Italy

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Special thanks to Kate Rickard, Meredith Avant, and Catherine Smith for the recommendations, and to our friend Adrienne at www.buckethalffull.com

The rustic beauty of Italy is unparalleled. Tourists and avid adventurers alike can attest to this land’s grace, history, and remarkable sense of wonder. Immerse yourself in cities and monuments that stand the test of time or wander the endlessly rolling countryside and vineyards. Either way, Italy is sure to leave your stomach and heart full once you depart. 

Florence

Countryside, Florence

Florence

Mercato Centrale

Il Procopio, Florence

CINQUE TERRE

Things to Do

Head to the town of Vernazza, which has amazing swimming spots. Don’t forget to change into your bathing suit in the public restrooms near the train station, because there aren’t any change rooms near the beach.  

Castle Doria provides some great views in Vernazza.

Go on a wine tour to visit some of the local wineries in Cinque Terre and learn about Ligurian cuisine from an Italian guide.

 

Swim, cliff jump, and watch the sunset in Riomaggiore.

Go for a hike. In Manarola,  once you spot the signs for Monterosso al Mare, keep following them for a picture perfect view.

Places to Eat

Belforte: Grab dinner inside of the beautiful Castle Doria! Definately a place to splurge - be warned, they only accept cash!

Nessun Dorma: For a meal if you want to enjoy one of the best views in Cinque Terre. The restaurant is on a patio with umbrellas and mist machines with a view overlooking the town of Manarola. They even offer some complimentary snacks, like olives, nuts, and pastries.  We'd recommend lining up early to get a seat, as they don’t take reservations.

Anchovies and pesto sauce are the culinary specialties in the area and we recommend trying them at one of the local restaurants. Most restaurants serve fairly similar dishes, so you won’t have any trouble finding them on a menu.

Places to Stay

Save some money by staying in the neighboring towns of La Spezia or Levanto. Real estate is at a premium in the tiny Cliffside villages, so you’ll get much better value by staying out of town. There’s frequent train service that can take you into Cinque Terre in minutes.

Check out one of the family run pensiones (guest houses) in the main villages. Many of them are available for booking on websites like Expedia.

You can also find awesome cliffside rooms on AirBnB if you're looking to splurge!

Transportation

The best way to get around Cinque Terre is by train! There are trains connecting all the small villages in this area. 

You can also find your way around the town itself by walking. There's so much to explore!

General Tips

Cinque Terre has 5 different villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Each has a different vibe and things to do!

There's not many ATMs, so make sure you grab money when you see one. 

 
 

FLORENCE

Things to Do

Boboli Gardens: This is behind Palazzo Pitti, and you get tickets at the same place. The gardens are awesome and worth checking out.

 

Duomo: Climb the Duomo! Tickets are sold in a different building so don’t just get in line, ask one of the attendants where to get tickets and they'll point you in the right direction.

Galleria del’Accademia: The real Statue of David is inside. Definitely have to go to see it, besides, that the museum is not huge. You can’t see Florence without seeing the David.

Leather Market: The leather markets are right outside the central market and in other nooks around the city.

Mercato Centrale: This is the central market. Everything here is 10000x better than Conad (local supermarket). Fresher and cheaper veggies and they literally have the best bread and sweets, too. GET YOUR PRODUCE HERE.

 

Palazzo Pitti: Again it's breathtaking, just go in and walk around in amazement.

 

Piazza Della Republica: This is where the merry-go-round is. Very nice square in center city.

 

Piazzale Michelangelo: Prettiest place in the city by far. It has a lot of stairs for good exercise, but bring a bottle of wine and walk up right before sunset. Everyone just sits on the steps with their bottle and watches the sun set over the city.

 

Ponte Vecchio: An all-time favorite part of Florence. It’s also fun to walk across and look at all the shops along the river.

 

Santa Croce: The church is beautiful and it’s fun to sit on the stoop and eat paninis. One of the most beautiful churches in Florence!

 

Santa Maria Novella: Gorgeous church by the train station.

 

Uffizi: Doesn't matter if you're a museum person or not, when you have free afternoons go check it out.

Places to Eat

Lunch

 

All’Antico Vinaio: This place is famous in Florence and has sandwiches the size of your head. The ‘Il Inferno’ is quite good.

Ciro and Sons: The food and drink selection is quite large. As is typical in Italy, the portion size is designed for you to have multiple courses, usually an appetizer, pasta, a meat/fish dish and desert. It was delicious!

