From the stunning cites like Rome, coastal regions like Cinque Terre and the incredible villages in southern regions, Italy is one of the most diverse European countries to visit. That being said, it can get pretty bamboozling to plan a trip to see as much as possible. This is so true when there’s so much choice on the best places in Italy to actually visit.
Especially on a road trip!
Now, one of the best ways I’ve found to explore the best Italian cities and charming spots is by road (or train, if you can’t drive) with the country being well connected by road and pretty great for trains, too.
After we headed on our 900km Italian road trip (in a rickshaw), we really began to appreciate how many of the best places in Italy can be explored when heading down (or up) the spine of Italy. There are so many stopping points and it’s so incredible.
This is exactly why I wanted to share some of the best places in Italy to visit on your trip! Some are relatively easy to get to, others a little more tricky but with a little ingenuity and an explorer’s spirit you’ll make it work.
Anyway, without going on for ages, take a look at some of the best places in Italy you should really visit on a road trip across the country. Have the best trip!
(1-5) Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is totally iconic and a region of Italy you can’t miss!
For me, it’s one of my favourite coastlines in Italy, especially as it’s relatively easy to visit if you’re near Pisa.
You see, Cinque Terre is an area around a two hours drive north of Pisa. The region is characterised by its dramatic, rugged landscape and of course its 5 picturesque terraced towns of; Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
Now, the five towns are literally minutes away from each other bu train and it’s quite treacherous to even attempt it in the car.
Now, the reason I say treacherous is that I ended up scratching the side of the car on the way to Vernazza; Yaya won’t let me live it down. As you can expect, when we visited for the second (and third) time, we parked our car in La Spezia and jumped right on that train. It’s honestly the easiest way to visit this region.
1.) Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre
The most western of all the Cinque Terre ‘Lands’ or towns are Monterosso al Mare is easily one of the best places in Italy to visit on a road trip.
You see, Monterosso al Mare is famed for its much larger beach and open spaces than the rest of the towns and is great if you want a day by the sea.
Now, it might not have the same charm as the other towns in Cinque Terre but it’s well worth a visit if you’re already exploring the region.
2.) Vernazza, Cinque Terre
Dating back almost 1000 years, the totally iconic Vernazza still stands today and is a stunning piece of historic history to explore.
Honestly, Vernazza is so beautiful and you really can’t miss hopping off the train here. Oh yeah, on that point, make sure to get one of the day ‘hop on and off’ pass from the train station. This way you can head between the towns when and how you want.
Once here, don’t forget to see the Church of Santa Margherita and Vernazza’s hidden beach just off Piazza Marconi.
3.) Corniglia, Cinque Terre
Unlike the four other Cinque Terre towns, Corniglia is not perched right on the seafront, but some 100 metres high on the cliff-top!
Yaya and I tried to walk this in the blistering heat at midday, too. Let’s just say it was a bad idea! We just ended up sweaty, hot, dehydrated and no doubt in a bit of a mess.
The second time we visited we used the connecting shuttle bus from the train station, it only takes 5 minutes or so and is so much easier.
A perfect place to enjoy the views across the magnificent region. We love stopping here for lunch, too. There are lots of little restaurants you’ll see lining the streets.
4.) Manarola, Cinque Terre
Arguably one of the most photographed towns in Cinque Terre, Manarola is one of the best places in Italy to visit.
I swear that every time I visit Manarola I pile on that holiday weight. The gelato, seafood, the wine; it’s all just too good! Spend a few hours walking the town, exploring the coastal cliff walks and take a dip in the sea.
It’s a stunning place.
5.) Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
The most southern village of Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore is a beautiful town to sit back and enjoy your afternoon.
Grab some local foods (especially fried calamari) from the street vendors and head straight for the rocky harbour front. Yaya and I spent a good few hours dipping our toes into the sea.
This town is a particularly glorious place to watch the sunset from and perhaps even jump into the sea to cool down from the scorching Italian sun.
Now, personally, I’d give it a few days to explore all the five towns in Cinque Terre. Though, if you’re short on time and only have a (long) day, then make sure to plan and arrive early to explore as much as possible.
Situated in the North-Eastern edge of Italy, Trieste is quite different from the southern Italian towns you might be used to seeing. You see, it has a mix of cultures and heritage that spans centuries.
