Italy Beyond the Crowds: 5 Top Alternatives to Overcrowded Tourist Spots

5 Top Alternatives to Overcrowded Tourist Spots
The Cilento Coast, with its charming seaside towns and stunning landscapes.|©iStock/Freeartist

My friend Maria is a vigilessa, a municipal police officer in Rome. Her daily beat often revolves around the Trevi Fountain or the Piazza di Spagna, two of the city’s most popular gathering spots. In February, she posted a photo of an enormous crowd in front of the famous fountain, saying, “If this is how it is going to be from now on, I either need to quit or drown myself in that fountain!” Her point was that the February flux of visitors was already equivalent to what would typically appear in May or June in previous years. “There is no off-season anymore,” she said.

It’s not just the impression of an overworked and stressed police officer dealing daily with tourists. The numbers confirm it: last year, tourism records were set, with 134 million arrivals to Italy in 2023, according to ISTAT, the country’s official statistics compiler. (Of note, Italy’s population is 60 million.) Already in 2024, January and February saw 38.2 million arrivals—in just two months! This means it will be another record-setting tourism year, and next year, Pope Francis will declare a Jubilee Year, which will again be a catalyst for people to pour in.

The issue is that most visitors flock to the same places, making the main cities increasingly crowded and beautiful popular destinations like Lake Como, the Amalfi Coast, and Tuscany jam-packed with people. Residents complain about higher prices, dirtier streets, and homogenization as they struggle to find a balance for sustainable tourism. Venice imposed an entry fee and started limiting day-trip groups to 25, though the paltry sum and caps have not impacted visitor numbers.

There is, of course, a good reason people visit these popular places—they are historic, filled with art and attractions, and have sights travelers have dreamed of seeing for years. I’ve spent time in most of them, and I am not saying they aren’t valid “bucket list” places. But if you’ve already been there or are looking for alternatives to the overcrowded spots during these record-setting years, instead of spending your precious vacation time in lines waiting for sights and restaurant tables with the masses, don’t fret. There are spectacular substitutes where you can escape the significant crowds without sacrificing the experience or ambiance.

Instead of Rome - Try Verona

Verona's Arena di Verona and Piazza Bra, a perfect blend of Roman history and vibrant city life.
Verona's Arena di Verona and Piazza Bra, a perfect blend of Roman history and vibrant city life.|©iStock/xbrchx

While there is no true substitute for Rome, Verona, known as "la piccola Roma" (the little Rome), is a compelling alternative. Verona became a Roman city in 49 BC under Julius Caesar and boasts a wealth of monuments, palaces, temples, arches, a hillside Roman theater, underground remains, and the splendid Arena amphitheater. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its Roman relics and urban structure, which has evolved over 2,000 years. Verona features elements from the Romanesque, Middle Ages, and Renaissance periods, all intact.

The Arena, Verona's impressive colosseum, was built in the 1st century by Emperor Flavio Vespasiano. It is one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world and still hosts concerts and operas during the summer. The archeological museum on the top floor houses many artifacts, while pieces of the ancient wall can be seen outside in Piazza Mura Gallieno. The city's Roman gateways, bridges, and the Scavi Scaligeri underground archeological site provide glimpses of ancient Rome, including a Roman road under the Arch of Gavi.

The Adage River furls around Verona, leaving the centro storico almost like an island cradled in its crook as it rises and then descends around the old town. Piazza Bra, where the Arena is located, is the jumping-off point for the city’s historical center. This piazza is lined with cafes and restaurants, perfect for enjoying a drink or meal while admiring the ancient structure and street scene. There is also a Roman theater on the hill beyond the Adage River (reached by crossing the Ponte Pietra, or stone bridge, a restored ancient arched Roman bridge), and this smaller theater is still in use. You can literally sit in history here in Verona!

Piazza dei Signori, with its palazzi, including the town hall, Loggia dei Consigli, and Scaligere archways, is as captivating as any piazza in the capital city. Much like Rome, the city is filled with opulent palaces, monuments, castles, and charming streets. Upscale shopping can be found along Via Mazzini, between Piazza Bra and Piazza delle Erbe.

Piazza delle Erbe in Verona, a bustling market square rich with history and vibrant local life.
Piazza delle Erbe in Verona, a bustling market square rich with history and vibrant local life.|©iStock/xbrchx

Piazza delle Erbe, akin to Rome’s Campo dei Fiori, hosts a daily produce market along with cafes. The square features the Column of San Marco with the winged lion of Venice atop, a beautiful fountain with the Madonna of Verona, and Palazzo Maffei, a "house museum" with an eclectic art collection.