Grom: Best. Damn. Gelato. We may or may not have come back multiple times. 

 

Le Vespe Café: So good for lunch or brunch! They have American-ish breakfast foods and healthy items. Their rice bowl is to-die-for and they have bomb iced coffees that are huge. 100% must go.

 

PINOS: THE BEST PANINI YOU’LL HAVE IN YOUR LIFE. A  favorite is ‘The Beegs’ with pesto. 

 

Shake Café: Terrific salads and juices!

Starbene gluten free: What gluten free bakery dreams are made of. If you want some baked goods that will blow you away, don’t miss this shop!

 

Trattoria da Garibardi: The best pizza we had at Florence. Lots of options for both vegetarian and gluten free. Reasonable prices, great and polite service. Try the truffle pizza!

 

Dinner

Acqua Al 2: Get the Blueberry Steak – make a reservation!

 

Buca Mario: This place is famous and one of the first restaurants in Florence. It’s very expensive and you need a reservation, but serves some of the most amazing food I have ever eaten.

 

Il Gato e La Volpe: This place is SO GOOD. They have the best pasta dishes. Provide really good bread and balsamic vinegar when you first sit down. 

 

Osteria Santo Spirito: All caps for emphasis, but this is a MUST-GO. The four cheese gnocchi is absolutely heavenly. If you love gnocchi, this place has the best; it literally oozes cheese. The spaghetti is also top-notch.

 

Rubaconte: 15 euro for unlimited appetizers, wine, and pasta. SUCH A GOOD DEAL! Ideal place to pregame because, again, unlimited wine.

 

Trattoria 13 Gobbi: The rigatoni is awesome and it has melted cheese all over it. It’s extremely popular amongst the locals and its family owned. Be sure to make reservations! 

 

Trattoria ZaZa: Fantastic pasta dishes and another must-try while in Florence!

Gelato

Gelateria Dei Neri: They have the best gelato in the city, in our opinion.

 

Gelateria La Carraia: Another awesome spot right around the corner from Dei Neri.

 

Gelateria Santa Trinita: A favorite near the river. Simply amazing.

Places to Drink

Art Bar: Really great cocktails, but pricey. Kate Middleton got drinks here when she studied in Florence, so that’s pretty fancy. 

 

Beer House Club: Good on Wednesdays! Perfect to sit and hangout on a chill night.

 

Kikuya: Order a Dragoon -- it’s a beer, but they give you a lollipop to eat and dunk. Beware, these things are deadly.

 

La Menagere: Another stellar place for cocktails. It’s a coffee shop during the day and turns into an underground jazz club/restaurant at night.

 

Places to Stay

Hotel Duomo Florence: This hotel is an excellent base for any holiday. To look out at the Duomo while having your breakfast is a pretty special way to feel at home in Florence. The staff were extremely helpful and friendly. 

LAKE COMO

Things to Do

Lake Como in Northern Italy is an upscale resort area known for the beautiful and dramatic scenery against the foothills of the Alps. There are many towns that line the lake and in the center of the lake is the Bellagio, Lenno, Tremezzo area. The whole lake is easily accessible by frequent and inexpensive ferries you can catch all along the lake.

Bellagio sailing: If you’d like to see the best of Lake Como, book a trip with Carlo at Bellagio Sailing. Expect a magical day and an unforgettable experience with beautiful views, history, stories, and sights of Lake Como. A must do! 

Villa del Balbianello:  Lovely venue to explore the gardens and history. A highlight of our Lake Como stay. There is an admission ticket but the views and experience are well worth the price.  Check online for the schedule. 

Villa Carlotta: Another fabulous villa. The botanical garden around the villa are awesome. The views from the top of the olive garden are spectacular. Small admission fee.   

Places to Eat

La Fontana: One of our favorite meals in Bellagio. Do not miss out on this restaurant!  

Far Out: This casual spot is perfect for drinks or a yummy meal. The service and food were both very enjoyable and the relaxing ambiance made for a wonderful experience.  

 

Hotel Florence: If you want a stunning view of the lake paired with delicious meal, hotel Florence is the ideal spot for you. With a gorgeous flower covered patio right on the water, this memorable spot is a highlight of central Bellagio.  

 

Hotel Grand Tremezzo: This posh hotel may be very pricey to stay but it is also a wonderful place to grab a drink overlooking the stunning lake.

