Underrated Cities in Italy: Hidden Gems Worth Exploring

Underrated Cities in Italy Hidden Gems Worth Exploring

Italy is a country that is rich in history, culture, and cuisine. While cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice are popular tourist destinations, there are also many underrated cities that are hidden gems waiting to be explored.

From the stunning baroque architecture of Turin to the ancient beauty of Matera, these cities offer unique cultural experiences and fewer crowds than their touristy counterparts. Venturing off the beaten path allows you to experience the authentic side of Italy and discover hidden treasures that are often overlooked.

Key Takeaways

  • Exploring underrated cities in Italy offers a chance to experience authentic Italian culture.
  • Underrated cities offer unique cultural experiences and fewer crowds than touristy destinations.
  • Stepping off the beaten path allows you to discover hidden treasures and create memorable experiences.

Why Explore Underrated Cities in Italy?

Italy is a country that’s known for its picturesque cities, stunning architecture, and delicious food. However, many of these destinations are often overrun with tourists, making it challenging to experience the authentic side of Italy. That’s why it’s worth exploring some of the country’s underrated cities, where you can escape the crowds and discover the hidden gems waiting to be explored.

Not only will you avoid the hustle and bustle of popular tourist destinations, but you’ll also get to experience Italy in a more authentic way. Discover lesser-known cultural attractions and events, take advantage of more relaxed local hospitality, and indulge in the unique culinary delights of undiscovered locations. From medieval towns to vibrant cities, underrated Italian destinations offer an opportunity to explore the heart and soul of this beautiful country.

Bologna: A Gastronomic Gem

Bologna, located in northern Italy, is often overlooked in favor of more well-known destinations like Rome and Florence. However, this underrated city is a true hidden gem, with a vibrant culinary scene and a wealth of cultural and historical attractions.

Known as the “food capital” of Italy, Bologna offers a plethora of gastronomic delights, including its famous Bolognese sauce, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and Mortadella sausage. Visitors can explore local markets, visit traditional food shops, or take a cooking class to learn the secrets of traditional Italian cuisine.

Bologna A Gastronomic Gem

“Bologna is a city of brilliant contradictions, La Dotta (the learned) and La Grassa (the fat), Bologna will both teach and feed you well.” – Lonely Planet

Beyond its culinary offerings, Bologna boasts a rich history and cultural significance. The historic center of the city is home to numerous landmarks, including the Two Towers, the Asinelli and Garisenda, and the stunning Piazza Maggiore.

Visitors can also explore the city’s numerous museums, such as the National Art Gallery of Bologna, the Museum of the History of Bologna, and the Archaeological Museum. To fully experience the city’s hidden gems, take a stroll through the Quadrilatero district, filled with artisan shops and local restaurants.

Turin: Baroque Beauty

While Rome and Florence may steal the spotlight, Turin is a hidden gem that should not be missed. This northern Italian city boasts stunning baroque architecture, world-renowned museums, and a charming historic center that is sure to enchant visitors.

One of the city’s shining jewels is the Palazzo Madama, a stunning baroque palace that is now home to the Civic Museum of Ancient Art. The museum’s impressive collection includes artworks from ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt, as well as Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces.

Turin Baroque Beauty
What to See:What to Do:
The Mole AntonellianaVisit the Egyptian Museum
The Royal Palace of TurinTake a stroll through the Valentino Park
Museum of the AutomobileIndulge in Turin’s famous chocolate at Guido Gobino

Don’t miss the Mole Antonelliana, an iconic landmark and home to the National Museum of Cinema. The museum’s fascinating exhibits offer insights into the history of filmmaking, while the panoramic views from the tower’s top are unbeatable.

Foodies will delight in the city’s culinary offerings, from the famous Bicerin, a decadent coffee drink made with chocolate and cream, to traditional Piemontese dishes like agnolotti pasta and vitello tonnato.

Off the Beaten Path:

For a unique experience, head to the Quadrilatero Romano neighborhood, the city’s oldest district. Here, you’ll find a maze of narrow streets and alleys, lined with traditional shops selling everything from fresh produce to artisanal crafts. Don’t miss the Mercatino di Borgo Dora, a vintage market held every Saturday.

