Interesting Cities to Visit in Italy
Rome is perhaps the most famous and quintessential destination for a visit to Italy. The Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo are but a few of the array of sights to see in the so-called Eternal City. The Vatican Museums even has a number of homoerotic pieces of art and a visit to this magnificent collection is certainly in order. For visitors looking for an LGBTQ+ scene, the relatively small but spirited gay nightlife is only steps away from the Coliseum. Rome also hosts Italy’s largest Pride event.
Florence is the Baroque Capital of Italy. Its magnificent architecture and art masterpieces are the big draw for tourists. Some of the most acclaimed masterpieces that justify a stop in this beautiful town are the Galleria dell'Accademia, which is home to David, Michelangelo's masterpiece; Santa Maria del Fiore church and its magnificent dome designed by Brunelleschi; and Signoria Square and the splendid Ponte Vecchio.
Milan is the Italian capital of design, the business hub of the country as well as the home of the most influential fashion labels worldwide. Yet, a trip to this cosmopolitan city would be incomplete without a visit to its cultural masterpieces, which include La Scala opera house with its private collections; the Pinacoteca di Brera, home to one of the best collections of Renaissance paintings in Italy; and the Triennale contemporary design museum. Leonardo Da Vinci’s legacy in Milan is well known and many historians agree that he was a gay artist leaving his mark in many masterpieces of the city, including The Last Supper, housed by the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Though smaller than Rome, Milan stands out with Italy’s largest and most visible gay scene. While Rome’s LGBTQ+ life remains mostly hidden behind the shadow of the Vatican, Milan’s LGBTQ+ scene comes slightly more out of the closet. Milan hosts a large Pride event each summer and the LGBTQ+ nightlife scene is well established.
Venice, the beautiful lady, offers visitors magic all year around. Classical music lovers come to Venice to enjoy their favorite lyrical masterpieces at La Fenice Opera house. However, there is so much more to do in what is undoubtedly one of the most romantic cities in the world. Taking a ride through the city’s canals on an iconic gondola is the best way to discover the heart and soul of the city. Taking a stroll from San Marco Square through the calli, the typical narrow alleys connected through stone footbridges, gives real insight into this seductive place. The city becomes even more alluring during Carnival season (February or early March) when it becomes crowded with tourists from all over the world in dresses and masks.
Interesting Attractions to Visit in Italy
Some of the best sights of Italy are not necessarily in the big cities. There are many more hotspots in Italy that attract tourists from all over the world that are certainly worth a visit.
Italy is home to more than 300 ski areas including Val Gardena, Val di Fassa, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Courmayeur and Madonna di Campiglio in Northern Italy, along the Alps. The Sestriere area was the first purpose-built ski resort in the world, opening in 1934. Not far from Turin, Sestriere is now at the center of one of the world's biggest ski areas, the Milky Way, with 400 km (248 mi) of pistes spilling over the border into France. The area was also the main host of the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics.
Turin was the first capital of Italy after the unification of the country under the Savoy monarchy. The city is well known for the mix of styles of its beautiful and royal architecture, including Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-classical and Art Nouveau, which are all equally present. Some of the unmissable sights of the city are Piazza Castello, home to Turin Cathedral and the Palazzo Reale; the historic arcades of Via Po, lined with bookshops, cafés, and stores selling artisan wares; and the Mole Antonelliana, Turin’s answer to the Eiffel Tower. Turin is also the best starting point to explore the Piedmont area, famous for its wines and gastronomy.
Verona is a sophisticated and elegant city with a strong Roman past. Located between Milan and Venice, this is a must-see stop in Northern Italy. Its amphitheater, Arena di Verona, is home to the famous open-air opera festival held every summer. It is also the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This city of the Veneto region has gained UNESCO status for its collection of monuments dating back to the first century.
Lombardy and the lakes, in Northern Italy, is another stunning destination for tourists and has been since Roman times. Each lake has its own special character and appeal. If you’re after a quieter romantic escape, you should head to Lake Como, surrounded by magnificent villas. Looking for an active holiday? Explore the northern shores of Lake Garda for canyoning and kite surfing, while Lake Iseo is well-suited to hikers and cyclists. Lago Maggiore is rich in opulent hotels and grand resorts. Stresa, Pallanza, and the Golfo Borromeo are among the most sought-after towns in the area.
Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, is one of the most interesting places off the beaten track in Italy: it is a fascinating ancient cave town set in a dramatic gorge featuring rock churches and grottos. Film lovers will recognize it as the location for Ben Hur and Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.
Lecce, the so-called Florence of the South, makes for a great stop on your visit to Southern Italy. The city is rich in Baroque architecture that has acquired its own nickname, barocco leccese (Lecce Baroque). This style is a hugely decorative incarnation of the Baroque genre, replete with gargoyles, asparagus columns and cavorting gremlins. The Dome of Lecce is the main example. Set in the bootheel of Italy, between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, the city is also the perfect starting point from which to explore the Salento region.
