Italy’s north may have the big tourist draws like Rome and Milan but southern Italy has the soul.
Sun-bleached, southern Italy offers weathered buildings, historic ruins, charming seaside towns, and stunning landscapes. Every carved piece of stone and frescoed palace has a unique story to tell. Here, ancient Greek temples are older than the city of Rome itself. Byzantine mosaics stand as historical reminders of the region’s cosmopolitan past. Did you know it’s home to 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Each location you visit is full of victory and failure, challenges, and tales of humanity.
Besides holding a fascinating history, southern Italy is also renowned for its dramatic landscapes, culinary prowess, and a warm benvenuto. A lush countryside, vineyards, rugged mountains, towering volcanoes, and vibrant blue grottos await you. While the options for exploration are plentiful, one thing is constant. Southern Italy offers a diverse, ethereal beauty.
Here Are Our Picks for the Best Bucket List Places to Visit in Southern Italy
We’re sure you’ve heard of some of the places on this list. But we’ve also purposely chosen off the grid locales too. What’s the point of traveling to a scenic locale if you’re sharing a crowded beach with thousands of other tourists? We’ll take a pass on that.
The locations we’ve chosen are not only gorgeous but somehow magically under the radar. So go ahead and throw down your beach towel anywhere you’d like. Pack a picnic. We guarantee you’ll get a lovely little stretch of paradise all to yourself.
1. Aeolian Islands
You’ll find the Aeolian Islands towering off of Sicily’s northeastern coast. Contrasting with the vibrant cobalt blue seas, these UNESCO-protected islands are a perfect piece of paradise. When you’re looking to roam, they offer just the perfect magical playground with thrills at every turn. We dare you to find a place in the world that’s more beautiful.
Shimmering waters provide just the right spot for all types of outdoor enthusiasts. Swimmers, divers, and sailors take delight in the warm sea. Trekkers can opt for climbing hissing volcanoes and aficionados seek out the local honey-sweetened wine. While the most popular base is Lipari, it’s not the only island option. Salina offers excellent accommodation and transportation. Vulcano and Stromboli have jaw-dropping black sand beaches.
In light of all the islands, Panarea has to be our favorite. This ultra-chic stay offers luxurious living. Tt’s easily the most fashionable spot among the Aeolians in southern Italy. International jetsetters come for a taste of coastal paradise. In the summer, yachts fill the harbor and day trippers stroll around the whitewashed streets of the port. This summer-only destination is the perfect place if you’re looking for some relaxation, wining and dining.
Chalk-white stone huts with conical roofs pop up along the greenery. This hilltop town in the Apulia region of southern Italy is one the UNESCO World Heritage sites. It retains the same charm and feel as it did over 700 years ago. Picture a 14th-century urban sprawl. On the westernmost side of the town’s two hills, sit dense rows of 1,500 stark white beehive-shaped homes.
Locals sell handmade crafts along the streets. You’l find everything from miniature trully to wooly shawls. While Alberobello is an amazing place, avoid it in peak season if you can. You’ll find a lot more authenticity when you visit outside the months of May – October. This is when droves of travelers come to explore trullo homes and drink in the bars. One of the first things we recommend doing upon visiting is to walk up the Piazza del Popolo. To say nothing of this spot would be a shame. Here, you’ll find the Belvedere Trulli lookout, offering the most wonderful panoramic views you could hope for.
3. The Amalfi Coast
Okay, if the Amalfi Coast isn’t already on your bucket list, we seriously suggest you reevaluate your priorities. You’ll never see more stunning landscapes than these dramatic Mediterranean coasts in southern Italy. Here, lush green mountains plunge down into the vibrant turquoise waters. Stark cliffs look like they’ve been carved by the hands of a sculptor standing in contrast with the string of towns. This is the perfect place for a sunny escape.
Jet-set around Positano, the European town with an old Hollywood feel. You’ll find darling arrays of boutiques, waters you’ll never want to leave, and coves to explore all day. Pastel colored buildings provide the perfect photo opp to the already stunning scene. If you head just a little further east, you’ll find ancient allures. Beautiful cathedrals dot the countryside and atop the mountain Ravello, you’ll find lovely culture villas.
Looking to the west, you’ll find the lovely clifftop resort town of Sorrento. Putting aside the incredible blue seas and cinematic grandeur, this lovely little city is also home to some of the best hotels and dining in all of Italy. It’s also the perfect spot to go hiking, with coastal trails offering the perfect escape from starstruck tourists.
4. Cala Granara, Sardinia
Take a voyage over an Emerald Sea, past characteristic coves and stunning beaches. This is Sardinia, an island of character and contrasts. Here, old traditions stay amidst stunning and wild nature. Here, over 2,000 km of coastline, mountains, and sandy beaches await you. All across the rugged landscape, you’ll find thousands of nuraghi – mysterious Bronze Age-era ruins shaped like giant beehives. One of the oldest and most famous nuraghi is Su Nuraxi in Barumini, dating all the way back to 1,500 B.C.
