The Top 10 Places to Go in Tuscany
Siena is a classic medieval hill town in Tuscany famous for its large fan-shaped piazza the Piazza del Campo, dominated by its bell tower, the Torre del Mangia.
Siena's annual summer horse race, Il Palio, is about as different from the Kentucky Derby as one can imagine: Bareback riders race the horses along the city's cobblestone streets, in keeping with medieval tradition.
Off the main piazza, Siena's medieval streets are lined with shops and rustic trattoria serving traditional Tuscan cuisine. Find a cozy spot, preferably one filled with Italians, and sample local fare paired with a nice bottle of regional wine.
12 Months of Festivals, Holidays, and Special Events in Italy
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,January starts with New Year's Day. On January 6, Italians join the many other Europeans who celebrate Epiphany, an important holiday on the Christian calendar that marks the coming of the Magi bearing gifts. For children, it is the day they finally get their holiday toys and sweets that La Befana, an old woman riding a broomstick, delivered the night before. (If you're bad, you get lumps of coal!). Also in January, Italians celebrate the feast days of San Antonio Abate and San Sebastiano, and, at the end of January, the Fair of Sant'Orso, an international woodcarving and handicrafts fair that's been held annually for about 1,000 years in Italy's Aosta Valley. It honors Saint Orso, a sixth-century Irish woodcarver, and monk who distributed wooden sandals to the Valley's poor.
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Topping the list of February festivals in Italy is Carnevale, an event with parades and balls like a pre-Lenten Mardi Gras, that is celebrated as a final party before Ash Wednesday. In Catania, Sicily, a big festival held on Saint Agatha's feast day includes the second largest religious procession in the world. Other February Italian festivals include Saint Biago Day, Saint Faustino's Day and an almond blossom fair at Agrigento, Sicily.
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Songs and gifts of chocolate mark Italian festivals in March, which include La Festa della Donna, honoring women on March 8, and Saint Joseph's Day, or Father's Day, on March 19. In Venice, at the important Marriage of the Sea event, aka the Marriage of the Adriatic, boats come out to commemorate Venice's connection to the sea where it once held supremacy. March also marks the start of spring events, which in some years include Easter.
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In April, you'll find Rome's birthday, the festival of San Marco in Venice, and Saint George's Day, especially popular in Portofino and Modica. Easter often falls in April and Italy's many food festivals start to occur for the season. April 25 is Italy's Liberation Day, a national holiday that commemorates the fall of Mussolini's Italian Social Republic and the end of the Nazis' World War II occupation of Italy in 1945.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
05 of 12
May Day (May 1) in Italy is Labor Day, a national holiday to honor the achievements of the country's labor movement. This is also the date of Sardinia's most important festival, the four-day Sant Efisio procession. In May, there are plenty of spring festivals celebrating flowers and food and wine, and there are plenty of medieval re-enactments. Unusual May festivals in Italy include the Wedding of the Trees in Vetralla and the Snake Handlers' Procession in Abruzzo.
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Summer in Italy is the season of outdoor festivals. Look for posters announcing a festa or sagra as you travel around the country.
June 2 is Festa della Repubblica, in English, Italian National Day or Republic Day. It marks the fall of fascism and the moment Italians voted after World War II to institute a republic and oust the monarchy. On June 24, it's the feast day of San Giovanni in Florence, when soccer games and fireworks honor the city's patron saint. Infiorata, colorful flower petal carpets that resemble paintings, are painstakingly pieced together in June (and May), usually on the Sunday of Corpus Domini (Corpus Christi) nine weeks after Easter. Beginning in June, too, Italian towns organize outdoor music concerts.
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July is one of the busiest months for festivals in Italy. Siena holds its historic Palio horse race in the town square, and there are the much-loved Festa de la Madonna Bruna in Matera and L'Ardia di San Costantino in Sardinia. You'll find food festivals, medieval festivals, and lots of fireworks all over the country. There are also many music festivals in July.
