The ultimate guide to backpacking Italy
Whether you’re visiting Europe for the first time, are a seasoned expert, travelling with friends, a partner or even going solo, Italy offers something for everybody. In what can be described as a living art gallery, this amazing country offers fresh and vibrant world-class cuisine, architectural masterpieces, ancient ruins, soaring mountainous peaks, great beaches, and beautiful natural scenery. There is truly no place quite like Italy.
Our backpacking Italy guide will help you to plan your next unforgettable trip and enjoy everything this amazing country has to offer!
Jump straight to:
- Best time to visit Italy
- Travelling around Italy
- Hostels in Italy
- Italy on a budget
- Places to visit in Italy
- Italy backpacking itineraries
- Things to do in Italy
- Italian food
- Italian phrases
- Italy travel advice
The Best Time to Visit Italy
Put quite simply, there is no bad time of year to visit Italy. The time of year that you visit will most likely be dictated by where your interests lie. Spring (April until June) and autumn (September until October) are often the best times of year to visit Italy, as you’ll be dealing with much fewer tourists, off-peak prices and moderate temperatures.
The summer months in Italy (June until August) can be extremely hot, crowded and more expensive, as summer is the high season for Italy. Not many countries can boast an amazing experience 365 days of the year, but Italy most certainly can. Whether you want to ski in the Alps during winter, sunbathe on a beach in summer, enjoy the changing colours of fall or see the flowers bloom in spring, you’ll find something amazing in every season.
The best time to visit Rome
Rome is a glorious city to visit no matter what time of year, however there are certain factors to consider to help decide when is best for you. The Christmas and Easter holidays are extremely popular times to visit Rome, as both are a time for many religious festivals and processions that are held throughout Rome and also in the Vatican City.
Rome’s average summer highs are in the high twenties to low thirties and then drop to around 0?C during the winter months. May is a perfect month to visit Rome. The city is quite literally bursting with colour as the leaves return to the trees and all of the city’s flowers are in perfect bloom. The days are delightfully warm without being too hot and the evenings are cool without being too cold, allowing for lovely moonlit strolls through the city. May weather is perfect for exploring some of the wonderful gardens around Rome, having picnics, laying in the sun, and enjoying a more peaceful side of this amazing city. Best of all, peak season in Rome won’t be in full rush until June strikes, so you won’t be dealing with as many tourists, meaning less queues, quieter streets and friendlier locals.
The best time to visit Venice
If you’re planning a trip to Venice you should consider coordinating your visit with the amazing Carnevale di Venezia. The Carnival of Venice is one of the most famous and extravagant annual carnivals in the world, attracting thousands of visitors who admire the magnificent display of masks and costumes that parade through the streets and canals of Venice. The making of these Venetian masks and masquerades as a much-loved art form dates back hundreds of years, while the Carnival of Venice became a public festival in 1296 and hasn’t ever looked back.
Today, the magic of this festival brings an enchanting atmosphere and incredible vibe to Venice. Masked Venetians fill the streets with joy, excitement and laughter, with each mask being more impressive and detailed than the last. There are plenty of other things to see and do around the city during the Carnival of Venice, with citywide organised events happening in almost every district.
The festival lasts for a couple of weeks, but the biggest celebrations of Carnival are always saved for the last few days, and in particular, the last Thursday and the last day, which always falls on a Tuesday. These two days are referred to as “Giovedi Grasso” and “Martedi Grasso”, which translate quite literally to “fat Thursday” and “fat Tuesday”.
The dates for the Carnival of Venice vary from year to year, but usually fall within the first few months of the year. In 2019 the festival will begin on Saturday the 16th of February and end on Tuesday the 5th of March. You know the dates, get booking that Venice trip now!
Travelling around Italy
There is simply no better way to see and explore this great country than by train. The impressive Italian rail network connects every major city in Italy, offering breathtaking views of the countryside, and is by far and away the quickest and most convenient mode of transport. Fast, efficient and reliable.
Knowing a little bit about the system and process involved with buying your train tickets, finding the train station, and validating your tickets requires a little bit of prior knowledge.
The price of your train ticket will vary depending on a few different factors:
- Whether you’re travelling between regions or an intercity train.
- The time of day you choose to travel. Peak travel times will always be a little bit more expensive.
- The type of train you opt for. High-speed trains might be more convenient but are likely to be more expensive.
- What class your ticket is for. Like any form of travel, 1st class tickets are always more expensive.
- Overnight trains are great options for two reasons: A) To save money on a night’s accommodation and B) To not waste a day of your holiday in transit between destinations.
Always remember to validate your ticket! Even though you’ve purchased your ticket, you’ll be required to validate your ticket at one of the validation machines located at the entrance to the platform. Quite often overlooked buy tourists, the result of not validating your ticket can come at a cost, as you can be fined a hefty amount by one of the train inspectors. Trying to argue your way out of the fine is near impossible, no matter how much you plead ignorance. Save your precious euros by making sure you remember to validate your ticket before you board the train!
Trenitalia is the main (and arguably best) train company to use while in Italy. Trenitalia operate trains almost anywhere across the country, so no matter where you want to go, there will almost always be a way to get there. While travelling on Trenitalia trains you’ll need to be aware of the following:
When you book an intercity train (i.e. Rome – Milan), you’ll be required to sit in your reserved seat and class. If you sit in a first-class seat without a valid ticket, you risk being fined or removed from the train. Regional trains (i.e. Rome – Pisa) on the other hand do not have assigned seats and are much cheaper as well!
You can either book your train tickets online or in person at any train station, from either a ticket office or one of the many remote kiosks around the train station. It’s much more convenient to book your tickets online and save lining up in the queues! Depending on what time of year and where your destination is, it is wise to book your tickets well in advance to avoid any disappointments or added expenses (sometimes the only tickets left are expensive first-class ones).
