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Italy is a holiday heavyweight. With iconic history, artistic masterpieces, a dreamy Mediterranean coastline and perhaps the world's best food, this diverse country is a feast for all the senses.
No matter where you land on the boot, iconic cities await. Intoxicating Rome is a living museum, where crumbling ruins rub shoulders with era-spanning monuments. Retrace the steps of gladiators at the spectacular Colosseum, stroll through Roman Forum, and marvel at the Parthenon.
Head to Florence for some of the world’s most famous artworks – Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Giorgio Vasari’s Last Judgement – or romantic Venice with its canals, bridges, gondolas and gelato. Then there’s Naples, Palermo, Milan, Turin… the list goes on and on.
For the classic idea of Italy, picturesque Tuscany takes some beating. Tour vineyards, feast on hearty food in farmhouses and explore charming hilltop towns such as San Gimignano. You can hire a car and spend a relaxing week driving through a landscape dotted with olive and cypress trees.
If you’re travelling with the family, up the cool points by climbing an active volcano in Sicily, soaking up the rays in sun-kissed Sorrento or booking an all-inclusive holiday in the lakes of Como, Garda or Maggiore. If winter sports are more for you, the Dolomites and Italian Alps have impressive slopes and mountains of après ski pasta.
Beach holidays more your bag? Italy does them too. From Liguria in the northwest to the island of Sardinia, sit back with an espresso or Aperol spritz and indulge – this is the land of la dolce vita, after all.
Italy is very child friendly, with bambini welcomed in many restaurants and resorts. Sicily, the large island off the toe of Italy, is especially well set up for families. At Taormina, on the east coast, there are coves with sandy beaches connected to the historic centre by cable car. Nearby, children can experience the thrill of an active volcano on a visit to Mount Etna.
The lakes, in the north of Italy, have mountain hikes and lake swimming – there’s also Gardaland Resort, a theme park with three hotels, and Acquasplash Franciacorta waterpark. With the option to visit lakeside towns via boat or ferry, even getting around can be an adventure for little ones.
While places such as Venice, Florence and Cinque Terre have a reputation for luxury, they also have affordable accommodation, just like the rest of Italy. Rome is a good choice if you’re on a tight budget, with cheap hostels with cooking facilities, free breakfast and many free activities around the city.
As well as being a great place to explore in its own right, Verona is also a good option for cheap holidays because it’s close to Venice. Regular trains connect the two, but accommodation is typically cheaper in Verona.
Umbria, in central Italy, has rolling countryside, medieval hilltop towns, and great food and is more affordable than better-known Tuscany.
Each region (and many nonne) would argue their case, but Bologna is known as the food capital of Italy. The northern city is home to ragu (don't call it spaghetti Bolognese), tortellini in broth and a delicious mortadella sausage. Nearby Modena and Parma, famous for balsamic vinegar and cured ham, complete the foodie triangle.
Tuscany has hearty cuisine including bistecca alla Fiorentina, a juicy steak from Florence. One of Europe's most renowned wine regions, Tuscany is the place for a good glass of Chianti and long evening meals.
Chic and cosmopolitan, Milan has high-end nightclubs, cocktail bars and music venues bringing all the glamour. The Navigli district is one of the best spots for a night out, with brewpubs and cocktail bars. Accommodation ranges from stylish hotels to comfortable hostels.
If you want something more laidback, Rome likes to party with a more casual vibe. There are clubs for electronic, dance and salsa music, and central Testaccio is the place for secret cocktail bars, bistro pubs and family-run restaurants.
The birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is all about culture. The Uffizi Gallery is famous for its collection of sculptures and paintings, including the Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. The Accademia Gallery is the home of Michelangelo's David, and the magnificent dome of Florence's cathedral is a highlight on the skyline.
Rome, the Eternal City, has its own artistic treasures, not least the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. For ancient culture, it is also hard to beat, with the landmark Colosseum and Roman Forum.
Venice is an ideal weekend break – those romantic gondola cruises are hard to resist. Its streets are free of car traffic, and you can easily walk between famous sites, such as Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge.
While Rome and Florence have more than enough to see in a weekend break, a more relaxed place to visit is Turin. The cobbled streets and baroque buildings draw fewer tourists, and it’s a convenient base for the ski slopes in the surrounding Italian Alps.
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