BEST HIDDEN GEMS IN ITALY – MOST UNDERRATED PLACES TO VISIT
Everyone knows destinations like Rome, Milan, Venice, the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, and Florence in Italy. They are incredible, no doubt about it, but they are also popular and crowded – not just in the summer but also all year round.
But Italy is so much more than just these areas, and if you are looking for some hidden gems in Italy, you will find some tips here. Italy is full of exciting and fun cities, amazing architecture, delicious food, beautiful art, incredible religious hamlets, cute streets, and stunning coastal towns. There are so many hidden gems that should be on your Italy radar because they are just as beautiful as their more popular counterparts, if not more so.
These hidden gems tend to be cheaper to visit, less crowded, and have a more authentic feel since you will meet more Italians and fewer tourists.
Experience the wonderful hospitality of friendly locals at these off-the-beaten-path travel destinations. This post will let you know what makes these hidden gems of Italy so very special.
At the moment, this post focuses on underrated places in Northern and Central Italy as I haven’t visited Southern Italy yet – I know, what a shame. I am sure this will change soon.
Also, I know that “hidden gem posts” can be controversial as none of the places are deserted. To me, hidden gems mean they can be well-known amongst locals, but the big crowds – especially from abroad – have not discovered the place yet, and it is not the main travel destination.
Located in the northern part of Italy, Bergamo is most known for its airport and proximity to Milan.
In my opinion, it is the best place to visit in Lombardy. And I say this, even though I have just received a 72€ fine for driving my car in the old town of the city, which is not allowed – but after all, I still love Bergamo.
Bergamo has an upper and lower area, but the upper area is the place to visit. You’ll find the 18th-century Cappella Colleoni, a gorgeous church that is even lovelier inside, where you can view frescoes by Tiepolo.
There are also the Venetian walls, Piazza Vecchia, Duomo di Bergamo (the city cathedral), and some lovely little squares and cobblestone streets you can get lost in.
Bergamo is a great place to spend a day or two. Here is my detailed Bergamo post for more information on this beautiful hidden gem in Italy.
Not to raise your expectations too high, but this may be my favorite city in all of Italy. The capital of Liguria, Genoa, is a fairly large city with about 600,000 inhabitants.
And even though it’s not small or without people, you won’t find many international tourists.
This is a pity because Genoa is such an incredible place. Full of attractions, you can see the Romanesque Cathedral of San Lorenzo, visit the fun harbor, wander the interesting, narrow streets, and enjoy beautiful views of the city accessible by the funicular. And then there is the waterfall in Villetta di Negro.
Be sure to visit Via Garibaldi, a breathtaking historic street populated by palatial residences.
Genoa is one of the most underrated places in Italy, but it’s also the best. I mean…a waterfall in the city says everything!
Another hidden gem to add to your list is Trento. With a population of 120,000 people, this is a much smaller city than Genoa and is located in the Trentino-Alto Adige region in the northern part of the country.
Trento is one of the most authentic places in Italy. It is very lively and colorful, with lots of sights and attractions for you to enjoy. See the Trento Cathedral with its rose window, Piazza del Duomo, and Buonconsiglio Castle, known for its medieval frescos and amazing views and scenery.
Trento is just a few minutes away from the mountains and Lake Garda. The best way to enjoy Trento is by staying for two nights because you will receive the Trentino card, giving you free access to almost all the sights and attractions.
Check out more Trento travel tips here and find more information on this jewel of Northern Italy.
Lucca is a beautiful town located in Italy’s Tuscany region. I thought it would be rather famous since I had heard about it several times before visiting, but when I went at the beginning of April, there were not many tourists.
In fact, considering its 90,000 inhabitants, there were still not a lot of people to seen while I was there.
While in Lucca, you will find a lot of towers and churches – a lot. You can walk along the Lucca walls built during the Renaissance and enjoy the view. But you should climb at least one tower while you’re here.
The most popular of the towers is the medieval Guinigi Tower. After you climb about 270 steps, you can enjoy some amazing views of the city.
While Lucca is not exactly a hidden place in Italy, it is neither overrun with tourists and thus a great place to visit (especially compared to other places in Tuscany).
Lerici is also in the region of Liguria on the Italian Riviera. It’s conveniently located close to La Spezia and Cinque Terre. This is a local´s place even as it is gaining popularity as a travel destination, but I still consider it a hidden gem in Italy – and what a hidden gem!
Lerici is a small fishing village with only about 10,000 inhabitants. But despite its size, there are many beautiful things to see. If you take a walk on the promenade, you’ll be wowed by the breathtaking views – everything makes this place look lovely and adorable.
Lerici is a great alternative to Cinque Terre and a good place to get lost for views hours or a day. Check out my post on day trips from Cinque Terre to find more information on this beautiful gem.
While you’re here, you should also visit Tellaro, just a few kilometers away. It was described by a local as being like a village in Cinque Terre but without the crowds.
Perched on a cliff overlooking the Italian Riviera, Tellaro is one of the prettiest places in Liguria, maybe even Italy and was even voted as one of the most beautiful hamlets.
