Italy, a word synonymous with rich pasta sauces, cheesy pizzas, decorated artists, ancient civilization and of course, delicious gelato! It’s no surprise for anyone traveling to Italy that one of the main attractions, apart from warm hospitality and beautiful landscapes, is the vast cultural aspects to this little Mediterranean country.
In a country with so many places to visit it can be hard to sketch out an itinerary that appeases all your needs. Are you looking to explore the remnants of one of the world’s most successful empires, or maybe you’re not a history fan and just want to stuff your face with amazing food.
Understanding where to go in Italy is the most important ways to make sure you make the most of your Italy trip. Each city represents something new and exciting about Italian art, culture and cuisine.
Traveling to Venice
At the Northeast tip of Italy, Venice is a perfect starting point for a trip through the country. Although very touristy, it’s absolutely worth a visit. It’s unlike any city you’ve seen before. The famous canals of Venice are just as charming in person as you’d imagine. Although crowded in the main areas, there are plenty of tiny cobblestone streets and small bridges for you to feel like you have a slice of Venice to yourself.
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What to See in Venice
The best thing to see in Venice is just Venice itself. Walk around the streets, follow the canals and get lost. Before you know it you’ll be down some tiny little alley where an old Italian lady is hanging washing out of the window, as the sun begins to set on the glimmering water of the canals.
San Marco square is filled with people, but it’s definitely worth a look. You can enter the basilica, but chances are the line will be long. We skipped it. If you have time, take a boat over to the island of Burano where you can find Venice’s most colorful houses, as well as a taste of local life.
What to Do in Venice
Take a gondola ride down the canals. It’s touristy, it’s cheesy but you have to do it. It’s not cheap, about $80 Euro for a 40 minute ride (after 7:30pm that jumps to $100 euro). The good news is that you pay per boat, so if you are on a budget grab 5 friends (or random strangers!) and you’ll pay significantly less than if you did it solo.
Where to Eat in Venice
We heard from multiple people that the food in Venice was disappointing. Perhaps we’re just easy to please or got lucky with our restaurants, but we were generally pretty happy with our meals. For a cheap lunch there are plenty of shops selling pizza slices for $1.50 euro. For a quaint sit-down place we loved La Serenissima. Get the homemade pasta with creamy mushroom; it was one of our favorite meals in all of Italy.
Where to Stay in Venice
Venice has no shortage of places to stay, but it also depends on your budget. We loved our stay at Plus Hostels on mainland Venice. Although it’s a bit far from the tourist attractions, they have a shuttle that takes you to the island for 4 Euro roundtrip.
Plus has a wide range of options for all budgets. Our deluxe cabin was beautiful and cost a fraction of what you’d pay in Venice proper. We’d recommend saving the money of expensive inner-city accommodation and putting that towards a gondola ride or piles of pizza!
Traveling to Florence
If you only have time to visit a couple cities, you may be considering skipping Florence. Don’t! There is so much history and art packed into this city you could easily spend weeks in Florence alone. Florence is home to some of the most famous artworks in the world and was the spot to be as an artist during the Renaissance. The main plazas are packed with sculptures and installations, both old and new, and the city’s architecture is simply stunning.
We discover the ancient Florentine artisan scene, eat delicious food and get all cultured up!
What to See in Florence
Two of the most important buildings in Florence are the Cathedral and the Duomo. It’s worth paying extra to make the climb up the bell tower (as long as you’re not claustrophobic). Don’t miss Michaelangelo’s famous sculpture of David in the Galleria dell’Accademia. You can see the replica in the Piazza della Signoria, but it’s worth paying 8 euro to see the real thing.
If you thinking of heading to the Galleria or the Uffizi Gallery to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (among many, many other renowned pieces of art), it’s worth noting that most museums are free on the first Sunday of the month, although prepare for lines.
What to Do in Florence
Hike up to the Piazza Michaelangelo on the other side of the river for sunset, it is well worth the climb! You’ll be surrounded by a few hundred other tourists, but on a clear evening the view is totally worth it. While you’re on that side of the river, check out the very cool Oltrarno neighborhood and poke your head into the artisan shops to see a demonstration.
