When you travel to Italy for the first time, you may be overwhelmed with all there is to do and see. Pizza, wine, gelato? The large tourist attractions or the smaller options off the beaten path? We've compiled a list of the top well-known things to do in Italy, as well as the best lesser-known things to check out.

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Well-known things to do in Italy

Tour the Roman Colosseum

One of the most known tourist attractions in Rome, Italy, is the Colosseum! The oval amphitheater is at the heart of the city. In the ancient Roman Empire, the Colosseum held up to 80,000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial contests, animal hunts and executions. Now, when you visit the Colosseum, you can sit in the stands and see the underground passageways and trap doors that were once used for bloody entertainment. For tips on getting tickets for a tour of the Colosseum, click here.

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Colosseum, Rome, Italy home exchange

Stand at the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Another iconic Italian tourist attraction is the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a freestanding bell tower in the city of Pisa. The tower stands 60 meters high and leans due to an unstable foundation that wasn't discovered until construction had already begun. Construction on the bell tower began in 1173 and continued for 200 years. If you choose to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, consider purchasing a ticket in advance so you can skip the admission line. You can climb the tower's 294-step spiral staircase and enjoy views of Pisa from the top of the tower.

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Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy, home exchange

Throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain

Located in Rome, the Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous fountains in the entire world. According to legend, tossing a coin into the fountain ensures that you will return to Rome. So if you're loving your time in the Eternal City, want a great photo opp, or just want a tour of one of the most famous sights in downtown Rome, the Trevi Fountain is the place to be.

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Ride a gondola in the Grand Canal

The Grand Canal in Venice, Italy is the city's main waterway. The banks have beautiful museums, bridges, palaces and fish markets. Even better than walking along the canal is one of the most popular Venice tourist attractions of all: taking a ride in a gondola! These traditional Venetian rowing boats are propelled by a gondolier, some of whom sing or act as tour guides. The ride isn't cheap, but it is memorable!

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Gondolas in Venice Italy home exchange

Lesser-known things to do in Italy

Visit Arte Sella, Italy's open-air museum

Enjoy fresh air and unique art pieces at Arte Sella in Trentino, Italy. This museum is comprised of contemporary outdoor exhibits made from natural materials and the beautiful mountains are the backdrop to it all. A tour of this outdoor museum makes for a stunning walk, and new art pieces keep popping up along the trail. This attraction is a lesser known gem, but it is certainly worth a visit.  

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Arte Sella sculpture Italy art museum home exchange

Wonder at the Pietra di Bismantova

This geological wonder in the province of Reggio Emilia in central Italy inspired the landscape of Dante's hell. When you visit today, you will not find it hellish, but breathtaking. The plateau rises 300 meters above the hills around it and is a source of inspiration for writers, poets and musicians. Rock climbers and hikers enjoy climbing the mountain. You can picnic, take in the scenery, enjoy a nearby restaurant, or take a short hike to the top with beautiful views.

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Visit the Museum of Prosciutto di Parma

To prime yourself for a scrumptious Italian dinner, pay a visit to the Museum of Prosciutto di Parma in Parma, Italy. There, you'll learn about the traditional ham that is the pride of the city of Parma. The secrets of curing and butchering have been passed down for centuries and perfected for years. In the museum, you'll learn the history and origins of the ham, techniques, recipes, how its quality is guaranteed, and more. At the end, you will be rewarded with a prosciutto tasting.

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Tour the beautiful Palatine Chapel

Construction on this jaw-dropping chapel began in 1130 and was completed over 15 years. It blends European, Sicilian, Byzantine and Arabic influences, all which have shaped Sicily. The mosaics, wooden muqarnas, and intricate decorations make this one of the most beautiful churches you may ever set foot in. If you're interested in a tour of Palermo, which includes a stop at the chapel, click here for some options.

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Palermo Italy Palatine Chapel Home exchange

Take a rowboat through the Blue Grotto in Capri

Grotto Azzurra, or the Blue Grotto, has bright azure blue water in a sparkling cavern. The color is remarkable, caused by the sunlight entering the cavern through an underwater opening under the cave's mouth. In the ancient Roman Empire, the grotto was used as a marine temple. Today, you can see the grotto from a wooden rowboat that will take you into the natural sea cave. You will lay back along the bottom of the boat as you pass through, getting an extraordinary view.

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Blue Grotto Capri Italy home exchange