Central Italy is a region of incredible geographical and cultural diversity. From rugged mountain peaks to rolling hills and verdant valleys, there is no shortage of scenic landscapes in this region.
Beyond its dramatic geography, central Italy is known for its rich history and deeply-rooted traditions. From the ancient ruins of Pompeii to the hill towns of Tuscany, there are numerous points of interest throughout this area that allow you to glimpse into a bygone era.
The region is also known for its cuisine and is the home of Balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, cheeses, and seafood. Check out our favorite places to explore in central Italy with things to do!
#1 – Orvieto, Umbria
Recommended by Jolayne of simplyjolayne.com
If you are planning a trip to Central Italy, it will be well worth your time to consider a day trip to Orvieto in the southern part of the Umbria region. It is a short ninety-minute ride from Rome and two hours from Florence by train. You could drive, of course, but take the train and sit back to enjoy the Italian countryside.
Beautiful Hill-Top Town
Orvieto sits high atop a rupe–a steep cliff made of volcanic stone–a fortress on a plateau visible for miles before you arrive. This beautiful hilltop town overlooks a valley below dotted with cypress trees and fields in varying shades of green.
To reach the Old Town of Orvieto, all visitors (whether arriving by train or by car) leave the train station and can climb the steep hill by riding the funicular. From the top of the funicular, it is a ten-minute walk into the heart of Orvieto.
If the smell of fresh-baked bread is a temptation, you’ll be fortunate to walk past a bakery or two on the way to the Piazza del Duomo.
Visit the Duomo with its striped exterior and gleaming front facade, one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Italy. Mosaics, stained glass, and sculptures surround the magnificent bronze doors and direct your eye upward to a beautiful rose window. Once inside, the nave is purposefully spacious and features twin chapels on both sides of the chapel.
Underground Cave Tours
Most of the homes in Orvieto have caves dug out underneath (following strict specifications). Today they are used for storage and wine cellars, but years ago, they were used for olive oil production with olive presses, cold storage, and pigeon nests. Tours are available throughout the year, typically in Italian and English, but if you have other language needs, please reach out to the ticket office.
Plan a visit on a Thursday or Saturday morning to Orvieto and enjoy a busy outdoor market in the Piazza del Popolo (outside the People’s Palace). On market days, wander through the haphazardly placed stands and trucks in the piazza and surrounding streets to discover everything from meats and cheeses to produce and porchetta sandwiches.
#2 – Rome, Lazio
Recommended by Roxanne of Far Away Worlds
If you’re planning a trip to Central Italy, visiting Rome is a must. With a sweeping history spanning 2,700 years, there’s a considerable amount to see and do in the Eternal City. The Historical Centre of Rome is easily walkable, with many attractions visible as you make your way around the city.
Trastevere is a lovely neighborhood with colorful buildings, good restaurants, and easy access to significant sites. If you’re short on time, nearby Ponte is another good option as it’s just slightly outside the busiest areas and has some of Rome’s most famous landmarks on your doorstep.
Rome’s Ancient Ruins
Along with the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, seeing some ancient Roman ruins are on most visitors’ itineraries. Entry to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill are included in the same ticket, and you can spend an afternoon (or even a day) visiting all three. The Pantheon is one of the best-preserved Roman sites in the world and is well worth a visit in Italy.
Art & Museums in Rome
For art and museums, you have a wide choice. The Vatican is spectacular, of course, and well worth visiting. Book a tour to avoid the queues (tours through the Vatican are affordable and very interesting), and try visiting earlier in the morning to avoid crowds. The National Archaeological Museum and Capitoline Museums have incredible collections, and the Galleria Borghese is home to some fantastic art.
Things to Do in Rome
If you want to get a feel for the city, there are plenty of opportunities in Rome for eating, people-watching, and shopping. The city is beautiful in Spring when some ancient sites are strewn with colorful flowers, and in Autumn, however, Rome is wonderful to visit all year round.
#3 – Montepulciano, Tuscany
Recommended by Elena of The Carry-On Chronicles
The charming medieval town of Montepulciano is situated on a hilltop in Tuscany in Central Italy. This romantic Tuscan gem looks as though it belongs in a storybook, from its idyllic old center to its sweeping landscapes.
Things to Do in Montepulciano
While there are many things to do in this enchanting town, no trip would be complete without a visit to at least one of the beautiful wineries in Montepulciano. Montepulciano vineyards are responsible for producing some of the world’s best wine! Avignonesi is an area favorite, boasting over 420 acres of vineyards. In addition, with its focus on sustainable winemaking practices, it holds the record as the largest biodynamic vineyard in Italy!
Beyond the rich wine culture in the region, Montepulciano is also home to a fascinating fortified old city. Here, you will find a maze of pastel-colored streets and quirky landmarks such as the Torre del Pulcinella, the town’s beloved bell tower. The city is also home to Piazza Grande, which you may recognize from its feature in The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Today, visitors can join a walking tour to learn about the history of this fascinating square as well as the other remarkable structures in Montepulciano’s old city.