Alternatively, Italo is another great option for a cheap, comfortable train ride. There’s also no need to validate your ticket!
Rome to Venice train
Travelling from the capital city of Rome to the surreal canal city of Venice cuts diagonally through Italy, spanning more than 530 kilometres from one side of the country’s coast to the other. It’s a breathtaking train journey that will keep you entertained with wonderful landscapes and scenery everywhere you look. Opting for one of the high-speed Trenitalia trains, the journey takes about 3.5 hours, with an average of 79 trains taking this route per day.
You’ll start your journey from Roma Termini Station, the main railway station in Rome. Look for a train bound for Venice Santa Lucia (this the only train station on the island of Venice). While on the train, it is always a good idea to keep an eye on your luggage and belongings, as thefts do happen from time to time. Be sure to keep any valuables or irreplaceable items with you at all times. The cost of a one-way train from Rome to Venice should be around €35 – €55 depending on what time of year you are looking to book.
Milan to Venice train
Milan is one of the main entry and exit points of Italy, with many national and international train services passing through Milano Centrale Railway Station.
The train journey from Milano Centrale Railway Station to the city of Venice (Venezia Santa Lucia Station) on a high-speed Trenitalia train is only 2.5 hours long! It covers a distance of 265 kilometres and has more than 59 trains a day, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a train that suits your budget and time preferences!
The cost of a one-way train from Milan to Venice should be around €15 – €35 depending on the time of year you are looking to book. It is always cheaper, if you know your dates, to book in advance to ensure the best price. While travelling on any public transport in Italy, it is always a good idea to keep an eye on your luggage and belongings, as thefts do happen from time to time. Be sure to keep any valuables close and to stay vigilant, especially during late night train rides.
Hostels in Italy
Best places to stay in Italy
We know that your whole experience and love of a city totally depends on where you stay. Regardless of whether your feet are swept to the North, South, East or West of Italy, we have your accommodation needs covered! We all have different ideas of what makes a great hostel, so whether you’re looking to party, travelling with a partner and looking for a private room, or a lone wolf looking to make friends, we have a range of hostel options to suit every traveller!
These are a couple of our favourite places to stay – and don’t just take our word for it, the guest reviews speak for themselves!
A top rated hostel in Positano, located only 100 metres away from the bus stop into town. This hostel has a gorgeous terrace with spectacular views of the Tyrrhenian Sea, serves up the city’s best happy hour specials and has friendly locals willing to give you all the advice you need for your stay. Based on more than 1800 reviews on Hostelworld, the average rating here is 8.8, Fabulous!
Found in the centre of Rome, within walking distance to both Roma Termini Station and the Colosseum, Dreaming Rome Hostel is in the perfect location. With great common areas to socialise with travellers from all over the globe, staying here will ensure your time in Rome is memorable. It has more than 1200 reviews on Hostelworld from guests all over the world, with a superb average rating of 9.5!
Italy on a budget
Planning a trip to Italy doesn’t have to break the bank. There are plenty of ways to save money while travelling through this amazing country, even if you are planning to visit the most popular destinations (Rome, Florence and Venice) during peak tourist season. We all want to live that la dolce vita lifestyle without the heavy price tag! Here are some great tips on how to travel around Italy on a budget.
Booking early in Italy is crucial! It should come as no big surprise that Italy is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, meaning you’ll be competing for better rates. Knowing your dates in advance can help you save literally hundreds of euros, both in accommodation and transport. The trains in Italy are much cheaper if you purchase well in advance and not leaving it to the last minute.
Take advantage of free museum days! With just a little bit of planning you can save a lot of money on popular museums all across Italy if you sync your dates with the free entrance days. Some entrances fees can be upwards of €20, so having a few free museum trips planned can really help with your budget!
One of the best tricks for budget travel in Italy is taking advantage of lunchtime and making it your main meal! Most Italian restaurants will offer an amazing lunch menu that is extremely affordable, offers great value for money, huge portions and delicious food. The same meal you order for lunch will almost double in price in the evening with the dinner menu. A lot of cafes and restaurants offer a set price lunch menu, so you can eat for much cheaper and then have a light dinner.
While travelling in Italy, it would be rude not to stop and have an espresso daily. It’s an Italian way of life. Coffee and Italy are an unbeatable combination. However, a great way to save a euro or two or is to enjoy your coffee standing up! Most cafes offer a two-price structure for coffee, one for people who stand at the counter to sip their espresso and the second for those who would like to be seated at a table. If you opt for a table, you’ll pay slightly more for your coffee. Drink your coffee as most locals do, and opt for the counter top!
Shopping in the local markets is another fantastic option for those wanting to travel Italy on a budget. Not only are the markets an experience in themselves, you’ll save plenty of money by buying local produce and eating it as a picnic, or cooking back at your hostel. Italy is world famous for its markets, stocked with aged cheeses, homemade breads, vibrant herbs and fresh fruit, handcrafted deli meats and of course, vino. Shopping at the local markets is extremely friendly on the wallet and you won’t be leaving disappointed.
Another extremely simple way to travel Italy is to do research and take advantage of free things to do. While you’ll want to spend money to see famous attractions, every Italian city has plenty of free sights and treasures. Take advantage of these and include as many as you can in your itinerary, making more room in your daily budget for other activities. A great example of free activities includes visiting cathedrals, piazzas and basilicas that will always be free of charge. Going on a free walking tour of the city! This is an amazing way to see parts of a city you wouldn’t get to see, while learning from a local about life in the city. Most hostels in Italy offer a free walking tour, and while it’s not compulsory, a tip for the guide is always welcomed!
