Two weeks in Italy?! Yes please! One of my favourite countries to date. The food, the language, the people – I love it all. I fell in love way before I ever set foot on Italian soil. When I finally did, I knew I’d never turn down an opportunity to go back.
My first time to this flavour-infused country took me along a very popular, and easy to navigate, tourist path – Rome to Florence to Venice.
Here are my favourite Italy travel guide tips from 3 of my favourite Italian cities:
Ciao, Roma! Theres so much more to this ancient city than the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain. It is is a city full of life, but also full of ruin.
As Liz Gilbert says of her time in Rome, in one of my favourite movies, Eat, Pray, Love – “Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.”
It is one of my favourite cities to turn off the phone, put down the map, and get lost in.
Now, I’m not one for expensive taxis, and I prefer to immerse myself right into things when I arrive, so when I land at Fiumicino airport (FCO) outside of Rome, I head straight for the Leonardo Express to get to central Rome.
The Leonardo will set you back about €14, but it’s nonstop, and you will be at Roma Termini, the main station in Rome, in about a half hour.
It should be noted that this is the most popular way to get into central Rome, for both locals and tourists, so it definitely gets busy. I’ve been on the train when it’s empty, quiet and an easy ride into the city. A peaceful ride after a long flight – wonderful!
I’ve also been on the train when it is the complete opposite of that. That time, I ended up standing in a walkway, sandwiched between strangers, outside the bathroom. Not so wonderful, but whatever, I had just arrived in in Italy, so I didn’t care.
I’ve been to Rome in both the summer and the winter. Both have their ups and downs.
During one visit in the summer, the second I stepped out of Rome’s main train station – Roma Termini – to begin the hunt for my hotel, it started raining and I ended up crouched in a giant doorway like a lost puppy dog. But, that was the only weather blip during my entire time there, so I won’t complain.
During a winter visit, I suspect I got lucky, because it was mild, bright and very pleasant during my entire stay. So much so, that I found myself sitting outside Trevi Fountain eating gelato at 10am. Three days in a row. When in Italy…
Now, I travel light (carry on only), and like to book accommodation that is a) cost effective, and b) convenient. For Rome, this means staying in the general vicinity of Termini, but far away enough so as not to be shady (as train stations often seem to be, after dark).
Staying a bit outside the main centre works for me, because I love to walk, and don’t like to rely on the subway if I can help it. Plus, like I said…cost effective. If I stay in a hotel, I book through Hotels.com, and If I stay in a hostel, I book through Hostelworld.com.
But, if you are staying more central, and need subway access from Termini, read up on the subway system here. Rome’s subway is not extensive, but it is safe, fast, and easy to follow.
How long you stay in the city depends entirely on your travel style. I’m naturally a fast traveller, and only need about four days to see all I want in a city. Of course, I hit all the popular sites – the Colloseum, Vatican City, the Pantheon, and of course every gelato place I could find.
If you take remember only one thing I’ve said about Rome, remember this:
The hands down, the best pasta I’ve had in all of my Italy travels can be found at a place called Pastaficio Guerra. It’s located near the Spanish steps at Via della Croce 8. You’ll know you’ve found it because there will be line up outside an hour before it opens at 1pm. You can ask the guy outside what’s on the menu that day…but he won’t tell you. That just adds to the curiosity!
The menu changes every day, and there are always two dishes to choose from. Each dish is €4, and portions are generous, so it is a cheap and delicious meal. And, because the menu always changes, you can go back every day and not get sick of it!
You can dine in, but they don’t have seating. Instead, you will be standing at the counters along the perimeter of the small front room. Even though it is crowded, there is a cool atmosphere about this place. Eating while bumping elbows with strangers just adds to the experience.
You guys, this food was so good, I went back the next day, and ordered both dishes, without even knowing what they were. The food is ridiculous! Go. Trust me on this.
(I feel like I should point out, that no, I am not associated with them in any way. I was honestly just blown away by the food.)
I love taking the trains in Europe! They are my go to for travel between cities and countries. They’re fast, efficient and the countries are mostly well connected.
From Rome, I headed north up to Florence. It’s about an hour and a half ride and there are numerous trains throughout the day, so it shouldn’t be an issue getting a train on the day you want. You can buy tickets when you get to the station, or ahead of time. I’ve done both, and had no issues either way, so it depends on your preference, though I’m sure this will vary depending on the time of year, so be sure to do your research and plan accordingly.
There are two train stations in Florence – Santa Maria Novella and Campo di Marte. Santa Maria is the main one, and is more central. But, if you happen to find a cheap deal going to Campo di Marte, you can take a regional train over to Santa Maria for only a couple bucks, so it may be worth looking into.