Places to Stay

Hotel Belvedere: Luxurious & relaxing experience for guests who want to enjoy breathtaking scenery at Lake Como with some peace and quiet just outside of central Bellagio town. The service at this hotel is unmatched and you are sure to never want to leave.

Hotel Du Lac: Located in the heart of Bellagio, looking over the town square and the lake. If you’d like to be in the center of the lake’s action, this is the spot for you.

Transportation

Getting to Lake Como does not need to be a hassle. The easiest ways to get to the lake are by train or by driving. By train you can easily reach the lake from the Milan train station or the Florence train station. Luckily from most cities you can connect and reach the lake as well. By car, getting to the lake is a breeze.

 

The best way to get around Lake Como is by the local ferry boats! There are boats connecting all the small villages in this area. 

You can also find your way around the lake by driving. There are many stunning lake side villages surrounding Lake Como. 

Mercado Centrale, Florence

Florence

Florence

Florence

Arno River Bank, Florence

Mercado Centrale, Florence

Center City, Florence

 
 

NAPLES

Things to Do

Ercalano: Ercalano (Herculaneum in English) is a second city that was both destroyed and preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius. Ercalano was the beach-town where the Roman elite vacationed and is ideal for those who are wanting to spend less time at ruins than Pompeii but still get a feel for life in the first-century AD. 

 

Ferry to Capri: Want to go to Capri without paying the hefty hotel fees? Hop on the ferry in the port of Naples and ride the 30 minute ferry to Capri — the earlier you go, the better chances you have of beating the crowds or the ferry selling out and having to wait for the next ride. 

 

Hiking Mt. Vesuvius: Pay 10 euro to hike the volcano that extinguished Pompeii and is still active today. Park at the base, take a shuttle or walk 30 minutes to the entrance, and hike the rest of the way up for panoramic views of the Neapolitan coast with Capri in the distance. 

 

Pompeii: Take a taxi, shuttle, or the metro out to Pompeii to see the ruined city preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Say no to the tour companies offering guides and download Rick Steve’s Pompeii Walking Tour Podcast/Audio Guide — he and the tour companies stop at the exact same stops in Pompeii and have identical scripts + his podcast is free!

 

Pozzuoli: Take the Cumana (metro line) out to Pozzuoli and walk along the lungomare, the Italian version of a boardwalk. This coast-town is about as local as it gets, with gelato shops, cafés, and pizza restaurants all along the waterfront. Rent a beach chair for 5 euro along the water and call it a day. If you’re feeling up for an extra journey, head into Pozzuoli’s port, buy a ferry ticket to Procida, and hop on the ferry. In 30 minutes you will be on Procida, a small island with stunning views that rival the Amalfi Coast’s – but with only 10% of the crowd. 

 

Royal Palace of Caserta: A massive palace and gardens – think Versailles without the massive crowds. The palace was built in the 18th century by the Bourbon kings who spared no expense — they even built miles of aqueducts to have their own faux waterfall, which still runs today. Pack a bottle of wine and cheese to picnic in the gardens while taking in the luxury. 

 

Teatro di San Carlo: Check the schedule online and try to get tickets to an authentic Italian ballet or opera. The Teatro di San Carlo is the oldest continuously-used theater in the world, and the gold plated walls, red velvet curtains, and views of the king’s personal box are a show in and of themselves.

Places to Eat

Concettina ai Tre Santi: Neapolitans will argue that this is the best pizza in town — made of only fresh, local ingredients. Stick to ordering the traditional magherita pizza and enjoy the sweet tomato sauce mixed with perfectly-cooked, gooey dough that melts in your mouth.

 

L’Ebbrezza di Noe: If you love wine, L’Ebbrezza di Noe (the aberration of Noah) is a must visit. A restaurant located inside of a wine store, L’Ebbrezza has decadent food that is locally sourced and perfectly matched with the extensive wine selections. Bonus — if you like the wine you had for dinner, you can buy the same bottle straight off the shelves behind your table. 

 

Pizzeria Brandi: Naples is known as the birthplace of pizza, and Pizzeria Brandi is right up there with the best of serving traditional, Neapolitan pizza. Order the diavola (Italian version of pepperoni) or the magherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella di buffalo, and basil) and enjoy the entire pizza to yourself. Tip – Neapolians do not eat pizza with their hands so pick up your fork and knife and dig in. 

