Piazzas in Italy: the best Italian squares to visit
It’s very easy when you visit Italy to rush around and tick off as many sights as possible, after all it is a rather lovely country. However, a far better way to get to know Italy – and this will particularly appeal to the lazy traveller or weary parent out there, I fall into both of these categories – is to find a piazza (car free if you’re one of those weary parents) and grab a coffee or an ice cream (or both) and take in the atmosphere. The great thing about piazzas in Italy is that not only are they perfect for that age old past time of people watching, they’re also packed with history so the sedentary tourist can have quite a cultural experience without needing to set foot inside a dusty church or an ancient palazzo.
Although Italy’s record on restoration and conservation can be questionable at times, there’s no denying that quite a lot of the country’s treasures can be found on the exterior of buildings. Take Florence for example, if you sit and admire the Baptistry in the Piazza del Duomo, you’ll be looking at some of the most influential architecture and sculpture of the middle ages. My personal favourite however, is the piazza of the same name in Syracuse, Sicily, where over 2,000 years of history is set out in the city’s cathedral, from Ancient Greek to the Baroque.
I love Italian piazzas – and squares elsewhere in Europe – for embracing the need for space. In the UK, our town and city squares are usually giant car parks – or worse – roundabouts. Squares that were once packed with market stalls in the UK are now packed with cars (check out Stow-on-the-Wold) – the vehicles really detract from the beauty of the place.
We’ve had a few positive changes over the years – Trafalgar Square was transformed from a roundabout into a more traditional square. But we have rather a long way to go. By contrast, town planners in Italy have been brave enough to put their car parks on the edge of their towns rather than in their beloved piazzas. Try that here in the UK and you’ll have a battle on your hands.
Anyway, in this post I’ve put together a collection of some of the best piazzas in Italy from Trento in the north to Lecce in the country’s heel. Some of the big hitters of Italian squares are here: Pisa’s Piazza dei Miracoli and St Mark’s Square in Venice are included but there are also a few less well known spots such as Piazza Ercole in Tropea and Piazza Carlo Alberto in Cagliari. It is of course not an exhaustive list, so let me know in the comments if there’s an amazing piazza in Italy which you’d recommend. Have I listed the best squares in Italy, or are there a few hidden gems I’ve missed?
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Piazzas in Rome
Piazza Navona, Rome
by Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles
Piazza Navona is one of the most iconic of Rome’s public spaces. Spending time in Piazza Navona in the evening should definitely be on your list of things to do in Rome, because it is the perfect place to stroll, people watch, and enjoy the lively happenings all around you. Plus, the architectural elements are sublime, featuring contributions from the two most famous Baroque masters of Rome: Bernini and Borromini.
The piazza was developed on the site of an ancient games arena. In the 15th century, it became the site of the city market, and in the mid-16th century, it was transformed into the Baroque beauty we see today. The Palazzo Pamphili, home of Pope Innocent X, faces the piazza, as does Borromini’s Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone.
The three fountains of Piazza Navona are stunning. In the centre of the piazza stands the Fountain of the Four Rivers, a creation of Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini. On the south end is the Fontana del Moro, made by Giacomo della Porta with a later addition by Bernini. And on the north end is the Fountain of Neptune, also made by della Porta, with a later addition by Antonio della Bitta.
There are lots of restaurants and cafes in the square. Relax with a drink or have some gelato as you watch locals and visitors milling around in the square. Enjoy the fountains lit up after dark: it’s quintessential Rome!
Piazza del Popolo, Rome
by Allison at Eternal Arrival
Piazza del Popolo means “Plaza of the People.” The name is apt, as this square is a popular place for local Romans to meet up as well as for tourists to rest their weary feet, since it’s located in between the popular Villa Borghese and Castel Sant’Angelo, two famous landmarks on many people’s Rome itineraries. The piazza is nearly 200 years old and took over a decade to build, between 1811 and 1822, and was completed by the renowned architect Giuseppe Valadier, who created works for several Popes during his lifetime. The piazza is known for being home to the oldest obelisk in Rome (there are others throughout the city, including one in the nearby Villa Borghese). The obelisk came from the ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis and has been Italy since 10 B.C.
Piazza San Pietro, Rome
by Rai at A Rai of Light
The most famous of all piazzas in Italy, Saint Peter’s Square serves as the entry point to the greatest basilica of the Christian world: St. Peter’s Basilica. Built around 1667, the striking square and its grand colonnades represent the core of the Vatican City.
