9 under-the-radar destinations in Italy you need to visit
With classical cities, idyllic islands, endless sunshine and a world-renowned gastronomy scene, Italy is a destination to visit again and again.
The ideal country for both first-time travelers and seasoned road warriors, Italy has something for everyone.
If this is your first Italian holiday, make sure to visit the most popular spots like Rome, Florence and the Amalfi Coast. However, if you’ve already seen Italy's most popular destinations and attractions, it might be time to check out lesser-known spots.
There are way too many to name in just one article, but here are nine of the most underrated spots that might inspire you to hop on a flight to Italy.
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Though hardly a secret, the island of Sardinia offers just about everything you could want from an Italian escape.
It's home to pristine white-sand beaches like Costa Smeralda, as well as plenty of daytrip-friendly towns (Alghero, Castelsardo, Bosa).
In the capital city, Cagliari, expect a culture-packed stay — discovering pockets of history in the Castello district, admiring the Duomo di Cagliari and the medieval Castle of San Michele.
It's one hour, 10 minutes by plane from Rome to Sardinia, so it's not totally impossible to make the trip after a city break in the capital — but it's also worthy of your entire holiday's focus.
Bonus? Northern Sardinia is a 50-minute ferry ride from another gem of an island — Corsica in France.
This southern Italian hub is certainly famous, but interestingly not as popular with foreign tourists as many other big-name destinations.
In many ways, the less explored side of Naples is still something of a secret for those wanting a taste of real Italian culture.
Naples is one of the most interesting Italian cities to explore. Visit the vineyards of the looming volcano Mount Vesuvius, sample affordable southern Italian cuisine (it’s the birthplace of pizza) and visit the city’s numerous cultural attractions (there are seven castles and over 400 churches).
Plus, it’s the gateway to the picturesque Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri for those looking to add a more traditional Italy tourist experience to their Naples vacation.
Related: 5 reasons to visit Naples, Italy
If you want Tuscany vibes but have already been, Umbria should be next on your list. The landlocked region has the best of Tuscany without the tourists and the high prices.
Similar to that of Tuscany, the dense foliage of Umbria is perfect for autumnal activities like wine tasting and truffle hunting.
In fact, grapes in this region are particularly special. Sample white wines made with the local grechetto grape or extra-tannic reds made from the sagrantino grape. Visitors can also explore hilltop medieval villages, take cooking classes or get outside by hiking, rafting or cycling.
Ischia and Procida
Move over, Capri. Ischia is also a short ferry ride from Naples and the Amalfi Coast. However, it's an island that is frequented by Italian visitors, not international tourists.
More affordable, less touristy and just as gorgeous as Capri, the Italian island features a number of thermal pools and hot springs, both black- and white-sand beaches and the towering Aragonese Castle.
For even more Italian charm, hop over to the nearby tiny island of Procida. Its pastel-colored harbor is an immediate draw. It’s no wonder the island has been deemed Italy’s Capital of Culture (the first island to win the title) for 2022.
Fan of Italian food? Bologna’s delicious ragu, ragu alla Bolognese, is a meat-based tomato sauce that hails from the local area.
Don’t expect to pair it with spaghetti in this town, though. Locals prefer to pair it with tagliatelle, a flatter, ribbon-style pasta, or make lasagna verdi alla Bolognese, which is a lasagna made with the sauce and spinach pasta and without ricotta.
Besides eating, there’s plenty to do in this small city, like admiring the UNESCO-recognized porticoes, which are covered, arched walkways (some date back to the Middle Ages).
The city also has some canals, mainly located in an area dubbed "Little Venice."
Related: From Bologna to Bari: 5 of Italy’s best hidden-gem cities
An easy daytrip from Milan, Bergamo‘s Citta Alta is a hilltop historic paradise, encircled in fog and Venetian walls. The old city is like a step back in time, with its cobbled streets, centuries-old churches and the signature bell tower in Piazza Vecchia.
Wandering the city without a plan is the best way to pass the time. Weave through the hilly streets, stop at small artisan boutiques and visit the town’s cathedral.
Make sure to snack on a polenta e osei dessert, which is a corn-based pastry filled with rum and hazelnut cream.
Val di Noto, Sicily
The Baroque towns of Sicily’s Val di Noto (Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli) are some of the island’s most charming destinations — and they’re all considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
However, visiting this area will require a car, and you’ll have to drag yourself away from Taormina’s charm or Palermo’s Arab-Norman architectural sites.
You don’t have to see each and every town, but do spend at least a day or two climbing the hills of the Val di Noto, stopping to enjoy the dramatic Baroque flavor of these towns.
If you’re itching to see Rome but also need a little island time, consider a visit to Ponza, the largest of the Pontine Islands. From Rome, take a train ride and then a hydrofoil boat from the port of Anzio. A few hours later you’ll be exploring Ponza’s rocky cliffs and sea caves.
Ponza is often compared to the Amalfi Coast — but without the hordes of international tourists or the accompanying exorbitant prices.
The island’s clear waters are a draw for divers, but those wanting to stay on dry land can hike, visit Roman ruins or traverse the island’s many beach coves by boat or scooter rental.
Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta and Lake Iseo
Lake Como and Lake Garda get all the fame. However, northern Italy has many other lakes that are relaxing and beautiful spots for a getaway without too many tourists.
Lake Maggiore actually spans two countries, Italy and Switzerland, offering a distinct Swiss-inspired appeal. There are a number of gardens, so anyone who loves a scenic floral stroll should head to this lake.
Lake Orta is one of Italy’s smaller lakes often frequented by the Italian creative set. Orta oozes charm and provides artistic inspiration thanks to San Guilio, a tiny, scenic island that sits in the lake.
Lake Iseo is where you should really go to hide from tourists. Iseo’s main island, Monte Isola, is so stunning that it made our list of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
Whether you want to experience its most famous attractions or get off the beaten path, Italy has so much to offer visitors. Some of the best Italian vacations combine doing something touristy with something more underrated to really take in the local culture.
Our top tips? Pair Rome with Ponza, Naples with the Amalfi Coast, Milan with the northern lakes or Capri with Ischia. These options allow visitors the chance to absorb all the best cuisine, monuments, attractions and local traditions Italy has to offer.
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