The Regions of Italy: A Traveller’s Guide

More than most countries, Italy is defined by its regions.

Prior to its unification in 1871, the country existed as a series of states, each with its own history, customs and local dialect. Today’s Italy is made up of 20 administrative regions (regioni), roughly corresponding to these historical states, which have held on proudly to their cultures and traditions.

Ask an Italian where they are from and chances are they’ll identify this by region.

Owing to the distinct character of each of Italy’s regions, it’s useful to know more about them if you are planning an Italian vacation. To help you do this, here’s a snapshot of the regions of Italy and what they offer.

Some of these will be instantly recognisable; others less so. But together they paint the rich canvas of one of the most diverse countries in the world.

map showing the regions of italy

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20 Regions in Italy: A to Z List

Here’s a quick and easy guide to the regions of Italy, including the capital city and the most popular places to visit.

Those regions marked with an asterisk (*) are autonomous regions. These are the five regions of Italy which have a greater degree of control over local laws and how funds are spent. However, this distinction won’t affect your travel plans.

REGIONCAPITAL CITYPOPULAR PLACES TO VISIT
AbruzzoL’AquilaL’Aquila, Gran Sasso National Park, Parco Majella
Apulia (Puglia)BariBari, Alberobello, Lecce
BasilicataPotenzaMatera, Melfi
CalabriaCatanzaroReggio di Calabria, Tropea
CampaniaNaples (Napoli)Naples, Capri, Ischia, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius
Emilia RomagnaBolognaBologna, Modena, Parma, Ferrara, Ravenna, Rimini
Friuli-Venezia Giulia*TriesteTrieste, Lignano
LazioRome (Roma)          Rome, Civita di Bagnoregio, Ostia Antica, Tivoli, Sperlonga
LiguriaGenoa (Genova)Cinque Terre, Genoa
LombardyMilan (Milano)Milan, Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Lake Como, Lake Garda (western shore), Lake Maggiore, Mantova/Mantua
Le MarcheAnconaAncona, Urbino
MoliseCampobassoAgnone, Térmoli
Piedmont (Piemonte)Turin (Torino)Turin, Alba
Sardinia (Sardegna)*CagliariCosta Smeralda, Alghero, Cagliari, Su Nuraxi di Barumini
Sicily (Sicilia)*PalermoPalermo, Catania, Taormina, Mount Etna, Siracusa
Tuscany (Toscana)Florence (Firenze)Florence, Siena, Pisa, Arezzo, Cortona, Chianti subregion, San Gimignano, Elba
Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol*Trento/BolzanoTrento, The Dolomites
UmbriaPerugiaPerugia, Assisi, Orvieto, Spoleto, Gubbio
Valle d’Aosta*AostaMont Blanc and Matterhorn, Gran Paradiso National Park
VenetoVenice (Venezia)Venice, Verona, Vicenza, Padua (Padova), Treviso, Lake Garda (eastern shore)

A Guide to the Regions of Italy

However, for most visitors, it is perhaps more useful to carve up the country according to broad geographic areas. To help you plan your trip, I will travel through Italy from the industrial and economic heartland of the north to the sun-soaked coastlines at the end of the boot, finishing with its islands.

It is impossible and impractical to provide a fully comprehensive guide to Italy’s regions. Instead, I will highlight the most popular attractions within each of these areas and include links to travel guides for more information where available.

NORTHERN ITALY

map of the regions of northern italy

This is the most industrial, most expensive and wealthiest part of Italy. With the Alps and the country’s world-famous lakes, it is also dramatically scenic.

1. Piedmont

red rooftops of the city of turin italy
Turin

Tucked into the northwest corner of Italy is Piedmont (Piemonte), the birthplace of modern Italy. This is prime skiing territory and Turin, its capital, is the home of Fiat, Italy’s car manufacturing giant.

