Only in Italy...

Amazing Italian experiences and activities that you would only ever find in Italy

From a pizza-making class in Naples to a gondola driving lesson in Venice, a fresco workshop in Florence to Gladiator fighting lessons in Rome, a drive through the Tuscan countryside in a classic Fiat 500 to an audience with the Pope, these are the top Italy experiences and "Only in Italy" moments...

La Torre Pendente
Duration: ~1 hour
Cost: $24 per person

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Climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The cathedral bell tower of Pisa would draw crowds even if it didn't have such horrible posture. Its long cylinder of white marble threaded with the lithe arches of stacked colonnades make it one of the prettiest towers you'll ever see—albeit one titling crazily out of plumb. The climb up is odd and thrilling...

Farm stay in Italy
Duration: Overnight
Cost: From $46
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Stay on an agriturismo (working farm)

Even if you can't afford your own farmhouse in Tuscany—or Umbria, or Piemonte, or Sicily, or Apulia, or wherever your Italian dream countryside resides—staying on a working farm, or agriturismo, gets you up close with the rural heart of Italy—as cheap as €35, and avergaring €55-€150 for a double room. From vineyards to dairy farms, barns amid olive groves to frescoed villas next to horse stables to a simple B&B converted from a farmhouse. Many agriturismi also serve wonderfully huge, cheap, and hearty home-cooked dinners (the standard: about €30–€45, including wine, for four or five courses). The breakfasts are usually included in the rates—and usually excellent...

Tour the dungeons of the Rome Colosseum
Duration: 3.5 hours
Cost: $119 per person
Book: Reserve with Viator

Tour the underground chambers, arena, and upper tier of the Colosseum

Experience the full glory of Rome's Colosseum on a unique, small-group tour with skip-the-line entry! Accompanied by an expert guide who is passionate about Roman history, you'll gain rare access to areas of the Colosseum that are newly opened, normally off-limits, or opened to only a limited number of daily tickets you have to get in advance—including the subterranean maze of passages, chambers, and cells where Roman gladiators prepared for battle, and where the fearsome, wild animals they fought were caged. Enjoy private viewings of the Colosseum's underground chambers, arena and upper level, and then head to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill for unforgettable views of Ancient Rome...

Cooking lessons in Italy
Duration: Half-day to full-day
Cost: From $99 per person
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Take a cooking class

Rather than just taking home from your next trip tales of that fantastic tagliatelle alla bolognese, why not return with the skills to recreate all those great Italian meals in your own kitchen? Cooking schools and cooking lessons are a phenomenal way to while an afternoon—or even for a full week. You get the kind of genuine cultural insight no number of museums and monuments could ever give, you can engage locals on a subject about which they are truly passionate, and you will gain a new skill (or at least new recipes to add to your repertoire). And, of course, you get to eat all your mistakes (mmmm...mistakes)..

Florence cathedral dome
Duration: 1–1.5 hours
Cost: $11 per person

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Climb Brunellechi's Dome

Hands down, my favorite thing to do at the Florence cathedral is to climb the 348-foot-high dome (la cupola del Duomo), both for the great panorama across the city you get from the top and to see, from the inside, Brunelleschi's architectural marvel. You actually clamber up between the dome's two onion-like layers—and in the process get some great up-close views not only of the engineering genius of Brunelleschi, the also of those crazy Zuccari frescoes covering the inside of the cupola...

Hike the Cinque Terre in Italy
Duration: Half-day to 2 days
Cost: $7–$12 (tours from $119)
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Hike the Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is a necklace of five tiny fishing villages strung along the southern end of the Italian Riviera. Hike from one town to the next along ancient goat-herd paths clinging to the cliffs above the deep blue waters as you wind through terraced vineyards and macchia scrubland. When you're done your amble, just pick a village, sit back, and let la dolce vita wash over you. Splash in the waters of the Mediterranean. Sunbathe on a pebble beach. Sip a glass of wine at a cafe table overlooking a tiny harbor bobbing with colorful fishing boats. Savor a four-hour dinner surrounded by the stone walls of a family-run trattoria...

Rent a Fiat 500 in Italy
Duration: 5 hours
Cost: $138 per person
Book: Reserve with Viator  

Self-Drive Vintage Fiat 500 Tour from Florence: Tuscan Villa and Picnic Lunch

Drive a vintage Fiat 500 to a gorgeous 15th-century Renaissance villa nestled in the picturesque Tuscan hills just outside of Florence. Traveling in a convoy behind an expert guide, you’ll drive along quiet private roads and then enjoy 2.5 hours at leisure. Swim in the villa’s pool, indulge in a picnic lunch with wine tasting, or upgrade to include a winemaking session in which, yes, they will let you stomp the grapes. (No one actually makes wine this way anymore, but c'mon: Who doesn't want to try it? Lucille Ball impressions are optional.)...

Papal audience
Duration: 3 hours
Cost: $0–$30 per group

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An audience with the Pope

Every Wednesday morning that the Pope is in residence in Rome, he addresses and blesses his many international visitors: in Piazza San Pietro on warmer days and inside the Sala Nervi during the winter. Join other pilgrims to see and hear the leader of the Catholic Church. Catholic or not, you'll find a Papal Audience a very special and memorable experience...