Is Venice expensive?
The short answer is yes, but Venice doesn’t have to be too expensive if you can avoid some of the more common “tourist traps”.
Firstly, when considering your budget for Venice, think about what season is the right fit for you. Venice during the high season, which typically lasts from June through until late August, will be swarming with tourists and rates will be at their absolute highest. Hotels, restaurants, gondolas, gelato, you name it, will be more expensive. The off-peak seasons (March through to May and September through to November) are generally cheaper and more budget friendly months to visit Venice, however, it does tend to flood in October and November which is less than ideal!
An added bonus of travelling off-peak is that the temperatures are comfortable, plus you’ll be dealing with far fewer tourists. Although the prices will still be slightly higher than they would be during the harsher winter months, the off-peak season is an ideal compromise for those wanting to enjoy some fantastic weather without breaking the bank.
Once you’ve decided what time of year your budget allows for in Venice, there are a few other helpful tips to ensure you stick to budget while travelling in Venice!
The best way to stick to your budget (and even go under it) while in Venice may sound simple, but it’s very cost effective: WALK! Walking from destination to destination is a great way to stay fit while travelling and you can avoid the added expense of public transport. While public transport might only end up being around €5 a day, over the course of a week it can quickly add up. There’s no better way of exploring Venice (or any city for that matter) than by walking through the streets and finding hidden gems. By not spending your money on public transport, you’ll have more left in the budget for important things *cough*cough* gelato.
While Venice has a reputation for being a playground for the world’s rich and elite (and in some cases this can be true) there are plenty of free activities to do and see for the budget traveller too! Strolling through the canals, crossing some of the 400+ bridges around the city, or soaking up the atmosphere of the cities Piazza’s won’t touch your budget.
Many of Venice’s most celebrated and loved sights and treasures don’t cost a cent; for example, the piazzas and town squares in Venice are completely free to visit and explore! Admission to the interior of the Basilica di San Marco is also free of charge and a must see during your time in Venice. There are also a whole host of admission-free commercial art galleries to explore. Head to the Galleria Traghetto and the Galleria La Salizada if you want to see some great works of art but don’t have the cash to spend. Other great free attractions include the markets scattered all over the city, most of the local ones are open early in the morning so you can beat the daily rush of visitors if you get out of bed in time. Pro tip: check out the 700-year-old Rialto Market for a more authentic way of life in Venice.
A glass of prosecco or an Aperol Spritz down by the water might set you back a steep €7, so if you’re craving a refreshing drink after a day of exploring you should instead opt for a backstreet bar a little off the tourist path and you might only pay €2.50 for the same drink!
Places to visit in Italy
Where to go and the Best places to visit in Italy
Cefalù in Sicily
Disconnected from mainland Italy, Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean. Sicily’s rich history is reflected in its many archaeological sites scattered around the island and is home to one of Europe’s highest active volcanoes, Mount Etna.
Often overlooked by tourists who stay further north while in Italy, Sicily is a completely different world to the mainland. It will undoubtedly be a highlight of your Italian backpacking adventure but knowing where to go is key.
Located on the Northern coast of the island you’ll find a place called Cefalù, a small, ancient Sicilian seaside village with a population of less than 14,000. It won’t take you long to discover the allure and humbleness of this picturesque village. Its narrow medieval cobblestone streets bustle with energy; you’ll be swept back through time to a more simplistic way of life.
Morning walks through the streets of Cefalù will grace you with the sounds of people bargaining with vendors for fresh fruit and vegetables. The fish markets are stocked with catches of the day, so unbelievably fresh that they haven’t even been unloaded from the fishing boats! The two local favourites are “calamaro” and “spigola”, but you’ll have to be up early to get fresh seafood as it gets snapped up quickly!
Cefalù’s major tourist attraction lies in the centre of town, the Duomo di Cefalù, a two-towered Norman Cathedral built in the 12th century. The Duomo is the central point in Cefalù’s skyline, with the most spectacular views of the old town coming from the pristine beach. Cefalù lifestyle is simple and relaxed, time sits still, and it’s the perfect place to truly unwind. Organic local produce, amazing Sicilian wines and sandy beaches, why would you ever want to leave?
This picturesque coastal region is spectacular. Cinque Terre translates to “five lands”, and as the name suggests, is comprised of five colourful coastal towns overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The area is only home to a little over 4,000 people, but is visited by more than 2.5 million tourists annually. Cinque Terre is characterised by its rugged, dramatic coastline, with its towns among the most beautiful in all of Italy.
The five coastal towns that make up Cinque Terre are Manarola, Corniglia, Monterosso, Riomaggiore and Vernazza. Each town is completely different to the next; they will all amaze you and inspire a sense of wonder.
While there are several ways to get to Cinque Terre (bus, train and car), be prepared to walk when you actually arrive. These towns are pedestrian-friendly only, with basically no options for any assisted transport. They’re exceptionally hilly and require plenty of stairs to get around. You can hike from village to village, with the entire route taking around half a day.
The Amalfi Coast stretches for more than 50 kilometres in the Campania region of Italy. It’s an extremely popular holiday destination and home to some of the most enchanting villages in Italy. You need to get yourself here!
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Amalfi Coast has plenty to offer, but the best travel advice is to take your time! With so much to see and do, you definitely don’t want to rush it. These are some of our favourite spots along the Amalfi Coast:
Perched high above the Amalfi Coast, Positano is one of the most picturesque villages in the world, famous for its narrow roads, amazing cuisine and pristine beaches.
The entire village of Positano clings to the mountainside, so be prepared to wander through narrow streets and lots (and we mean lots) of stairs. The main beach in Positano, the Spiaggia Grande, is where you’ll be spending a lot of your time. This 300 metre long strip is lined with colourful beach umbrellas and charming little restaurants and bars serving up some of Italy’s finest cuisine.