Where to Eat in Florence
Don’t miss a meal at the San Lorenzo Marcato Centrale located just behind the leather market. This two story in-door market is full of trendy stalls and shops offering just about any Italian food you want. The food is hit and miss, depending on where you choose to eat. Pro tip: avoid the cheapo food and spring for the homemade quality selection. Our personal favorite was the fettuccine with mushrooms and truffle cream!
For an easy to go sandwich, hit up All’ Antico Vinaio (there’s two, right across the street from each other). It gets busy at lunch, so expect to wait in line, but it’s worth it. Another Florence favorite of ours was delicious pizza from Fuoco Matto!
For some of the best gelato in all of Italy head towards Venchi in central Florence. Apart from having a running way of chocolate (think Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka), their gelato is amazing!
Scammer Alert: Whatever you do, do not get gelato from Caffe’ Maioli on the other side of Ponte Vecchio. They are massive scammers and charge made up prices for gelato. We got ripped off 17 euro for two single scoop gelatos. Don’t just take our word for it, check out their 1 star review on Google!
Where to Stay in Florence
We stayed at Plus Hostels Florence which, unlike in other cities, is in a great location and walking distance to many of the sights. Although freezing cold, they have a nice pool and their beautiful courtyard is the perfect spot to relax during a hot afternoon. The restaurant at the hostel is actually quite good and definitely worth a dinner if you’re too tired to go out (also, 6 Euro bottles of wine for Happy Hour!!).
Traveling to Rome
You simply cannot come to Italy and not travel to Rome. Being able to visit one of the epicenters of ancient civilization by day and enjoy the hip metropolitan capital at night is phenomenal. Rome is packed with sights you’ve no doubt seen in history books and movies countless times. But it’s also the capital city of Rome which means there are plenty of opportunities to get off the tourist route and see what local life is like in this bustling metropolis.
We find the best pizza and cannoli in all of Rome! We also hit up all the best locations and show you how to make the most of Rome. If you like, come and subscribe for more travel inspiration!
What to See in Rome
Although the famous sights are usually packed with people, being able to see wonders like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon in person is totally worth the crowds. Spots like the Spanish steps or Trevi Fountain may not be quite as photogenic as seen in postcards, but they’re are also worth a look.
Get lost in Rome’s beautiful neighborhoods like Trastavere and Monti. Honestly, there are so many amazing thing to see in Rome that we could write a whole book (many have).
What to Do in Rome
Embrace your inner tourist and throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain to ensure you’ll return to Rome someday. Just be a tourist. If you only have a few days you’ll never get to have a true locals experience, so just see the awesome things that bring millions of tourists to Rome every year. You won’t be able to avoid them anyway!
If you’re headed to the Vatican we highly recommend going on a Friday night when they open in the evening to the public (summers only). This gives you a chance to see the Vatican at sunset and avoid the mass hordes of tourists. The Vatican, the world’s smallest country, is home to Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel, which is even more beautiful in real like then you could ever imagine! For a more in-depth guide on what to do in Rome, check out this article from our Italian blogger buddy Claudia.
Where to Eat in Rome
Rome has no shortage of restaurants, but they’re pretty hit and miss. When you head to the Vatican, do not miss Bonci’s Pizzarium or their nearby bakery. The pizza is the best we had in all of Italy and their black cherry tart is incredible. Serious, it’s the best pizza we’ve ever had!
Where to Stay in Rome
Once again we found ourselves are Plus Hostels, taking advantage of a killer pool and nice travel feel in between exploring the streets. Plus Rome was quite a bit out of the center, but honestly it was a welcome relief from the chaos of the city. The pool is huge and a beautiful area to relax on a day off from sightseeing. The location is very family friendly and has a fun caravan feel. Just don’t stay in a room by the basketball courts unless you like to be lulled to sleep by the sound of bouncing balls.
