A treasure trove of art, world-class cuisine, centuries of history, beautiful landscapes and charming locals make Italy one of Europe’s most popular destinations. An extraordinarily diverse country, from the Alps in the north to the Mediterranean Sea in the south, Italy’s culture and geography are among the most splendid in the world. However, outside of big cities like Rome, Milan, and Florence, many small towns with old world charm and rustic beauty that showcase a different side of Italy are sometimes overlooked by tourists. This article takes a look at 11 of the most charming small towns in Italy.
A small Sicilian village overlooking Taormina is often overlooked by Sicilians and tourists on the largest Mediterranean island. This ensures that whenever visitors undertake the hike to Castelmola, they will find a sparsely populated and quiet location perfect for relaxation, stunning views and plenty of warm sunshine!
Site of ancient Greek ruins and 11th-century Norman relics, Castelmola also hosts an annual Labor Day music festival on May 1, which increases foot traffic in the area. For most of the year, however, it is a quiet and peaceful village, away from the main centers of Sicily but full of all the beauty that defines the island.
Site of the 1956 Winter Olympics and the upcoming 2026 Games, Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Veneto region of northern Italy is a paradise for winter sports enthusiasts. Located in the Dolomite Alps, Cortina is world famous as a winter resort known for its alpine activities. From skiing, snowboarding and even sledding, any professional or casual athlete will surely want to hit the slopes here to enjoy those winter games!
But even for other sport-averse tourists, Cortina is a magical place with stunning views of the snow-capped Alps, postcard-like accommodations, and an abundance of restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops. On the way out, tourists can also stop at the Basilica of Saints Philip and James, first built in the 1760s to offer beautiful views of Baroque architecture.
A beautiful little town in the island region of Sardinia, Bosa is a colorful snapshot of Mediterranean life. Houses in the town of 8,000 are painted in pastel colors, reflecting a wide range of the rainbow spectrum, while fishing boats add a charming element to this coastal settlement. The smell of seafood wafts through the air as tourists can find a variety of small trattoria and cafes offering unique Sardinian cuisine.
The area was settled by the Phoenicians in the 12th century and later attacked by Arab pirates, meaning Bosa’s history reflects changes in local leadership. Tourists also won’t want to miss a walk up to the most impressive medieval castle in Saravalle for fantastic views of the 13th century architecture and stunning panoramic views of the island and sea.
Located in the Puglia region of southern Italy, or the “heel” of the Italian boot, the town of Alberobello was founded in the 1500s. While most towns and villages in Italy can trace their foundations to the Roman Empire or the medieval period, Alberobello’s ancient history in the 16th century surprisingly makes it one of the “younger” towns in Italy.
Near the coast of the Adriatic Sea, this city of 10,000 inhabitants is world famous for its Trulli houses, small white limestone houses with conical or pointed roofs. Some 1,500 of these unique structures dot the city. Although similar buildings can be found in other towns in Puglia, Alberobello is home to the most and the originals. The structures are so culturally and historically significant that in 1996 they were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tourists will love this charming coastal town and will surely have more than a photo or two to take with a Trulli house!
Stunning scenic beauty will greet all guests visiting the Amalfi Coast and the Bay of Naples. The village of Positano, nestled in the hills just above, is one of the most famous stops in the area. Originally a poor fishing port, like many towns and villages in the Naples area, Positano became a tourist center in the post-World War II period.
With beautiful beaches, clear skies, bright sunshine and, of course, great pizza and Neapolitan cuisine for dinner, Positano and the Amalfi Coast is a perfect destination to experience all the majesty of southern Italy. When not relaxing or marveling at the natural beauty, tourists can enjoy a visit to the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, which houses a tiled dome and a unique Black Madonna.
City of Bagnoregio
One hundred and twenty kilometers north of Rome, the town of Civita di Bagnoregio was founded around 2,500 years ago by the Etruscans. Sitting on a hill with unstable foundations, erosion and winds have worn away parts of the land over time, and parts of the town have crumbled onto the cliff face!
Accessible only by footbridge (with toll), visitors entering this secluded ensemble will get a real medieval feel. From old arches and wooden windows to cobbled streets and bell towers, Civita di Bagnoregio is as historically authentic as it gets. Isolated from most other municipalities in the Lazio region, this city’s isolation has preserved its unique historical flavor and created a living time capsule.
One of five famous Cinque Terre villages in the northern Italian Riviera, Manarola has a permanent population of just under 400. Yet, like its other Cinque Terre sisters, Manarola is an incredibly picturesque coastal town with stunning views of the region’s rugged cliffs and crystal-clear waters of the Ligurian Sea.
Well known for its local wines and surrounding vineyards, Manarola also boasts colorful hiking trails and hilltop houses, creating the best postcard images in all of Italy. Visitors can also enjoy the local tavernas and souvenir shops, bringing a part of Cinque Terre with them wherever their travels take them.
Located about 130 kilometers from the city of Bologna in north-central Italy, the municipality of San Leo is famous for the Forte di San Leo, a hilltop castle built in 1441. Now a popular medieval museum, views from the top of the castle from an elevation of 2,000 feet give a beautiful panoramic snapshot of the hills and the vast sky.
The 12th century San Leo Cathedral is an impressive architectural marvel typical of the Romanesque style. It is said that the great poet Dante Alighieri based his vision of purgatory in his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, on the design of San Leo and its buildings.
Declared European Capital of Culture by the European Union in 2019, Matera, in the southern Italian region of Basilicata, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Well known for its ancient cave dwellings (or Sassi), this medieval town has seen a period of detailed restoration and renewed interest from tourists and the Italian government.
Now occupied by numerous galleries, restaurants, hotels and other local museums, Matera has seen a resurgence in attention after centuries of neglect. Tourists will encounter a unique destination here and can even spend a night in one of the Sassi for a truly unique nightlife experience!
Meaning “Holy Rock”, the town of Pietrasanta in Tuscany is just 32 kilometers north of Pisa on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Home to a bustling community of sculptors, artists and artisans, the city is well known for its marble workshops, bronze foundries and galleries. A short drive from Carrara and its famous marble quarries, the local buildings in Pietrasanta are all made of first class materials.
These include the Collegiate Church of San Martino, built in the 13th century, and the Church of Sant’ Agostino. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll or bike ride in the town’s main square, savor the local Tuscan cuisine and gaze at the beautiful art and design all around this lesser-known gem of northern Italy.
The setting for Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto, Mantua is a charming city in the Lombardy region, some 160 kilometers from Milan. A wonderful mix of squares, towers and ancient buildings, cupolas and a surrounding wetland, Mantua is often overlooked by visitors to the region.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 and European Capital of Culture by the European Union in 2016, Mantua is rich in cultural and gastronomic excellence. Tourists can marvel at sites such as Palazzo Ducale, home to priceless paintings by masters like Raphael and Rubens, and Palazzo Te’, first built in 1524. And of course, for some of the best food from northern Italy, visitors will surely want to dine in Mantua. Try pumpkin-stuffed tortellini for a unique twist on Italian cuisine!
Given their charming vistas, checkered past, rich culture and delicious cuisine, these small towns in Italy promise visitors unforgettable memories.