This island off the coast of southern Italy has it all. When you close your eyes and dream of a perfect beach vacation, it probably looks alot like Sardinia. Think pristine powdery white sand, shallow turquoise water, rugged cliffs, and tropical plants as a backdrop. You’ll find it on the island of Spargi, part of the Mediterranean’s archipelago off the Emerald Coast.
Equally important, for first time visitors, we recommend seeing Porto Cervo. This gem unites the cultures of ancient traditions with a joyful nightlife. Named after an enchanting cove shaped like the antlers of a deer, the Old Port is a popular spot among locals and travelers alike. Those who prefer the mountains to the city can explore the area of Gennargentu, the vastest range in all of Sardinia. The region is rich in flora and fauna, home to golden eagles, mouflons, and Sardinian deer.
Among all its wonders, you must stop and see the Nuragic complexes. Unique to this part of the world, they testify to an ancient culture that endured in the region up through the 15th and 16th centuries. The Nuragic complexes were built using large blocks of stone and developed around a cone-shaped tower, symbolizing strength. While little is known about them, travelers flock to see the archaic charm of both ancient rituals and domestic life.
Capri is the epitome of an island idyll. This location is beyond gorgeous. Every weathered building seems to tell a story, peeking out behind lush gardens. Steep cliffs jut out above an impossibly blue sea. Painting the shoreline, elegant villas add splashes of color; even the trees seem to be perfectly in place.
Come and explore the rugged coast of southern Italy, encircled by the famous faraglioni (sea stacks), and numerous caves. The most famous of all the caves is the Blue Grotto, closely connected to the tourism industry in Capri. The island continues to be both a legend and dream destination for travelers, history lovers, and wealthy jet setters alike.
While it has many different facets, it’s easy to see why Capri is such a gem. Innumerable points of interest draw visitors in to explore a land with a fascinating past. Various archaeological finds hint to its discovery by the ancient Romans. One of the most famous sites to see is Villa Jovis, commissioned by the Emperor Tiberius.
While you’re there, you have to see the Certosa (Basilica) di San Giacomo. It houses a museum showcasing two statues recovered from the deep of Grotta Azzurra. Make your way over to Anacapri after to see the classic Casa Rossa (Red House) within a colorful landscape. Inside, you’ll find the famous L’Isola Dipinta (“The Painted Island”), a permanent expo of images depicting the island’s history.
Besides the cultural attractions, the city offers its own charm. Home to tasteful boutiques and artisan studios, you’ll find handcrafted items along the winding side streets and alleyways. Moreover, the exquisitely-flavored local food is tied to maritime traditions. There’s no doubt about it. This island off the west coast of the Sorrento Peninsula has a luxury feel. Treat yourself to some delectable eats in world-class restaurants. Shop for some trinkets in the lovely jewelry shops.
While a cappuccino alone can cost you €7, Capri is still worth visiting. Just make sure you budget for it. You’ll find so many things to do and so many memories to make. Catch a bird’s eye view of the the craggy Monte Solaro from atop a chairlift – bring your camera and get some amazing photos. Reflect on the poetic glory of Villa Lysis.
This is the top archaeological choice in southern Italy. The ghostly ruins of Pompeii makes for quite the vacation experience. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, the town wasn’t simply blown away. It was buried under layers of lapilli (burning pumice stone). As a result, the site offers remarkably well-preserved artifacts of ancient life. Walk down old Roman streets, look around nearly 2,000-year-old houses, shops, cafes, and temples.
The origins of Pompeii are still contested. However, it appears it was founded in the 7th century BC by the Campanian Oscans. Throughout the centuries, it was a point of contention in battle. Pompeii was lost several times to the Greeks and Samnites before it became an official Roman colony in 80 BC. After the city’s catastrophic demise, it all but vanished from the public eye until 1594. The architect Domenico Fontana stumbled upon the ruins while attempting to dig a canal. Proper exploration didn’t start until over 150 years later though. Of the original 55 hectares, only 44 have been uncovered even today.
Stirring art and charming cafes dominate the scene of Naples. Raw energy fills the streets, spilling over into spontaneous conversation and a unique elegance. Welcome to an unlikely masterpiece in southern Italy. With a wealth of culture and history, there are so many places you have to see. Naples is home to three castles and two royal palaces, as well as ancient ruins. Some of the world’s finest collection of Pompeian frescoes and mosaics are there. Among them include some of Italy’s finest marble sculptures. Caravaggio masterpieces abound in the palaces.
If the city could speak, it would have countless stories to tell. First settled by the Greeks and later conquered by the Romans, the history of Naples is a riveting tale of fact and fiction. Myths and legends lend mystery to a land of enchantment. Did Queen Joan II really feed her ex-lovers to a crocodile in the castle? Do Cimitero delle Fontanelle’s skulls really hold esoteric powers? Curious tales seep out of every nook and cranny.
Did we mention that the food in Naples is exquisite too? Volcanic soils, a plentiful sea, and generations of culinary know-how are all an excellent combination. Here, you will find the country’s best pizza, espresso, and pastas as well as fantastic street markets. The food on these streets are all about the experiences. Think garlic spaghetti with clams, ragu, and eggplant parmigiana. Follow the locals and you’ll find what’s good.