It can be easily combined with a trip to Lerici as it is small and you can discover the main attractions quite fast. While I surely liked Lerici more, it is a place that deserves a place on this list.
This is perhaps the most beautiful lake in northern Italy. Located in the province of Belluno, in the Dolomites region, Lake Sorapis is one of the most distinctive lakes because of its color – it reminds me of Canada’s lakes.
You also have Lake di Braies, which is close by and extremely popular. But Lake Sorapis is not as popular because you have to hike for a bit to reach it, which can be quite challenging. This mountain lake is about 2,000 meters above sea level, so you will have to follow one of the two hiking paths – easy or difficult – to get here.
If you prefer the easier path, there will be more people on it with you. The harder one is a little more off-the-beaten-path, and you will see very few people along the way. But whichever trail you choose, it will be worth it.
This small city in Tuscany is another travel destination that you must see if you like veering off the beaten path. Pistoia is surely one of the most hidden gems in Italy. With 90,000 inhabitants, I would have expected it to be busier, like other cities of its size.
But when I visited on a sunny April afternoon, there were not many people around.
But there were lots of places to see. Check out the Piazza del Duomo, Pistoia Cathedral, and the Palazzo del Vescovi (an 11th-century palace that holds several museums now). There are also many beautiful churches that you can visit.
You can combine your trip to Pistoia with a visit to nearby Pescia, located between Lucca and Florence. With a population of just 20,000, Pescia isn’t very large but has some lovely attractions.
You can see the Pescia River, the Santi Stefano church, some interesting bridges, and the Pescia Cathedral. You can easily do both towns in one day.
If you ask me about my favorite town in Italy, it would be Porto Venere. It is one of the best secret places in Italy, yet also one of the most beautiful. Located on the Ligurian coast, it is only about half an hour from La Spezia in northwestern Italy.
The town is known for the Porto Venere Regional Natural Park, where you can hike and dive. But even if you are not a hiker or diver, you will love the colorful seaside promenade that can easily compete with the villages of Cinque Terre. Castello Doria, once a fortress, sits on top of a cliff and has some of the best views you can get.
This is a small place, but there are lots of things to see and do. It will probably only take you a few hours to stroll through this lovely town and take in the sights. Porto Venere is great for anyone who wants to escape the Cinque Terre crowds but still experience the famous colorful beauty of the Ligurian coast and access the beach. Here is my more detailed guide on Portovenere.
It is THE best day trip to take from Cinque Terre, and actually, I think it should be even on your Cinque Terre itinerary.
Since I had never heard of it before I stayed there, Santa Margherita is quite a busy place. I just booked a hotel there because it was close to Portofino. It is also close to Genoa, and you can get there in minutes.
I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. It is the prettiest town in all of Liguria, in my opinion. What sets the city apart is that it doesn’t have the typical charm of the other towns. A lot of Italy looks aged and faded, which is what makes it so charming. But Santa Margherita is picture perfect and clean. It reminded me of the Venetian hotel in Macau or Las Vegas.
It’s a stunning place to wander the streets. There’s a really nice harbor, a 17th-century palazzo called the Villa Durazzo. You can enjoy the gardens and a view of the town, and stunning churches like the Chiesa di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia.
Make sure you visit the insides of the churches, as they are gorgeous – some of the fanciest I have ever seen.
You can easily get from here to Portofino and Genoa, but it would be a pity to use it as a base. Santa Margherita is a unique and lovely hidden gem that you should definitely see while visiting Italy.
Another hidden gem I have encountered in my Italy travel is Perugia. The city, the Umbria region’s capital, has defensive walls around the historic center and holds some interesting places to visit, like Rocco Paolina, an old city beneath the city. Sound weird? It is.
Then, the Fontana Maggiore, the Perugia Cathedral (it looks less impressive on the outside than the inside), and the National Gallery.
I cannot say I wanted to move here, but it was fun to visit and experience another off-the-beaten-path city of Italy, and it was different from the other places I have seen and visited in Italy.
One of the bigger cities that I really enjoyed was Padua – wow, what a beauty!
However, due to its location – being only around 40 km from Venice – it is often overshadowed by its very famous neighbor. But Padua is the perfect place for a day trip from Venice.
It has the biggest square in Italy – and Italian cities were created with some amazing squares at their centers – where many statues are on display! Then, there is the Basilica of St. Anthony – a stunning church that is one of the prettiest in all of the country.
Padua is quite small, and you could see it within one day, but if you want to stroll the streets and enjoy a lesser-known place in Italy, which is still lively and full of attractions, then Padua is your best option.
CONCLUSION: HIDDEN PLACES IN ITALY
If you visit Italy for the first time, make sure to check out the best travel tips for Italy.
I hope this list of the most beautiful hidden gems in Italy will help you plan out your own itinerary and see more than just the typical, popular locations.
Italy is a gorgeous country with so much to offer, so skip the crowds and see its beauty off the beaten path.