Italy is one of those countries that you’ll return to time and time again - with an ever-growing bucket list of epic activities. Now the thing is, I’m not saying don’t go to Venice and do a gondola ride (I did it twice on two separate occasions with two different lovers, and it was fantastic), or don’t go see the Colosseum (when in Rome, you know?). I’m saying, Italy is a treasure trove of fantastical things to do and I’m here to recommend the ones that are just a bit more off the beaten path.
Whether you’re in the region, this is your first time, or you’ve been here countless, this list has other unexpected and a bit unconventional things that will give you another perspective to la dolce vita. Even for places like the Amalfi Coast - which you may think you have an idea of, have hidden gems left for you to still uncover. Italy is a country that keeps on giving - so use this roundup as your inspiration for your next trip when you want to venture off the beaten path.
1. Uncover the Trulli in Puglia
It’s a unique sight to behold - Trulli are traditional Apulian houses with peculiar conical roofs, and the Southern Italian town of Alberobello is famous for its trulli villages, where you can explore these unique houses and learn about their history and construction.
It makes for a special atmosphere in Alberobello that can be felt as soon as you enter the town. The white-washed, cone-roofed houses and the winding cobblestone streets give the town a unique and charming feel, it's like walking in a fairy tale. The town is full of these houses and walking through the streets of Alberobello is like stepping back into a land that time has forgotten. The trulli are listed as UNESCO World Heritage site, and it's an incredible experience to not only see this kind of architecture but walk through them too.
2. A pink beach in Italy? You read that correctly!
Spiaggia Rosa, or Pink Beach, is located on the island of Budelli in the Maddalena archipelago off the northeastern coast of Sardinia, Italy. What makes it so strangely rare and unique is its pink sand, which is caused by the presence of a type of red algae and microscopic shells that have been ground up and mixed in with the white sand. You’ll blink twice to just process that it’s all real!
It’s no wonder then that the beach is considered one of the most picturesque in the world and is known for its glistening clear waters, unique landscape and the possibility to spot cool marine species like the Mediterranean seagulls and the beyond adorable Loggerhead sea turtle. All of this is part of the Maddalena Archipelago National Park, which is a protected area of natural beauty.
Insider tip: The best way to see Spiaggia Rosa is by boat or kayak, as it is only accessible by sea - you can’t actually step onto the sand itself since it’s protected.
3. Zip through the Amalfi Coast on a Vespa
If you want to see another side of the famed Amalfi Coast… Then experience its romance and dark beauty with a classic Vespa trip! Imagine yourself riding on the back of a classic Vespa, wind in your hair and the Italian sun on your face. The Amalfi Coast is home to some of the most beautiful and picturesque roads in Italy, but what better way to explore the paths that are less touristy and are secrets amongst the locals than on a pastel two-wheeler?
As you ride along the winding roads, you'll be surrounded by the vibrant colours of the Mediterranean sea, the lush greenery and lemons growing off the hills, along with the charming villages that dot the coast. On a Vespa trip with TravelBase, you’ll have the freedom to stop and explore at your own pace, whether it's for a leisurely lunch at a seaside restaurant or to take in the views from a hilltop lookout. You'll pass through charming villages like Positano, Amalfi and Ravello, famous for their colourful houses and tiny streets. Definitely hop off your Vespa at the roadside pitstops to taste some homemade limoncello, a traditional lemon liqueur that is much loved in this region of Italy.
Riding on this iconic Italian mobile through TravelBase Vespa trip is an authentic look into the Amalfi Coast and it's a perfect way to experience the true essence of the region, the freedom and the beauty of the Mediterranean. Travel like a true Italian and check out more info about TravelBase Vespa trip here.
4. Live the legend of Neptune’s Grotto
Nestled on the rugged coast of Sardinia, Italy, lies a secret cave that holds a world of wonder and mystery - the Neptune's Grotto. According to legend, the grotto was once home to the Roman god of the sea, Neptune himself. He is said to have used this cavern as his personal playground, playing with the waves and the marine life that lived within its walls. But don't worry, you don't have to be a god to explore this magical place. The journey to the grotto begins with a short boat ride, as the grotto can only be accessed by sea.