While most tourists who come to the Amalfi Coast are drawn to the beauty of Positano like a moth to a flame, the gorgeous island of Capri is often disregarded. Capri is easily accessible by ferry from almost any of the surrounding towns: Naples, Positano, Sorrento and Salerno.
Aside from its pristine beaches and rugged landscapes, Capri has some amazing things to do (if you can drag yourself away from the beach for a few hours). The Blue Grotto is a famous attraction, which is essentially a blue sea cave, perfectly situated so that the sunlight passes through and creates a gorgeous blue glow throughout the cave.
Taking a ride on the funicular while in Capri is nonnegotiable, it’s truly unforgettable! The views of the Mediterranean, the boats on the water, and of Mt. Vesuvius is too breathtaking to put into words.
The vast archaeological city that was buried after a catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Visiting the ruins of Pompeii makes for a great day trip option from almost anywhere along the Amalfi Coast, with a major stop here for buses, trains and for those with a car. If you plan on visiting Pompeii, an entry ticket will cost you around €12, and you’ll get more than your money’s worth as you could spend an entire day here and still not run out of things to see and do.
Most tourists who visit Italy flock to the major cities of Rome, Florence and Venice, while the rest tend to opt for the pristine coastline for a much needed vacation. However, the majority of visitors often forget how gorgeous the Italian landscape and scenery truly is. Located in the Northeast Italian Alps, The Dolomoties is an oasis for those who want more of an adventure, to get out of the congestion of the big cities and to enjoy some fresh air. The Dolomites has amazing hikes, bike trails, skiing, and majestic mountain peaks and lakes to explore.
Both summer and winter in the Dolomites provide visitors with plenty of activities and sights to see. The sharp peaks, glaciers, mountain passes, and beautiful alpine landscapes have been declared a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, too!
With so much to see and do while in the Dolomites, it’s understandable to be a little overwhelmed with where to start and what are the ‘musts’ to see and do. These are our top 3 picks for the Dolomites:
Tre Cime di Lavaredo
Known as the three peaks of Lavaredo, they offer a fantastic loop trail that only takes a few hours to complete, but provides some of the most spectacular views in the region.
Lago di Braies
This is the largest lake in the Dolomites and one of the most scenic in the entire world. Its turquoise water will take your breath away.
This picturesque mountain village with a gorgeous backdrop of the Dolomites is located in the heart of the Italian Alps. It offers great food, friendly locals and endless possibilities to explore the surrounding areas. Need we say more?
Italy backpacking itineraries
There is a staggering amount of attractions and things to see and do in Italy, so trying to see them all in one trip is impossible! This country offers something for everybody, whether it be a relaxing holiday, a foodie tour, an adventure seeking paradise or an art lover’s dream, your itinerary will be based on where your interests and passions lie! The best thing about any backpacking trip around Italy is that no matter where you choose to focus your time you won’t be disappointed!
This 2-week itinerary will cover the north, south and centre of Italy to give you a taste of the highlights – anything you don’t get to see gives you the perfect excuse to make another trip back, right? Best of all, our itinerary is all via Italy’s fantastic train network, which makes travelling through this country seamless and easy!
Italy 2 week backpacking itinerary
Day 1 – 3 ROME
Arrive in Rome. In most cases your travels will begin in Rome, as it is the capital of Italy and a main entry point. This sprawling city is world renowned for its ruins, incredible architecture, amazing museums and delicious food. Enjoy the sights over your first few days in Italy.
Day 4 – 6 POSITANO
Head to Roma Termini Station and board a train bound for Salerno (2 hours). Just a few steps from the Salerno train station you can catch a ferry to Positano along the Amalfi Coast. The best thing about taking this route to Positano is that the ferry acts as a cruise along the gorgeous Amalfi coastline! Who needs to book an expensive boat tour? After the effort required in getting to Positano, sit back and enjoy the next few days by the beach, eating gelato and indulging in some tangy Limoncello.
Day 7 – 9 FLORENCE
Sadly all good things come to an end, and it’s time to leave the picturesque village of Positano to head to our next destination: Florence. Life could definitely be worse! Head back to Salerno on the same ferry you took to Positano and then board a train bound for Florence (4 hours via a fast train). We highly recommend booking your tickets in advance during peak season to ensure you get on the train, and it’s always cheaper pre-booking your tickets! After the long journey to Florence, enjoy some Tuscan wine and some amazing food found almost anywhere in the city.
Day 10 – 12 MILAN
The train journey from Florence to Milan takes less than 2 hours, and is a gorgeous and scenic train journey through the centre of the country. After arriving in Milan, stop by the impressive Duomo di Milano, shop until you drop and go on a food tour while exploring this super chic city.
Day 13 – 14 VENICE
We’ve saved the best until last, and what a way to end your tour of Italy than to go out with a bang! Venice. Hop on a train at Milano Centrale Railway Station bound for Venezia Santa Lucia. Get lost in the canals of Venice, drink an Aperol Spritz, enjoy this romantic city and savour your last few days in Italy.
Things to do in Italy
Things to do in Rome
Rome is one of the oldest cities in the world, full of history and culture and home to some of the world’s most remarkable sites and treasures. Trying to fit everything into a few days is close to impossible in a city as big as Rome, so instead try choosing a few things you really want to see and do and then take your time to really appreciate and enjoy them!
With that being said, there a few spots in Rome that are simply unmissable, and under no circumstance should you leave Rome without seeing the majority of these:
Although you may have seen photos of The Trevi Fountain floating around social media, seeing it in person is a whole different kettle of fish. You really get an idea of the grandness and scale of the fountain. Completed in 1762, the Trevi Fountain stands at the junction of three roads, with the name Fontana di Trevi literally translating to Three Street Fountain. While there, be sure to throw a coin in. The legend states that if you throw a coin into the Trevi with your back turned, using your right hand over your left shoulder, it will ensure you will return to Rome one day.