Turin’s hidden gems are waiting to be discovered, offering visitors a chance to explore the city’s rich history and culture in a more intimate setting.

Perugia: Medieval Charm

Perugia Medieval Charm

Perugia, the charming medieval city in central Italy, is often overlooked in favor of more popular destinations like Florence or Rome. However, this hidden gem of Umbria offers a unique blend of history, art, and culture that is not to be missed.

Perugia’s historic center is a labyrinth of narrow streets, ancient walls, and stunning architecture, providing a glimpse into the city’s rich history. Visitors can explore the city’s famous landmarks, including the Palazzo dei Priori, the Fontana Maggiore, and the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, which houses works by famous artists like Perugino and Pinturicchio.

Perugia also boasts a lively cultural scene, with numerous festivals and events taking place throughout the year. The Umbria Jazz Festival, held annually in July, draws music lovers from around the world, while the Eurochocolate Festival, held in October, celebrates all things chocolate.

For those seeking a taste of authentic Umbrian cuisine, Perugia’s local dishes are not to be missed. Traditional favorites include porchetta, a slow-roasted pork dish, and wild boar ragu. Visitors can also sample the city’s famous chocolate, which has been produced here for centuries.

With its stunning architecture, rich history, and vibrant cultural scene, Perugia is a destination not to be missed. For travelers seeking a unique Italian experience, this medieval gem is the perfect choice.

Lecce: The Florence of the South

If you’re looking for an Italian city with stunning Baroque architecture, a vibrant cultural scene, and fewer tourists than Florence, then Lecce is the perfect destination for you. Located in the Puglia region in southern Italy, Lecce is often referred to as the Florence of the South for its rich art and architecture.

Known as the “Baroque city,” Lecce is home to some of the most impressive Baroque buildings in Italy. The Basilica di Santa Croce is a prime example of the ornate style, with its elaborate façade and detailed sculptures.

Lecce The Florence of the South

But Lecce is more than just a city of beautiful buildings; it’s also a hub of culture and art. The city is home to many artists and artisans who create unique works of art, pottery, and jewelry. Lecce’s vibrant cultural scene includes music festivals, performances, and a thriving nightlife.

Discover Lecce’s Hidden Gems

While Lecce’s famous landmarks are worth a visit, don’t overlook its hidden gems. The Piazza del Duomo is a stunning square surrounded by historic buildings and home to the impressive Cathedral of Lecce. The Roman amphitheater is another impressive landmark, dating back to the 2nd century AD.

For a taste of local life, head to the bustling Mercato di San Niccolò, where you’ll find vendors selling fresh produce, cheese, and local specialties like fresh-baked taralli.

Lecce is also an excellent base for exploring the surrounding countryside, with beautiful beach towns and scenic drives just a short distance away.

“Lecce is a hidden gem in Italy, and the perfect destination for travelers seeking a taste of authentic Italy without the crowds. Its stunning architecture, vibrant culture, and hidden treasures make it a must-visit destination in the south of Italy.”

Parma: A Cultural Delight

Parma A Cultural Delight

Parma may not be on every traveler’s itinerary, but it should be. This charming city is located in the Emilia-Romagna region and boasts a rich cultural history, from art to music and especially food.

One of the city’s most famous attractions is the Teatro Regio, a stunning opera house that dates back to the early 19th century. Here, visitors can experience world-class performances in an elegant setting.

For art enthusiasts, Parma is home to several museums, including the National Gallery, which features an impressive collection of Renaissance art. Another must-visit attraction is the Baptistery of Parma, a stunning monument that showcases intricate frescoes and architecture.

Of course, no trip to Parma would be complete without indulging in the city’s iconic food scene. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma are just a few of the local delicacies that can be sampled in the city’s many restaurants and food markets.

Whether you’re a culture vulture or a foodie (or both!), Parma is a hidden gem that shouldn’t be missed.

Padua: A Hidden Gem of the Veneto

Located in the Veneto region, Padua is often overshadowed by its neighboring cities of Venice and Verona. However, this hidden gem should not be overlooked by travelers seeking an authentic Italian experience. Padua is home to an ancient university, historic landmarks, and a vibrant cultural scene.

