International Travel Guide: Italy
Information on the location:
Italy is a great place to visit. It’s very doable to ride the train from place to place. I will talk about multiple cities on here. We’ll start in Venice, go to Florence (which is the only city I’ll talk about that I haven’t been), then on to Rome, and finally head to Naples. I have been to all of them except Florence, but I have heard raving reviews from everyone I’ve ever talked to who has visited Florence. They all say it’s the prettiest city. I’ll discuss the things I’d like to do if I ever get to go back.
Booking the Flight:
I come from the United States. I recommend flying into Venice. It’s a long flight. It’s nine hours coming back from Venice, but a little less going toward Venice. Maybe seven and a half hours on the way there. You want to fly into Aeroporto Marco Polo di Venezia.
Tips on the flight:
The flight from Philly to Aeroporto Marco Polo di Venezia is about 7 and a half hours. It usually departs around 8 or 9pm. After takeoff they’ll serve dinner—I always decline dinner in favor of trying to sleep. It will be very hard to get some sleep on the plane, but a few things can help. The first thing is to make sure you’re not too hot or too cold. I always bring a spare jacket in case I need to cover up with it. On the overnight flights they also provide a pillow and a blanket. Adjust your situation until you are feeling just right. Some people will bring ear buds to block out noise, and maybe even a face mask to cover the eyes and make it nice and dark. The next problem is trying to rest your head. This is much trickier. The pillow they provide can help a little, but not as much. If you are against a window, the pillow can help lean up against that side of the plane. The best solution I’ve found is something similar to the TRTL travel pillow you can find on amazon. It compacts down to be pretty small. When open, you wrap it around your neck. There’s a rigid section that keeps your chin supported. I can sleep a little bit with that on. It’s still very restless sleep, and by the time the plane lands in England the next morning, you will feel exhausted. Make sure you have a pen. In years past they have asked us to fill out a customs card. If you don’t fill it out on the plane, no worries—they have more and extra pens before you get into the line to clear customs. Read the customs card and fill the form out correctly. It’s specific on how to do so.
Once in Aeroporto Marco Polo di Venezia:
The planes usually arrive around 7:30 or 8am. Your body will feel like it is 3am (if you live on the east coast). In addition to not sleeping well the night before, this first day will be tough. You will very likely be exhausted. You’ll head to pick up your bags first, and then you’ll head to customs. You’ll hand them the card they had you fill out on the plane (this has been changing in various places—it may change here too. Just follow the instructions). When you go up to the customs agent, they’ll usually have a brief conversation—they’ll ask where you’re going, how long you’re in, where you’re from, etc. They’ll be gaging whether or not you seem like you’re lying. Just answer honestly and to the best of your ability. After you’re cleared by the agent, proceed on your way, and to an ATM. I recommend pulling out maybe a hundred dollars/about 50 euros, depending on the exchange rate. Most places will take card, so save your cash for the places that don’t. Almost everyone took cards, so the cash is just for emergencies. There was at least one restaurant we were surprised by on the last day whose credit card machine stopped working, and we had to scramble to pay the bill. After you’ve gotten some euros, head on out of the airport.
To get to the train to take to your hotel (which will be just outside of Venice), you’ll want to take the water taxi/ferry which is just outside the airport to Venice. Then you’ll walk from that stop to the train station in Venice. It’ll take about 45 minutes to get there. Hop the train to head to your hotel, Crowne Plaza, Venice East.
Day 2 or 3 you can take the train from Venice to Florence. It’s only about an hour away.
Day 4 or 5, you can take the train from Florence to Rome, which is only a couple of hours or so away. Rome is about 3 hours away from Venice if you want to head straight there, or if you made Florence only a day trip from Venice.
Day 6 or 7 you can take the train from Rome to Naples, which is an hour or two away. I’d recommend a day trip in Naples instead of staying there. If you want to see Pompeii, which I would recommend, you can hop off the train at Naples, and pick up the local metro train to both of those stops. Pompeii’s stop is Scavi.
Recommended Places to Stay:
Crowne Plaza, East Venice. So this hotel was just outside of Venice, making it a bit cheaper. Down the street is a pizza place, which had great pizzas. We could see it from the hotel. It wasn’t busy by that area at all. The road was pretty quiet, and we never saw a ton of people. It is connected to the train by a very short walk. If you leave the hotel, you follow the walkway to the left, which will take you under the tracks. And then you hop out on the train station platform. It’s very convenient. I think it was the third stop from the train to Venice, or vice a versa, but I don’t quite remember. It wasn’t a terribly long ride.
