Towers in Italy to climb for a great view
There’s nothing quite like climbing bell towers or castles in Italy for a great view. And if the structures lean at an alarming angle or were designed by a noteworthy architect, so much the better. If you’re travelling with children, scaling a tower is always a fun activity for little ones, mine discover an incredible energy when faced with all those steps.
However, as Italy does such a good line in medieval cities, it’s worth getting off the beaten track a little and exploring some of the more under the radar destinations. You’ll find rewarding panoramas and incredible art and history all over Italy, but often with a fraction of the crowds that you’ll come across in Pisa or Florence.
With the help of some fellow travel bloggers I’ve put together a selection of some of the less visited destinations in Italy which feature towers worthy of a climb. Crowning the hilltop town of Enna in central Sicily, Castello di Lombardia has been my favourite discovery in recent years: it has some of the best views I’ve encountered in Italy and the town has a rich history. At the other end of the country, tiny Ossana in Trentino wows visitors with its rewarding views of the Alps from Castel San Michele. So, if you’ve scaled the Leaning Tower of Pisa and you’ve conquered La Torre degli Asinelli in Bologna, read on for some inspiring alternatives.
Campanile della Chiesa di San Carlo, Noto, Sicily
It might not be as high as some of the other towers in Italy featured in this blog post, but the bell tower of 18th century Chiesa di San Carlo in Noto delivers some pretty impressive views nonetheless. Noto in south east Sicily is one of several cities famed for their Baroque architecture. Along with Modica, Ragusa and Scicli, Noto was rebuilt in the 18th century following a devastating earthquake in 1693.
From the top of Chiesa di San Carlo, in one direction visitors can look down upon the city’s cathedral, with its dramatic staircase and in the other direction the stately avenue of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, full of elegant palazzi. Noto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its distinctive honey-coloured stone is perhaps the most beautiful of the Baroque towns in south east Sicily. However, it’s worth spending a few days in this region and visiting several of these delightful cities. Noto is just over an hour’s drive from Catania and about half an hour from Syracuse (there’s also a direct train service from Syracuse to Noto).
Where to stay in Noto
San Carlo Suites: while some of these suites can sleep a family, it’s definitely a B&B for couples. Some of the rooms have balconies which look towards Noto’s incredible cathedral.
Agriturismo Nacalino: we used this agriturismo as our base when we explored south eastern Sicily. It’s about 40 minutes from Noto but I’m recommending it as it’s perfect for visiting all of the Baroque towns in this corner of the island. We booked a “light snack” for our evening arrival at Nacalino and were greeted with a banquet: typical Sicilian hospitality. We stayed in an apartment with self catering facilities which was perfect for our little family: our kids weren’t always capable of staying up late enough to enjoy eating out in the nearby restaurants. The agriturismo has a play area in the garden and a swimming pool.
Ostello della Gioventu: this sounds like a great hostel: it’s mostly made up of family rooms, some with a terrace and some with en suite facilities. It’s right in the centre of Noto and it has a bar and terrace.
Campanone (Torre Civica), Bergamo, Lombardy
by Maria and Rui at Two Find a Way
Bergamo’s Campanone, or Civic Tower, dates back to the 12th century, and it has always served as a reference for both locals and visitors. Today it is a tourist attraction you absolutely can’t miss if you find yourself in Lombardy, one of Italy’s most stunning regions. The tower is located in Bergamo’s main square, Piazza Vecchia, and from the top you can not only admire a panoramic view to the city’s beautiful Old Town, but also the breathtaking nature around it. When we visited in the winter, the snow covered mountain peaks made the experience even more magical.
With a height of almost 53 meters, Campanone stands as the city’s highest tower. However, don’t worry if you don’t feel fit to climb the 230 steps needed to get to the top: there’s a lift to take you there in just a few seconds. To add to the view, you can also admire Lombardy’s largest bell.
Bergamo is located in the Northeast of Italy, just an hour away from bustling Milan. The city is often overlooked as a tourist destination, but its stunning Città Alta (Upper Town) is reason enough to visit. It’s encircled by impressive Venetian walls that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architecture is indeed mesmerising, but there is plenty to see and do in this charming city. Here are a few things you need to know before you visit Italy!
