“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
Thanks to movies like Eat Pray Love, Letters To Juliet, Under The Tuscan Sun, I was already in love with Italy. And the more I virtually explored this country, the more I wanted to go explore it. I had heard all about the food, the cooking, the beaches, the notorious crimes and above all just how crowded all of Italy was!
I took a trip to Italy last winter to get my first taste of some of the top destinations that I have wanted to experience. Planning your trip to Italy sounds super easy. But when you get on it, it becomes super tough!
When I started my research, I was certainly confused with the range of information that was flooding around the internet to explore Italy on a whole.
So, for my actual trip, I chose to experiment with a mix of options to explore Italy better.
We had planned to spend 2 weeks/ 14 days in Italy and evenly distributed our itinerary across Venice, Florence (including Pisa & San Marino), Naples (including Pompei & Sorrento) and Rome (including Vatican City).
We wanted to ensure that we spent little time traveling across cities since there was so much in there to explore already. So, we considered our options well!
Italian trains are simply fabulous. They are spacey, comfortable and connect all major and even smaller routes. We traveled across major cities spread across Italy by train. All these trains can be traveled by using your multi-country Rail Europe pass or your Italian Train Pass. There are also special trains that take you directly to attractions such as Pompei, Sorrento leaving your closer to the town center.
You can read our review of the Trenitalia Trains here.
Italy has great quality roads and the same can be said about the quality of public buses. There are many buses that offer combined packages to take you across towns and tourist destinations near major cities like Roma, Naples, Milan, Florence.
Hiring a car was essential in Rome. There are plenty of options to travel within-in the city ranging from metros to taxis and tour buses. But to get out of the city a car is essential. Again, as mentioned trains and buses are great option to travel out of Roma. But if road trips are your thing or if you have a romanticized impression of Italy in your head, get yourself a car.
Italian road trips are great fun. You can take trips to the gorgeous towns of Positano, Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Cinque Terre, Capri by driving around.
There’s no better way to explore these stunning places than through a road trip.
The most important outcome is the ability to visit all destinations at ease. That too without having to worry too much about the timings and tickets. You can find easily find great deals on car rental in Rome.
We did consider renting a Vespa too, but for a group of four traveling with big cameras, cars were definitely better suited and cheaper.
Another key commute on each trip has always been the intracity travel. It has always been easier to explore smaller cities like Prague on foot because everything is right next to each other. But for big cities like Rome, you need to plan your commute well to ensure that you don’t get lost or tired or late as per your itinerary.
We obviously shuffled through our options.
There are no two ways about this. I believe that you haven’t truly explored a city unless you’ve walked around it. And it’d be criminal to not do in any of the Italian cities. I for one cannot decide which city I loved walking around more from Venice, Florence, Pisa, Naples or Rome!
Each city had a unique vibe to it which could only be explored while walking around.
We also bumped into Conan O’Brien while walking around Rome. I told you, walking has its perks!
We traveled a lot by metros in Rome. And until then, I never thought European metros could get any more crowded than the ones in Paris. But metros in Rome, at all times, were overflowing with people.
The upside, we could skip the traffic and make the most of our time for all that grief.
Hop-on- Hop-Off Bus
We took the Big Bus in Rome. Roma is vast, area wise. Hence, getting around, especially getting to all the tourist attractions would’ve been a task without these buses. The first time around, we simply hopped on from the starting point to get a proper audio-guided tour of each destination to get a gist of what we were to explore in the coming days.
It was a great idea, to begin with!
We also took a Segway tour in Rome to explore the city differently. Honestly, it was quite a rejuvenating experience and we covered quite a lot of spots in our tour duration. The highlights of our little Segway adventure were racing at the Circus Maxima (you read that right!) and catching the sunset with a panoramic view of the city!
Water Taxis (Only in Venice)
Had to add ‘Water Taxis’ to the list. That’s your only sane transport option to get around Venice in case you opt not walk or have too much luggage. Water Taxis are pretty steeply priced much like everything else in Venice. So we got ourselves a 2 day pass for 30 euros to take unlimited rides on the water taxis for 48 hours.
I would be lying if I said that we were prepared to explore Italy well in time for our trip. There was a sense of nervousness for all the magnificent structures, historic spots and cultural events that we were about to experience. We wanted to ensure we did it with a fine balance and pace to grasp better.
One of the best ways to explore any new city is by heading out without a tourist map. In Venice, we discovered the on-going Venice Carnival, in Florence we simply walked around Ponte Vecchio to enjoy the sunset, in Rome we came across many sculptures who are still in business, in Naples we discovered fried pizza and cheap shopping spots. A lot of these places are not found on the typical tourist map and often happen to be more appeal in certain conditions. We made it a point to explore a little in each city by ourselves.
We also explored the Leaning Tower of Pisa by ourselves and were pretty disappointed by the hype around it.
