The great thing about Italy is that even if you've played Assassin's Creed or watched Angels & Demons you're not at a significant advantage when it comes to the game of shouting "hey I recognize that!"
Italy is jam-packed full of history. Visit these 10 historical sites for a glimpse into the Roman Empire's glory days and the Renaissance.
That's because so many of Italy's historical sites are well known around the world. You'll recognize most of these places from the photos alone but I can promise you they are every bit as impressive in person.
Italy is a country that offers a unique and well-documented history and one that is studied in schools and universities around the globe today. From gladiators to warrior Popes, Italy's past has it all, and these 10 best historical sites in Italy serve as a reminder of those glorious and often tumultuous times.
A Brief History of Italy
Italy's checkered history is fascinating. The country is primarily known as the epicenter of the Roman Empire, the Renaissance and its historical ties to the Papacy.
At its height the Roman Empire covered 5 million square kilometers and was one of the defining empires in world history. We reap the historical and cultural rewards today as more and more is understood about how the empire rose, grew and fell. Latin literature is particularly renowned and works like Vergil's Aeneid are studied across the world thousands of years later.
The Renaissance was born in Italy in the 14th century and much of Europe still feels the influence of the boom in the arts, science and politics of key Italian thinkers. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci are household names and museums across Europe display their works.
Italy's history is very much entwined with that of the Papacy and even today the Vatican is located within Italy's capital, Rome. Various Popes directly ruled over the Papal States of modern day Italy for a millennium and Catholicism remains immensely significant to the vast majority of modern-day Italians.
Italy's capital, colloquially known as the Eternal City, is one of the most historic cities in the world, with 28 centuries of empire, religion and culture behind it. Rome is often referred to as the capital of the world, having been the center of various empires, states and republics throughout history. Today it encompasses Vatican City, the world's smallest country, which cements its unique and popular status.
Price: €12 (USD$14.23) Time spent: 2 hours
Hours: 8:30am-7:15pm, 7 days
The largest amphitheater ever built, the Colosseum is emblematic of Italy and the Roman Empire. Capable of holding up to 80,000 spectators, it was the home of gladiator fights in Rome, as well as re-enactments, executions and dramatic performances. More than 7 million people visited the Colosseum in 2018, making it the world's most-visited tourist attraction.
Tip: Take a guided tour to skip the painfully long queues of tourists at the entry.
Price: Free Time spent: 1 hour
Hours: 8:30am-7:30pm Monday-Saturday, 9am-6pm Sundays
Once a Roman temple, the Pantheon has been a Catholic church since the 7th century and is still in use today. Its constant use is the primary reason for its status as one of Ancient Rome's best-preserved buildings. At the time of construction, the Pantheon's architectural style was unique and such was its cultural importance, important figures such as the painter Raphael are buried there.
Tip: Signs ask for silence and respect. Photos are allowed.
Price: €15 (USD$17.79) Time spent: 2 hours
Hours: 9am-7:30pm Monday-Wednesday, 9am-12am Thursday-Sunday
An often-overlooked Italian historical site, the Castel Sant'Angelo is an imposing fortress that offers panoramic views of both Rome and Vatican City. Towering over the river Tiber at the end of the impressive Ponte Sant'Angelo, the castle is topped with a statue of Saint Michael the Archangel. It is connected to Vatican City by an 800m long fortified passageway to provide the Pope with an escape route in times of emergency.
Tip: Watch the Papal Audience on Wednesday mornings from the Castel Sant'Angelo.
One of Italy's south-west regions, Campania has a subtle Greek feel to it thanks to colonization in the 8th century BC. It is a region overflowing with culture and has become a popular tourist hub in modern times. The historic sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum, the stunning Amalfi Coast and Naples, the pizza capital of the world, can all be found in Campania.
Price: €16 (USD$18.98) Time spent: 3 hours
Hours: 9am-7:30pm Monday-Friday, 8:30am-7:30pm Saturday-Sunday
Following Mount Vesuvius' eruption in 79 AD, the city of Pompeii was buried under volcanic ash and frozen in time forever. Today its ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are visited by millions of tourists every year. It feels eerie to witness the evidence of what those fleeing the devastation left behind provides a fascinating insight into the lives of the people of antiquity. Pompeii is easily accessible by train for a day trip from Rome.
Tip: The Antiquarium museum is often missed by over-eager tourists but is worth a visit.