The first thing you notice is the scale of the piazza. At its widest point, it measures over 300 metres and can house over 300,000 people. In the centre of the square is an Egyptian obelisk thought to have been brought to Rome by Emperor Caligola. Designed by the famous Lorenzo Bernini, the elliptical piazza is embraced on two sides by four rows of large Doric columns. Bernini described the colonnades as representing ‘the motherly arms of the church’.
Located in what is considered to be the centre of Rome, it is simple to get here and can be reached from the Ponte Sant’Angelo along the grand approach of the Via della Conciliazione A visit to St. Peter’s Square should be on the list of everyone visiting Italy. That and the search for the best gelato in Rome.
Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome
by Katy at Our Escape Clause
Set on the top of Campidoglio Hill, gorgeous Piazza del Campidoglio is one of the most famous piazzas in Italy through the man who designed it: Michelangelo himself.
Unfortunately, Michelangelo didn’t live long enough to see his beautiful vision brought to completion – the final touch of the square, the pavement, was only added in the mid-twentieth century – but regardless of how long the piazza took to complete, there’s no doubt that it’s now among the most beautiful piazzas in Italy.
The distinct oval shape, gorgeous surrounding buildings that now hold administrative buildings and portions of the Capitoline Museums, and position overlooking some of the most famous locations in Rome make Piazza del Campidoglio an unmissable part of your Rome itinerary.
While you’re visiting, be sure to pause as you ascend to the square to admire the beautiful view of Teatro Marcello down the street, and also to stroll to the back of the hill, past the piazza itself.
From here, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views of the Roman Forum – and unlike the view from popular Palatine Hill, this one is both free to visit and reasonably uncrowded. Be sure to look beyond the Forum for a lovely view of the Colosseum, as well.
Piazza della Rotonda, Rome
by Wendy at The Nomadic Vegan
Piazza della Rotonda is named for the Pantheon, that beautifully rotund masterpiece of Roman architecture. The Pantheon was originally an ancient Roman temple dedicated to all the gods (“pan” means “all” and “theo” means “god”), but it was converted to a Catholic church in the 7th century AD. The unofficial name of that church is Santa Maria Rotonda, again due to the circular shape of the building.
In addition to the views of this magnificent building, the piazza also boasts a small fountain right in the centre. If you don’t want to pay to sit at one of the cafés or restaurants on the square, the steps leading up to the fountain are the perfect vantage point from which to sit and admire the Pantheon.
When I lived in Rome, one of my favourite pastimes was grabbing a cone of gelato at one of the nearby gelaterie (Gelateria della Palma is the best and has lots of vegan gelato flavours) and eating it on the steps of this fountain while admiring the view. Unfortunately, since then the city government has enacted a law against eating on or near public monuments, so this is no longer allowed. I have actually seen tourists get fined for this, so be warned!
An obelisk was added to the fountain in 1711 but it is actually much older than the fountain, and in fact much older than the Pantheon itself. It’s one of several original Egyptian obelisks that the ancient Romans brought from Egypt and erected around the city. This one was constructed in the 13th century BC, during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II, and originally stood in the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis, Egypt.
Campo de’Fiori, Rome
by Marta at Learning Escapes
A beautiful piazza in Italy I always recommend to add to your Rome itinerary is Campo de’Fiori. Located in the heart of Rome city centre, close to famous Piazza Navona, this popular square attracts visitors all day long. Some come for its interesting history, some for its lively market and many for the wine bars that fill the place with al fresco dining opportunities!
Campo de’Fiori as a space was already in use in Roman times. However it was only in the 1500s that the square took the aspect we see today: until then, Campo de’Fiori was just what its name in Italian suggests: a ‘field of flowers’.
In the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, many commercial entities opened up in the nearby streets and the square slowly took shape and became an important centre for the local community. The story of Campo de’Fiori however, is not all positive: the square was also used for public executions, the most illustrious of all being that of Giordano Bruno, whose cloaked statue still overlooks the square.
Campo de’Fiori has much to offer to visitors. If you come in the morning, the square hosts a produce market that, while slowly losing its authenticity, is still fun to visit. If you come in the afternoon, you have the best chance of seeing Giodano Bruno and appreciate the architecture of the ‘campo’ while, in the evening, you can join local and tourist alike in indulging in wine and nibbles in one of its many eateries.