Salento is the southeastern-most area of Italy, located at the tip of Puglia. The area has beautiful small towns and fishing villages offering visitors sandy beaches with crystalline waters and amazing food. You can visit the most touristic places such as Otranto, Gallipoli and Santa Maria di Leuca (known as the town where West meets East, at the junction between the Ionian and the Adriatic seas), but also explore lesser-known villages to discover folkloric traditions.
THE AMALFI COAST
The Amalfi Coast has a lot to offer, but this can be synthesized in a few words: it is one long sunny, south-facing balcony overlooking the warm Tyrrhenian Sea. This is the ideal spot for relaxing seaside holidays, especially in spring or autumn. It is no surprise that celebrities love it here. The drive itself is an experience with its slow, winding roads on the edge of the cliff face. There are plenty of boat excursions along the coast allowing you to discover otherwise inaccessible spots and beautiful beaches. Along the Amalfi coast there are also plenty of accommodation options suiting any budget: chic hotels stacked up on the cliffs above the beach at Positano or Ravello, but also more affordable resorts in some of the smaller villages such as Praiano.
Experiencing Italian Food
One could argue that Italian food is the most famous in the world. However, the cliche of pizza and pasta is far from the truth. In fact, Italians live longer in general than most and this is largely due to a varied Mediterranean diet of fresh produce and seafood. Italy is home to some of the best food in the world: regional specialties, fine seasonal delicacies, excellent desserts and drinks. Although, coming back to pizza, the art of its making has even received UNESCO World Heritage status. The best way to cook the original Italian pizza is in a stone oven. Be sure to try this original style, especially if you visit the Naples area.
Each region has its own local specialties that are worthy as a cuisine in their own right, and vegans and vegetarians will find plenty of options. Typically, Italian cuisine is based on the Mediterranean diet, but its ingredients are explored creatively and always used in their season of production. Seasonal vegetables and herbs are the key ingredients in any authentic Italian kitchen, especially in Southern Italy. Spaghetti allo scoglio is an example of how the best mix of fresh ingredients, including homemade pasta, tomatoes, basil, mussels, clams and calamari, create a triumph of flavors.
Italians have also mastered the art of satisfying any sweet tooth. Tiramisu, tartufo and the world’s best artisanal gelato need no further explanation. Let’s not forget the fact that Italians are experts with coffee too, and it would take a library of books to discuss the wines of Italy. It’s worth noting that Italy uses a quality-assurance DOC (controlled designation of origin) method.
LGBTQ+ History of Italy
As is well-known, Italy is one of Europe's great treasure houses of history and art. What is less well-known is that a lot of its history and art has LGBTQ+ sides, from Julius Caesar to The White Lotus. There are LGBTQ+ stories behind many famous monuments, such as Michelangelo's David or Rome's Pantheon—built by the Emperor Hadrian, whose great love was a young man from modern-day Turkey called Antinous, busts and statues of whom also appear in every major art museum in Italy (and many around the world as well). There are also many wonderful lesser-known places where an interest in LGBTQ+ history could lead you, such as Florence's Bargello Museum, which contains an earlier Renaissance statue of David by the artist Donatello—the first free-standing male nude since Classical Antiquity, and a super-sexy homoerotic nude at that. A number of places in Rome are also associated with Sweden's Queen Christina, a gender-queer and lesbian monarch of the 17th century who abdicated her throne over her refusal to get married (to a man) and today is mainly known from her portrayal by Greta Garbo. Find out more about Italy's LGBTQ+ history, and where to look for it, by watching this video!
Safety Considerations for LGBTQ+ visitors to Italy
Same-sex civil unions in Italy were legally recognized in 2016. This was considered an important step forward to the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people into the Italian society. In general, the public opinion regarding LGBTQ+ people has become more and more accepting, especially in the last few decades. Recent research has also shown a more accepting attitude toward transgender people. Nowadays travel in Italy is regarded as safe all over the country. Due to the Catholic heritage, public displays of affection are not a frequent sight, especially in small towns and villages, while in big cities such as Rome and Milan, they are more common and accepted.
LGBTQ+ Travel Tips for Italy
Summer is the best season for LGBTQ+ travelers to visit Italy. From June to September it is Pride season, which is now celebrated all over the country in many cities. Although the biggest celebrations are still held in Milan and Rome, every Italian region throws popular Pride gatherings. Bologna and Turin are very gay-friendly destinations in northern Italy. The latter also hosts an interesting LGBTQ+ film festival every year in April, the Lovers Film Festival. One of the most gay-friendly areas in Southern Italy is Puglia, including the beachside town of Gallipoli, which has recently because a popular destination for LGBTQ+ locals.
About the Author
Sergio Scardia is the co-founder of Italy Gay Travels, a company organizing LGBTQ+ group trips in Italy. Italian himself, he lived many years abroad (Los Angeles, Madrid, London) and traveled all over the world with his own personal travel blog, before returning to Puglia, his home region, with the intention of making the rainbow shine all over Italy, even bigger and even brighter!