Why to go when you’re young: Italy truly has it all. Art, culture, beaches, mountains, hands-down the best food, friendly people, booze galore. It’s also easy to hit several different cities in a matter of days — and when you’re just a pup, you actually have the stamina to do that.
Where to head first: Florence, San Gimignano, and Cinque Terre
When I think that I almost chose to study abroad in London over Italy, it makes me cringe. Nothing against London of course, but after living in Florence during college, backpacking through Western Europe in my 20s, and returning in my 30s, I feel confident saying Italy is a genuine treasure. Returning as a real-life adult I discovered that I didn’t just fall in love with it because I was a carefree 20-year-old blowing it out on my parents’ dime. Certain activities have changed — i.e., drinking fewer flaming shooters at Shot Cafe — but my love and admiration for the country only grows with every visit.
That’s rooted in the overwhelming sense of culture and community Italy offers: Locals just want you to eat some damn good food, drink a ton of Chianti, and love their country. Trust me, you will, no matter what age or how many times you’ve been there. In fact, my last visit to a mountain gazing down at Vernazza (one of the five towns that makes up Cinque Terre) was no less awe-inspiring than the first time I stood in the same spot a decade earlier. Except, the second time, I had the memories to join me.