When you get hungry, stop for a bite at Ristorante La Briciola and order the pici pasta, a local specialty!
#4 – Arezzo, Tuscany
Recommended by Martina of PlacesOfJuma.com
The city of Arezzo is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in central Italy, and on top of that, an insider tip for sightseeing in Tuscany. Especially the medieval old town is a real jewel, which should not be missed during any perfect trip. Arezzo is located just 1 hour’s drive southeast of Florence and is therefore easy and quick to reach by car, but also by public bus.
Ceramics and Jewelry
World famous is the noble ceramics but also the fine metalworking of Arezzo. Since time immemorial, handicrafts and jewelry have been produced here, which has helped the city to great prosperity and wealth.
Even today, more than ten tons of gold are processed per month. On a stroll through the city center, you will find countless stores selling the finest jewelry and beautiful ceramics, such as the world-famous Aretin vases.
In addition, one also discovers numerous stores with antiques, in which there are also one or other treasures to be found.
Old Town Arezzo
The absolute highlight, however, is the beautiful old town of Arezzo. There, the most important attraction is the Piazza Grande, a breathtakingly beautiful main square and a genuinely unique popular photo motif.
The unique feature: it slopes downwards at an angle, creating an almost surreal backdrop. An accurate insider tip is the sizeable antique market that takes place there once a month.
Also worth seeing are the many exciting museums, excavation sites, and beautiful churches, where art treasures and masterpieces by famous artists such as Piero della Francesca or Giorgio Vasari can be admired.
#5 – Florence, Tuscany
Recommended by Haley of Gathering Waves
Florence is one of the most incredible cities in Central Italy and a must-visit destination! Founded almost one thousand years ago, this city is rich in art, culture, and history!
While Florence is beautiful all year, the best time to visit is in the fall. In the fall, the weather is still mild and pleasant, but the summer crowds are gone, which makes for a lovely experience.
The best place to stay in Florence is right in the historical center. However, the city is small and takes at most 30 minutes to walk across, so even if you are staying outside the historical center, sightseeing will be a breeze! You can easily get around on foot in Florence.
Art & Architecture
While in Florence, you must visit the Uffizi Gallery, Duomo, walk along the Ponte Vecchio and watch the sunset from the Piazza del Michelangelo.
The Uffizi is a massive art gallery originally owned by the Medici family. Today, it is home to some of the most famous and beautiful pieces of artwork in the world- including art from da Vinci and Botticelli. If you are visiting in the high season (summertime), then I highly recommend purchasing a ticket in advance to avoid a long wait time!
The Duomo is a spectacular cathedral located right in the historical center. In addition to its beautiful architecture, it is also one of the largest churches in the world!
Ponte Vecchio is the main bridge in Florence, Italy that crosses the Arno river. The view from the bridge is spectacular and should not be missed on any trip to Florence.
The best part of any trip to Florence is watching the sunset from the Piazza Del Michelangelo. The Piazza is located up several flights of stairs, and its elevated view over the city provides a spectacular view of the sunset.
#6 – San Gimignano, Tuscany
Recommended By Shelly of Almost There Adventures
San Gimignano is a small walled village about halfway between Florence and Siena in Central Italy. It is known for its medieval architecture and towers that rise above and provide impressive views of the city. It was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.
Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) stands on the central Piazza del Duomo. Inside is the famous room “Sala di Dante,” which holds important art collections dating back to the 13th and 17th centuries. From here, you can climb to the Torre Grossa, San Gimignano’s highest tower that provides fantastic views.
The Duomo or Collegiate Church is another stop not to miss. The Duomo is considered a Temple of Faith and Art and includes many impressive frescoes. San Gimignano is a must-see for art lovers but also those loving gelato. The well-known Gelateria Dondoli is an excellent stop for a much-deserved treat after climbing to the top of Torre Grossa.
If you plan to stay in the Tuscan countryside, San Gimignano is approximately an hour’s drive from Florence or Siena. Renting a car is best in Italy as it provides greater flexibility to see so much. There are pay parking areas in the South and North of the San Gimignano town center.
Italy has so much to offer for those traveling with or without kids. If you’re traveling with kids, check out these tips for a great road trip with kids. San Gimignano is a village not to miss in Italy.
#7 – Siena, Tuscany
Recommended by Teresa of T as Travel
Famous mainly for the Palio, Siena is a beautiful medieval town in Tuscany that deserves at least a couple of days to be visited in Central Italy. Siena is located on a hill, surrounded by walls with some doors from which you enter the historic center.
This vast square is significant for the city of Siena and its citizens. The cathedral, with white and green stripes, is the master in this square. Recommended is a visit inside the Duomo.
Piazza del Campo
Heart of Siena and one of the most beautiful squares in the world there is Piazza del Campo. Piazza del Campo means Square of Field and is called this because, in the past, it was used for markets and trades. Today it is very famous for the Palio.