We have taken many self-guided tours, taking references from guidebooks and the internet or simply opted for the audio guided tour option while exploring key historical monuments. But we didn’t want to risk doing the same in Rome. To say the least, I have always been intimidated by Rome. And while we were there, we booked a guided tour with The Roman Guy to explore the Colosseum and the Vatican City.
Having taken a tour that not just gave us access to some of the guarded areas, but also tones of insight was the best decision.
We also booked ourselves on Informal Tours. Like the Segway Tour and the Secret Food Tour in Rome to get a local’s insight into the city’s best spots. This way, we could try out delicious dishes outside the tourist crowds or find spots best to escape tourist traps and enjoy the little spots with the better views. These tours also give you the opportunity to connect with fellow travelers from your groups and local tour guide as well.
We also attended a couple of events hosted by our accommodations. These events were a social gathering where people connected to discuss a theme. It introduced us to new people and gave us an insight into their way of thinking.
When it came to picking accommodations for our 2-week long Italian sojourn, we opted for varied options here as well. Our days were going to be eventful with all that exploring. So we made sure we picked options that suited our comforts and budgets all at once.
Apartments In ItalyVenice is more of a romantic destination over the years, the accommodation options ranged from BnBs, apartments, and hotels. We opted for a service apartment in Venice and picked We Crociferi for our stay in Venezia.
Our apartment was gorgeous, spacious, well equipped, duplex apartment with a canal view outside our window.
Our apartment building had a bar and café in the basement, making it the perfect setting.
Bread N Breakfasts (BnB)In Florence, we stayed at a bread and breakfast in the center of the city. Martindago was an absolutely beautiful apartment. We had some fine coffee at our disposal, centrally located with a regal, old-school interior décor reflecting the vibe of Florence. It was undoubtedly one of the best accommodations that we had stayed at during our travels.
After all that luxury, we opted for a radically different kind of accommodation in Naples. A 10 euro per night/bed in a mixed dormitory at the Naples Experience Hostel. Naples Experience is a party hostel in the second biggest Italian city and is literally a party hostel. Tourists from all over the world stay here and the enthusiastic owners make sure that all their guests are well fed.We had heard of complimentary breakfasts. But this experience was beyond the bread-butter breakfast with at least 10 dishes cooked by the owner himself each morning.
They also gave free Pasta dinner on buying a single beer, each night!
Of course, this was the place where community building was best practiced.
In Rome, we chose to stay at the Beehive Hotel & Hostels. Basically, the good folks who own this place- Linda & her husband had set up dormitories for solo travelers and expanded with individual rooms for couples and families.So, we lived in a hotel/ BnB setting but could enjoy the perks of a hostel life at the main building.
They also hosted events and community meals for all guests.
The beauty of experimenting with accommodations was getting a different experience in each city. We got to explore the lifestyle, meeting fellow travelers and of course the food and community experiences.
Now that we’re finally talking food, I’d like to begin by saying of all my travels across Europe, it was here in Italy that I loved almost everything I ate. I am not just talking about the pizzas, pasta, and gelatos, I am also talking cheese. (Confession: I am not big on cheese)
Food was one of the key reasons that I wanted to travel to Italy for. And culinary travel was one of the major themes of our trip. We wanted to experience the best possible food, so here’s what we tried!
Of course, the whole idea of eating in Italy is glorified by their art of making the most delicious Margherita Pizzas. We also found the best homemade pasta and gelatos that could fill you up with joy.
While in Naples, we traveled across some of the most famous and highly rated Pizzerias to give pizza it’s fair chance.
We made it a point to eat at the World’s Oldest Pizzeria in Naples, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba and also at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele where Julia Roberts shot for Eat Pray Love. In the meanwhile, we also discovered a phenomenon called Fried Pizza which was pretty lit.
Next up, we booked ourselves on the Secret Food Tour in Rome. That was our best way to ensure that we can move beyond pizza, pasta, and gelato in Italy. And thank god we did it! Else, we would’ve never known the joys of eating Suppli, Sicilian Pastry, Potato Pizza (yes, it’s a thing) at some really old establishments. Of course, there was cheese involved, more pizza and pasta and risotto too!
Italians, in general, are good people who love to feed you! Grandma’s recipe and Italians’ love for food ensures some of the finest culinary experiences that you can ask for. During our stay in Naples, we were treated to a range of local Italian dishes like- Frittata, Tomato Quiche, Eggs Florentine, Arancini, etc.
We also got to try the Neapolitan Coffee and Limoncello (for breakfast)
Needless to say, the joy and taste of this experience were unbeaten by any fancy restaurant.
I have massive respect for tour agents and travel planners. But I also that believe it is highly essential and rewarding to take a lead and plan your own trip. If you’re going with a group, involve your group members too. After all, exploring a destination is all about making your choices to get a better experience.
While our choices worked well for us, you too must do your homework individually. Plan your trip that suits not just your pocket, but also your tastes and physical and mental energies.
This way, you are likely to enjoy your trip better!
Photos: Awara Diaries
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