Italy is one of the most loved and renowned countries in Europe, benefitting from a sprawling Mediterranean coastline and a scattering of paradise islands. People know Italy for its mouthwatering cuisine, but the country is home to many other spectacular things, like rolling hills hiding wineries and olive groves, glittering coastal resorts and stunning cities home to masterpieces and monuments like the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo's David and the Colosseum. Northern port Genoa is a great place to start, the gateway to the Unesco-protected Cinque Terre, and Portofino, a fishing village turned A-list hotspot. Further south lies Tuscany’s Livorno, where both Florence and Pisa can be easily reached, and Rome – the ancient capital where ruined temples sit by marble churches, and tiny trattorias hide on alleys draped with washing lines. From pizza in Naples to limoncello in the Amalfi coast, it’s all about ditching the ship and dining on land.
Why cruise Italy
An Italian cruise is a bucket-list adventure, and the perfect way to tick off many of the country’s most beautiful cities and sights. Cruises traverse the coastline of this great. Nation, From the Genoa down to Rome and Naples on the west side and Bari and Venice on the eastern coast. Cruise lines Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises and NCL visit big ports like Venice, Livorno and Genoa, while smaller ships access yacht-filled ports like Portovenere, Amalfi and Capri. Everyone from Cunard and Viking to Scenic and Seabourn sail here. Italian river cruises are also becoming more popular, with lines such as CroisiEurope, Avalon Waterways and Uniworld sail the River Po.
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Best places to visit in Italy
There’s a reason all roads lead to Rome, as the Eternal City is one of the most magical, romantic and mesmerising metropolises in the world. In the City of Love, ancient ruins lie beside bustling terracotta trattorias, and sun-soaked squares buzz with the clinking glasses of aperitivo hour. A hot-blooded city cooled by the River Tiber, Rome is home to the ancient Colosseum, Pantheon and Roman Forum, the Vatican City and Trevi Fountain. Make sure to grab some thin Roman-style pizza in Piazza Navona or hip Trastevere – Rome’s bohemian district with narrow streets, hanging washing lines and funky cocktail bars.
Florence is the cradle of the Renaissance, known for its architecture, art and iconic sites like the terracotta-domed Duomo. One of the world’s truly ‘wow’ cities, Tuscany’s capital has long been associated with artists, poets and romantics, and its streets are packed with galleries, frescoed churches, museums and quaint Tuscan eateries. In fact, Botticelli, Michelangelo and Donatello all have their works here. After exploring the Renaissance Uffizi Gallery, Accademia Gallery (home of Michelangelo’s David) and Ponte Vecchio, climb to a rooftop terrace and gaze over a sea of terracotta to the commanding Duomo di Firenze. Local Tuscan chianti and anything smothered in truffles are also a must-try.
Venice is one of the most beautiful and precious cities in the world, a city of marble palaces built on a peaceful lagoon. Located in the Veneto region, Venice is a feast for the eyes, centred around the aptly-named Grand Canal with six palaces and 50 palazzi lining its banks. Start in St Mark’s Square – home of the domed Italo-Byzantine Saint Mark's Basilica – before heading to the Doge’s Palace – a Venetian Gothic masterpiece once the centre of Venetian power. They may be touristy, but they’re touristy for a reason, so hop in a gondola and have a cocktail in Harry’s Bar. You can still cruise to Venice, but larger ships won’t be able to dock in the main lagoon – instead docking nearby.
The Amalfi Coast is the epitome of Italian glamour, a Hollywood-esque coastline of plunging cliffs and sandy coves hiding tumbling gelato-hued villages. The coast is dotted with these Unesco-protected villages, precariously balanced on the rocks and hiding glamorous piazzas and narrow zig-zagging lanes. The ritziest villages are Positano and Praiano, packed with the international jet-set who descend in yachts for shopping, sunbathing and dining in cliffside restaurants. However, you’ll find a more laid-back experience in mountaintop Ravello and sleepy Minori. Amalfi with its Arab-Norman Sant'Andrea cathedral and Salerno with its gritty Napoli-esque historic centre are also must-sees. Dip in emerald bays, sip on ice-cold Amalfi limoncello and pinch yourself that such a place is real.
The Cinque Terre is a string of five enchanting villages on the Ligurian coast, surrounded by the verdant hillsides, towering cliffs and coastal paths of the Cinque Terre National Park. Like a string of precious gems, these villages light up the coastline with their cliff-clinging multicoloured facades and shallow emerald harbours. Monterosso is the biggest of the villages and offers the most amenities, the only sandy beach and both an old and new town. Vernazza – the most photographed – has an amphitheatre marina, the Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church and medieval Doria Castle. For peace head to picturesque Riomaggiore, the smallest and most southern where you’ll find a lovely pebble beach, botanical garden and birdwatching centre.
Sicily is a world of its own, the largest island in the Mediterranean with its own unique history and vibe. To visit Sicily is to wander historical once-grand cities, to soak up the sun on sandy and volcanic beaches and to explore ancient ruins – with temples, mosaics, palaces and theatres scattered across the island. The capital is Palermo, a popular cruise port, a dizzying mix of side streets, crumbling palaces, the domed Palermo cathedral and food markets – where traditional Sicilian arancini are a must. Ships also dock in Messina, an underrated city on the Ionian coast with wide boulevards, marble fountains and the grand Norman Messina Cathedral.
Closer to North Africa than the mainland is an island blessed rolling countryside, sandy beaches and picturesque colourful citadels. That island is Sardinia. Few places look like they do in the photos, but Google Sardinia and you’ll see why everyone from Roman invaders to billionaire yachtsmen have scrambled to land on its shores. Here, perfect pale apricot sands and sapphire lagoons are a dime a dozen, and the countryside is littered with Byzantine ruins, Vermentino wineries and farmsteads. In the south, vertiginous Cagliari buzzes with bars and restaurants, a worn ancient city with markets, alleyways and churches. In the north, the Costa Smeralda – a 20km-long stretch of pristine coastline sculpted by Prince Aga Khan in the '60s, home to uber-lux utopian town Porto Cervo.
Best things to do in Italy
Italy was once the seat of one of the greatest empires there ever was, and the country is littered with Roman ruins – the most famous found in Rome. Outside of Rome you can visit ruined cities like ill-fated Pompeii and partially submerged Baia – near Naples.
Go wine tasting
From chianti and barolo to sangiovese and barbera, Italy has some of the best wines in the world. You’ll find a nearby winery at pretty much every cruise port, and a tour and tasting cannot go a miss.
Soak up art and culture
Italy has some of the most famous art museums in the world, the birthplace of Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli and Caravaggio. Florence’s Uffizi Gallery and the Borghese Gallery in Rome are must-sees.
Take a cookery class
A cookery class is a fantastic way to spend your time in Italy, be it an organised cruises excursion or a class you’ve personally found. Naples has the best pizza-making classes while you should learn the secrets of pasta-making in Tuscany.
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