Most people come to Italy for one thing - the food! But the land of pizza and pasta is also a culture vulture's dream, bursting with ancient monuments, art galleries and historic hill top villages. Best of all, it's easy to embark on a cultural tour of Italy on a budget. Where to start? Here's a guide to the top cultural attractions in Italy for first time visitors.


St Mark's Square, Venice
: Nowhere is more quintessentially 'Venice' than this glorious square, which is actually several attractions in one! On the eastern side you've got the San Marco Basilica and the grand Doge's Palace, and on the other a museum complex, scores of chic cafes, and maybe the odd costumed performer at Carnival time. St Mark's Square was once the political and religious heart of Venice, and the piazza still bustles with life.

2. Campo Dei Fiori, Pisa: Another impressive square, the 'Field of Miracles' really lives up to its name. The Campanile or famous 'LeaningTower' is the real star of the show here, but skip past the tacky souvenir stalls and a feast of Romanesque architecture awaits, with the Duomo, Baptistry, and Museo dello Sinopie to explore.

3. The Colosseum, Rome: One of Ancient Rome's most impressive remains, the Colosseum was the venue for some of Rome's bloodiest sports, and constructed in AD 72-80. You might have to queue, but the guided tour is well worth it - try to get a student guide, as they really know their stuff! Once you've been inside, check out the other ruins nearby - the Arch of Constantine and Nero's Golden House are well worth a look.

4. Vatican City, Rome: The Vatican is proof that good things come in small packages. The 'world's smallest nation' is home to a staggering collection of ten Museums, the magnificent Sistine Chapel, and the ornate St Peter's Basilica. Wander around the lush gardens for a breather, and stick around for the Pope's mass audience on Wednesday mornings.

5. Leonardo's Last Supper, Milan: One of Leonardo Da Vinci's most famous paintings, this Renaissance masterpiece is housed in a Dominican convent, next to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.

6. The Duomo, Milan: The world's largest gothic cathedral, the Duomo took 430 years to complete. But it was well worth the wait - wandering around this monster cathedral is a humbling experience, with 3,500 statues on the outside alone, and stained glass windows dating from 1470 to 1988.

7. The Duomo, Florence: Yes, it's another Duomo, but Florence's version couldn't be more different to Milan's. This beautiful Cathedral boasts amazing views over the city from the bell tower, and the top of Brunelleschi's dome. Don't miss the Baptistry and Museo nearby for Byzantine mosaics and statues by Michelangelo.

8. Uffizi Gallery, Florence: Need a lesson on Renaissance art? Then head to the Uffizi Gallery, the former home of the Medici family, designed by Vasari, the author of the world's first art history book. Inside you'll find an endless collection of major works by all the masters, from Giotto to Caravaggio, and famous paintings like The Birth of Venus.

9. Pompei: One of the most astonishing ancient sites in the world, Pompeii is a town frozen in time. Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, preserving an entire town and Ancient culture in this giant stone time capsule. Highlights include the 90-room House of the Mysteries, and the brothel with its erotic wall paintings!

10. Valle dei Templi, Agrigento, Sicily: The island of Sicily is home to hundreds of historical and architectural sights, and has an eclectic cultural heritage thanks to successive invasion by the Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish and Bourbons. The ancient ruins of Agrigento, also known as the 'Valley of the Temples' are some of Sicily's best, with several temples set into a rugged hillside and overlooking the sea.

Remember many of the most important religious sights are free to visit, and the thriving backpacker community means it's easy to find hostels in Italy in all the major cities.