As the name suggests, south Italy is the southern region of Italy located in Europe. It is famous for its sunshine, beautiful beaches, and blue coastal waters. Thus making it a great destination for anyone seeking to relax in Europe. In this guide, I’ll be covering all the best things to do, the need to know and the must visit south Italian towns.
Where Is South Italy
South Italy is the southern boot region of Italy, though there are two different interpretations of what South Italy is. According to the EU parliament constituency, there are 6 regions in South Italy. This starts from Abruzzo on the East Coast and on the West, this is from Campania downwards to Calabria.
However, when referring to the old kingdom of Southern Spain otherwise known as Mezzogiorno, there are more regions included. This includes the isles of Sardinia and Sicily.
Map of South Italian Regions
You can view the Google Map of the South Italian regions here.
The South Italian regions are:
South Italian History And Culture That You Must Know
Good to Know
When in Italy, you’ll notice that there is a difference between the Northern and Southern Italians. From their looks to their culture and attitudes, it can be a very noticeable difference. To make sure that you don’t do any faux pas, here are some of the need to know historical and cultural facts.
What is the ethnic origin of south Italians?
Southern Italians are the closest to the modern Greeks. Whereas Northern Italians are the closest to the Spaniards and southern French.
What languages do south Italians speak?
Whilst Italian is the official language of Italy, today there are 34 languages and dialects spoken across Italy. Some of the most popular languages and dialects spoken in the south of Italy are Sicilian, Neapolitan and Sardinian. I’m sure that you can correlate these languages/dialects with the areas of southern Italy mentioned above.
North Vs South Divide
When visiting today, you’ll probably hear people talk about the North and South divide. This is nothing more than a political motive. Yes, there are cultural differences and yes there are some that support the divide. But Italians are Italians, and the similarities between the North and South outweighs the differences.
So in the spirit of being a mindful and polite traveller, I highly recommend respecting and embracing the cultures of both the areas. And refraining from adding any more fuel to the fire.
The Kingdom Of The Two Sicilies
Prior to the Italian reunification, the kingdom of the two Sicilies was the largest Italian state. The Kingdom was made up of the Spanish Bourbon Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples. The Kingdom was referred to as the “Two Sicilies” from 1816 until 1860 before it became The Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
Foods That South Italians Are Famous For
- Arancini: During the Arab rule of Sicily, this rice ball delight came into existence. It is a ball made from risotto and stuffed with cheese and sometimes meat. It is then coated in bread crumbs and deep-fried to perfection.
- Seafood: One cannot visit the south without eating seafood, and the southern regions offer seafood in abundance. Whatever seafood option you opt for, it’s best enjoyed with Caponata. A Caponata is an aubergine side dish similar to the French’s ratatouille.
- Pasta Alla Norma: As the name suggests, Pasta alla norma is a pasta dish that originates from Catania on the west coast of the island of Sicily. It is made from a tomato and basil marinara and features aubergine as the star of the show.
- Pane Cunzato: This is a seasoned traditional Italian bread that is commonly referred to as a poor man’s meal. But don’t let that put you off, as this simple sandwich packs a punch of flavour. It is bread that is sliced down the middle, drizzled in olive oil, dusted with oregano and filled with cheese and tomato. And if you’re craving for more, you can also add in olives and even anchovy fillets if you like.
Desserts That South Italians Are Famous For
- Granita: This is a cold south Italian sweet treat. It is made from water, sugar and ice and is constantly stirred so that it’s never fully frozen. Similar to a slush puppy, if you’re familiar with it. It is best enjoyed with a brioche. Sounds like an odd pairing, I know, but don’t knock it until you try it.
- Cannoli: Originating from the island of Sicily, a cannoli is one of the most popular Italian pastries abroad. If you’re not sure what a cannoli is, It is a deep fried pastry dough that is filled with a sweet ricotta cheese filling.
Halal Travel & South Italian Foods
For the Muslim travellers out there, this is good news. Whilst we most often find that travelling in Europe means we can’t usually enjoy the local specialities. In the South Italian towns, however, you’ll find that most of the specialities above suit a Halal diet. And by extension a vegetarian’s diet.
18 Must Visit South Italian Towns
Map of the must visit South Italian Towns. It can be accessed here.