Overlooking it all is Torre Lamberti, at 84 meters (275 feet) tall, it’s dubbed “the highest drawing room in the city.” The panoramic terraces and bell chambers can be visited by climbing 368 steps or by taking the elevator and afford 360° views of the city and surrounding environs. By day, it’s great for the panoramas; by night, it is the scene of exclusive events and special evenings of aperitivi, so check the schedule to see if there is a musical evening or aperitivo planned, as it is something special. Opera lovers will be in raptures here, between nights at the Arena and at the ornate Teatro Filarmonico, considered one of Italy’s best opera houses; there are shows from summer through winter.

Verona also offers a rich art scene. The Duomo, with works by Titian, ornate rose marble columns, frescoed half-dome, high cross-vaults, and colorful fresco panels, features many works from the Veronese Renaissance period. Ancient mosaics can be seen beneath portions of the complex. Another highlight is the Basilica of San Zeno, with its bronze doors, altarpiece by Mantegna, massive rose window, cloister, and mosaic ceiling. There are many other churches, museums, and palazzi, but there are too many to mention here. The Giardini Giusti, with its palazzo and Renaissance gardens, holds one of Europe’s oldest labyrinths.

Known as "la citta’ dell’amore" (the city of love), Verona is the backdrop for Romeo and Juliet. Popular sites include La Casa di Giulietta with its famous balcony, Palazzo Montecchi ("Romeo’s house"), and Juliet's tomb in the crypt of San Francesco al Corso.

Verona is an ideal city for exploring—walking and getting lost in the streets only to find yourself in medieval districts, a beautiful piazza, or an overlook by the river. It has plenty to do and see, an excellent food scene, and a beautiful ambiance with ocher and pastel buildings, time-worn stone palazzi, towers and archways, cultural offerings, and all the things you’d expect to find in Rome—the Colosseum included.

Instead of Venice – Go to Comacchio

Discover the charming canals and picturesque bridges of Comacchio.
Discover the charming canals and picturesque bridges of Comacchio. |©iStock/VividaPhotoPC

Over 20 million people visit Venice annually, with 73% being day-trippers. These massive numbers strain the city's infrastructure, overcrowd vaporetti, and make some streets nearly impassable. Frustrated by the influx, local residents have seen officials impose an entry fee and limit cruise ship access. Despite these measures, cruise passenger numbers remain high, with more than half a million arriving in 2023. Venice, once known as La Serenissima, is now far from serene, and environmental concerns are mounting.

Just 2.5 hours south of Venice lies Comacchio, a serene alternative. This mini-version of Venice allows you to happily hopscotch across several canals, each with unique footbridges, without the crowds. You can easily find a canal-side lunch spot without needing a reservation weeks in advance.

Like Venice, Comacchio was built on a series of islands in a lagoon, specifically 13 islands in the Po Delta. Governed first by noble lords and then by Papal State cardinals, it once had a powerful fleet and extensive salt trade until Venice subdued it. Comacchio features pastel-painted buildings along its canals and a few palazzi, offering a more down-to-earth experience. Although some canals were filled in during the 1800s to create streets, the primary canal between the town and the sea is still in use, and special hydraulic systems prevent flooding.

Trepponti, a picturesque bridge over the Canale Pallotta in Comacchio.
Trepponti, a picturesque bridge over the Canale Pallotta in Comacchio.|©iStock/StevanZZ

The city's symbol, the Trepponti bridge over the Canale Pallotta, features elegant staircases and two towers, providing a grand entrance to the lagoon city and a perfect photo opportunity. As you explore the town, you'll cross other charming bridges and find beautifully painted buildings, museums, churches, and palazzi, but also a low-key atmosphere. Nothing is rushed here. There are no vendors hawking souvenirs, and the bars will serve drinks at a leisurely pace instead of rushing you through to get the next wave of tourists inside.

Instead of gondolas, Comacchio offers batana, flat-bottomed boats guided by a helmsman with a long stick. These tours are available from March through October for a free-will offering. Find a trattoria with a table on the water; some are literally on the water, on boats moored along the quays. Fresh seafood comes in from the nearby Adriatic, but the local specialty is eel, prepared in many different ways. I enjoyed the tasty samplings I had at Trattoria La Comacina (dining on their boat, of course), but walk along Via Ludovico Muratori, one street and canal over, and you’ll find a whole host of restaurants to choose from. Whether you have the eel in the polpette (meatballs), pasta sauce, risotto, or grilled, they turn the strange fish into delectable dishes.