Tuscany is a region where culture and mesmerizing landscapes collide to offer the ultimate varied Italian experience. As the home of the Italian Renaissance in the 14th century, the region holds a strong cultural identity. The popular cities of Florence, Pisa and Siena compliment Tuscany's booming seaside tourism industry.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
Price: Free or €18 to climb (USD$21.35) Time spent: 2 hours
Hours: 9am-8pm, 7 days
The world-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa has a noticeable lean of almost 4 degrees, making it one of Italy's most iconic attractions. The tower has leaned ever since its construction in the 1100s and structural work has been necessary since then to slightly rectify the issue, which had progressed at one stage to 5.5 degrees. Striking white marble defines the Romanesque architecture of Pisa, portraying an ambiance of grandeur.
Tip: The Square of Miracles also contains the stunning Pisa Cathedral and the Pisa Baptistry.
The Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence
Price: €18 (USD$21.35)
Hours: 10am-4:30pm, 7 days
Florence's cathedral is one of the most impressive in all of Italy. It dominates the city's skyline, taking pride of place in the historic center and exemplifying the strengths of the Gothic architectural style. The duomo is actually a mixed bag of styles as a result of the 150 years that passed between its commencement and completion. Scale is everything for the cathedral. It possesses the largest brick dome in the world and can host 30,000 worshippers.
Tip: One ticket grants access to all monuments, including the museum, dome and crypt.
With a population behind only that of Rome, Milan is a booming city and a metropolitan powerhouse in the European Union. It is world-renowned as one of the 4 fashion capitals of the world, but the city is also home to Italy's stock exchange and many of Italy's most important museums. With 8 million foreign visitors each year, Milan is famed for luxury and elegance.
Duomo di Milano
Price: €8 (USD$9.49) Time spent: 1 hour
Hours: 8am-7pm, 7 days
The colossal cathedral in central Milan is another of Italy's instantly recognizable buildings and a historic site that took almost 600 years to complete. An unrivalled exterior of opulence and ornateness, conceals the interior's grandiosity. Like Florence's duomo, the cathedral is a clash of various architectural styles and it certainly has its critics. Victorian art expert John Ruskin described it as "peculiarly barbarous and angular" but it remains a hugely popular attraction amongst tourists.
Tip: Tours that offer access to the rooftops grant panoramic views of Milan.
Santa Maria delle Grazie (Home of The Last Supper)
Price: €12 (USD$14.23) Time spent: 1 hour
Hours: 8:15am-6:45pm Tuesday-Sunday
The church itself is an attraction worthy of a mention simply due to its extravagant Milanese architecture, which was refined during the Renaissance with later reworking. It is Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper that makes this destination famous however. The fresco is a universally recognizable painting, symbolic of the enlightenment of the Italian Renaissance and a truly masterful work. Tourists are permitted to view the painting, which even survived bombing during World War II.
Tip: Tickets are often sold out in advance, so book ahead to avoid disappointment. There are allotted time slots of just 15 minutes to see the painting, so have your camera ready to make the most of it.
Italy's City of Canals is consistently ranked as one of the world's most beautiful and romantic cities. It is actually built on over 100 islands, which are served by a huge network of canals and connected by more than 400 bridges. The city was the capital of the Venetian Republic for a millennium and was a paragon of maritime power and commerce. Today it is a casualty of over-tourism, but remains one of Italy's most beautiful destinations.
Price: Free Time spent: 2 hours
Hours: 24 hours, 7 days
One of the most famous canals in the world and arguably the most romantic, Venice's 3.8km long Grand Canal is the city's defining waterway. It cuts through the central districts and is crossed by the unmissable Rialto Bridge. The canal can be explored by gondola ride and as there are no pavements between most of the buildings on its banks and the water, boat tours or public "taxi boats" are the only way to see many of Venice's beautiful visages.
Tip: The Historical Regatta takes place on the first Sunday of September each year.
Saint Mark’s Basilica
Price: Free Time spent: 1 hour
Hours: 9:30am-5pm Monday-Saturday, 2pm-4:30pm Sundays
Situated in the famous Piazza San Marco, Venice's main square, Saint Mark's Basilica is the principal church of the city. Dating back to the 1200s, it was constructed originally in the Byzantine architectural style. It has since seen many embellishments to its famous façade and gold mosaics, which give it an almost oriental feel. It has forever been a symbol of the state of Venice's status and wealth and is today a popular historical site for tourists visiting the city.
Tip: No photos are permitted inside the basilica, so get some good shots of the exterior.