As you approach the cave, you will be greeted by the sight of towering cliffs and the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks. Stepping off the boat, you'll walk down a steep staircase that takes you deep into the heart of the grotto. Once inside, you will be greeted by a wonderland of some of the clearest water ever, colourful stalactites, and stalagmites that sparkle in the sunlight. You'll feel like you've stepped into a different world, a place where time seems to have forgotten itself. In the deeper parts of the cave, the water is so clear that you can see the fish swimming beneath your feet. Neptune's Grotto is truly a natural wonder, a place where the beauty of nature meets the magic of legends.
5. Scuba dive into an underwater world in Baia
For those on the hunt for hidden gems - welcome to the hidden depths of ancient history with a scuba diving adventure in the Underwater Archaeological Park of Baia in Italy! This underwater wonderland is home to the remains of ancient Roman ships and villas that were once the playground of wealthy Roman patricians. Imagine swimming among the ruins of a 2,000-year-old Roman ship, surrounded by schools of colourful fish and the sounds of bubbles from your scuba gear. Utterly dreamy right?
Diving in the Underwater Archaeological Park of Baia is like taking a journey into the mythological lost city of Atlantis. As you explore the ruins, you'll be amazed by the intricate mosaics, statues and other artefacts that have been preserved for thousands of years. The park is home to many ancient Roman ships and villas, including the most famous, Villa of Cicero, which was a luxurious villa of Cicero, a Roman philosopher, lawyer, and statesman. Can you imagine seeing the remains of ancient Roman ships and villas all the while exploring strange artefacts and mosaics that have been preserved for thousands of years? Not only you will be diving in an area rich in history, but also in an area teeming with marine life. The park is situated near a volcanic area that creates a rich biodiversity, from the smallest goby fish to the big groupers, octopuses and moray eels. This is a dive that absolutely will give you a whole new insight into Italy’s famed past.
6. Have you heard of the island of Pantelleria?
This volcanic island off the coast of Sicily is known for its dramatic landscapes, hot springs, and excellent wines. It's a true hidden gem that is less crowded than some of the more popular islands in the area. Also for wine lovers - Pantelleria has its own vineyards, particularly Moscato di Pantelleria, a sweet wine produced on the island. It's a great opportunity to taste this wine and learn about its production during a winery visit.
You can pair it with the local cuisine of Pantelleria, which has Mediterranean influences, with a focus on fresh seafood, local herbs and vegetables. There are also traditional dishes like couscous, which is a staple of the island's cuisine. You wouldn’t think of couscous when it comes to Italy’s food scene, but this comes from the island’s rich history, with influences from the Phoenicians, Arabs, and Normans. And because of these civilizations, you'll find ancient ruins and historical sites, such as the Punic village of Punic, the Saracen Tower, and the Dammuso, the traditional round houses of Pantelleria that are unique to the island.
7. Get away into the beauty of Lake Como from a different perspective
Take a day-trip journey from the bustling city of Milan to the picturesque towns and villages of Lake Como, where beauty and sun-drenched fun awaits. Now, Lake Como may seem like it’s a not much of a hidden gem, but few know about the many villages that dots around the lake where it’s easy to get away from the main crowds. Once you reach Lake Como, you'll be struck by just how clear the blue waters are and be moved by the elegant villas that surround the shores. Bellagio, known as the pearl of Lake Como, with its winding streets, elegant boutiques, and beautiful gardens will charm you, while Varenna, a charming little fishing village on the eastern shore, offers great views over the lake and the surrounding hills. Varenna is one town that you mostly won’t expect on the lake, especially with its medieval castle and waterfront cafes.
For foodies, the region of Lombardy is known for its delicious food and wine (the risotto and polenta are a delight), and the towns along Lake Como are no exception.Try some of the local wines, like the famous Franciacorta sparkling wine or the red wine from the nearby Valtellina valley and indulge yourself. While you’re exploring Lake Como, one of the best things to do is to take a boat cruise for upclose views from the lake, where you'll see Como from a different perspective with all of the mountains peering above it.