The Loggiato dei Cappuccini is a column-studded portico walkway with 142 arches leading to the sanctuary of Santa Maria in Aula Regia at the edge of town, down Corso Mazzini. Nearby is the cathedral, a tall clock tower, and the quaint loggia del grano, now an outdoor music venue. The Museum of the Ancient Delta showcases the Po River's history, including a sunken Roman merchant ship with its cargo intact. A boat trip through the Po Delta Park is a highlight, offering views of the lagoon, its ecosystem, and its wildlife, including flamingos. You can explore by driving down the Strada Foce, which skirts the lagoon lake and leads to the Stazione Foce, where you can take electric boat trips. Another boat trip departs from Porto Garibaldi, navigating the coast and river delta to the Isola dell’Amore (island of love), the tip of where the river meets the sea. Canoe rentals and beach days are also easily arranged (

Comacchio provides a peaceful, picturesque alternative to Venice, allowing you to experience the charm of canal-side living without the overwhelming crowds.

Instead of Florence – Go to Parma

Admire the exquisite Renaissance architecture of Parma's Cathedral and Baptistry in Piazza Duomo.
Admire the exquisite Renaissance architecture of Parma's Cathedral and Baptistry in Piazza Duomo. |©iStock/Eloi_Omella

Florence is celebrated as the heart of the Renaissance and a "must-see" destination since the Grand Tour days. Its popularity means it's always packed, with residents lamenting the lack of a low season. Friends of mine live at the edge of the historic center and never venture into the centro anymore as it is too crowded. In the first five months of 2024 alone, Florence saw 12 million visitors, most of whom were day-trippers, according to Firenze Today.

Parma is a worthy contender in the art city category but is often overlooked. Located in Emilia-Romagna, Parma is a noble, refined city that thrives without fuss or headlines. It rests in the Po Valley, within an hour's train ride of Milan, Modena, and Bologna. The nearby Apennine foothills are filled with castles, vineyards, and producers of famous Italian foods like Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano cheese.

Parma offers Renaissance splendor, art, culture, and shopping at a slower pace. At its center is an art-filled cathedral with a cupola painted by Correggio, depicting a swirling mass of clouds and angels. The nave and apse are also richly frescoed. Next to it stands a lofty bell tower and a freestanding baptistry adorned with white and pink marble, sculptural details, and Byzantine frescoes inside. From the Piazza del Duomo, the city spreads out with plenty of palazzi, piazzas, shopping streets intertwined with narrow lanes of pastel buildings, and beautiful details to gawk at while you wander.

Art lovers will find plenty to admire in Parma. La Pilotta, a fortified palace, houses the National Gallery with works by Da Vinci, Fra Angelico, Correggio, Tintoretto, El Greco, and Parmigianino. The complex also includes an archeological museum with artifacts from Egyptian, Etruscan, and Roman origins, as well as the beautiful Teatro Farnese, a wooden architectural gem still used for performances. Other churches, like San Giovanni Evangelista and Chiesa della Steccata, feature artworks by masters.

The shopping scene in Parma is vibrant. Strada della Repubblica extends from Piazza Garibaldi, a lively square lined with cafes. This street offers a kilometer of mostly Italian-brand shops and more cafes to rest and enjoy the atmosphere.

Opera enthusiasts will be thrilled in Parma, home to Toscanini, Paganini, and Verdi. The Opera Museum at Casa della Musica and the birth home of Toscanini are notable sites. Teatro Regio, one of Italy's finest opera houses, hosts productions beloved by local residents. The city also boasts a fine philharmonic orchestra.

Admire the grandeur of Palazzo Ducale in Parma.
Admire the grandeur of Palazzo Ducale in Parma. |©iStock/vertuio

Parma's L’Oltratorrente district, akin to Florence's Oltrarno, is a bohemian, culturally diverse area. Here, you'll find the Parco Ducale, a sprawling green space with tree-lined paths, quiet corners, lawns, a pond, and the recently restored Fountain of Trianon. The Renaissance-era Palazzo Ducale, with its richly frescoed halls, is open on the first Saturday morning of each month. The park is a serene escape, often filled with music students and impromptu performances. Teatro al Parco hosts shows and events within this green space.