Tourist destinations in Piedmont:

  • The Baroque city of Turin
  • Asti and Alba – centre for the production of Barolo and Asti Spumante

2. Valle d’Aosta

It is here that you’ll find the northwest’s most spectacular scenery. This small autonomous region is bilingual (French and Italian) and its valleys form Italy’s Alpine playground.

Tourist destinations in Valle d’Aosta:

  • Aosta – the so-called Rome of the Alps
  • Resorts on the south slopes of Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn (Courmayer and Brueil-Cervinia)
  • Gran Paradiso National Park – Italy’s answer to Yellowstone

3. Liguria

brightly coloured houses set on cliffside with deep blue sea
Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Also known as the Italian Riviera, lovely Liguria is Italy’s smallest region. At its centre is Genoa, whilst the rainbow-coloured towns of the Cinque Terre hug the Ligurian coastline.

It’s here that you’re likely to find the best pesto in the country.

Tourist destinations in Liguria:

  • Genoa – Italy’s greatest port
  • Resort towns of Sen Remo, Alassio, Rapallo, Portofino and Portovenere
  • Cinque Terre towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore

4. Lombardy

the top of ochre buildings in a narrow street with a sign for hotel belaggio
Bellagio, Lake Como

The economic powerhouse of Lombardy has it all: historical cities, a rich cultural heritage and natural beauty. Lombard cuisine is renowned for its risotto alla milanese (saffron risotto), ossobuco (braised veal shanks), panettone and delicious cheeses.

Lombardy makes up for its landlocked geographical location by having some of the most beautiful lakes in Europe. It is also home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than anywhere else in Italy.

Tourist destinations in Lombardy:

  • Milan – one of the fashion capitals of the world and a global hub for design and style.
  • Historic cities of Bergamo, Cremona and Mantua
  • The Italian Lakes – Lake Como, Lake Garda (western shore), Lake Maggiore

The next three regions to the east – Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige and Fruili-Venezia Giulia – collectively form Venetia. For centuries, they were influenced or governed by Venice.

5. Veneto

gondola on canal in venice

Veneto’s main attraction, Venice, barely needs an introduction but it is not the only show in town. It is home to a clutch of other lovely – and less touristy – cities, some of the best wine in Italy and magnificent villas.

Tourist destinations in Veneto:

  • Venice – one of the most iconic and popular cities in Italy
  • Historic cities of Verona, Vicenza, Padua (Padova) and Treviso
  • The eastern shore of Lake Garda, including Desenzano, Peschiera, Sirmione and Italy’s biggest theme park, Gardaland

6. Trentino-Alto Adige

The autonomous Trentino-Alto Adige region in northern Italy combines Italian and Austrian influences. Divided into Trentino and South Tyrol it showcases glorious Alpine landscapes, including the Dolomites.

It is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise but also has charming towns, historic castles and culinary delights influenced by both countries’ traditions.

Tourist destinations in Trentino-Alto Adige:

  • The Dolomites – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offering countless opportunities for hiking, skiing, rock climbing and mountaineering
  • Lake Garda and Lake Caldonazzo
  • Cities of Trento, Bolzano and Merano

7. Fruili-Venezia Giulia

cypress trees and castle tower in trieste in italy
Trieste

The second autonomous region in Venetia is a rich ethnic mix wedged in the corner between Austria and Slovenia. It is bordered by the Julian Alps in the north and the Adriatic Sea to the south.

Fruili-Venezia Giulia’s culinary delights include frico (a cheese and potato dish) and prosciutto di San Daniele, complemented by some of Italy’s finest white wines.

Tourist destinations in Fruili-Venezia Giulia:

  • Neoclassical seaport of Trieste
  • Coastal resorts of Grado and Lignano
  • Historic towns of Ùdine and Cividale

8. Emilia-Romagna

people-in-main-square-in-bologna-italy
Bologna

Located in North or Central Italy, depending on who you are talking to, Emilia-Romagna nearly crosses the entire peninsula, occupying the Po Plain and the northern Apennines. Its elegant cities are associated with some of Italy’s most famous food: ragu sauce from Bologna, Parma ham and balsamic vinegar from Modena.