Piazza Mincio, Rome
by Marta at Mama Loves Rome
A beautiful piazza in Rome yet one not many visitors know about is Piazza Mincio. Located outside of Rome’s historical centre, in the leafy Coppedè district, this square is beautiful but also unique.
Architect Gino Coppede’ built the piazza between 1915 and 1927 and his vision was so original the result is a square like no other in Rome. Here, art nouveau, baroque, ancient Roman and Greek architecture all come together to create something that looks out of a fairy tale book.
Piazza Mincio is a treat for architecture lovers who can spend hours admiring its many details. However, it is easy to enjoy for all types of visitors and even kids. The first thing you notice here is the large arch that frames the entrance to the square. This is a grand, imposing building with something special: a huge outdoor candelabra that looks out of a medieval castle.
Once in the square, your attention goes to the fountain in the middle: it is called ‘the frogs’ fountain’ (fontana delle rane) because of the many frog sculptures that decorate it and it is very charming. Children in particular adore it and you often see local families getting their little ones on ‘frog hunts’, to see how many they can spot.
The fairy tale look of this area, however, is mostly down to one last building aptly called ‘the fairy house’. This is a turreted house with a pointy roof, small porticoes and frescoes and it has a distinctive gingerbread feel to it.
Whether you love architecture or you are simply looking for a unique corner of Rome, Piazza Mincio will not disappoint you.
Piazzas in northern Italy
Piazza Castello, Turin
Is it very uncultured of me to admit that I love this piazza due to its starring role in the 1969 movie the Italian Job? Turin has some fabulous piazzas but Piazza Castello is the most notable – home to the 15th century Palazzo Madama, formerly a royal palace, now a significant art museum containing fine and decorative art from the middle ages to the 18th century.
Piazza Castello is lined with elegant palazzos with porticoed cafes and restaurants and its water fountains are popular with children in the summertime. It is a brilliant and vast public space when combined with neighbouring Piazza Reale (home to the significant Armeria Reale, armoury museum) which it leads into.
Staying with the Italian Job theme, I also love Piazza Vittorio Veneto which offers brilliant views across the River Po towards the church of Gran Madre di Dio.
For more on Turin and the Italian Job, check out my article about Turin with kids.
Piazza Maggiore, Bologna
Piazza Maggiore is the heart of Bologna and has been since its inception in the 13th century. The former city hall, the Palazzo d’Accursio; Palazzo dei Notai – the notaries’ guild (where legal documents were once written) and the government buildings of the Palazzo del Podesta are all found here.
Today, visitors to the Palazzo d’Accursio can climb a staircase once designed to permit horse-drawn carriages to reach the first floor. Still an administrative building, the palazzo also houses an excellent museum devoted to the works of the local artist Giorgio Morandi. There are some great views of Piazza Maggiore from the palazzo.
Despite its unfinished facade, the most impressive sight to behold in Piazza Maggiore is the Gothic Basilica di San Petronio, not the city’s cathedral but certainly its most important church and the fourth largest in Italy (if you discount St Peter’s which is in the Vatican state).
If churches aren’t your thing, fear not: this vast edifice contains the 67 metre-long Bologna meridian line, constructed in the 17th century to measure the time of day. Visit the church around midday and, provided there aren’t too many clouds in the sky, you’ll see a beam of light shine through a hole in the ceiling onto the line. Due to the length of the line and the way the light fell at different times of year, it taught astronomers much about the movement of the sun through the year and helped develop the leap years of the Gregorian calendar.
Piazza San Marco, Venice
We’ll never know whether Napoleon really did describe Piazza San Marco as the finest drawing room in Europe, but there’s certainly no denying that the square, one of the most visited piazzas in Italy, is a sight to behold. Visitors flock to see St Mark’s Basilica which dominates the eastern end along with its towering campanile.
The Basilica reflects the history and wealth of the city in its design and architectural styles. Its cross-layout belie its Greek origins while the domes are a nod to Islamic art. The cathedral’s facade with its golden mosaics, marble columns, sculptured arches and statues is an impressive blend of Byzantine, Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance styles.
Cafes with live orchestral music line the northern and southern flanks of the piazza: not for the budget traveller, these cafes are a great place to take in the atmosphere of the square, just don’t expect to pay two Euros for the privilege of a cappuccino overlooking the Basilica San Marco.
