence or the Museo ‘900 in Milan.
18) Just stroll
Italy isn’t only about ticking items off a must-see list. Its biggest draw is its charm and atmosphere, and the best way to soak that up is by not doing anything in particular. Just stroll, soak it in and enjoy the beauty.
Read: How to Tour a Small Italian Town. (Hint: stroll)
19) Have a real Italian “breakfast”
Ok so it’s not much of a breakfast, but it’s as the Italians do. Go for a brioche and caffè or cappuccino and if you really want to do as the Italians do, do it all standing up at the counter!
20) Take pleasure in beauty.
The thesis of the Bella Vita, few fully enjoy beauty for beauty’s sake better than the Italians. If there’s one thing you should try to do in Italy on your next trip, it’s to find the beauty and enjoy it. In the landscape, the art, the clothes, the food – it’s all bello.