Recommended Places to Eat:
If you were going to Taormina, Sicily, I would say Da Cristinas. That has the best pizza (and arancinis) I have ever had in my life. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to lump Sicily into this trip. If you can make it work, please head to Da Cristinas. It is amazing.
In Venice, the food was definitely a bit more touristy. In Venice itself I was not impressed with where we ate. On another day we ate at a nice place in Burano, which is an island near Venice. It’s small, so just look for a restaurant and that’s probably the right one. It wasn’t bad.
In Rome, the food was also a bit touristy, but it was better than Venice. We did not find a good local place. The trick is to find a place everyone is speaking Italian, and go there. We did have excellent gelato there, near Piazza Navona. I think it was called Quinto Gelateria.
In Naples, the only place I ate was a little food stand vendor outside of Pompeii. It was just a slice of pizza. Nothing fancy, but it wasn’t bad.
Top Three Things to Do in Venice:
I feel like after being in Venice for a couple of days, that I’ve seen what it has to offer. It’s a bit trashy, so don’t be surprised by the piles of trash and the smell. It is also still very beautiful. We saw a lot there, so I’ll try to cram it down into three things.
- Murano: Murano is a small island in Venice. It is the glass capital of the world. You can get to it by taking a water ferry. We also saw the island of Burano the day we did Murano. It used to be a bustling glass center, where the Italian masters would make glass art not seen or replicated by anyone else in the world. That was, until, Lino Tagliapietra, who was from Murano, shared their secrets with the Americans, and started the American glass movement. He was ostracized for this for many years because they feared it meant their decline. It has taken years, but they were right. You can see Murano is fading away. Some of the big furnaces are now all boarded up, and buildings are abandoned. However, there are still tons of shops. When you get off the water ferry, there will be a few shops off to your left, and then a restaurant off to your right, before you get to the main canal. All up and down the main canal are glass shops. In some cases the glass artists are working in the shops themselves, and their furnaces are right past their displays so you can watch them create things. It’s very cool.
- Piazza San Marco or San Marco’s Square: There are multiple things to do here. It will be packed. It’s a main attraction in Venice. Visit Doge Palace—definitely the highlight of that square. It has the golden stairs inside, tons of Italian masterpieces from famous Italian artists lining the ceilings and the floors, grand halls, incredible views, and just a mind blowing place to explore. It took us about thirty minutes, or maybe an hour to get up to the front of the line and buy our tickets to get inside. Don’t let the wait stop you! It was worth it. You walk on the inside of the Bridge of Sighs—so named because as prisoners were led to their cells, the bridge offered the last views of the outside world for however many months or years they were going to be locked away. It’s amazing, and filled with history. There is a line of people moving through just about the entire time. It’s still worth it. Back outside in the square there is an art museum on the opposite side of the square, and another museum next to Doge Palace. A lot of places to check out.
- Gondola Ride in the Canals: This was just a lot of fun, and one of the things I wanted to do when we were here. The standard fare is 80 euro for a 30 minute ride. Don’t hop on any gondola, though. We looked for one that was on a street that was not quite as busy, and there weren’t a ton of gondoliers trying to get your attention. He told us about the history of Venice, pointed out historic buildings, including the place Marco Polo lived, and talked about how the water levels are rising, and the ramifications for the city. He was incredibly nice. It was an amazing view of Venice, from smaller canals that we could not see otherwise. On the main canal, we could see it from the water taxis. He only popped on the main canal very briefly, before we darted back down some smaller ones. It’s definitely worth the 80 euro.
Top Three Things to Do in Florence:
This is the only city on this list that I have not been to, as I stated above. I would love to visit. Everyone I’ve ever talked to who has been to Florence has raved about the city, including my brother. Because of that, it felt wrong not to include it. What I will be listing are the top three things that I’ve researched and seem to be the best things to see. I will update this travel guide with actual places if I ever get a chance to go back.
- The Accademia Gallery: This has Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David. There are other famous artists that are in this gallery, but that one is worth the trip alone. Afterall, it’s one of the most famous sculptures in the world! It would be amazing to see it.
- Piazza Della Signoria: This was the original location of Michelangelo’s sculpture of David, back in the 1500s. It was moved later to the Accademia gallery. There is now a replica in its place where the statue originally stood so people can see what it would have looked like then. There are other grand sculptures located in this L-shaped square. It is filled with history and politics. There’s an open air sculpture gallery, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the one of Italy’s top art museums, Uffizi Gallery.
- Ponte Vecchio: This is the oldest bridge in Florence. Its name means old bridge. It was originally built in the 1200s, but rebuilt in the 1300s. It has survived WWII, when fleeing Germans destroyed all the bridges except this one, and it has survived floods when the river burst its banks. It is picturesque, and historic.
