My Tips & Recommendations for Traveling in Italy
Since coming home from our big European trip, I've had quite a few people reach out and ask if I have any recommendations for when they visit Italy! We did not use a travel agent, so everything in this post are things I either researched ahead of time or stuff we learned from experience while over there. I decided to get all of my thoughts down in one place to share and help others who might be looking for help when planning their adventure.
A huge help for me when planning my trip was following Kacie Rose on Instagram and TikTok. She's an American living in Florence and shares great tips on traveling throughout Italy. I purchased her tourist guide to Italy and it was a huge help while planning!
Some General Tips:
This advice applies to just about any travel within Europe. I'm listing it first as it is applicable to any city you might visit.
- You will need plug converters, and possibly voltage converters as well. American appliances run on 110 volts while European appliances run on 220 volts. Most bigger electronics (laptops, phones, headphones) will have dual voltage and be just fine. But if you bring a hair dryer that is 110 volts only it's a good way to start a fire. We used this plug adapter kit and just double checked that everything we were bringing was dual voltage.
- Download languages to the Google translate app before you leave! We ran into many instances of people not speaking English. Having this app, with all the languages already downloaded, really helped us out. Plus if you have decent enough service you can use the lens feature to translate signs/menus/whatever by taking a picture.
- Avoid getting scammed. We ran into the bracelet scam everywhere multiple times, and in Rome they were particularly rude. Some will touch/grab you to try and scam you then yell at you when you call them out. We also saw the same kind of tactic with flowers in Venice & Milan. Another one to avoid is pedi cabs that hide their real prices in tiny print or under a sign until after your trip is over.
- Buy. Tickets. In. Advance. You do not want to waste a majority of your vacation waiting in line to get into places. We visited in the Italian off season, and the line to get into the Uffizi in Florence still looked like trying to get onto Space Mountain during spring break. The Vatican was even worse. Many museums and other sites offer online options where you can book a date and entrance time in advance and wait in a much shorter & quicker line to pick up your tickets and then enter.
- Carry a water bottle. Water is not free at restaurants and you are not likely to find public water fountains indoors. Many cities instead have outdoor public drinking fountains where you can fill a bottle.
- Public bathrooms are not free and most shops don't have ones for customers. You'll need to either be a customer at a restaurant or have coins to use a public bathroom.
- Carry cash! Many shops, restaurants, and public transportation vendors are either still cash-only or close their credit card readers after a certain time. You will also want to have cash for street vendors. I would 100% recommend ordering cash in advance through your bank instead of waiting until you get there. You will avoid ridiculous ATM and other "convenience" fees. And bring a coin purse for all the loose change!
- You will not be able to walk as much as you think you will. I definitely over-planned some of our days, and we paid for it in foot pain. We found that around 10k steps we started feeling meh, at 15k we were really hurting. One day in Venice we walked over 30k steps and I was limping back to the hostel. It's not fun to want to still see things but be in so much pain you can't. Plan in breaks and space out activities. Pack your most comfortable and breathable pair of shoes, a new lightly broken in pair is best if you can swing it.
- On the flip of the last tip... walking tours are a great way to dive into a city's history. I love using Sandemans to find tours and each one, even through affiliate partners, have been great. The tours are free but you should tip your guide per person (I've found €5 is acceptable) in your group at the end. Another reason to carry cash!
We started and ended our trip in the Eternal City! It was the perfect bookends for our entire trip.
If you're traveling to Italy you're probably thinking about taking some kind of cooking class to enjoy the wonderful food culture. If you really want a once in a lifetime, absolutely authentic experience, I would recommend splurging just a bit and attending Nonna Nerina's pasta class hosted on Airbnb instead of a class hosted by chefs. This experience is hosted outside of Rome in a small town called Palombara Sabina by a family who has lived there for generations. Travel to their town is included in the cost of the class. The experience is even hosted in their great-grandfathers old workshop with his wine press and a literal cave the family used for storing olive oil. We took this class for Scotty's birthday, and he said it was the best birthday celebration he's ever had. I could rave on and on about this class but instead I'll just strongly recommend you check it out if you have a free day.
A big tip if you want to see the sites of Rome without a crowd crushing you from all sides, get there as early as possible. We went to see the Trevi Fountain at 3 a.m. and we were the only people there for the most of our visit. We were able to enjoy the sounds of the fountain in near silence and sit on a bench just taking it all in. Another reason to visit incredibly early is sometimes the entire Trevi will be fenced off on days Rome has a sporting event. This is to stop hooligans from jumping into the water after a match. We visited the Trevi at noon on our second stop in Rome and it was totally blocked off like this, I would have been super sad if that was the only time we got to see it.
