Author Topic: First Trip to Italy  (Read 3742 times)

bmelissa545

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First Trip to Italy
« on: August 28, 2017, 08:15:37 AM »
I have 2 weeks to spend in Italy - what do I do?! Are the tourist cliches worth it?
Also do you have recommendations on best transit within the country? AKA, should I rent a car or should I buy a bunch of train tickets?

SO stoked.

GizmoTX

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2017, 08:50:41 AM »
Are you flying into Rome? You can easily spend a week there. Just don't try to drive in Rome. I don't know what you mean by tourist spots, but the ancient sites & the Vatican are worth seeing. We loved doing an Eating Italy tour in Rome -- we did Testaccio but Trastevere would also be good, & they're both off the beaten path. An eating tour combines walking around a neighborhood for 4 hours while sampling great regional foods.

If you want other destinations in Italy, I'd add Florence & go there by train. This is another city that should be explored with some time. Siena & Assisi are interesting. Venice is very unique, but is further away -- I recommend maximizing your time in a few places rather than spending a lot of time traveling from place to place.

LeRainDrop

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2017, 09:01:15 AM »
I absolutely would not miss Venice, Florence, and Rome.  Other places near the top of my list are Cinque Terre and Tuscany.  I've only been to Italy twice, and without a doubt, I want to go back and explore other parts.  I mean, I've never even gone south of Rome, and there are still parts of the north too that I want to see!  I would recommend taking the train between different cities, and rent a car in Florence to drive into Tuscany.  I hope you have an amazing trip -- I mean, I am SURE you will!  :-)

JoseS

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #3 on: August 28, 2017, 09:05:39 AM »
I have visited Cinque Terre, Venice and Florence. You could spend 10 days just in any of those cities. Pisa is a day trip from Florence. I recommend Cinque Terre if you are going to just one place. You know when you are on vacation and the end in near and you start to miss home, I didn't want to leave Italy and Cinque Terre.

Public transportation will take you everywhere.

Cinque Terre: http://www.cinqueterre.com/en/
Florence and Pisa: https://www.rometoolkit.com/florence_visit/florence_pisa.html

The food is great. There are restaurants around the main attractions that would be good. But wander around just a few streets over and go were the local go.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2017, 09:07:12 AM by JoseS »

Spiffy

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2017, 09:48:27 AM »
I just spent two weeks in Italy (mostly Rome). It depends on what you are interested in. Do you love ancient stuff. For architecture: the Forum, Ostia Antica (just outside of Rome) or Pompeii are for you. And the Capitoline Museum for the art and sculpture. Love Baroque? It is everywhere in Rome. Love chuches? I do. Some of my favorites are Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Basilica of San Clemente. Yes the "tourist" spots are crowded, but there is a reason for that.  They are amazing and you should go anyway, at least once. Get a Blue Guide and read up so you know what you want to see before you go and reserve tickets before hand to save time. And don't drive in Rome. You will die. The Metro, buses, trams, and feet will get you anywhere you want to go. And you can stop for gelato on the way...

radram

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2017, 10:10:59 AM »
Spent 21 days Italy last summer with wife, 17 year old, and a 10 year old. It was the trip of a lifetime. Total cost was $8,000. Just under half of the cost was airfare.

We prefer to grow roots and get to know an area. We spent 10 days in Rome, and 10 days in Perugia. Rome was very much the tourist go here go there trip, while Perugia was the immerse in culture and live like they do kind of thing. Our family prefers the more laid back lifestyle, so we enjoyed Perugia more, as did our wallet.

Rome was also unforgettable.

Rome could have been another month of things to see. In Perugia, we pretty much saw the town and what it had to offer after about 5 days. Just spent the rest of the time just enjoying dinner in our private garden and taking day trips to nearby towns.

We will probably never return to either, only because there are so many other trips we would like to take. Other trips to other regions of Italy are definitely on the trip list.

You will have a blast.

Public transportation is all that is needed.

If you are a rapid sightseer, get the Rome City pass. Includes public transportation and entry into several of the museums. Just 1 museum per day would probably not be worth it.

PM me if you want to know the places we stayed.



