Italy is filled with countless treasures that attract travelers from across the globe.
Rich in historical and cultural heritage, it also boasts breathtaking scenery and a renowned culinary scene with more delicious eats than you could possibly sample in one trip.
There’s no wondering why it’s one of Europe’s best destinations, but once you’re there, what should you see?
What are the best landmarks to visit in Italy?
Italy has a huge variety of natural, historical, and cultural landmarks to visit. Some of the best are:
- The Colosseum
- Trevi Fountain
- Sistine Chapel
- St. Peter’s Basilica
- St Mark’s Basilica
- The Grand Canal
- The Pompeii Ruins
- Sassi di Matera
- Florence Cathedral
- The Leaning Tower of Pisa
- Milan Cathedral
As you make your plans to visit, there are some landmarks that are an absolute must to witness in person, including these options found everywhere from Rome to Venice and beyond.
The Roman Colosseum, Rome
The most famous classical ruin in Rome, the Roman Colosseum was inaugurated in the 1st-century AD.
It sat over 50,000 spectators who came to watch the battles between men and beast, and hand-to-hand combat between gladiators who were slaves captured in war and trained in special schools to fight each other to the death.
A gory, brutal place, the last battle took place in 523 AD.
Despite centuries of neglect, it’s managed to remain remarkably intact.
Trevi Fountain, Rome
Trevi Fountain is a baroque masterpiece showcasing a marble statue of Neptune at the center which is surrounded by tritons.
One of the most popular attractions in Rome, the landmark is visited by more than a thousand every hour.
Many come to toss three coins in the fountain with legend saying that those who do will either find true love or get the opportunity to return to Rome.
All those coins go to a good cause too, supporting food programs for the city’s poor.
Visit early in the morning or late at night for a magical experience without the crowds.
Sistine Chapel, Vatican City
This large 15th-century chapel in the Vatican Palace, home to the Pope, serves as the pope’s own chapel.
It’s used for masses and important ceremonies, but most know it for the remarkable paintings that Renaissance artist Michelangelo created here.
The ceiling is one of his most famous masterpieces.
From 1508 through 1512 he worked from a high platform, with his arms stretched overhead, brush in hand, creating monumental figures that embody strength and beauty.
As you enter and look up at the ceiling you’ll get a better idea of the toll it took, painting year after year, often in intense heat with the terrible smell of the wet plaster.
Michelangelo had no experience painting frescoes, with sculptures his focus, and when he painted it was said that he “painted sculpture on his surfaces.”
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
In a place known for its beautiful churches, none can hold a candle to St. Peter’s Basilica
The largest and most magnificent in Italy, it was built in Renaissance style on the site of an earlier 4th-century church and completed in 1626, 120 years after construction was started.
It holds the great bronze Baldacchino and includes Michelangelo’s Pieta.
St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice
Located at the eastern end of St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica dates back to the 11th-century.
It’s always been the center of religious and public life in Venice and today it welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Its earliest architectural style is Byzantine, representing the power of the prosperous Venetian Republic, and over time there were a number of modifications, including pointed gothic arches, 17th– and 18th-century sculptures, and mosaics.
It’s not only visually stunning with its spectacular blend of styles, but it also has special historic interest with the Dukes of Venice consecrated here.
For a bird’s-eye view from the tallest building in the city, climb the nearly 325-foot-high bell tower.
The Grand Canal, Venice
Venice is best known for its canals, with boats in all sizes traversing the waterways the way cars and buses crowd the streets in more conventional cities.
One of the world’s top attractions, there are over 150 canals and more than 400 bridges, but the main waterway is the Grand Canal, Canalasso.
It stretches for two miles through the main island and forms a giant “S” curve while many of the city’s most impressive architectural icons line it, dating from the 13th– to 18th-centuries.
It’s spanned by the romantic Rialto, Dell’Accademia, Degli Scalzi, and Della Costituzione bridges, all popular for photo-ops.
Of course, the best way to experience it is on a gondola ride.
The Pompeii Ruins, Naples
Technically, there are multiple landmarks within the Pompeii ruins, all of which are worth seeing in person at least once.
An ancient Roman city, it was buried under volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.
It kept it incredibly well-preserved, providing an authentic look at life nearly two thousand years ago.
Many of the inhabitants were buried before they could escape, creating ash-encased mummies of the fleeing citizens, freezing them in position.
As you stroll the centuries-old streets you’ll see remains of a forum, amphitheater, baths, bakeries, and even brothels with walls painted with various sexual positions.
They served as the “menu” with customers selecting their preferred choice.
Sassi di Matera, Matera
Nestled along the cliffs of the Basilicata region in Italy’s southern region near the “heel of the boot,” the village of Matera includes the Sassi di Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with unique cave-like homes and other structures that were carved out of the limestone rocks.
Apart from Petra in Jordan, this is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in history.
Early settlers lived in the natural caves of the canyon walls, extending them until eventually, there were thousands of caves throughout the area. They were a place of extreme poverty in more modern times and were eventually abandoned in the 1950s and ‘60s, but some of the wealthier former residents returned to renovate the cave homes.
Today visitors can discover an enchanting place – and even enjoy dining or a stay in one of the cave dwellings with some serving as hotels and restaurants.
The area is divided into two, the Sasso Barisano and the Sasso Caveoso, which are separated by a ridge and topped by the town’s cathedral, a 13th-century Apulian-Romanesque style church with painted ceilings, frescos, and artworks.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral), Florence
The Florence Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the world’s most breathtaking.
Construction was started in the 13th-century, but it wasn’t finished for some 200 years.
The awe-inspiring dome was the last to be added to the building, standing out in the city skyline.
From the top, one can enjoy a dreamy view of Florence.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa
The Leaning Tower of Pisa has become somewhat of a joke, with countless visitors coming to capture forced perspective selfies of one of Italy’s most iconic landmarks.
While it may be the quintessential “touristy” thing to do, it’s worth coming to check off your bucket list.
It was originally designed to rest vertically, but as the foundations were set it started to lean over the years.
With the base containing the center of gravity, it’s unlikely to topple over, but there has been work done on it to ensure it stays upright.
If you buy a ticket, you can go inside and climb the tower.
Milan Cathedral, Milan
Located in the heart of Milan’s Piazza del Duomo, the Milan Cathedral is considered Italy’s most important example of Gothic architecture.
Much of its appeal lies in the exterior with 135 elegant spires reaching to the heavens and 3,400 elaborately detailed statues.
The windows of the marble church are particularly impressive and tell religious stories.
If you climb the stairs to the rooftop terraces, you can see all the way out to the dramatic peaks of the Alps.
Its construction took nearly six full centuries.