35 of the Best Landmarks In Italy To Visit (with photos)

by Italy

Landmarks In Italy

You’re planning a trip to Italy, and at some stage you’re going to visit some of the hundreds – even thousands – of amazing landmarks in Italy. There are so many Italian landmarks to see that it’s difficult to know where to start, let alone finish. After all, this is a country that – along with China – has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites – 55, no less.

Seeking out the landmarks of Italy is a natural first step in exploring the country, and this guide will help you navigate your way.  We’ve narrowed things down for you with a selection of the most famous landmarks in Italy, along with a sprinkling of less-known, but equally worthy, Italy landmarks to give you a more rounded list.

We begin our Italian landmark journey in the north of the country with a small selection of Venice landmarks to whet your appetite. We then move across the country and gradually progress south through the most popular tourist areas of Italy, including Tuscany, before moving on to Rome, the Amalfi Coast, the south and stunning Sicily.


San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice

Image of San Giorgio Maggiore church Venioce Italy
Dusk at San Giorgio Maggiore

If you stand on the Molo waterfront in Venice, you are literally surrounded by top Venice sights. The elegant Renaissance-era church of San Giorgio Maggiore seems to float on the shimmering water of the lagoon. Andrea Palladio’s church is perfectly proportioned, and it’s a magnificent sight from wherever you look. If you’re visiting Venice in winter, try to catch a sunrise behind San Giorgio from the Molo, it’s the best time of year to do so.

St Mark’s Basilica Venice

Image of St Mark's Basilica Venice Italy
The Byzantine beauty of San Marco

The jaw-dropping Basilica di San Marco is indisputably the finest of all the churches in Venice, Italy and up there with the most beautiful in Europe. Its façade is adorned with fine mosaics and statues, behind which a cluster of domes and crosses evoke the Near East and exotic wonders beyond. Well, having travelled to most of the ‘beyond’ I can say that St Mark’s is as exotic as anything out there, and it has some of the finest mosaics in Christendom. The Piazza San Marco is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, and its Campanile is another great Venice landmark.

Santa Maria della Salute

Image of Santa Maria della Salute church Venice Italy
Santa Maria della Salute, at the entrance to the Grand Canal, at dawn

Even if you’re restricted to a day trip to Venice, you’ll almost certainly see Santa Maria della Salute. This Baroque beauty sits in Dorsoduro, near where the Grand Canal passes out into the wide Venetian lagoon. It was built as thanksgiving for the deliverance of the city from the plague in 1631, though it took 50 years to reach completion. It is one of the great Venice icons, a stunning building visible both from the San Marco waterfront and the Accademia bridge.

Rialto Bridge

Image of the Rialto Bridge in Venice at night
Rialto at dusk

The Ponte di Rialto is one of the most famous landmarks in Venice and one of the most beautiful bridges in Europe. It was the first bridge over the Grand Canal Venice, completed in 1571, and shops still operate there as they did when it was completed 450 years ago. The Rialto is the busiest hub on the Grand Canal, and the Rialto markets and Pescheria (fish markets) are among the best things to see in Venice.

Burano

Image of Burano island Venice Italy
Burano with its colourful cottages and wonky church tower

You can’t miss the Venice lagoon island of Burano as you approach across the water, the wonky belltower of its church pointing a good few degrees out of the vertical towards the Adriatic sky. You can’t miss the tower when you land either, but by far the best of the things to do in Burano is to walk the streets, canals and alleyways and marvel at the hundreds of vivid shades of colour in which the houses are painted. This has made it one of the most beautiful villages in Europe, and one of the best places to head to if you’re photographing Venice in detail. 

