Best Cities in Italy With Over 250,000 People
Is there such a thing as an ugly place in Italy? Everything is possible under the sun, but we've yet to run into this paradox. After all, Italy is as synonymous with beauty as it is with pizza and gelato.
This beauty — along with a large concentration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Roman ruins and museums holding artistic treasures — keeps travelers returning to the country. But how do you choose exactly where to go?
These are the best cities in Italy with over 250,000 residents.
Many people haven't even heard of this gorgeous city in northern Italy that has the Alps as a backdrop. This is probably because people who go to the mountains usually look for small towns, but if you want to enjoy both the city and nature, Turin is the place to be.
Besides access to the Alps, you'll find baroque architecture, typically impressive squares and plenty of shopping. The city's skyline is dominated by the Mole Antonelliana, a tower that differs from the domes that mark other Italian cities.
Italy's Adriatic Sea towns are weirdly neglected by travelers, who are more often drawn to the Mediterranean. But if you want gorgeous Italian beaches without the international tourist crowds, head to Bari.
Travelers are enchanted by the old town, which swirls around like a maze made up of tiny streets and colorful houses. Another important site is the Basilica di San Nicola, which holds the remains of St. Nicholas — you know, the Saint Nick, aka Santa Claus.
In recent years, Venice has gotten more negative than positive coverage. But don't listen to the naysayers; this city is a million percent worth visiting.
Yes, there are problems, and many of them stem from overtourism, but that doesn't detract from the fact that this floating city makes you believe in magic. You could do nothing but walk around the streets and cross bridges, and you'd still come home elated. But, of course, you won't actually do this, since you have to check out Saint Mark's Square and other famous landmarks.
To preserve the unique beauty of this city, try to travel slowly and support local businesses while you're there.
Bologna is the culinary capital of Italy. Do we need to say anything else to convince you to go? We'll repeat it: This is the culinary capital of Italy! If you think you've tried good food, wait until you get your first bite of anything in this city.
Besides gifting all of humanity with heaven on a plate, the city is known for its impressive porticoes, which were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021. There is also the magnificent Fountain of Neptune in the main square, winding streets and even a leaning tower! Make sure you stop by the University of Bologna, one of the oldest in the world.
Sardinia is a small Mediterranean island that is kept from overtourism by its relatively remote position. That said, seeing the beauty of this destination is well worth the minimal effort it takes to get here from the mainland.
The capital, Cagliari, is not a sleepy town by any means. Instead, it offers beaches, museums and landmarks during the day and a very fun nightlife once the sun sets. No visit to the city — or Sardinia for that matter — is complete without seeing the Castello, a large medieval castle that boasts a long stretch of fortified walls and sweeping city views.
Sicily's capital is one of the largest cities in Italy and one of the most distinctive in its identity. The island only qualifies for that title by a tiny straight that divides it from mainland Italy. But that separation has proven enough to provide it a feel that you won't find anywhere else in the country.
Palermo, especially, is wonderfully chaotic. You'll find the expected main square at the foot of an impressive cathedral, more motorcycles than cars and narrow residential streets. But you'll only have to spend five minutes here before you understand why residents are Sicilian first, Italian second. Visit the ninth-century Norman Palace and the royal tombs of the cathedral. Then, head to Mondello Beach for some fun under the Mediterranean sun.
Milan is the cool younger sister of every other Italian city. Because it boasts the same genes as its siblings, it too can be proud of a beautiful main cathedral, delicious food and museums. In fact, if you want to see Da Vinci's "Last Supper," this is where you'll need to go.
But the city sets itself apart with its design-forward culture. Considered one of the fashion capitals of the world, Milan natives make the rest of Italy look underdressed. It's also the rare European city where modern buildings add rather than detract from the beauty of the skyline.
Naples is famous around the world for inventing pizza. Yes, take a second to thank it.
Besides giving us one of the most delicious European foods (who are we kidding? one of the most delicious foods on the planet!), Naples is a historic city with plenty of Roman ruins and museums to keep you occupied for days.
It's also the perfect city base for exploring iconic Italian seaside villages like Sorrento, Capri and Amalfi in southern Italy.
Timeless, breathtaking Rome changed the course of European history. As the capital city of the extensive Roman Empire, it holds important ruins like the Colosseum (one of the Seven New Wonders of the World) and the Roman Forum. You can't walk for two minutes here without running into a landmark like the Trevi Fountain or bumping into something else equally beautiful.
History lovers also enjoy visiting Vatican City, where you can see gems like St. Peter's Basilica and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. But beyond the sights and the undeniably pleasing aesthetic, Rome is a city with a soul. It can be loud and difficult to navigate, informal and confusing, and that's exactly what we love about it.
Yes, we know people are going to be appalled that Rome is not the best city in Italy, but we stand firm in our choice. While Rome's charm is impossible to resist, Florence is a city that takes you in and immediately feels like home.
Like Rome, you'll be immersed in history. You'll have the chance to stand in front of Michelangelo's "David" at the Accademia Gallery or see Boticelli's "Birth of Venus" at the Uffizi Gallery. You'll also walk inside palaces built by the powerful Medicis, go up the emblematic Duomo for views of the city and cross the one-of-a-kind Ponte Vecchio, which crosses the Arno river.
But in between the touring and the shopping for leather goods (a must-do in the city), give yourself time to simply get lost. We can't tell you where you'll end up, but we promise it'll be somewhere wonderful.