It is here that the string of Adriatic resorts starts, Rimini being the biggest and brashest of the bunch.

Tourist destinations in Emilia-Romagna:

  • The elegant cities of Bologna, Parma and Modena
  • Busseto – the home of Verdi
  • Ferrara – the fief of some of the great Renaissance patrons
  • Ravenna – home to famous golden Byzantine mosaics
  • The frescoed Abbey of Pomposa

CENTRAL ITALY

map of the regions of central italy

The middle of the republic is archetypal Italy. This is the land of rolling hills, cypress trees, faded ochre buildings and olive groves.

Central Italy was also the birthplace of two momentous chapters in Western history: the Renaissance and the Roman Empire.

9. Le Marche

medieval buildings of the city of urbino
Urbino

Although its landscapes resemble those of Tuscany, Le Marche is one of Italy’s lesser-known regions. It is home to two exceptional cities: Urbino, the birthplace of the great artist Raphael, and Ascoli Piceno, a lovely medieval town.

Resort towns line its Adriatic coastline, either side of the old port city of Ancona.

Tourist destinations in Le Marche:

  • Urbino – a UNESCO World Heritage site, renowned for its Renaissance architecture, art and historical significance
  • The picturesque town of Ascoli Piceno and the pilgrimage centre of Loreto
  • Ancona – the regional capital, featuring historical sites, a lovely harbour and the Cathedral of San Ciriaco

10. Abruzzo

Beautiful landscape with Gran Sasso d'Italia peak at Campo Imperatore plateau in the Apennine Mountains, Abruzzo, Italy
Gran Sasso d’Italia

Abruzzo’s lofty Apennine peaks attract outdoor enthusiasts in winter and summer. There are a number of unspoilt medieval hilltop villages and churches and its national park is the home of the Abruzzo bear as well as other wildlife.

The region’s traditional cuisine includes arrosticini (skewered lamb) and excellent Montepulciano wines.

Tourist destinations in Abruzzo:

  • Scanno and the Abruzzo National park
  • L’Aquila –  the regional capital, known as the city of 99 fountains
  • The delightful towns of Atri, Penne and Loreto Aprutino
  • Gran Sasso d’Italia – the roof of the Appenines

11. Molise

Molise is a smaller, poorer and relatively obscure region south of Abruzzo. Rural and unspoiled, it rarely attracts overseas tourists and offers an authentic Italian experience.

Tourist destinations in Molise:

  • Térmoli – a fishing town with a long, sandy beach, an exotic 13th Century cathedral and a castle
  • Campobasso – the regional capital which has a historic centre, home to the Castello Monforte and the Museo Sannitico
  • Agnone – a historic town famous for its bell foundry, Marinelli Pontifical Foundry, and traditional craftsmanship

12. Tuscany

red dome of florence cathedral and surounding red rooftops

Few regions are more essentially Italian than Tuscany.

The cradle of the Renaissance, it has three of the greatest art cities in the world: Florence, Siena and Pisa. However, its smaller cities and towns have accumulated their fair share of artistic and architectural treasures.

The region’s rolling landscapes and hilltop towns have graced more than a few screen savers. Its wine, notably Chianti, is consumed the world over.

Tourist destinations in Tuscany:

  • The “Big 3” Tuscan cities of Florence, Siena and Pisa
  • San Gimignano’s skyline of medieval skyscrapers
  • Lovely Lucca with its intact walls and marble churches
  • The smaller jewels of Arezzo and Cortona

13. Umbria

cathedral with mosaic and bell tower in main square of spoleto in umbria
Spoleto

Landlocked, rugged Umbria is one of my favourite regions of Italy. Set between its verdant valleys and hills are a number of outstanding towns and cities including Assisi, Perugia, Spoleto and Orvieto.