8. Make your own homemade gelato and pizza in a cooking class in Rome
Making homemade gelato and taking a pizza cooking class in Rome is an unforgettable and delicious way to immerse yourself in the local Roman culture and cuisine. This is where you'll learn hands-on the traditional techniques used to make authentic Italian gelato. You'll have the chance to use fresh and high-quality ingredients, and learn about the differences between gelato and ice cream, and the history of gelato making. While the pizza-making portion of the class, you'll make your own dough, shape it, and add toppings as you get to be in on the secrets of making a perfect pizza crust, the art of saucing, and all the tips and tricks of the trade.
Cooking is an integral part of Italian culture and by learning how to make gelato and pizza, you'll get a deeper understanding of the country's food heritage. Some of these recipes are passed down through generations and the best part of the cooking class (aside from sipping on wine throughout it)? You’ll get to enjoy the fruits of your labour. enjoy the delicious food you've made at the end with your classmates and instructors.
9. Explore a whole different world in the Matera caves
Ancient Matera is a town in southern Italy known for its ancient cave dwellings, some dating back to prehistoric times. There lies the Matera caves, also known as the Sassi of Matera, a unique and ancient form of cave-dwelling. These caves are carved out of rock and have been used as homes and workplaces for thousands of years. The Sassi of Matera is divided into two parts: the Sasso Caveoso and the Sasso Barisano. The Sasso Caveoso is the older of the two and features a more intricate network of cave dwellings, many of which have been converted into museums, restaurants, and even small hotels! The Sasso Barisano is the newer section and features more spacious and less intricate cave dwellings.
The Sassi of Matera have a rich history and cultural significance, as they were continuously inhabited from the Paleolithic era up to the 1950s, and represent one of the oldest and longest-inhabited human settlements in the world. The Sassi of Matera are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they are considered to be an outstanding example of human creativity and interaction with the environment. You can explore the winding streets and staircases of the Sassi of Matera, as well as the cave churches and chapels. Interested in exploring with a local guide? You can book a tour here, and it’ll include an entrance to the Church of Sant'Antonio Abate and cave houses.
10. Trek the volcanic craters of Mount Etna
Embark on a journey of adventure and discovery, as you trek the craters of Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe. As you set off on your journey, you'll feel the excitement building as you prepare to climb this natural wonder. The trek is no easy feat, with steep and rocky paths, fields of volcanic ash, and an altitude that will test your physical abilities, but as you push on, the thrill of the climb will keep you going.
From lush green forests to fields of volcanic ash, the scenery is constantly changing, offering a visual feast for the eyes as you make your ascent. Then when you reach the summit, you'll be rewarded with breathtaking views - the craters uptop is awe-inspiring. Mount Etna is not just a hike, it's an experience at 2000 meters above sea level. If you want to do a trek with a local guide, you’ll also get to taste some authentic Sicilian delicacies — "cantucci" biscuits and "zibibbo" wine during your mini pitstops on the way up. An outdoor and culinary experience? Now this is what I call a mountain adventure.
11. Test drive a Ferrari 458 in the land where Ferraris were invented
Driving a Ferrari 458 in Maranello, Italy is an experience like no other. The combination of the powerful and finely tuned Ferrari engine, the sleek and aerodynamic design, and the winding roads of the Maranello countryside come together to create an exhilarating and thrilling ride. For car enthusiasts and lovers, the Ferrari 458 is a high-performance sports car, featuring a powerful V8 engine that delivers a top speed of over 200 mph and acceleration from 0-60 mph in just under 3 seconds. In one word: mindblowing.
Its lightweight design and advanced aerodynamics allow for maximum speed and responsiveness on the road, making it a truly exhilarating driving experience. Speaking of roads, the roads in Maranello, the city where the Ferrari factory and the Museum are located, are famous for their winding, hilly terrain and scenic views, making it the perfect place to test the limits of a high-performance sports car like the Ferrari 458. The twisty roads provide the opportunity to push the car to its limits and experience the true power and handling capabilities of the vehicle. Plus, there’s a special significant feeling that comes with driving a Ferrari 458 in Maranello… as it is the home of Ferrari. Maranello is where the cars are designed, manufactured and tested, it's a place where the Ferrari's DNA is rooted and it's where you can truly immerse yourself in the Ferrari world. You can book the experience here and drive the same roads where Ferrari's test drivers put the cars through their paces andl feel like you are a part of the Ferrari family.