In L’Oltratorrente, the porticoes of the Ospedale Vecchio, built in the 1400s, faintly mimic Florence’s Ospedale degli Innocenti. Via d’Azeglio, a main street in the district, is lined with shops and dining options, including the unique church of Santissima Annunziata with its blend of Baroque and Renaissance styles. The picturesque Via della Salute is lined with pastel-painted houses.

Artisan shops in the district, such as Orologeria Ferrari, a watch-repair and sales shop in business since 1922, reflect the area's traditional crafts. For fun, the Osteria Virgilio is a restaurant in an old restoration workshop, that “restores” old time-honored dishes to their rightful place in the city’s food scene; each producer carefully selected and where fashion or trends don’t dictate, just like the district itself. This is, after all, the district that put up barricades against the Fascists in 1922 and kept that spirit of resistance ever since. Once overlooked by the fashionable set as squalid, it has become a colorful part of the city where things (and people) are bright, bold, louder, and prouder than across the river.

South of the city, the countryside is dotted with vineyards, producers of prosciutto and Parmigiano cheese, spectacular castles, and the hidden gem Villa dei Capolavori. This private collection includes works by Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Canova, Filippo Lippi, Titian, and more, set in a stunning villa with a romantic garden and an upscale restaurant.

Back in Parma, aperitivo time is a cherished tradition. The pedestrian Via Farini is brimming with bars serving drinks accompanied by locally produced stuzzicchini, usually included in the price of the drink. This lively northern city offers a blend of art, culture, and street life similar to Florence but without the overwhelming crowds.

Instead of Siena – Go to Arezzo

Experience the historic charm of Piazza Grande in Arezzo, a beautiful Renaissance square.
Experience the historic charm of Piazza Grande in Arezzo, a beautiful Renaissance square.|©iStock/FrankvandenBergh

Life is beautiful in Arezzo, a city that served as the setting for Roberto Benigni's Oscar-winning film, Life is Beautiful. While it shares similarities with Florence, many comparisons can be drawn to Siena, which is only an hour away. Both cities were under Cosimo de’ Medici's control during the Renaissance and later became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Arezzo’s Palazzo dei Priori (town hall), a crenellated building with a stout tower, mirrors Siena's but was rebuilt shorter by Cosimo de’ Medici to avoid competing with Florence.

Arezzo’s sloped, trapezoid-shaped Piazza Grande resembles Siena’s shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, surrounded by palazzi and tower houses. Like Siena, Arezzo hosts an annual historic horserace event, but instead of a race, Arezzo’s event is a joust, where participants hit a target with heavy wooden lances while maneuvering horses around the piazza. The cobbled streets of Arezzo feature a mix of stone and stuccoed buildings from the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods. Both cities boast a Fortezza Medicea with public gardens; Siena’s amphitheater is inside its Fortezza, while Arezzo’s is an ancient Roman relic at the edge of town, part of an archeological park.

The Duomo of Arezzo began construction in 1278 in the Italian Gothic style.
The Duomo of Arezzo began construction in 1278 in the Italian Gothic style.|©iStock/Photo Beto

While it’s easy to get distracted by the striated marble and excessive adornments of Siena’s cathedral, Arezzo’s cathedral may look spare, but inside, the nave is lined with columns that lead to frescoed cross-vaults, and there are gorgeous stained-glass windows. With artworks by Donatello, Vasari, Luca da Cortona, and local Renaissance master Piero della Francesca, there’s no lackluster here. Backing up to Piazza Grande with its rounded apse, the church of Santa Maria della Pieve has rows of arcades piled on top of ancient archways with a tall tower sideling up alongside. It’s famous for works by Lorenzetti. Art is everywhere, thanks to Piero della Francesco and Giorgio Vasari, who both hailed from Arezzo.

Arezzo's cuisine mirrors Tuscan fare found elsewhere. The city is nestled in the Chianti wine-producing zone. Numerous wineries in the countryside and wine bars in town offer local vino paired with salami and cheese.

A point of interest outside the town is the ancient stone Ponte Buriano bridge, built in the 1200s with seven arches. Scholars believe this bridge is depicted in Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, visible above her right shoulder, making it a local attraction.