JanF

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2017, 10:41:41 AM »
I wouldn't spend too much time in Rome. Maybe 1-2 days to see the tourist sights then move on to a less touristy place. We spent a week in Florence living in an airbnb. In the mornings we would walk to an open air market and buy bread, cheese, and prosciutto and have that for breakfast. And we spend the day walking (or busing) around town and we sometimes end up at this fantastic hill overlooking the city and hang out and have some wine.
Slow travel is best travel.

Spiffy

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #7 on: August 28, 2017, 11:25:08 AM »
I wouldn't spend too much time in Rome. Maybe 1-2 days to see the tourist sights then move on to a less touristy place. We spent a week in Florence living in an airbnb. In the mornings we would walk to an open air market and buy bread, cheese, and prosciutto and have that for breakfast. And we spend the day walking (or busing) around town and we sometimes end up at this fantastic hill overlooking the city and hang out and have some wine.
Slow travel is best travel.
I respectfully disagree. The time I spent in Florence felt more crowded and touristy. I guess being smaller and with fewer "Sights" to see people were all crowded into a few places. Most of the places I saw in Rome I had almost to myself. Except for St. Peter's Basilica, the churches are almost empty. So too are the smaller museums. Go to Palazzo Barberini instead of the Vatican Museums and have it to yourself and see just as much "Famous " art.  Go to Galleria Doria Pamphilij and feel like you are in your wealthy friend's palazzo getting a personal tour. If you only have a few days in Rome, don't bother with the crowded stuff, because it won't be fun. Walking around whatever neighborhood you stay in in the early mornings and late evenings will be the thing you remember most. Stay in the Borgo and walk around St. Peter's square before breakfast. It will be just you and the nuns on their way to services.
As for getting around between cities. I vote for the high speed trains. You save time and they are not much more expensive than the regular ones and very comfortable.  And buy the tickets online before you go. If you can, go south. Capri is touristy, but still so beautiful you should see it at least once. Ride the chair lift to the top of Monte Solaro. You will not be disappointed.

SunshineAZ

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #8 on: August 28, 2017, 12:10:50 PM »
I spent a week in Rome many years ago, the side trips I would recommend are to the day bus trip to Pompeii and the one to Tivoli to see Hadrian's Villa and Villa d'este which were really beautiful, I especially loved Villa d'este which is an old estate with over 700 fountains on the grounds.  We did not have a car and just walked all around Rome. 

I hope you enjoy your trip! 

jeromedawg

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #9 on: August 28, 2017, 12:51:03 PM »
It depends on where you are in Italy and for how long. You can get anywhere by train but car will give you flexibility to go on your own schedule. It just depends on if you are comfortable or like driving in other places. If you do, driving through Tuscany I've heard is really awesome. Train is pretty easy though. Definitely check out Cinque Terre, Sorrento/Positano and Pompeii if you're in the south, Rome, Florence/Siena (definitely try to make a day trip to Siena if you're in the area). Venice is fun. Milan if you like to shop haha. If you're in the north, Lake Como/Lugano/Locarno are all beautiful.

Samuel

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #10 on: August 28, 2017, 02:32:04 PM »
I wouldn't spend too much time in Rome. Maybe 1-2 days to see the tourist sights then move on to a less touristy place. We spent a week in Florence living in an airbnb. In the mornings we would walk to an open air market and buy bread, cheese, and prosciutto and have that for breakfast. And we spend the day walking (or busing) around town and we sometimes end up at this fantastic hill overlooking the city and hang out and have some wine.
Slow travel is best travel.
I respectfully disagree. The time I spent in Florence felt more crowded and touristy. I guess being smaller and with fewer "Sights" to see people were all crowded into a few places.

I agree with the respectful disagreement. Florence is every bit as touristy as Rome, if not more so. The streets and sidewalks are all so small that feels especially crowded too. Rome has some extremely touristy areas (that are still worth seeing, there's only one Pantheon/Coliseum/Vatican after all) but is also a thriving metropolis with nearly unlimited things to see and do (and eat). You don't have to get very far off off the beaten path to escape the tourists, but if quiet and relaxation are the goal you should probably look elsewhere.

Our recent trip there was Rome, Florence, Siena, bopping around Tuscany and Umbria in a rental car for a few days, then back to Rome. 11 days. Metro, trains, trams, and buses are perfect in and between the major cities, but to see the smaller hill towns a car is way better. Without a car (or a booked tour) you'd waste a ton of time on transportation. Our little diesel Fiat Punto was only 17 euro a day and it was very easy to drive around the country side. Picked it up outside Siena and returned it outside Orvieto to avoid any big city driving.