12. Attend a mystery play in the town of San Giovanni in Persiceto
The town of San Giovanni in Persiceto, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, is known for its traditional mystery plays, also known as "sacred representations" or "sacred dramas". These plays are a form of religious theatre that have been performed in the town for centuries. The plays are based on biblical stories and are performed during the Easter period.
They are usually performed by local amateur actors in a procession through the town's historical streets. The plays are performed in the local dialect and are accompanied by music, costumes, and special effects. Attending a mystery play in San Giovanni in Persiceto can be a unique and cultural experience if you happen to be here during the season. Watching it unfold, you’ll learn how the plays are a blend of religious devotion and local tradition. This is where you will be able to see how the locals tell their stories and how they have been passed from generation to generation. The plays are usually free since it happens on the street, and the locals of San Giovanni are welcoming and happy to share their traditions and culture with any curious travellers.
13. Trek the majestic mountains of the Dolomites
Picture yourself standing at the base of the Dolomites, a majestic mountain range in northeastern Italy, ready to embark on an epic adventure. As you set off on your trek, the rugged terrain and challenging trails will test your limits, but the sense of accomplishment and thrill you'll feel as you reach the summit is worth it all. As you ascend, the landscape around you will change dramatically, from the jagged peaks and spires to the deep valleys, and alpine meadows of Northern Italy.
You'll find yourself surrounded by some of the most breathtaking natural beauty the world has to offer. Waterfalls and streams will flow alongside you, offering a refreshing break along the way. You’ll have the opportunity to see rare alpine flowers, wild animals, and beautiful birds of prey. The Dolomites offer different hiking routes, from easy to challenging, so you can tailor your experience to your skill level - you can even book a day tour. This is perfect for when you’re limited on time but still want to take in that fresh mountain air.
14. Go where the legacy of art is, the town of Vinci
Step into the legacy of art and discover the charming town of Vinci, the birthplace of one of the most famous figures in history - Leonardo da Vinci. Wander through the winding streets of this Tuscan gem, taking in the rich history and well-preserved architecture that make this town so unique. You can start your journey by visiting the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, where you'll get an up-close look at many of the artist's original drawings and even copies of some of his most famous works like Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Learn about the life and work of this true Renaissance man and understand the incredible influence he had on art and science.
As you explore the town, make sure to check out the Castle of Vinci, a 14th-century fortress that now houses the Civic Museum, filled with works of art and artefacts that illustrate the rich history of the town. The Renaissance palaces and ancient churches that dot the town centre are also a must-see. But the beauty of Vinci doesn't stop at its borders, as you can head out with a Vespa trip into the surrounding Tuscan countryside and discover why this region is famous for its stunning landscapes, dotted with vineyards, olive groves, and cypress trees.
15. Take a hot air balloon ride over the Val d'Orcia
The Val d'Orcia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tuscany known for its rolling hills and picturesque Medevil villages. A hot air balloon ride will give you a unique perspective of the landscape, and the experience is unforgettable!
Soar high above the postcard-like landscapes of the Val d'Orcia and imagine the feeling of peace and serenity as you float effortlessly in a hot air balloon, surrounded by nothing but the quiet of the natural world and the breathtaking views below. As you rise higher and higher into the sky, you'll see the endless Tuscan hills, vineyards, olive groves and charming medieval towns and villages of the Val d'Orcia from a completely new perspective. The natural beauty of the region will take your breath away and you'll be able to appreciate it in a way that's not possible from the ground. It’s a chance to see familiar sights in a whole new light… The panoramic views, the light and the colours all come together to make it perfect for photography enthusiasts. Riding a hot air balloon is not only an adventure but also an opportunity to disconnect from the world below and step out of your comfort zone, try something new and experience the tranquillity and serenity of the natural world.
16. If you dare, step into the Catacombs of Naples
Are you ready to explore the depths of history and uncover the secrets of the past like an adventure hero? Then sink into the Catacombs of Naples. These underground tombs and subterranean cemeteries, dating back to the early Christians, will take you on an underground journey that you won't forget.