Arezzo’s historic center, partially enclosed by protective walls with monumental gates intact, serves as the city’s dazzling drawing room. Despite having nearly double Siena's population, Arezzo receives less than half the number of tourists. Its similarities to Siena, coupled with fewer crowds, make it an ideal destination for those seeking to explore beautiful streets, enjoy classic countryside views, and soak in the rich atmosphere.

Instead of the Amalfi Coast – Go to the Cilento Coast

Discover the breathtaking coastal beauty of Agropoli on the Cilento Coast.
Discover the breathtaking coastal beauty of Agropoli on the Cilento Coast.|©iStock/e55evu

The Amalfi Coast is famed for its scenic road skirting the coastline, glitzy towns like Amalfi, Positano, and Ravello, and a series of charming stops along the way. However, what the postcards don’t show are the lines of cars and buses, the heavy (often standstill) traffic from May through October, and the crowds that make navigating and enjoying these towns a challenge. The Amalfi Coast is undeniably beautiful, but it's also very crowded and expensive.

For a quieter, more serene alternative, consider the Cilento Coast. This national park offers not just miles of seafront but also vast green spaces, hills covered in olive groves, small hamlets, and towering mountain peaks. The two-lane road from Battipaglia to Paestum can sometimes be clogged with farm implements and trucks, but it’s a manageable drive through flatlands dotted with water buffalo and fields. From Paestum southward, the landscape becomes more intriguing and less crowded.

Paestum, an ancient Greek city, boasts some of the best-preserved Greek temples outside of Greece. If long sandy beaches and shallow water are your thing, you’ll like the seaside here, especially around the area called Laura, but Capaccio (as modern Paestum is called) has miles of sandy beaches where you pass through fragrant Mediterranean macchia (brush) to reach, with easy parking, too.

But keep going south, is my advice, because that’s where it really gets beautiful. Agropoli, an ancient town named after the Greek Acropolis, sits on a hill topped by a medieval castle, with an active marina and vibrant town life. The long lungomare (seafront) offers accessible beaches, and the beautiful bay of Trentova is a picturesque cove with rocky backdrops. Agropoli also has hiking paths connecting to ancient ruins and the next town down, Santa Maria di Castellabate. Agropoli has a train station, one of the few in the Cilento, so if you prefer not to drive, this is your destination. (In case you’re wondering, the other towns on the Cilento coast with rail service are Ascea Marina and Pisciotta.)

Castellabate is a highlight of the Cilento Coast. The area includes three seaside towns with the old fishing village ambiance and the hilltop old town of Castellabate. Santa Maria di Castellabate, the largest, features a waterfront castle, easily accessible beaches, excellent eateries, and all the shops and services you could want, yet retains its charm. San Marco di Castellabate, with its fishing fleet and pleasure craft, offers a taste of an old-time fishing village, a world-class spa, and beautiful beaches. Renting a boat here to explore quiet coves is highly recommended. Punta Licosa, with its minuscule island and lighthouse, offers crystal-clear waters perfect for boating or walking. Lastly in the Castellabate constellation is Ogliastro Marina, a teensy hamlet with some fabulous restaurants and nice beaches in the shadow of a medieval watch tower. The chapel here is very popular for weddings.

Discover the charm of Santa Maria di Castellabate in Cilento, with its stunning coastal beauty.
Discover the charm of Santa Maria di Castellabate in Cilento, with its stunning coastal beauty.|©iStock/e55evu

Further south, the road becomes more like the Amalfi Coast, with sea views, cliffs, and a mountainous backdrop, but without the heavy traffic. Acciaroli is known for its centenarians and Ernest Hemingway’s stay, contributing to its laid-back charm. Locals vehemently insist he found his “old man” for Old Man and the Sea. The fact (or legend?) is immortalized on a plaque in a local bar. Either way, it’s a delightful town of exposed stone buildings, turquoise water, and a laid-back atmosphere. Nearby Pioppi, where the "Mediterranean Diet" originated, offers a picturesque village and a relaxed atmosphere.

For those seeking a coastal drive experience similar to the Amalfi Coast but without the congestion, continue south to Pisciotta, a pretty hillside town with pebble beaches below, and colorful Palinuro with its cape and sea grottoes. The blue grotto here is just as beautiful as Capri’s, but you can swim in it without waiting in a queue. Marina di Camerota, with its quiet coves and bays, offers shuttle boats, rental boats, or pedal boats to explore the coastline and swim in cobalt blue waters.

