Italy has 55 official Unesco World Heritage sites in 2019, more than any other country in the world alongside with China. These sites dot the length and breadth of the country. From Sicily to the Alps, Tuscany to Campania. Here we present our top 12 favourites to add to your itinerary. Unmissable stops for anyone travelling to Italy.
The 12 most spectacular Unesco sites in Italy
1. Valley of the Temples – Sicily
The Valley of the Temples, located outside the town of Agrigento in Sicily, is one of the most impressive complexes of ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece. These Doric temples date back to the 5th century BC, when Agrigento was one of the greatest cities in the Mediterranean region. This exceptionally well-preserved site is an extraordinary testament to the Greek civilisation, and a sight that is not easy to forget.
2. Cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalù – Sicily
The great sights of Norman Sicily are a feast for the eyes. The 12th century Cathedral of Monreale near Palermo and Cefalù’s stunning Duomo are famous for their mosaics and architectural style which combines elements derived from the architectural and artistic techniques of Byzantine, Islamic, and Western traditions.
3. Florence’s historic centre – Tuscany
Known as “the cradle of the Renaissance”, Florence‘s historic centre represents an extraordinary example of artistic achievement. Florence flourished under the ruling Medici family in the 15th and 16th century, as they were great patrons of the arts. Its religious and civil building architecture – the Cathedral‘s Dome, Palazzo Pitti, Churches of San Lorenzo and Santa Croce – and artists such as Michelangelo and Brunelleschi brought inspiration to European culture.
=> Discover the Top Sights & Attractions in Florence.
=> See Florence with these Popular Florence Tours
4. Siena’s Medieval historic centre – Tuscany
Siena is one of Italy’s finest examples of perfectly preserved Medieval towns, a place that seems to have travelled through the centuries undisturbed. With Piazza del Campo at its core, the splendid 13th century Cathedral and its Gothic buildings, Siena is a treasure of Medieval beauty and art.
5. Pisa. The Square of Miracles and Leaning Tower – Tuscany
The Square of Miracles is one of the wonders of the world. An iconic symbol of Italy. With its gravity-defying Leaning Tower and extraordinary buildings like the Cathedral and the huge Baptistry which is the largest in the world, this piazza is an example of Medieval architecture and a mix of Eastern and Western style known as the “Pisan-Romanesque”.
6. Amalfi Coast – Campania
immortalised by thousands of pictures and films, this stretch of coast south of Naples is one of southern Italy’s highlights, and features an enchanting coastal road with sights like Positano, Sorrento, Amalfi and Ravello. It has been declared an area of outstanding beauty by UNESCO, a “cultural landscape that shows the versatility of the inhabitants in adapting their use of the land to the diverse nature of the terrain, which ranges from terraced vineyards and orchards on the lower slopes to wide upland pastures.” (Unesco site)
7. Archeological areas of Pompeii and Herculaneum – Campania
A truly unique, impressive sight. A city petrified in time, a result of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. The two flourishing Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as the many wealthy villas in the area were submersed and engulfed in lava. Excavation began in the 18th century, and uncovered buildings, paintings and statues still intact. “A vivid picture of society and daily life at a specific moment in the past that is without parallel anywhere in the world.” (Unesco site Italy).
Explore Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius on a day trip from Sorrento, and relax knowing that everything has been arranged in advance. Tour the ruins of ancient Pompeii, then travel up the mighty Vesuvius itself!
8. Rome, Italy’s Capital – Lazio
The Eternal City, Italy’s capital, a religious hot spot and a city rich with myth. Rome is home to outstanding architecture from 3 millennia of history: from the classical Pantheon, the Colosseum and the Imperial Forums, to Etruscan temples, fortifications like Castel Sant’Angelo, monumental fountains and squares like Piazza Navona and Piazza di Spagna. The Vatican city is here too, plus a vast variety of churches and architectural styles from Renaissance to Baroque.
=> Check out this Ancient Rome and Colosseum Walking Tour, great value for money!
9. Venice, a city on water – Veneto
More an aquatic dream than a city, Venice can truly be described as unique. Built on a series of low mudbanks amid the tidal water of the Adriatic Sea, constantly subjected to flood, this out-of-the-ordinary city is “an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.” (Unesco site). The Gran Canal winds through the heart of the city offering unforgettable views and a dreamlike atmosphere. Arguably the most impressive of all the Unesco sites in Italy.
10. Dolomites, Italian Alps
The Dolomites are most distinctive and scenic mountains in Italy. Set in the northern Italian Alps, this majestic landscape includes peaks that rise above 3 thousand meters, pristine lakes , sheer cliffs, deep and long valleys and glacial landforms. It has a rich protected flora and fauna and covers 141,903 hectares. One of the most spectacular routes links Bolzano with Cortina d’Ampezzo, passing through majestic landscapes with the greatest peaks.
11. Ravenna, Early Christian Churches – Emilia-Romagna
Ravenna was capital of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and then of Byzantine Italy until 8th century AD. Its eight religious monuments – such as the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Archiepiscopal Chapel, the Mausoleum of Theodoric, the Church of San Vitale – are known for the splendid mosaics. They show great artistic skill, including a wonderful blend of Graeco-Roman tradition, Christian iconography and oriental and Western styles.
12. Matera, the “Sassi” and rupestran churches – Basilicata
Matera is an unforgettable sight. In 1993 the town was made a UNESCO World Heritage site, for being “the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region”. This area is known for the “sassi”, ancient dwellings excavated inside the rocky hills and the rock-cut churches.
“Covering an area of 1,016 hectares this remarkable and intact troglodyte settlement contains more than a thousand dwellings and a large number of shops and workshops. The property was first occupied during the Palaeolithic period and shows evidence of continuous human occupation through several millennia until the present day, and is harmoniously integrated into the natural terrain and ecosystem.” (Unesco sites Italy)