Our highlights:
1) The Tuscany/Umbria driving stretch. Beautiful countryside, cool hill towns, the freedom to pick a random destination and just go...
2) Ostia Antica - excavated Roman port city just outside Rome. You can get there via suburban rail (included in a Rome transportation pass) in 30 minutes and it was empty. We picked up some amazing porchetta sandwiches and a bottle of wine and picnicked off in an especially quiet corner of the site. 
3) Trastevere food tour (Rome).

And another tip... in Rome at least some places have early evening happy hours with snack buffets ("aperitivo"). You can eat as much as you want for the price of a drink, and some are surprisingly good.


jamesbond007

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #11 on: August 28, 2017, 02:38:58 PM »
Driving in Italy is not worth it. We rented a car for convenience because my daughter was 1 yr old when we visited 2 years ago. I got $400 worth of traffic fines in the mail a year later. Driving is restricted (ZTE?/ZTG?) and finding parking is also a PITA. The zones are not marked well enough to quickly read while driving. It was a royal PITA. Trains are frequent. I'd go with trains if I go there again.

FireHiker

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #12 on: August 28, 2017, 04:13:43 PM »
We spent 7 nights in Rome (during Holy Week because that is when our spring break was and I booked the trip without realizing this...oops) this year. We took a full day trip to Pompeii/Mt. Vesuvius via CityWonders. It was a splurge but was my favorite part of our entire trip. We also took a day trip up to Florence, which ended up being expensive because of a train booking error, but I know better for next time.

We found that Florence was every bit as crowded and touristy as the main spots in Rome, if not more so. Still, I look forward to going back for more than a day someday, not during Holy Week.

I recommend, if you're going to the Vatican/Sistine Chapel, paying the extra few bucks/euros and booking tickets online. We went right through the security line but the walk-up line was 6+ hours if you didn't have a reserved ticket. If you go to the Colosseum/Forum/Palatine Hill, walk up and buy the ticket at Palatine Hill, tour it, then the Forum, THEN the Colosseum, since you avoid the LONG line to buy tickets at the Colosseum. A little bit of pre-planning went a LONG way to enjoying the place in spite of the crowds. There is a lot of information out there.

I loved Italy and can't wait to go back. It was a whirlwind of a trip and I would want to spend much more time next time. I second the answer that trains are pretty good and reliable if you're going city to city. I think if we were going down to Amalfi though, I would rent a car down there since buses are really spotty (a friend who has been a few times said this; we haven't yet). There's no way in hell I'd attempt to drive in Rome.

Jagnole

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #13 on: August 29, 2017, 08:05:53 PM »
we spent 5 days in rome, 2 in florence, 2  in venice, 2 in cinque terre, 2 in siena/tuscany wine country.

Loved Rome and Florence. Venice was nice to see but I wouldnt spend more than 2 days there. If you love wine take a trip to Tuscany (chianti/brunello regions). Take train if possible, super easy and convenient.

bmelissa545

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #14 on: September 06, 2017, 11:34:55 AM »
wow you all have SUCH good advice thank you so much. it's hard to decide between everything. honestly i think you need a solid month at least to hit all the good spots.  We have decided to fly in and out of Rome and pre-buy an all inclusive train pass for transportation. We are going north after spending several days in Rome, then hitting Tuscany, Lake Como, and Cinque Terre. then finishing up in Rome before flying out :) probably saving the southern attractions for another trip, like pompeii and naples

ShortInSeattle

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #15 on: September 06, 2017, 11:51:25 AM »
Good advice here.

A couple Rome tips:

1. We booked a Vatican tour and I wish we hadn't. Their museums are incredible and we were rushed through. You can easily spend a day there.
2. The tourism hustle is fierce. Prepare to be constantly propositioned by tour guides and people selling things.
3. The Colosseum and the Forum are incredible. Worth the crowds. Rick Steves has some free podcasts you can use to guide yourself around.
4. There is a train that runs from the airport to the city center. The Leonardo Express!

Enjoy!





