A land of golden coastlines, remarkable events and famous art treasures, Italy is a land steeped in history. For more than 2,000 years, generations of artists and artisans, writers and philosophers have undeniably left their mark. As a result, there’s endless amounts to see, do and learn in this fascinating country.
Italy is a country that’s been inhabited since before 8000 BC, with the most significant period in its extraordinary history being the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. It was an era spanning over 500 years, rich in art, architecture, literature and philosophy.
During the Renaissance in the 14th century, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Dante set the worlds of architecture, literature, art and sculpture alight. And there’s evidence of this stunning cultural heritage everywhere you go in Italy.
Italy is a country renowned for its fascinating art and culture, delicious food, and its breathtaking scenery where both adults and children will be blown away by its remarkable beauty. Beaches, museums and plenty of parks and open spaces add to the child-friendly vibe. Couples will find cities such as Venice, Florence and Verona charming and romantic, and filled with cosy restaurant corners too.
Architecture fans visiting Italy’s culture capital won’t want to miss Rome’s Colosseum. This impressive oval amphitheatre is the largest ever built, and is now close to 2,000 years old. It held 80,000 spectators and was the place to watch intense gladiator battles, animal hunts and mythological dramas.
Vatican City is another popular place to visit, with St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums within its walls. If the Pope is in residence when you visit, he’ll appear at the window on St Peter’s Square at 1pm on Sunday to bless the crowd. This isn’t ticketed and is free. You’ll need a ticket for The Audience with the Pope on Wednesday’s though, also held in St Peter’s Square.
While in the Vatican, viewing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a must. Completed by Michelangelo in 1512, its main feature is the depiction of nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, including the Creation of Adam, and is regarded as the most important work of art of the Renaissance.
For lovers of art and sculpture, the city of Florence is where many of the country’s most famous pieces can be found. The Uffizi Gallery, right in the centre of the city, displays work from Renaissance masters Giotto, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael and Titian. Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Titian’s Venus of Urbino tend to draw a real crowd.
Outside on the Piazza della Signoria, you’ll find a number of Renaissance sculptures, including a copy of Michelangelo’s David. For the real thing though, don’t pass on the chance to visit the Galleria dell’Accademia, where the original is housed, as the centrepiece of the Michelangelo exhibition. Within these walls, the sheer scale of this iconic sculpture is hard to ignore.
Opera is a big part of Italy’s musical heritage, an art form that started in Italy at the end of the 16th century. Invented in Florence by a group of the city’s intellectuals, scholars and amateur musicians, it combines drama, music and song in a single performance. The form we see in today’s opera houses is largely unchanged from this ideal. Once considered highbrow, it’s now loved by people from all walks of life.
The first opera was performed in 1598, and at that time, was performed as part of big state occasions and not for the general public. This changed with the opening of the first public opera house in Venice in 1637. Soon opera became a firm favourite with Italians of all classes, and it still is.
Visit La Scala in Milan to catch a performance in the ultimate venue, where opera truly comes alive. But be sure to get your tickets in advance as these mesmerising performances sell out fast.
Carnival in Venice
Possibly the best known cultural event in Italy is the Venice Carnival, which happens every year in the floating city. This popular Venice festival has roots in the Middle Ages, and became popular from the late 1970s.
The carnival sees locals and tourists put on elaborate clothing and masks, from the feminine Colombina, to the long-nosed clown Scaramouche. Originally worn to hide the wearer’s identity and social standing, it meant Venetians from all walks of life could socialise together, mixing without the usual class barriers.
Today the carnival is one big party, with revellers flocking to the city from across the world to watch people in their masks and costumes on the main squares and bridges. Don’t miss the arrival of decorated gondolas during the Water Parade, or the chance to dress up for the Venice Carnival Ball. Anyone who purchases a ticket can attend, which makes the Venice Carnival the ultimate occasion for any cultural visit to Italy.
Have you already booked your getaway to Italy? I’d love to hear what’s on your list of things to do.