At the end of every night more than €5000 Euros are swept from the bottom of the Trevi Fountain, with the money then donated to provide services for the poor and needy families of Rome.
Tips on visiting the Trevi Fountain: If you plan on visiting Trevi, be sure to get here early in the morning (before 9 a.m.) to avoid the hoards of tourists that flock here everyday! Late at night is also a good option, as you’ll most likely have it to yourself and it looks spectacular underneath the city lights!
Without a doubt Italy’s most iconic landmark and one of the wonders of the world. The Colosseum is the largest Roman Amphitheatre. It once sat 50,000 spectators who gathered to watch gladiatorial events, where gladiators would participate in combat and wild animals were often slaughtered. Built between A.D 70 and 80 A.D, the Colosseum still stands some 2000 years later, after surviving damage from multiple earthquakes, the fall of the Roman Empire, and modern day traffic vibrations.
Tips on visiting the Colosseum: Like any major tourist attraction around the world, you’ll need to purchase a ticket if you want to go inside the Colosseum. Tickets can be purchased from the Colosseum on the day, but during peak months (June-September) wait times can sometimes take hours! Instead, opt to pre-purchase your tickets online and skip the hectic queues.
Another great option for visiting the Colosseum is taking a guided tour, which is a great way to learn about the history and go to sections not always open to members of the public!
Roman life revolves around Piazzas, and boy is there a lot scattered all around the city for you to explore. Piazzas are the best place to get an espresso, grab a drink or cool down with delicious local gelato. With so many Piazzas to see around the city, we’ve picked the three you’ll want to find and spend some time exploring:
Piazza del Popolo: While most tourists only flock into the square to snap a few quick selfies before leaving, be sure to seek out a small set of stairs that lead to a large garden and one of the most breathtaking views over the skyline of Rome! Trust us on this one.
Piazza Navona: Piazza Navona is definitely the prettiest and liveliest of the Piazzas in Rome. With plenty of trendy cafes and bars offering amazing selections of food and drinks to try, you’ll be spoilt for choice and can’t go wrong wherever you choose to go. What really separates Piazza Navona from the others is its incredible atmosphere. Overflowing with street artists and local buskers you’ll no doubt be entertained, and if this isn’t enough, the baroque architecture and three grand fountains will surely blow you away!
Piazza Campidoglio: Although this Piazza is a bit of a climb to reach, perched high on Capitoline Hill; Piazza Campidoglio boasts some of the most scenic views of Rome. The highlight being a bird’s eye view of the Roman Forum ruins.
The Vatican City: No trip to Rome would be complete without a visit to Vatican City, the world’s smallest country, which is home of the Pope, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. A quick train ride on the Rome Metro will get you here easily, just make sure to get off at Ottaviano-S. Pietro which is located just outside the Vatican city walls. If you’re planning a visit to the Vatican City, be sure to adhere to the strict dress codes, as this is a religious area. Visitors should wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants, but as long as your knees and shoulders are covered you should be fine!
Things to do in Venice
Visiting Venice can be a massive culture shock to even the most experienced of travellers. Nothing can prepare you as you exit Venezia Santa Lucia train station, take your first steps, and lay your eyes upon Venice. Full of snaking canals, narrow alleyways and cobblestone streets, there’s something about this place that will turn even the most cynical person into a hopeless romantic.
Venice is a completely different world, and it will instantly capture your imagination. While Venice attracts millions of visitors each year (sometimes you’ll feel like they are all there at once!) you can still find amazing moments of tranquillity and calmness. You just have to be willing to look for them!
These are some of the best things to do in Venice:
Ride on the Vaporetto
The public transport in Venice is a fleet of “bus-boats” known as the Vaporetto.
Riding on a Vaporetto is no more complicated than any city’s bus or metro system, but is far more enjoyable. Scattered around the city of Venice you’ll see the waterbus stops and signs pointing you in the right direction. There are different lines and routes available, just make sure you’re at the correct stop. Riding on the Vaporetto is a quick, fun and easy way to explore Venice via its canal system. What seems so out of this world for those visiting Venice is just part of many Venetian’s daily commute.
You can buy a single waterbus ticket or a 7-day Tourist Travel Card at the ACTV stations or ACTV ticket machines located at the larger Vaporetto stops.
Although the smallest district of Venice, San Polo is located in the heart of Venice’s historic centre and is one of the liveliest areas of the city. The San Polo district borders the famous Grand Canal and is known for its bar scene and atmosphere in the evenings.
Iconic Venetian landmarks can be found all around the San Polo district. Home to one of the oldest churches in Venice, the Church of San Giacomo di Rialto, and the second largest city square in Venice, the Campo San Polo (the biggest being St. Mark’s Square), San Polo has a lot of attractions. For those that are up early enough, there are fantastic early morning markets that set up in San Polo selling wonderful fresh produce and some incredible seafood!
Cross the Rialto Bridge
The Rialto Bridge is undeniably one of the most famous bridges in the entire world, as well as the most iconic Venice landmark. Made of Istrian stone (like a white marble) the Rialto Bridge spans for more than 48 metres over the Grand Canal and is a central landmark for the city. For more than 500 years the Rialto Bridge has stolen the hearts of those travelling to Venice with its distinctive V-shaped design. The Rialto Bridge is a popular spot for photographers, tourists and locals alike, as it is the most centrally located bridge connecting the districts. By nightfall, the bridge is extremely peaceful and a much quieter spot. Crossing the Rialto Bridge after dark makes for a great romantic stroll underneath the moonlight.