Where to stay in Bergamo
Gombit Hotel: for fans of style and history, this is the perfect marriage: the Gombit is located in the heart of the old town and features design-led rooms within its medieval stone walls. The Tower Lounge looks like a great place for an aperitivo.
Porta Nuova Bergamo Apartments: these apartments have one or two bedrooms plus a sofa bed in the living room so they’re great for families with more than two children. The location is also good: close to the wide pedestrian Sentierone.
B&B Belle Arti: this little bed and breakfast features simply furnished rooms on the second floor of an historical building, not far from the centre of the city.
Mole Antonelliana (Turin Cinema Museum), Turin, Piedmonte
by Cazzy Magennis from Dream Big Travel Far Blog
One of my favourite views in all of Italy is that of the Mole Antonelliana in Turin, which is sometimes referred to as the Turin Cinema Museum since it has a pretty awesome cinema museum housed within it! To get to the top you go up a pretty cool glass elevator and the views that greet you are amazing. Turin itself is surrounded by the Alps and a view from the top showcases this amazing mountain range with snow on top. You also get a panoramic view of the city itself, and with the Alps as a backdrop, you can imagine how beautiful that view is. From the top you can pick out the awesome places to visit in beautiful Turin from the Egyptian Museum (which has the largest collection of Egyptian artefacts outside of Egypt!), Valentino Park (the perfect Italian picnic setting), River Po and many more great sights.
You can also visit the Cinema Museum itself after you’ve checked out the view from above, and you’ll get a sneak peak of what’s on offer as you ride the glass elevator. Depending on the time of day, the queue to get to the top can be quite long, but it’s totally worth the wait for the view from the top.
Where to stay in Turin
Turin Palace Hotel: I’m a sucker for roof terraces and the Turin Palace has a particularly inviting one. The hotel is central to all of the city’s main sights.
Piazza Vittorio Suites: these stylish split level suites, located on the square of the same name, are a short walk to the Cinema Museum and the Egyptian Museum.
La Mole Home: This is a collection of studios and apartments located in the centre of Turin near to Mole Antonelliana.
Torre Pisana, Castello di Lombardia, Enna, Sicily
We had many highlights on our family trip to Sicily. One of my favourite destinations was Enna, a hilltop town in the centre of the island and it is the view from the very top of this town which inspired me to write this blog post.
We visited Enna at Easter time when daily processions of hooded figures took place along the streets. Castello di Lombardia is positioned at the very far end and at the very top of the town, it’s quite a walk to reach it, before you even begin your ascent of Torre Pisana, one of the castle’s six remaining towers.
Devoid of visitors and indeed of any officials, the 13th century castle was ours to explore. We wandered through its grassy courtyards through swathes of wild flowers and found steps inside Torre Pisana leading us to the very top of Enna for an amazing view of nearby Calascibetta and what felt like the whole of Sicily laid out below us, including Mt Etna. If ever there was a time to shout out “I’m the king of the castle!” this was it. Of all the family friendly things to do in Sicily, this was one of our favourites.
Enna is approximately one hour’s drive from Catania and two hours from Palermo. The town is a good base for exploring the underrated interior of Sicily. Nearby is Piazza Armerina, home to Villa Romana del Casale where one of the largest discoveries of Roman mosaics can be found. We also enjoyed visiting the museum at eerie Villarosa train station which provided a rich history of local Sicilian life.
Where to stay in Enna
Baglio Pollicarini: since this blog post is all about views, I have to include a mention for this amazingly positioned agriturismo. Not only do you have incredible views of the wheat fields (come in spring for gorgeous green hues) but on a clear day you also get a view of smouldering Mount Etna. If that weren’t enough, there’s a restaurant serving hearty local fare and a swimming pool. We used the baglio as our base for exploring central Sicily (it’s a ten minute drive to Enna). Accommodation is in traditional, simple hotel rooms, we had a cosy room which slept the four of us.
La Casa del Poeta: this works for couples and families (some of the rooms interconnect). The road leading to La Casa del Poeta, just outside Enna, looked inviting when we drove past. Rooms are stylishly decorated, there’s a pool and lovely views over the surrounding countryside.