Il Santo, Padua

Image of the Basilica of St Anthony of Padua in Padua Italy
The Basilica of St Anthony of Padua, one of the most amazing churches in Europe

The Basilica of St Anthony of Padua is one of the most impressive sights in Italy.  It’s known locally as ‘Il Santo’ – ‘the Saint’ – as there’s seemingly no need to name him. Anthony was a follower of St Francis of Assisi, whose own Basilica attracts far more international visitors. Its domes and towers are a little reminiscent of the Istanbul skyline of mosques and minarets, and most of it was built in the 13th and 14th centuries to house the tomb of St Anthony.  Visiting Il Santo is one of the best things to do in Padua, a hugely underrated city less than an hour from Venice.

Milan Duomo

Milan Cathedral is unquestionably one of the most famous Italian landmarks, an intricate and exuberant Gothic masterpiece that took 600 years to build. The classic view of it is across Piazza del Duomo, but for a different angle head up to the roof where you’re very close to the statuary and pinnacles. Inside is similarly impressive – it’s the fifth largest church in Christendom, and if the lights are turned on you get to appreciate the superb stonework so much more than in the murkily-lit gloom I got the first two times I visited.

Mole Antonelliana, Turin

The soaring Mole Antonelliana dominates the Turin skyline, and looks especially magnificent on a clear evening with the snow-capped Alps behind. It’s an unusual design, a tower, dome and spire all in one, reaching a height of 550 feet (167 metres). Built by Alessandro Antonelli, it was originally conceived as a synagogue, only for costs to spiral as Antonelli modified plans to build higher and higher. The Jewish community eventually withdrew from the project, and it became the Museum of the Risorgimento in 1908. It now houses the excellent Museo Nazionale del Cinema.

Ravenna Churches and Mosaics

After the fall of Rome, the Adriatic coastal city of Ravenna was the most powerful city on the Italian peninsula. It was the main western outpost of the Byzantine Empire, and this relatively short period of power left an incredible legacy. Five churches and chapels within the city, and one just outside at Classe (pictured), house a staggering collection of 5th and 6th century mosaics, among the finest surviving early Christian art. They are among the outstanding monuments of Italy, and Ravenna is one of several fairly easy day trips from Bologna.

Cinque Terre

The five Ligurian coastal villages of the Cinque Terre are among the most famous landmarks of Italy. Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Corniglia, anarola and Monterosso al Mare are built into the cliffs and steep coastline, making it one of the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes in Europe. Paths, boats and trains connect the villages, and tr, if you can to spend at least a couple of days there – a Cinque Terre day trip just doesn’t do it justice.

Neptune Fountain Bologna

Image of the statue of Neptune in Bologna Italy
Giambologna’s Neptune has become one of the icons of this magnificent city

The Fontana di Nettuno is one of the most famous monuments in Italy, dominating Piazza Nettuno and the adjacent Piazza Maggiore, the historical heart of Bologna. One of the best things to do in Bologna is to sit at one of the cafes in the arcades around the square watching the flow of people passing by. The bronze statue of Neptune by Giambologna has become the symbol of the city, and one of the most famous statues in Italy.

Florence Duomo

The cathedral of Florence sits serene above the Florence skyline, exactly as it has done for around 600 years. The exterior is a stunning work of marble, the massive dome by Brunelleschi covered in distinctive terracotta tiles, and the campanile (belltower) by early Renaissance master Giotto da Bondone offers an unforgettable view over the great Duomo and surrounding city. If you’re planning on photographing Florence, you’ll be spending plenty of time here. Rightly one of the most famous landmarks in Europe.

Siena Duomo

Image of the duomo or cathedral of Siena Italy at sunset
Sublime Siena’s Duomo at sunset

Siena Cathedral is one of the most famous Italian buildings, a statement of magnificence in black and white marble that still makes me think of an Everton mint. It sits on the highest point in the city, above streets of medieval houses, and from whatever vantage point you find – including the Torre del Mangia (see below) – it’s an awesome sight.  It’s also rather marvellous inside too. The area around Siena is one of the best places to stay in Tuscany, a great base for exploring the Tuscan hilltowns  and countryside.  

