Italy is one of the countries that I just keep going back to. As a child, I spend the first two years of my life living in Perugia, and since we had friends in the Umbria region, we went back often on family vacations. When I was a teenager, Umbria was replaced by Sardinia as our vacation spot of choice. Having come to fall in love with the country at such a young age, it was easy to pick where I wanted to spend my gap year after high school. I went to Florence for two months to learn Italian and subsequently toured around various cities for another month with friends. After that, years went by without more than a few short visits to this beautiful country. So this summer, I dedicated 3 months to visiting all the places in Italy I loved, discovering all the places I hadn’t been yet and practising my rusty language skills. As you can imagine, it was a glorious summer. I had so much fun exploring new cities and regions, immersing myself in Italy and all it has to offer.
For a long time, Italy was made up of separate kingdoms. As a result, each region has it’s own language, culture, cuisine and landscape. Because literally every part of Italy is amazing, it was so hard to narrow this list down. Like picking a favourite child. In the end, I opted to leave some of the more touristic destinations out (although I do love Venice and Florence as well) and let some less visited places shine.
If you are planning a trip to Italy, all of these cities are worth a visit. Especially if you want a more authentic experience. If it’s your first time travelling to the country of pasta, pizza and amore, here are some useful tips.
Genova was one of my favourite new places in Italy. There is something so unique about this little port city in the north of the country. Genova used to be one of the biggest naval powers in the world and now it’s still one of the biggest ports in Italy. People of all walks of life live among eachother in the historic city centre, leading to a truly unique atmosphere. There is a lot to see and do in Genova and the food is phenomenal!
Where to stay: Ostellin Genova is one of my favourite hostels ever! The staff is mostly made up of volunteers that love to have fun and hang out with the guests. The atmosphere was very open, friendly and laid-back. I felt completely at home and instantly made new friends. Make sure to do the free walking tour they offer!
Just like Genova, Naples is a port town with a bad reputation. But I absolutely loved it. It’s gritty, edgy and undeniably Italian. If you want to get a taste of the authentic Italian culture (and cuisine), then Naples is the place to be. It is one of the oldest cities in Europe, with lots of historic and archaeological sites for you to discover. Not to mention it’s the birthplace of pizza, so you’ll be able to eat the best pizza in the world here.
Where to stay: Hostel of the Sun was recommended to me by people who I met at Ostellin Genova, so I knew it would be great. It turned out to be almost as fun as friendly and I had a great time here. It’s a bit noisy, but the staff is super helpful and the breakfast spread is pretty good.
Sicily is known for two things: mafia and good food. But what you may not know is that it also has some beautiful cities with distinct architectural styles of which Catania is my favourite. I wasn’t a fan of Palermo, but I felt completely safe and at home in Catania. Climbing mount Etna was an incredible experience and there are so many other cool things to do in Catania, including trying all the incredibly tasty Sicilian food.
Where to stay: Contrary to what the name suggest, Eco hostel is not particularly green. “Eco” refers to a Sicilian word that I forgot the meaning of, but it is still absolutely worth staying at. The hostel is small, but the queen size sleeping pods are super comfortable and the breakfast is amazing!
Perugia will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s where I lived as a baby and spending a month in Umbria this summer rekindled that love for me. Umbria is such a great alternative to Tuscany if you want to a more authentic (and affordable) experience in Italy. The food is amazing and the region is home to beautiful mountains and hills, Medieval towns, blue lakes and vineyards. Rent a car and spend some time driving around and visiting them all. Perugia is the crowning jewel and the perfect base to explore Umbria, a vibrant University town filled with narrow cobblestone streets that are just begging you to get lost in.
Puglia is where the Italians go on vacation, so you know it’s going to be a good place to visit. Bari is a beautiful seaside town with a popular ferry line to the other side of the Adriatic. The historic centre of Bari is home to real Italian culture and old ladies making pasta by hand in the streets. From Bari, take day trips to surrounding towns and go to see the cute Trulli. Puglia also has some spectacular beaches that rival the ones in Thailand.
I love Sardinia. If you are looking for a relaxing beach vacation in Europe without all the tourists, then Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda is the place to go. Although it is known for the crystal clear water and white sand beaches, Sardinia has so much more to offer. High mountains, thick forests and charming Medieval villages as well as delicious food, especially the pecorino cheese.
Trieste was my last stop in Italy and one of my favourites. Right on the border with Slovenia, Trieste combines the best of all the surrounding cultures and cuisines. The city has beautiful Venetian Gothic as well as Austrian Baroque architecture and a laid-back, young vibe. Walk around taking in the unique sights and stuff your belly with Slovenian, Austrian and Italian dishes.
Where to stay: Controvento is one of those boutique hostels that look like a hipsters dream. The interior is beautiful, the rooms comfy and the bathrooms clean. The kitchen is fully decked out and a joy to cook in. What the hostel lacks in social atmosphere, it makes up for in location.