(Lonely Planet) -- 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.
Romance icon: 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.
It's all rather lovely, which means tourists generally remain untroubled by the lack of any connection between the fictional lovers and the Veronese noblemen who actually lived here.
The alternative: the Roman arena by night. If literature's star-crossed lovers don't inspire, spend a balmy evening at Verona's 1st-century Roman amphitheater. 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). Thrifty lovers can snap up tickets for summer operas and ballets from as little as 10 euros (www.arena.it).
Romance icon: a gondola ride. Climbing aboard Venice's iconic boats 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.
Check out www.lidoonbike.it, who can set you up with the most kitsch date there is, a two-seater tandem bike.
Romance icon: Trevi Fountain. Throw in one coin, and you'll return to Rome someday. Throw in two, you'll marry an Italian. Throw in more than that and well, desperate is not a good look. Lovers line up to take each other's photo next to this jaw-dropping edifice, but crowds and coin-hurling visitors don't make for a dream date.
The alternative: the dome of St Peter's Basilica. Who would have thought the holiest of holies is the perfect place for a secret kiss? 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 the opening time of 8 a.m., you'll likely have a hazy view of Vatican City all to yourselves, and ample space for a quick smooch.
Romance icon: Galleria degli Uffizi. With the muscular form of Michelangelo's David setting hearts a-flutter outside the Galleria dell'Accademia, 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 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: Giardino di Boboli. These gardens, a short walk from the Uffizi, are a perfect lovers' escape (learn more on the official website). 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.
© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved.