If you’re itching to take a trip to the boot, you’re not alone. Italy is gearing up to have a banner year for tourism. According to ENIT, the national tourism board, an estimated 141,000 visitors arrived in the country for Easter week in spring 2023, representing a 29 percent increase over the same period last year. The number of Americans increased by 50 percent. And that’s only the beginning of the season. Luxury tour operator Imago Artis Travel is estimating that it will get twice as many clients visiting Italy this year as it did last year.
Between the cultural capitals of Rome, Florence, and Milan, picturesque villages, countryside destinations like Tuscany and Umbria, more than 4,700 miles of coast, and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, there’s more than one could feasibly see and do in a lifetime. There are the classic sights, of course, but also plenty of new hotels, restaurants, art exhibitions, and cultural events. So how do you choose where to go and what to do in Italy? Here’s our guide to some of the biggest news and emerging destinations to consider this season, whatever kind of trip you’re looking for.
Where should I start my journey through Italy?
While many first-time travelers to Italy go the classic route of combining Rome, Florence, and Venice, visiting all three in the same trip might have you suffering from sensory overload. It’s better to start with one. Rome is one of the most exciting cities in Italy right now, thanks to a postpandemic spark of energy that has it riding high on a wave of new openings. More than a dozen new and soon-to-open hotels are changing the city’s hospitality scene, bringing with them new restaurants and bars, innovative design, and more chances to connect with locals. The buzziest openings include the Bulgari Hotel Rome, Six Senses Rome, the Rome Edition, and the InterContinental Rome Ambasciatori Palace, all of which have opened over the last three months.
Exciting exhibitions and cultural happenings are taking place in the Eternal City this summer, too. A retrospective of work by Michelangelo Pistoletto, one of the leading artists in Italy’s arte povera movement from the late 1960s, is on at Chiostro del Bramante until October 15. Following the huge success of the exhibition Casa Balla: From the House to the Universe and Back, MAXXI (the museum of 21st-century art) has opened Casa Balla—the apartment of futurist artist Giacomo Balla—to visits again. A new walking tour by ArcheoRunning’s founder Isabella Calidonna, an art historian and personal trainer, leads participants to dig deeper into Michelangelo’s contributions to Rome beyond the Sistine Chapel. And a new Vespa tour developed by leading tour company Scooteroma exclusively for Hotel de la Ville celebrates the 70th anniversary of the release of Roman Holiday by bringing guests to some of the iconic spots featured in the film.
Where to stay
Book now: Hotel de la Ville
Check into Hotel de la Ville atop the Spanish Steps, which has one of the city’s best rooftop bars, or book a room at the new wellness-focused Six Senses Rome, which opened in March 2023, so you can retreat to the spa for a soak in the Roman baths after exploring the city.
I’m interested in art, architecture, and design. Where should I go?
Italy’s design capital, Milan, is a must-visit destination for architecture and design lovers with plenty to do and see, from perpetual favorites to exciting new exhibitions.
Architecture fans should visit Villa Necchi Campiglio, an icon of 1930s design by Piero Portaluppi that appeared in Luca Guadagnino’s 2009 film I Am Love. At Triennale Milano, the city’s design museum, Ettore Sottsass: La Parola focuses on the written word in the work of the artist and designer known as one of the founders of the Memphis movement. Next to the Duomo, itself worth visiting to admire the Gothic architecture and sculptures, the Palazzo Reale di Milano is hosting Argentine contemporary artist Leandro Erlich’s first large-scale solo European exhibition, which will be on view until October 4. And the Museo del Novecento has an exhibit called Futurliberty: Avant-garde and Style, which focuses on the work of futurist artists like Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini, and Umberto Boccioni.
Where to stay
Book now: Portrait Milano
The talk of the town is the new Portrait Milano by the Ferragamo family, which restored a 16th-century seminary, opening it up to the public for the first time in its history. The residential-inspired design by lauded architect Michele Bönan is the epitome of Italian style, with lots of polished wood, art tomes, archival Ferragamo sketches, and marble bathrooms. Be sure to book a table for lunch or dinner at the hotel’s 10_11 restaurant so you can try rising star chef Alberto Quadrio’s elevated take on pasta in bianco.
I’ve sipped my way around Tuscany’s wineries. Where next?
Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian) is more under the radar than Tuscany, except perhaps when it comes to wine tourism. The region is known for producing the pricey barolos and barbarescos that have wine collectors clamoring to stock their cellars. A top winery is Gaja—Angelo Gaja was one of the trailblazing winemakers who put Piedmont on the map in the 1970s—which will organize a tour and tasting for people who donate at least €300 to a local charity. There are also plenty of more accessible wineries, like the historic Cantine Damilano, which has a couple of wine shops where you can taste and purchase its barolo, barbera, and dolcetto.
Where to stay
Book now: Casa di Langa
Casa di Langa, in the Beyond Green portfolio of sustainable hotels and resorts operated by Preferred Travel Group, is conveniently located in the heart of the Langhe Hills near the top wineries. The 39-room hotel operates on 100 percent renewable energy, is plastic free, and recycles all of the water used to irrigate its vineyards. After exploring the nearby wineries, relax with a massage incorporating local honey and hazelnut oil at the spa.
I want the beautiful scenery of the Amalfi Coast, but without the crowds.
Ischia and Ponza
Try one of the islands, like Ischia in the Bay of Naples or Ponza, an island off the coast of Lazio. Ischia has become an increasingly popular destination, but it’s still scrappier than Capri, its glamorous sister island. Plus, it’s much larger than Capri, so there’s more room to spread out and more chances to explore the many beaches, charming towns like Forio, full of lively restaurants, bars, and boutiques, and wineries, and attractions like La Mortella and the Giardini Ravino botanical gardens. Ischia has been drawing travelers to soak in its natural thermal hot springs since the ancient Greeks arrived on its shores; you can enjoy the benefits of the island’s mineral-rich waters at thermal parks like Negombo and the Fonte delle Ninfe Nitrodi.
Ponza is popular among domestic tourists (especially Romans, given its proximity to Rome and its affordability) but lacks the international travelers that flock to Italy’s larger islands.
The landscape looks much like the Amalfi Coast, with Mediterranean plants, winding roads leading up vertiginous cliffs, and aquamarine waters, but it’s more down to earth and affordable. The action is mainly near the port, lined with pastel buildings housing holiday homes, restaurants, bars, and shops. Most of the beaches are rocky, but if you prefer sand, head to Cala Feola, a sweet little beach where you can spread your towel.
Where to stay
Book now: Albergo della Regina Isabella
In Ischia, the Albergo della Regina Isabella was created by publisher and filmmaker Angelo Rizzoli in the 1950s; staying there feels like stepping back into that era, thanks to the hand-painted tile floors and original furnishings. The place to stay in Ponza is Hotel Chiaia di Luna, which exemplifies the island’s breezy retro style.
OK, but where are the beaches that Italians actually go to?
Italy has more than 4,700 miles of coastline, so if you were to ask 100 Italians what their favorite beach is, you’d probably get 100 different answers. That said, Italians tend to flock south to Puglia, Sicily, and Sardinia in the summer.
Over the past 10 years, American travelers have started to become aware of Puglia, but the region has long been a favorite summer destination for Italians. The heel of the boot, Puglia has gorgeous beaches on both the Adriatic and Ionian coasts as well as at its southern tip, where the two seas meet. The Valle d’Itria, a particularly picturesque part of central Puglia, is home to whitewashed villages like Alberobello, Polignano a Mare, Cisternino, and Ostuni as well as gently rolling hills dotted with olive trees and trulli, ancient dwellings with conical roofs.
For the best beaches in Puglia, many Italians swear by those in Salento, the southernmost part of the region. There’s even a beach called Pescoluse that’s sometimes referred to as “the Maldives of Salento.” The beaches on the Ionian side are especially nice, with large stretches of sand and clear water that tends to be calmer than on the Adriatic side.
