Recently I have had a lot of conversations with people about what they could do and where they could go in Italy and I thought I would make this post to help anyone thinking about taking a trip to Italy.
Here are my top tips:
Take a night ride on the #1 vaporetto in Venice
Plenty of travel lists include a Venice gondola ride on them, however some think they’re unnecessarily expensive and not the romantic experience they’re made out to be. Instead, one evening before or after dinner, hop on the slow-moving #1 Vaporetto at one end of its run and ride it to the other end. This is preferably done with a serving of gelato in hand and someone to cuddle with in the dark. And be sure you can snag a spot with a view, so you can see the moonlit sights of Venice as you glide past.
Spend 15 minutes with “The Last Supper” in Milan
Most tourists skip Milan, and that’s probably fine, but this is the only city where you can see Leonardo’s masterpiece of “The Last Supper.” It’s a heavily regulated 15-minute time limit, and you’ll need to get your tickets well in advance, but it’s worth it.
Climb Florence’s Duomo
This is perhaps not for those with fear of heights or small spaces, but for a spectacular view of Florence’s historic centre and an interesting lesson in architecture and engineering, you could do worse than to climb to the top of the dome of Florence’s Duomo. If you’d prefer to have the dome itself in your rooftop view, then climb Giotto’s bell tower instead.
Eat pizza in Naples
There’s nothing like eating something as universally well-known as pizza in the place where it was born, and for that you’ve got to go to Naples. Travellers have said that the pizzeria which claims to actually be the very place which invented pizza is turning out less-than-lovely pies these days, but you’ll find plenty of great restaurants ready to take its place.
Visit the Greek ruins in Sicily
When you think of Italy, you probably think mostly of Roman ruins. But in Sicily you can branch out a bit by touring both Roman and Greek ruins, and the stuff the Greeks left behind is even older than the stuff from ancient Rome. A walk through the Valley of the Temples is highly recommended.
Tempt fate driving along the Amalfi Coast
Whether you decide to do the driving or not, the road that snakes along this stretch of Italian coastline is well worth the trip. It’s precarious at best and dangerous at worst, but the Italians seem to make it work – and the views are simply stunning. On second thought, perhaps you should let someone else do the driving so you can just stare out the window at the Amalfi Coast and pretend you’re not scared out of your mind. Oh, and for a truly heart-stopping ride, hop on the back of a local’s motorbike for the journey.
Sunbathe on Sardinia
Yes, lots of places in the South of Italy get a lot of sun, but the Costa Smeralda boasts some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere on earth, let alone in Italy. Plus, while it’s wildly popular with Italians on vacation from the mainland, you’re less likely to see hordes of other foreign tourists on Sardinia.
Find all the “David” statues in Florence – Don’t be one of the people who thinks the “David” in the Piazza Signoria is the real one, but likewise, don’t be one of the people whose satisfied with just seeing the real one in the Galleria dell’Accademia. “David” is all over Florence, and seeing him pop up here and there (including overlooking the historic centre from the Piazzale Michelangelo) is one of the charming games you can play as you wander the city.
Wander the Trastevere neighbourhood in Rome
When Rome wears you out, or you’re tired of overpriced meals around all the tourist attractions, look no further than the Trastevere. This old neighbourhood is full of twisting cobbled streets, peace and quiet during most days, cheap eats, and boisterous groups of young people at night.
Go back in time at Pompeii
While the residents of Pompeii in 79 A.D. probably were none too pleased with nearby Mount Vesuvius blowing its top and covering everything in sight, what it gives us today is a unique look at a Roman city frozen in time. Both Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum are well worth a visit, but don’t forget that much of what archaeologists have discovered is in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
Hike the Cinque Terre trail
It is said that the Cinque Terre trail is overcrowded and posited that people should be let in on a permit system, but the fact remains that as long as there’s room on the path, the hike between these five picturesque villages is a great way to spend half a day. If you plan well and go when it’s not quite as overrun, all the better.
Get lost in Venice
Some places require a map. Some places require that you forget the map. Venice is in the latter category. It’s an island, people, so you’re not going to get too far off track. With that in mind, leave your map in your hotel (maps are all but useless in this city anyway) and get yourself good and lost in Venice. It’s by far the best way to spend a day in the canal city.
Take shelter from rain (or sun) inside the Pantheon in Rome
No matter the season or the weather, there’s always a good excuse to duck into the Pantheon in Rome. For one thing, it’s free. And for another, although it’s got a giant hole in the ceiling to let in the light, it’s always cool in summer and dry when it’s raining outside. Plus, just setting foot on stones that have been walked on for 2,000 years is, in my book, pretty incredible.
Go for a drive in Tuscany
The roads that connect the famous hill towns of Tuscany might get short shrift with all the gushing people do about the towns themselves, but the views out of a car window when you’re cruising along windy country roads are enough to make anyone understand why someone might drop everything and buy a rundown Italian farmhouse. And if you’re beyond the Tuscany thing, you’ll get the same kinds of views (with somewhat smaller crowds) in nearby Umbria, too.
Walk in Caesar’s footsteps in Rome
History buff or no, it’s impossible not to marvel at a structure like the Colosseum, or stand in awe on the cobblestones of the Roman Forum and think about who walked there before you. An afternoon spent surrounded by the ruins that once made up the centre of the Roman empire is an afternoon very well spent in my book.