From impressions of ancient civilizations that predate the Roman Empire to mesmerizing artwork that reflects the distinctive eras of Western Europe, Italian heritage comes to life at any of the 53 different UNESCO World Heritage sites. The following curated list notes the top 10 sites in Italy that connect to remarkable history, fabulous art, and astonishing architecture often hidden in the fame of the Colosseum or Florence’s historic center.
Pompeii deserves its boundless acclaim for its role in introducing the world to new understandings of Ancient Rome. The ruins of Roman commercial centers in the Campania region left after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD are captivating. Their ancient ashy atmosphere draws travelers to the millennia-old streets that retain a vivid impression of a once-forgotten lifestyle. The lesser-known Herculaneum ruins provide a different, and some might say better, experience than the larger ghost town of Pompeii. Inside the site, notable artworks and bejeweled relics remain preserved for you to discover during your visit.
Iconic Ruins to Visit: The Grand Theater | The Teatro Piccolo | Lupanare | The House of Menander | Casa dell’Albergo | House of Galba | Sacello degli Augustali | Herculaneum Thermae
The Botanical Garden in Padua was the first of its kind in Italy, established as a center for scientific research in 1545. The colorful flowers and prolific greenery that continue to grow in and around the gardens once played a pivotal role in the fields of medicine and chemistry some centuries ago. The gardens also house a library that features more than 50,000 volumes and manuscripts of historical texts vital to the field of the herbarium. You can brush the balustrades, wander past the installations, and enter the garden’s greenhouses to explore the 6,000 species of rare plants arranged according to their ecological environment.
Rare Plants to Discover: Dwarf palm | Goethe palm | Old World sycamore | Egyptian lotus | Golden kiwifruit | Corsican pine | Sundews | Water lettuce
The Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan is a work of masterful architecture in and of itself, but the main draw to the hallowed grounds is the refectory wall on which the visionary artist Leonardo da Vinci composed his renowned piece, The Last Supper. Its faded glory continues to provide a breathtaking image when viewed in person, causing visitors and art historians to wonder how immaculate and ethereal it must have originally looked. Plan your visit well in advance as only a small group of people are given access to the painting every 15 minutes to view the artwork in peace.
Other Highlights in Milan: Duomo | Navigli District | Teatro alla Scala | San Siro Stadium | QC Termemilano | Sforzesco Castle | Isola | Milan Cathedral
No grand edifice in Italy is more breathtaking than the 18th-century Baroque masterpiece of the Caserta Palace, located less than 20 miles away from Naples. Take the time to tour the palace for a taste of Italian affluence, splendor, and the lifestyle of baroque royalty. Admire its glamorous façade, frescoes, art, tapestries, and baroque period furniture while you wander from decorated rooms through ornate halls and out the doors to the manicured lawns. As you stroll along pathways winding through the exotic flora and around the trickling pools, you will hear the sounds of rushing water emanate from the Aqueduct Carolino.
Things to Discover Nearby: Giardini Reali | Fountain of Diana and Actaeon | Amphitheatre of Capua | Aqueduct of Vanvitelli | Fountain of Aeolus | English Garden | Oasi Bosco di San Silvestro | Complesso Monumentale Belvedere San Leucio
The Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri is one of the most imposing and magnificent burial sites of the ancient Mediterranean. Historians refer to the complex as the “City of the Dead” due to the nearly 1,000 acres of land encompassing 1,000 tombs. From a distance, the mounds housing the crypts resemble hills rolling across the Lazio countryside. The necropolis of Monterozzi in Tarquinia continues to provide insight into the pre-Roman Etruscan civilization that settled around Northern and Central Italy through the display of burial techniques influenced by the Greeks and Phoenicians.