Maratea is an Italian town in the province of Potenza, located on the West coast of Italy, and is known as the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian. It has a rocky shoreline and 20 beaches, meaning there is lots of places to soak in the sunshine here. Given the large number of churches and chapels in the area, it is also known as the town with the 44 churches.
Best Things To See And Do In Maratea, Italy
- Statua del Cristo Redentore di Maratea – Religious point of interest with a great view of the shoreline below.
- La Secca Beach – Great to watch the sunset at.
- Il Mirto Solarium Bar – Popular beach club.
- Grotta delle Meraviglie – For a tour of the caves.
Sorrento is one of the towns overlooking the beautiful bay of Naples on the western coast of southern Italy. If you thought Maratea was known for too many things, well Sorrento is famed for more. It is known as the city of lemons and oranges, the land of mermaids, colours, mysteries and legends.
Best Things To See And Do In Sorrento, Italy
- Go shopping for ceramics, lacework and marquetry at the speciality local shops.
- Walk through the historic quarter of the old town, and capture Instagram worthy selfies.
- Go to a Café or people watch in Piazza Tasso.
- Take a drive along the Amalfi coast.
- Watch the sunset from Bellevue Sirene.
- Take a day trip to Pompeii.
Paestum is a historical town in the Campania region that used to be a major ancient Greek city in the day. Today, it’s still famous for its preservation of the Greek Temples, thus making it a favourite with history buffs.
There are three Greek temples that you must visit in Paestum, Italy
- Temple of Hera II – Known as the temple of Neptune. This was built around 460 BC and is the best preserved Greek Temple in Pestum.
- Temple of Athena – Known as the temple of Ceres was built around 6th century BC.
- Temple of Hera I – Known as the temple of Basilica was also built around 6th century BC.
Alberobello is a small town in the region of Apulia with 10,735 inhabitants and is famed for it’s trullo huts. If you aren’t familiar with Trullo huts, they have a corn shaped roof made from dry stone that gives it a unique look.
Best Things To See And Do In Alberobello, Italy
- I Trulli di Alberobello – World Heritage Site – To stroll through the narrow alleys, view the architecture, shop at the local stores all whilst imagining life during the trulli-era.
- Trullo Sovrano Museum – It’s a historical museum depicting life in the 1800s Trulli, where you’ll be able to see what everyday life was like for the farmers.
- Arte Fredda Gelateria – For an ice cream break.
Tropea is a seaside resort town in the region of Calabria. It is a beautiful town filled with some of the most picturesque beaches in South Italy. However, it’s not just all beaches, as one of the mains draws here is the clifftop church with great views of the landscape below.
Best Things To See And Do In Tropea, Italy
- Beach – With over 2 and a half miles of clean pristine beach, this should be your first stop in Tropea. Here you’ll be able to swimming, canoeing, paddleboarding, snorkelling and even scuba diving to name a few.
- Santa Maria dell’Isola – High above the dreamy beaches, sits the Santa Maria dell’Isola on the clifftop of Tropea. Not only is the cathedral picture perfect, but it also houses a painting of the Madonna of Romania. Who is considered to be the protector of the town.
- Red Onions From The Open Air Markets – Stay with me here, I do mean THE red onions. Be sure to try some during your stay or take some home with you. As the locals are very proud of their delicately sweet purplish onions.
Located in the region of Campania is the beautiful city of Naples that is considered to be the birthplace of pizza. And that’s not just a theory. It is commonly known that the very first slice of pizza ever created was from Naples.
Beyond the pizza, Naples is also famed for its 400 plus churches and historical royal palaces, castles and ruins. With so much to do in Naples, you may want to spend a few days here.
Best Things To See And Do In Naples, Italy
- Eat Pizza – Have a pizza from the birthplace of the very first pizza.
- Underground Naples – Whilst most people will focus on what’s overground, the most popular activity in Napes is a visit underground. There you will find a labyrinth of tunnels, tanks and cavities that forms its own underground city.
- Museo Cappella Sansevero – This art museum was built in the late 1500s that was influenced by Raimondo de Sangro VII, Prince of Sansevero. It is considered a true gem by the Italians, so if you’re into art, you may want to consider a visit.
- Via San Gregorio Armeno – To buy kitsch nativity souvenirs.
The island of Capri lies at the entrance of the Gulf of Naples just off the coast of Sorrento at the South Western end of Italy. It is famed for its breathtaking views, lip-smacking food, and shopping outlets. It’s no wonder that Capri is the playground of the rich and famous looking for somewhere to dock their yacht.
