Welcome to Italy! Italy is known for having some of the world’s greatest works of art, architecture and food! Yes, Italy has the ability to inspire us like no other place! Italy ranks at the top for having UNESCO World Heritage sites – with 55 in total. That places them at the top of the list, tied in first place with China. All of these places are recognized for their natural, historic and cultural significance, selected by representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a way to preserve and protect them for future generations. Let’s take a look at some of the best UNESCO sites in Italy.
Best UNESCO Sites in Italy
Contributed by Emily from Wander-Lush
One of Italy’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites that fall under the ‘Natural’ category is Isole Eolie or the Aeolian Islands. This is an archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea off Sicily’s northwest coast. The seven islands that comprise the chain are all volcanic in origin and include Stromboli, an active volcano. It’s their significance to volcanology (the study of volcanoes) that prompted UNESCO to inscribe the islands in 2000.
Visiting the Aeolian Islands today, one can witness the power of what UNESCO describes as ‘volcanic island-building and destruction’ up close. Most notably in the dormant craters and half-collapsed cones that give the islands their exquisite shapes. Each one is different: Salina, the ‘green island’, has rich mineral soils perfect for cultivating wine grapes and capers, while Vulcano has sulphurous mud baths, and Stromboli its world-famous bubbling crater that can be summited as part of a guided trek.
Alongside divine landscapes, the islands have a unique culture and pace of life that makes them a total contrast to the rest of Italy.
Experience: Sunset Trekking at Sciara Del Fuoco. Set off on a 5 hours guided sunset hike on the Stromboli volcano. Discover a small island of fire in the large blue sea, and enjoy fantastic views of the beautiful surrounding landscape. Click here for more information.
Contributed by Maria & Katerina of It’s All Trip To Me
No trip to the region of Puglia in Southern Italy is complete without a visit to the fairytale-like town of Alberobello. It lies in the Itria Valley, Italy’s so-called Trulli zone. The Trulli are century-old limestone buildings with conical roofs. There are Trulli everywhere in Itria Valley. However, Alberobello boasts the highest concentration of Trulli and the best-preserved examples of these architectural wonders in the region.
This is why the Trulli of Alberobello has been designated as an Italy UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Although a compact town, Alberobello is home to more than 1500 trulli spread across two neighbourhoods: Rione Monti and Aia Piccola.
UNESCO recognized the cultural significance of the Trulli of Alberobello as a fine example of a unique building technique that’s been around the Mediterranean for thousands of years. This dry-stone building tradition dates back to prehistoric times. Yet what’s utterly impressive about the Trulli of Alberobello is that these constructions are still inhabited, which makes them an outstanding example of a Historic Urban Landscape.
Experience: History Walking Tour with Olive Oil Tasting. Take a tour to discover the enchanting village of Alberobello walking past its conical-shaped houses named “trulli”. A local guide will introduce you to the history of this unique place. Click here for more info.
Contributed by Jackie Rezk of Jou Jou Travels
The Amalfi Coast is a beautiful coastline in southern Italy stretching 55 km and has over 100 beaches dating back to the 1st century AD. Its unique and beautiful landscape makes it a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a very good reason.
This Italy UNESCO site is comprised of 12 towns with the most popular destinations being Positano, Sorrento, and Amalfi. If you visit be sure to also stop by some of the lesser-known towns as well which include Vietri Sul Mare, Praiano, and Ravello. All of these, carry outstanding beauty with cliff views, stacked pastel buildings, and stunning beaches.
The best things to do include visiting the many gorgeous beaches, taking a boat tour to visit unique places such as the Fiordo di Furore, and indulging in fabulous food. Be sure to try the lemon-inspired dishes as the area specializes in the production of lemons.
Archaeological Area of Pompei
Contributed by Helen of Helen On Her Holidays
Pompeii is a huge archaeological site just south of Naples, in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. It was a thriving Roman city, but on 24 August AD79, Vesuvius erupted. Pompeii was covered in a thick layer of volcanic rocks and ash which hit the city at 160 kilometres per hour. The ruins of the city lay hidden for nearly 2000 years before being rediscovered.
Visiting Pompeii today, you get a real sense of what life was like for all levels of society in a Roman town – from takeaways to civic buildings, extravagant homes and brothels. The upmarket town of Herculaneum was on the other side of Vesuvius and was destroyed not by rocks but by superheated gas. Because of this, it’s better-preserved than Pompeii and well worth a visit.
