8 underrated destinations in Italy you need to visit

Nov 12, 2021

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With classical cities, idyllic islands, endless sunshine and a world-renowned gastronomy scene, Italy is a destination to visit again and again. In fact, it’s is the third-most visited country by U.K. travellers after Spain and France. The ideal country for both first-time travellers and seasoned road warriors, Italy has something for everyone.

The Italian island of Procida. (Photo by © Marco Bottigelli/Getty)

If this is your first Italian holiday, make sure to visit the most popular spots like Rome, Florence or the Amalfi Coast. But if you’ve already seen the most popular Italian destinations and attractions, it might be time to check out a more underrated destination. There are way too many to name in just one article, but here are eight of the most underrated spots in Italy that might inspire you hop aboard a flight.

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1. Naples

This southern Italian hub is certainly famous, but interestingly not as popular with foreign tourists as many other big-name destinations. In many ways, the less explored side of Naples is still something of a hidden gem for those wanting a taste of real Italian culture pizza.

Napoli (Naples) and mount Vesuvius in the background at sunset in a summer day, Italy, Campania .

From the vineyards of looming volcano Mount Vesuvius to the affordable southern Italian cuisine (it’s the birthplace of pizza) to the city’s numerous cultural attractions (there are seven castles and over 400 churches), Naples is one of the most interesting Italian cities to explore. Plus, it’s the gateway to the picturesque Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri for those looking to add on a more traditional Italian tourist experience along with Naples.

2. Umbria

If you want Tuscany vibes but have already been, Umbria should be next on your list. The landlocked region has the best of Tuscany without the tourists and the high prices.

A village in Umbria. (Photo by Richard I’Anson/Getty)

Similar to Tuscany, the dense foliage of Umbria is perfect for autumnal activities like wine tasting or truffle hunting. In fact, grapes in this region are particularly special; make sure to sample white wines made with the local Grechetto grape or extra tannic reds made from the Sagrantino grape. Visitors can also explore hilltop medieval villages, take cooking classes or get outside by hiking, rafting or cycling.

3. Ischia and Procida

Move over, Capri. Ischia is also a short ferry ride from Naples and the Amalfi Coast, but an island that is frequented by Italian visitors, not international tourists. More affordable, less touristy and just as gorgeous as Capri, the Italian island features a number of thermal pools and hot springs, both black and white sand beaches and the towering Aragonese Castle.

The Aragonese Castle in Ischia. (Photo by Atlantide Phototravel/Getty)

For even more Italian charm, hop over to the nearby tiny island of Procida. Its pastel-coloured harbour is an immediate draw — it’s no wonder the island has been deemed Italy’s Capital of Culture (the first island to win the title) for 2022.

4. Bologna

Fan of Italian food? Bologna’s delicious ragu, ragù alla Bolognese, is a meat-based tomato sauce that hails from the local area. But don’t expect to pair it with spaghetti in this town — locals prefer to pair it with tagliatelle, a flatter, ribbon-style pasta, or make lasagna verdi alla Bolognese, which is a lasagna made with the sauce and spinach pasta and without ricotta.

Bologna, Italy. (Photo by Marius Roman/Getty)

Besides eating, there’s plenty to do in this small city, like admiring the UNESCO-recognized porticoes, which are covered, arched walkways (some date back to the Middle Ages). The city also has some canals, mainly located in an area dubbed locally as ‘Little Venice.’

5. Bergamo

An easy day trip from Milan, Bergamo‘s citta alta is a hilltop historic paradise, encircled in fog and Venetian walls. The old city is like a step back in time, with its cobbled streets, centuries-old churches and the signature bell tower in Piazza Vecchia.

Bergamo, Italy. (Photo by Mirko Pizzaballa / EyeEm / Getty)

Wandering the city without a plan is the best way to pass the time. Weave through the hilly streets, stopping into small artisan boutiques and visit the town’s cathedral, the Duomo. Make sure to snack on a Polenta e Osèi dessert, which is a corn-based pastry filled with rum and hazelnut.

6. Val di Noto, Sicily

The Baroque towns of Sicily’s Val di Noto (Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli) are some of the island’s most charming destinations — and they’re all considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, visiting this area will require car hire, and you’ll have to drag yourself away from Taormina’s charm or Palermo’s Arab-Norman architectural sites.

Ragusa, Italy, a Baroque village in Sicily’s Val di Noto. (Photo by DaLiu/Getty)

You don’t have to see each and every town, but do spend at least a day or two climbing the hills of the Val di Noto, stopping to enjoy the dramatic Baroque flavour of these towns.

7. Ponza

If you’re itching to see Rome but also need a little island time, consider a visit to Ponza, the largest of the Pontine Islands. From Rome, take a train ride and then a hydrofoil boat from the Anzio Port, and a few hours later you’ll be exploring Ponza’s rocky cliffs and sea caves.

Ponza, Italy. (Photo by Renate Wefers / EyeEm / Getty)

Ponza is often compared to Amalfi Coast — but without the hordes of international tourists or the accompanying exorbitant prices. The island’s clear waters are especially apt for divers, but those wanting to stay on dry land can hike, visit Roman ruins or traverse the island’s many beach coves by boat or scooter rental.

8. Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta and Lake Iseo

Lake Como and Lake Garda get all the fame but northern Italy has many other lakes that are relaxing and beautiful spots for a holiday without too many tourists.

San Giulio, a small island on Lake Orta in Italy. (Photo by San Giulio/Getty)

Lake Maggiore actually spans two countries, Italy and Switzerland, offering a distinct Swiss-inspired charm to visitors. With a number of different gardens, anyone who loves a scenic floral stroll should head to this lake. Lake Orta is one of Italy’s smaller lakes often frequented by the Italian creative set. Orta oozes massive amounts of charm and provides artistic inspiration thanks to San Guilo, a tiny, scenic island that sits amid the lake. Lake Iseo is where you should really go to hide away from tourists. Iseo’s main island, Monte Isola, is so stunning, it made our list of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

Bottom line

Porticoes in Bologna, Italy. (Photo by Ramón Javier Prous Lora / EyeEm / Getty)

Whether you want to experience Italy’s most famous attractions or get off the beaten path, Italy has so much to offer for a holiday. And some of the best Italian vacations often combine doing something more touristy with something more underrated to really take in the local culture.

Our top tips? Pair Rome with Ponza, Naples with the Amalfi Coast, Milan with the northern lakes or Capri with Ischia. Doing this allows visitors to absorb all the best cuisine, monuments, attractions and local traditions Italy has to offer.

(Featured image of an Umbrian landscape by Peter Zelei Images/Getty)

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