What to visit
Definitely: Rome, Vatican, Naples, Venice, Florence (Statue of David), Cinque Terre.
Maybe: Pisa (day trip, few hours), Lucca (wander around), Siena, Bologna, Verona, Bergamo and Sirmione.
Day trips (especially wine tasting in Tuscany): San Gimignano, Siena, Greve di Chianti, also Cortona, Montepulciano, Vinci, Pontedera.
Italian Alps (mountains): Dolomites.
Umbria (“green heart of Italy”), similar to Tuscany, but less crowded and touristy: Spello, Bevagna, Montefalco (Sagrantino wine), and more.
Travel between places: train or rent a car (preferably online, have a full insurance; car insurance fraud is a thing, don’t end up with $850 charge at the end). Don’t forget to validate your train ticket at the train station before you board – otherwise you’ll get a fine during your trip to Italy!
If you go with a car, note that you can’t drive into the center of many Italian cities without a special permit (and you can’t drive in Venice at all).
Before you go you should definitely see some documentaries on the Renaissance, Raphael and Michelangelo to appreciate all the art in Rome.
- On your first day take hop-on-hop-off bus – it’s a great overview of the city.
- Vatican (see below for advice), Sistine Chapel, The Pinacoteca (closed during night tours), St. Peters Basilica (largest church in the world, free, long line, worth it, go early or later in the day),
- Colosseum (buy tickets at Forum box office or online, skip the 1.5 hours line, prefer night openings for less crowds, maybe just enjoy from outside, inside is pretty overrated),
- Roman Forum and Palatine Hill,
- Borghese gallery and gardens (art, very amazing, definitely book in advance, note: don’t go immediately to the second floor, the most interesting stuff is on the first floor),
- Santa Maria della Vittoria church (inside is Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa sculpture),
- San Luigi dei Francesi church (for art lovers, much of the art is inside in the churches in Rome),
- Galleria Doria Pamphilj (Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X – one of the great portraits of all times),
- San Pietro in Vincoli (Moses sculpture by Michelangelo – one of the most interesting statues),
- Santa Maria Del Popolo church,
- Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola (see the ceiling),
- Cripta Capuccini (cool and creepy),
- Trevi Fountain (a lot of people, maybe skip it, Mecca for Instagram people, selfie sticks),
- Spanish steps (crowded, maybe not worth it, not allowed to sit there anymore),
- Piazza della Rotunda (enjoy the view),
- Piazza Navona,
- Campo di Fiori,
- Villa Adriana (larger than Pompeii).
Note on clothing: most museums won’t let you in wearing short skirts, tank tops, sometimes even sleeveless tops. For women wearing shorts knees should be covered.
Note on language: many labels in museums are not in English, Google Translate with camera mode can help. Get audio guides in English or English-speaking guided tours.
- Ostia Antica in Ostia (Rome) – a lot of ancient ruins and positively no crowds. You can spend a whole day there.
Museum tickets should be bought in advance or you’ll stand forever in lines.
Rome is not a great place to wander, so better plan ahead. Get up early to avoid the crowds.
Roma Pass – different opinions exist, worth it if you use public transport. 36 EUR, unlimited bus and metro rides for 3 days, free entry to first two exhibitions (though, as said – you’d better buy museum tickets in advance), 50% off the next. Buy it online.
Avoid “tourist menu” places, see “Food” section below.
Prices: surprisingly affordable.
Good hostel: The Yellow – close to Termini station (goes to/from airport). AirBnb is also a good choice for some authentic Italian apartments.
Good places to eat:
- Trastevere area (some say the place place to eat in Rome) and Testaccio area,
- L’Asino d’Oro, Salumeria Roscioli (try “pasta carbonara” and “prosciutto focaccia”),
- Armando al Pantheon (near Pantheon, locals gather there) and their bakery Antico Forno Roscioli,
- try gelato at Gelateria dei Gracchi (try “ricotta and pear”).,
- also Come Il Latte for gelato,
- Fun food tours: Eating Europe’s Rome Twilight tour (stops at restaurants, wine bars, delis, snacks), also Elizabeth Minchilli and Katie Parla tours.
