First-time visitors to Rome sometimes get a bit overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, smells, and ancient treasures and relics the city is famous for. Even if you’re an old hand in the Eternal City, you may occasionally pine for the softer side of Italy.
The good news is that there are magnificent historical and culinary destinations just a short drive from Rome that make wonderful daytrips when you’re ready for a change of pace. Take a look at 14 of our favorites.
1. Explore Pompeii, the city frozen in time.
Mt. Vesuvius blew in 79 A.D., burying Pompeii beneath tons of molten lava and ash. Although the eruption spelled the end of the city, it forever froze a bit of Roman life beneath the wreckage. Ancient Pompeii is an archaeologist’s dream—and a wonderful day-trip destination for history buffs who want to connect with the past.
2.Who needs Chianti when you can sample Tuscany’s fabulous Montepulciano and Vino Nobile?
Tuscany is a haven for foodies and oenophiles, but there’s so much more than just pasta and Chianti. In fact, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, a favorite of princes and popes, is perhaps the most delightful wine to come from the region. Made from Sangiovese grapes, Vino Nobile is earthy and full-bodied, the perfect accompaniment to Tuscany’s robust cuisine. Don’t miss it on a tour of Tuscany.
3. Visit the rosticceria for an impromptu picnic on the beach in Positano on the Amalfi Coast.
Positano is one of those lovely Amalfi coast villages where you could while away your days eating, sipping wine, and enjoying unrivaled views of the coast. But you don’t need to spend all your time in one of the lovely restaurants overlooking the sea. A visit to the rosticceria, or Italian rotisserie, provides all the ingredients you need for a mouth-watering picnic on the beach.
4. Don’t miss Amalfi, the home of Italy’s famed limoncello. Have a sip and enjoy views of the sea.
Legend has it that limoncello, the iconic drink of the Amalfi coast, was invented by a sweet old nonna who tended the lemon trees at a guest house in Amalfi. The fragrant yellow liquor soon became extremely popular with locals and visitors alike and is now almost synonymous with the Amalfi Coast. Be sure to enjoy a sip after dinner at one of the lovely restaurants overlooking the sea.
5. Mad about the Medicis? Check out the Medici Villa at Castello.
No other family left such a lasting imprint on Florence than the House of Medici. It produced three popes and several queens and kings. It was unrivaled as a patron of the arts, commissioning some of the most significant Renaissance masterpieces. Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and “Allegory of Spring” were both commissioned by Lorenzo de Medici for the villa at Castello.
6. Immerse yourself in the heady sights and sounds of a Renaissance garden at the Villa d’Este in Tivoli.
The magnificent Villa d’Este was built by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este in the early 16th century. In Roman times, Tivoli was an extremely popular summer residence and the Este family, patrons of the Renaissance and lords of Ferrara, also commissioned a summer estate there. The garden at Villa d’Este is considered one of the finest Renaissance gardens in Italy. It has 64 waterfalls, 51 fountains and nearly 400 spouts, all operated by gravity—not a single water pump is used.
Be sure to make time to explore the lovely grottoes, elegant avenues, graceful frescoes, and unrivaled statuary on your day trip to Tivoli.
7. More gardens? You’ll love the colorful flowers and breathtaking views at Villa Rufolo in Ravello.
Ravello is one of the most popular destinations on the Amalfi Coast and the gardens at the Villa Rufolo are one of the town’s highlights. Built in the 13th century, Villa Rufolo, a medieval marvel with unmistakable hints of Arab influence, is famous for its expansive, landscaped gardens which overlook the blue expanse of the sea below.
8. Take fabulous holiday photos of picturesque Florence, the Cradle of the Renaissance.
Florence is one of the most photographed cities in the world—its fabulous Renaissance architecture, beautiful bridges, and lavish piazzas and palazzo are stunning subjects for the novice and advanced photographer alike. Be sure to allow plenty of time on your tour of Florence for shots of the Ponte Vecchio, Brunelleschi’s Duomo, and Piazzale Michelangelo.
9. Go Medieval at the Piazza del Campo in Siena, home of the Palio.
Siena is a breathtakingly beautiful Medieval town known for its gorgeous shell-shaped Piazza del Campo and towering Torre del Mangia. It’s also the home of the Palio, a horse race that dates back to the 17th century—and it takes place twice a year each summer in Siena, a highly anticipated ritual that has remained the same over the centuries.
10. Catch a glimpse of the mighty Mt. Vesuvius.
The volcano’s most famous eruption occurred nearly 2,000 years ago when an avalanche of lava raced down the mountain at 200 kilometers per hour, blanketing the city of Pompeii and its residents. Although the volcano has been quiet since 1944, its steamy vents are a constant reminder that it won’t remain quiet forever.
11. Dip your toes in the thermal waters at the “piazza of water” at Bagno Vignoni overlooking the Val d’Orcia.
Everyone tours Tuscany for the food and wine, but the Bagno Vignoni is one of the region’s oldest and most popular tourist destinations. The town’s Medieval hot water bath in the main square is a lovely place to relax and even take a dip. The Val d’Orcia is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most lovely landscapes in Tuscany.
12. Do a gelateria tour in Florence, the city known for its delectable gelato.
Some people believe Florence is the gelato capital of the world—and there’s certainly no shortage of fabulous gelateria to satisfy any sweet tooth. Look for shops that say artigianale, or artisanal, since these are likely to be made in-house with all natural ingredients and no preservatives or artificial colors in the traditional style. Cone or cup—you can’t go wrong with pistachio or stracciatella.
13. Don’t miss the Bistecca alla Fiorentina while you’re footloose in Florence.
Of course, Florence is famous for more than gelato, and if you’re looking for the ultimate romantic dinner for two on your visit to Florence, indulge yourself in bistecca alla Fiorentina, the huge T-bone steak cooked over a searing hot wood grill and bathed in fresh herbs. A true Florentine bistecca comes from Chianina cattle, unique to the Tuscan countryside. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss.
14. You’ll be blown away by the luxury at Emperor Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli.
Emperor Hadrian, builder of Hadrian’s Wall and the Temple of Venus and Roma, was considered one of Rome’s best emperors. His summer palace in Tivoli is a monument to the lavish wealth and power of the Roman Empire. Visit Hadrian’s villa and you’ll be transported to a life of first-century grandeur Roman-style.
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