Top Three Things to Do in Rome:
I’m not usually a city person. I love a good hike in nature, away from the over abundance of buildings. Rome is an exception to that. It was very pretty, and one day was not enough time to see it and appreciate it all. There is history around every corner. There are artists in the squares selling their art, next to sculptures by famous artists that are hundreds of years old. It’s amazing.
- The Colosseum: This was amazing. We booked a tour from Coopculture ahead of time to see the third level and the basement, and that tour was completely worth it. Tickets will sell out, so I would recommend booking months in advance. Our tour was scheduled for 12:20, but we got there at 11:30ish hoping to look around. It takes a long time to go through the line to get inside, and by the time we did, it was already 12. We briefly went in, and managed to inch our way forward to see down into the basement, but it was very crowded. At 12:10 we decided to just head to our meeting spot and wait for our tour. They start by taking you onto that same level everyone can access but in an area that is blocked off. So there were no people to fight when I walked over to look down into the basement. They then take you into the basement and tell you the history of how the rigging worked, and what sorts of things would have been down there. They then take you up to the third floor. From that third floor you can see the Roman Forum, which I wish I’d had a chance to explore, and the Triumvirate arch. It was very cool.
- Trevi Fountain: We stopped by Trevi Fountain on our way to the Colosseum that morning, and I’m glad we did. Rome is a sleepy city. It was crowded in the morning, but that crowd was nothing compared to the afternoon—after our Colosseum tour. There were wall to wall people, and we could barely get through the square just to pass through. So I recommend seeing this early in the day. Trevi Fountain is gorgeous. The water is very blue, and the sculptures on it are incredible. They say if you throw a coin over your left shoulder into the fountain that you will return to Rome one day. So of course that means we all did. But it was amazing.
- Piazza Navona: It took about an hour to get from here to the Colosseum. It’s quite a hike through the city, and we were rushing. Piazza Navona has the incredible Fountain of the Four Rivers by the famous Baroque artist Bernini. It’s amazing to see. It’s a large square filled with artists, shops, and restaurants. The gelato place we loved was close to here. It’s just really pretty. I put this above the Pantheon, but I would also recommend the Pantheon while you’re there. We checked out the Pantheon on our way to the Colosseum. So if you’re walking, it’s worth a stop.
Top Three Things to Do in Naples:
Naples was very crowded with confusing streets that I never quite understood. Pompeii and Vesuvius were things that stood out to me that makes it worth the trip.
- Pompeii: Pompeii was incedible. The site is huge, and there are plenty of rooms and ruins to explore. Some are in better shape than others. The history here is incredible. You can walk on the same streets they walked on, and see kitchens with ovens, and Roman bath houses. There are mosaics still on the walls, ceilings or floors, and you can see the mummified remains of some of its inhabitants. Vesuvius can be seen from certain sides of Pompeii, and serves as an eerie reminder of the history. It’s awesome.
- Herculanem: I have not actually been to Herculaneum. I’m including it here because I very much wanted to see it, and could not make it work within the time I had. From everything I have read and researched it is better preserved than Pompeii. It got buried under mud, so looters never came to destroy it. I would love to go back and see it, and I recommend you do to!
- Vesuvius: I hiked up to the crater of Vesuvius. It’s a relatively easy hike up a steep incline. It’s still smoking a bit at the top, but not very much. There are little shops that sell food on the way up. You can grab a pizza for a snack. I’d never been near a volcano before, so it was an amazing experience. It’s worth the hike to see the top. At the top you can walk along the crater, which is huge. It’s just amazing.
Most people will be able to speak English. We learned the hard way that when you ask for directions in Italian, they will answer you in Italian. If you know Spanish, it does help. Sadly, I only know basic Spanish, so it only helped a little. We started asking “para ingles” instead, which translates to do you speak English. It was a lot easier to navigate the conversations after that. They knew we didn’t speak Italian, but they also often seemed to be friendlier that we spoke enough to ask. Cuanto Costo is how much is it. Dove is where. So, Dove Trevi Fountain is where is Trevi Fountain. But I recommend asking para ingles instead. Gratzi is thank you, and very important to know. We used it a lot.
There is so much to see and do in Italy. It’s also very accessible by train, which is nice. I don’t know that I would have wanted to drive there. Sicily is also amazing. It seemed to be not as crowded, and more relaxed than the other places I’ve visited in Italy. It’s just much further away. It’s all gorgeous. There is history, nature, and art blending together everywhere we went.