ITALIAAAA! This romantic and historical country is everything you dream it would be. From the relational culture to the heavenly cuisine, I walked around with the goofiest grin on my face most of the trip. MAGICAL. Since it was fall, we skipped the coast this trip, and went to 4 different cities: Milan, Venice, Rome, and Florence. We were in country for 7 1/2 days, and I have to say it was barely enough time to do all we did. I usually like to go with the flow when we’re traveling and wander until we stumble onto hidden gems, but there is SO MUCH to see in this country, a plan was necessary…especially if you’re traveling between cities! We relied on suggestions and referrals from friends and family for the bulk of the trip, but found some friggin’ cool places on our own. There are several cultural consistencies and travel tips helpful for all of Italy that I’ll share first.
We initially chose Italy because you can find pretty cheap flights, specifically from NYC, quite often (like $400 roundtrip cheap!). Once you get to the country, traveling between cities is super easy. Their train system is DOPE and easy to navigate once you get the hang of it (the rides are also stunning, so day times are a must!). Our itinerary was Milan (from JFK), train to Venice, fly to Rome, train to Florence, then train back to Milan. For budgeting, you’re looking at $25-50 train rides, and under $100 plane tickets in country. I suggest buying your tickets early (it’s definitely more cost effective), BUT there were a couple times I wish we had some flexibility, and could take a later (or earlier) train. Overall, having set times was useful when we were planning what to see and do on travel days.
There are two important logistical things to note: culturally, everything runs late. The buses, restaurant openings, even flights are consistently behind…EXCEPT the trains! The trains leave as scheduled, on the dot! Give yourself plenty of time to get to the station, find your platform, and get settled. There are great options to grab a drink or snack at stations, so early is better than late. The second thing we noticed: it’s a very cash driven society. It wasn’t uncommon to find cash only restaurants, and American Express is rarely taken (you’re usually fine with Visa or MasterCard). It’s cheaper to pull Euros straight from the ATM (as opposed to exchanging dollars) once you get there, but I would always, always carry cash.
Since we were traveling so much, we limited our luggage to a carry-on sized suitcase and a backpack (we stuck an extra empty bag in so we would have room to bring back goodies). THIS WAS CRUCIAL to us not hating our lives; probably the most helpful tip I could give you!! With the amount of walking, buses, cobble stones, trains, and stairs, large luggage would’ve ended up in the river with me in the most un-cute fit of rage. We checked them on flights making our airport load super light, and made sure we had access to a washing machine halfway through our trip to recycle clothes. WORTH IT.
We split lodging between AirBnb’s and hotels. When we go back, we’ll stick with hotels. They are around the same price, yet infinitely nicer than the AirBnb’s (maybe I just suck at choosing AirBnb’s). It was cool to experience life as a local, but having a super comfortable and convenient place to stay after a 10+ mile day was unbeatable. Of course, this is all preference.
Two things not easily found: water and leafy greens. Two things you can find literally anywhere? Wine and carbs, and boy, they have figured out both!!! Ask for water! A lot of times it’s not offered firsthand, and it’s so important to stay hydrated with all the travel and walking, so buy it when you can. Prepare to eat all the pastas, all the cheeses, all the raviolis, all the pizzas, and all the sandwiches. Everything is freaking delicious and fresh, but your body might go into a bit of shock, so drink that water, yo. Also, side note, “coffee” means espresso. If you want a cup of coffee you have to ask for an Americano, otherwise, you’ll be sipping the cutest little cup of espresso.
Alright, now for the cities! First up:
We adored Venice. It sometimes gets a bad rap, but I was a FAN. It could’ve been the consistent color palette of soft tones or the romantic vibes of the canals, but I loved it!!
We stayed at Hotel Olimpia which was right around the corner from the bus and train stations on it’s own little magical canal. There are no cars within the heart of the city (everything is by foot or boat), so it was nice to not walk far when we initially got there or when headed out. It’s a very small city, easily accessible by foot, so my priority was the distance we had to carry luggage. Hotel Olimpia is newly renovated, and the one-euro-extra breakfast is yummy (common breakfast is pastries, so having some other options was super nice)!
We arrived around 5:00pm (it was already dark), and had the evening and the following full day in Venice. We definitely wish we had an additional day. The city is so magical both day and night, so we spent most of our time wandering the alleyways, stopping in wine bars, admiring the canals, looking at Venetian glass, and taking in a city maintained by boat. There are definitely certain areas that are SUPER touristy, but they are easily avoidable.
Places to Dine
Lord knows I’m going to find good food wherever I go. One thing that made Venice different is the fusion of authentic Italian food and seafood. Since we knew we’d get our fill of pizza and traditional pasta, we tried to find places unique to Venice. We found two dinner spots that were delicioso! (Don’t go with normal options, you HAVE to try seafood or unique dishes…and always order wine, duh.)
Impronta Cafe Restaurant
The hole-in-the-wall spots that are tucked away are the BEST. We found two we really enjoyed. One was a wine and cheese bar with trendy vibes. The other was clearly the MOST local spot where you will find patrons on the piano as others break into song while enjoying wine.
Estro - Vino e Cucina (wine and cheese)
Bacaro 22 (grab a class of wine and enjoy the music)
Farini’s (coffee shop/lunch or snack)
Things to Do
Gondala ride. We opted out of this. Obviously, it’s all things Venice, so if we stayed another day, we probably would’ve given in. They’re oh-so-dreamy to watch drift through canals. Venice knows what they have and they charge for it. You can also get your James Bond on and take a water taxi to see the city (scroll three pictures down to see a taxi in the middle of the canal).
Water Bus over to Murano: it’s the home of Venetian glass.
Saint Mark’s Square: This is a popular stop for cruise boats so you’ll be with everyone and their moms, but the architecture is out of this world. I suggest venturing away from the square before eating or buying souvenirs because you’ll pay extra no doubt.
I can’t stress enough the adventure you’ll find simply walking around this city (a lot of these images happened when we wandered around corners opposite the flow of traffic). If you have 2-3 full days, you will most definitely experience all the magic this floating city has to offer!