Romance runs rich through Italy’s veins, with icons of amore to melt the hardest heart. But the most famous sight isn’t always the most swoon-worthy; find the real romance of Italy with a hot date at one of these alternative picks where, chances are, there'll be fewer people to encroach on your special moment.
Romance icon: Verona's romance icon is undoubtedly Juliet’s balcony. The dainty stone balcony at the 14th-century Casa di Giulietta is a magnet for lovers (and Shakespeare fans). Visiting romantics scrawl heart-rending graffiti in the charming courtyard and smooch on the balcony with their own Romeos and/or Juliets. It's all rather lovely, which means tourists generally remain untroubled by the lack of any connection between the fictional lovers and the Veronese noble families who actually lived here.
The alternative: If literature’s star-crossed lovers don’t inspire, spend a balmy evening at Verona’s 1st-century Roman arena. Find a space for two on the steep stone steps, and the evening is yours to sip wine, be dazzled by on-stage theatrics, and gaze at a starry sky. Take snacks, a blanket and most essentially, a pillow (those stone steps have seriously bum-numbing qualities). For summer operas and ballets, the best seats in the house go for around €300, but thrifty lovers can snap up tickets to sit on the stone steps from as little as €20.
Romance icon: Climbing aboard one of Venice’s iconic gondolas to drift around the city’s canals, to the tune of a singing gondolier, is the holy grail of Italy's romantic experiences. That is, until you see the price tag. There’s no doubting the beauty of Venice from the water, but the pleasure doesn’t come cheap (and yes, they do charge extra for the singing).
The alternative: a bicycle made for two. Flee the flocks of visitors in central Venice with a summer ferry excursion to The Lido. With a day’s bicycle hire, you and your date can pedal around the shady streets and catch some R&R away from Venice’s manic center. Lido on Bike will set you up with the most kitsch date there is – a two-seater tandem bike.
Romance icon: Throw one coin in the Trevi Fountain, and you’ll return to Rome some day. Throw in two, and you’ll marry an Italian. Throw in more than that and, well, desperate is not a good look. Lovers line up to get a selfie next to this jaw-dropping edifice, but crowds and coin-hurling visitors don’t make for a dream date.
The alternative: Visit the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. Start early for a climb to the top of Vatican City’s gigantic dome (but spare yourself the blisters and take the lift part-way). If you’re there for opening time, you’ll likely have a hazy view of Vatican City all to yourselves, and ample space for a quick smooch.
Romance icon: With the muscular form of Michelangelo’s David setting hearts a-flutter outside the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, and comely Renaissance maidens in every gallery, it’s the artistic heart of Florence that plucks at the heart strings. And nowhere elicits lovelorn sighs more than the Galleria degli Uffizi, with emblems of love like Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus gracing its walls. But museum fatigue from the brain-boggling volume of art, not to mention bumping elbows with hordes of other visitors, can sap that lovin’ feeling.
The alternative: The Giardino di Boboli, a short walk from the Uffizi, are a perfect lovers' escape, and the further you wander into the gardens, the more secluded spaces you'll find. Seek out a manicured corner of Florence's most beautiful green space, breathe in the scent of citrus trees, and sigh among statues of bathing nymphs.
You might also like:
The gorgeous destinations that have a special place in Italians' hearts
9 stunning images of Cinque Terre that will have you booking your next trip
This Italian town is the perfect spot for stargazing
Article first published in July 2012, and last updated in October 2020