There are two not so talked about spots that you should check out near the Trevi. If you're facing the fountain from the center, there is a small set of steps going up the right into a small alcove. There you'll find the fountain of lovers where two spouts of water fall into a small basin. The legend is that if a couple drinks from the fountain at the same time (one at each spout) they'll be in love forever. Because I'm a sucker for cute stories like that Scotty and I absolutely did it. Another cool spot to check out is Vicus Caprarius, "The Water City." This is an underground archeological site that includes the ruins of a Roman house and part of the ancient aqueduct that still supplies the Trevi Fountain today.
As an art history fanatic I know I absolutely wanted to visit the Vatican, mostly just to see the School of Athen's and the Sistine Chapel. If you're also really looking forward to visiting the Vatican for its art I would recommend booking one of their tours. I decided to go with the tour called "Sistine Chapel Extra Time." This tour takes you around the Vatican museums after closing time so it's just you and a handful of other people in your tour group, and occasionally other tour groups. It was absolutely amazing to be able to actually sit in the Sistine Chapel and take it in instead of being jostled around. In addition to the extra time we were also able to enjoy a light dinner in the Vatican gardens.
The last tour we booked was a combo for the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and the Palantine Hill. I personally wouldn't recommend it if you're the type that likes to stop and read all the information on signs at museums. I didn't know that there would be a pretty comprehensive museum in the Colosseum, and I felt like we skipped a lot that I would have liked to stop and read. Paying extra for floor access of the Colosseum was worth it though, and if you have time I would recommend exploring the underground parts too. However, I would recommend getting some kind of tour for the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. There are minimal signs around and usually they're just labels in Italian so you won't have any idea what you're looking at without a guide. You could spend a full day or two just fully exploring these three sites.
Restaurants we loved:
My biggest advice for Napoli? Skip it. Of all the cities we visited on our trip it was the one we really felt we could have done without seeing. It was dirtier than any other city (think dog waste & trash all over) and we felt much more unsafe walking around. The main reason we went was to be able to have pizza in the city it was invented in for Valentine's, a tradition of ours. While it was really amazing pizza, I don't think it was worth a whole stop. There is incredible pizza everywhere in Italy.
We also had hopes of seeing some famous works (like The Veiled Christ) of art while in Napoli, but unfortunately their main metro line was down for construction the entire time we were there. The only museum we did visit was the National Archaeological Museum. When mentioned online this museum is frequently referred to as "world-renowned" and significant. I was... disappointed. I found the museum to be in poor condition and the artwork was too. Paint was peeling from the walls in multiple rooms, the labels in many cases were torn or had water damage, and the statues were dusty. Honestly just a meh experience for €22 per person.
If you are really keen on seeing Pompeii I would absolutely recommend staying in Pompeii instead of making the trek out from Napoli. There are multiple cute bed and breakfasts we saw that are a 30ish minute walk from the ruins.
I would recommend planning at least a full day to get through all of Pompeii. We vastly underestimated the size of the site and ended up coming back a second day and ditching trying to see anything in Napoli. Many of the buildings close earlier than the rest of the site, so if there is something you really want to see make sure you get there first thing.
We unfortunately did get a little swindled on tickets on our first day. I couldn't figure out how to get their ticket website to work, and this was one place I was comfortable getting tickets day of as I read the wait isn't terrible. The entrance is a little confusing as they have security and lockers before their ticket booths, so when we saw a big building advertising Pompeii tickets we thought that must be it. Don't be fooled and lose out on an extra €40 like we did, buy your tickets inside the site directly from the museum!
Finally, Pompeii is not big on having anything labeled. Most of the time we were wandering around looking at stuff with no idea what it was. While their map does have things labeled, it doesn't give you any context. I would recommend downloading their free app MyPompeii BEFORE you leave for Italy, or by hiring a guide at the site.
The birthplace of the renaissance! I ADORED Florence, but I'm also a huge art history fanatic. I think we ended up spending about three hours in Uffizi and one in Accademia Galleria, both of which I would say it is mandatory to book your tickets in advance.
Another museum we really enjoyed was Museo Gallileio. It features a ton of history on not only Gallileio's scientific field, but medicine, electricity, and more. It was nice to get away from the super popular museums, and at many times we had an exhibit to ourselves. I personally didn't understand how there were so little visitors since it is a really quality museum. We were able to walk in and buy tickets with no wait.
A weird tip but one I thought I'd share so you don't wonder what's wrong with you too, during our entire time in Florence I did not enjoy the bread. I thought it was very plain and kind of awful tasting and was disappointed every time it was served. It turns out in Tuscany they usually don't use salt when making bread, so that explains the weird flavor!