 

Places to Drink

Café Gambrinus: One of the oldest cafes in Naples, Café Gambrinus is where the intellectuals used to chat over their cafes. Order a café at the counter, grab a coveted covered seat on the front patio in the heart of Naples and people watch as you sip your drink.

Spazio Nea: A cozy café combined with an art gallery in a more contemporary atmosphere than traditional Naples. Sip inside or sit in their courtyard near the 17thcentury grand staircase. 

 

Transportation

From the airport, you can grab a taxi or hop on the Alibus, a bus that makes two stops — the first at the Napoli Centrale train station and the second in the port — and costs 5 euro per person for a one-way trip. 

 

Naples, as a city, is very walkable. If you are heading out to Pozzuoli or other smaller towns, hop on the Cumana (it can run late but you don’t have to buy a ticket so take what you can get). 

 

To get to Pompeii or Vesuvius, you can take the train, hire a taxi, or pay for a shuttle bus service. Think long and hard before deciding to rent a car as most cars are stick shift, gas is around $9.00 a gallon, and Neapolitans are known for their fast, reckless driving (stop signs + lights are optional). 

 

To get to Capri, head to the port and look for the ferry signs.

 

General Tips

Neapolitans are known for being very Italian — picture few people who speak English, fast driving, slow lifestyle, chain-smoking cigarettes, and throwing back espressos every hour. If you want an authentic Italian experience, Naples is the place to visit.

 

Pick pocketing and petty theft is rampant in Naples, especially in the Napoli Centrale train station, on the alibus, and the metro. Zip up your phone and wallet and do not fall for scams (people dropping umbrellas, tripping or falling, asking for directions, etc.). Kids, grandparents, teenagers, men dressed nicely — anyone can scam you so just be vigilant.

 

You don’t need to tip at any restaurant. Neapolitans will try to take advantage of you being a tourist and will tell you tip is not included — even if they say this, do not tip. It is not expected, and no Italian will ever tip.

 

Expect to pay more if you pay with a card. Neapolitans like to be “off the grid” when it comes to their business — aka, they don’t like paying taxes. In smaller shops or restaurants if you pay with a card the price may go up because they will have to pay taxes, so always have cash on hand.

ROME

Things to Do

Colosseum: The oval amphitheater in Rome where enslaved gladiators used to fight for their lives. Quite the spectacle and tourist attraction. 

 

Pantheon: An ancient Roman temple converted into a church. The Pantheon has a spectacular, unsupported dome that is as tall as it is wide with an opening in the center. 

Piazza Navona: Skip the Trevi Fountain and head to Piazza Navona, where you can see the Fountain of Four Rivers and step inside the incredible church directly behind the fountain. 

 

St. Peter’s Basilica: The largest church in the world featuring Michelangelo’s Pieta, an enormous dome, and, as tradition says, the tomb of Saint Peter.

 

The Forum: The main epicenter of ancient Roman life and the highest concentration of ruins within the city. 

 

Vatican Museum: Thousands and thousands of pieces of artwork – paintings, tapestries, mosaics, sculptures, murals – all in one place. Be prepared to spend at least half a day here to take everything in. 

Places to Eat

Al Tre Scalini: Local wine and tapas bar. There isn’t a set menu, as it rotates to what is in season, but expect traditional Italian dishes with a twist. The restaurant is small so call ahead to make a reservation or plan on grabbing a drink at the bar as you wait for a table to open up.

 

Giolitti: Best gelato in Rome! Head to the back if you want to place an order to go. Or, you can wait for a seat, pay a sitting fee, and order your gelato from a waiter.  Either way, delicious and any flavor you chose will be to die for. 

 

Hostaria Farnese: Hole-in-the-wall restaurant owned and run by a father and son. Fresh pastas, amazing Mozzarella di Buffalo, and extensive wine list. 

Pigneto Quarantuno: Creative pasta dishes and main entrees, with the must order dish being their specialty of the Cacio Pepe Pasta.

Places to Drink

Barnum Coffee: More of an American-style coffee shop (think comfy chairs + couches, customers working on their laptops) with amazing iced cappuccinos—a hard to find drink in Italy. 

 

La Casa del Caffe Tazza d’Oro: Right by the Pantheon, La Casa del Caffe Tazza d’Oro is definitely touristy but convenience + amazing cappuccinos make for a good pit stop after a long day of sightseeing. If you’re here on a hot day, order the Granita – similar consistency as a frappucino but way more delicious and topped with whipped cream. 