You see, its turbulent past of being a part of Austro-Hungarian Empire (and the largest part of the Habsburg Monarchy) has ensured Trieste has a mix of influences and cultures that’s well worth experiencing.
If you’re looking for some Austrian schnitzel, some Adriatic aperitifs or even castles (like Miramare Castle), Trieste is a great spot to visit.
7.) Lake Como
Yup, you might think that Lake Como is just for those snazzy Hollywood celebs but there’s so much more to this destination than its famed visitors.
The glacial lake Como is a only about 1.5 hours away (by car) from Milan. This is exactly how we visited, by hopping in the car from Milan and exploring all around the northerly region.
For me, the biggest draw to Lake Como is its natural beauty. This is especially for those dramatic mountainous that always draws me in!
Don’t forget to hop on the boats that cross the lake, it’s a perfect way to explore the beautiful towns surround it like Menaggio, Bellagio, and Varenna, to mention but a few of my favourites.
Who doesn’t love a bit of snow, eh? Around 100km or so north of Turin, Aosta is nestled within the Italian Alps. It’s easily one of the best places in Italy to visit on a trip in the north; especially with Gran Paradiso National Park close by!
With over 2,000 years of history in this town, Aosta is the perfect town to explore sites such as the Bridge of Grand Arvou and the ancient town walls that still stand to this day. Don’t forget to pack your ski’s too, there are some great (but steep) slopes around the region and the ingress at Monte Bianco.
Oh, and on your way north, make a little pit stop in Valle d’Aosta, too.
9.) San Miniato
San Miniato is a totally stunning town to visit that’s perched in the province of Pisa.
Long ago, San Miniato was a major thoroughfare for medieval traders between Rome and the rest of Europe. So, to this day, San Miniato has been shaped by this.
Once here, make sure to explore the Duomo, the Tower of Frederick and the medieval centre of the town itself. We spent the whole afternoon here filling up on local olives and wine (for Yaya, who wasn’t driving).
It’s totally one of the best places in Italy to visit when in this region and so easy to include on a trip when travelling by car.
Florence is an incredible Italian city to visit and one of my favourites to explore! We’ve visited four times over the years and each has been amazing.
Now, once here, park up the car as you won’t need it in the city itself. It’s best explored by foot and will give you a welcome little break from driving, too.
Once here, make sure to explore the best things to do in Florence and see Ponte Vecchio which stretches across the Arno River and the Duomo that proudly stands for all to see across the city.
11.) San Marino
Okay, so technically not Italy but is instead a tiny microstate, San Marino is one of the best places in Italy that’s actually not part of Italy at all!
Considered to be the oldest surviving sovereign state in the world, San Marino is a few hours east of Florence and can be enjoyed over a weekend or a day trip if you’re short on time.
Don’t forget to visit the Historic Centre and Mount Titano which have both been recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status.
Afterwards, head west for about 90km and visit the historic city of Arezzo, too. It’s totally stunning and well worth visiting.
We stopped here by total accident on the way south to Rome, when we noticed it and just had to stop.
Orvieto is a great place to relax and spend a day, the historic centre is easily walkable, with its charming cafes and restaurants serving some of its prized (and totally tasty) wines.
It’s stunning here.
Oh, also, make sure to check out Pitigliano that’s a cliff-side town about 50km west of Orvieto. It’s well worth stopping if you’re heading to the west coast and it’s so stunning.
Rome is easily one of the best places in Italy to visit and a place you should certainly visit when on a road trip.
The historic centre of Rome is a must-see stop on your Italian road trip but can be quite a hassle to drive once you’re there. Park up your car and explore the city by local transport or taxi, too.
Just remember to stamp your bus tickets once you get on the bus! I didn’t realise you had to do this and was thus fined €50 for the pleasure. Urgh!
14.) Vatican City
Enclaved within the city of Rome, Vatican City is officially the smallest recognised state in the whole world! This makes it one of the best places in Italy, like San Marino, that isn’t really in Italy at all.
That being said, it’s so easy to visit when you’re staying in Rome and incredible to explore. Once here, make sure to climb St Peter’s Basilica for the most impressive views across Rome and Vatican City. The views are so impressive.
Also, If you fancy keeping your feet firmly on the ground though, take a tour of the Sistine Chapel and the gardens of the Vatican.
