The wonderful thing about travelling in Europe, as I’ve said before, is that so much can change in such little space and with, therefore, minimum expense. Nowhere is that more obvious than in Italy – Venice, Rome, Naples, Milan, Bologna, Florence, Verona and others all vie for space in this article, and each one has its merits and quirks. They, along with others that I have shamefully neglected to mention, all are worth travelling to. And they’re all within just one country!
The reason that the Italian cities are each so individual and special is simple: history. After the fall of Rome, Italy fragmented and took a few hundred years to form various city-states; comparable with the city-states of ancient Greece which came almost a thousand years before. These city states dominated Italy throughout the later period of the middle ages, and became immensely rich through trade, capitalism and scientific freedom, which helped drive the continent into the Renaissance. Not for the first time, Italians were responsible for an enormous change of affairs throughout Europe.
Because of the wealth and relative political freedom that the Italians had managed to nurture, each city soon became, well, a city – enormous construction projects were undertaken, as they always are in times of freedom and financial health, and each city was developed and designed by different architects, each with their own flair and style – there was very little documentation at the time to show an architect how to design a building. In some respects they were freer than they are now to do what they liked. The result is, in every Italian city, astonishing.
That’s enough history, I think, but if you want to learn some more, here’s some Wikipedia articles on the history of Italy, The Renaissance, and the Italian city states.
As far as places to visit go, I don’t have enough space in an entire article to list them all, let alone one that I’ve half-filled with the last 1500 years of Italian history. But, every city I’ve mentioned has so much to see and do – have a look around the web and see what you like the look of. After you’ve finished tantalising yourself with places to visit, then you will need to consider places to stay. If you want to really experience living like an Italian then rent an apartment in the heart of the city. Trust me when I say this is a better and often cheaper option than chancing it with a hotel.