A further note about Venice: I try to promote slow tourism here on my blog, so I would urge anyone visiting Venice to also seek out some of the less visited parts of the city away from St Mark’s Square. You’ll find more authentic restaurants and cafes and you’ll be surprised how quickly the crowds thin as you lose yourself in the narrow lanes and canal ways. One of my favourite evenings in Venice was spent in a bar, somewhere, drinking amazing port. Sadly, I have no idea where the bar was located or what is what was called, but that’s part of the fun with Venice, wander away from the tourist spots and find an interesting place off the beaten track.
I’d also suggest trying to visit Venice in the low season. Go in autumn or winter, there’ll still be crowds (and possibly a bit of flooding…) but it will be a little less busy. When the mist descends in Venice in wintertime it’s incredibly atmospheric. Try to avoid visiting when a cruise ship is docking for the day: the passengers of larger ships can really swamp the city. There are lots of websites such as Avoid Crowds which can help you choose which dates to visit.
Piazza delle Erbe, Verona
Once a Roman forum, Piazza delle Erbe (meaning market place) continues as a significant meeting place for tourists and locals in Verona. The square is dotted with market stalls as well as restaurant tables which spill into the space.
The square is lined with elegants palazzos including the impressive Casa Mazzanti with its frescoed façade. This house was once the home of the powerful Della Scala family (or Scaligeri as they were also known) who ruled the city in the 14th century.
For that essential tower with a view, climb the 12th century Torre dei Lamberti offering an elevated panorama of the city.
Piazza delle Erbe leads into Piazza dei Signori with visitors passing beneath the Arco della Costa. Dangling from the arch is a sizable whale bone – it’s apparently been hanging there for centuries and there’s a legend that it will fall onto the first innocent person to walk beneath it. Might be there for a while longer I guess…
Piazza dei Signori, Verona
by Dominika at Sunday in Wonderland
Prato della Valle, Padova
by Martina at As Far as You Can
Prato della Valle is a 90,000 square metre elliptical piazza and is no doubt one of the most important symbols of the city of Padova, in Veneto. It is the largest piazza in Italy and one of the largest squares in Europe, second only to the Red Square in Moscow. Isn’t that incredible? Since ancient times this space had economic and recreational functions. In Roman times in Prato della Valle a big theatre, the Zairo, and a circus for horse racing were built. The archaeological remains of the theatre were found in the canal that surrounds the central area of the square, which is called Isola Memmia.
As soon as you get to Prato della Valle you will notice the 78 statues, 40 in the exterior ring and 38 statues in the inner ring. A curiosity: a precise regulation issued in 1776 established that the statues could not portray people in life or saints and that all the characters must have had a connection with the city. Prato della Valle is definitely a not-to-be-missed stop in Padova and a perfect starting point to visit the city. In fact it is located just a few steps away from the famous Basilica of St. Anthony and from the city centre. I also suggest you visit the Botanical Garden. And if you want to act like a local, drink a spritz in one of the bars in Prato della Valle or order a pizza from Orsucci, in Corso Vittorio Emanuele.
Piazza del Duomo, Milan
by Katy at Untold Italy
Piazza Vecchia, Bergamo
by Corina at Another Milestone
Left in the shadow of its close neighbour Milano, Bergamo is usually a gem for those that decide to give it a chance. The medieval part of the city is built on hills, while its new one is erected downhill. Once you start wandering on its old, narrow streets you feel the Italian charm. The Upper town (or Citta Alta in Italian) is a street labyrinth. In the heart of this labyrinth is located one of the most impressive piazzas in Italy: Piazza Vecchia.
The square-shaped piazza is bordered by the most important buildings in town: on one side, Palazzo della Ragione, the oldest municipal seat in Lombardy and on the opposite side Palazzo Nuovo, the former city hall, today a library. The other two borders host restaurants and cafes where the tourists can relax. For the best view of the square, you can climb to the top of “Campanone”, the bell tower. And once you get into this piazza you can’t miss the Contarini Fountain, decorated with statues of sphynxes, lions and snakes. The fountain located right in the centre is only decorative today, but in the past it was used as a water reservoir.
Piazza Vecchia is only one of the places that deserves a visit in Bergamo, but the small town has other secrets waiting to be discovered!
Piazza Duomo, Trento
by Inma at A World to Travel
The Duomo square (Cattedrale di San Vigilio) in Trento does not go unnoticed. Sooner or later, at some point during your visit to this city in northern Italy, you will have to go there. And it will steal your heart as it does with everyone else.