Good coffee: Il Caffé Sant’Eustacchio near Pantheon.
Vatican (in Rome)
Crowded, prefer night openings – available every Friday, buy tickets online in advance – you can skip the whole line, tickets are valid for certain time, buy here, guided tours are available.
Try early morning Pristine Sistine tour via Walks in Italy to avoid crowds in Sistine Chapel.
There is a door on far right in Sistine Chapel that goes directly to the St. Peter’s Basilica, but it’s mostly open for guided tours. If you can blend in with the crowd – you might avoid having to wait in the queue for St. Peter’s. Though the queue there moves fast anyway.
View from the Dome of St Peter’s is worth it. Entrance to St. Peter’s is free, but the access to the dome is not.
The queues move fast, but you should arrive at least 30 minutes before your ticket time.
Very authentic and Italian city, locally known as Napoli. Though it might be dirty, smelly at times and people might be a bit loud.
Pretty safe, despite that it has a bad reputation because of the strong mafia presence, but as a tourist it shouldn’t be much of a problem (stay away from Garibaldi Central Station, which is true for all major cities or Quartieri Spagnoli at night). Actually, crime levels in Naples is lower than in Rome or Milan. Though you might feel yourself more like in Mexico, than in Europe. Avoid Circumvesuviana train, take Campania Express instead. Wearing a T-Shirt with some clever slogan that shows that you’re a tourist is just asking to be pickpocketed.
Expect to see Thailand or Mexico more than Rome and you won’t be disappointed.
Things to see/do: Capri tour (absolutely recommended, taxis are NOT recommended, take a funicular to Capri, then bus to Anacapri, note: the island is expensive, see Augustus gardens, chairlift), Blue Grotto tour (ferry from Capri, when you arrive there are single boats that will take you inside, though now they might be closed for going inside), walk the Via Trubinale, buy a pizza there, especially fried piazza (invented in Naples) in Sorbillo Esterina, Pompeii tour (note though that Ostia Antica just outside of Rome is very similar and completely without the crowds); La Reggia Di Caserta (The Royal Palace of Caserta, 40 minutes drive from the city, excellent gardens).
Good hostel: Hostel of the Sun.
Day trips from Naples: Amalfi Coast, Herculaneum, Pompeii (like said above, Ostia Antica in Rome might suit you better), Capri, Vesuvius, Paestum, Giardino di Ninfa.
Amazing and beautiful. Visit Positano, Sorrento. Accessible from Naples with a bus. Take a time to walk through the villages. May or September is the best time to visit (not too hot). Worth staying more than a few days.
See: Duomo di Amalfi.
Visit Piano di Sorrento beach, Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi – nice little village accessible with a bus from Sorrento. Take a bus to Positano. Positano beach is great.
Good food: Il Buco restaurant (expensive!).
Try limoncello and lemon gelato (Sorrento is know for its lemons).
See it in a day or stay for up to a week, you’ll find new places daily. Mostly few days is enough. If you want to experience Venice properly – stay in the city, not on the outskirts, but a little away from the tourist Mecca that is Piazza San Marco.
No cars are allowed inside of the city.
Great for wandering and discovering little shops and places.
Touristy season is in summer, large crowds, especially on the Main Bridge.
Gondola rides are expensive and you won’t like it, try a group boat instead.
Venezia card may be worth it. Buy it online.
If you have a great sense of smell – be prepared that the city smells nothing like roses. It has a lot of stale water around in the canals. Though you get used to smell quickly.
Good cafe: Bacareto da Lele (buy a sandwich, some wine, sit by the canal nearby and enjoy).
Good food: Alla Rivetta (lots of locals)
Good hostel: L’Imbarcadero (close to the train station, very friendly).
See also: The Bridge of Sighs.
Florence (city in Italy) is actually quite great. You can spend here more time than in Venice.
Get a hotel within walking distance to the Duomo.