Laura33

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #16 on: September 06, 2017, 12:28:49 PM »
What time of year?  Some slightly off-the-beaten-track suggestions:

1.  In August in Tuscany, all of the little hill towns have festivals celebrating some local food, like duck, ravioli, truffles, etc.  For these you need a car, but they are really small and local (except the truffle one, which was comparatively huge) and fun.  There is, of course, no website or general listing of these things, because that would require too much organization and structure.  :-)  We found out from the guy we rented a house from.

2.  In Tuscany, Arezzo is a cheaper place to stay than most of the other, more well-known destinations, and still very cool and with direct train access/adjacent to the A1.  There are also great small winemakers in the area -- the kind you discover after a few miles down a dirt road -- that are more inexpensive than the more famous ones across the highway (happy to provide names, feel free to PM me).

3.  Florence and Chianti are massively expensive; good for day-trips.

4.  I loved Montepulciano for the geography and the views -- truly a spectacular town.  Park at the bottom, take the bus up for 1-2e, and walk down.  Many, many places to taste wine, and the Rosso is cheap and good (the Vino Nobile is delicious but more expensive, although it is still a deal compared to its big-brother Brunello from Montalcino, the next town over).  Many many tourists, but worth it.

5.  In the lake district, Como is the most famous, and so also most expensive.  The lake the Italians all vacation at is Maggiore, and prices are a little more reasonable (though still very high by comparison).

6.  Between Tuscany and the lake district you can swing through the Piedmont, home of the best wine ever made IMO (Barolo).  But it is also the home of some of the cheapest delicious wine ever made, Moscato d'Asti.  Again, there are many small winemakers in the various small towns and hills.

7.  We stayed a few nights in the small towns in Emilia-Romagna where prosciutto di Parma comes from (the Langhirano) -- smaller, less touristy, very nice people.  If you want specific recommendations, feel free to PM me -- we stayed at a great B&B up the hill with a family with two boys who were about my son's age, and they couldn't have been nicer; they set us up with prosciutto and parmigiano tours. 

8.  The splurge that is worth it:  aceto tradzionale -- the famous stuff is from Modena, of course, but I got a bottle from Reggio Emilia that I actually prefer.  This is where you want to drop $100+ on a 25-yr-old bottle, which is more like dessert than vinegar.  I still have half of the bottle I bought in 2013; in fact, I just had it for lunch the other day drizzled over peaches and ricotta.  Again, PM me for more details.

9.  Try the ricotta -- like nothing you get here, I had it for breakfast every day on bread with jam -- and the porchetta.  Oh:  in Rome, go to the Jewish quarter, and get Carciofi all Giudea (artichokes in the style of the Jews).  They are fried in olive oil and so ridiculously flavorful and delicious you will not believe it.  I bought a Molto Mario cookbook specifically for this recipe, and I still can't make it taste as good!  I am serious about this.  I'm not even a huge artichoke fan, and I am haunted by those things.  And the porchetta. :-)

10.  Wherever you eat, just get a carafe of the local red -- it's always delicious, and very cheap.  BTW, did you know you can bring wine home as checked luggage?  They sell boxes with styrofoam inserts that can hold 12 bottles; we put our clothes in carry-ons and brought two boxes over empty as our checked bag, so we could bring them back full.  :-)  You do have to declare it at customs, but the duty is so low that most of the time they just wave us through and don't even bother to collect.  And if you like any of the wines, it's sort of ridiculous how much cheaper they are over there than if you try to buy them here.

11.  The trains are great between the big towns, but a lot of the fun stuff is in the hills, so consider renting a car for parts of the trip to see the less-touristy areas.  None of my favorite spots were on a reasonable train line.  Driving is really NOT bad outside of the big cities.  (And honestly, my DH was totally comfortable driving in Rome, but then again, he learned to drive in Jersey, so YMMV).