Learn fresco painting in Italy
Duration: 3 hours
Cost: $99 per person
Private: $448 per party
Book: Reserve with Context Travel  

Florence Fresco Workshop

This fresco workshop provides a hands-on experience in the studio of an accomplished fresco artist, who will guide you through the steps of preparing a surface, drawing and transferring a drawing, and finally applying the paint. At end, you get to take home your own fresco...

Learn to row a gondola in Venice
Duration: 2 hours
Cost: $106 per person

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Take gondola driving lessons

Learn to row gondola-style in an exclusive very small group (maximum 4) with a great English-speaking guide. Glide through Venice's prettiest canals and out into the Venetian lagoon as you learn how to be a Gondolier!..

Rome gladiator lessons
Duration: 2 hours
Cost: $73 per person
Book: Reserve with Viator  

Roman Gladiator School: Learn How to Become a Gladiator

Master the basics of hand-to-hand combat at a genuine gladiator school on the ancient Appian Way. You'll get hands-on with ancient Roman history as your gladiator instructor teaches you how to fight with authentic weapons used by the gladiators of ancient Rome....

Tour the Sistine Chapel
Duration: 3 hours
Cost: $317 per person
Book: Reserve with Viator

Private viewing of the Sistine Chapel

This once-in-a-lifetime private Sistine Chapel viewing also gives you unprecedented VIP access to the Vatican Museum's magnificent secret rooms usually off-limits to the public—like the Niccoline Chapel and the Room of Gold—as well as classic sights like the Raphael Rooms. It ends with an after-hours private viewing of the Sistine Chapel, empty except for your small group (average 10 people)...

The Florence leather market
Duration: 1–2 hours
Cost: Free (what you spend depends on your haggling ability)
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Shop the leather market of Florence

Break out your haggling skills, the streets around San Lorenzo church are packed with stalls peddling knock-off Gucci scarves, souvenir T-shirts, marbleized paper products, jewelry, wallets, and especially leather—great place to shop for a leather jacket for yourself, and stock up on belts, purses, and wallets as gifts...

Ride a Vespa scooter in Italy
Duration: Whatever
Cost: From $10 per hour;
from $200 per tour

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Ride a Vespa

Feel the wind in your hair. Weave in and out of traffic. Get around far faster than walking but far more cheaply than with a car. Go all day on a cupful of gas. Make daytripping to outlying or nearby sights easy. Feel just a smidge like Audrey Hepburn or Gregory Peck from that classic scene in Roman Holiday. Yes, there are many reasons to mount a motorino in Italy or take a Vespa tour—just be smart about it...

La Scala opera house in Milan
Duration: 2–4 hours
Cost: From $37 per person

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Attend Opera at La Scala in Milan

Arguably the greatest (and certainly the most famous) opera house in the world, Milan's premier opera house—full name: Teatro alla Scala—is where Toscanini twirled his baton, Giuseppe Verdi was once the in-house composer, and Maria Callas trilled her way to fame and fortune. La Scala has been perhaps the most important opera house in the world since 1778. This is where Verdi, Bellini, Rossini, and Donizetti premiered their works—among them Norma, Nabucco, Madama Butterfly, and Aïda....

The Piemonte wine country
Duration: 5–9 hours
Cost: From $170 per person
Book: Reserve with Viator

Wine tour of Piemonte

Among wine cellars and famous vineyards of Langhe and Roero, come and taste the most famous Piedmontese wines: Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Roero, Barbera, Dolcetto and Arneis. Specially selected wine producers will enable you to taste flavors and specialties of the Piedmontese tradition. Choose between a half day or a full day tour...

Horseback in Tuscany
Duration: 6 hours
Cost: $130 per person
Book: Reserve with Viator

Horse Riding in Chianti Day Trip from Florence

Take a day trip from Florence and spend the day horse riding in Italy's famous Chianti region. It's a unique opportunity to explore the beautiful Tuscan countryside, which is renowned worldwide for its vineyards and unparalleled beauty. Led by your friendly and knowledgeable English speaking guide you will be taken on horseback into the Chianti region where most of the region's famous wines are produced. You will ride for 1.5 hours through vineyards, olive groves and Middle Age villages seeing the Tuscan landscapes at their best....

Tips & links

Useful links & resources
Book ahead

While for some activities you can just show up, this is one travel item you really should try to reserve in advance.

Popular activities like cooking classes can sell out.

Many are available only on certain days of the week, so it pays to know that you'll have to set aside, say, Tuesday morning for that guided market walk with a local cookbook author.

Many of the best activities are available by advance booking or appointment only—particularly wineries. Some vineyards welcome walk-ins, true, but many more will give you a cellar tour and wine tasting only if you call ahead a few days (and those tend to be the ones most liberal with the free samples).

If you have your heart set on dining in a particular restaurant, go ahead and call ahead,even if it's just earlier on the same day—though a day ahead is preferable. I have found that a corrollary of Muphy's Law applies to this aspect of travel. Any restaurant I am particularly keen on but blithely assume I can just waltz into will inevitably be filled to the brim: no tables available. However, half the time when I do book a table in advance I'll end up being the only guy in the place (nor near enough for my advance booking to feel like overkill). Still, better safe than sorry. Reserving a table is quick and painless; getting turned away at the door can be crushing.

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