Best Things To See And Do In Capri, Italy
- Boat Tour – See Capri from the waterside whilst combining your tour with a visit to the Blue Grotto.
- Faraglioni – Considered the emblem of the island, Faraglioni is a must-visit scenic point. Here you’ll find history and nature come together to form a breathtaking view.
- Piazzetta – Head to the Piazzetta for some good old people watching.
- Mount Solaro – Climb up Mount Solaro using the chair lift, and enjoy the views from above.
Southeast of Naples within the Campania region lies this historical town of Pompeii at the base of Mount Vesuvius. If you’re wondering whether this is the famous Pompeii from history? Well, you’ll be correct. This is the very Pompeii that was destroyed by the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 CE.
Best Things To See And Do In Pompeii, Italy
- Antiquarium Museum – To pay homage to the victims of the Mount Vesuvius eruption. And ofcourse, to view the artefacts that have been recovered during excavations.
- Theaters – Visit the open aired theatres and catch a show if visiting in the summer.
- Temples – Visit the temples of Venus, Jupiter, Isis and Apollo.
Neighbouring Pompeii is the historical town of Herculaneum. During the eruption of Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 CE Herculaneum was buried under thick volcanic ash. However, that was actually its saving grace. This thick ash prevented the town from being looted and torn apart over the years. Meaning that if you were to visit today, you would find Herculaneum to be pretty much intact.
The best thing to do In Herculaneum, Italy, is to visit the Archaeological Park of Herculaneum. Here you’ll see,
- Ancient Roman Spas
- Skeleton’s house – Yuup this is where a skeleton was found intact.
- House of Neptune and Amphitrite
10. Amalfi Coast
The famous Amalfi Coast is the beautiful stretch of coastline in the South of Italy that overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Gulf of Salerno. Between the months of February and October, the Amalfi Coast draws in tourists from all over the world. Making this coastline one of the main attractions in South Italy.
Best Things To See And Do In The Amalfi Coast, Italy
- Drive Along The Amalfi Coast – The best thing you can do along the Amalfi Coast, is to drive along its shoreline. And of course stopping and scenic sights and point of interest along the way.
- Hike Sentiero Degli Dei – Known as the Path of The Gods, this is a fantastic hike for anyone looking to get active in the Amalfi Coast. I would highly recommend getting a guide to join you. As the extra local and historical knowledge that a guide can bring, really adds to the experience.
- Duomo di Sant’Andrea – A visit here is a must. Even if it’s just for the view from the tops of the steps.
- Villa Cimbrone Gardens – If there is one thing the Amalfi Coast is famous for (other than the views and beaches, of course), is its gardens. Although Villa Cimbrone may not be the most famous garden in the area, I’m sure many will agree that the views from here are the best. Not to mention, it’s beautiful flowers and plants when they are in bloom.
Castelmola is a beautiful small village on the eastern coast of the island of Sicily that is built on the ruins of a Norman castle. It is a hilltop village with dramatic views when seen from below. But the actual small town itself is definitely worth a visit. From the top, it offers panoramic views of the landscape, unmissable restaurants and of course great Sicilian hospitality.
Best Things To See And Do In Castelmola, Italy
- Castillo de Castelmola – Whilst there isn’t much left of the castle, it’s the views from here that many comes for. Why not pack a picnic to enjoy the view? Especially if you plan on walking back down, trust me, you’ll need the energy.
- Piazza Sant’Antonino – This piazza is a must stop when in Castelmola. From souvenir shops to quaint cafés, this is a great place to stop and watch the world go around.
TOP TIP: Take a taxi up and thank me later!
In a remote corner of southern Italy, you’ll find this hidden gem Matera located in the region of Basilicata. If you aren’t familiar with Matera, well picture a beautiful city made of stone, that looks beyond stunning when the sun starts to set and the lights starts to come on.
Best Things To See And Do In Matera, Italy
- Sassi di Matera – The best thing to do is to take a walk and get lost in this beautiful place. Enjoy the views and cafés, or simply enjoy the feeling of feeling like you’ve stepped back in time.
- Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario – If you want to be transported to 1956 Italy and see the everyday life of the then locals, then this is the place to come. You’ll see how the community lived together with livestocks in the same room, kitchen and even the sewage system.
