Summer Vacation in Italy: 10 Lesser Known Places TO Explore

Italy is a dream destination for travelers of all ages, but for millennial and Gen Z travelers with a thirst for exploration and a sense of adventure, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path gems to discover. Skip the popular tourist hubs of Rome and Milan and immerse yourself in the vibrant culture, rich history, and stunning landscapes of these 10 lesser-known Italian destinations. Whether you’re seeking a charming coastal town, a picturesque countryside retreat, or a vibrant city with a youthful vibe, these places are sure to appeal to the young and adventurous traveler.

Summer Vacation in Italy

1. Matera

Overview: Matera is a city in the Basilicata region, famous for its ancient cave dwellings known as “Sassi.” These unique cave homes, carved into the soft tufa rock, have been continuously inhabited for thousands of years, making Matera one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world.

What It’s Known For: The Sassi of Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has gained international fame as a backdrop for numerous films, including Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” The city offers picturesque viewpoints, historic churches, and a fascinating glimpse into ancient Italian life.

Vibe: Matera has a rustic and mystical vibe, making it an ideal destination for travelers looking for an immersive historical experience combined with breathtaking views and a touch of romance.

Closest Airport: Bari International Airport (BRI) is the closest international airport, located approximately 65 miles away. From Bari, you can take a train or rent a car to reach Matera.

Best Areas to Stay:

  1. Sasso Caveoso: This area offers a truly unique experience, as you can stay in traditional cave dwellings that have been converted into charming boutique hotels.
  2. Sasso Barisano: This district has a more modern feel, with cozy guesthouses and a range of dining options.
  3. Centro Storico: For those seeking a more contemporary stay, the historic center offers a mix of stylish hotels and apartments.

Cost: $$ – Matera offers a range of accommodations to suit different budgets, making it an excellent option for young travelers.

Must Try: Don’t leave Matera without trying the local specialty, “Pezzente.” This savory pie is filled with vegetables, cheese, and meat, providing a delicious taste of traditional Basilicata cuisine.

2. Cinque Terre

town by the sea
Photo by Chait Goli on Pexels.com

Overview: Cinque Terre, meaning “Five Lands,” is a collection of five charming fishing villages along the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. The towns date back to the medieval period and are known for their colorful houses, terraced vineyards, and scenic hiking trails.

What It’s Known For: Cinque Terre is a paradise for nature lovers and hikers. The stunning coastal trails provide breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea and connect the five towns. Additionally, the region’s famous “Via dell’Amore” (Lover’s Lane) offers a romantic walk with stunning vistas.

Vibe: Cinque Terre has a laid-back and relaxed vibe, attracting travelers who seek a serene escape surrounded by nature’s beauty.

Closest Airport: The closest international airport is Pisa International Airport (PSA), located approximately 70 miles away. From Pisa, you can take a train to reach Cinque Terre.

Best Areas to Stay:

  1. Riomaggiore: The southernmost village, Riomaggiore offers a quiet and authentic atmosphere with charming guesthouses and local eateries.
  2. Vernazza: One of the most picturesque villages, Vernazza has a lively harbor, perfect for swimming and enjoying seafood delights.
  3. Monterosso al Mare: The largest village, Monterosso offers a mix of accommodation options, from budget-friendly hostels to boutique hotels.

Cost: $$$ – Cinque Terre is known for being a bit more expensive, but the breathtaking views and unique experience make it well worth the cost.

Must Try: While in Cinque Terre, you must try the local seafood dishes, such as “trofie al pesto” (hand-rolled pasta with basil pesto) and “acciughe ripiene” (stuffed anchovies).

3. Alberobello

Overview: Alberobello is a picturesque town located in the Apulia region, known for its distinctive trulli houses. These traditional dry-stone huts with conical roofs are a UNESCO World Heritage site and are unique to this region of Italy.

What It’s Known For: The trulli houses are the main attraction in Alberobello, creating a fairytale-like setting. The Trullo Sovrano, the largest trullo in the town, now serves as a museum, offering insights into the local lifestyle.

Vibe: Alberobello has a charming and whimsical vibe, making it an ideal destination for travelers who want to immerse themselves in a magical setting.

Closest Airport: Bari International Airport (BRI) is the closest international airport, located approximately 42 miles away. From Bari, you can take a train or rent a car to reach Alberobello.

Best Areas to Stay:

  1. Rione Monti: Stay in this area to be surrounded by the most iconic trulli houses and have easy access to the main attractions.
  2. Aia Piccola: This district offers a more secluded stay, with a quieter atmosphere and a sense of escape.