The Cilento Coast provides various beaches, from quiet coves to active beaches with facilities, all without mass tourism. Instead, you’ll find southern hospitality, unique experiences, and the chance to relax in natural surroundings.

Don’t worry; the lemons aren’t limited to Amalfi, so you’ll find plenty of limoncello, but do try the local fig liqueur (the Cilento is known for its prized white figs), and the lovely finocchietto (from wild fennel), perfect for an after-dinner digestive. The seafood is exquisite, fresh-caught, and prepared daily, along with locally-grown seasonal produce. They take great pride in their food here, so you’ll dine well no matter where you go.

Instead of the Cinque Terre – Try the Gargano Peninsula

Vieste, a breathtaking coastal town perched on the rocky cliffs of the Gargano Peninsula.
Vieste, a breathtaking coastal town perched on the rocky cliffs of the Gargano Peninsula. |©iStock/StevanZZ

Nicknamed “the big spur,” the Gargano Peninsula is located at the top of Puglia, the heel of Italy's boot. Jutting into the Adriatic Sea, this promontory, like the Cinque Terre, is a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It offers a wealth of hiking trails, gorgeous vistas, cliffs, mountains, natural stone arches, sea caves, and towns that tumble to the sea, along with others that lazily sprawl alongside the water with sandy beaches. And like the Cinque Terre, there are five primary towns, each boasting a castle.

Manfredonia unfurls along the waterfront, level and easily walkable, featuring a lighthouse, a larger port, and a kilometer-long palm-lined waterfront walkway. With 57,000 residents, it is the largest city on the Gargano. Next is Mattinata, which, like Corniglia in the Cinque Terre, sits on a hill rather than by the sea, although the waterfront below it is beautiful with a little bay and rocks standing out of the water. Vieste and Peschici might be compared to Vernazza and Manarola, though without the colorful buildings, as this is Puglia, where most towns are white-washed, Greek-style. Both Vieste and Peschici sit on rocky bluffs and stagger to the water, with rocky coastlines giving way to sandy beaches. These towns are charming, with narrow lanes, stair-stepped streets, archways, quaint districts, and plenty of cafes, bars, and restaurants. Rodi Garganico occupies a green hill and tumbles to the waterfront, where bays and beaches await. Like Manfredonia, it has a train station.

The towns rim the spur of the Gargano, with green hills and a mountain in the center, comprising the Gargano National Park. High up between Manfredonia and Mattinata lies Monte Sant’Angelo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its rows of peaked-roof houses in the Junno district (called casedde filiari, or row houses) and the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo, a pilgrimage site since the 500s. The grotto church is part of the UNESCO site and is awe-inspiring.

The Gargano Peninsula also offers 500 kilometers of hiking trails in the mountains and forests, and along the coastline. The Foresta Umbra is a primordial, magical forest with luminescent streams of sunlight through dense, tall beech trees, featuring 15 trails for hiking and mountain biking. Panoramic paths around the perimeter lead to stunning high-up views or down to bays and between towns. One popular trail is the Sentiero dell’Amore (Lover’s Path) between Vignonotica Bay and Zagare Bay, offering breathtaking sea vistas. The Baia di Zagara features a natural arch, faraglioni rocks, cliffs, and beaches. The Trabucchi trail connects Peschici and Vieste. From Mattinata, take the path up to Monte Saraceno, with a ruined villa, ancient necropolis, stone steps, and 360° views over the varied landscapes and seascapes. The national park website or offices can help with additional trails, or you can use the services of an expert guide.

A small lake in the Umbra Forest, part of Gargano National Park.
A small lake in the Umbra Forest, part of Gargano National Park.|©iStock/font83

With nearly 200 kilometers of coastline, the Gargano offers coves, reefs, sandy beaches, cliffs, and sea caves to explore. The region is dotted with time-worn villages once connected only by mule paths, now used as footpaths, and the highly visited pilgrimage town of San Giovanni Rotondo, where Saint Padre Pio worked miracles. Water sports, boat outings, and amazing food are abundant—Puglia is known for its culinary creativity and fabulous dishes. The Gargano is crowded only in August when Italians flock there, but taking the trails into the hills or a boat trip to a quiet cove can help you escape the crowds.

You won't miss out on anything by choosing the Gargano Peninsula over the Cinque Terre. The region's natural beauty, historic towns, outdoor activities, and excellent cuisine make it a perfect alternative.