Visiting Italy was a beautiful beginning to a new chapter in my life. It was the first time I actually felt like an adult. It was the start of an amazing annual traveling tradition with my best friend. It was there I discovered a whole new appreciation for history, culture, art, food, standing in line for too long, a rainy day, a colorful sunset, people, architecture, friendship, rapid transit, and did I mention red wine?
If you’ve been thinking, hoping, wishing or planning to go to Italy – stop it now. Don’t wait another month, season, year – just go. Whether you’re an inexperienced traveler or a frequent flyer, Italy will inspire you, ignite you, and carb-load you. I assure you, before you land back home, you’ll be thinking about all the things you’ll do on your return trip.
What You Should Know Before Your Trip to Italy
- Language: You don’t need to know a lot of Italian to get by, but having basic knowledge is useful. I had taken some Italian classes in the past and I spent some time studying using the Duolingo app before the trip. Often signage, menus and flyers are translated in English – but you will likely encounter those that aren’t. Those are the best places to be. Find them and enjoy the weirdness of having to communicate without words.
- Money: Check the conversion rate before you travel. Currently, the dollar is the strongest it has been against the Euro in years. Another reason you should go now. While credit cards are accepted at some restaurants and shops, you will want to carry cash with you. Do not exchange money at the airport – wait until you get to a major metro area and take money out of an ATM (check to ensure your bank doesn’t charge additional fees for international withdrawals). If you don’t already have one, get a credit card that doesn’t charge a fee for international transactions. I use the Chase Explorer card – it’s been great overseas. Venice is very expensive. Allocate in your budget 3x your predicted daily spend for each day in Venice.
- Transportation: The train system throughout Europe is exceptional. It’s a very simple and affordable way to move throughout Italy. We used TrenItalia and had a great experience. Look up trains here. Each major city in Italy is unique – in Venice we took a water taxi, in Florence we spent a lot of time on foot (though scooters are popular too), getting to Cinque Terre required train travel, and in Rome we relied on the public transit system.
- Food: While food in Italy is outstanding, you will very likely get very sick of carbs. Every restaurant has their own take on essentially the same menu: pizza, pasta, panini, or bruschetta. Your first few days it will delight you, then you’ll bloat and crave any other food. We did and ended up eating Mongolian one night, the only non-Italian restaurant we could find. For lunch, eat street meat or snack on granola bars and fruit snacks – your wallet will appreciate the break. Another way to eat well without breaking the bank is to avoid eating in or directly near a piazza. Walk just a few blocks away and it will likely be much more affordable. No matter where you go – eat the lasagna. You will not regret it and you’ll be mad the thing you ate in the U.S. bares the same name.
- Safety: Overall, we felt safe in every city we visited. March is a bit outside of high tourism season, so we didn’t have to deal with big crowds. The two safety-related things you’ll hear about most often are pick-pocketers and catcalling at ladies. We didn’t personally have any issues with pick-pocketing. We took standard precautions and wore cross-body bags with zippers and kept our passports in a safe place. As for catcalling, we didn’t really have an issue with that either – but it could have been our smelly socks.
- Wifi: Finding wifi is a mixed bag. In some cities like Rome and Florence, it was available in our AirBNB and in most restaurants and cafes. In Venice and Cinque Terre it was a little bit harder to come by.
Itinerary: Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre & Rome
Day 1 – Venice
- Arrive in the early afternoon
- Hotel Option: Bauer B&B – A sophisticated, classy hotel close to Saint Mark’s Square
- Eat Gelato at Piazza San Marco and the many Carnivale mask shops
Day 2 – Venice/ Rialto
- Take a gondola or the water taxi over to the Rialto Bridge
- Hotel Option: Get an AirBNB close to the Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
- Book with my code and get $20 off: LMALONE34
- Shop in the Rialto Square Market – drink caldo vino (hot wine)
- Find lasagna ragu, eat every last bite
Day 3 – Florence
- Take an a.m. train to Florence (enjoy the walk through Venice to the train station)
- Hotel Option: Opera B&B
- Walk or take a scooter through Florence. Visit The Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, Piazzale Michelangelo and eat more Gelato.
Day 4 – Florence
- Go to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see the Statue of David
- Take a bus to see the Firenze Fiorentina play soccer/football – you can buy bus tickets at any Tabachi shop or many bus stops
- Download a movie on your device while you have wifi
- Pizza – eat it
Day 5 – Cinque Terre / Manarola
- Take the train to Manarola; You will have a transfer in Pisa, so if you care to see the Leaning Tower you can book a trip with a long layover
- Hotel Option: Hotel Marina Piccola
- Relax and enjoy -this is the most beautiful and serene place you might ever be
- There isn’t much night life, so this is when the movie comes in handy
Day 6 – Cinque Terre / Manarola
- Hike or take the train to the other four terres, or lands. Riomaggiore and Vernazza were our favorites
- Eat fresh seafood at the Marina Piccola ristorante
Day 7 – Rome
- Hotel: Le Stanze del Vaticano Leo (via AirBNB)
- Take a long walk through Rome and see the sights. You can easily walk to and see the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Pantheon and Piazza Navona in one day.
Day 8 – Rome
- The Colosseum and Roman Forum. Make ample time for this tour – it’s much larger than you’d expect and you won’t want to miss anything.
Day 9 – Rome
- Vatican City – you’ll want to book a tour in advance so you can skip the outrageously long lines. We booked with My Vatican Tours and had Dario as our guide. Experiencing this with a guide is definitely worthwhile as there are so many little things you would miss if they weren’t pointed out and explained to you.
Day 10 – Travel Home –
You won’t want to leave, but you’ll probably have to. There’s no place like Italy. You’ll go home feeling 10 years younger and 100 years wiser.
Bonus Itinerary Add-On: Positano Dreamy 3-Day Trip
A former colleague and friend, and outstanding blogger at “Hey it’s Julay” recently shared her detailed 3-day travel guide for Positano. She gives details on the trains, planes and automobiles it took to get her there, the top beach spots and some other insider tidbits you won’t want to miss. This is only the first of three blogs she’s putting together recapping her trip to Italy and Greece — so be sure to follow her so you can get all the deets.