Finally, if you visit Florence you have to find one of the Fotoautomaticas that are sprinkled around the city. They are refurbished photo booths from the 19050s-80s that use the old style of printing out photos. You can read more about this project in this great article.
Restaurants & shops we loved:
- Sushiland - Delicious & reasonably priced poke.
- Trattoria Alfredo - A casual Tuscan restaurant. I really enjoyed the alfredo chicken with black truffles.
- Il Toscanaccio - Another casual restaurant. I loved the Tuscan charcuterie board, and we tried Florentine steak here. Scotty wasn't a huge fan but I liked it, maybe there is better elsewhere.
- Vivoli - An amazing gelataria with a wine door!
- Logout Records - A very cute locally owned record shop with new and used vinyl. If I had room in my suitcase I would have brought home Måneskin's new album.
- Gelateria Dondoli - fatasti gelato with unique flavors available. There is another gelatoria in the same square that declares itself as he best ice cream in the world but has literally nothing to back up that claim with. Gelateria Dondoli has actually been awarded internationally multiple times.
We absolutely loved Venice. Probably one of the most beautiful cities we have ever seen.
Our favorite memory in Venice is the gondola ride we took. Gondola rides are cash only, so you will need to make sure to look up the rates and order cash before you go. I do not recommend booking a ride online, many of the ones I've seen online are charging more than what you will pay in Venice and you would have to share with strangers. Gondola ride prices are standardized throughout all of Venice, so you will pay the same price no matter which one you take. We paid €80 for a 30 minute private ride. Prices go up in the evening and for longer rides.
If you want some fun pictures of yourself while on vacation I 100% recommend booking a walking photo tour with Gazella Studio. Not only will you get amazing pictures, Gazella is also a wonderful tour guide full of facts and places to visit around Venice. She jokes that her photo tour is better than any food tour, because the food tours guides have deals with restaurants, but she'll take you to the actually great places locals love!
Venice is a place I would recommend getting up as early as you can to enjoy. Our photo tour started at 8 a.m. and we were kind of grumbling about it until mid-morning when the streets were packed. At that point we were thankful we had seen things like the Rialto Bridge and St. Marks Square before it got to a point of squeezing through crowds.
Something we did not have to deal with but that you should be aware of is that Venice floods pretty regularly. So much so that they have special raised walkways and barricades for doors installed around the city. It usually happens between October and January, but can happen at any other time of year so bring some extra clothes to change into!
Restaurants & shops we loved:
- Ristorante San Bartolomeo - In my opinion, the best spot to try a lot of food at once. They had a wide variety of seafood and pasta dishes that are popular in Venice. I am still obsessed with the deep-fried pasta balls that are called tagliolni. The deep fired rice balls, called arancini, are also amazing.
- RistoPub Rossini - A bar & restaurant connected to a movie theater. We only sat at the bar, so I can't attest to the food, but the drinks were great!
- VizioVirtù Cioccolateria - A wonderful chocolate shop with a wide assortment of sweets. If you visit in the winter they have some of the best cioccolata calda.
- Very Good: Pizzeria Bigoleria Gnoccheria - It's all in the name with this one. Off the beaten path and quiet, this place has very good pizzas and pasta.
- Frulala - cute little stands that look like an outdoor bar. They sell delicious hot sangria and smoothies.
- La Friulana - This shop sells authentic and locally hand-made Venetian slippers. There are some that are even made with up cycled bike wheels as the soles. I purchased a pink pair for €70.
- Reflections - In my opinion the best shop to buy a Venetian mask in. Reasonably priced and you can easily tell they're not cheap knock-The owners are very proud of their craft and explained to us in detail the work that goes behind each one, and even showed us their work bench.
Unfortunately due to train strikes we had to cut our time in Milan short, so we only spent one full day there. Scotty went to the gym in the morning and I absolutely wasn't going to miss out on shopping in one of the fashion capitals in the world. However, I wanted to stick to shopping second hand instead of the usual high-end labels that Milan is known for.
- Ramen House Milano - Bomb ramen, for when you want a break from pasta.
- Humana Vintage - A second hand shop that is strong on the retro vibes. Lots of 80s clothing.
- The Cloister - More modern & luxury second hand clothing store with a mix of home goods. If you're looking for discount Gucci this would be the place to find it.
- Offbeat Milan - A decent mix of the previous two! They had a lot of retro pieces and luxury brands. I was REALLY impressed with the huge sunglasses collection they have. The shop owner explained they buy lots of vintage dead-stock.