Earlier this summer, I took an amazing two-week trip to Italy and traveled across the country, trying to experience everything each city had to offer. I'm half Italian, and I'd wanted to take this trip since I was roughly ten years old, so being able to finally get there and see everything meant so much to me. I saw a lot in my time there, and I want to share my experience with you and give my recommendations for can't-miss spots in seven of the most iconic Italian cities. I'm also treating this as a sort of photo diary, so I've included some of the best pictures I took on my journey. Enjoy!
Venice is absolutely gorgeous. It's the only city of its kind because it's a collection of islands, with bridges and walkways being the only ways to travel - there are no motorbikes, scooters, or cars. The buildings line beautiful canals and walking the streets of Venice was everything I expected Italy to be.
While exploring the city, the Ponte di Rialto is a must-see. It's the oldest bridge across Venice's Grand Canal, and it's gorgeous to look at and has an amazing view from both sides.
Piazza San Marco is also incredible. The church is massive, and its design is gorgeous. You can take an elevator to the top of the bell tower and get a view of the canals, the square, and the city.
Taking a Vaporetto (water taxi) to the island of Murano is also incredibly worth it. Going into a glass factory and seeing all of the handmade pieces by various glass artists was mind-blowing. The colors are vibrant and the details are breathtaking. Watching a demonstration of a professional glass blowing artist was also incredible. My one regret of Venice is not going on a gondola ride, but I recommend it anyway. The boats are beautiful.
2. Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is a collection of towns and its name means "Five Lands" in Italian. Monte Rosso has gorgeous beaches and views of the cliffs and mountains. The streets are absolutely beautiful and the colorful buildings add so much character.
If you have the opportunity, take a ride on the ferry. You get to experience views of each of the towns from the water, which is beautiful in and of itself. There are little clusters of buildings that look like they are coming out of the rocks.
Walking to the top of Riomaggiore, you get a beautiful view of the city and the Mediterranean Sea. Just strolling through the towns is an amazing experience, and there are so many beautiful views and sceneries to take in.
Florence is an incredible city filled with so much history, architecture, and beauty. The major con is it's ridiculously hot in the peak of summer, so be prepared to sweat if you go between June and August. There's so much to see in Florence, so I've decided to list out the most important sights. Here are six you won't want to miss, plus two restaurant recommendations.
- The Duomo, also called the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Built by Brunelleschi, it is the largest freestanding brick dome in the world. As a history nerd, and someone who read an entire book on the dome's creation, I was so excited to experience it. The line gets massive in the middle of the day, so I recommend waking up early to be one of the first inside. The dome is breathtaking, and there are gorgeous stained glass windows across the walls. Brunelleschi's tomb is in the basement of the church, don't miss it
- The Galileo Galilei museum is awesome if you love science or are just interested in how technology has progressed through the years. There are intricate old maps of the world, beautiful instruments, and demonstrations of some of his inventions. Plus, it's air-conditioned, which is a huge plus if you visit in the summer heatwave like I did!
- The Church of Santa Croce contains the tombs and memorials of some of the most prominent figures in Italian history — like Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo. The art and sculptures are gorgeous also.
- The Galleria dell' Accademia contains the famous statue of David and some plaster casts of other statues. It's relatively small, so I'm not sure it's worth it to go just for David, though he is incredible to look at.
- The Uffizi Gallery is absolutely insane and a must-see for sure. It's the private art collection of the Medici family, who made Florence the art capital of Italy and a major city in the Renaissance. It contains the painting of the Birth of Aphrodite by Botticelli, as well as massive hallways of statues of ancient Roman emperors, Roman mythological figures, and images of everyday individuals. As someone who took Latin in school and learned the ins and outs of Roman mythology, I loved the Uffizi. It's really massive, so allow at least two hours to get through everything.
- The Ponte Vecchio bridge is gorgeous, both to look at and to look out from at the gorgeous surrounding scenery. The bridge is known for the gold and jewelry shops that line it. The street artists alone are incredible. There are some painters on the streets during the day, but so many more come out at night. Some make chalk drawings on the pavement, some musicians play, and the street performers are legendary. There's even a carousel to check out.
Naples was the only city we visited that my family actually emigrated from, which was really awesome. It's a little sketchy, but it's still a cool place. It's also the birthplace of pizza, so you have to have the pizza there. My family did a tour of the aqueducts, which they said was amazing. There's also a museum of Pompeii artifacts if that interests you! Fair warning, some of the streets leading up the mountain are where the Spanish sailors used to go when they docked in Italy, and they're not safe, especially at night, so be careful. As our Italian guide said, "I'm not trying to scare you, I'm just trying to keep you alive." Take that as you will. We took the bullet train into Naples, which was insane. It goes over 200 miles per hour, which was a really cool experience.
Pompeii is about an hour outside of Naples and it's absolutely incredible. It's huge - much larger than I would have expected - and not even all of the city has been excavated yet. I strongly recommend taking a tour here, because you'll get to see everything in a very time-efficient manner, and you'll learn much more about the city's history. You get to experience the inside of a Roman villa and just seeing all of the technological advances and brilliant architectural inventions of the time is mind-blowing. Even the view of Vesuvius is breathtaking. I can't recommend Pompeii enough.