Italy’s “Green Heart” is famous for its truffles, wild porcini mushrooms and Norcia cured meats, washed down with Sagrantino wine.

Destinations for your Umbria itinerary:

  • Orvieto – Etruscan ruins, a show-stopping cathedral, an underground city and some of the best wine on the planet
  • Perugia – modern jazz, medieval archways and the location of the biggest celebration of chocolate in Europe (highly recommended!)
  • Assisi – pilgrimage site and home to the restored Basilica di San Francesco with its Giotto frescos
  • Gubbio – a resolutely medieval town, famous for the Race of the Candles
  • Spoleto – a magical town that is one of the most appealing in Italy

14. Lazio

roman stone sculpture of two small figures embracing
Ostia Antica

To many travellers, Lazio means one thing: Rome. But it is so much more than this.

There are astonishing reminders of the Roman Empire in the region’s capital and at Ostia Antica and Tivoli. As Northern Lazio was the homeland of the ancient Etruscans, there are also fascinating sites at places like Tarqunia and Tuscania.

To the west lies the Tyrrhenian Sea, with long stretches of coastline, beautiful beaches and the popular resort town of Sperlonga.

Tourist destinations in Lazio:

  • Rome – the capital city of Italy and Lazio’s most famous destination, a city of unparalleled historical, cultural and religious significance
  • Etruscan towns of Tarquinia and Tuscania
  • Tivoli – Villa d’Este, known for its Renaissance gardens and fountains, and Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa), a vast archaeological complex
  • Ostia Antica – the well-preserved ancient Roman port city of Ostia, complete with a theatre, baths and mosaics
  • Viterbo – known as the “City of Popes,” a well-preserved medieval old town, including the Papal Palace and the thermal baths of Terme dei Papi
  • Bracciano – a medieval town on the lake with the impressive Renaissance Castello Orsini-Odescalchi
  • Civita di Bagnoregio – known as the “Dying City,” this ancient hilltop town is accessible by a pedestrian bridge
  • Farfa – a small town renowned for its ancient Benedictine abbey, the Abbazia di Farfa
  • Sperlonga – a picturesque coastal town with pristine beaches and a historic centre

SOUTHERN ITALY

map of the regions of southern italy

In many ways, the four regions of the south of Italy (Mezzogiorno) feel like a different country from their northern neighbours.

Gone are the mountains and rolling hills. In their place are rugged coastlines and fertile agricultural land.

Thanks to historical interactions, there is a strong influence of Mediterranean and Arab cultures in Southern Italy. There is a greater prevalence of dialects, with variations of the Italian language being spoken alongside regional languages like Neapolitan.

The island regions of Sicily and Sardinia are captivating and have distinct identities. Located west of the Italian mainland, both islands are known for their natural beauty and vibrant traditions.

15. Campania

rugged cliffs along the amalfi coast in italy
Path of the Gods, Amalfi Coast

You’ll find the south’s prime tourist attractions in Campania.

This region is steeped in history, with traces of the Greek, Ancient Roman and Etruscan civilizations. The UNESCO-listed Amalfi Coast is renowned for its dramatic cliffs and charming villages like Positano and Sorrento.

Naples, Campania’s main city, is synonymous with pizza, claimed to be the best in the world.

Tourist destinations in Campania:

  • Naples –  a vibrant city known for its historic centre, the world-class National Archaeological Museum and pizza
  • Pompeii and Herculaneum – remarkably preserved ancient Roman cities buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD
  • Amalfi Coast – stupendous scenery and timeless towns hugging its coastline, including Amalfi, Positano, Ravello and Sorrento
  • Islands – Capri is famous for its upscale ambience, while Ischia offers thermal spas. Procida is a colourful and less-visited gem.
  • Mount Vesuvius – one of the most famous volcanoes in the world, looming over the Bay of Naples.