Just make sure to book your tickets online before you go.
This will cut out so much queuing time which can be horrendous in the height of summer.
Pompeii is one of the best places in Italy to visit if you want to see the ruined city that was devastated thousands of years ago.
We loved our visit and it’s well worth seeing for a half a day trip when driving between Naples and the Amalfi Coast.
Once here, you can visit the historic site of Pompeii and even see streets, houses and even people of the town that were desecrated by Mount Vesuvius all those years ago.
One of the best ways to see Pompeii would be to arrive there first thing in the morning before it gets too busy. Oh, and if you want a longer stay, you can partner it with a journey up Mount Vesuvius, too. Just take your walking shoes with you and an appreciation of heights.
16.) Amalfi Coast
Arguably one of Italy’s most famous coastlines, the Amalfi Coast is totally incredible to explore. Not only that, there’s a heap of the best places to see in the Amalfi Coast that are totally stunning.
Stretches along the Sorrentine Peninsula in Southern Italy, it’s the perfect place to explore but it isn’t for the faint-hearted of drivers. The roads are narrow and can be very high! If you feel more comfortable, park up at your hotel and use cabs whilst you’re there.
While in the historic port town of Amalfi, do visit the Duomo di Amalfi and the Piazza which both provide stunning views of historic Italy. There are lots of steps, but well worth it for the beautiful picture you’ll capture.
Afterwards, take a little trip over to places like Capri and see what makes this region so special.
Positano is actually one of the spots on the Amalfi Coast that’s easily one of the best places in Italy to see.
Positano was traditionally a fishing village and wine exporter, so expect lots of fresh seafood, limoncello and wines to try! It’s amazing.
For me, Palermo is one of the best places in Italy to visit once you’ve headed over to Sicily to explore more of the island.
What I loved most about Palermo is its mix of both Italian and North African heritage; there really is a diverse mix.
While in the city, don’t forget to check out the very eery Capuchin Catacombs where hundreds of preserved mummies are housed. It’s very surreal and a little macabre but totally unique.
If you’re looking for some great views of Sicily, head up to Mount Pellegrino where there are a range of caves and historic buildings to explore.
19.) Mount Etna
Like Palermo, Mount Etna is situated on the island of Sicily, which can be easily reached by car ferry from the mainland.
Mt Etna is considered to be one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is almost always in a state of constant activity. We had booked a driving tour up Mount Etna, but due to the rainy and windy weather, it got cancelled.
That being said, you can arrange tours to see Mount Etna, especially in the summer and it’s well worth seeing if you’re into geological history.
Pisa and its famous leaning tower have become a symbolic representation of Italy across the globe. Plus, it’s pretty unique in how it looks like it’s gonna fall over!
Now, Pisa’s historic town is relatively small and can be explored in as little as 1-2 days, which makes it a perfect place to stop en-route between Cinque Terre and Florence.
Once here, explore the Pisa Baptistry, The Leaning Tower and San Sisto that’s totally gorgeous. Oh, and don’t forget to strike that cheesy pose when you’re there of course.
In my opinion, Venice is unlike any other city across the world!
Its famed canals, labyrinthine streets, Venetian architecture and gondolas make it a great city to explore over a few days.
Now, whilst you can’t drive in Venice, the city is very easily explored by foot. Yes, you will get lost and no doubt has no clue where you’re heading but that’s all part of the fun of exploring here.
While here, don’t forget to visit the Grand Canal, Saint Mark’s Basilica, The Rialto Bridge and The Bridge of Sighs.
Funnily enough, we discovered Montepulciano randomly on one of our drives around the region! It was a ridiculously beautiful town to stumble upon.
Once here, make sure to wander around the Palazzo Comunale, Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral and the remaining walls of the city that date back beyond the 14th century.
It’s totally stunning and one of the best places in Italy to explore in Tuscany.
Alberobello is easily one of the more unique and best places in Italy to visit if you love historic spots!
You see, Alberobello is characterised by its beautiful architecture and quaint charm dating back beyond the age of enlightenment to 16th century Italy.
Many of the historic houses have now become home to local crafts and skills that are showcased for visitors to this wonderful town. It’s totally gorgeous to wander around and explore and well worth visiting from Bari.
For a bite to eat (and some wines) pop into the charming Trulli e Puglia wine bar.