The most central town on this list is Castelmezzano which is also located within the region of Basilicata. This beautiful small town is famed for its churches, dramatic gorge, and its thrilling activities. But yet it is often branded as the most romantic small town in Italy.
Best Things To See And Do In Castelmezzano, Italy
- Le Dolomiti Lucane – For a beautiful landscape filled with nature, this is the place to come too. It is located in the Natural Park of Gallipoli Cognato, and is great for hikers and rock climbers alike.
- Flight of the Angels – For an exhilarating cable car ride over the mountains, this is for you. Bear in mind, the ride up is fast and not for those with a fear of heights. Nevertheless, this is the most popular activity in Castelmezzano.
Lecce is a small university town located in the Apulia region of South Italy. Whilst the other towns are famed for their nature or architecture, Lecce is famed for its papier mâché. Yup, you read that correctly, these papier mâché were very popular in religious festivals held in the town. And when visiting today, you’ll be able to purchase your own papier mâché from one of the local shops.
Best Things To See And Do In Lecce, Italy
- Basilica di Santa Croce – This is one of the most beautiful churches in Lecce that is famous for it’s Baroque façade architecture.
- Centro Storico – For history and arts buffs, a walk around the city centre is a must when in Puglia. The beautiful old town will definitely char, you with its architecture, squares, cafés and restaurants.
Bari is a traditional harbour city located on the west coast of Italy and is the capital of the Puglia region. It is famed for its tourist attractions which include churches, basilica, Petruzzelli Theatre and Swabian Castle to name a few.
Best Things To See And Do In Bari, Italy
- Basilica San Nicola – Famed for its crypt, which houses the relics of Saint Nicolas. Aka Santa Claus.
- Citta Vecchia – Is a beautiful old town by the sea that’s filled with white buildings and narrow cobbled streets. It’s great to get lost in, people watch or even have a meal in.
- Lungomare e Murat – If you really want to appreciate the coast, the promenade here is a great place to take a stroll.
In the Abruzzo region on the Eastern coast of Italy lies the capital city of Pescara, which shares its shores with the Adriatic Sea. It is a modern city filled with life and famed for its summer jazz festival and everyday nightlife.
Best Things To See And Do In Pescara, Italy
- Ponte del Mare – A beautiful bridge that you can walk or cycle on. It offers you great views of the city of Pescara and the Adriatic Sea.
- Lungomare – This is the promenade, where you can go for a run, have a seafood meal at a restaurant or take an evening stroll.
- Museo Casa Natale di Gabriele d’Annunzio – A museum to honour the poet and politician and to give tourist a glimpse into what a nobleman’s house would have looked like.
Cantanzaro is a coastal town located in the region of Calabria overlooking the Gulf of Squillace, in the Ionian Sea. This is a top destination for domestic Italian tourists and is famed for its silk and velvet productions. During ancient Greek times, Catanzaro was a Greek settlement, and today you can still see influences of the Byzantine Empire around the town.
Best Things To See And Do In Catanzaro, Italy
- Parco della Biodiversita Mediterranea – This biodiversity park is a great stopping point for a relaxing walk, to view the surrounding mountains and take in the modern sculptures. And of course the main attraction. There’s over 20,000 species of plants here for you to take in.
- Cascata Campanaro – Nestled in the surrounding countryside is this hidden waterfall gem. There are many great hikes to be had here, and the waterfall will prove to be a beautiful respite from it all.
Located on the northern coast of the island of Sicily is the capital city of Palermo. Palermo is considered to be a cultural melting pot. From street food vendors to an opera house, churches and palaces, there’s lots to be enjoyed here.
Best Things To See And Do In Palermo, Italy
- Cattedrale di Palermo – This Cathedral was started in 1185 and is still open for visitation today. You’ll be to visit the Royal and Imperial tomb of Frederik the II, a medieval crown and much more.
- Norman Palace – To visit a historical Norman palace and garden.
- Teatro Massimo – You can take a tour of the opera house or simply time your visit with an opera show.
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The Veiled Explorer’s Takeaway
And there we have it. The top 18 South Italian towns that you must visit, when in south Italy. Not only that, but I’ve also given you the lowdown of the South Italian history, culture and the best things to do in each town.
So which one of the towns are you looking forward to meeting the most? Leave me a comment down below to let me know.