Discovering the best places to visit in southern Italy is a joy, as the region is so full of delights, whether these are related to food, wine, coffee, or simply gorgeous views.
After all, you’ve not really been to Italy until you’ve had the experience of discovering a place where you have the best espresso, pasta or pizza you’ve ever tasted in your life.
Places like the Amalfi Coast, Sicily, Sardinia, or Sorrento stand out because they’re not just the best spots in southern Italy but are among the very best places to visit in the world. Whether you want a culinary, cultural, natural, or historic experience, Italy and its islands always has somewhere to tempt, surprise, and delight you.
Naples is an authentic Italian city that’s warm, full of life, and history, and loves its food, wine, and shopping.
Speaking of Italian food, Naples is surely unmissable just as the spiritual home of pizza. In between meals, you’ll find an Historic Center that is a World Heritage site, among many other delights.
Some of the best things to do in Naples include visiting the grandiose Royal Palace, the impressive gothic Duomo, and the imposing Castel dell’Ovo. Anyone interested in the Roman Empire will find themselves entranced by the National Archaeological Museum.
Back in the present, enjoy the shops, and restaurants of the Chiaia neighborhood behind the Piazza del Plebiscito. While Milan might be better known for fashion, Naples is arguably the home of Italian men’s style.
Pompeii and Herculaneum
The Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Southern Italy were both victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD, preserved in time by layers of ash. They were affected in different ways, and it’s well worth trying to visit both if time allows.
Pompeii was a bigger town, and there is much more to see, such as the spectacular Villa of the Mysteries, and the Amphitheatre. But do take water on a hot day, as there’s not much shade.
Herculaneum is much smaller, but the buildings are better preserved. The upper floors of many still remain, and you can see the original vivid colors.
Together, both bring the past to life in a way that few other historical sites do. Walking their cobbled streets, you feel as if the inhabitants have just fled the volcano’s eruption, a moving and unmissable experience.
The capital of Sardinia is a perfect blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, not to mention shopping. The historic old town has narrow streets lined with charming buildings, and sights such as the 13th-century Duomo, whose frontage was inspired by the cathedral in Pisa.
Visit the Bastione di Saint Remy, or Monte Urpinu, for views over this Italian coastal town. The Archaeological Museum has some quirky exhibits, including 19th-century wax anatomical models, and the ancient Mont’e Prama sculptures.
To relax, head to Poetto Beach, one of the most beautiful city beaches in Europe. This five-mile stretch of white sand is lined with bars and restaurants, and starts a short distance from the heart of this most wonderful of southern Italian cities.
The Amalfi Coast
There are few places in the world to compare to the Amalfi Coast for beauty. It’s not just the natural wonder of a spectacular landscape meeting the azure blue of the Mediterranean at its most beautiful.
To this creation of nature, Italian style has added some of the world’s prettiest towns, and villages. You can see all this at its best while hiking the Path of the Gods from the village of Agerola to Nocelle.
Running along the coast is one of the world’s most scenic drives. Every curve, of which there are many, delivers another spectacular view of cliffs, sea, and beautiful towns.
Leave time to visit beautiful Amalfi Coast towns such as Amalfi, Positano, and Ravello. You’ll come away with exquisite handmade crafts in leather or paper, a beautiful piece of clothing, or just the memories of a lifetime.
One of the most beautiful mountain villages in the world, the unique trulli houses of Alberobello are traditional conical Apulian huts built with a dry-stone, mortarless technique.
Originally a way to avoid paying local property taxes (as the houses could theoretically be easily dismantled), they are found only in this small part of Italy.
Trullo Sovrano is a two-story house, now a museum, where you can learn more details of their history. Otherwise, walking around the street of a town lined by the strange structures is an otherworldly experience.
Most of the trulli are now shops, restaurants or places for visitors to stay overnight. Happily, the loose limestone walls have mostly now been more securely plastered over, although the distinctive roofs remain.
Just over an hour from Taranto, the hilltop town of Matera is a journey thousands of years into the past. Its “Sassi di Matera” are ancient cave dwellings recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, peppering the hillside and gazing out over a deep gorge. You may recognize the town, as it’s been the location for multiple movies.
While many of the Sassi date back to the Paleolithic or Neolithic eras, the most remarkable include the 10th-century Chiesa di Madonna delle Virtù. Above ground, the 13th-century Romanesque cathedral of Matera is filled with glorious frescos and Byzantine art.
The historic heart of Ostuni, known as La Città Bianca (“White Town”), is one of Puglia’s most famous attractions. It’s also one of the best places to visit in southern Italy.
Its whitewashed buildings and hilltop setting give the town an ethereal appearance. The narrow, cobbled streets call out for leisurely strolls that end in a small adventure.
You might stumble on a historic church that could be in anything from medieval and Renaissance to Baroque style. You might find an artisan’s shop with an exquisite souvenir, or a restaurant that wows the palate.
This hilltop town on Sicily’s eastern coast has a picture-perfect setting between Mount Etna and the Mediterranean. However, its chief claim to fame is its well-preserved ancient Greek Theater, still used for concerts
The majestic setting of the theater, overlooking the sea, is a major distraction for the audience. Fortunately, being carved out of solid rock, the arena has superb acoustics.
Taormina is a place of narrow medieval streets, with the main Corso Umberto packed with delightful shops and restaurants. The public gardens, Giardini della Villa Comunale, are a highlight.