One of the main attractions in Padua is the Scrovegni Chapel, a 14th-century masterpiece decorated with frescoes by the renowned artist Giotto. The Botanical Garden of Padua is another must-see attraction, considered the oldest academic botanical garden in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Padua A Hidden Gem of the Veneto
Top Attractions in PaduaDescription
Scrovegni ChapelA 14th-century masterpiece decorated with frescoes by the renowned artist Giotto
Botanical Garden of PaduaConsidered the oldest academic botanical garden in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Padua CathedralAn impressive architectural feat, with a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance styles
Palazzo della RagioneA medieval palace with impressive frescoes and a lively market on the ground floor

Padua is also known for its vibrant nightlife, with a variety of bars and restaurants offering delicious cuisine and an authentic Italian atmosphere. The city’s vibrant cultural scene includes theaters, music festivals, and art exhibitions, making it an ideal destination for travelers seeking a unique cultural experience.

Whether you’re interested in exploring historic landmarks or experiencing local culture, Padua offers a wealth of hidden treasures waiting to be discovered.

Catania: Sicilian Splendor

Catania Sicilian Splendor

Located on the east coast of Sicily, Catania is a hidden gem that offers visitors a taste of Sicilian splendor. The city boasts a unique blend of architectural styles that reflect its rich history and culture. From ancient ruins to Baroque masterpieces, Catania has something for everyone.

One of the most iconic landmarks in Catania is the Cathedral of Saint Agatha. Built in the 11th century, the cathedral is a stunning example of Sicilian Baroque architecture. Visitors can also explore the Ursino Castle, which was built in the 13th century and offers breathtaking views of the city.

Catania is also known for its vibrant markets, such as La Pescheria. Here, visitors can sample fresh seafood and local delicacies while immersing themselves in the bustling atmosphere of the market. For those seeking a bit of adventure, the nearby Mount Etna offers hiking opportunities and stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

With its unique charm and character, Catania is a must-visit destination for travelers seeking a taste of authentic Sicilian culture. Whether you’re exploring the historic landmarks or savoring the local cuisine, Catania is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Matera: Ancient Beauty

Matera Ancient Beauty

Located in the Basilicata region of southern Italy, Matera is renowned for its unique cave dwellings, known as the Sassi, which are carved directly into the limestone cliffs. The city has a rich history that dates back to the Paleolithic era and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. Exploring its ancient beauty is a must for travelers seeking a glimpse into Italy’s fascinating past.

One of the top attractions in Matera is the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, a perfectly restored cave dwelling that provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of locals in the 18th century. Visitors can see how the interiors were used for cooking, sleeping, and even keeping animals. Another notable attraction is the Church of San Pietro Caveoso, a stunning rock church that boasts beautiful frescoes and a panoramic view of the Sasso Caveoso.

Exploring Matera’s underground caves is another way to experience its ancient beauty. Visitors can take a guided tour of the tuff caves and cisterns, where they can see how the city’s inhabitants lived and worked in the past. The Palombaro Lungo, an underground water storage system, is another fascinating attraction that provides insights into how the locals managed their water supply.

Finally, no trip to Matera would be complete without sampling its delicious cuisine. The city is known for its regional dishes, such as orecchiette pasta with turnip greens and lamb, and for its wine production. Visitors can experience the city’s food scene by visiting its numerous trattorias and restaurants, where they can savor the flavors of authentic Italian cuisine.

Palermo: Culture and Cuisine

Palermo, the bustling capital of Sicily, offers a mesmerizing blend of cultural influences and mouth-watering street food. The city is rich in history and boasts plenty of architectural wonders that are worth exploring.

One of the most iconic landmarks of Palermo is the Norman Palace, which dates back to the 12th century. Visitors can marvel at the intricate mosaics and the ornate decorations that adorn the palace’s walls and ceilings. Another must-visit attraction is the Teatro Massimo, one of the largest opera houses in Europe, which has played host to some of the most famous singers and musicians in the world.

