There is no doubting Italy’s big-name cities are great. However, the country has plenty more cities that offer up just as much history, culture, food, wine, experiences… you name it. Here are just a few of our favourite lesser-known Italian cities – and what you can do there.
Genoa is often overlooked as just the entry point for explorations of Liguria and the famous Cinque Terre. But if you can give Genoa a bit of your time, you will see that it is much more than just a gateway. The city is home to the oldest bank in the world, as well as stunning palaces (the Palazzi dei Rolli) that have been recognised and honoured by UNESCO. Genoa has definitely entered the 21st century in recent years, with modern attractions among its history, such as a Via XX Settembre shopping street with it’s a variety of shops situated in beautiful buildings and an aquarium.
It might not be a ‘love at first sight’ kind of city, but its charm will soon have you wanting more.
Turin is Italy’s fourth-largest city, but disappointingly never features in ‘top Italian cities to visit’ articles. Sitting pretty beneath the Italian Alps, Turin and the surrounding region of Piedmont are worth a visit just for the food alone. And by food, we mean chocolate. Turin’s celebrated chocolate called gianduja is showcased throughout the city’s streets with a chocolate shop on virtually every corner. Its wines can also be described as world-class, and hearty dishes like risotto all put it firmly on the map for foodies.
Food aside, Turin itself is picturesque, with old buildings sitting pretty next to new – baroque architecture is mixed with more contemporary buildings. Don’t leave Turin without a visit to the Egyptian Museum, one of the world’s most important, after that found in Cairo itself.
Tempted by Turin? Read our guide to the city here.
A cosmopolitan city lined by a beautiful beach, Palermo is the city break that has everything. Spend your mornings exploring the impressive domed cathedral (the heart of Sicily’s capital) or even the Catacombe dei Cappuccini – home to the world’s largest collection of mummies. In the afternoon, pick up something traditional to eat from one of the many local food markets, before heading to the beach for a well-earned rest. Evenings can be spent sampling some of Italy’s freshest seafood. Perfect city break? We think so.
Florence is usually at the top of people’s must-visit list in Tuscany, and it should be. However, another one of Tuscany’s prettiest cities is Siena, one of our favourites. We would recommend, if you can, to team your visit with the city’s famous horse race. The Palio Di Siena takes place in the giant Piazza del Campo and is definitely an experience (you can read our guide to the horse race here). What else is there for you to do on your Siena city break? Everything from wandering the historic city streets (UNESCO honoured) and exploring the cathedral, to taking a day trip out into the Chianti hills for wine tasting.
Lecce has got the nickname ‘Florence of the South’ which isn’t surprising with a history dating back over 2,000 years. Among Puglia’s postcard-famous trulli houses, Lecce is a slightly more sandstone gem. Lecce’s main highlight is its impressive Roman Amphitheatre, but there are also various baroque monuments and churches peppered across the city, as well as upmarket shopping. This gorgeous city is perfect for strolling – its charming streets are filled with plenty of places to stop for caffe.
Like the sound of Lecce? Take a look at our guide to the best things to do there.
There is no doubt you will be familiar with Pisa’s Leaning Tower, so you might be wondering why Pisa is on our list of lesser-known cities. Well, many visitors will only honour Pisa with just a flying visit – they’ll head straight for the Leaning Tower, snap a few photos, and head straight back out again. But if you stick around, you’ll find that Pisa is much more than just the tower – it’s made up of gorgeous piazzas, fascinating museums, and rustic cafes and restaurants. The area in which the tower sits, along with the 11th-century Duomo and one of Italy’s largest baptisteries, is UNESCO listed so it’s definitely a must but make sure your explorations don’t stop there.
Ostuni is one of Puglia’s must-see cities. Known as La Città Bianca (The White City), it’s a cluster of whitewashed buildings and churches lining steep, cobbled streets set high on a hilltop, visible for miles around. It’s the old town (centro storico) that’s not to be missed; you can spend hours wandering the alleyways finding half-hidden restaurants, local shops selling Apulian olive wood and leather gifts and bars spilling out onto the polished cobblestones.
Which are your favourite lesser-known Italian cities?