Significant Tombs and Museums: Tomb of the Shields and Chairs | Tumulo Mengarelli | Rilievi’s Tomb | Tomb of Regolini-Galassi | Tomb of the Greek Vases | Tomb of the Cornice | Tomb of the Reliefs | National Museum of Cerveteri
You may be familiar with Verona as the home of William Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. However, Veronese history dates back to the 1st century BC, and the urban city retains some 2,000 years of culture reflected in its art, cuisine, and architecture. Glamorous neighborhoods referencing the shadow of the Venetian empire and a profound artistic atmosphere born from operatic scenes and literary finds punctuate the historic city’s church-dotted streets and Roman-influenced districts.
Things to See and Do: Casa di Giulietta | Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore | Arche Scaligere | Adige River | Piazza delle Erbe | Castelvecchio | Porta Leoni | Piazza Brà
The Amalfi Coast has become one of the world’s most famous road trips spanning a 25 mile stretch of coastline along Italy’s southern region of Campania outside of Naples. The sensational scenery embodies the physical beauty and natural diversity of the landscape and the charming towns adorning the coastal cliffs with a heritage dating back to the Middle Ages. Your travels will take you past bucolic pastures, across olive-green orchards, along rugged cliffs, down to cascading vineyards and pristine beaches, before you arrive at painted villages where 16th-century culture comes to life.
Best Towns to Visit: Positano | Praiano | Furore | Ravello | Amalfi | Minori | Vietri sul Mare | Conca dei Marini
The famous palatial grounds of Villa d’Este exemplify the captivating architecture and gardens of refined Renaissance culture. The innovative design and spectacular oases decorated with fountains, ornamental basins, and preserved flowers and trees represent the uniqueness of a 16th-century Italian garden. Freely explore its extravagant interior, which contains elaborate, colorful frescoes decorating the halls, foyers, and bedrooms, including the Cardinal’s bedroom constructed in 1576 before you visit other popular attractions inside the Villa d’Este Palace.
Highlights to See: Fontana dell’Ovato | Fontana del Nettuno | Fontana di Rometta | Gran Loggia | Viale delle Cento Fontane | Hall of the Fountain | Hall of Glory | Hall of Moses
The Dolomite Mountains encompass 18 majestic alpine peaks that boast 350,650 acres of sheer cliffs and vertical walls, narrow valleys, and hidden pastures. Its heritage status protects its marvelous scenery, and you will be thrilled to embrace the grandeur of the mountain range shaped by ancient glacial landforms, limestone formations, and extensive gentle foothills on which farmers allow cows, sheep, and goats to graze. The natural landscapes support the windfall of small towns, cultural history, and exciting activities all year-round, ranging from mountaineering to skiing, hiking to luxurious spa treatments.
Places to Visit: Lago di braies | Rifugio | Ranui church | Val di Funes | Val Gardena valley | Bolzano (Bozen) | Gran Cir | Tre Cime di Lavaredo
Mount Etna’s active volcano has influenced the shape, size, and landscape of Sicily, as well as provided fascinating information to the diverse field of earth sciences. While the volcanic landscape looks barren, the geology supports a unique ecosystem of endemic flora and fauna across the diverse range of summit craters, cinder cones, and lava flows. Mount Etna is one of the most outstanding geological features in the world, with a variety of forest tracks, seismic territory, distinct fumaroles, hot springs, and historic towns for you to discover during your travels through Italy.
Best Things to Do: Hot springs | Mountain climbing | Volcano tours | Trekking expeditions | Wine tasting | Bike riding | Historic town tours | All-terrain cruises
From the emblematic frescoes decorating the walls of the Caserta Palace to the colorful rare plant species flourishing in the diverse ecosystems of the Botanical Garden of Padua, Italy’s top UNESCO World Heritage sites provide travelers with distinct opportunities to immerse themselves in the country’s culture, heritage, and highlights. To explore these wonders, explore our Italy Tours and Vacations or learn more with our Italy Travel Guide. Ready to plan your trip? Connect with a Italy travel specialist by filling out a Trip Request or call us on 1-888-265-9707.