Experience a Venetian Sunset
Travelling around Venice can sometimes be overwhelming, crowded and fast-paced with the number of tourists around. With so much history, beauty and something to look at around every corner, sometimes it’s good to slow things down and take a moment to let it all sink in.
Experiencing a Venetian sunset is a fantastic way to end your day and to truly marvel at the beauty of this city. Watching the golden hues of sunset transform this city is quite spectacular. Whether you enjoy it from a rooftop bar, at dinner down by the water, while cuddling up to your partner, on a gondola ride or just walking through the canals, nowhere does sunsets quite like Venice.
Let yourself wander
Put your phone away, pocket the map, and just let your feet guide the way. With over 400 little bridges (referred to as ‘ponti’), the streets and laneways of this city are countless. The width of a Venice street or laneway (or ‘calle’) can vary anywhere from 50 centimetres to 5 metres in width. Yes, you read that correctly – it can be extremely tight! Instead of sharing the same narrow callis as every other tourist in Venice, don’t be afraid to zig and zag your way off the beaten path.
You’ll find hidden treasures, quiet city squares and some gorgeous canals that you will only be sharing with a few friendly locals. You’ll experience a different side of Venice, rarely ventured into by the hoards of tourists that flock to this city.
Piazza San Marco
Also known as St. Mark’s Square, this is the main square of Venice. The towering Basilica San Marco is the main attraction, as well as countless other incredible historical buildings. Unfortunately while St. Mark’s Square is on your travel bucket list, it’s also on everyone else’s, but don’t let this discourage you. Just go early before the hoards arrive at around 10am!
The Ponte dell’Accademia
One of the most scenic and beautiful bridges in Venice. If you’ve ever seen a postcard of Venice, or a photo for any travel magazine, it is extremely likely that the photograph was taken from the Ponte dell’Accademia Bridge. Overlooking the amazing 17th century domed Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, the Ponte dell’Accademia Bridge is a fantastic place to snap a few photos and watch the gondolas go past underneath. If you only have time for one thing in Venice, make sure you get to this bridge.
Things to do in Florence
The birthplace of the Renaissance and home to the best art galleries in the world. Boasting one of Europe’s greatest skylines and endless flowing wine, Florence will capture your heart.
The medieval city of Florence is the perfect size for walking. It’s set against a backdrop of the Tuscan Apennine Mountain range, making it the picture-perfect Italian postcard city. Although small in size, you’ll want to spend as long as you can spare in this enchanting city. No matter what time of year you visit Florence you’ll find something to do. If it’s raining, check out one of the many world-class museums and art galleries. If there’s sunshine, take a lovely stroll along the gorgeous Arno River. Here are some other recommendations for your time in Florence:
Climbing the Duomo
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (often referred to as the Duomo) is the main church of Florence and is the towering figure of this iconic Italian skyline. Ascending the 476 stairs to the top of one of the world’s greatest landmarks is an incredible experience. At the top you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views over the entire city. Looking out over the Tuscan rooftops set against the picturesque backdrop is definitely worth the effort of climbing to the top.
Although climbing the iconic Duomo is amazing, you won’t have a view of the Duomo itself, so be sure to also climb the adjacent Giotto’s Campanile to enjoy a spectacular view over the city, and best of all, views of the Duomo.
If you’re planning on climbing the Duomo, a ticket will cost €8, while climbing the Bell Tower costs €6. For the very reasonable price of €15 you can get a ticket which gives you access to climb both, along with an entry ticket for the Crypt of Santa Reparata which lies underneath the Cathedral. Best of all, the tickets are valid for 48 hours, so you can take your time to make the multiple climbs.
For those seeking an even better experience, try timing your climb to arrive at the top for when the clock strikes midday. You’ll be rewarded with the sounds of all the church bells echoing around the city. Another pro tip: climb the Duomo around 5:30pm after the crowd starts to dissipate and experience a remarkable sunset over the city.
The Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio is an arch bridge that spans over the Arno River and is an iconic symbol of Florence. Ponte Vecchio translates to “Old Bridge” and is one of the oldest in all of Europe. There have been shops built along the Ponte Vecchio Bridge since the 13th century, which included fish mongers, butchers and fruit and vegetable stalls. It was decreed in 1593 that only jewellers, goldsmiths and silversmiths would be allowed to operate stores along the Ponte Vecchio, which changed the bridge completely. Today, the picturesque 95-meter pedestrian bridge is a popular tourist attraction with shops selling jewellery, art and souvenirs.
Visit Mercato di San Lorenzo
The best local produce from the region of Tuscany is on display at this covered food market. The smell of freshly baked bread, cheese, deli cold cut meats and herbs and spices will have your mouth salivating as you wander amongst the stalls. Best of all, there are plenty of amazing opportunities to sample the local produce as the market owners want to show off how amazing their goods are. Eat like a local, grab a bottle of wine and enjoy the bustling energy these markets bring to the city. The Mercato San Lorenzo is also a great place to pick up some fantastic souvenirs to bring home for family, friends or even yourself. Olive oils, balsamic vinegars and wines always make great gifts!
Piazzale Michelangelo is one of the most famous lookouts for a breathtaking view over Florence. Take a short walk along the Arno River from downtown Florence, head up to the Piazzale Michelangelo and enjoy an enchanting panoramic view of the city. Be sure to arrive early enough to experience sunset, and then watch as the city lights of the Duomo and below buildings begin to glow. It will make for a magical night and some amazing photo opportunities.
