The Vatican, Rome
Technically this is a city-state, not an attraction within Italy, but guidebooks have been guilty of pairing them for decades with less justification than this. Enter St Peter's Cathedral, considered Christianity's most magnificent Renaissance church. And get ready to queue for Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel (or book ahead), though many find the maps and even frescoes on the way to the Chapel even more compelling than the main draw.
Perched halfway up Mount Subasio, overlooking the town of Perugia, this walled city with a fourteenth-century fortress (Rocca Maggiore) is the birthplace of St Francis (1182), work began on his basilica in 1228, two years after his death, and if you can get past all the religious pilgrims, it's one of the most enchanting towns in the country
The Colosseum, Rome
Long before Gladiator was made into a movie and David Beckham put on body armor for Pepsi, the Colosseum in Rome (completed in 80 AD) was the ultimate arena for public games.
It's sinking (possibly under the weight of all the tourist), and there's a chance the water may be knee-deep in St Marks Square by the time you visit, but to stroll Venice without crowds (off season, or at sunrise) may top your European visual highlights. There's a reason so many use it for comparison (Stockholm says it's the "Venice of the north", The Okavango Delta calls itself the "Venice of Africa"). There's little need for an overpriced gondola ride. A cheap city bus boat will do just fine. Do yourself a favour while visiting, and get lost; put away your map and wander the narrow back alleys until you need to ask a local for directions.
This city offers more art history per square meter than any other place outside Louvre. You could spend a year here and not see it all. In fact, several guidebooks far thicker than this book are devoted entirely to Florence. This Renaissance wonderland boasts the Uffizi gallery, Ponte Vecchio, the Duorno, Michelangelo's David, and the Basilica di San Lorenzo, to name but a few.
Walk on Cinque Terre
The five postcard-perfect fishing villages of the Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Monterosso, Vernazza and Corniglia) along the northwest coast are connected by a cliff-side hiking trail that can be completed in one long day or divided up into a few days with hotel stays and good meals.
Climb the vie ferrate in the Dolomites
The vie ferrate (iron ways) are a magnificent system of steel ladders and fixed cables, originally built during World War I to help Alpine troops move through the mountains. With only modest modifications, they now allow beginner climbers to clip in and safely ascend to incredible heights.
Take a wine tour
Brunello di Montalcino is the Rolls-Royce of Italian wines. You can tour Montalcino, Chainti, or try the Cabernet Sauvignon of the Tuscan coast. The choice is limitless; you can taste some of the world's top wines almost everywhere you go.
Watch the volcano
Check your insurance coverage, then take a ferry from Naples or the north of Sicily to the island of Stromboli, hike a few hours up to the top of its volcano (you can't miss it), watch the sunset and then stick around for Mother Nature's fireworks as small eruptions send orange molten lava 50-100m up into the air.
Watch a football match
The bigger clubs like AC Milan, Juventus and Roma are among the best in the world, but you might find it more culturally enlightening to watch a game at a smaller stadium. Just make sure you're wearing the right colors. Rather, make sure you're not wearing the wrong colors. If you're not sure, bring a bag with a few options so you can get adapted to your surroundings.