As you descend deep into the depths of the earth, you'll feel like you're Indiana Jones. The dimly lit tunnels and narrow passageways will lead you through a maze of underground tombs, where the bones of thousands of early Christians rest. The eerie silence will be broken only by the sound of your footsteps and the occasional drip of water. As you explore the catacombs, you'll discover ancient frescoes and inscriptions, a window into the past of early Christianity in the area. The underground labyrinth is also home to a number of chapels, including the Crypt of the Original, which is believed to be the site where Saint Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, was buried. You can reserve a spot on the guided tour through the eerie Catacombs of Naples here.
17. Truffle hunt with your own insider guide in Italy
Truffle hunting in Italy is an exciting adventure that will take your taste buds on a wild ride! Each hunt usually starts with waking up early in the wee morning, surrounded by the beautiful Italian countryside, and embarking on a quest to find the elusive truffle. You can do this in certain regions of Italy, particularly in Tuscany, Piedmont, and Umbria. Guided by skilled truffle hunters and their trusty truffle-sniffing dogs or pigs, you'll set off into the woods in search of the rare and delicious fungi.
The thrill of the hunt, the cool morning air and the beauty of the landscape all make this an unforgettable experience. Once the truffle is located and carefully dug up, it's time to savour the fruits of your labour. Truffles are known for their unique and intense flavour, and they're the perfect addition to any dish. Whether you're enjoying them shaved over pasta (oh the joy!), mixed into risotto, or simply on toast with a slather of butter (every day luxury am I right?), truffles are sure to impress! The best time to go truffle hunting is during the fall season, from September to December, when the most prized varieties such as the white truffle and the black truffle are in season.
18. Explore the underrated island of Elba
The island of Elba, a true Italian hidden gem off the coast of Tuscany, is often overlooked by tourists in favour of more popular destinations. But for those who take the time to explore it, Elba offers a unique and authentic experience that they will never forget. As you step off the ferry and onto the island, you'll immediately feel the peacefulness of a place that is still relatively unknown to the masses - which is quite rare in this corner of Italy.
The island's small size, which is a downside for some, is a blessing for others, as it allows you to fully escape the crowds and the noise. But just because Elba is small doesn't mean that it doesn't have a lot to offer. The island boasts more than 30 miles of beaches, from small secluded coves to long stretches of golden sand, all surrounded by shimmering clear waters, perfect for swimming and water sports. The rugged cliffs and the lush Mediterranean vegetation that covers the island's hills make for a great landscape for trekking and cycling - basically, any adventurer’s dream.
Elba's history is also rich and fascinating, from the ancient Etruscan settlements to Napoleon's exile on the island in the early 19th century. You can visit his house, which has been turned into a museum and learn about his time on the island.
19. Discover the mysteries of Grotte di Castellana
You won’t believe that there’s an impressive underground labyrinth of limestone galleries with lakes, bizarre rock formations and fossils… All in the South of Italy. The Grotte di Castellana, or the Castellana Caves, located in Puglia, are a natural wonder that is truly unique and awe-inspiring. The caves, which have been carved out over time by an underground river, feature an intricate network of tunnels and chambers filled with stunning natural formations, including towering stalactites and delicate stalagmites.
One of the main highlights of the caves is the White Cave, which is particularly striking due to the bright white colour of the limestone formations, caused by the high level of magnesium in the rock. The cave features an underground lake and a large chamber known as the "Cattedrale" (Cathedral) which is one of the largest and most beautiful in the system of the caves. The Grotte di Castellana are also home to a variety of wildlife, including bats, cave salamanders and beetles that are adapted to living in the dark and humid cave environment.
The caves are also conveniently located near the town of Castellana Grotte, which is a charming town with a rich history and culture of its own, so after the visit, you can explore the town and its surroundings.
20. Take a trip back in time with the ancient Greek ruins of Paestum
Wait, the Ancient Greeks… in Italy? Welcome to Paestum, an ancient city located in the southern region of Italy, which holds within its walls an enriching history that dates all the way back to the 6th century BCE. The city, once surrounded by a massive defensive wall, was an important hub for trade and culture for the ancient Greeks and later, the Romans.