Just offshore, you’ll find one of the most romantic places in Italy—Isola Bella is a tiny island with a lovely beach and crystal-clear waters. The terraced gardens are a great place to admire the views around this “Pearl of the Ionian Sea.”
Lecce has been called the “Florence of the South” for its wealth of Baroque architecture. The historic center is a delight of ornate churches, handsome palaces, and impressive piazzas.
The central Piazza del Duomo is a place to orient yourself and take it all in. The Duomo itself, Bishop’s Palace, and the Seminary Palace are all splendid.
Tied together through the use of the warm local limestone, the town has an air of calm elegance. Few visitors can resist its charms, even before they try the wonderful local cuisine.
What can match the thrill of visiting one of the world’s most famous and active volcanoes?
Mount Etna’s sometimes snowy cone dominates the views along the coast from Taormina.
Take a cable car or 4×4 tour to the higher altitudes for the best panoramas over otherworldly landscapes of lava. If you want to walk the craters and lava fields, the Silvestri Craters are one of the best places to hike in Italy.
Famous as a movie location, the Sicilian village of Savoca has somehow retained its original charm and tranquility. Set atop a craggy hill, it enjoys sweeping views of the island’s landscape.
You can visit several picturesque churches, a castle, and several places associated with the movies. However, the real charm of the village is its beauty, and a taste of authentic Sicily.
That taste comes in Sicilian dishes such as tagliatelle with wild fennel, fresh bread with local olive oil, or a bottle of Sicilian wine. Don’t forget to sample the lemon granita topped with a sesame-coated biscuit—a traditional dessert with Arab roots.
Perched high above Taormina, Castelmola is another hilltop Sicilian village with spectacular views of Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea. Its cobbled streets radiate from the Piazza del Duomo, where it’s practically obligatory to try the local almond wine and or almond pastries.
Its name comes from the ruined castle that still towers over the town. While Taormina is often called the most beautiful town in Sicily, Castelmola is with good reason called one of its most beautiful villages.
Hopefully, Cagliari’s Archaeological Museum will inspire you to find out more about Sardinia’s history. Su Nuraxi is a fascinating archaeological site inhabited from 1600 BCE up to the third century AD.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it features the conical nuraghe (nuraxi in the Sardinian language), which are megalithic “beehive” structures. Unique to Sardinia, the major ones stand up to 50 feet tall.
The price of admission includes a guided tour, an essential to unveil all the wonders of this exceptional place. The Nuragic civilization left no written records, but their bronze sculptures leave a memorable impression on all who see them.
Founded as a Phoenician port in the 8th century BCE, Nora in southern Sardinia grew into a prosperous Roman city of 8,000 people. Today, much of that Roman city can still be seen, including the baths, forum, Temple of Tani, and Teatro Romano.
The only Roman theater found on Sardinia, it’s still used for concerts. The seaside setting remains as striking as it must have been at Nora’s peak.
Don’t leave without taking a snorkeling tour to see submerged Roman roads, and some beautiful mosaics. A rise in sea levels and a drop along a geological fault left them preserved underwater.
If you can tear yourself away from Sardinia’s beaches and historic towns, the Molentargius Marshland is a wonderful contrast. The rich birdlife attracted by the marshes make it an essential stop for birdwatchers and nature lovers.
The vast area, just outside Cagliari, is best visited by bike, or on one of the well-marked hiking trails. Expect to see species such as pink flamingos, herons, and egrets.
Originally a saltworks, (it gets its name from the donkeys, or molenti, used to transport salt) the marshland is now a designated Ramsar Wetland (an officially recognized site of international importance). It is one of the most important wetlands in Europe for migrating and many endangered species.
Capri’s Blue Grotto has been an attraction since the time of the Roman Empire. Being rowed through this natural wonder while your boatman sings an Italian aria is something to embrace for its sheer wonder and joy.
Capri has more to it than this, however. There are reasons why it has attracted the fashionable crowd since the Emperor Tiberius first holidayed here more than 2,000 years ago.
His home, Villa Jovis, can still be visited, although Axel Munthe’s Villa San Michele is more famous. Most visitors, however, do not stir too far from the island’s beautiful Italian beaches, a café table, or anywhere they can take in the views.
Don’t leave without trying Caprese salad. Tomato bursting with flavor, soft mozzarella, and fresh basil combine with tasty olive oil to offer up Italy on a plate.
Anyone taking a ferry to Capri normally passes through Sorrento. They should leave enough time to see this lovely town, which has a long history of tourism.
The setting overlooking the Bay of Naples, and Capri, is worth the visit alone. And as one of the best food cities in Italy, make sure to find a restaurant with a view, and you can then enjoy some of the best seafood (and pizza, pasta, and gnocchi) to be found in the country.
The historic center is a charming maze of artisanal shops selling local crafts. The 15th-century Sorrento Cathedral, Villa Pollio Felice, and the art of the Museo Correale di Terranova are major attractions.
Few visitors leave without at least sampling the local limoncello, if not buying a souvenir bottle. A tour of a lemon grove is a great way to learn more about the origins of this golden liqueur.
Has this list of the best places to visit in southern Italy inspired you to travel to Europe? Then browse our cruises to Italy to find the perfect cruise to take you away on your next Italian adventure.