Italy is quite possibly one of the most sought-after destinations for tourist. And with its irresistible food, stunning architecture, diverse landscape and beautiful people…I mean art, the beautiful art of Italy. Despite being just slightly larger than the state of Arizona, Italy’s land is so diverse and beautiful that it can be a bit overwhelming deciding where how to plan your first trip to Italy.
If you have yet to visit Italy, it may feel a bit daunting to plan your first trip. Where to go, what to see, how to get around. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your first trip.
Must-visit destinations in Italy
If you only have a week to explore Italy, you might want to consider hitting the “big three” of Rome, Florence and Venice. Unless you are interested in hitting some of the beautiful towns in the south or wanting to go a bit off-the-beaten path. If you do have to skip one of the big three, I’d suggest taking Venice off the roster. Don’t get me wrong! Venice is beautiful and has stunning views, and IF you have the time, then yes, absolutely check it out. Venice, however, can be overcrowded, expensive, and has the least to do amongst the big three. A day trip to Venice might be all you need. Just some food for thought for you. If Venice is a place you have always dreamed of, then absolutely GO!
If you have a couple of weeks to explore this beautiful country, you can cover more ground and venture farther into the countryside of Tuscany or perhaps head south to the Amalfi Coast.
Best things to do in Rome
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you certainly can’t see it in one. Allow yourself at least two days, preferably three. This way you can see all the main attractions like the spectacular Colosseum, the 2000-year-old Pantheon, the palace ruins of the Palatino, sacred St. Peter’s Basilica and the art-filled Vatican Museums. You will also have time to sit on the Spanish Steps, toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain, shop in narrow lanes and indulge in people watching and gelato consumption.
Best things to do in Florence and Tuscany
Florence can be done in two days and is a very walk-able city, yet I would suggest three days, so you can spend one living like the locals and taking things slowly. A nice walk through the streets to do some ultra-chic shopping on Via de’ Tornabuoni and an aperitivo (pre-dinner drink) or two in locals’ favorite Piazza della Signoria.
Obviously you’ll also want to spend time in the Uffizi Gallery taking in the art and be sure to admire the frescoes in the Duomo, and of course check out Michelangelo’s David at Galleria dell’Accademia.
After Florence you might want to stay a night or two at one of the picturesque rural farmhouses in Chianti where you can relax during a winery tour and breath in the fresh air that sweeps over the rolling hills.
For a more walk-able, yet adorable town, try Lucca. This city has a well-preserved Renaissance walls encircling the historic center. You can actually walk atop the wall on a well groomed trail aligned by trees. Many rent 4-wheel bikes to take along the wall or enjoy a nice evening stroll or morning run there as well. Find more things to do in Lucca here.
Best things to do in Venice
If you do decide to venture to Venice be sure to explore the Grand Canal by Glide down the gondola or vaporetto (water bus), tour the grand Palazzo Ducale, explore and be awed at the treasure-filled Basilica di San Marco and snap all the photos of the stunning Venetian architecture. You will inevitably get a little lost amid the 400 bridges and 150 canals, but that just creates more opportunities to explore and stumble upon some hidden treasures! Remember, all roads (or canals) lead to Piazza San Marco
Best things to do in Cinque Terre
In Cinque Terre, terraced vineyards cling to sheer hills traversed by improbably steep hiking trails, and villages flow down to tiny harbors lined with restaurants and bars. Ferries and a rattling rural train link the five villages. You can do Cinque Terre on a day trip, but it will be a long day and won’t leave time to take advantage of the multiple hiking trails. When the water isn’t too rough, the ferry is the absolute way to go to visit each of the five towns.
Best things to do on the Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast is one of the most iconic destinations in all of Italy. And for good reason, this stretch of coastline is simply stunning. You truly feel as though you are on the set of a movie as you stroll these idyllic towns.
The Amalfi Coast consists of 13 charming towns that cling to the dramatic cliffside. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1977 and attracts thousands of tourists each year.
If you enjoy a hike with spectacular views (albeit also 2 miles of stairs; up if you start in Positano, or down if you start in Agerola and go all the way down to Positano. You can also just turn around when you hit the stairs if you prefer to avoid them and go back to Agerola) try the Sentiero degl Dei or The Path of the Gods
Where to eat and drink in Italy
From region to region the cuisine changes in Italy. While a Bistecca alla fiorentina is a must in Florence, don’t leave Rome without indulging in the Spaghetti Carbonara! Whilst your eyes are stunned by the views at the Amalfi Coast, allow your taste buds to dance while you savor every bite of the limone gelato, served in a hollowed out lemon. And in Cinque Terre be sure to get your hands on the Fritto Misto: streetfood that is served in a paper cone filled with lightly fried fish, shellfish, and vegetables.
Where to stay in Italy
Choose from lakeside campsites, mountain huts, monasteries, hip hostels, family-run hotels, antiques-packed palazzos, secluded villas and remote farmhouses framed by vines and complete with pools. Prices run the gamut too. Book ahead (the earlier the better) in summer (or in winter for ski resorts) and at Easter and Christmas, when rates rise. Local events and festivals also force prices up, while low-season bargaining might bring the bill down. Some places require a minimum stay in summer.
How to get around in Italy
Domestic flights, and ferry, train and bus networks are good between main towns and cities in Italy. That being said, it’s not unlikely for transportation to run behind schedule, especially in the south, and train / bus strikes “sciopero” do happen somewhat frequently. If you are up for the adventure, rent a car. Roads encompass sweeping autostradas (where tolls are charged), regional roads and strade locali (often unpaved and unmapped).
Italy’s trains range from slow regionale and InterCity (faster, making fewer stops) to the high-tech, high-speed alta velocità services. The latter can cut longer journey times in half, although on shorter routes don’t save that much time. Alta velocità prices can be significantly more. If you travel on a faster service without the right ticket, you’re liable for an on-the-spot fine (up to €50). Validate tickets using the yellow machines on train platforms.