Italy was another country on the top of my European Bucketlist (alongside Croatia and Greece). Since it was my first time going, I decided to stick with the tourist hotspots: Florence and Rome. I was close to adding Venice or Cinque Terre to the trip, but unfortunately time and money restrictions got in the way. Next time!
For now, here are my recommendations for Florence and Rome!
Tuscany Bike Tour: This was a highlight of the trip for sure. We met up with the group in the city and they drove us to a castle/winery called Castello Guicciardini in Chianti, Tuscany. They gave us a tour of the winery (which also produces olive oil) then we got a generous glass of their wine with Tuscan bread garnished with sea salt and their olive oil – it was so tasty. The view from the castle was stunning, you could see for miles. I was having such a nice time that I forgot we had to go biking. For the most part, the biking was downhill and fairly easy. There was only one 100m incline that you could opt out of, since they had a van driving alongside the bikers (and yes, I the weakling, opted out of that incline). Halfway through the bike tour we stopped at a restaurant where we were treated to wine, salad, three types of pasta, gelato, and espresso. The tour guides were great as well. Definitely worth getting out of the city and exploring Tuscany for a day, at least!
Piazzale Michelangelo: This was my favourite spot in the city. It’s a park at the top of a hill with the best view of Florence. There are many vendors up there, and you may be treated to a guy playing acoustic guitar by the steps as the sun sets. We went a few times; once in the day and once at sunset (we brought take away pizzas to eat and books to read for the sunset).
Piazza del Duomo: is such an iconic landmark of Florence. To get a better view, I recommend climbing the Bell Tower. It’s 414 steps and quite the workout, but I thought it was worth it to see the architecture of the Duomo up close. The line can be ridiculously long though, so I recommend going early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
Ponte Vecchio: Another iconic landmark. It’s the only bridge I’ve seen/know of that has shops along it. Though it’s crowded, I loved taking that route to cross the river. Beautiful scenery, great people watching, and lots of interesting vendors.
David’s Inn: is located right by the Piazza Del Duomo, and great walking distance from most attractions. The best thing about this place is how it’s decorated – very cute and girly.
Avoid tourist traps!! My parents always told me how AMAZING the food was in Italy and I have to admit, I didn’t have a great meal over there. We were on a budget and normally too hungry to go on a hunt for a proper Italian restaurant. Don’t make our mistake. At least for dinners, treat yourself to genuine Italian food. I will note that our meals rotated like so: pizza, pasta, pizza, pasta. Didn’t leave us feeling so great, so eat some darn vegetables!
Tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum: Through Eternity was highly recommended tour company on TripAdvisor so I gave it a shot. It ended up being just what I needed. I don’t know about you, but I need guided tours when it comes to elaborate landmarks, museums, and churches. I love history so, unless I know the story in advance, I want someone telling me the story as I discover the place. Especially when it came to the Roman Forum and Colosseum, having a tour guide was extremely beneficial. Our guide was the keeper of all knowledge when it came to history, art, and archaeology. She knew every fact and how to tell you them in the best storyteller type of way. We’d walk through ruins and she’d describe what it used to be (enough so that you could visualize it) … whereas on my own I would walk right past things thinking “oh great, another piece of stone”. Tours make you appreciate the history, so if you plan of visiting those sites, take this tour!
Hop On Hop Off Tour: This is the bus tour we took, but there are a few options. Not that the tour was anything special, but since Rome is so spread out it’s a great idea to do on the first day. It will give you a first hand idea of how the city is laid out. It was also blazing hot when we went (at the beginning of May!) so being on a double-decker bus and feeling the breeze was a miracle. There is a discount if you buy your ticket after three, which if you plan on just doing the full loop without getting off at each stop (aka what we did) is a good idea!
Trevi Fountain: sadly under construction when we went :( otherwise I think it’d be my favourite spot. I’d imagine going early morning or late evening when the heavy tourist traffic is gone so I could just sit by the fountain and enjoy a book.
Spanish Steps: my favourite spot (of what I saw). Great place to sit and read or people watch. There are also a ton of lovely shops around (including designer shops if you want to envision yourself in a Chanel dress).
Vatican City: is a site we unfortunately didn’t get a chance to see, other than when we passed by it on the bus tour. If we had more time, I would definitely have booked a tour of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, that way you learn the significance and you get to skip the outrageously long lines!
Yellow Hostel: This is the perfect social hostel. The have a bar across the street with multiple events every night. For example the night we arrive was Tequila Night with trivia at 10pm. There are lots of young english speaking travellers so easy to make friends. The only set back was how far it was from the attractions. Though you could take the subway to many places, walking was about half an hour to the hotspots (i.e. Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Colosseum). So it depends on how you weigh the importance of location vs. social atmosphere. We were really lucky, we got a free upgrade to a private room, where we originally booked a shared room with 4 beds. The room was like a cool modern hotel. Out bathroom even had one of those showers where the water comes from the ceiling like a waterfall (hey, the small luxuries matter when you are backpacking!)
If you have any questions about Rome or Florence, feel free to ask in the comments. I want these posts to be as helpful as possible!