Built with white stone, which reflects sunlight when the sky is clear, and with a central fountain (Neptune fountain, god of the sea, replaced in the middle of the last century by a copy) in which locals and tourists usually sit during the warmer months, is one of the most known meeting points of the city and is surrounded by restaurants where it is possible to taste the best Italian food in the region.
Relevant since the middle ages and with 16th-century buildings interesting for architecture lovers, here’s a curiosity for you:
If you want to see it at its peak, drop by on a Thursday. You can stroll through the street market that is mounted there weekly and buy wines, fresh produce and many other things from the region.
Piazza Unità d’Italia, Trieste
by Michela at Rocky Travel
Piazza Unità d’Italia is an iconic attraction of Trieste, the northernmost Italian city at the border with Slovenia. This square is not only one of the largest sea-facing squares in Europe; it is also where the pulse of the city is, with its vibrant atmosphere. This large square showcases some distinct architecture landmarks with three main palaces; the Palazzo del Municipio on the southern side, the Palazzo Pitteri, on the right-hand-side and the Palazzo Lloyd Triestino which is the home of the Council Hall.
The best way to admire the splendour of Piazza Unità d’Italia is to walk around and sit at one of the cafés or restaurants. Especially worth a stop is the Caffe Degli Specchi, which dates back to 1839, a delightful place to taste local specialities and enjoy the beautiful interior architecture.
Piazza Unità d’Italia is also a place for events and festivals. From cultural and traditional events to summer rock concerts, this huge piazza can hold up to 15 thousand people on one event and is indeed a great place to experience throughout the year, for young to adults and family with kids alike. Also, take a stroll at the adjacent seafront promenade and walk to the 200 metre long paved pier, “Molo Audace”, to watch the sun go down.
Piazzas in central Italy
Piazza della Signoria, Florence
As much an open-air sculpture gallery as it is Florence’s political city centre, Piazza della Signoria holds an immense amount of regional history for visitors to explore. Looking across the square from his horse is Cosimo I, the founding member of the Medici clan, responsible for much of the city’s wealth during the Renaissance.
Beneath Cosimo’s former palace, the mighty Palazzo Vecchio (which today continues as the city hall), is a copy of Michelangelo’s David, a symbol of Florentine resistance and independence (the original statue can be found in the Accademia).
The Medici rule took a bit of a beating at the end of the 15th century under the puritanical Girolamo Savonarola. The Dominican friar famously created the bonfire of the vanities in Piazza della Signoria, burning objects deemed to be sinful such as fine clothing, secular music and art works. His desire to return Florence to a more pious way of life was relatively short lived however and his execution also took place in the square.
Today, poor Savonarola would turn in his grave: many of the Medici’s art treasures remain in the piazza. The statue of Judith, a symbol of liberty and victory, rubs shoulders with Gucci-wearing locals while tourists browse designer shops or stop for coffee and people watch in the cafes which now line Piazza della Signoria.
Piazza del Duomo, Florence
by Valentina at Valentina’s Destinations
Piazza del Duomo is the highlight of Florence. It’s one of the most visited places in Europe and, even, the world. Piazza del Duomo, also known as “Duomo Square,” is dominated by Florence Cathedral, the Baptistry of St. John and Giotto’s Bell Tower.
Florence Cathedral is the largest medieval building in Europe and it’s most famous for its incredible dome. When builders started working on the cathedral (and its dome), architects had not even figured out how they were going to build the dome yet. Although, they knew exactly how big they wanted it to be, it would take them over 200 years to complete this building.
Visit the Duomo’s museum to view masterpieces by Michelangelo, Donatello, and other masters. Or, you can book a tour to climb all the way to the top of the epic dome. Views from the top are incredible!
Besides Florence Cathedral, all the religious buildings in Duomo Square are quite remarkable. Their facades are richly decorated in colourful marble with exquisite detail and harmony. Giotto’s Bell Tower has been referred to as the most beautiful campanile in Italy. Also, the Baptistry of St. John has a unique octagonal layout and impressive bronze doors.
Piazza del Duomo is certainly one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy. It’s in the heart of historic Florence, and is surrounded by shops, restaurants and gelaterie.
Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence
by Alex at Swedish Nomad
Piazzale Michelangelo offers one of the best panoramic views of Florence. It was built in 1869 and was dedicated to the famous sculptor Michelangelo. In the centre of the square, there’s a large bronze statue of David, which is facing Florence. The Piazzale Michelangelo is located on top of a hill in the Oltrarno district, and in addition to beautiful views, visitors can enjoy various events throughout the year. There are also daily vendors who sell souvenirs and other products at the square.