The place to see the Statue of David (in The Accademia museum, though the line is forever). Florence can be quite loud. Great for wandering and discovering stuff. Street performers are pretty interesting. A walking tour that includes Vasari Corridor should be a great way to explore the city. See Duomo or skip it and go to Santa Croce.
Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria (in the center) are interesting.
For art lovers: The Accademia museum (Houses Michelangelo’s David, very long line, crowded, selfie sticks, buy a ticket in advance, note: “skip the line” is still the line, but shorter one), Uffizi Gallery (same advice, big, might dedicate a whole day to this), Piazza della Signoria has an exact David replica. If you prefer less crowds that in Uffizi – go to the Bargello.
Good hostel: PLUS Florence (good, though not great).
Good food: Mercato Centrale near Piazza San Lorenzo (food market, buy some fresh food, go for a picnic), L’Antico Noe (try pressed panini), Il Gatto e La Volpe (try penne bolognese), Ristorante Accademia (for mushroom strudel). The best picnic area is at San Miniato al Monte – excellent views of the city without crowds.
Good gelato: Grom near Duomo.
Day trips: Sienna, Lucca.
Cinque Terre is five villages, connected by train. Many places and trains are crowded during the day due to day trips.
Riomaggiore village (colorful houses, nice beach, see the sunset and stars at night), Monterosso (nice boardwalk and a beach), Vernazza village (interesting shops and cafes), Corniglia village (accessible only via 400 stairs, be warned), Manarola village, Byron’s spot on the cliffs in Portovenere.
Good hostel: Affittacamere Patrizia (Riomaggiore), Mar-Mar (Riomaggiore).
Good food: Il Pirata in Vernazza (try canoli), Billy’s Trattoria in Manarola, Miky Ristorante in Monterosso.
Tuscany is a great region you’ve seen in every movie about Italy – the grassy hills with single trees – that’s the Tuscan landscape.
See Siena with a bus from Florence (the bus station is near Piazza Santa Maria Novella). Half day should be enough to enjoy it.
UNESCO World Heritage Site. A day trip from Florence.
Small hilltop village, a day trip from Florence. Walk around the town, visit Etruscan ruins, eat and go back. You can definitely see it in less than a full day.
Choose your day trip from Florence wisely, see Radda and Castellina villages. Renting a car is recommended way to go. Some more touristy places are Montalcino, Pienza, Bagno Vignoni, Montepulciano and San Quirico.
City in Italy. Not as fun as you’d imagine, may be worthy for half a day visit. Go see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, take a picture and maybe go up the tower if you don’t feel it’s expensive and OK with waiting (the line to go up the tower might be a few hours), otherwise not much to see/do here. Lucca (walk around) and Siena are nearby and are more interesting.
Sicily is an island in Italy.
- Palermo (historic area, Catacombe dei Cappuccini/Capuchin Crypt, Take a day trip to Cefalù, Monreale, Le Zisa),
- Trapani (historic area, salt pans, Mozia, Erice, Marsala),
- Syracuse (beach town, beach is very crowded in summer, Greek theater; Ragusa and its old town Ibla; Noto; Marzamemi; Portopalo; Modica – chocolate artisans, Modica bassa; Vittoria; Plemmirio Natural Reserve),
- Taormina (very beautiful, old town up the hill, excellent views, Isola Bella, Forzo d’ Agro, Bronte, Novara di Sicilia, Isola Bella),
- Catania (walk on Piazza Dumo, Giant Elephant, day trip to Mount Etna, Gole dell Alcantara, nice jazz bar La Chiave – live jazz on Sundays, Alcantara Gorge), recommended hotel – Hotel Royal, not recommended to be wandering at night,
- Agrigento (great Greek ruins, Turkish stairs, Valley of the Temples, Scala Dei Turchi, Sutera), Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armenia – see the Roman mosaics,
- Ortigia (small island connected to Syracuse),
- Vulcano (island with a ferry from Messina),
- Piazza Armerina (historic area, Villa romana Di Casale).
