If you want to see the real face of Italy, you’ll want some time to explore the country for yourself in order to truly understand its essence. Italy, also known as Italia, is a big nation located within Southern Europe. It’s acknowledged as the birthplace of western culture together with Greece. Unsurprisingly, it serves as a home to quite a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites…in fact, the greatest number of them on Earth. Ancient monuments, masterful architecture and fine art can be found everywhere in this culturally rich nation. Italy is also famous for its diverse regional cultures and dialects, luxury sports cars and motorcycles, trendy fashions and scrumptious cuisine. The Country’s geographical delights have earned it the nickname “Il Bel Paese” or “The Beautiful Country”, with its alpine lakes and mountains (the Apennines and the Alps), beautiful coasts and world-class cities. Italy is a feast for the senses.

Places to see and things to do in Italy

Venice

Venice is most distinguished by its network of canals running throughout the city. This was caused by the land sinking once upon a time, so that now the houses and buildings sit right on the water and travelling by boat or ‘gondola’ is the only way to get to some places here.  It’s one of the loveliest and most interesting places to visit on the planet. Moreover, it serves as a sanctuary on a lagoon that has remained virtually unchanged for six hundred years.

Taking a gondola ride and being serenaded is practically a tradition. Stare in wonder at St. Mark’s Basilica. Stand in the middle of the San Marco piazza. Take a tour of the Venetian masters of fine art. Eat ‘gelato’ (ice-cream). Savour an ‘aperitivo’ (evening snack and drink), as is the custom with the locals. Do a ‘bacari’ (bar) crawl drinking ‘ombras’ and ‘spritizes’. If you’re in town in March, the highlight of evening time is the Masquerade Ball or Carnavale, where you don masks and costumes and join the biggest street party in Italy. If you’re going to splurge on something, you can’t leave Venice without buying a Venetian Mask!

Rome

As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do! Also known as the “Eternal City”, this is the capital of Italy. There’s no end to the accommodation, restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs, nightlife, sightseeing and guided tours, museums, roman ruins, fountains, monuments, statues, fine art galleries, fashion and jewellery shops.

Tour the Pantheon, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. You don’t have to be religious to admire the Vatican City. Walk up the Spanish Steps. Throw coins in the Trevi Fountain. Buy food or a picnic lunch at the Campo dei Fiori Markets. Sit in the Piazza Navona while you rest and watch the world go by.

Florence

It’s hard to just stop there with Italy. Florence is one of the roads less travelled by, but is one of the most beautiful cities in the country. This is where Michelangelo actually did some of his best work and lived much of his life, and he is buried here. The city is full of museums, art galleries and flea markets, so if you’re into all of that, this place is your heaven. Visit the famous graves. Browse the leather markets. Eat a piece of pizza and people-watch in the Piazza de la Signoria. Take a day or overnight trip to Naples from here, but be aware that Naples is a rough neighbourhood for unsuspecting young travellers if you don’t watch yourself and your wallet! Being part of a tour here is best, unless you’re in a group.

Cinque Terre

Besides from the obvious cities, sites and landmarks on the Italian tourist trail, there are little gems of places scattered across Italy which are still relatively unknown. ‘Cinque Terre’ (or the ‘Five Lands’) gives you an authentic Italian experience of sunshine, sea, good food and friendly people. They are made up of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. Each of the five little towns is unique, but all are colourful and full of character. You can walk from one town to the next, but trains and ferries run regularly if you don’t think you can make it on foot.

Stress in this part of the world doesn’t exist, so grab a towel and a few beers and join the rest of the people that are lying in arguably the prettiest place in the world whilst watching the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea. One thing you must do, any time of day or night, is drink Limoncello, an Italian lemon liquor that’s very sweet and a little sour at the same time. It’s made from the many lemon trees growing on the area. Have it straight. Pour it over gelato. It doesn’t matter. Just enjoy!

Milan

Milan is known as the fashion capital of Italy and is famous for its international fashion houses rivalling Rome, but also for its urban street fashion shops, markets and boutique stores. Fine wining, dining, theatre, culture, the arts, parks and gardens, trendy clubs and cafes can all be found here, if that’s your scene. It’s also a great stopover if you want to ski the Italian Alps. Milan may not be everyone’s taste if you just want to rock n’ roll, but this is definitely the place to be seen for all you classy under 21 year olds who have the means to live the high life!

Verona

Heard of the pace before? Most likely because it’s the city famous for being where Romeo and Juliet was set. It’s considered to be the more relaxed and pleasant version of the city of Venice. For you Shakespeare lovers you can check out ‘Juliet’s balcony’, where one of the most famous scenes in the literature world took place. When you’re done there, you can head down to the Piazza delle erbe, a coloured fruit and vegetable market surrounded by historic buildings and monuments. Verona’s not exactly known for its wild nights, so a chilled night out at one of its many pubs or restaurants will be in order.