Picnic at Giardino delle Rose
If there’s one thing Florence has in abundance, it’s stone walls and streets crowded with tourists from all over the world. Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy the quieter parts of the city, away from the crowds and chaos. Venture into one of the many local “alimentari” stores and pick up some fresh local produce, a bottle of Tuscan vino and head to the Giardino delle Rose for a picnic in a garden oasis. Located just near Piazzale Michelangelo, you’ll be spoilt for choice on where to set up. With more than 300 varieties of roses on display and gorgeous views of the city, your only regret will be not having brought two bottles!
Things to do in Milan
Milan is the financial hub of Italy and one of the most influential European cities in terms of art, sport, fashion and business. It has an expensive reputation but it’s hard not to marvel at the extravagance of this chic city. During World War II Milan sustained a lot of damage to its monumental heritage, with the city being a strategic target of repeated bombing raids in the early 1940’s. These bombing raids altered the image of the city, which has lead to a much more contemporary looking Milan. However, even after the city sustained heavy bomb damage, the impressive Duomo di Milano survived, and is one of the must-see places in Italy, along with these other gems:
Get to the top of the Duomo
So you’ve laid eyes on one of Italy’s architectural masterpieces, now it’s time to see the view from above at the Duomo di Milano!
To reach the top of the Duomo you can either climb the stairs (€6) or opt for the elevator (€10). The view from the top of the Duomo is superb as it overlooks the Piazza del Duomo and out over the city of Milan. On really clear days, it’s said you can even look out to the mountains. Some of the most impressive views from the top are actually of the Duomo itself; the thousands of spires and statues and incredible attention to detail will blow your mind.
Keep in mind that peak season lines to get to the top of the Duomo can be long; try buying your tickets in advance and keep in mind the last tickets for the day are usually sold just shortly after 4pm!
Piazza del Duomo
This is the central Piazza in Milan, which is a huge open space that offers not only breathtaking views of the Duomo but of the surrounding buildings and other architectural feats as well.
In the centre of this grand Piazza is a statue of a former King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele, which is almost as grand as the Piazza itself. Here in Piazza del Duomo you won’t be at a shortage of things to do, with countless restaurants and bars to check out and fantastic shopping opportunities. Refresh with an espresso or gelato, or even just people watch, the atmosphere here will keep you on your toes!
The Grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is an extremely extravagant indoor shopping mall created in 1877. This is one of the oldest and most impressive shopping malls of anywhere in the world, lined with high-end designer shops selling expensive products. If you’re looking to snap up a bargain, this probably isn’t the place, but it’s worth visiting to admire the interior and architecture of the Galleria. Pro tip: There’s a picture of a bull on the floor that you are supposed to spin on 3 times for good luck.
Not the main Piazza in Milan, but equally as atmospheric and charming. The Piazza Mercanti is a mixture of old and new buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries, as a result of sustained damage (like most of Milan) from the war. This picturesque city square was a predominant area during the Middle Ages, and while it doesn’t have that same history anymore, there is still remnants of the Middle Ages to be found if you look hard enough!
Best Italian food
Italian cuisine needs very little introduction and if you only needed one reason to visit Italy let it just be for the food. When you think of Italian food your mind immediately goes to pizza and pasta, and while you wouldn’t be wrong, Italy has so much more to offer.
Italian cuisine is extraordinarily regional and probably the most famous and appreciated cuisine in the world. Rightly so, as food is a major part of Italian culture. Each region has its own unique and delicious specialities; the fresh seafood in Venice, the wines of Tuscany, the pizzas of Naples, the cannoli of Sicily or the Limoncello of the Amalfi Coast. While we could have compiled a list that would be never ending, these are some of the foods you simply must sink your teeth into during your adventures through Italy:
Although pizza and pasta dominate most of Italy, risotto reigns supreme in the north. For those not in the know, it’s a delicious and creamy rice dish, made in a variety of ways with the main ingredients usually involving seafood or chicken with porcini mushrooms and saffron.
Where to eat Risotto? Milan.
Although pizza can be found all over Italy, the birthplace of this incredible creation is in Naples. No trip to Naples would be complete without tasting an authentic Pizza Napoletana. Unlike the majority of the Western world, Italian pizzas are kept incredibly simple and only use the freshest of ingredients.
Where to eat Pizza? Naples.
Got a sweet tooth? Tiramisu is a must try Italian dessert. Layers of ladyfingers soaked in coffee and then layered with egg yolks, sugar and mascarpone cheese with a delicious layer of cocoa on top. Tiramisu translates to “pick me up” and Italians believe this dessert to be an aphrodisiac.
Where to eat Tiramisu? Can be enjoyed anywhere in your travels around Italy, it varies slightly from region to region which makes it fun to compare!
No guide to Italy would be complete without a mention of gelato. Homemade Italian ice cream is usually made with milk, sugar and fruit. The local favourite flavour is lemon, but if that doesn’t suit your taste buds other classics include pistachio chocolate and seasonal fruit varieties. It doesn’t matter what time of year you decide to visit Italy, gelato is always a crowd pleaser.
Where to eat gelato? It’s found all over Italy, but Florence is said to be its birthplace.
The favourite Italian afternoon drink. An Aperol Spritz is made with delicious sparkling Italian prosecco mixed with a bitter orange flavoured liqueur known as Aperol It’s served over ice with a fresh slice of blood orange for a flavour explosion. One of the most famous and common pre-dinner drinks all over Italy. When the clock strikes 4pm in Italy, you know its time to have an Aperol Spritz!
Where to have Aperol Spritz? Found all over Italy, but the best are located in Venice.
The “S’fusato d’Amalfi” is a variety of lemon that only grows along the Amalfi Coast in Italy. This lemon has been developed over a thousand years and is a cultural emblem of the region. These lemons grow in such abundance that they are used for an after-dinner liqueur known as Limoncello. Limoncello is said to help with digestion after a meal and is simply referred to as a “digestive”. It’s the perfect blend of sweet and tart, and is totally unique.
