Some family friends of ours asked us for travel tips for an Italy trip this Spring. John drafted the following document drawing on our recent six week trip to Italy.
We thought we would share this information with all of you in the event you, friends or family have any interest in similar travels any time soon.
Italy will be lovely in April. As soon as you know your dates for both Rome and Florence it is best to buy Museum tickets online. It is not too early. The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel are a must. http://www.vaticantickets.org It’s best to visit first thing in the morning or late afternoon. Buying tickets online allows you to skip the very long lines and walk right in. In Florence you should buy tickets online for the Uffizi and Accademia museums. Lines for both are very long. You do not need guided tours in any museum. Best to just wander.
We have not used Airbnb but have friends who do and they recommend them. One thing we recommend while looking for an apartment is not to rent near the train station. We find in Rome, Venice and Florence the train station areas are crowded, touristy, lack good restaurants and have plenty of pick pockets.
If you are traveling by train between cities we recommend buying tickets online to avoid large crowds at the train stations. We like raileurope.com or trentitalia.com. Train stations also have ticket kiosks so you can avoid lines at ticket counters. For longer distances buy first class tickets. Short rides second class is fine. Train tickets in Italy are very reasonable.
We like to take the red Hop On, Hop Off bus. We get a two or three day ticket. Ride once to see the sites then use it as a taxi to go back to places and neighborhoods that appeal to you. The subway in Rome is safe and easy to use. If you use a taxi make sure he turns the meter on.
A specialty in Rome is the fried artichoke. It is a great appetizer. On the menu it will say carciofi alla giudia. Jewish fried artichoke. la Campana is very good for dinner. Two blocks away is Ristorante Lagana. Both are near the Hotel Due Torri which is near Piazza Navona. For great pizza and mozzarella and tomato salad we like Obica. Gelato in Rome is wonderful.
If you are flying into Rome, a taxi from the airport to any hotel and area in central Rome is a flat 49 euro.
Florence is very compact and great for walking. Must sees are Santa Croce and the Duomo. If you get an apartment the Central Mercato is great for groceries and other items. South of the Arno, over the Ponte Vecchio, the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens are nice places to visit.
Food in Florence is the best in Italy. As is the gelato. For dinner we like Trattoria al Trebbio . Nearby is Ristorante La Spada. They have a nice outdoor area in front to eat outside or inside. Great linguine and clams. Good pasta and pizzas at Giglio Rosso. And if you are tired of Italian food a very local and good Turkish place is Istanbul Doner Kabap. A block south of Santa Croce. Via de’ Benci, 18r.
Almost any little side street in Florence will have small shops where they make paper, leather and very nice small items. Handicrafts are still a tradition there.
This is a great city to wander and get lost. It is small so you won’t be lost for long. Do not stay in Venice Mestre. That is the industrial mainland city where most Venetians live. You want to be in Venice.
Saint Marks Cathedral is wonderful. Gold everywhere. The farther you get from Saint Mark’s Square the less touristy. Two restaurants we love. Rosa Rossa. In October we were in Venice four nights and ate there three times for dinner. Reservations recommended. Great food at very decent prices. Everything on the menu is great. Just typing this makes us want to go back. A very nice lunch is Al Ponte Storto. On a small canal off the Campo S. Aponal. Great linguine and clams and chocolate desserts. Very local.
If you are flying into or out of Venice, best way to/from the airport is the Alilaguna water bus. Water taxis are very expensive.
We really don’t know Naples well. We were there in October for one day. They have a fantastic Archaeological museum. The best in Italy. If you don’t go to Pompeii (we did not) this Museum is actually considered better for artifacts.
A word of caution in Naples. Pick pockets are everywhere. We learned that first hand riding their modern subway from the port to the museum. Someone tried getting into my backpack as I was standing in the crowded car. Fortunately Jim saw him and yelled at him. They travel in pairs and pretend to be musicians wanting money on the subways and other crowded areas. Best to keep your pockets empty and any purse or backpack wear on your front. Naples is known for pizza and limoncello.
That’s about it. We hope this is helpful. If anyone is planning an Italy trip, please feel free to contact us if you need information or have additional questions. Happy to help.
John and Jim