Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

March 16, 2015 (Last Updated: November 10, 2022)
by Carolyn
Trulli of Alberobello

Italy has long been a popular tourist destination for travellers from all around the world and with its abundance of spectacular landscapes, priceless art, grand architecture and rich history, it’s not hard to see why.

In fact, Italy boasts more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country with a total of 50 sites as at July 2014. Four of these sites are natural sites whilst the others are all cultural sites.

You can find a full list of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites here – these include Rome, Venice, Florence, the Amalfi Coast and the Dolomites – but I thought I’d tell you a little bit about some of the other sites that you might like to visit on your next trip to Italy.

Assisi – the Basilica of San Francesco

Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi
Built in the 13th Century, Assisi’s Basilica of San Francesco is still a popular pilgrimage site today.

Famous for being the birthplace of St. Francis who started the Franciscan order here in 1210, Assisi is a well-preserved medieval town with many notable pieces of art and architecture.

Must see in Assisi:

The Basilica of St. Francis, built between 1228 and 1253 is still one of the most visited Christian shrines in the world.

The Sacro Convento – a friary connected to the Basilica where St. Francis was interred in 1230 (he had died four years earlier in Portiuncula. On completion in 1239, the Sacro Convento’s library, which housed an extensive number of manuscripts, rivalled both the Sorbonne in Paris and the Pope’s Palace in Avignon in importance.

Where: approximately 145 kilometres north of Rome

Archaeological Areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata

The Forum, Pompeii, Italy
The excavated city of Pompeii is remarkably well-preserved. The Forum can be seen in the city’s main piazza.

For a look at what life was like in the first century AD, a visit to Pompeii or Herculaneum is a must. Both towns were buried by an eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in AD79, the ash (or more specifically, burning fragments of pumice stone), preserving them.

It wasn’t until 1594 that the remains of Pompeii were discovered but proper exploration didn’t begin until 1748.

Must see in Pompeii:

Il Foro (The Forum) was the city’s main piazza. Huge limestone columns mark each corner of the rectangular piazza where you’ll also find the Temple of Jupiter and the Forum Granary.

La Fullonica Di Stephanus offers a glimpse of everyday life at the time of Vesuvius’ eruption. The building was a wash house and you can still see the vats wash and dye clothes.

Whilst just as well preserved as Pompeii, the Roman fishing village of Herculaneum is often overlooked by visitors. Many believe, though, that it is easier to get around as the site is smaller and the crowds are usually smaller.

Where: Pompeii and Herculaneum are located approximately 30 kilometres and 17 kilometres, respectively, south east of Naples.

City of Verona

Verona, Italy
Verona’s Roman Arena is still used today – 2000 years after it was built!

An attractive city that dates back 2000 years, Verona has played an important role in Italy’s history. Once a Roman trading town, in the Middle Ages the city was ruled by the Scaligeri clan and today it’s a cosmopolitan city with a great vibe.

Must see in Verona:

The Roman Arena, built in the 1st Century AD, is as impressive structure as you’re likely to see. Made of marble, the Arena was originally used for gladiatorial fights but today is used as Verona’s open-air opera house. It can seat up to 30,000 people.

Juliet’s House – the imaginary setting for one of Shakespeare’s most-loved plays, Romeo and Juliet, the balcony on this small house attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Where: Verona is situated around 120 kilometres west of Venice and 170 kilometres east of Milan.

Historic Centre of Siena

Palio, Siena, Italy
Siena’s Palio horse race is held twice a year around the streets of the medieval city.

Once a fierce rival of Florence, Siena is a quintessential medieval city. With an exceptionally preserved medieval centre, the town is famous for its annual Palio, a festival and horse race that has taken place since the Middle Ages.

Must see in Siena:

Torre del Mangia – Built between 1338 and 1348, the Tower owes its name to the bell-ringer, known as “Mangiaguadagni” who in 1347 was appointed to climb up the four hundred steps to ring the bells. The view from the summit, 87 meters above the ground, is magnificent.

Palazzo Pubblico – the City Hall, is one of the finest examples of gothic civic architecture in the world, this building symbolizes the independence and economic power of the Sienese oligarchy.

Duomo – with its facade of white, green and red marble, the Duomo is an impressive sight and the interior is no less stunning.

Where: Siena is located 80 kilometres south of Florence.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, Italy
Pretty hillside villages with gelato-coloured houses are one of the reasons visitors flock to the Cinque Terre. (Photo: Dollar Photo Club / Jenifoto)

The ‘five lands’ (Cinque Terre) are five villages built on the side of a rugged coastline beside the Mediterranean. Packed with tourists throughout the day, the best time to visit the villages is late in the afternoon when all the day trippers have gone home and you can enjoy the unique beauty of the area without a throng of others.

The five villages that make up the Cinque Terre are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.

Must see in the Cinque Terre:

If you only have a day, choose a couple of villages to explore, wandering their busy piazzas, eating the local seafood and drinking in the views of the azure sea. The more energetic can walk the path between villages or you can catch a train between villages.

Where: Levanto is a reasonable sized town on the west coast of Italy with easy access to the Cinque Terre. It’s just 10 kilometres from Monterosso, the northernmost village. Genoa is approximately 80 kilometres away.

The Trulli of Alberobello

Trulli of Alberobello
The beehive-like Trulli of Alberobello in Puglia. (Photo: Marcok via Wikipedia)

In the southern Italian region of Puglia, Alberobello is home to around 1500 buildings known as ‘trulli’. These limestone huts, built in a prehistoric drywall technique, usually feature conical, domed or pyramidal roofs of corbelled stone slabs

Must see in Alberobello:

Take a walk to Piazza del Popolo where you can get great views of the town and its beehive-like houses.

For a look inside a typical trullo, visit Trullo Sovrano where, for just a couple of euros, you can see how the locals live.

Where: Alberobello is 320 kilometres east of Naples.

Photos courtesy Italian State Tourist Office except where marked otherwise.