- Portopalo di Capo Passero,
- Caltagirone (small porcelain artisans).
– stay outside of cities, not in them – small cities are all the charms, big cities are crazy, especially in regards to driving through narrow streets: like Aci Trezza instead of Catania;
– summer is crazy with tourists, slightly in autumn is still very warm; August is the craziest season.
Island. The car is recommended. Visit: Cagliari (worth a full day, eat Malloreddus alla Campidanese or Spaghetti Vongole & Bottarga, Seadas), Castello, Poetto, Cabras (eat bottarga), Piscinas (see dunes), Carloforte (try some local food there), Chia, Alghero (boat trip tip Capo Caccia, Grotte di Nettuno, Porto Ferro beach – less crowded), Bosa (very pretty), Santa Caterina, Cabras, Sinis Peninsula (nice beaches, Is Aruttas, Tharros), Barumini e Sanluri (great nuraghe and a castle).
See Cala Goloritze, walk there.
Visit Brixen, Bolzano (ice man museum), Ortisei (rent an e-bike to explore the mountains, try to stick to the popular trails), Carezza (very beautiful), Castelrotto.
Is it safe in Italy?
Pretty much, yes, beware the pickpockets in crowded spaces, as in most touristy areas. People are generally nice and helpful.
Be careful crossing the streets – Italians do drive fast.
Some recommended places: Rome: The Yellow Bar, Trastevere area; Florence: The Lion’s Fountain.
Italy stays late, so you can order your food at 10 PM and drink easily into the night.
Euro. Credit cards mostly accepted everywhere, pretty close to being equal to US Dollar.
100 EUR = 110 USD (Sep 2019).
Some people speak English, especially in touristy places, restaurants, but mostly people in Italy don’t speak English well or at all. Learn some italian, especially numbers and basic phrases. Though people will try to help you anyway even if they don’t understand you completely.
Food in Italy
Restaurants and cafes in Italy close for afternoon an open at about 5 PM (17:00).
Get reservations at restaurants if you know you’d like to eat there.
Note that for Italians “coffee” is “espresso” – very strong coffee without any milk and not much water, so order either “Americano” (with water, looks like regular black coffee) or “Cappuccino” (with milk).
Food is pretty affordable in Italy, you can easily eat for under 20 Euro.
Avoid restaurants with pictures of food in menu or “tourist menus” (“menu touristico”) are definitely not great, same for restaurants with people trying to call you in – avoid. It’s just not that great place to eat nice food in Italy. In Rome you can walk a few blocks away from touristy places to find a good local eatery without a “tourist menu”.
Late and want some cheap food? Street food is great – check “Kinder Bueno“, “Peroni” for some really nice dinners.
Marketplaces are not to be missed – great cheap fresh local food – cured meats, cheese, fresh pasta to cook if you have the kitchen. Buy some wine and have a picnic!
Try “B-Ready” – Nutelly filled candy bar in the shape of the small baguette.
Try gelato everywhere.
Try “Spritz con aperol“.
“Coperto” is a word for “tips”.
Visit: Spello, Bevagna, Montefalco (Sagrantino wine), Lake Trasimeno, town of Todi (Castello Todi), village of Spello, Bevagna, Norcia, Basilica di San Francesco, lakeside town of Castiglione, Foligno, medieval town of Assisi, medieval town of Orvieto, town of Torgiano, Monte Subasio Natural Park, Monti Sibillini Park, Basilica of San Salvatore, Narni, Perugina Chocolate Factory.
Try porchetta sandwich.
Wine in Italy
Cheap wine is not necessarily bad wine in Italy, can be quite great. Try house wines in local co-ops in villages, can be just a few euros price. Even some bakeries sells good quality wines for a few euros.
Lots of cobblestones everywhere, wear some good walking shoes.
Mosquitos are out in summer, buy or pack a repellent.
When to go?
Summer is the best time, but it’s also a touristy season, so there’s that. Some people visiting Venice in February said it wasn’t really crowded at all, but still enjoyable.Places nearby: