When you think about traveling to Italy, you may first think of pasta, pizza, and wine. It has become famous around the world for food and drinks, but there are so many charming towns to visit that offer culture, art, history, and architecture. Not to mention, these specific towns feature gorgeous beaches, stunning hikes, and upscale shopping areas. There’s something for everyone, whether you want to venture down cobblestone streets or relax on a boat in the crystal blue sea. And yes, it all includes endless amounts of pasta and some of the best wines in the world.
While the big cities of Italy — Rome, Venice, Florence, and Milan — are worth a trip, here are 17 adorable towns that you may have never heard of but should visit this year.
The small town of Tropea on the east coast of southern Italy is a municipality of Calabria. It’s known for its clifftop historic center, beaches, and red onions — yes, its onions. They’re a delicacy made in this town with a sweet, mild flavor created by the soil and climate. You can enjoy them in many ways, eating them raw or as marmalades.
After a meal, you’ll want to relax with a view of the sea. The palazzi are built right up to the edge, giving you unparalleled views of the deep, blue waters and the beach below. It’s called the “Coast of the Gods” for a reason. The white sand beaches paired with the turquoise-clear water of the Tyrrhenian Sea make for a beach lover’s dream. Tropea Beach sits at the foot of Old Town, where you can find local foods and merchandise while dining at cafés in the square.
Calabria itself is off the beaten path in Italy, and be it small, there is so much to see. There are 500 miles of coastline, with the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west and the Ionian Sea to the east.
The pilgrimage destination — Sanctuary of Maria dell’Isola — sits on an outcrop with sprawling views of the sea. You can visit its sanctuary and gardens for a relaxing stroll. Then venture on to Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, the main street in Tropea, to enjoy local culinary creations with its famous onions, peperoncinos, wood-fired pizzas, seafood, and pastas.
A quick trip to Scilla lets you explore the small fishing village and its charming neighborhoods. And if you’re looking to get into nature, take a hike through La Sila National Park, known as “The Forest of Giants,” where you may spot an eagle.
The cliffside village of Positano overlooks the Amalfi Coast.
Since it’s known as the “Vertical City,” you’ll want to take a stroll through the streets. Wander through brightly painted houses, art galleries, and shops that sell handmade leather sandals, which made Positano famous. The Church of Santa Maria Assunta is dedicated to the patron saint of the town and sits in the center.
Take a 4-mile hike along Il Sentiero degli Dei, meaning “The Path of the Gods,” with views of the coast. And make sure to spend time on the beaches. Some are easy to get to while others are a bit more remote and can only be accessed by boat. All are equally as gorgeous. There are several grottos to visit, the most popular being the Emerald Grotto. Take a wooden boat around it and enjoy the green color of the lake.
Overlooking the Bay of Naples, Sorrento sits atop cliffs and is known for its main square and endless water views. The Piazza Tasso was built in the 19th century and has many cafés, local shops, and churches to explore. Its busy marinas are destinations themselves, with waterside restaurants, wonderful boat watching, and local fishermen delivering the day’s catch.
Architecture lovers will want to take some time to admire the Sorrento Cathedral. Built in the 11th century, it has served as the seat of Sorrento’s bishops and archbishops for years. Or explore the city’s oldest church, the Basilica Sant’Antonino, home to the remains of the patron saint of Sorrento and other religious relics.
Take some time to take a dip in the Bagni Regina Giovanna, a natural swimming hole inside of a rocky outcropping where there are still remnants of a first-century Roman villa.
5. Soriano Nel Cimino
Located in the Cimini Hills, Soriano is in Central Italy and is small and charming with lots of history.
Walk around the Fontana Vecchia, the “Old Fountain,” built in the 15th century, and explore three places of worship.
If you’re looking for a unique experience, stay in a castle. Palazzo Catalani is a 14th-century castle with quaint rooms, a bar, a sauna, and a heated pool. Dine on local delicacies like chestnuts and porcini mushrooms, porchetta and wild boar, and of course, spaghetti all’amatriciana or la carbonara.
If you can plan a trip around the Sagra delle Castagne, you’ll get to experience a medieval reenactment. In early October, people wear authentic period costumes, enjoy concerts and food, and witness a historic joust, archery contests, and other games.
Known for its white wines, history, and underground cave, the small town of Orvieto is worth the quick trip from Rome.
Enjoy wine tastings at vineyards and wineries offering grechetto and trebbiano grapes, which the region is known for.
From the 14th-century Orvieto Cathedral and the clock tower to the Chiesa di San Giovenale — the oldest church in the city — there is a lot of history packed into this small town. If you want to learn more, visit Museo Archeologico Nationale, a museum of Etruscan artifacts, or the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo di Orvieto, housing the art and artifacts that were in the Orvieto Cathedral. Then take an adventure underground to the “City Under the City.” There are several tunnels and cellars to explore on a guided tour.
Most people visit Assisi for its religious monuments, including the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, as the town is the birthplace of St. Francis, one of Italy’s patron saints. The basilica is a massive, two-level church consecrated in 1253. But that’s not the only sacred place you can explore in Assisi. There are several, including the Church Of Saint Margherita, St. Damian’s Convent, and the Temple Of Minerva.
If you feel like venturing outside of the hustle and bustle of the town, take a trip to Il Bosco di San Francesco, or “The Woods Of Saint Francis.” This 160-acre park is perfect for quiet hiking and discovering history. Along your walk, you’ll come across remnants of a 13th-century Benedictine convent and a 14th-century fortified mill. Go inside the mill to catch a view of the Third Paradise, 121 olive trees arranged as “land art.”
Famous for its paper production and invention of the watermark, the small town of Fabriano is in the Italian region of the Marche, and it’s off the beaten path for tourists.
It became one of UNESCO’s Creative Cities in 2013 for its longtime production of handmade paper. There is a museum where you can learn all about its history and how it still makes paper today.
You can go underground and explore the Grotte di Frasassi and its magnificent narrow passages and expansive caves.
Architecture and art buffs will love to wander the Cathedral Basilica of St. Venantius, built in the 1200s. You can also spend the day enjoying the town, its people, and its markets with local foods, like gelato.
Located on a hilltop in Tuscany, Montepulciano is surrounded by vineyards, so it’s known for its wine, specifically its Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Beneath the streets, you’ll find several cellars and tasting rooms.
For those interested in Renaissance architecture, you can definitely get your fill here. At the highest point of the town, you’ll find the Piazza Grande, where many gather, and also the Montepulciano Cathedral. The Church of Sant’Agostino is the oldest in the city, and the Church of the Madonna di San Biagio, known as the Temple of San Biagio, is known for its large dome.
For the shoppers, Montepulciano has beautiful leather goods, from handmade journals to shoes and bags. You’ll also want to set aside some time to try the town’s specialty foods, including arista, a well-known dish made with pork, rosemary, fennel, and sage; or pici pasta, a thick spaghetti served with tomato sauce and topped with grated pecorino.
Also located in Tuscany’s region is Siena, recognized for its medieval brick buildings. You can get a great view of them when you spend time in Piazza del Campo, the central point of the city with shops, restaurants, and cafés to enjoy.
Spend some time at the Biblioteca Piccolomini, a library located inside the Duomo di Siena, a cathedral built in the mid-13th century. You’ll also want to climb the 400 steps of Torre del Mangia — the “Tower of the Eater” referring to the first bell ringer of this bell tower Giovanni di Balduccio — to see the incredible views.
There are also fantastic museums, including the Hospital at Complesso Museale di Santa Maria della Scala and the Pinacoteca Nationale Art Museum, which is home to mostly religious art. There is also the Civic Museum of Siena, which highlights the history of Siena.
For foodies and wine lovers, you’ll want to try ricciarelli almond biscuits and Montalcino wineries.
11. San Gimignano
The town of San Gimignano in Tuscany is known for its tall towers that make up its unforgettable skyline. Of the 14 towers, climb City Hall, which is 200 feet and houses a museum with a look at life in 14th-century San Gimignano.
You’ll want to enjoy some authentic Tuscan cooking with cinghiale (wild boar) soups, stews, and salami. This region is also known for some of the best saffron in Italy, so you’ll want to stock up to take some home or enjoy it at a restaurant. While Tuscany is known for its red wine, the most famous Tuscan white wine is from here — Vernaccia di San Gimignano — so be sure to set aside some time for a tasting.