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of the best neighborhoods and best places to stay in Rome, this article from our buddies at Goats on the Road will get the job done.
Traveling to Naples and Pompeii
If you do a bit of research on Naples, you’ll find very mixed reviews of this city online. Naples may be grittier than the other tourist cities of Italy, but don’t erase it from your destination list just yet. Sure, there are sketchy areas of the city, but if you stay in the Old Town, you’ll be fine. There is some truly beautiful architecture around Naples and, perhaps more importantly, home to some truly delicious pizza. They say the classic Margherita pizza was named after Margherita of Savoy visited Naples and fell in love with the deliciously simple ingredients.
What to See in Naples
The Naples National Archaeological Museum is a good primer for visiting Pompeii. It will give you a good background you may not necessarily get when visiting the actual site, plus it holds the majority of artifacts in the museum. The Castel dell’Ovo by the water is definitely worth a visit, as sit the Cappela Sansevero chapel. If you don’t mind something a bit creepy, check out the Catacombs of San Gennaro.
What to Do in Naples
While there’s plenty to do in the city of Naples, it’s an especially good jumping off point for day or weekend trips. The ancient city of Pompeii, which was “frozen” in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, is only a 30 minute train ride away. You can also use Naples as a jumping off point for the Amalfi Coast.
Where to Stay in Naples
We didn’t love our accommodation in Naples that we found on booking.com. It was listed as a hotel, but ended up being more of an AirBnB/some lady’s basement room. So we don’t have any specific recommendations, except this: book ahead! Many travelers use Naples as a base for seeing other cities, so it gets booked out. Save yourself the headache and book in advance.
How to Get to Naples
The train from Rome to Naples is just over an hour (so quick, right?!). The Napoli Centrale station is also where you’ll catch the train down to Pompeii or Sorrento if you’re heading South. The station itself is fine, but in a bit of a sketchy area. We wouldn’t recommend staying in this area, but opt for further into the Old Town.
Traveling to the Amalfi Coast
When we were first creating our Italy travel itinerary there was one question we kept circling back to: Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre? Although similar destinations (seaside towns built on cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean), there was something about the Amalfi region that drew us in.
What to See on the Amalfi Coast
The Mediterranean Sea is the true highlight of this destination, with absolutely incredible views from above. It doesn’t get any more picturesque than these stacked Italian houses overlooking the blue turquoise water.
Where to Stay on the Amalfi Coast
If you’re okay with a long day of driving you can probably do the coast as a day trip from Naples. Otherwise you can stay in Sorrento (or the tiny town of Piano de Sorrento, like we did) or on the coast in Positano or Amalfi!
What to Do on the Amalfi Coast
Besides soaking up on the sun on the rocky beaches, the Amalfi coast is all about leisure activities. Walk around the maze like streets, do some shopping, grab lunch with a view. If you want a more sweat-breaking activity than lying in the sun, there are hikes you can do in the area.
How to Get There
You can rent a car and drive the coast, although parking can be difficult and the drive is a bit nerve-wracking. There is also the SITA bus that goes back and forth between Sorrento and Salerno, stopping at the popular towns like Positano and Amalfi. The tickets only coast 8 Euro for a 24 hour pass and you can buy them at Sorrento train station where the buses leave from. Buses ran regularly and if you can, grab a seat on the right side on the way up, it has the best views!
Best Method of Transport in Italy
There are many different ways to travel through Italy. From renting your own car and flying between spots, to bussing it and taking the train. For us we opted for train travel in Italy.
We found the trains in Italy fast, comfortable, on time and one of our favorite ways to get around. On board the Trenitalia fast trains your trips are so quick you barely get time to relax. Taking the train to Rome from Florence was only an hour and a half, with a complimentary glass of Prosecco and a Kinder chocolate, we couldn’t have asked for more! If you’re looking to book tickets we recommend checking out ACPRail for an easy to use booking system.
Thanks to ACPRail for hooking us up with some train tickets while traveling through Italy. As always we only review and recommend companies that we use and trust.