The stairs leading up to the square are a popular picnic spot, and sometimes there will be musicians and artists who will make performances for the people sitting on the stairs. These performances are free and it’s a pleasant addition to the lovely views.
Nearby you can also visit the famous Giardino delle Rose, which is a beautiful garden next to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Visitors can either walk up to the hill via the stairs or road. It’s also possible to take a taxi or go by car, there is parking available next to the square.
Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa
Piazza dei Miracoli, home to Italy’s most iconic sight, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, holds a special place in my heart, as does the rest of Pisa. I spent a year living in this wonderful Tuscan town and I would regularly wander through the piazza and admire not just the tower but the other impressive Romanesque edifices: the Cathedral, the Baptistry and the Camposanto (graveyard).
Pisa’s famous square may be teeming with tourists and souvenir shops but there’s no denying the beauty of the piazza nor the depth and importance of its history. Pisa’s marble-clad Cathedral, begun in the 11th century, became a model for churches throughout northern Italy. The elegant circular Baptistry contains a beautifully sculpted pulpit by local artist Nicola Pisano.
With so many places to visit in Italy, it’s tempting to zip through Pisa, take a quick photo and move on. However, if you do that, you’re only experiencing a fraction of what the city has to offer. Spend a night in Pisa and enjoy a passeggiata along the River Arno, grab an ice cream from la Bottego del Gelato at Ponte di Mezzo before heading to Piazza dei Miracoli for an evening stroll. And if you can time your visit to fall in line with La Luminara di San Ranieri in June, you’ll see Pisa at its most bewitching as thousands of windows across the city are lit by candlelight.
For itineraries combining Pisa with a visit to central Italy, read my post about driving from Tuscany to Le Marche.
Piazza Anfiteatro, Lucca
This easy on the eye oval piazza, a short walk from the famous tree-topped tower of Guinigi, is built on the foundations of a Roman amphitheatre. Today it’s lined with cafes and restaurants and makes a great place to bring children for lunch – there’s plenty of space to run around.
Piazza del Campo, Siena
by Chris at Explore Now or Never
Back in the thirteenth century on a slope, Piazzo del Campo was originally a marketplace, paved in a fishbone patterned red brick. Nine lines still radiate from the centre of the piazza to its outer edges, effectively dividing it into ten sections. These nine lines are symbolic of the Rule of Nine, when nine governors ruled Siena beginning in 285.
Piazza IV Novembre, Perugia
Perugia’s Piazza IV Novembre has some impressive monuments including the city’s Gothic cathedral and the 13th century Fontana Maggiore. However, come to Perugia in the summertime to really see Piazza IV Novembre at its best. The city hosts the annual Umbria Jazz Festival in early July which sees the piazza (and surrounding streets) packed with people enjoying open air concerts, it’s a great time of year to visit Umbria. The piazza dates back to Etruscan times and yet it still works brilliantly today as a modern day arena where locals and visitors can enjoy free music from around the world.
Beneath the Cathedral of San Lorenzo is an excellent archaeological museum which reveals the Etruscan and Roman heritage of the city. Visitors can explore these ruins through a kilometre-long tour taking in Etruscan archways and Roman roads dating back some two thousand years.
Piazza IV Novembre is also famed for the excellent Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria which houses artworks from the 13th to 18th centuries including local artists Pinturicchio and Perugino. The gallery is housed within the Palazzo dei Priori which also contains the rather beautiful Collegio del Cambio. If only banks could be decorated like this today: the rooms are covered with vivid frescoes of the four virtues (prudence, courage, temperance and justice) painted by Perugino.
Piazza del Duomo, Spoleto
by Bridget at The Flashpacker
Spoleto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Umbrian hills, is one of Italy’s hidden gems. The town’s beating heart is its Piazza del Duomo, one of the most exquisite pizzas in Italy.
Dating back to Roman times, Piazza del Duomo looks like a film set. A dramatic stone staircase opens up into the rectangular square, which is dominated by the Duomo, framed by verdant mountains. The city’s Romanesque cathedral, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta was built at the end of the 12th century over the site of an ancient Christan temple, and features an elegant bell tower and eight rose windows.
The Piazza del Duomo is a masterclass in architectural harmony and the perfect spot to watch the world go by. Stroll around, visit the cathedral or relax over an espresso or glass of Prosecco at a nearby bar.