The two villas at Torre Annunziata show two dimensions of Roman life. One villa, known as Villa Poppaea, is very large, with stunning, well-preserved wall paintings. The other is more rustic and down to earth, with spaces for manufacturing and storage.
Experience: Discover Pompeii with an archaeologist on a small-group or private tour. Skip the ticket line and explore the excavations while listening to anecdotes. Click here for more info.
Cinque Terre to Porto Venere
Contributed by Chris at Explore Now or Never
Italy’s scenic Ligurian coast between Porto Venere and Cinque Terre is recognized by UNESCO for outstanding and unusual natural beauty. This is an area that was inaccessible—except by sea—until just a few decades ago when travel writer Rick Steves brought it to fame and tourism. The little seaside village of Porto Venere makes a great first stop on a day trip to its more famous cousin, the Cinque Terre.
By visiting Porto Venere first and arriving in the Cinque Terre later, travellers can skip the crush of tourists and cruise ships that dock there. The Gothic Church of St. Peter on a rocky outcrop by the sea and Castello Dorla—a clifftop fortress—makes a scenic stop. Visit Lord Byron’s Grotto, named after the famous poet. Cinque Terre is comprised of five villages built on steep stone terraces that tower over the sea. These hardy communities have tended olive trees on terraces for centuries here. Frequent trains make it easy to hop on and off for a meal or a walk in each of the villages. Hikers can walk between them. Meander the steep spine of Riomaggiore and sip a sunset cocktail in Cinque Terre’s crown jewel, Vernazza. The Ligurian coast is magical.
Read more | Check out my guide to The 5 Villages of Cinque Terre
Historic City Centre of Florence
Contributed by Zoe of Together in Transit
For a UNESCO historical city centre, Florence should be high on your list. Located in the Tuscany region of Italy, it’s beautiful to visit for those who are in love and who enjoy local Italian cuisine. But more importantly for those who enjoy spending hours in beautiful museums, and art galleries and seeing historical interest points. Such as the famously known Uffizi Gallery as a top highlight.
Being on the Italy UNESCO World Heritage list since 1982, Florence is famously known for renaissance art and rich history. With the city still surrounded by the ruins of its 14th-century walls. Within the historical centre, walk the cobblestoned streets and alleyways around the beautiful buildings and local squares at your own pace to take it all in. Immerse yourself into the local culture too, by spending time in the churches and towers such as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
All combined together, the history, culture, beautiful architecture and famously known artworks (Michelangelo and Giotto to name two) located here creates the status of a World Heritage site – and well worth your visit!
Read more | check out my guide to First Timers to Florence – Top Things to Do
Historic City Centre of Naples
Contributed by Noel Morata of Oahu Travel Now
Naples’ rich trading history and culture are why this city is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its origins date back to the 9th century B.C., subsequently re-established as Neapolis (or New City) in 470 B.C. Therefore, it is one of the most ancient cities in Europe. The historic city centre, has impressive architecture, especially in Castel Nuovo and the church of Santa Chiara. Roam here and discover other treasures like the catacombs, Via San Gregorio Armeno (or Christmas Alley) and Bourbon Tunnel. As well, many museums tell the story of the early Greek, Egyptian and Roman influences.
People either love or hate Naples. It’s a city that is well-lived in, gritty and noisy. But it’s also vibrant, colourful, edgy and full of life. Taste some of the city’s specialties like the famous Neapolitan pizza, Sfogliatelle, deep-fried pizza, Struffoli, Mozzarella en Carrozza and Pasta alla Genovese. So, why not get lost in the historic streets, finding your way is part of the mystery and intrigue of this city.
Historic City Centre of Pienza
Contributed by me
Pienza is a hilltop town sitting in the Val d’Orcia part of southern Tuscany in the Siena region. This historic town built in 1458 became a designated Italy UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 due to its Renaissance architecture and city planning.
The main hub of Pienza is the Piazza Pio II. It’s flanked by the cathedral and three palaces: one for the government, one for the bishop and one for Pope Pio II (the town’s founder). The Pienza Cathedral reflects the late Gothic style of southern German churches while the exterior is pure Renaissance. Next is Palazzo Piccolomini, a Rossellino masterpiece. Palazzo Borgia and Palazzo Vescovile was given by Pius II to Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (the future Pope Alexander VI). This is home to the Diocesan museum. The collection includes local textile work as well as religious artifacts.
While you are touring this Tuscan town, wander the delightful narrow cobbled stone streets, with names of Via dell’Amore (or Love Street) and Via del Bacio (or Kiss Street) and you can’t help but fall in love with this town.
