Italy is an enchanting place, full of hidden corners and delicious flavours. Whether you’re there for a weekend, a week, a month, or more, you’ll find yourself relaxing into a slower way of life, especially if you get out of the cities and spend some time in the small towns dotted throughout the country.
We keep finding ourselves drawn back, to eat just one more pizza or drink just one more espresso. The frustratingly slow internet and spectacular bureaucracy are offset by the friendly people, the amazing history, and yes… the food.
So, what are our top ten things to do in Italy?
All roads lead to Rome.
Rome is famous for good reason – it’s got a charm all of its own, as well as the legacy of buildings left behind from its time as the centre of power for the immense Roman Empire.
Modern Rome is huge and sprawling on both sides of the Tiber, but first-time tourists and short-term visitors will want to base themselves in “old Rome”.
The city has spread over time and is now immense, but you’ll probably want to see the sights in Piazza de Spagna, Via Veneto, Quirinal, Esquiline, Lateran, Caracalla, Aventine, Palatine, Forum, Capitol, Campo de Fiori, Piazza Navona, and Piazza della Rotonda, and the Vatican, Januculum and Trastavere on the west of the Tiber.
You won’t need your passport to cross into the world’s smallest country, Vatican City, but you will need modest clothing – just like you will in most of the Mediterranean’s cathedrals, churches and mosques. Expect a long security queue then a bag search before you can enter to gaze at priceless artistic treasures and soak in the atmosphere amidst other shuffling tourists.
Eat. Just eat, wherever you are.
Italy’s cuisine has spread around the world for good reason — it’s delicious. However, you’ll find that Italian food in Italy is different to what you’ll get at home, in part because restaurants adapt their offerings to local tastes, and in part because Italy is a country of regions — food from one area can be wildly different to what’s available in another part of the country. Try to eat local specialties such as pizza in Naples and spaghetti bolognaise in Bologna. Ask a local person what you should try, and try it! Wash it all down with a glass of local wine – or, more likely, a carafe.
There really is nothing like the city stolen from the sea. Explore the canals by foot and by boat, and buy exquisite glassware from shops on bridges and hidden down narrow alleys.
Be aware that many establishments in Venice make their money from ripping off tourists, especially by adding extra fees for sitting outside, for live music, for eating what you thought was complimentary bread. Try to get off the tourist route from the train station to St Mark’s square, and if in doubt, ask if there are extra charges or leave. We loved the Cicchetti and Wine tour — do it on your first evening for a great introduction to Venice’s hidden spots.
Do a cooking course
If you love Italian food, what better souvenir than the knowledge of how to make it at home? We did an Italian cooking course in Tuscany, and Craig’s signature dish for special occasions is now home-made squid ink pasta with a ragu sauce.
Italian is a beautiful language, learn it for its own sake. And so you can order coffee like a native. Choose your favourite city and sign up for a course, or head into the countryside and stay with locals (though Couchsurfing, a homestay, or organised through a language school) for the best chance to practice. If you decide to stay in a hotel or one of the many Italy vacation rentals available, just make sure you get out and talk to people as much as possible!
Drink Nero D’Avola in Sicily after climbing Mt Etna.
Sicily’s towering volcano is more of a landmark, but the wine is worth a trip to Sicily on its own merit. If you can’t make it that far south, don’t worry — you can buy Nero D’Avola in other parts of the country as well. Try it and you’ll see why we love it so much!
The home of Michelangelo’s David is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s the place to go if you have even a passing interest in art. At €72, the Firenze Card is no longer fantastic value, so we’d recommend you just buy tickets to the two major galleries (Accademia and Uffizi) and stop into the other ones you like the look of. Book online to skip the queues and plan to visit on two different days to avoid museum fatigue.
If you are a huge art lover, get the card and see everything you can — but pace yourself, spend some time in the gardens, and take long lunches in between museum visits. It’s cultural and you won’t feel wiped out after your stay in this gorgeous city.
Relax in the Cinque Terra.
This group of five towns is a lovely place to turn down the pace and enjoy the sun. We still haven’t been, but we’ve heard that it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and that walking from town to town is an enjoyable way to spend some time.
Walk on the roof of Milan’s duomo.
Milan’s cathedral is impressive, and you should go inside as well, but walking on the roof is something you can’t do everywhere. The views are amazing and you’re free to roam almost anywhere on the roof, which is understandably sizable. Some people have picnics up there — we regretted not bringing a snack when we were there!
Head to the hills.
Italy’s mountainous north hides many tiny villages in its skirts. Ancient churches, mediaeval castles — get away from everything in picturesque surroundings. Italy’s tiny towns (in the hills or not) often host interesting local festivals, so do a quick search before you go to see if your visit coincides with one.
From sommeliers to skydiving, farms to Ferraris, and museums to mud baths, Select Italy will custom- design your dream trip to Italy exactly how you always envisioned it. Whether you’re looking for food and wine experiences, accommodation, transport, or tickets to museums and theatres — or all of the above — Select Italy’s travel experts are there to help.
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