Volterra is a walled, mountaintop town just southwest of Florence. While it’s not one of the most well-known destinations in Italy, it’s worth the visit.
One stop on your tour should be Volterra’s Etruscan Museum, which houses the greatest concentration of Etruscan artifacts. Volterra is also the world’s alabaster capital, which you can learn more about at the Pinacoteca and Alabaster Museum where you can see people at work and even get a souvenir.
Enjoy some of the sites at the heart of the city, including Piazza San Giovanni, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, and the oldest municipal building in Tuscany — the Palazzo dei Priori.
It’s also a little-known fact that Volterra has some of the best places to get authentic Tuscan food. Local favorites include cheeses and cured meats, lamb stew, homemade noodles, and of course, a jug of house wine.
As the largest city on Elba Island, Portoferraio is recognized by the buildings along the hillside that overlook the sea. These include the Medici Fortress and Linguella Tower Villa dei Mulini, where Napoleon lived during his exile on Elba. It is now a national museum.
Since it’s a port town, be sure to visit Pora di Terra and Fort Falcone for a spectacular view of the sea.
You may want to plan your visit around one of the many festivals the town celebrates, including the anniversary of Napoleon’s death. Be sure to get seafood while you dine as well.
14. Cinque Terre
Five seaside villages make up Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Coast of Italy: Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Manarola, Corniglia, and Monterosso al Mare. Each is unique in its own way, and you can explore them easily by train or on hiking trails. Hiking is very popular in this area, and trails become crowded during the peak months of summer.
The region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a national park. Discover its history by walking the cobblestone streets and touring medieval castles and Gothic churches.
A trip to this region wouldn’t be complete without food and wine. The vineyards here harvest a dessert wine called sciacchetrà. And since Cinque Terre is located right on the coast, you must try the seafood, especially the anchovies, which the area is known for. Cinque Terre is also the birthplace of pesto because basil does so well in its climate. Many restaurants have it on the menu in many different ways.
After your stomach is full, be sure to take in the spectacular views of the Ligurian Sea.
This fishing village on the Italian Riviera coastline is said to be one of the most romantic places in Italy.
Portofino is complete with cobblestone streets, giving you a peek into its history, mixed with high-end boutiques and super yachts in the harbor. But what it’s known for are the pastel-colored houses that line the land overlooking the harbor.
For scuba divers, a main attraction is the Christ of the Abyss statue, located 56 feet under water and standing 8 feet tall. The bronze statue of Christ was placed there in 1950 in honor of Italy’s first scuba diver, who died there that same year.
For those that like to explore on land, there are several hiking trails in the Mount Portofino Natural Regional Park, giving you fantastic views of the sea and historical buildings.
A trip to Portofino wouldn’t be complete without pizza, pasta, seafood, and the local white wine, nostralino. Being in the Liguria region, the birthplace of pesto, you’re likely to find it in each dish, as well as fresh catch.
The island of Burano is in the Venetian Lagoon in Northern Italy.
Most recognized for its brightly colorful homes, Burano is a fishing community that thrives on tourism. It’s also known for its handmade lace. You can learn all about its history at the Lace Museum — which was once the Burano Lace School — housing more than 100 historic lace artifacts dating back to the 16th century.
You’ll want to try the traditional biscuit of the island, called essi or bussola, which is shaped like an S. These were traditionally made by the wives of fishermen before their trips. Now you can find them on the island all year round.
Since the island is so small, you can take a tour within a couple of hours. There are also no hotels here, so it’s a perfect day-trip getaway.
Located in northern Italy, Trento is known for the Buonconsiglio Castle looking over the city. It’s the largest and most important in the region. The oldest part, called Castelvecchio, was the home of Trento’s Prince-Bishops from the 13th to the 18th century. Today, it’s a museum with several exhibits.
Explore the Piazza Duomo and the Trento Cathedral with its rose window and Baroque chapel. You can also visit the MUSE, a science and natural history museum.
Whether you visit in the summer or winter, take some time to visit the Dolomite Mountains, where you can enjoy a beautiful hike or some fantastic skiing. You can also take a quick day trip to Lake Garda, which is Italy’s largest lake.
Sip some Trentodoc, a sparkling white and rosé wine made from Trentino grapes; one of the most precious as well. And be sure to try some gelato. What stop in Italy would be complete without it?
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