Two palaces, in particular, surround Piazza del Campo. Palazzo Pubblico and Torre dei Mangia. Palazzo Pubblico was built around 1297 as the house of Siena’s government; meanwhile, Torre del Mangia was built around 1340, and it was the tallest tower in all of Italy. Today from the Tower you can have a fantastic view of all of Siena meanwhile in the Palace you can find a museum.
Baptistery of San Giovanni
Situated in Piazza San Giovanni, there is the Baptistery of San Giovanni. Built around 1320, the Baptistery is very interesting because it was the meeting point of the Renaissance artists of the time.
Visit Siena, Italy
The city of Siena has some beautiful views, streets, and doors to enter the old city all to discover; for this reason, I recommend half a day for a walk in the center.
Like all Italy, the food is a must to try, and also, Siena has its own specialties. You must try Picci (a type of pasta), cold cuts and cheeses from Siena, and Panforte di Siena (dessert).
#8 – Pienza, Tuscany
Recommended by Sam of New England Wanderlust
If you’re planning to tour the Tuscan countryside, be sure not to miss the small, charming town of Pienza in Central Italy. Located in the province of Siena, this little town underwent a transformation in the mid-1400s when Pope Pius II decided he wanted his hometown to become the “ideal village” and began construction of several buildings to turn Pienza into what it is today.
Now, Pienza truly is an ideal Tuscan town that provides the most amazing views of the Val d’Orcia, is home to some incredible Renaissance architecture, and is also the birthplace of Pecorino di Pienza cheese.
Be sure not to miss Pienza’s main piazza to witness the beautiful buildings erected during the town’s transformation. Some of the ones to look for are the Duomo, Palazzo Piccolomini, and the beautiful stone well, Pienza Pozzo dei Cani. And as you walk around, the smell of the cheese shops will entice you inside, so be sure to pop into one of the many shops for a Pecorino di Pienza tasting and take some home with you.
Wander the Town
The best thing to do in Pienza is to wander the town’s idyllic side streets and walk along the bastions to enjoy the views of the rolling hills and Tuscan countryside. From a distance along the bastions, you’ll even be able to see Agriturismo Terrapille, which was featured at the end of the movie Gladiator.
Try to time the sunset with aperitivo at Idyllium, a wonderful cocktail bar with outdoor tables that have a perfect view of the sunset. It’ll be a magical experience and the best way to end your day in Pienza.
#9 – Pisa, Tuscany
Recommended by Greta of Greta’s Travels
If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Central Italy, add Pisa to your bucket list. Located in Tuscany, this Italian city is home to many exciting attractions.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
The most famous is, without a doubt, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a freestanding bell tower of the Pisa Cathedral. It’s known globally because of its four-degree lean, caused by an unstable foundation.
More to Explore
However, the Leaning Tower of Pisa isn’t the only attraction in “Piazza dei Miracoli.” In this central Pisa square, you will find, besides the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (or Duomo of Pisa) and the Baptistery. You can join a guided tour that will take you to visit all three attractions, including the rooftop of the Leaning Tower, so that you can enjoy the epic views.
Interesting Places to See
Besides the main historical sights, there are other exciting places to see in Pisa, such as Campo Santo Monumentale, the Keith Haring Mural, and River Arno, as well as lots of local shops, bars, and restaurants.
Pisa is a relatively small city, so the easiest way to get around is on foot. You can visit Pisa at any time of the year, although the best time to do so is in spring when the weather is nice but not too hot like in the summer months.
#10 – Lucca, Tuscany
Recommended by Chrissy of Destined Globetrotter
Lucca is located on the west coast of Central Italy, near Pisa, and is known as the “City of 100 Churches.” Its history includes being founded by the Etruscans and as an important meeting place between Julius Caesar and Crassus (an important Roman general and statesman).
During medieval times, a thick wall encircling the town was built. Many European towns did this but eventually tore them down. Lucca’s wall still remains and is a popular walking spot. The piazza is built on the site of a Roman amphitheater, as evidenced by its shape still today.
The Cattedrale di San Marino (Duomo) was constructed from the 11th to 14th centuries. The series of archways draws your eyes to the façade and the unfinished bell tower next door. This tower has become an icon of the city because of the garden of olive trees that sit atop the tower. Visitors that climb to the top are rewarded with great city views.
This small museum is in the house where Puccini was born. It houses his piano as well as some of his original opera scores and costumes. This aqueduct once carried mountain water to the city. There are 400 stone arches that you can follow from the Temple Cistern to Paraco dell’Acquedotto.
If you’re planning a trip to central Italy, there are a number of unique destinations that you must see. The rolling hills and majestic mountains of Tuscany offer some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
At the same time, the ancient cities of Rome, Florence, and Pisa are jam-packed with historical landmarks and cultural attractions. Whether you’re an art lover, a foodie, or want to explore some of the most beautiful scenery on earth, visiting central Italy is sure to be an unforgettable experience.
This article originally appeared on Wander With Alex.
Alexandrea Sumuel is a travel writer and the founder of the Wander With Alex travel blog, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! Alex’s mission is to help people travel a little easier.