Siena Piazza del Campo

Image of the Piazza del Campo in Siena Italy
Siena’s splendid Piazza del Campo

The Piazza del Campo is the main square of Siena, a shell-shaped space that’s one of the great squares of Europe. It’s mainly surrounded by austere red-brick mansions all facing down towards the Palazzo Pubblico, whose tower, the soaring Torre del Mangia, dominates the Siena skyline along with the Duomo. The Palazzo Pubblico is decorated with some extraordinary frescoes by the Sienese painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti, and it also houses the Museo Civico. The best view of the Piazza is from the ‘Panorama’ that is part of the unfinished cathedral, which can be accessed via the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Perhaps the most famous landmark of Italy of them all, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has long been shorthand for tourist cliché. See Tower. Obligatory photo with you pretending to hold it up. Eat very bad overpriced pizza. Leave. It deserves so much more than that, it’s a Romanesque architectural masterpiece, part of an amazing ensemble with the Duomo and Baptistery. Forget everything you’ve ever heard and take a fresh look at one of the best European landmarks of all, ideally in the low season when you can the crowds have gone.

St Peter’s Basilica Rome

Image of St Peter's Basilica Rome
St Peter’s Basilica, at the heart of the tiny Vatican City

Although it’s located in the Vatican City, St Peter’s Basilica is one of the most famous landmarks in Italy, and indeed Europe. It’s the largest church in the world, built on what was believed to be the site of the burial of St Peter the Apostle. This is now below the high altar and ornate baldacchino, or canopy, by Bernini. The Basilica is one of the high points of Renaissance architecture, and one of the principal pilgrimage destinations in the world.

Colosseum Rome

Image of the Colosseum in Rome at night
The awesome Colosseum at night

Like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Colosseum is one of the most recognizable landmarks Italy has, its rows of arches a memorable calling card indeed. It’s also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, after the Imperial dynasty (which included Vespasian and Titus) during whose reign it was built. Completed around 80 AD, it housed up to 80,000 spectators, and it’s located next to another of the most famous places in Rome, the Roman Forum.

Trevi Fountain Rome

Image of the Trevi Fountain in Rome
The Trevi Fountain, where the late, great Anita Ekberg once went for a walk

The Trevi Fountain is one of the most famous landmarks in Rome and one of the most recognized fountains anywhere in the world. It’s a grand 17th century Baroque fountain which backs onto the walls of a palazzo. It’s located in a fairly small square, so it’s one of the most crowded places in Rome – which is saying something! Nonetheless it’s a must see in Rome, and especially beautiful at night.

Victor Emmanuel II Monument, Rome

Image of the Vittoriano or Victor Emmanuel II Monument in Rome
The Vittoriano in peak-hour Piazza Venezia traffic

The Vittoriano is one of the largest and most prominent Rome landmarks, conceived in the 19th century as a memorial to King Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy, who did much to bring about Italian Unification. It’s also something of a national monument, with one part of it, the Altar of the Fatherland, Altare della Patria, includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s quite a pompous, bombastic building, variously called ‘The Wedding Cake’ and (my favourite) ‘The Typewriter.  It looks out over busy Piazza Venezia, and from the rooftop terrace you get a bird’s eye view of the Capitoline Hill and Roman Forum.

Palazzo della Civilta del Lavoro, EUR, Rome

Image of the ±Palazzo della Civilta del Lavoro in EUR Rome Italy
Mussolini’s ‘Square Colosseum’, now HQ of Fendi fashion house

This is undoubtedly the most notorious Italy landmark in this article. This palace, in a spacious area of office buildings on the outskirts of Rome, was commissioned by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, and was meant to host part of the 1942 World Fair, which was later cancelled. It’s commonly known as the Square Colosseum, and was partly a tribute to this more famous Rome landmark. It is at first sight an impressive building, like a few other examples of fascist architecture such as the Olympiastadion in Berlin, but for me this is overshadowed by distaste at many of the dictator’s policies. Still, it’s a part of Italian history that should be solemnly remembered.