Torre dell’Elefante in Caglari, Sardinia
by Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across the World
Torre dell’Elefante is one of the two towers (the other being the San Pancrazio tower) that watch over the city of Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. Like the others that were built in southern Sardinia, this tower was built at the beginning of the 14th century, when Cagliari was under Pisan rule, in an effort to defend the city against the invasion of the Aragonese.
The tower was designed by Sardinian architect Giovanni Capula and its construction was finished in 1307. It protects the southern side of Castello (the old walled city of Cagliari). It is characterised by a statue of a small elephant placed on one of its walls, symbolizing the power of the Pisans, and by a thick iron gate that could be put up or down to let people in and out, and which is still visible. It was also used as a prison and as a deposit for weapons.
The tower is currently under restoration work. It’s otherwise accessible daily for a €3 fee (the entrance is right next to San Giuseppe church). From the top, the views of Cagliari, the beaches and the lagoon is simply breathtaking. The tower is quite exposed to the wind, so you’re better off avoiding it when the strong mistral blows in Cagliari. There is no elevator to get to the top, and since the stairs are quite steep it it not for the faint of heart!
The best views of the tower are from the terrace of Via Santa Croce.
Where to stay in Cagliari
The Place: this is a good value B&B in the heart of Cagliari, not far from the cathedral. Rooms are all very individual with art works and interesting furniture.
La Villa del Mare: this is a collection of suites and apartments in an attractive Art Deco villa on Caglari’s seafront, a little way out from the heart of the city but a good option if your family need a balance of culture and beach.
Castel San Michele, Ossana, Trentino
by Teresa from Brogan Abroad
Castel San Michele is located on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the village of Ossana in Trentino. It dates back to at least 1191, although it is believed to be linked to the Lombard Kingdom, which fell in the 8th century. Throughout the times, the castle has been owned by a number of noble families, all the way till the beginning of the 20th century, when it was owned by Nobel Peace Prize winner Bertha von Suttner.
Its strategic position on a trade road between the region of Trento and the Upper Brescia area of Tonale Pass means that the views are pretty spectacular. Its keep is 25 metres high, and is the best preserved part of the castle. Make sure you climb all the way to the top to get the best vantage point over the valley and the mountains around it.
Whether you are in Trentino in winter or summer, make sure you add Castel San Michele to your itinerary. In fact, from November till the beginning of January the whole village of Ossana becomes an open air museum with nativity scenes set up around the village. Having the castle as a background gives it that special magic.
Where to stay in Ossana
Yes we camp! Cevedale: as with so many campsites these days, Yes we camp! on the outskirts of Ossana has wooden chalets as well as tent pitches. It’s a short walk to Castel San Michele.
Hotel Il Maniero: this is still a pretty good value option and equally close to the castle but it offers more creature comforts! It has quad rooms too.
Rifugio Viviani Pradalago: this property can only be reached on foot or seasonal cable car. It does have family friendly rooms however. It’s located in Madonna di Campiglio which is about 30km from Ossana: if you like views this makes a great combo!
Torre dell’Orologio del Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici, Arezzo, Tuscany
by Arzo Nayel at Arzo Travels
If you visit Tuscany, also add Arezzo to your Tuscany itinerary. Though it is not as famous and spectacular as Lucca, Florence or Pisa (and the views you can enjoy from there), there are some nice views in Arezzo you can enjoy, too.
Arezzo is a small town located about 80km southeast of Florence and due to its tradition in goldsmithery, it is one of the wealthiest in the region. And you can tell – if you visit, you will notice the clean and pretty market square.
You have a few beautiful churches, including the Church of San Francesco and the Church of San Domenico that are some of the main landmarks of Arezzo. But there is also the little museum that is not busy nor really often named as a main attraction though it offers lovely views.
Fraternita dei Laici is a museum, located right at the Piazza Grande (Corso Italia 3) and for a small entrance fee, you can visit the museum. In addition, you will have access to the rooftop terrace that offers panoramic views of the small town.
The terrace is small but since there are not many visitors, it does not feel crowded and, unlike many other bell towers, you do not have to climb 100+stairs to get to the top. Just do not be surprised if you hear the bell tower loud and clear on that terrace (which came as a shock to me and my dog, so just a little warning from me).