Cost: $$ – Alberobello provides a range of accommodations, from unique trulli stays to charming guesthouses, catering to different budgets.

Must Try: Savor the traditional “orecchiette con cime di rapa,” a pasta dish with broccoli rabe, representing the authentic flavors of Apulian cuisine.

4. Verona

Overview: Verona, located in the Veneto region, is a city steeped in history and romance. It is famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and offers an enchanting blend of ancient architecture and Renaissance charm.

What It’s Known For: Verona is known for its well-preserved Roman amphitheater, the Arena di Verona, which hosts spectacular opera performances during the summer. The city’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is filled with medieval and Renaissance architecture.

Vibe: Verona has a romantic and sophisticated vibe, making it an ideal destination for young travelers who appreciate art, culture, and a touch of romance.

Closest Airport: Verona Villafranca Airport (VRN) is the closest international airport, located approximately 6 miles southwest of Verona’s city center.

Best Areas to Stay:

  1. Historic Center: Staying in the heart of the historic center allows easy access to the main attractions and the city’s vibrant atmosphere.
  2. San Zeno: This area offers a more local ambiance, with charming cafes and a quieter atmosphere.

Cost: $$ – Verona offers a range of accommodations, making it an accessible option for young travelers.

Must Try: Indulge in “tortellini di Valeggio,” a local specialty that consists of small pasta filled with pumpkin, cheese, and amaretti cookies, creating a delightful combination of sweet and savory flavors.

5. Catania

Overview: Catania is a vibrant city located on the east coast of Sicily, at the foot of Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. It is a city of contrasts, blending ancient ruins, Baroque architecture, and modern energy.

What It’s Known For: Catania is known for its lively fish market, La Pescheria, where you can experience the vibrant colors and flavors of Sicily. The city also boasts a beautiful black lava stone cathedral and the ancient Roman amphitheater, which is still used for events today.

Vibe: Catania has an energetic and lively vibe, with bustling markets, lively piazzas, and a mix of ancient and contemporary attractions. This city is a perfect blend of history and modernity, attracting young travelers seeking an authentic Sicilian experience.

Closest Airport: Catania Fontanarossa Airport (CTA) is the closest international airport, located approximately 3 miles from Catania’s city center.

Best Areas to Stay:

  1. Piazza del Duomo: Stay in this area to be at the heart of Catania’s historic center and within walking distance of major landmarks.
  2. San Berillo: This vibrant neighborhood offers a mix of street art, trendy bars, and cafes, perfect for those seeking a more bohemian atmosphere.

Cost: $$ – Catania provides a range of accommodations to suit different budgets, making it a great choice for young travelers.

Must Try: Savor “arancino,” the Sicilian version of fried rice balls, filled with various savory ingredients such as meat, cheese, or spinach, a delicious and filling street food delight.

6. Siena

Overview: Siena, located in the heart of Tuscany, is a city known for its medieval charm, beautiful Gothic architecture, and the famous Palio horse race, held in the main square, Piazza del Campo.

What It’s Known For: The historic center of Siena is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with its stunning medieval buildings and narrow streets. The Gothic cathedral, Siena Cathedral, is a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture.

Vibe: Siena has an enchanting and traditional vibe, making it an ideal destination for travelers who want to step back in time and immerse themselves in the rich history of Tuscany.

Closest Airport: Florence Airport, Peretola (FLR), is the closest international airport, located approximately 46 miles away. From Florence, you can take a bus or rent a car to reach Siena.

Best Areas to Stay:

  1. Historic Center: Staying in the heart of the historic center allows easy access to major attractions and the charming ambiance of the city.
  2. Contrada della Selva: This area offers a more tranquil stay, away from the bustling tourist areas, with a sense of authenticity.

Cost: $$ – Siena provides a range of accommodations, making it a good option for young travelers.

Must Try: Taste the famous “pici all’aglione,” a traditional Tuscan pasta dish with a tomato and garlic sauce, perfect for savoring the flavors of the region.

7. Turin

low angle shot of palazzo carignano
Photo by antonio filigno on Pexels.com

Overview: Turin, the capital of the Piedmont region, is a city with a rich history and a modern twist. It was the first capital of unified Italy and is now known for its Baroque architecture and thriving contemporary arts scene.

What It’s Known For: Turin is famous for its royal palaces, including the Royal Palace of Turin and Palazzo Madama. The city is also a paradise for chocolate lovers, being the birthplace of the iconic “gianduja” chocolate.

Vibe: Turin has an elegant and artistic vibe, attracting travelers who appreciate beautiful architecture, cultural events, and mouthwatering treats.