Palazzo Ducale Urbino

Urbino is a splendid walled city in Le Marche, a much-overlooked region of eastern central Italy. The city flourished during the Renaissance era under its Duke, Federico da Montefeltro, who ruled between 1444 and 1482. The whole city is one of the loveliest historical places in Italy, but the striking Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace). Look out for the tiny, absolutely exquisite studiolo, a tiny room with incredible wood carvings where §Federico used to retreat for some quality ‘me time’.

Vesuvius and Naples

Image of Mount Vesuvius and the city of Naples Italy
Naples and Vesuvius, a classic Grand Tour view

The twin peaks of Mount Vesuvius loom ominously close to the edge of the suburban sprawl of Napoli, Naples, a vast crazy metropolis for which I have enormous affection. Neapolitans are always very wary of their near neighbour, not least at the Festa di San Gennaro, Naples three times a year. The dried blood of the local patron saint, Januarius, miraculously liquefies on these days – and if doesn’t, it’s believed to be a bad omen. When it failed to liquefy in 1944, Vesuvio blew its top soon afterwards.

Naples, together with Vesuvius, makes for one of the most recognizable and beautiful cityscapes in Europe. The best place to see it is from the suburb of Mergellina, where a funicular whisks you up the hill for unforgettable views.

Pompeii

Image of ruins in Pompeii Italy
Pompeii, one of the most fascinating sites from the Ancient World

The ancient Roman city of Pompeii was entombed in volcanic ash and debris in AD 79, remaining hidden from the world until its chance discovery in 1748. Most of the population was incinerated alive by scorching pyroclastic flow from the erupting Vesuvius, and casts were later made of many poor souls contorted in their death throes. Pompeii is now one of the most famous Italian landmarks, a provincial town where everyday Roman life was frozen for all time. It can be reached on the Circumvesuviana line between Naples and Sorrento, and a Rome to Pompeii day trip is also easily done.

Paestum

Image of the Temple of Hera in paestum Campania Italy
The Temple of Hera, one of three incredibly well preserved Greek temples in Paestum

The landscape of the Cilento region to the south of the city of Salerno is dotted with farms selling mozzarella di bufala, the road eventually reaching the coastal town of Paestum. This was part of Magna Graecia, the Greek colonies in what are now southern Italy and Sicily. In Greek times the site was known as Poseidonia, and three of its ancient temples – dating from 550-450 BC – remain. They are extraordinary, among the best-preserved Greek temples to be found anywhere in the ancient world, and worth the trip from Naples, Rome or the Amalfi Coast to see them.

I Faraglioni, Capri

Image of the Fraglioni Rocks in Capri Italy
The famous Faragliuoni rocks in Capri

Capri, in the Bay of Naples, is one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean, and its trio of sea stacks, the Faraglioni, are its best-known landmark. Some Capri boat trips take you through a natural archway in the central stack. The outer stack is the sole habitat of a remarkable blue lizard. You can see the Faraglioni from many Capri vantage points – the Belvedere di Tragara is the closest, and you can also clearly see them from high up on Monte Solaro, the highest point on the island. 

Castello Aragonese, Ischia

Image of the Castello Aragonese in Ischia Italy
Ischia’s superb Castello Aragonese

The island of Ischia is one of the easiest day trips from Naples, and one of the main things to see in Ischia is the commanding Castello Aragonese. It’s one of the most beautiful castles in Europe, resplendent atop a rocky islet just off Ischia proper.  The majority of what you see today dates from the 13th to 15th centuries when it was in Angevin then Aragonese hands. It’s part fortificatrion, part village, with some beautiful churches and chapels and awe-inspiring views over the Gulf of Naples.

