On my first visit to Italy with my wheelchair, I visited the places that I had always heard about: Milan, Venice, Florence, and Rome. St. Mark’s Square in Venice, the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and the Colosseum in Rome are just a few items that every disabled traveler should have on their travel list.
On all my subsequent accessible travels through Italy, I made a point to get off the beaten path to find authentic (and accessible!) Italian experiences. It was off the beaten path where I found many of my favorite accessible Italy experiences: watching the sun set behind Renaissance church domes, having dinner inside a medieval castle wall, taking a cooking lesson in Tuscany, and watching steam escape from the Mt. Vesuvius volcano crater.
Below I’ve listed my Top 25 Can’t Miss Accessible Italian Experiences. I have divided this list into regions: Northern Italy (Italian Riviera, Milan, and Venice), Central Italy (Tuscany and Rome), and Southern Italy (Naples and Sicily). It will take you a month to visit them all, so I would recommend picking a region to visit during your vacation…you can always make a return trip to Italy!
1. Approach Venice from the Water – Looking for a really unique viewpoint in Venice? View the city from the water! My recommendation is to arrive in Venice by private accessible water taxi instead of the sometimes crowded public vaporetto boats…there’s nothing like cruising through narrow canals, under numerous bridges, and past 500 year old palaces on your way to your hotel.
2. View the Bridge of Sighs – The second most famous bridge in Venice (behind the Rialto Bridge) connects the City Hall to the Prison. According to legend, it got its name because prisoners used to let out a sigh as they crossed it and saw their last view of beautiful Venice. The bridge itself is not accessible, but you can view it from the semi-accessible bridge located to the south which is shown in the video below.
3. Experience a Bàcaro Crawl in Venice – While in Venice, be sure to leave the tourist neighborhood of St Mark’s Square and participate in a local Venetian tradition, a bàcaro crawl. During a bàcaro crawl, you will visit multiple dining establishments tasting various types of wine and various types of “cicchetti” (similar to tapas). Hiring a local guide will make it easier to avoid the 700 Venetian bridges and avoid the bàcari that have a step at the entrance. This is a fun way to experience Venice like a local!
4. Have Lunch in Portofino – This small harbor located at the end of a peninsula is one of the most beautiful, wheelchair accessible Italian viewpoints along the Mediterranean (shown in the photos below). After your visit, be sure to take the short drive to see the popular yacht destination of Santa Margherita Ligure.
5. Visit the Last Supper in Milan – Painted by Leonardo da Vinci for the powerful Sforza family, The Last Supper is one of the most well-known painting in the world. Visits are tightly controlled and you often need to buy tickets weeks in advance. Oh, and if you’re asking a taxi driver to bring you there, use the Italian name “Il Cenacolo” (eel che-na-co-lo).
6. Visit 8 UNESCO Sites in a Single Day – In the final years of the Roman Empire, all the important figures (including the top mosaic artists) relocated to the city of Ravenna. This small city is home to 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and you can visit all of them in a single day…where else can you do that?
7. Take a Medici walking tour in Florence – Out of all the walking/rolling tours that I’ve done in Europe, the most fascinating may be in Florence. The Medici family played a huge role in funding the Italian Renaissance, and the twists and turns of the story include Michelangelo, popes, and assassinations. The entire story is told while walking/rolling along an accessible route through the beautiful city of Florence.
8. Watch a Sunset in Florence – Florence is home to one of my favorite sunset viewpoints anywhere. From Piazza Michelangelo you can view Brunelleschi’s famous church dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, and the Ponte Vecchio while watching the sunset reflect off the Arno River (shown in the photos below).
9. Take a Private Flight over Tuscany – If you’re looking for an accessible Italy experience that you’ll never forget, try flying over Tuscan towns from a mere 1200 feet! Wheelchair users will need to be able to transfer out of their wheelchair into the plane, but it’s not too tough…similar to transferring into a medium height car (shown in the photos below).
10. Take a Chianti Wine Tour – One of the most well-known types of wine is Chianti, and it can only be produced in the forested hills of the Chianti region of Italy. Because many wineries don’t allow drop-ins and many have steps into the cellars or tasting rooms, it’s best for disabled travelers to visit wineries with a tour guide. Wine tastings and olive oil tastings can be mixed in with visits to hilltop castles and quaint villages.
