• Visiting the Art Cities: When Italy consisted of dozens of principalities, art treasures were concentrated in many small capitals, each blessed with the patronage of a papal representative or ducal family. Consequently, these cities became treasure-troves of exquisite paintings, statues, and frescoes displayed in churches, monasteries, and palaces, whose architects are now world acclaimed. Although Rome, Florence, and Venice are the best known, you'll find stunning collections in Assisi, Cremona, Genoa, Mantua, Padua, Palermo, Parma, Pisa, Siena, Taormina, Tivoli, Turin, Verona, and Vicenza.
  • Dining Italian-Style: The most cherished pastime of most Italians is eating. But there's no genuine “national” cuisine here—and each region and city has its own recipes handed down through generations. If the weather is fine and you’re dining outdoors, perhaps with a view of a medieval church or piazza, you’ll find the closest thing to food heaven. Buon appetito!
  • Attending Mass in St. Peter's Basilica: With the exception of some sites in Jerusalem, the massive, opulent St. Peter's in the Vatican is Christendom's most visible and important building. For many, attending Mass here is a spiritual highlight of their lives. In addition, many Catholic visitors to Rome await papal audiences every Wednesday morning, when the pope addresses the general public. (Please confirm that Benedict XVI will continue his audiences by calling ahead or visiting the Vatican website before your visit.) There is a regularly updated list of ceremonies the pope will preside over, including celebrations of Mass, on the Vatican website. If the day is fair, these audiences are sometimes held in St. Peter's Square. Your fellow faithful are likely to come from every corner of the world.

  • Riding Venice's Grand Canal: The S-shaped Canal Grande, curving for 3.3km (2 miles) alongside historic buildings and under ornate bridges, is the most romantic waterway in the world. Most first-timers are stunned by the variety of Gothic and Renaissance buildings, the elaborate styles of which could fill a book on architecture. A ride on the canal will give you ever-changing glimpses of the city's poignant beauty. Your ride doesn't have to be on a gondola; any public vaporetto (motorboat) sailing between Venice's rail station and Piazza San Marco will provide a heart-stopping view.

  • Cicchetti and a spritz in Venice: Cicchetti—tapas-like small servings, usually eaten while standing at a bar—are a Venetian tradition. Accompany the cicchetti with a spritz made with Aperol and sparkling prosecco wine from the Veneto hills to make the experience complete. Your options are numerous, but some of the best spots to indulge are on the San Polo side of the Rialto bridge.

  • Spending a Night at the Opera: More than 2,000 new operas were staged in Italy during the 18th century, and since then, Italian opera fans have earned a reputation as the most demanding in the world. Venice was the site of Italy's first opera house, the Teatro di San Cassiano (1637), but it eventually gave way to the fabled La Fenice, which burned down in 1996 and was later rebuilt. Milan's La Scala is historically the world's most prestigious opera house, especially for bel canto, and has been restored to its former glory. There's also a wide assortment of outdoor settings, such as Verona's Arena, the setting for Italy’s largest and most famous outdoor festival and grand enough to accommodate as many elephants as might be needed for a performance of “Aïda.” Suitable for up to 20,000 spectators and known for its fine acoustics, the Arena presents operas in July and August, when moonlight and the perfumed air of the Veneto add to the charm.

  • Shopping Milan: Milan is one of Europe's hottest fashion capitals. You'll find a range of shoes, clothing, and accessories unequaled anywhere else, except perhaps Paris or London. Even if you weren't born to shop, stroll along the streets bordering Via Montenapoleone and check out the elegant offerings from Europe's most famous designers.
  • Experiencing the Glories of the Empire: Even after centuries of looting, much remains of the legendary Roman Empire. Of course, Rome boasts the greatest share (the popes didn't tear down everything to recycle into churches) -- you'll find everything from the Roman Forum and the Pantheon to the Colosseum and the Baths of Caracalla. And on the outskirts, the long-buried city of Ostia Antica, the port of ancient Rome, has been unearthed and is remarkable. Other treasures are scattered throughout Italy, especially in Sicily. Hordes of sightseers also descend on Pompeii, the city buried by volcanic ash from Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79, and Herculaneum, buried by lava on that same day. Our favorite spot is Paestum, along Campania's coast; its ruins, especially the Temple of Neptune, are alone worth the trip to Italy.

  • Exploring Rome’s Mercato di Testaccio: The 2012 opening of a new, modern version of Testaccio’s historic market signaled a rebirth of this gritty, authentic neighborhood south of the Aventine. The bustling market is a culinary and cultural treat, where local chefs jostle elbow-to-elbow with feisty signore, clamoring for the best pomodori, mozzarella di bufala, and trippa (tripe). Sustain yourself with delectable street food as you soak up this slice of real Rome. 

  • Surrendering to the madness of a Palermo market: In Sicily's capital, which has been a crossroads between the East and West for thousands of years, the chaotic, colorful street theater is a priceless vignette of a culture that sometimes feels more Middle Eastern than European. The Vucciria isn't what it once was, however: Focus on the Capo and Ballarò markets.

  • Feeling the modern pulse of historic Bologna: The youthful exuberance of Bologna, Europe’s oldest university town, reveals itself amid medieval palaces; rowdy, renowned food markets; and 25 miles of portico-sheltered sidewalks.

  • Slowing down to Italy pace: Nothing happens quickly here—linger over a glass of wine from the Tuscan hills, slurp a gelato made with seasonal fruit, enjoy the evening passeggiata (ritual walk) just like the locals. And they call it Slow Food for a reason.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.