Villa Rufolo, Ravello

Image of the Amalfi Coast from Villa Rufolo Ravello Italy
The classic Amalfi Coast view from Villa Rufolo

The Amalfi Coast is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe, an impossibly picturesque area with imposing mountains plunging vast heights into the gorgeous azure asea. There’s nowhere better to see it than the Villa Rufolo in Ravello, a village with a grandstand view of the coast around the city of Amalfi. The Gardens are one of a select must see places in Italy, with one of the most familiar views in Italy to savour. A lone umbrella pine reaches high beyond the horizon to the blue sky, while below the two cupolas of the chapel look out over the unforgettable scene.

Positano

Image of the village of Positano Italy
Chi-chi Positano on the Amalfi Coast

Positano village is at the other, west end of the Amalfi Coast, a short bus ride over the neck of the peninsula from nearby Sorrento. It’s rather reminiscent of the Cinque Terre, with rows of houses seemingly stacked on top of each other, though it’s always been a bit more chi-chi. The village is an amazing sight, the beach is pleasant, and it’s the starting point for Amalfi Coast boat trips and  the Sentiero dei Dei, the Footpath of the Gods through the vertiginous mountains behind the village.

Mount Etna

Etna is by far the highest volcano in Italy and continental Europe, and it’s very much active too. It’s 3326 metres high, and can be seen from the Italian mainland and across much of eastern and southern Sicily.  The most famous vantage point is the ancient Greek Theatre in Taormina. The landscape surrounding Etna is constantly changing, and one way to explore it is on the narrow-gauge Circumetnea railway, which runs from Catania Borgo to Riposto, taking a minimum of three hours to travel the 110 km route one way.

Piazza del Duomo, Ortigia, Siracusa

Image of the Duomo or Cathedral in Ortigia, Syracuse, Sicily
The gorgeous Baroque duomo in Ortigia, Syracuse, Sicily

Ortigia Sicily is one of the most captivating places in Italy. It’s the ancient island core of Siracusa (also known as Syracuse), a Greek colony that became the most powerful city in the Mediterranean. Ortigia is a warren of narrow streets lined with lovely old 18th century townhouses, with the Tyrrhenian Sea lapping either side. The highlight is the stunning Piazza del Duomo , a spacious square centred around the gorgeous Baroque façade of the cathedral. It’s the most beautiful square in Italy that we’ve visited, an absolute must see in Sicily.

Noto Sicily

Like much of south-eastern Sicily, the town of Noto was levelled by the devastating earthquake of 1693. The town was rebuilt from scratch nearby in the local golden stone, all in magnificent Baroque style. It’s a harmonious whole without ever feeling uniform in any way. The result is an amazing collection of churches, palaces and townhouses, some of which are adorned with some seriously lAvish sculpture. The whole town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with seven other rebuilt towns, including nearby Modica, Ragusa, Scicli and Catania.

Alberobello Trulli

The Puglian town of Alberobello is one of the most famous places in Italy because of its trulli, distinctive whitewashed houses, typically with conical or domed roofs. They were also built without mortar as a tax dodge by the local feudal lords, the Acquaviva family, to avoid paying out revenue to the king. There are over 1,000 trulli in Alberobello, whjch have mainly been converted into artisan shops, cafes and restaurants. The town is best seen after the tour groups depart in the late afternoon, and it’s also possible to stay in a trullo, with several trullo hotels, guesthouses around B&Bs around the town.

Baroque Lecce

Lecce is located in the Salento, the so-called ‘heel’ of boot-shaped Italy. It’s best known for its stunning array of Baroque churches and palaces, which make the centre one of the most beautiful historical sites in Italy. It has often been called ‘the Florence of the south’ but it has more in common with Noto in Sicily (see above) or Salamanca in Spain, the latter because its locally sourced stone is also ideal for intricate carving.  Oon’t miss the Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce Cathedral and San Niccolo & Cataldo Church.

DAVID ANGEL

DAVID ANGEL

AUTHOR

David Angel is a British writer, historian and photographer. He has been travelling and photographing Europe for over 20 years and his work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the Guardian, BBC, Times and Sunday Times.

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