5 Alternatives to Big Cities: Italy

By Dana Perkiss

Italy is one of the most desired destinations in the world, and it’s no wonder why. The ancient history, mouthwatering cuisine, and glimmering coastlines provide attractions for all types of travelers. The big cities are popularly filled with tourists for a reason, but there are tons of lesser-known towns that are equally as exciting.

Here are five places in Italy worth visiting, where you won’t be swarmed by tourists.

Ischia, Campania

Instead of staying in the bustling city of Naples, choose the gorgeous volcanic island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples. Known as “The Green Island”, Ischia is filled with luscious pine trees, coastal beaches, and rich Mediterranean vegetation. The town is famous for its Roman thermal baths that promise plenty of R&R, so stopping by one is essential. If you enjoy the water, check out Le Fumarole Beach where hot vapors burst into geysers and the Aphrodite Thermal Gardens are in walking distance.

While in Ischia, visit the medieval Aragonese Castle to tour through the many monuments and buildings, such as old millstones used for wine-making or the Olive Tree Terrace with breathtaking views of the sea. Other popular attractions include Anthony’s Library and The Sea Museum, which guides you through the history of fishing on the island. Since fishing has an expansive history on the island, it’s no surprise that most restaurants are decorated with seashells and offer fresh seafood delicacies.

Mantova, Lombardy

You don't have to visit Milan to experience the wonder of the Lombardy region; instead, head east to Mantova. This hip city in northern Italy is surrounded by lakes on three sides, so there are gorgeous views from all around. It’s the art and music capital of the Lombardy region, as well as the hometown of Rome’s most acclaimed poet, Virgil.

You won’t want to miss visiting the Palazzo Ducale, an enormous ninth century palace built in a Venetian, Gothic design. Passing through the palace you’ll find Piazza Lega Lombarda, a memorial site with gravel roads and looming trees. Afterwards, walk a short way to visit Basilica of San Marco which is the most famous church in the city. Alternatively, Teatro Bibiena is an iconic theater with stunning decor inspired by the Age of Enlightenment. It’s famously known for hosting Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who performed for their opening night in January 1770.

Matera, Basilicata

Some may picture Rome when thinking of Italy's ancient scenery, but it looks new in comparison to the even older city of Matera. Matera can be found in a desolate, stone village in southern Basilicata. It’s famously known for the ancient “Sassi di Matera” town — “sassi” meaning stone settlements as the Sassi people were believed to have been the first humans to settle in Italy. Safe to say, you’ll spend some time in caves while you’re there. The town may emit an eerie air, as it was mostly deserted in the 1950s due to high poverty and harsh living conditions. It has come back alive since becoming an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, with many of the ancient caves having been remodeled as hotels and restaurants.

There are over 100 rupestrian churches to visit with ancient decor, but one of the top attractions is the Museum of Contemporary Sculptures of Matera. And just like the rest of Italy, you definitely won’t be disappointed by the food here, especially their traditional orecchiette pasta.

Narni, Umbria

If you like a rustic Tuscany vibe but want somewhere more smalltown, then Narni is your best bet. Does the name remind you of something? The ancient Romans called it Narnia, and the huge fortress and lion statue of the town is said to have inspired The Chronicles of Narnia series. As a small town nestled on top of a hill, Narni offers stunning views of the Umbrian countryside perfect for scenic walks and sunsets. The town gives off a local medieval vibe, with cobblestone roads, stone buildings, and remarkable Roman bridges.

There are tons of attractions to enjoy while visiting, like Narni’s Civic Museum which features remarkable art pieces. The historical center of the city boasts tons of monuments and things to do, and you’ll for sure want to visit the stunning castles of Palazzo dei Priori and Palazzo del Podestà. A little way out of town you’ll find Ocriculum, an ancient archeological park with monuments, memorials, and a hillside theater.


Puglia is a stunning region off Italy’s “boot” that boasts idyllic beaches, numerous olive groves, and coastal towns. A more relaxed version of the Amalfi Coast, Puglia features dozens of whitewashed sand beaches and hidden enclaves along the Adriatic and Ionian seas. One of the most loved beaches is Pescoluse, known as the “Maldives of Salento” with glimmering turquoise water.

Puglia's city of Lecce is known as the “Florence of the South” with ancient baroque architecture like the Sant’Oronzo Column. In the center of Puglia, you’ll find the quiet town of Alberobello with limestone buildings and narrow streets lined with charming restaurants and souvenir stores. While you’re in Puglia, be sure not to leave without trying their iconic “Pasqualino” sandwich, made with tuna, salami, cheese, and capers.

Want to explore other small-towns in Italy? Click here for more!

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