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Ferragosto (Assumption Day) is a major Italian national holiday on August 15. In August, you'll find local festivals throughout Italy, where you can sample inexpensive regional food. Many Italians take vacations in August, often to the seaside, so you're more likely to find festivals there. You might even run across a medieval festival where people are dressed in medieval costumes. There are also many, many outdoor music performances in August.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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In September, Italians return from their vacations. Many festivals take place the first Sunday in September as summer comes to an end. During the month of September, you'll still find throughout Italy local food festivals, which are a great place to mingle and sample regional food. Major September festivals include Venice's historic regatta, the Feast of San Gennaro in Naples and the feast day of San Michele.
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October is a busy month for Italian food festivals, especially for mushrooms, chestnuts, chocolate, and truffles. On October weekends, you'll find fall food festivals and wine harvest celebrations all over Italy. Although Halloween is not such a big celebration in Italy, it is becoming more popular and you may find Halloween festivals, especially in the larger cities.
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November 1 is All Saints Day, which is a national holiday. November is the height of white truffle season, and you'll find truffle fairs and chestnut festivals. Rome, which has many music, theater, and dance festivals in November, also hosts the important Rome International Film Festival, which attracts world premieres and global cinema stars.
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Celebrations and events in December revolve around Christmas. In December, Italians celebrate the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, Santa Lucia Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Saint Stephen's Day and several other saints' feast days. There's a jazz festival in Orvieto, Umbria, and in Tuscany, there's a wild boar festival honoring the emblematic animal of Tuscany that is hunted November through January for its meat, which appears in ragùs and pasta such as pappardelle cinghiale (Tuscany's national dish). The month ends with New Year's Eve celebrations all over the country.
Top 5 Places to Visit in Southern Italy
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Amalfi Coast, Popular Southern Italy Vacation Destination
Southern Italy's scenic Amalfi Coast is a top vacation destination, especially in summer. Cliffs rise dramatically above the sea and picturesque villages cling to the cliffs, making for spectacular scenery.
One of the most popular Amalfi Coast towns is Positano, seen in the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley. Another good resort town to visit is Amalfi. Once one of the four powerful Maritime Republics it's now a charming town with interesting medieval architecture.
While the narrow, windy coast road offers good views it can also be very crowded, especially in high season. Ferries connect several of the villages and can be a more comfortable way to travel. Those traveling by public transportation may find it more convenient to stay in the town of Sorrento, on the opposite side of the peninsula.
Using the Amalfi Peninsula as a base, there are several good places to visit as day trips, including the archeological site of Pompeii and the island of Capri. You can see all of these on our Amalfi Coast Map.
Check TripAdvisor's best hotels on the Amalfi Coast for user reviews and prices.Continue to 2 of 5 below.
02 of 05
Matera, Sassi Cave Houses and Medieval City
Matera is one of my favorite places in Italy both for the fascinating Sassi district, a ravine with ancient cave dwellings and churches and for the modern town above the Sassi, dating from the 13th century. The Sassi district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several movies have been filmed in Matera, including Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
A good first look at the Sassi is from the overlook near Piazza Vittorio Veneto or Piazza Sedile. From there, you can walk down the stairs to explore the winding alleys of the Sassi and visit one or two of the Rupestrian churches, some with medieval frescoes. Cave hotels offer unique lodging in the Sassi.
Matera is in the Basilicata region, the instep of the boot and one of Italy's least visited regions. If you have a car, it's an interesting region to explore. Matera can be reached by bus from most major cities in Basilicata or neighboring Puglia or by train from Bari. For details and more about what to see and do, see our Matera Travel Guide
Check TripAdvisor's best hotels in Matera for user reviews and prices.Continue to 3 of 5 below.
03 of 05
Naples, Southern Italy’s Top City to Visit
Naples is southern Italy's largest city and has a wealth of interesting sights. Naples is famous as the birthplace of pizza and is a great city for eating fresh seafood. The city also makes a good base for Bay of Naples day trips.
Start with a walk around Naples historic center, an area of narrow streets packed with interesting things to see and do. Naples is known for its lavish nativity scenes and artisan workshops that create terra cotta figurines for nativities. You'll find many of them on Via San Gregorio Armeno.