Read more: my article on Touring this Tuscan Town
Historic City Centre of Rome
Contributed by Stéphanie of Bey Of Travel
The Historic centre of Rome is one of the most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage sites in Italy. It stretches from Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venezia and from the east of the Tiber up to Piazza di Spagna.
This site was designated an Italy UNESCO status in 1990 for all the beautiful Renaissance buildings, squares, and monuments in the city center. Places like the Forums, the Pantheon, and the religious and public buildings of papal Rome. Rome became a legendary city due to its rich history and attracts millions of visitors each year.
To save time, get the skip-the-lines entrance ticket that gives you access to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum in one, so you save time and money while visiting the most beautiful places in the city.
Read more | Check out my guide to First Timers to Rome – Top Things to Do
Historic City Centre of Siena
Contributed by Becks of It’s Just Becks
Securing its place on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995, the historical centre of Siena is full to the brim with culture, history and gorgeous architecture. The hilly city dates back hundreds of years BC and is said to have been founded by the sons of Remus (of Romulus and Remus). Since then, the old city walls have become home to the oldest bank in the world, one of the oldest universities and hundreds of gorgeous buildings that line the cobblestone streets.
Taking pride in place in the centre of Siena, Piazza del Campo is home to the world-famous Palio di Siena, a twice-a-year horse race around the piazza. It’s just a short, hilly walk from the impressive piazza to the many sights of the city, including Siena Duomo and Piazza Salimbeni. You can also explore the old city gates, which thousands pass through every year as Siena is, quite deservedly, one of the most visited tourist hotspots in Italy.
Read more: check out my guide to One Perfect Day in Siena
Historic City Centre of Urbino
Contributed by Milijana Gabrić of World Travel Connector
The vast majority of people dream of taking a road trip to Tuscany and visiting the many charming medieval hilltop towns. But not many people know that one of the most spectacular hilltops towns actually lies in the central region of Marche. The jaw-dropping historic Urbino is an architectural masterpiece and a World Heritage Site.
Stunning Urbino and its glorious Palazzo Ducale represent the finest peak of Italian Renaissance art and architecture. Urbino was one of the main hot spots and cultural centers in the Renaissance era. As such, it attracted many notable Renaissance figures and people of strong intellectual and artistic talents who left their mark there. Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca, Luciano Laurana, Donato Bramante and Raphael were among them. Actually, picture-perfect Urbino is the hometown of grand Raphel.
If you are interested in Renaissance art and architecture, and if you want to visit one of the most spectacular medieval walled hilltop towns in Italy and beyond, you need to see marvellous Urbino!
Experience: 2-Hour Private Walking Tour with a certified guide, click here for more information.
Mantua and Sabbioneta
Contributed by Jim Vail of Reflections Enroute
Mantua and Sabbioneta are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List as examples of Renaissance urban and archeological city planning. Both towns have roots in the Roman period with significant renovations and reconstruction taking place during the 15th and 16th centuries. The old city core today is much as it was at the height of the Renaissance.
The must-see site in Mantua is the Ducale Palace. Incredibly beautiful frescoes painted by renowned Renaissance artists Andrea Mantegna and Pisanello adorn the walls and ceilings of the splendid palace rooms. Visitors in the summer months might even be lucky enough to watch and listen to a small orchestra performing in one of the ballrooms.
A visit to Mantua and Sabbioneta, in the Po valley, in the north is a must for anyone interested in the Renaissance period in Italy.
Experience: 2-Hour Guided Walking Tour, click here for more information.
Contributed by Audrey of That Backpacker
Located in the southern region of Basilicata, Matera is a sight to behold! Known as the “City of Caves”, Matera has quite literally been dug out of the rock, and visiting will transport you back through time – after all, this is the third-oldest continually inhabited settlement in the world!
Matera has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its ancient cave dwellings which are suspected to be among the first human settlements in Italy. Some activities not to miss include visiting the rupestrian churches carved in stone and covered in beautiful frescoes, touring Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario where you can see how people lived in the Sassi up until the 1950s, and hiking to the caves in Murgia National Park.
But really, when it comes to exploring Matera, the best course of action is to ditch the map and get lost; the city is a maze of zigzagging staircases, steep lanes, and tiny courtyards with adventure lurking at every corner. If this sounds like your kind of place, there are many things to do in Matera.
Experience: 2-Hour Guided Tour of Sassi di Matera, click here for more info.
Contributed by Lori of Travlinmad
The city of Modena in north-central Italy’s Emilia Romagna region is home to Italy’s premier sports car manufacturers (Ferrari and Lamborghini to name a few). Also, several Michelin restaurants that are revving up the Modena food scene can be found here too. But for lovers of history and architecture, the UNESCO World Heritage sites are an even more compelling reason to visit.