Last but certainly not least, Naples is a great place to shop for souvenirs. But then again, many spots in southern Italy are. Anyone up for a little retail therapy? Okay, maybe a lot. The style is uniquely that of Naples. True, you’ll find some global chains. But even better, you’ll also find family-run businesses and artisan shops. Tailors and stockists have an incredible selection of suits, shirts, and ties.
Furthermore, the handmade leather business is flourishing. Narrow streets and old courtyards are dotted with stylish boutiques. You’ll find everything from handcrafted leather satchels to organic ceramics and nativity-scene figurines. Leave plenty of room in your luggage. You’re going to need it.
Another one of Sicily’s most exciting archaeological sites awaits you. Come see the ruins of the ancient city of Akragas and it’s well-preserved Tempio della Concordia in southern Italy. Just one of many temples on the hilltop, it served as a beacon for homecoming sailors. Located just 3 km south of Agrigento, it’s split into both eastern and western zones.
If you only have time to explore part of the site, explore the eastern part. You’ll find the best-preserved temples there. The stunning 5th-century BC Tempio di Hera is perched on the edge of the ridge. Partly destroyed in the Middle Ages by an earthquake, much of it still retains intact. Continue westward along the path, until you come across a famous 800-year-old olive tree and a series of Byzantine tombs.
The Tempio di Ercole is the last of the zone’s known temples and also the oldest. This remarkable edifice dates back to 6 BC. Just down the way from the main temples, you’ll also find a small temple set atop a high base. Known as the Tomba di Terone, it dates all the way back to 75 BC.
If you have time to explore the western zone, go see the Tempio di Giove. If the Carthaginians hadn’t sacked Akragas, this would have been the largest Doric temple ever built. But as fate had it, the incomplete temple was later brought down by an earthquake.
An intriguing outpost, the volcanic island of Ischia is the largest and most developed in the Bay of Naples. In times past, it was an early colony of Magna Grecia, first settled in the 8th century BC. Today, it’s famous for perfectly manicured gardens, stunning coastal views, and thermal spas.
Let’s not forget about the Aragonese castle either. The culture can be seen everywhere from the architecture to the warmth of the people and its food. Ischia is a refreshingly down to earth version of the more glamorous Capri.
Wondering where to go? Most visitors head out for the northern towns. These include Ischia Porto, Ponte, Lacco Ameno, and Forio. Of these, you’ll find the best bars at Ischia Porto. Forio and Lacco Ameno offer the best places for a photo opp. They also have the best spas and scenic gardens.
Down at the south coast, Sant’ Angelo offers a car-free place to relax. You’ll find the coziness of a sleepy harbor and even lazier beaches. Interspersed through the coastline, chestnut forests, vineyard, and dark volcanic rock poke through. In the background of it all, stands Monte Epomeo, Ischia’s tallest peak. Ischia is truly one of the best places to visit in southern Italy.
10. Parco Nazionale del Gargano
Head over to the eastern Adriatic coast in southern Italy. There, you’ll find a massive national park, Nazionale del Gargano. Covering over 424 square miles, it is renowned for its stunning scenery and equally dramatic coastlines.
Keep your camera handy and pack some good hiking gear. You’re going to need it while you’re out and about. Throughout the region, you’ll find a multitude of hiking trails, mountains, lakes, and stretches of rocky coast. But that’s not all. A wave of coastal towns like Vieste and Manfredonia great you with brilliant scenery and good old-fashioned hospitality.
Discover Basilicata. A region of dense forests and craggy mountains, you’ll find this region tucked away in southern Italy. The Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas are just below. Matera is famous for the Sassi district of complex cave dwellings dating back for millennia. Ideal for holidays, the stunning coastlines offer the best beaches, regional cuisines, and bits of history to excite the adventurous soul.
The only thing that trumps Basilicata beauty is its rich history. You can trace it all the way back to the Preolithic era. As a result of its past, this region of southern Italy has not only been influenced by the Italian way of life but also by Arabian, Spanish, Greek, and French invaders throughout the ages. Plan a visit here and you won’t be disappointed. Even after you leave, you’ll hold a little piece of Basilicata in your heart forever.
This lovely coastal town in southern Italy faces the Bay of Naples on the Sorrentine Peninsula. Perched atop cliffs that stand in contrast to the colorful town and busy marinas, it’s well-known for its panoramic views of the water and Piazza Tasso, a charming cafe-lined square. The historic center is also worth seeing. Home to characteristically narrow alleys, you’ll find Chiesa di San Francesco there. This 14th-century church is certainly a sight to behold.
Book Your Dream Vacation to Visit These Bucket List Places in Southern Italy
We hope you enjoyed reading our article on the best bucket list places to visit in southern Italy. As you can see, this country offers so many beautiful places for travelers to dive into a rich culture and history. Ancient ruins, dramatic coastlines, and charming coastal villages make the best backdrop for your dream vacation.
Now that you have the inside scoop on the best places to go in southern Italy, what’s stopping you? We want to know which place on our list you’d love to visit. Leave a message for us in the comment section below.
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