The National Archeology Museum of Naples has one of the world's best collections of Greek and Roman artifacts, many coming from the nearby excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. There are several other museums in Naples well worth a visit. Be sure to visit the Royal Palace, or Palazzo Reale and see the two castles, Castel dell'Ovo and Castel Nuovo, too..
Check TripAdvisor's best hotels in Naples for user reviews and prices.Continue to 4 of 5 below.
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Alberobello and the Salento Peninsula of Puglia, the Heel of the Boot
The unique trulli of Puglia are one of southern Italy's most unusual sights. Trulli are concentrated in and around Alberobello and the town's trulli zone has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site (see photos)
South of Alberobello the Salento Peninsula offers clean beaches, charming seaside towns like Gallipoli and Otranto, and the Baroque city of Lecce. Check out the Puglia Map and Guide for an overview.
Puglia offers a couple of interesting options for lodging. Around Alberobello, some trulli have been renovated and turned into hotels or vacation apartments while throughout the region you can stay in a masseria, a restored manor house that has been made into comfortable, and sometimes even luxurious, accommodations. See Trulli Hotels and Masseria Lodging for suggestions.
Check TripAdvisor's best hotels in Alberobello for user reviews and prices.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
Greek Temples and Baroque Towns of Southeastern Sicily
Sicily, the Mediterranean's largest island, has many sites, beaches, and towns to explore so it's recommended to choose one part of the island. Southeastern Sicily has a good variety of interesting places to visit. This area is easily reached by taking the car ferry or flying into Catania airport.
Agrigento's Valley of the Temples Archeological Park is a group of Greek temples dating from the 5th – 4th centuries BC that's a UNESCO World Heritage site. A small museum houses finds from the park. Agrigento's small historic center is also worth a visit.
The Baroque towns of the Val di Noto, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, were rebuilt in Sicilian Baroque style following an earthquake in 1693. My favorite is Ragusa Ibla, an enchanting old town at the foot of Ragusa, the newer town. Modica and Scicli are two smaller towns that are also part of the Val di Noto.
Founded in 733 BC, Syracuse has several interesting archaeological sites including a Greek theater, Roman amphitheater, an ancient castle, catacombs, and the Street of Tombs with Byzantine graves. The vibrant modern city is interesting as well and is a good place for eating fresh seafood. Nearby Ortygia Island also has ruins and a small historic center.
Check TripAdvisor's best hotels in southeastern Sicily for user reviews and prices.
Top 10 Mistakes Tourists Make in Italy
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Boarding a Regional Train without Validating the Ticket
Tickets for regional trains, or any ticket that doesn't have a specific time and assigned seat, needs to be validated (Frecce train tickets, which have assigned times and seats are among the exceptions). Regional train tickets can generally be used on any train in a two-month period, so validate your ticket before boarding.
All you need to do is find a validation machine; green and white in some stations and yellow in others. Push your ticket into the slot until you hear the stamp applied. This stamp will make your ticket good for up to six hours. Be warned that even tourists will get fined for not validating their tickets before boarding a train in Italy.
02 of 10
Ordering a Latte (When You Want a Coffee)
Latte is the Italian word for milk, so if you order a latte, especially outside tourist areas, you may end up with a glass of milk. If you want a coffee, head to a bar (which in Italy is not just a place to consume alcohol). Keep in mind that in many places you will pay extra for table service.
If you just want a quick coffee, do as the Italians do and stand at the bar. In restaurants, coffee (usually espresso) is normally served only after the meal (including dessert) is finished. Italians don't drink coffee with their meals and they generally don't drink cappuccino after noon, although you can still ask for one.
Be advised you won't get free refills on your soda or iced tea and usually your cold drinks won't be served over ice.
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Driving in the ZTL
The ZTL, zona traffic limitation or limited traffic zone, is off limits to drivers who don't have a permit (which tourists aren't eligible for). Most cities and towns have a ZTL, which may also be called a Pedestrian Zone. The Centro Storico is usually a limited traffic area.
Often a camera is posted at the entrance to a ZTL, taking photos of license plates as cars enter. It's unlikely that you'll be pulled over immediately but people have reported getting a ticket in the mail six months or a year later (often through your rental car company). Be on the lookout for speed cameras as you drive around Italy, as well.