Where to stay
Book now: Borgo Egnazia
This member of the Leading Hotels of the World in the lush Valle d’Itria was a trailblazing resort in the region. It’s still one of the best places to stay because of its many amenities, including a Michelin-starred restaurant, beach club, luxurious spa, two pools, and events like the annual cherry festival that let guests experience a bit of Pugliese culture. Or you could rent a villa by the Thinking Traveller and stay in a trullo or a converted masseria (farmhouse).
I want to combine a bustling city with relaxation in the countryside. What’s a good combo?
Florence and the Val d’Orcia
These two make for a classic combination. You can have all the excitement of visiting one of Italy’s most important cities and then retreat to the Tuscan countryside for some R&R.
First-time visitors to Florence will want to see the city’s main sights, including the Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, and Ponte Vecchio, gaze upon artistic treasures at the Uffizi and Galleria dell’Accademia, and indulge in local cuisine, like pici (a sort of long, thick spaghetti) and a hearty bistecca fiorentina, a steak of local Chianina beef. You’ll need a minimum of two or three days to see Florence’s major sights, like the Baptistery, whose 12th-century mosaics visitors can see up close while they’re being restored. Stay longer, or if you’re planning a return trip, dig a bit deeper by exploring the artsy Oltrarno neighborhood across the river from the centro storico and make time for smaller museums and galleries like Palazzo Strozzi, where you can see contemporary art exhibitions in a Renaissance palazzo.
After a few days in Florence, rent a car and venture about 70 miles south to Val d’Orcia in southern Tuscany. You can bike through the rolling hills, visit vineyards in Montalcino and Montepulciano, and take a cooking class at Podere il Casale, a working farm that produces cheese, charcuterie, olive oil, and wine. Spend an afternoon exploring the appealing Renaissance town of Pienza, where you can admire the hanging gardens of Palazzo Piccolomini and meet local artists and designers like Paolo Porcu Rodriguez, who makes leather bags, scarab jewelry, and colorful scarves with geometric prints inspired by the floors of the nearby Monte Oliveto Abbey at Officine 904.
Where to stay
Book now: Borgo San Vincenzo
In Florence, consider staying in Oltrarno to escape the crowds. Betty Soldi and her partner Matteo Perduca—a modern-day Renaissance man and woman (he’s a lawyer and she’s a calligrapher)—run a handful of eclectically decorated B&Bs in historic buildings, including OltrarnoSplendid, AdAstra, and SoprArno Suites. In the Val d’Orcia, check into Borgo San Vincenzo, an intimate new resort occupying a handful of buildings from the 1700s with a lovely pool, bikes you can borrow, and a concierge team ready to customize an itinerary of the best things to do in the area.
I travel for the food. What’s the next emerging foodie destination?
You’ve likely had some great pizza in cities like Rome and Naples, but for Italy’s best pizza, head to Caserta. This small city about 25 miles north of Naples has two claims to fame: the Reggia di Caserta, an 18th-century royal palace built to rival Versailles, and pizza. The best mozzarella di bufala comes from this region, and where you have excellent mozzarella, you’re bound to have incredible pizza.
It’s not just the superior ingredients that make the pizza special though. It’s the pizzaioli like Franco Pepe and Francesco Martucci, who are transforming those ingredients in innovative ways, using the techniques and equipment—dehydrators, flash freezers, fermenters, and sous-vide machines, for example—more often found in Michelin-starred restaurants than humble pizzerias. An innovator when it comes to pizza, Franco Pepe and his pizzeria Pepe in Grani, in the hilltop village of Caiazzo, 25 minutes north of Caserta, were featured on the Netflix show Chef’s Table: Pizza. Meanwhile, Pizzeria I Masanielli run by Francesco Martucci a few minutes from the Reggia di Caserta, was crowned the world’s best pizzeria by the judges at 50 Top Pizza. Both offer pizza tasting menus as well as à la carte options. But be warned: You’ll need to book a table a month or two in advance.
Where to stay
Book now: A Corte
There aren’t a lot of great hotels in Caserta, but there are plenty of modest B&Bs, like A Corte, which has four rooms near the medieval part of the city and a friendly owner who will drive you there.
Our new series The Next List reveals under-the-radar spots in well-trod places and the next great (less-crowded) places to visit this year. Check out our picks for where to go next in France, Europe, and Greece too.