As you step through the ruins, you'll find yourself transported back into a time when Italy wasn’t even officially a country yet. The Temple of Athena, also known as the Basilica, stands before you in all its grandeur, a true testament to the skill and engineering of the ancient Greeks. The Temple of Hera, dedicated to the wife of Zeus, and the Temple of Ceres, dedicated to the Roman goddess of agriculture, also grace the site. As you explore the ancient forum and the theatre, you'll marvel at the level of preservation, allowing you to truly feel as though you've stepped into the past. The remains of houses and public buildings, along with the cemeteries, give a glimpse into the daily life of the Paestum's inhabitants. A guided tour of the site is highly recommended to fully appreciate the significance of the ruins and to hear the stories and legends that surround them.
21. Attend a traditional puppet show in Bologna
Bologna is known for its traditional puppet shows, which are called "Opera dei Pupi" in Italian. Also known as "Opera of the Puppets," this is a traditional form of puppet theatre that originated in Sicily in the 19th century. The puppets, or "pupi," are typically crafted from wood and dressed in elaborate costumes. They are playfully acted out by puppeteers using strings and rods to perform a variety of stories, including epic tales of chivalry and adventure, such as the stories of Charlemagne, Roland and Orlando.
The Opera dei Pupi shows in Bologna, Italy, are usually held in small theatres or cultural centres, and performances are typically in Italian, with some other languages available in some venues, depending on the demand. The shows are performed by small, local companies and may include live musical accompaniment which makes it super fun for all ages! The shows are usually around an hour long, and are performed in the traditional Sicilian style, with a narrator that tells the story, while the puppets act it out. The Opera dei Pupi definitely offer a unique and interesting way to learn about the traditional Sicilian culture, its history and literature, and experience a type of theatre that is not commonly seen outside of Italy. It's a great way to experience a traditional Italian art form, and can be a memorable experience for both adults and children.
22. Drive through Tuscany’s vineyards and hilltop countryside on your own Vespa
Escape to the vineyards within the sloping hills of Tuscany and experience the enchanting beauty of the countryside like never before, all by riding on the back of a Vespa!
With your iconic pastel drive, step the pedal to the medal as you whizz by lush vineyards, fields of sunflowers, and ancient cypress trees. With the warmth of the Tuscan sun on your skin, the sweet smell of wildflowers in the air and the sound of the Vespa engine humming beneath you, this is the perfect recipe for a true Italian getaway. As you ride along the winding roads in Central Italy, you'll feel like you've stepped a classic Italian film. You as the main character with your Vespa of course. The scenery is breathtaking and the Tuscan countryside is famous for its beauty and charm. You'll have the opportunity to stop and explore charming medieval towns and villages, like Siena, San Gimignano or Lucca, famous for their charming streets, historical monuments, oh so delicious Tuscan cuisine.
Embarking on TravelBase’s Vespa trip allows you to truly immerse yourself in the Tuscan culture and way of life, and discover the hidden gems of this beautiful region that one may not see from faster modes of travelling. From the moment you put on your helmet and start your Vespa engine, you'll be transported to a world of adventure and romance, where Tuscany is your playground.
23. Experience a winter wonderland in the Italian Alps
Get ready for a winter adventure of a lifetime as you explore the magical Italian Alps! From the months of November to early March, be immersed in a winter wonderland, with snow-capped peaks, frozen lakes and charming villages all blanketed in a soft blanket of snow. It's a truly mesmerizing sight and perfect backdrop for your outdoor activities in Northern Italy.
Get your hearts pumping and your adrenaline flowing as you go on a hike through the winter trails, where the snow-covered paths and the crisp, cold air create a challenging and invigorating experience. After your hike, why not try your hand at dog sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or even ice climbing? With so many winter activities to choose from, you'll be spoilt for choice - who says winter is for hibernating? This of course is on the backdrop of the Italian Alps which already comes with spectacular views… and during winter, the snow-covered peaks and valleys offer an even more stunning vista. If you're looking to share the adventure with friends and family, the Italian Alps is the perfect place to bond and make unforgettable memories together. Compared to the Swiss Alps and the French Alps, it’s also much less crowded. Definitely check out Lake Braies, as during the summer it's too crowded but in the winter time - it's a tranquil reflective spot.