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Standing in Ticket Lines
During high season, people may stand in line for an hour or two just to buy tickets to get into one of Italy's top sights or museums. These days it's pretty easy to buy tickets for most places online, although it will require planning your itinerary in advance.
While you may not want to be tied down to a strict schedule there are some tickets you really should buy ahead of time.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Wearing Shorts When Visiting a Church
Italian cathedrals and churches are interesting to visit and many hold important works of art. You may find that most have signs posted asking visitors not to enter wearing shorts or with bare shoulders (for the most part, Europeans don't wear shorts, at least not as frequently as Americans do).
Women can carry around a scarf to cover bare shoulders when wearing sleeveless tops. But many places, including the Vatican, will not admit people wearing shorts. So plan your dress to go with your sightseeing.
06 of 10
Relying Only on Credit Cards or Bringing Traveler’s Checks
In Italy, there are many places that still do not take credit cards and if you're traveling with American Express you'll find even fewer places to use it. Many small family-run restaurants and shops, bed and breakfast inns, and outdoor markets require cash payments. Your credit card may not work in machines such as the autostrada toll booth. It's a good idea to have two credit cards so you can use one as back up and be sure to call your banks before you leave to tell them the dates you'll be in Italy.
Traveler's checks are rarely used for getting cash in Italy and if you do find a place to change them, you are likely to pay a fee. The best way to get cash is with your ATM card.
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Over-Planning and Over-Scheduling
Italy does not run like clockwork so don't expect everything to go smoothly, especially if you're on a tight schedule. Leave some time for hanging out in a piazza or bar or going to a festival or special event you may stumble upon.
Visitors to Italy often find that the most memorable part of their trip was something they didn't plan. Moving to a new city and new hotel every day is exhausting and eats up a lot of time that could be spent enjoying a place for several days and really getting to know it.
08 of 10
Overpacking or Traveling with a Heavy Suitcase
While your big wheeled suitcase may be great in places with smooth walkways and hotels with elevators, in Italy you won't always find these things. Historic buildings may be remodeled to make beautiful accommodations but they often are not allowed to install an elevator. And unless you're staying at 5-star hotels, it's unlikely there will be someone to carry your bags.
Uneven cobblestone streets make dragging a suitcase difficult and if you're going to Venice, chances are you'll be crossing bridges. If you're traveling by train, you'll need to lift your bag on and off the train yourself.
Consider a lightweight bag (or two) that's easy to carry.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Trusting the GPS
While having a GPS for driving can be very helpful, it's not a good idea to rely only on the GPS. It's common in Italy to have several towns or villages (in different regions) with the same name. So take a look at your map and make sure you know which one you want.
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Being the Victim of a Theft
As in any big city, you should take precautions against having your money or passport stolen. Rome and Florence are the places that tourists most often report thefts of items like purses, cameras, passports, and money.
Keep a close eye on your belongings, don't carry valuables in a pack on your back and avoid wearing expensive jewelry. Carry your passport in a place that's difficult for a pick-pocket to access and don't carry more cash in your purse or main wallet than you'll need for the day.
7 Dishes You Must Try in Lake Como Restaurants
01 of 07
Risotto con Filetti di Pesce Persico (Perch With Risotto)
As visitors partake in any dish featuring Lake Como perch, they can enjoy with relatively clear consciences. Nutritionists have found Lake Como perch to be low in fats and rich in noble proteins and omega-3 fatty acids.
This is another example of a dish made great in part because of a bounty of fresh local ingredients.
It's sometimes served on pasta dough with butternut, sage, parmesan, and a hint of wine.
Where to eat Risotto con Filetti di Pesce Persico: Ristorante Sociale, Via Rodari 6, Como, is located in the center of the town, near the streets most popular with shoppers. The building dates back to 1813 but was restored in 2008. Proprietors say their formula for success is “in the simplicity and the quality of the items.” Reservations recommended.
02 of 07
Insalata Caprese (Tomato Salad)
Insalata Caprese originated on the Isle of Capri. But other regions of Italy have adopted this tomato and mozzarella salad, adding slight variations that are available locally.