16. Calabria

Calabria is the “toe” of the Italian “boot” and is flanked by the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas. With its rugged mountains, beaches and fertile valleys, this is one of Italy’s most geographically varied regions.

Stretching from Maratea to Reggio di Calabria on the west coast, the so-called Calabrian Riviera serves up a handful of clean beaches and beautiful scenery.

Tourist destinations in Calabria:

  • Tropea – a coastal town on the Tyrrhenian Sea is famous for its beaches and the Santa Maria dell’Isola Church, perched on a rock overlooking the sea
  • Reggio Calabria – the regional capital, known for its seafront promenade, the Riace Bronzes (ancient Greek statues) and the Aragonese Castle

17. Basilicata

grey stone buildings and church of Matera ancient town in Basilicata
Matera

Once one of the backward corners of Italy, Basilicata beckons with its captivating mix of history, rugged landscapes and cultural authenticity. It’s one of the best parts of the country for a more off-the-beaten-path experience (although Matera has grown in popularity in recent years).

Tourist destinations in Basilicata:

  • Matera – often called the “City of Stones,” this UNESCO World Heritage site is known for its ancient cave dwellings, or Sassi, which were inhabited for thousands of years.
  • Historical Sites – notable sites include the medieval town of Melfi with its Norman castle and the ancient Greek ruins at Metaponto

18. Puglia

street in Alberobello With white conical shaped Trulli Houses
Trulli houses in Alberobello

Puglia, also known as Apulia, occupies the “heel” of Italy’s “boot.”

This Italian region is steeped in history, with influences from the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and  Normans. The rugged limestone Gargano Peninsula offers scenery unique in Italy, along with appealing resorts.

But for many the real draw of Puglia are the trulli of Alberobello, unique cone-shaped limestone dwellings which are UNESCO-listed and a symbol of the region’s architectural heritage.

Tourist destinations in Puglia:

  • Trulli of Alberobello – a fairytale landscape like few others
  • Lecce – known as the Florence of the South, this Baroque city is the south’s most beautiful
  • Bari – the regional capital has a charming old town, a historic port and the Basilica of San Nicola, an important pilgrimage site

19. Sardinia

panoramic view of cagliari in sardina with bay and mountains in background
Cagliari

Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily. It has magnificent landscapes, from rugged mountains to pristine beaches, and is home to diverse flora and fauna.

Sardinia is home to several significant archaeological sites, including the Nuragic civilization’s stone structures known as nuraghi. These ancient stone towers are unique to the island and are believed to date back to the Bronze Age.

Tourist destinations in Sardinia:

  • Archaeological Sites – the most famous is Su Nuraxi di Barumini, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Costa Smeralda – known as the Emerald Coast, this stretch of coastline in northeastern Sardinia is famous for its crystal-clear waters and luxury resorts
  • Cagliari – the capital city of Sardinia features historic sites such as the Castello district and the Roman Amphitheatre
  • Grotta di Nettuno – located near Alghero, this cave system features intricate stalactites and stalagmites

20. Sicily

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and one of the best known. It is home to Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano, fertile plains, rolling hills and a coastline with sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs.

Sicily’s numerous archaeological sites tell of its history spanning thousands of years. The island’s complex and fascinating cultural heritage has been influenced by various civilizations and is evident in its architecture, cuisine and traditions.

Tourist destinations in Sicily:

  • Historical sites – these include the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, the Greek Theatre in Taormina and the ancient city of Syracuse
  • Coastal attractions – the island’s coastline is dotted with beautiful beaches, such as Mondello and San Vito Lo Capo, and picturesque fishing villages like Cefalù
  • Mount Etna – offers opportunities for hiking and exploration
  • Vibrant cities – these include Palermo and Catania

Which Region Will You Visit Next?

So those are the regions of Italy in all of their beauty, complexity and diversity.

I hope that this guide helps you to plan your next Italian vacation like a ninja. Although I have visited most of these regions, there are still a few that I’ll be excited to discover.

Which region will you visit next?