In 1997, the town’s main square, Piazza Grande, along with the Modena Cathedral and the spectacular civic tower known as the “Ghirlandina Tower” adjacent to the square has bestowed the honour. Known for being one of the finest examples of Romanesque style in the world, the structures’ quality and architectural detail are exceptional. And it’s no wonder — altogether, the properties took over two centuries to construct (1099-1319). Interestingly, two additional reasons were noted for its inclusion. First, the Cathedral was the first ever documented reuse of ancient remains. And the sites were built in a unique collaboration between the architect (Lanfranco) and sculptor (Wiligelmo). Apparently, a marked shift that recognized the role of the creator in the construction process.
Experience: Skip the line entrance ticket for Ferrari Museum
Contributed by Tjasa Pele of The Travel Memento
With 3300 meters, Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe and one of the world’s most erupting volcanoes. Located in Sicily, it overlooks the second biggest city, Catania, and it definitely is a must-see landmark for everyone travelling to Sicily. You can hike or take a cable car to the peak of the summit and witness Etna’s uniqueness from close up.
Numerous eruptions over the 500,000 years of history have contributed to the formation of the Sicilian east coastline. Even more, the activity of Etna produced many myths and legends in Greek and Roman times. The scientific relevance of volcanic features, such as active and inactive craters, lava flows, ashes, lunar environment, flora and fauna, offers essential cultural and educational value.
Combined with the natural beauty of the volcano, it is no wonder why it was selected as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.
Experience: Mount Etna Morning or Sunset Day Trip with Tasting Local Delicacies, click here for more info
Val di Noto, Sicily
Contributed by Soumya from Stories by Soumya
One of the most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy that you definitely need to add to your Sicily itinerary is the Late Baroque Towns of Val di Noto.
Located in south-eastern Sicily, 8 charming towns – namely Ragusa, Noto, Modica, Scicli, Catania, Palazzolo, Caltagirone, and Militello Val di Catania – were completely rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1693.
Sicilian architects used Italian Baroque for all the reconstruction. What eventually resulted was a beautiful fusion of mainland Baroque elements with abundant local flair – a style that later came to be known as Sicilian Baroque.
As you tour the beautiful towns of Val di Noto, be sure to notice the richly sculpted Baroque surfaces of churches, town halls, buildings and homes. They are adorned with intricate stucco decorations, grinning masks, and winged cherubs. The use of coloured mosaics is plenty. If you don’t have time to visit all eight towns, head to Modica and Noto for the perfect Sicilian Baroque immersion.
Experience: Noto, Modica and Ragusa Ibla Baroque Tour to all the UNESCO sites, click here for the info
Contributed by Martina & Jürgen of Places of Juma
Val d’Orcia is for sure one of the most amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy! Located in the heart of Tuscany, it’s the place where you will find endless rolling fields, dreamlike viewpoints, picturesque cypress avenues, beautiful panoramic roads and charming villages in marvellous Renaissance style. This 60,000-hectare large area has become emblematic of the beauty of a well-managed Renaissance agricultural landscape.
Since 2004, the unique landscape of Val d’Orcia with its many medieval towns, special agriculture and culture, has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Worth visiting is especially the pretty town of Pienza, considered to be the cradle of the Renaissance and located in a breathtaking landscape. But also the other charming hill towns like Montalcino or Montepulciano are really worth seeing!
Venice and its Lagoon
Contributed by Lavina of Continent Hop
The wonderfully romantic destination of Venice. What makes Venice so UNESCO-worthy? It’s harmony between the natural elements of 118 small islands and man’s resolve to populate it.
The city was founded in the 5th century A.D., it was out of the necessity of escaping the Barbarian invasion, making it historically significant. Torcello, Lesolo and Malamocco were the first areas to be completed and populated.
Venice’s lagoon is one of the most outstanding examples of excellent architecture and culture coming together to create a place worth visiting at least once in your lifetime.
Venice was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987. Gondolas and water taxis expertly use the canals here for transportation, and restaurants and hotels are built on sturdy platforms over the lagoon, making the whole destination quite an extraordinary feat.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites by Country
If you found this article interesting, maybe you would like to read more like these in other destinations.
As a holidaymaker…
Visiting Italy, with so much variety can be overwhelming as to what to see and do. Why not let the designated UNESCO sites be your guide in planning your next itinerary? As these places are carefully selected for their historic and cultural significance, and always are worth visiting.