Where to have Limoncello? The seaside village of Positano located along the Amalfi Coast.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Any word that has carb in it is bound to be good, right? While you may have eaten carbonara pasta outside of Italy, it was more than likely prepared in the western style way with a lot of cream. Believe it or not, traditional carbonara contains NO cream! Just 4 simple ingredients, egg, pecorino cheese, pepper and guanciale (a cured pig’s cheek).
Where to eat Spaghetti Carbonara? Rome, no doubt about it!
Traditional pesto is a classic combination of the two fresh ingredients of the Liguria region of Italy: fresh basil leaves and aromatic olive oil. With added garlic, parmesan (you can never have too much cheese, right?), salt and pine nuts all blended together and served on top of fresh homemade pasta.
Where to eat Pesto Genovese? Genoa.
Basic Italian phrases
While travelling around any country, it’s important to be respectful and acknowledge the different cultures and ways of life. Italy is no exception.
Although no one, including the locals, will expect you to be fluent in their language, learning some simple phrases and trying to make an effort goes a long way. It will also enrich your own travel experience, as interacting with someone in a different language can be a very rewarding experience. You’ll also receive more smiles and generally better service if you’re seen to be making an effort. And always remember in Italy, when words fail, follow the Italian example and use your hands gestures!
Although dialects can vary from region to region, these are some helpful basic Italian phrases for you to practice before you make your trip to Italy:
~ Buongiorno! – Hello/good morning
~ Arrivederci! – Goodbye
~ Ciao! – Hello/good-bye (informal)
~ Grazie! – Thank you
~ Prego! – You’re welcome
~ Scusa! – Excuse me
~ Sì – Yes
~ Per favore! – Please
~ Non parlo Italiano! – I don’t speak Italian
~ Parla Inglese? – Do you speak English?
~ Come sta? – How are you?
~ Dov’è la stazione? – Where is the station?
~ Scusi, dov’è il bagno? – Where is the bathroom?
~Aiuto! – Help
~ Quanto costa? – How much is?
Italy Travel advice
Italy’s currency is the euro (EUR €). While travelling in Italy it’s always a good idea to have a little bit of cash on you, as some areas (such as remote areas of Sicily) won’t always accept card payments. Here are the average prices of a few travel essentials in Italy:
- A single metro or bus ticket costs €1.60 – €2.00.
- A breakfast, including a coffee and juice will cost around €5.
- A daily lunch special at a restaurant will cost €10.
- A beer can cost anywhere from €2 – €4 depending on the type of bar.
- An espresso at a nice café will cost anything up to €3.00.
Beach Etiquette in Italy
Italy is lined with enchanting beach towns. Some have sand and some have jagged cliffs; some are super crowded while others are quiet. No matter which coast you visit though, Italy is a beach lover’s paradise!
With that in mind, having some knowledge of Italian beaches might help you to avoid an embarrassing moment!
There are some areas of a beach that are open and free to the public, where you can set up umbrellas, towels and bring a picnic (just remember not to leave any rubbish behind when you leave). On the same beach there can often be a private area that requires a payment. You’ll often pay for the use of a sun chair and beach umbrella for the entire day, and some establishments might also offer a complimentary beverage.
When it comes to beach attire, most areas of Italy are fairly relaxed. Going nude on a public beach is unacceptable, however Italy has plenty of nude beaches for those with an aversion to tan lines! While it is acceptable to go topless on the beach, Italians prefer modesty elsewhere. It is generally considered disrespectful to wear a bikini/bathers while you walk through town on your way to get to the beach, so be sure to stay covered until you reach that sand.
The first Sunday of every month all state run galleries, museums, parks and gardens have free entry! It’s a great time to get along to see some of the places your budget wouldn’t normally allow for and Sundays are generally quiet in most Italian cities.
Like every major tourist destination you should be prepared for the odd opportunist or scammer here and there. It’s important to be aware of some of the more common traps. While some are very easy to spot, others can sometimes take a more trained eye! These are some common tourist scams that can occur while in Italy:
While in tourist heavy areas (piazzas, town squares, major train stations), on public transport or while in busy streets it’s wise to be aware of your belongings because pickpockets sometimes prey on unsuspecting tourists. There is no reason to be alarmed, just be aware of your surroundings and keep your money and valuables safe. Instead of carrying your wallet/phone in your pocket, opt for a money belt – as unstylish as they may be. If you’re carrying a backpack/purse through crowded areas, it’s often a good idea to carry it on your front, as you’ll be able to keep an eye on it. It’s also a good idea to not wear any fancy jewellery that may draw unnecessary attention. If it’s something that’s irreplaceable, it’s best to leave it at home and be safe rather than sorry.
As we all know, Italy is one of the most romantic countries in the world and scammers are well clued into this fact. In popular romantic hotspots such as Florence and Venice, you might see people walking around with gorgeous bouquets of roses. They tend to target women, approaching them with a lot of charm and charisma and hand them one of their finest roses. As soon as the woman accepts this rose, the scammer will turn to her partner and demand payment, refusing to accept the rose back.
At almost any major transportation hub around Italy there will be people impersonating ticket officials to help you work the kiosks to buy your train/bus ticket. These scammers keep a keen eye out for vulnerable travellers who are either lost or unsure of what they’re doing and go and assist them in working the machines. At the end of the transaction they will demand a payment for their services, and will not let you leave until you have paid them. If someone approaches you, you’ll need to be quite forcible in saying no to their “assistance”.
About the author: My name is Louis Cuthbert; I have been travelling the globe for the last two and a half years documenting my adventures. Follow my journey on Instagram @one_globe_travels.