Because the dish is relatively simple, it is essential that the ingredients are farm fresh and flavorful. Other regions of Italy are better known for growing tomatoes, but the Lake Como area offers a wide variety of farmer's markets between Como and Lecco.
Local chefs have access to fresh stock, perhaps the chief reason Insalata Caprese is so popular and relatively easy to spot on local menus.
Where to eat Insalata Caprese: Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Via Regina in Tremezzina provides a beautiful terrace vista from which to enjoy this salad — a view once enjoyed by Greta Garbo. Another option with a view is Castello di Vezio on a hillside above Varenna.
03 of 07
Brasato di Cinghiale Selvatico (Braised Wild Boar)
Hikers who venture into the wooded hills surrounding Lake Como are warned to keep watch for wild boars. Diners also look for boar that is served braised or in a stew.
Wild boar is a favorite in autumn, but it appears on menus in other seasons. Often it is marinated in wine and served with fresh local vegetables.
Where to eat Brasato di Cinghiale Selvatico in the Lake Como area: Trattoria Baita Belvedere, Località Chevrio 43 in Bellagio serves wild boar in a variety of styles, including as a stew. You'll also enjoy panoramic views of Bellagio and the lake.
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Polenta is a popular menu choice, mainly as a side dish or entree ingredient. Often it's made from cornmeal, and served a variety of ways.
Some servings are creamy and hot, with the consistency you'd find in American grits or porridge. Sometimes, polenta is cooled, sliced like bread and then baked or fried.
Where to eat polenta in the Lake Como area: Trattoria del Bracconieri, via Roma 1 in Brunate is a bistro that prides itself on serving most of the traditional Lake Como favorites. Polenta here is a staple alongside wild boar in red wine, braised Scottish Angus beef with cheese or porcini mushrooms.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Busecca or foiolo is a variation on a common dish in Lombardy called trippa, or what Americans would call tripe. Peasants cooked it for generations, and it even became a traditional part of Christmas-night dinner celebrations in some towns.
Foiolo represents the leanest tripe available. Some visitors will not be impressed that this is the featured section of a cow's stomach, but it is a part of the local cuisine. It's an appetizer for the adventurous, and unlike some other choices, the flavor usually is fairly neutral.
Where to eat foiolo in the Lake Como area: In Motrasio, the Hotel Posta's La Veranda Restaurant, Via S. Rocco, offers busecca on seasonal menus.
06 of 07
Missoltino (Sun-Dried Lake Shad)
Sun-dried lake shad have been served for generations in this region. Shad are members of the sardine family, and they school in abundance in Lake Como. Fishermen salt them for several days, then hang the shad to dry. In Italian, the menu item is missoltino.
But the process is far more involved than most guests imagine. Great pains are taken to ensure just the right amount of salt is used, and that the aging process unfolds correctly.
Missoltino can be served with bread as an appetizer.
Where to eat missoltino in the Lake Como area: Hotel Metropole Suisse, Piazza Cavour 19 in Como offers missoltino on its spring/summer menu.
07 of 07
Fragole con Gelato (Strawberries With Gelato)
Order fragole con gelato and you'll receive sliced strawberries atop a serving of fine Italian ice cream. Some looking for a fancier dessert might find this selection rather dull. But the attraction increases when one considers that at certain times of the year the strawberries are quite fresh. Italy, by the way, is the world's fourth-largest exporter of strawberries.
Where to eat Fragole con Gelato in the Lake Como area: Baba Yaga Steakhouse & Pizza, Via Eugenio Vitali 8 in Bellagio, sits in the historic center of the town. Prices are moderate, but the atmosphere is casual enough to be welcoming for a variety of visitors.