If you are more accustomed to the business of more well-known Italian squares, such as Rome’s Piazza Navona or Piazza della Signoria in Florence, you are in for a treat. In late afternoon, when the day trippers have left, you may have the piazza almost to yourself, except for a sleepy dog or two. And it’s large enough for kids to run around to their hearts’ content and traffic-free.
But don’t just visit Spoleto on a day trip; enjoy Piazza del Duomo by night and stay at the wonderful Palazzo Dragoni, a 16th century family-owned residence.
Piazza del Popolo, Ascoli Piceno
All piazzas in Italy are great for sipping a coffee and taking in the local atmosphere but I’d argue that Ascoli Piceno’s Piazza del Popolo is definitely one of the better ones for this task. Indeed, Piazza del Popolo is often cited as the most beautiful piazza in Italy. I recommend taking a seat at the historic Caffe Meletti which offers a particularly good view across the square to the Gothic-Romanesque church of San Francesco.
Piazza del Popolo is a brilliant example of Renaissance design: a rectangular space of beautiful proportions lined with dignified palazzos. I particularly love the polished sheen of the Travertine marble paving and the elegant porticoes which frame much of the piazza.
No visit to Piazza del Popolo is complete without sampling the local delicacy olive ascolane: huge green olives which are stuffed with meat and deep fried. You’ll definitely need one of Caffe Meletti’s famous anisette digestifs if you have a whole portion of these rich snacks.
If you’d like to learn more about Le Marche, have a read of my post about things to do in Le Marche with kids.
Piazzas in southern Italy
Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples
by Sam at Sam Sees World
Naples is a fascinating city in Italy full of liveliness, history, and surprises around every corner. One of the most frequented places to visit in Naples is Piazza del Plebiscito. The Piazza del Plebiscito is the largest piazza in Naples and is stunning from every angle. The semicircular piazza is positioned with the Royal Palace on one side, the church of San Francesco di Paola on the other, and two marvellous horse status. The monuments in this square hold a paramount significance; therefore, this is one of the best-maintained piazzas’ in the city.
The royal palace dates back to the 17th century, and the columns of the church date back to the 19th century. Moreover, its name comes from the plebiscite, who brought Naples into the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. This square also leads to the beautiful waterfront of the Bay of Naples and is very near the main shopping street. As a result, you can enjoy the stunning piazza and easily venture to some other sights of the city.
This is a fantastic square in Naples that should not be missed. Here you will find 360-degree views of stunning architecture and history, as well as some exciting sights nearby. Take some time to enjoy it and all its beauty.
Piazza Duomo, Amalfi
As you walk into the maze of old streets behind the sea front, everything looks lovely. Then you enter Piazza Duomo, turn a little and in front of you is the most beautiful, imposing cathedral. Amalfi Cathedral sits high above Piazza Duomo, dominating everything around it. Sixty-two wide stone steps lead up to bronze doors that date back to 1066. The cathedral was begun in the 9th century, but what you see today is a mixture of Baroque, Renaissance, Gothic and Arab-Norman elements, reflecting changing fashions over its thousand-year history. The bell tower was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, while the richly patterned facade was rebuilt in 1891 in an even more ornate style than the original.
Piazza Sant’Oronzo, Lecce
by Nadine at Le Long Weekend
Lecce, the capital of the Salento region and an important city in Puglia, is renowned for its baroque architecture and Greek roots. And its complex history is evident in the majestic Piazza Sant’Oronzo in the city centre. When you first enter the large open square you’ll be struck by the diverse composition of buildings that line the surroundings. Normally, this mismatch of styles could create an unsavoury effect, but in Lecce, it blends perfectly and honours the city’s unique standing throughout the years.
Most startlingly, you’ll find the unearthed remains of a Roman amphitheatre on one half of the square. This amphitheatre was buried for centuries – unknown to the residents of the town – until it was discovered in the early 20th century and excavation works began. Overlooking the amphitheatre you’ll find the Baroque Church of Saint Mary of Grace, and if you look up you’ll see the statue of St. Orontius ominously watching overhead at the top of his column. It’s a fascinating place to discover in the heart of the city, and one which you should take your time to savour. Settle into a neighbouring café, pop into the information centre, or simply park yourself on a bench and do some people watching.
Piazza Ercole, Tropea
Here’s a piazza in Italy which sums up everything which is good about Italian summer holidays. Tropea is one of my favourite seaside towns in Italy and Piazza Ercole oozes that lovely laid back summer atmosphere. Come in the morning for a cappuccino and gaze down Corso Vittorio Emmanuele towards the turquoise Tyrrhenian Sea and ponder which beach you’re going to visit.
