Italian cities like Rome, Venice and Florence are the quintessential destinations for a vacation in Italy, and for good reason. But, these cities are tourist hot spots and the crowds that they attract reflect their popularity. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, consider traveling to southern Italy for other fascinating cities that are rich with history and culture. You’ll find that these cities in southern Italy have as much to offer as their more well-known counterparts in the north, but without the same crowds. Here are 5 cities you never thought to visit in Italy.
5 Cities You Never Thought To Visit
in Southern Italy
Sorrento is the first city along the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy. From Naples, it is fairly easy to get to from the airport or train station, and doesn’t have the single-lane hairpin turns like you’ll find further south along the coast. Between the ease of travel and proximity to major transportation, Sorrento is a fantastic option for exploring southern Italy.
Sorrento has spectacular views and is best known for its lemon groves and limoncello. A fruitful tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation, Limoncello di Sorrenti is a specialty only considered genuine when the lemons are grown and the liqueur is made along the Sorrento peninsula. While many tourists visit Italy to taste wine, don’t miss out on the chance to taste limoncello and go on a lemon tour in Sorrento.
While in Sorrento take advantage of the aquamarine waters of southern Italy and do some underwater diving. Between the Vervece Island Dive Site and the Baths of Regina Giovanna, you’ll see a submerged statue of the Madonna or the ruins of a Roman Villa amongst crystal blue waters, coral, fish, and other sea life.
If you’re at all interested in natural history, geology or the like, Pompeii is a must-see in southern Italy. Pompeii was an ancient Roman city located south of modern-day Naples. In the early hours of August 24, 79 AD, nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted. While the people of Pompeii were accustomed to earthquakes, the small explosion of the initial eruption went unheeded.
Over the course of the next two days, these residents of southern Italy were submerged under a tower of debris and pelted with chunks of pumice and other rocks. Many of their buildings collapsed as poison gas and pulverized rock swallowed everything in the path of the surge from the volcano to the sea.
What remains in southern Italy approximately 25 minutes from Naples, are the ruins of Pompeii. Archeologists and explorers returned to Pompeii in 1748 and once they dug and sifted through the ashes, they found a well-preserved Roman city. The dig site revealed buildings still intact, skeletons frozen right where they’d collapsed and household goods from villas, bathhouses, brothels and taverns that gave historians a remarkable look at life in the Classical era.
If you do visit Pompeii, buy a ticket in advance. Priority entrance is given to ticket-holders and tour guides so if you’re without a ticket and the lines are long, be prepared to wait. For the adventurous at heart, you can also hike up to the volcano and walk along its rim from April thru mid-November. If you’re visiting during the off-season (October-March), steer clear of Pompeii on the first Sunday of the month when admission is free and the queue to get in is miles long.
Similar to Pompeii, Herculaneum is an ancient city that sits in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius and was destroyed by the massive eruption in 79 AD. A less popular destination, but no less remarkable, Herculaneum is a great alternative to Pompeii in southern Italy. Herculaneum was a wealthy village and while Pompeii was being pummeled by ash and rock, the residents of Herculaneum had more time to evacuate and consequently, the loss of life there was less severe.
What makes Herculaneum a must-see, especially if you are fascinated by ancient history and art, are the frescoes and mosaics that were preserved through excavations that began in 1738. In addition, the excavations revealed a massive library of Roman manuscripts known as the Herculaneum Papyri.
The Herculaneum Papyri manuscripts contain Greek philosophical texts and are significant in that they come from the only surviving library from antiquity that exists in its entirety. It’s quite possible that had Mount Vesuvius not erupted and covered Herculaneum in volcanic debris, these papyri would not have otherwise survived the Mediterranean climate of southern Italy.
A tip for visiting Herculaneum- if you plan to visit both Pompeii and Herculaneum, buy a combo ticket to save money. Fortunately, Herculaneum is transit adjacent so whether you’re traveling from Pompeii, Sorrento, or Naples, you can do so easily by keeping an eye out for Ercolano Station on the Circumvesuviana underground trains.
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Along the coastline of southern Italy sits the Ancient Greek city of Paestum. Yep, you read that right. Before the Romans colonized Italy, the Greeks expanded into southern Italy in the eighth century BC. They founded agrarian colonies and in Paestum, founded Poseidonia given the city’s proximity to the sea. It wasn’t until the Romans later conquered it that the city was renamed Paestum.
Paestum boasts one of the most well-preserved Ancient Greek sites in the Italian mainland and three of the world’s most complete Doric temples from approximately 600 to 450 BC. In Paestum, the Basilica of Hera, the Temple of Ceres, and the Temple of Neptune stand tall and magnificent amongst the ruins of the city.
Outside the walls of the archeological site, you’ll find a museum which houses artifacts and treasures unearthed throughout the many digs that have taken place in this area of southern Italy. It’s recommended to grab a self-guided audio tour headset from the museum for exploring the ruins.
While in Paestum, you can also tour Buffalo Farms, which is very much a specialty of southern Italy. At these farms, you can sample fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese and if you have access to a kitchen while on vacation, bring back some buffalo meat. For a fun family-friendly excursion, check out the Il Tempio Buffalo Farm.
Of all of the cities in southern Italy, Positano is the one that’s most likely on your list. Positano is a quintessential seaside city along the Mediterranean, the kind that you see in movies and postcards. A visit to Positano is a chance to live out your Italian fantasy, whether that’s sunbathing, soaking in the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, or eating some of the finest seafood cuisine in southern Italy.
Positano has lots of tourist shops selling high priced souvenirs. Nevertheless, it is still fun to climb the stairs of the village and pop in and out of the stores to see what is trending on the Mediterranean. There are plenty of rooftop and open-air restaurants to have an Aperol Spritz, that orange-colored aperitif common on every bar menu in Italy.
If you’re staying a few days in Positano, consider chartering a private boat (really a pontoon) and indulge your senses by visiting every village and cove along the Amalfi Coast by water. Many tourists attempt a day trip to Capri and the Farraglioni Rocks, but even by boat, those can become a traffic jam. There are similar coves and grottos south of Positano which makes for a much more relaxed and picturesque day.
Finally, for another very relaxing and very Positano thing to do, walk the Via Positanesi d’America. This paved path hugs the cliffs and takes you from the busy Positano beaches to some of the more quieter coves to the North. With an advance reservation, you can book a beach chair and umbrella and relax to the sound of waves lapping the shore. Don’t forget to pop-up from the chair every once in a while for some beachcombing, where you’ll find tons of sea glass to bring home as a souvenir of your time spent in Positano.
A vacation to southern Italy is an entirely different vacation experience than vacationing to the more popular cities to the north. However, if you can add an extra couple of days to your trip, any one of these 5 cities, villages, or towns will add a different dimension and appeal to your Italian vacation. As with anywhere in Europe, consider traveling in the off-season (October-May) to avoid large tourist crowds for un Buon Viaggio In Italy.
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