Palermo Culture and Cuisine

When it comes to cuisine, Palermo is a true foodie paradise. The city’s street food scene is legendary, and it’s easy to see why. From arancini (fried rice balls filled with meat, cheese, and peas) to panelle (chickpea fritters) to sfincione (Sicily’s answer to pizza), there’s something to satisfy every palate. One of the most iconic Palermitan dishes is pasta alla Norma, a delicious blend of eggplant, tomatoes, and ricotta cheese.

If you’re looking for something sweet, be sure to try a cannolo (pastry shells filled with sweet ricotta cheese and chocolate chips) or cassata (a decadent sponge cake soaked in liqueur and layered with ricotta cheese, almond paste, and chocolate).

Palermo is a city of contrasts, where ancient history meets modern-day culture, and where street food is just as important as high-end restaurants. It’s a must-visit destination for anyone who wants to experience the true essence of Sicily.


After exploring these underrated cities in Italy, it’s clear that venturing off the beaten path can yield unforgettable experiences. From the medieval charm of Perugia to the stunning baroque architecture of Lecce, these hidden gems offer unique cultural experiences and fewer crowds than popular tourist destinations.

Read More : Italy Off the Beaten Track: Hidden Gems & Secret Spots

Underrated doesn’t mean underwhelming

It’s essential to remember that underrated doesn’t mean underwhelming. These cities are filled with cultural attractions, mouth-watering cuisine, and breathtaking landscapes. Whether it’s the ancient beauty of Matera or the vibrant capital city of Palermo, there’s something to captivate every traveler.

Going beyond the tourist path

Exploring underrated cities in Italy is not only rewarding but also an opportunity to experience the authentic side of Italy. Travelers can immerse themselves in the local culture, interact with locals, and create unique memories that can’t be found in tourist areas.

Step out of your comfort zone

By stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring these hidden gems, you’ll discover a side of Italy that many tourists miss out on. So next time you plan a trip to Italy, consider venturing off the beaten path and discovering the allure of underrated cities. You won’t regret it!


Q: Why should I explore underrated cities in Italy?

A: Exploring underrated cities in Italy allows you to discover the authentic side of the country and avoid tourist crowds. You can experience unique cultural experiences and immerse yourself in the local charm.

Q: What makes Bologna a gastronomic gem?

A: Bologna is famous for its culinary delights, including fresh pasta, creamy gelato, and mouth-watering cured meats. The city also boasts lesser-known attractions that showcase its historical and cultural significance.

Q: What can I expect to find in Turin?

A: Turin is known for its stunning baroque architecture and cultural attractions. You can explore lesser-known landmarks and immerse yourself in the city’s rich history and vibrant art scene.

Q: Why should I visit Perugia?

A: Perugia offers medieval charm and hidden treasures. You can delve into the city’s rich history, admire its art, and immerse yourself in cultural events, making it a unique and captivating destination.

Q: What makes Lecce the “Florence of the South”?

A: Lecce is renowned for its stunning Baroque architecture. The city is filled with lesser-known attractions and a vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking a unique Italian experience.

Q: What can I expect to find in Parma?

A: Parma is a cultural delight, offering art, music, and delicious food. You can explore the city’s opera, museums, and savor its renowned cuisine, immersing yourself in authentic Italian culture.

Q: What does Padua have to offer?

A: Padua is a hidden gem in the Veneto region. You can explore its historic center, renowned university, and stunning landmarks, providing insights into this underrated Italian destination.

Q: Why should I visit Catania?

A: Catania offers Sicilian splendor, with its unique architecture, vibrant markets, and proximity to Mount Etna. It provides a captivating blend of history and natural beauty for travelers seeking an authentic experience.

Q: What makes Matera an ancient beauty?

A: Matera is known for its ancient cave dwellings and fascinating history. You can explore its cultural significance, stunning landscapes, and discover hidden gems within this captivating destination.

Q: What can I expect to find in Palermo?

A: Palermo, the vibrant capital of Sicily, offers a unique blend of culture and cuisine. You can admire its architectural wonders, indulge in mouth-watering street food, and immerse yourself in the city’s rich heritage.

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