Alternatively, after a swim at the town’s beach, enjoy lunch or dinner in one of the piazza’s pavement cafes, the square is packed by evening time with Italians taking their traditional passeggiata. I know this sounds like an unlikely recommendation, but Tropea’s famous sweet red onions are utterly delicious. You can even get red onion ice cream at one of the gelaterias just off the piazza. The region is also well known for its use of chillis so fans of the fiery nduja sausage will be in heaven with the pizza toppings here.
Piazzas in Sicily and Sardinia
Piazza del Duomo, Syracuse
It’s hard to narrow down, but I think Piazza del Duomo in Syracuse is for me, at any rate, one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy. It is the juxtaposition of the gleaming white limestone of the cathedral and palazzos against the (usually) bright blue Sicilian sky which swings it for me.
Piazza del Duomo in Syracuse is a brilliant place for a sedentary history lesson. Enjoy a coffee or granita in one of the cafes and admire over two thousand years of history amalgamated into one edifice: every ruler and invader has left their mark on the city’s cathedral.
Like much of eastern Sicily, Syracuse was rebuilt in a Baroque style after an earthquake in 1693. Although the cathedral’s facade dates predominantly from the 17th century, look closer and you’ll discover huge Doric columns incorporated into the building: the Duomo is on the site of an ancient Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. After a couple of hundred years as an Arab mosque, the cathedral was returned to Christianity under the Normans.
A more modest church at the other end of the piazza is the Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla Badia which houses a painting by Caravaggio: the Burial of Saint Lucy (the city’s patron saint).
If you’re travelling with children, send them off in search of the carved lizard signature of Giovanni Vermexio who built the Municipio (town hall). Kids will also enjoy exploring the Ipogeo, a series of subterranean passageways beneath the piazza.
If you’d like to learn more about Syracuse, read my post about things to do in Syracuse with kids.
Piazza 9 Aprile, Taormina
by Mar Pages at Once in a Lifetime Journey
Taormina is credited as being the most beautiful place in Sicily and due to this title is also one of the most visited. Its beauty lies in its location, nestled on the slopes of gorgeous Mount Tauro with panoramic views of Mount Etna in the distance, the coastline and beaches below and the greenery of the mountain to its side. The geography also provides a micro-climate of sorts, making Taormina a year-round travel destination.
Taormina’s Piazza 9 Aprile is the city’s main square, which provides a medieval look with a wonderful vibe in the day and the night. It’s a meeting place for tourists and locals where they can congregate and chat over an aperitif or dance to some live music. There are two churches in Piazza 9 Aprile. The first is the Baroque Church of San Giuseppe built in 1650. It has a simple, sand-coloured, weathered facade and gorgeous baby blue, yellow and white walled interior with intricate stucco designs and a marble altar.
The second, larger Church of Sant’Agostino was erected in the 15th century and looks out onto Piazza 9 Aprile like its bodyguard. You can visit the public library and archives inside as well as the impressive interiors. Stroll over to the nearby Torre dell’Orologio clock tower in Corso Umberto with its beautiful golden mosaics inside. And after dark, Wunderbar Caffe is a family-run institution which provides live music and has attracted its fair share of celebrities from Liz Taylor to Ernest Hemingway. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll get a table by the ledge which has one of the most spectacular sea views.
Piazza Carlo Alberto, Cagliari
by Claudia at My Adventures Across The World
Talk of Piazza Navona in Rome, or Piazza del Duomo in Milan, and everyone knows which place you are referring to. Mention Piazza Carlo Alberto in Cagliari, and chances are people will stare at you with a blank look on their face, not having an idea of what you are talking about. It’s a pity, as this is one of the most scenic, most atmospheric piazzas in Italy.
Piazza Carlo Alberto is located at the heart of Castello, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Cagliari. The area has been neglected for quite some time when it comes to renovation works, but it’s a favourite of locals and tourists for its packed with history, sights (it’s home to Cagliari’s Cathedral and the two watchtowers) and its narrow alleys. The square gives access to the Cathedral, and there is a beautiful fountain at the centre. There are a couple of small bars with chairs and tables outside, making it the perfect spot for a drink during the summer months. As it is quite airy and the area is closed to traffic (only residents can circulate), it’s a great place for children to play.