The 9 Best Italy Tours to Buy in 2018
Best Northern Italy Tour: 4-Day Italian Lakes Tour from Milan
If a low-key, relaxing tour with plenty to see but minimal hustle-bustle is your goal, consider this four-day tour of Northern Italy’s Lake District. The tour begins in handsome Milan and, via air-conditioned coach, visits five of the region’s most beautiful lakes — Como, Maggiore, Garda, Iseo, and Orta — and the charming towns that nestle into their shores. You’ll visit the Borromee islands by private boat, visit the medieval town of Bergamo, visit an ancient Roman spa in Sirmione, and stroll the streets of Verona, the fabled home of Shakespeare’s most famous fictional (or were they?) couple. A tour guide will navigate you through several major attractions in each place, but there’s also plenty of free time for strolling. Accommodations and breakfast in centrally-located hotels for three nights are included in the price.
The 10 Most Delicious Dishes to Eat in Naples
The same dough used for pizza is stretched and fried in olive oil. Once fried and crispy, it’s topped with tomato sauce, fior di latte mozzarella, a bit of Parmesan cheese and basil. Usually considered one of the many Neapolitan street foods, the pizza fritta is served as antipasto in almost every pizzeria. Sometimes it’s also served as a main dish instead of a pizza.
Top Opera Houses in Italy
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Milan’s Teatro Alla Scala
Teatro Alla Scala, the famous opera house in Milan, reopened in December 2004 after an extensive renovation. It has a bookshop, bar, and history museum, too. The original opera house, designed by neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini, opened in 1778 and many famous operas were first performed here. La Scala was badly bombed during World War II but reopened in 1946 and quickly regained its reputation as a top Italian opera house.
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Venice’s Teatro La Fenice
La Fenice (the Phoenix) in Venice, is one of the most famous theaters in Europe. La Fenice first opened in 1792 but was twice badly damaged by fire. It has recently been renovated and reopened. La Fenice is in Venice's San Marco neighborhood.
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Teatro di San Carlo in Naples
The Teatro di San Carlo in Naples is the oldest opera house in Italy, founded in 1737. Some of the first ballet productions were also performed here during the opera intermissions. Opera, ballet, and short comic opera are still performed at Teatro San Carlo. A museum is in the planning stage.
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Teatro Comunale in Bologna
The opera house in Bologna is one of the top theaters in Italy and also one of the oldest. It is a stunning example of 18th-century baroque architecture. Located in the heart of Bologna's historic district, the Teatro Comunale di Bologna holds opera, musical, and symphony performances.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
05 of 12
Teatro Massimo in Palermo
Teatro Massimo in Palermo is the foremost opera house in Sicily as well as one of the finest in Europe. Its opening in 1897 signaled the beginning of Palermo's belle epoque. Year-round performances include opera, ballet, and music.
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Teatro Regio di Parma
Built in 1829, the neo-classical theater of Parma is rich in gold and stucco work. The theater holds opera, dance, and drama performances as well as concerts and special events.
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Teatro Verdi in Pisa
Teatro Verdi in Pisa is one of the most beautiful theaters in central Italy. The 900-seat auditorium, inaugurated in 1867, has a beautiful ceiling fresco and today houses opera, dance, and drama performances.
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Teatro Regio in Torino
Teatro Regio, the prominent opera house in Piazza Castello, a beautiful square in Torino, was rebuilt in 1973. The original 19th-century theater was destroyed by fire in 1936. It is a popular spot for musicals and plays as well as opera.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Teatro dell’opera di Roma
Rome has a beautiful opera house and holds many classical dance concerts and opera performances there. In the summer, opera and dance performances are held in the ancient Baths of Caracalla, a spectacular setting for opera under the stars.
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Arena di Verona
Although not an opera house, another fantastic historic setting for opera is the Arena di Verona, a restored Roman arena. The open-air opera season starts in June but there are sometimes other performances during the year.
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Puccini Festival, Tuscany
The Puccini Festival is held in Torre del Lago Puccini, once the home of opera composer Giacomo Puccini, in July and August. The new outdoor arena is in a beautiful setting overlooking the lake.
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Sferisterio Opera Festival, Macerata
The Sferisterio Opera Festival is held in an open-air arena in the countryside of Macerata, in central Italy's Marche region. Performances take place in July and August and often draw top-name performers.