11. Take a Tuscan Cooking Class – Hands down, the accessible Italian cooking class was one of the most memorable experiences that my wife and I had during our Tuscany vacation. Held in a farmhouse surrounded by vineyards, it was just the two of us and our friendly chef. I’m not much of a cook, but with some good coaching we prepared a four course meal including ravioli prepared from scratch!
12. Take a Food Tour of Siena – Another culinary delight, a guided food tour of Siena is not to be missed. Rather than having dinner sitting at a restaurant all night, you can walk or roll through the softly lit streets of Siena while having different parts of your meal at 3 or 4 restaurants. You’ll finish on the famous seashell shaped Piazza Il Campo where you can relax after most of the tourists have left town.
13. Walk/Roll on a Medieval City Wall – After the fall of the Roman Empire, independent Italian villages protected themselves by building massive stone city walls. In some cities like Lucca, disabled travelers can reach these walls using ramps.
14. Relax in an Agriturismo in Tuscany – In most destinations across Europe, hotels are the best options for disabled travelers. Not so in Tuscany…staying in an accessible Italian agriturismo (shown in the photos below) really adds to the experience! Imagine staying on a one thousand year old hilltop farm surrounded by cypress trees and vineyards in all directions!
15. View the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – The most famous ceiling in the world is accessible to disabled visitors! To reach it requires an 800 meter route (each-way), an elevator, and a wheelchair lift. View the full description of Vatican disabled access.
16. Visit the Colosseum – The tallest structure remaining from Roman times was home to gladiators, mock military battles, and more. While it is easy to view from outside, an interior visit will provide you the opportunity to hear the unique stories that occurred here.
17. Visit Julius Caesar’s Funeral Pyre – A wheelchair lift and some uneven cobblestones lead through the Roman Forum to a covered (and somewhat hidden) area where one of the most important men in Western Civilization was laid to rest. Although much of the Roman Forum presents serious accessibility challenges, I think a visit is worth it just to see this historic location.
18. View the Dome of the Pantheon – For a thousand years, people forgot how to build a dome. Then Brunelleschi studied the dome of the Pantheon before starting construction on his dome in Florence. The cobblestones surrounding the Pantheon in all directions can present a challenge to wheelchair users, but there is a wheelchair ramp at the building entrance.
19. Shop like a Roman – Romans love to stroll down Via del Corso in the evening. A single step is present at many shop entrances, but a paved street and ramps into some buildings make this a worthwhile and memorable experience.
20. Eat Pizza in Naples – Pizza Margherita was created here to honor the Queen Consort in 1889. As one local told me “even across the bay in Sorrento I can’t get pizza as good as in Naples!”
21. Visit the Mt. Vesuvius Crater Rim – Look in one direction and you look down into the steaming crater of Mt. Vesuvius. Look in the opposite direction and you look down into the Bay of Naples and the island of Capri. With special permission, disabled visitors can be driven up the long gravel pathway to the crater rim…be sure to book far in advance.
22. Walk/Roll among the Pompeii Ruins – Buried for 1500 years by ash and mud, the catastrophe of the Vesuvius eruption resulted in the best preserved and most insightful Roman ruins anywhere. Only a small portion is accessible, so you’ll want to visit the nearby accessible Italian ruins of Herculaneum as well!
23. Visit the Naples National Archaeological Museum – The most important artifacts found in Pompeii and Herculaneum can be found in this museum in Naples. No trip to Pompeii is complete without a visit to this one of a kind museum, but be sure to look out for those tricky cobblestones surrounding the museum (shown in the video below)!
24. Taste Wine on Europe’s Most Active Volcano – I have visited a bunch of wineries across Italy, and the most unique one is located on Mt. Etna. The volcano is Europe’s most active so you can expect to see steam while sipping wines with a unique taste you won’t find elsewhere.
25.Take a Boat Tour around the Island of Capri – Although there are a few accessibility challenges, many disabled tourists will be able to take the ferry to Capri and take a boat tour around the island to visit the famous Natural Arch. The island is home to some of the best photo opportunities in Italy!