Where to go for a Long Weekend in Italy
Think of city breaks in Italy and Rome, Venice, Milan, or Florence usually come to mind. But the country is full of many other stunning, historic cities, which you can easily reach via direct flights from the UK. Here are 11 gems that are ideal destinations for a long weekend in Italy.
This historic city in the Veneto region may be associated with Shakespeare's plays, and is home to the famous Juliet's Balcony, but is full of other attractions. Within its compact centre you'll find the Verona Arena, a Roman amphitheatre — which today hosts events including a summer opera festival — and the Medieval Castelvecchio fort. There's also Piazza delle Erbe, a beautiful square with historic buildings, while you can take in lovely views along the Adige River from the city's bridges, which include the ancient Ponte Pietra. You could combine your Verona city break with a trip out to Sirmione on Lake Garda, about an hour away by public transport.
The capital of Emilia-Romagna is full of magnificent architecture, narrow lanes, and wide-open piazzas all waiting to be explored on a city break. Bologna's main square, Piazza Maggiore, is home to the Basilica of San Petronio. Construction of the church began in the 14th century, yet its façade remains incomplete. There are many other stunning buildings, including the Palazzo del Podestà, nearby, while Piazza del Nettuno contains the Fountain of Neptune. You can stroll along the city's 40 kilometres of porticoes, climb Torre Asinelli for extensive views, and visit the National Art Gallery, which contains works by the likes of Giotto and Raphael.
Squeezed in between the mountains of Liguria and the Mediterranean, the historic port city of Genoa spectacularly sprawls up the hillsides. You can lose yourself in the city's maze of alleyways before emerging in open squares in front of Renaissance architecture, and stroll beneath the porticoes of the city's main shopping street, Via XX Settembre. Head down to the Old Port (Porto Antico), where you’ll find yachts, restaurants, and an aquarium, as well as Italy's largest maritime museum, the Galata Museo del Mare, which details the city's seafaring past, including its links to Christopher Columbus. For some fresh air, walk along the Corso Italia's promenade, with pretty villas on one side and Mediterranean beaches on the other.
Many visitors head to Pisa only to see the Leaning Tower, or as a convenient flight connection to other parts of Tuscany, but there's plenty more to merit a weekend in the city. Right next to the tower you'll find architectural marvels like the stunning Baptistry of St John and the Duomo, as well as the nearby city walls. It's best to visit early in the morning to avoid the coach tours, then head off to seek out quieter spots, like the bridges over the Arno River with their waterfront views, Piazza della Pera, where you can sip a coffee in relative peace, and the huge San Rossore natural park, home to many woodland trails.
Umbria's capital has a bewildering array of historic sights. Its 14th-century hilltop centre is surrounded by Etruscan inner walls and Medieval outer walls, along with their well-preserved gates. Other highlights include the Palazzo dei Priori, a Gothic palace that houses the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, where you can browse more than 3000 works spread through 40 rooms. For stunning views across the city and out to the Umbrian hills, head to the top of the remains of Rocca Paolina, a Renaissance fortress built for Pope Paul III. You can also explore the fascinating underground part of the fort.
The countless attractions of Turin’s compact centre are only 35 minutes by bus from the airport, so it's easy to fit a lot into a city break. There's the 17th-century Palazzo Reale, with its collection of art and antiquities, or you can visit Museo Egizio, full of ancient Egyptian treasures. Step inside the Mole Antonelliana — Turin's most prominent landmark — to visit the National Museum of Cinema, or learn the importance of the motor industry to the city at the National Automobile Museum. When you need to take a break, head to the cafés on Piazza San Carlo or make time for quiet contemplation in Turin Cathedral, with its Renaissance and Baroque architecture.
Padua is about an hour by public transport from Treviso and Marco Polo airports, so as well as being a short break destination in its own right, it's also somewhere you can include as a side trip on a mini break in Venice. Padua's main landmark is the Basilica di Sant’Antonio; construction began on the church in the 1200s, and it carries several architectural styles including a number of Byzantine domes. Among the city's other attractions, Cappella degli Scrovegni, a chapel that's home to sublime frescoes designed by Giotto, is a must-see. There’s also the Piazza dei Signori, with its clock tower, restaurants, shops, and cafés, as well as regular markets.
Situated on Italy’s southeast coast in Puglia, Bari has a wonderful collection of historic architecture. The warren-like network of alleyways of the Old Town, Bari Vecchia, is home to the Basilica of San Nicola, a 12th-century Romanesque church the contains the tomb of Saint Nicholas. Other sights include Bari Castle, built by the Normans, and the charming Piazza Mercantile. Contrasting Bari Vecchia is the grid-like layout of the more modern part of town, which offers plenty of opportunities to shop (major shopping streets include Via Sparano), as well as a multitude of cafés, bars, and restaurants. You can also take a stroll along the Lungomare Nazario Sauro promenade on the Adriatic seafront.
This bustling port city is full of character and is ideal for a short break in Sicily. Palermo is packed with beautiful architecture, including Palermo Cathedral, whose exterior displays a number of influences, including Moorish (it was for a while used as a mosque) and Renaissance. You can also marvel at the mosaics and frescoes inside La Martorana church. Don't miss the city's vibrant food markets for a slice of local life and some delicious street food. But for a truly bizarre and macabre experience, head to Capuchin Monastery’s catacombs, where the mummified remains of more than 1000 monks and members of the local aristocracy are on display. They date from the 15th to early 20th centuries, and many were preserved wearing their original clothes.
While Milan is a major city break destination, nearby Bergamo — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — is a smaller alternative that's packed full of charm and history. Things to do include taking the cable car to the upper town, where you can walk along the Venetian Walls, built between the 16th and 17th centuries. Take some time out to grab a coffee or an ice cream down in Piazza Vecchia and admire the surrounding buildings including the 12th-century Palazzo della Ragione. You can also see works by the likes of Raphael, Botticelli, and Rubens at the Accademia Carrara. It's easy to get to Bergamo: fly to Milan Bergamo Airport, from where it's a 20-minute bus journey.
Instead of going on a Naples city break, consider spending a weekend in Sorrento. It's a lovely setting, and you’ll be within easy reach of some of the area's best attractions. Capri is a 20-minute ferry journey away, while it takes about an hour to reach the Roman ruins of Pompeii by train. You could also climb Vesuvius — private bus companies run tourists from Pompeii up to the car park, from where it's about a 30-minute walk to the crater — and hire a car and tackle one of the world’s most famous drives along the Amalfi coast. Sorrento itself has a pretty Old Town, and Marina Grande fishing port is a great place for a seafood lunch. Sorrento is about 90 minutes by public transport from Naples International Airport.
Nick Elvin contributed to this post.