Sorrento is arguably my favorite city of them all, but I'm a sucker for a gorgeous beach town. The only access to the beaches is from elevators, stairs, or ramps down the cliffs to the black volcanic sand below. The black sand on its own is absolutely beautiful. The water had some unique fish, which I didn't expect, and the beaches have a lot of sea glass if you're into that kind of thing. The downtown area is also gorgeous. The streets are narrow, but there's gorgeous artwork, clothing, and insane amounts of lemon products everywhere. Sorrento is famous for its lemons, which are much better because of the nutrients in the volcanic soil. It's also the birthplace of limoncello. We didn't get to see the island of Capri due to timing, but I've heard that it's incredible as well.
If you can make it there, you definitely need to go to Il Giardino di Vigli. It's technically in Massa Lubrense, but it's a short ride from Sorrento and is a lemon and orange farm that's been family-owned for centuries. You can stay overnight, or go for a tour around the farm to learn how they grow their citrus and watch a limoncello-making demonstration. Their limoncello was by far my favorite, and their lemon and orange jams and lemon juice and olive oil mixture are delicious. You can order them online too, which I'm definitely going to do.
* La Tavola di Lucullo
We didn't actually stay in Amalfi, but rather Praiano, a town on the Amalfi Coast. During our stay, we visited Positano and Amalfi. The views in Amalfi are absolutely unbelievable. We went on a hike called the Walk of the Gods, and it's a little treacherous at times, but the views make it worth it. It's roughly a 2.5-hour hike which takes you from one town to another. It's breathtaking, and if you're a nature buff or love hikes, I recommend it.
Positano is a gorgeous city. The buildings are of many vibrant colors, and there are so many artisans selling their products along the cobblestone pathways and in shops. There are beaches as well, but they can be extremely crowded.
In Furore, there's the Agriturismo Sant'Alfonso (agriturismo means agritourism in English, which is a farm holiday). You can either stay here or come for a meal and take a tour. The estate is gorgeous, and the food is out of this world. Here you can experience a traditional five-course Italian meal: starter, pasta, main course, side dish, and dessert. They have a beautiful chapel on the property, as well as an original olive and grape press used to make olive oil and wine. If you can make it here, it is so worth it.
As the capital of Italy, there's so much to see here. It's rich in Ancient Roman history, as well as much more recent monuments. The city consists of layers of new buildings on top of old, so you're literally walking on ruins throughout the streets. You can see some of these ruins where they've been excavated. These are tk must-see sights in Rome:
- Obviously, the Colosseum and Roman Forum. We did a tour of both at night, which was incredible and spooky at the same time. The Colosseum isn't super well-lit inside, though, so take that into consideration when deciding what time of day you want to visit. Altare della Patria, or Altar of the Fatherland, is a massive building right near the Forum. The architecture and sculpture work is absolutely breathtaking. It is also referred to as the Vittorio Emmanuele II Monument, named after the first king of a unified Italy. It's one of the more gorgeous buildings we saw.
- The Vatican was also absolutely incredible. We had breakfast inside, which was delicious. The museums are massive and contain impressive sculptures and paintings. The Sistine Chapel is also located here, the ceiling famously painted by Michelangelo. It was super crowded but beautiful to look at.
- The Spanish Steps are so famous, you have to stop by. For a flight of stairs, they're surprisingly magnificent.
- The Trevi Fountain was one of my favorite parts. It's so massive and intricately sculpted, you can't help but be in awe. Pro tip: if you throw a coin over your left shoulder while making a wish, it's supposed to come true.
- The Pantheon is where many martyrs died in Ancient Rome. It's one of the best-preserved Ancient Roman buildings and is incredible to see. The tombs of Victor Emmanuel II and the artist Raphael are also located there.
- The Piazza Navona has three gorgeous fountains. It's a large open space framed by beautiful buildings and is a great spot to take a break and people watch.
* Ristorante Venerina
* Grom is the best gelato chain across Italy. It's authentic and all of the ingredients are top-notch. All the walking you'll be doing offsets all the gelato you will eat, so don't worry.
* Watch out for gypsies and pickpockets. Keep your belongings close to you, and don't leave anything in your back pocket. The gypsies walk along with a cup asking for money, but if you say no, they will move along and leave you be. But pickpockets are much sneakier, and even small children will try to steal from you if given a chance. If you're careful, you won't have any issues.
* There will be a lot of people on the streets trying to sell you roses or other things. Sometimes you need to get a little aggressive (or as my mother likes to say, "go a little New York on them") to get them to leave you alone. Don't touch whatever they have, or they'll make you pay for it.
* There are free public fountains with free drinking water throughout many major Italian cities. The water is cold and clean, so either bring or buy a reusable water bottle to fill up rather than buying bottled water to save money.
* Don't bypass small restaurants or coffee shops. Take the time to explore them rather than going to bigger places all the time. They are just as amazing, and due to the age of the buildings, a lot of the spots are on the smaller side.
* Bring a power adapter with you! You won't be able to plug anything in without one. Their outlets are different over there, so come prepared unless you want your phone to die on you, which I do not recommend.
* Don't fall for "tourist trap" ATMs. Don't use the ones on the streets - they charge crazy high fees or have scanners to steal your information. Only go to one attached to a bank.
* In contrast to America, tipping 20% is unheard of. For really good service, the max Italians tip is 10%.
Italy really does have my heart, and I would love to go back in the future and see even more of what this incredible country has to offer.