** An important side note regarding TrenItalia! **
On one of my Europe trips, I went from Milan to Rome. I bought a ticket at the station, and boarded with no issue. Upon departure, an employee came around to check tickets. What no one told me when I bought the ticket, or when I boarded the train, is that I was supposed to validate my ticket before boarding. No one had said a word to me, so I had no idea! I was charged me €40 right there. I was SO pissed off and had a few choice words for him.
Learn from my mistake – validate your tickets! If you are not sure where, ask anyone and everyone. This should not have happened. Shame on you Italy, I was not at all impressed with that sneaky game.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Florence, is that it’s much more quant than Rome.
Rome is all about history. Florence is all about art.
I’m not an art gallery or museum person. Neither can hold my attention for more than three minutes, and I will throw myself down in a tantrum that rivals any 2 year old, if I am forced to go to one. So, I don’t know anything about this topic. But, I do know this…if you are interested in the arts, Florence is your city.
Obviously I am in no position to provide advice on this, but you can’t talk about Florence, and not talk about art. So instead, I suggest you read this article to help you figure out which ones you want to visit.
A bit more up my alley was to strap on my most comfortable shoes and get a birds eye view of the city by climbing the 414 steps up Giotto’s Bell Tower in Piazza del duomo. The views at the top are worth it, but if narrow stairways freak you out, this might not be your thing.
Also up my alley, was wandering around Palazzo Pitti. Oddly enough, Palazzo Pitti houses numerous galleries, and they did manage to hold my attention briefly. Although, to be truthful, when I say “held my attention”, what I really mean is that yes, I technically went in, but I basically ran through, clicking the odd photo here and there.
I can hear all you art lovers gasping and rolling your eyes at me. I’m sorry.
The grounds of the palace though – wow. Named after the Bogoli family (yes, the spelling change is intentional), the Boboli Gardens are just beautiful and I spent way too much time here taking photos, and loving every minute of it. This was my favourite:
From Florence, a direct train will have you at Santa Lucia Station on the island of Venice in about two hours.
From the station, you can either walk, or take a water taxi, to your hotel. Venice is full of arched bridges, and stairs to get onto those bridges, so depending on how much luggage you have, you may be better off with a water taxi.
Venice is small, but very deceptive, in the sense that it is an absolute maze of alleyways, which I loved! Spending days getting lost in the labyrinth of this sinking island was my favourite part during each of my visits.
It won’t take more than a couple days to explore this unique island. Any more than that and you’ll likely be bored. I made the rookie mistake of staying too long on my first visit. But when I returned, I kept it brief, and this renewed my overall opinion of Venice.
Take this with a grain of salt though, because remember, I said that I am naturally a fast traveller, so this may not apply to you.
Of course, the thing to do in Venice is hire a gondolier to take you through the canals. While I may think it is over rated, you may love it. It is a bucket list item, and should be considered. And while I’m sure many of the gondoliers are wonderful, genuine people, be aware that there may be others who will try to rip you off.
During one of my visits, my friends and I hired a gondolier, but unfortunately he, a) overcharged, and b) brought us back way before our agreed upon time. A couple minutes, sure no problem, but this guy thought shaving 15 minutes off of our 30 minute agreement was ok. We called him on it and refused to get out of his boat, so we sat in the middle of the Grand Canal all glaring at each other.
That was the most awkward 15 minutes of my life, but it was hilarious after the fact!
My advice – shop around, talk to a few gondoliers to get a feel for the gentleman you are dealing with – or female, if you happen to meet the one female gondolier in all of Venice.
Also, please be aware – the water in the canals is incredibly unsanitary. Although treated beforehand, human waste does flow through these canals. Do NOT think it’s ok to dip your feet in the water on a hot day, or for your kids to play in the water!
Of course, you will inevitably find yourself in Piazza San Marco, as you should. It’s basically the heart of Venice, and where you’ll find Basilica di San Marco, as well as the infamous clock tower. All are beautiful and deserve some time to explore. This photo is taken from the balcony of Basilica di San Marco:
A Lot More to See
Obviously, I still have a lot to see of this wonderful country. Margherita pizza in Naples? Sunbathe in Capri? Yes to all of it!
Next time I go back, it will be in the summer again. Even though it was mild in the winter, it was more grey and overcast. Plus, I like my summer photos better because they turned out much brighter. And, since I’m a sucker for hot temperatures, summer time is a given.
Now tell me, have you been to Italy? What are your favourite cities?
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