Where to stay in Arezzo
Locanda il Canto del Maggio: this isn’t on the doorstep of Arezzo but the half hour drive is worth it for the views from this lovely restored hamlet. It consists of a collection of apartments, a shared swimming pool and a restaurant.
Residenza fra le Torri: this little apartment is a great option is you’d like to be in the centre of Arezzo. It sleeps up to four guests and has a little garden.
Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, Genoa, Liguria
by Jules from Part Time Passport
Right in the centre of Genoa, in Italy’s spectacular Liguria region, you’ll find the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. In fact, this architectural masterpiece is hard to miss, with its black and white striped marble façade, Gothic arches, and majestic bell-tower, which can be spotted from across the city.
The inside of the Cathedral is just as beautiful as the exterior, with stunning artwork adorning the domed ceilings and walls, a grand altar, and colourful stained-glass windows.
For 5 Euros, you can climb the spiral staircase right to the top of the Cathedral – be prepared to take on 150 steps in the Italian heat! First, you’ll come face to face with the giant bells in the bell-tower, before reaching the roof, where you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with incredible views of the city below, the Old Port and rows and rows of colourful buildings, clinging to the surrounding hillside.
The Cathedral is closed to the public every day between noon and 3pm, so I’d recommend visiting in late afternoon when it’s cooler and less busy and the light is much better for taking photos. When you’re back on solid ground, why not treat yourself with an aperitivo on the beautiful Piazza San Lorenzo?!
Where to stay in Genoa
Residenza d’Epoca di Palazzo Cicala: locations don’t come better than this: this 16th century palazzo is right opposite the cathedral with some rooms offering terrific views. Some of the rooms are really spacious and can sleep a family.
B&B del’Acquario: this is a great value option for couples and families in the Porto Antico area of Genoa, near to the aquarium. The apartments are housed in converted 17th century warehouses.
Torre del Moro, Orvieto, Umbria
by Kate at Our Escape Clause
Dating to the 13th century, lovely Torre del Moro is not as tall nor as immediately noticeable as some towers in Italy – it sits nestled comfortably in the middle of Orvieto, and you may not even realise what it is until you’re right next to it!
The Torre del Moro is worth keeping an eye out for, though: some of the best views of Orvieto can be found from this tower. Climb to the top (it’s under 200 steps up, a fairly modest number for an Italian tower), and you’re virtually guaranteed to find yourself amazed at the picture-perfect views of the Duomo, the city, a few piazzas, and even the surrounding countryside.
At various points in its history, Torre del Moro was used as a cistern for an aqueduct, a clock, and (of course) a lookout – but today, it’s all about the joy of admiring the views.
Once you climb down, be sure to enjoy some time exploring all the other things to do in Orvieto. The beautiful town was originally built by the Etruscans, and there are plenty of Etruscan ruins around. Orvieto was also once home to several popes throughout the 13th century, and holds plenty of related history as well!
And, of course, you shouldn’t leave Orvieto without trying two of its local specialities, Orvieto Classico wine and pigeon!
Where to stay in Orvieto
Hotel Virgilio: another hotel which has managed to position itself right opposite a cathedral, make sure you bag one of the six rooms which face the city’s duomo.
La Locanda Palazzone: I had the pleasure of staying here several years ago: it’s a perfect marriage of medieval and modern. Along with views of Orvieto in the distance (10 minutes drive), you can expect great food and wine (they make their own) and a swimming pool in a beautiful garden. Although they accept children, it has quite a grown up vibe: one for teens rather than toddlers.
Locanda Rosati: this is a more affordable and family-friendly rural stay. Rooms can sleep up to four guests and there’s a restaurant and swimming pool. Animals roam around and there’s plenty of space for kids to do the same.
Have you climbed any towers in Italy? Let me know in the comments below.
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Looking for more travel ideas in Italy? I’ve put together an itinerary taking in Tuscany, Umbria and Le Marche. You might even spot a more familiar Italian tower in there somewhere….
Looking for places to stay in Italy with kids? Check out my post about the best farm stays in Italy.