Closest Airport: Turin Airport (TRN) is the closest international airport, located approximately 10 miles from the city center.

Best Areas to Stay:

  1. City Center: Staying in the city center allows easy access to major landmarks, shopping districts, and trendy cafes.
  2. San Salvario: This multicultural neighborhood offers a bohemian ambiance with hip bars and restaurants.

Cost: $$ – Turin provides a range of accommodations, making it an attractive option for young travelers.

Must Try: Satisfy your sweet cravings with “bicerin,” a traditional Piedmontese drink made of layers of espresso, chocolate, and cream, a decadent treat not to be missed.

8. Trieste

Overview: Trieste is a port city located on the northeast coast of Italy, near the border with Slovenia. It has a fascinating history of being a melting pot of different cultures and is known for its unique architecture and literary heritage.

What It’s Known For: Trieste is known for its grand Piazza Unità d’Italia, one of the largest seafront squares in Europe. The city’s literary heritage is tied to writers such as James Joyce and Italo Svevo, who found inspiration in the city’s diverse atmosphere.

Vibe: Trieste has a cosmopolitan and intellectual vibe, attracting travelers interested in exploring a city with a blend of Central European and Italian influences.

Closest Airport: Trieste – Friuli Venezia Giulia Airport (TRS) is the closest international airport, located approximately 19 miles from the city center.

Best Areas to Stay:

  1. Historic Center: Staying in the historic center allows easy access to major landmarks and the lively café culture.
  2. Città Nuova: This area offers a more modern setting with a mix of shopping streets and historical sites.

Cost: $$ – Trieste provides a range of accommodations suitable for different budgets, making it an accessible option for young travelers.

Must Try: Experience the flavors of Trieste with “buffet-style aperitivo,” where you can sample a variety of local snacks and small dishes while enjoying a drink at the many bars in the city.

9. Urbino

Overview: Urbino is a charming hilltop town located in the Marche region, known for its rich Renaissance history and artistic heritage. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has preserved its historic center, offering a glimpse into the cultural and artistic achievements of the past.

What It’s Known For: Urbino is famously associated with the renowned Renaissance artist Raphael, who was born here. The town’s main attraction is the Ducal Palace, a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture and home to the National Gallery of Marche, housing an impressive collection of artworks.

Vibe: Urbino has an intellectual and artistic vibe, attracting travelers interested in art, history, and a peaceful atmosphere. The town’s university adds to its lively and youthful ambiance.

Closest Airport: Federico Fellini International Airport (RMI) in Rimini is the closest international airport, located approximately 41 miles away. From Rimini, you can take a train or rent a car to reach Urbino.

Best Areas to Stay:

  1. Historic Center: Staying in the heart of the historic center allows easy access to the main attractions and a true immersion in Urbino’s rich cultural heritage.
  2. Via Bramante: This area offers a more local experience with charming cafes and shops.

Cost: $$ – Urbino provides a range of accommodations to suit different budgets, making it an excellent option for young travelers.

Must Try: Treat yourself to “crescia sfogliata,” a traditional savory flatbread stuffed with cheese and vegetables, a delicious local delicacy.

10. Lecce

Overview: Lecce, located in the southern region of Apulia, is a city renowned for its breathtaking Baroque architecture, earning it the nickname “The Florence of the South.” The city boasts intricate stone carvings and beautiful buildings made of the distinctive Lecce stone.

What It’s Known For: Lecce is known for its ornate Baroque buildings, including the Basilica di Santa Croce and the Duomo di Lecce. The historic center, with its narrow streets and hidden squares, is a treasure trove of architectural delights.

Vibe: Lecce has a vibrant and lively vibe, attracting travelers who appreciate beautiful architecture, a rich cultural scene, and the warmth of Southern Italian hospitality.

Closest Airport: Brindisi Airport (BDS) is the closest international airport, located approximately 26 miles away. From Brindisi, you can take a train or rent a car to reach Lecce.

Best Areas to Stay:

  1. Historic Center: Staying in the heart of the historic center allows easy access to major landmarks and a true immersion in Lecce’s artistic heritage.
  2. Piazza Mazzini: This area offers a more modern setting with plenty of dining and shopping options.

Cost: $$ – Lecce provides a range of accommodations to suit different budgets, making it an accessible option for young travelers.

Must Try: Delight in “pasticciotto leccese,” a traditional pastry filled with custard cream, perfect for satisfying your sweet cravings with a local favorite.

From the ancient charm of Urbino to the Baroque splendor of Lecce, each location promises a memorable summer vacation experience. So, embrace your spirit of adventure, immerse yourself in history, and discover the hidden gems of Italy!