With its Tuscan sunsets, UNESCO-listed Renaissance cities, turquoise coast, and award-winning cuisine, which currently ranks number one in the world, Italy is the quintessential Southern European experience and every American’s dream destination.

Interestingly, while we tend to flock to Rome, Florence, Venice and the like, drawn to their monument-packed historic centers and invaluable cultural heritage, and understandably so, Italians themselves have other destinations in mind.

Based on a new study published by Vamonos Vacanze, a tour operator based in Rome, in partnership with Icrm, a lesser-known region on Italy’s sunny Adriatic side is in fact the leading tourist hotspot for domestic tourists in 2024, followed by two Mediterranean islands.

Trulli Houses In Alberobello, Puglia, Adriatic Coast Of Europe, Mediterranean South Of Europe

So why are these local favorites, and what are Americans who haven’t yet explored Italy beyond the Venetian canals or the overtouristed Amalfi missing out on?

As the famous travel saying goes, ‘go where the locals go‘:


The third most popular destination for Italians is Sardinia, concentrating 10% of all domestic tourism.

A large island in the Mediterranean, it boasts almost 1,242 miles of pristine coastline and a sparsely-populated hinterland traversed by mountain ranges.

Historic Town Of Castelsardo In Sardinia, A Mediterranean Island In Italy, Southern Europe

Italians love Sardinia for how distinct it feels from the mainland: it has its own ‘Sardo’ language, a unique culture, and rich cuisine, best represented by signature dishes like fregula cun còciula (a type of pasta that’s only found on the island served with clams) and su porcheddu (roasted suckling pig).

Sardinian autonomy stems from being geographically isolated, as it was historically disconnected from the mainland, so in many ways, it almost feels like a separate country, though everything tourists would expect of an Italian island getaway can be found here:

Ancient City Of Alghero Pictured During Sunset In The Island Of Sardinia, Italy, Mediterranean Europe

Sandy beaches hugged by a teal-colored sea, rugged hikes, ancient towns nestled atop limestone hills, and even a culturally-charged regional capital in Cagliari, a bustling port city built across seven hills, as Roman city-building dictated.

Top attractions in the island include the nuraghi, a series of Bronze Age stone ruins resembling beehives that date back thousands of years, the pale-sand ‘White Queen’ beach, the colorful riverside town of Bosa, where building facades are painted in bright colors, and the walled Alghero.


View of the Levanzo island, smallest of the Aegadian Islands in the Mediterranean Sea in Sicily, province of Trapany, Italy

Italy’s second best-loved destination, attracting 11% of Italians, and the largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily is similar to Sardinia in many ways, having developed a clear dialect, gastronomy, and a culture that’s markedly different from that of mainland Italy.

It’s been heavily influenced by foreign powers over the centuries, having lived through consecutive periods of Greek, Roman, Arabic, and even Spanish domination.

Other than being jam-packed with heritage sites, the ace up its sleeve is its breathtaking nature.

View Of The Greek Theater In Taormina With The Snow-Capped Mount Etna In The Background, Sicily, Italy

It is home to Mount Etna, the tallest volcano in Europe, and an active one at that, with its occasional spewing of ash providing an unlikely backdrop for the sprawling urban chaos that is Catania, a large city concentrating some of Italy’s most exuberant Baroque art.

We could write a whole feature article on Sicily and all its architectural gems and natural wonders, but you’re eager to scroll down to the bottom of this page to find out what’s number one, our four best Sicilian spots are:

Cefalu, medieval village of Sicily island, Province of Palermo, Italy

Palermo, a vibrant capital teeming with busy street markets, Taormina, the White Lotus-featured, iconic hilltop comune best known for its Greco-Roman theater, the Valley of the Temples, a Hellenic complex that rivals the Parthenon in beauty, and the terracotta-roofed, whitewashed Cefalù.


With 13% of Italians claiming this is their favorite holiday destination, Apulia (most commonly known by its Italian name Puglia) is officially Italy’s darling, even though it is largely overlooked by foreign visitors, who flock instead to the Amalfi Coast on the opposite side of the peninsula.

Aerial View Of Bari, The Capital Of Puglia, Adriatic Coast Of Italy, Bounded By The Mediterranean Sea, Southern Europe

Puglia is what we’d call the heel of Italy, referring to the country’s boot-like shape, and it’s characterized by its whitewashed towns, hugged by a rugged Adriatic shoreline, and impressive wealth of Baroque monuments.

Lecce, one of the Puglia gems Italians love best, is called ‘Florence of the South’ for a reason, with its ornate duomo and winding Roman-era streets; Alberobello, on the other hand, is distinct for its distinctive trulli, Puglian houses topped with conical roofs.

The Iconic Conical Houses Of Alberobello, A Puglian Town That Is A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Italy, Southern Europe

In Polignano a Mare, a white-pebble beach flanked by low cliffs awaits vacationers, while in Bari, the metropolitan capital and cultural heart of Puglia, the ocher-colored winding alleys of the Old Town and picture-perfect hidden courtyards make the trip worthwhile.

According to the survey, 13% of Italians will pick Puglia over any other Italian destination, and it’s not like it doesn’t face tough competition from other regions: I mean, this is probably Europe’s most historically-charged nation, literally littered with both manmade and natural wonders.

Polignano a Mare, Puglia, Italy, Southern Europe

We’re normally suspicious of unofficial surveys ourselves, however…

Based on the fact that this one derives from a sample of 4,000 individuals, equally split between men and women, aged 18-65 and distributed across Italy, and how Italian families have always chosen the Adriatic side over American-ridden Amalfi, we’re inclined to say it paints a pretty accurate picture.

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