The Top 10 Things to Do in Lake Como
Enjoy the Views From Faro Voltiano
Via Giacomo Scalini, 22034 Brunate CO, Italy
Some of the best views of Lake Como are found on the way up to the Faro Voltiano, a lighthouse. First you get to enjoy a funicular ride from the water up to Brunate. Then you continue to hike about a mile up a hill until you get to Faro Voltiano. From there the views will be even more breathtaking.
How to See the Best Beaches on Sardinia’s Golfo di Orosei
01 of 06
There’s one thing missing along this tranquil chain of five sandy, shallow-water beaches: crowds. With an entry fee, a daily limit of just 140 cars and 30 motorcycles and plenty of room to spread out, the Biderosa Oasis is a quiet… well, you could call it an oasis, but they already thought of that. Services include a food truck, porta-potties, and umbrella, beach chair and canoe rentals. Walking trails crisscross the 860-hectare site, and flocks of flamingoes and other migratory birds make seasonal pit stops at the lagoons of Biderosa. There are no daily entry limits for walkers or cyclists.
02 of 06
Cala Liberotto & Cala Ginepro
Plan to arrive early to either of these two sandy beaches just to the south of Biderosa; both of which are great for their scenery, calm waters for little kids, and grown-up diversions like snorkeling, kayaking and paddle-boarding. Choose a spot shaded by scraggly juniper and pine trees or for snorkeling, base yourself near one of the rocky points, which hide hidden, calm pools of dazzlingly clear water. There is plenty of parking at both beaches (paid at Cala Ginepro; free at Cala Liberotto), plus nearby bars, restaurants and beach rentals.
03 of 06
Your first stop by boat will likely be Cala Goloritze, a UNESCO-protected, boulder-strewn, pebble beach backed by severe granite cliffs. If you can actually reach the beach here, you’ll have it largely to yourself. Motorized vessels must stay 300 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) offshore, meaning most guided boats make just brief stops for photos—anyone who wants to reach the shore from a private boat has to swim. If you choose to hike in, it’s a 10-mile drive from Baunei, the closest town, to a parking area at the Golgo Plateau. From there, the 90-minute hike to the beach involves elevation changes and rock scrambling, as well as intense sun and heat in summer months—hiking boots and plenty of water are essentials. Your reward is worth the toil—swimming under a natural sea arch, snorkeling with schools of fish, and sunning on what feels (almost) like a desert island. Be sure to allow enough time for the hike back to your car before dark.
04 of 06
Calas Mariolu and Goloritze vie for the top spot on many a “most beautiful beaches” list. If you’ve made the effort to hike to Goloritze you can continue on to Cala Mariolu, but it’s an extreme hike with sharp vertical descents. And remember, what goes down, must come up. Instead, plan to arrive by boat. Gommone and larger vessels can pull right up to shore here and drop off passengers, then anchor offshore and wait. If the beach feels a little crowded, dive into those cerulean waters and you’ll quickly feel like you’re in another world altogether.
As you continue on your boat tour, do jump in at Piscine di Venere, or the Pools of Venus. Though the beach here is off-limits due to frequent rockslides, the deep, ridiculously clear, fish-filled waters are among the most inviting in the gulf. Your guided boat will only make a quick stop here—and we guarantee you’ll wish it was longer.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
This sand and pebble beach is a real stunner, with a sea arch on one side and vertical cliffs on another, plus massive rocks that serve as ideal dive platforms. It’s a smallish beach, so not quite as many charter boats stop here compared to Mariolu or Cala Luna (see below). Though you technically can hike to Cala Bariola (also called Cala Birìala), it’s at least 3 hours from anywhere. You’re much better off on a skippered or self-driven gommone.
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Famous for its huge sea-carved caverns that extend deep into the rock face, this oft-photographed beach is a mix of sand and stone, with a fairly steep shoreline and water that gets deep quickly. Cala Luna is backed by a shallow lagoon with kid-sized boat rentals, and there’s a rustic restaurant and bar. You can walk here via a 3-hour hike from Cala Fuili, a pebble beach near the town of Cala Gonone. On the way, make a detour to the Grotta del Bue Marino, an other-worldy sea grotto with daily tours. Or, you can do as most visitors do, and arrive at the grotto by boat.