Transportation

From the airport you can take either a taxi or the Leonardo Express train to get into the city. A taxi usually costs $40 - $50 to get into the city center. The Leonardo Express train is 14 euros for one way (tickets can be purchased at the airport) and drops you off at the Rome Termini train station.  

 

Rome is very walkable with many of the major sites (the Colosseum, the Forum, and the Pantheon) sites being close enough to hit in one day.

 

If you take a taxi, make sure you find a taxi stand (orange sign with “taxi” in black) as taxis only pick up at designated stands.

General Tips

Cultural customs

 

Italians think of milk as a breakfast food, making ordering a cappuccino after 10:00 a.m. a taboo. If you really want to have the local experience, order an espresso at the bar, mix in a packet of sugar, and down it in one sip. 

 

At coffee shops, you tell the cashier your order, pay, and then are given a receipt. Take the receipt to the barista at the counter where he will make your drink and give it to you at the bar. In some cafes, there is an extra sitting fee to enjoy your coffee at a table -- for a safe bet, sip on your drink at the bar. 

 

Other info

 

You should always be on guard as pick pocketers are extremely prevalent, especially in the Rome Termini train station and tourist attractions that you do not have to pay for (ex: Pantheon, Trevi fountain, Spanish steps). Kept your phone and wallet zipped up and don’t carry extra cash around. Pick pocketers have gotten rather creative (think fake arguments, pretending the metro doors are stuck closed, and a grandma “falling” to the ground) to distract you, so keep to yourself as best as possible.  

 

If you are in Rome on a Sunday and the Pope is in town, head to the Vatican to see the Pope speak from his upper window. Be prepared for lines as you go through security detectors but once you are in the crowds disperse and you can soak up the papal hype and glory.

 

When browsing the wine menu, look for wines from the Montalpulciano region. Although Italy is most famous for their Brunello and Montalcino wines, Montelpulciano is just as high of quality but with a less expensive price tag. 

Colosseum, Rome

Trevi Fountain, Rome

Colosseum, Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Colosseum, Rome

Trevi Fountain, Rome

 

Riomaggiore

Manarola at dusk

Riomaggiore

SAN GIMIGNANO

Things to Do

Il Vicario: A true Tuscan experience cooking class. With the mountain of cooking classes offered in Tuscany, we cannot recommend Il Vicario highly enough!

 

Tenuta Torciano Winery: This fabulous winery has been in this family for hundreds of years. The lunch and wine tasting were both exceptional and memorable. They also offer many other activities such as truffle hunting, helicopter rides above the Tuscan hills, and much more! 

Places to Eat

La Grotta di Fulignano: Villa top restaurant with views of the stunning, rolling Tuscan hills. The service is impeccable and the food was wonderful. We considered coming back for every meal.

 

Fattoria Poggio Alloro: With a beautiful outdoor patio, expect a delicious meal and wonderful wine. The set up feels like a scene from a movie. A great way to spend the afternoon.

 

La Vecchie Mura: It is truly a special place for overlooking the Tuscan countryside. The ambiance is incredible.

 

Gelataria Dondoli: Talk about living up to the hype. This gelato shop has won many awards and has the gelato to back it up. This wonderful little shop is always packed with tourists and locals alike trying to experience the best of Italian gelato.

Places to Drink

Barnum Coffee: More of an American-style coffee shop (think comfy chairs + couches, customers working on their laptops) with amazing iced cappuccinos—a hard to find drink in Italy. 

 

La Casa del Caffe Tazza d’Oro: Right by the Pantheon, La Casa del Caffe Tazza d’Oro is definitely touristy but convenience + amazing cappuccinos make for a good pit stop after a long day of sightseeing. If you’re here on a hot day, order the Granita – similar consistency as a frappucino but way more delicious and topped with whipped cream. 

To Stay

Relais Santa Chiara Hotel: This charming and elegant hotel is located in rolling hills of Tuscany, between Florence and Sienna. The hotel overlooks the gorgeous countryside. The center of San Gimignano, a city of incredible medieval style and fascinating past, is just a short walk away. 

 

Hotel Belvedere, Bellagio

Roof Bar, Hotel Duomo Florence

Bellagio, Lake Como

Villa del Balbianello

La Fontana, Bellagio

Tenuta Torciano

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