12.  Try AirBnB and HomeAway and Fewo-Toskana for places to stay -- you can frequently find better options than staying in hotels. Plus many of the towns have a weekly market, and so you want a kitchen to be able to come home and cook up the deliciousness that you'll want to buy.  :-)

13.  Every area, every town has its own food and wine specialty, and they are convinced that they do it "correctly" and everyone else is wrong.  :-)  The Piedmont, for ex., is known for agnolotti; the area of Tuscany where we stayed is known for wild boar (cinghiale) and the "white pig" (cinta senese); other towns are known for specific cheeses; some of the mountain areas offer fricco (like a parmesan crisp but made with montasio and not quite as crispy but ineffably delicious); etc.  Whatever you do, get that specialty. 

lemanfan

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #17 on: September 06, 2017, 12:42:03 PM »
My only trip so far was in the north, mostly Turin but also some driving around the city.  Very nice places all around, and you could find really really good food.

I happened to stumble on an opera ticket in Turin, watching the premiere of a new version of La Boheme in the theatre where it was originally performed more than a century ago.  I'm really no opera guy, but this was a truly remarkable experience for a music lover.  And even more fascinating - to see the posh people of Turin dress upp in their sunday best to see and be seen at the opera... the audience was almost a show in itself.

So, don't forget about the culture. They know their music and their opera!

Rimu05

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #18 on: September 06, 2017, 02:24:52 PM »
Italy is a place I might return simply because some distant family is there and my aunt is with an Italian man, but I must say, I sadly never felt the allure of Italy. I was thirteen then and sadly, we went when John Paul II had just died so Rome was somewhat of a bore. I enjoyed Venice despite the stench. You weirdly get used to it, but getting a day pass for the boats and going to random places while we ate ice cream was pretty nice.

However, all in all, as much as I love history, museums tend to bore me after a while. I don't know if this has changed now that I'm an adult, but art was never really my thing. I do prefer historical sites like prisons, tunnels, concentration camps (freaking depressing as hell, as part of this trip, we went to Dachau (Germany) and it was just soul sucking but I felt like it was an eye opening experience.

semccartney

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #19 on: September 06, 2017, 02:35:28 PM »
Rick Steves guide books are a wealth of excellent travel information. His tagline is "travel through the backdoor"; how to plan a culturally interesting and rewarding trip, avoid tourist traps and inauthentic, commercialized towns, hotels, restaurants, etc. RS' advice is price conscious because egregiously expensive trips/hotels/tour groups usually create a barrier between yourself and people. And good travel means you meet people. In addition to the guidebook, the travel forum on the Rick Steves web site is an excellent resource. Once you have the scaffolding of your 2 week itinerary, folks there will help you tailor your time in an efficient and rewarding way. Scour the forum for advice on train travel, logistics, what to see, where to stay etc. The more planning and leg work you do upfront, the exponentially better your travel experience and the inevitable hiccups will be hardly noticeable. One more RS plug, if you do not know where you want to go, RS prioritize cities and sites based upon your time constraints (e.g. if you have 1 day, 3 days, 2 weeks,...). This helps you avoid over scheduling your trip (it's better to see less, more comprehensively than to race to check off boxes on a travel list) and his assessments are spot on. Also, via the Rick Steves app, download his city walking tours, museum tours, site tours prior to departure. You do not need wifi to access them once you're out of country and it's a free tour guide on your phone--Awesome! You will love Italy. Happy travels!

Jaayse

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #20 on: September 06, 2017, 03:08:25 PM »
I currently am living in Napoli!  If you come this way, Naples does not have much to see, but Pompeii and Hercolano (Herculanium) are great.  Herculaneum is better preserved and the boat grottos are haunting.  Overall, Napoli is not far from the Amalfi Coast, another beautiful area to visit.

I love Italy, but along with everyone else I will say don't drive.  The highways are very expensive, the tolls from Naples to Florence were around 33 Euro on top of the gas expense and the rental, and from Florence to Milan was another 20+ Euro and all the roads are littered with speed traps by camera as some others have discovered.  Driving only makes sense if there are a lot of people, a fast train ticket from Milan back to Naples on the other hand was less than 90 Euro.

Trenitalia is usually more expensive than Italo tren.  If you want to make a comparison you will have to use both of their biglietto (ticket) booths.  You need to order your tickets a few days out if you want to get the cheapest ones, they run out of the economy tickets sometimes if you wait until right before you're traveling, but you can do it quickly at the train station.  Remember to validate your tickets at the yellow boxes around the train station!!!  Otherwise it is as if you never bought them and you will be fined if discovered.

jeromedawg

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #21 on: September 06, 2017, 03:35:44 PM »
Forgot to add - buses are definitely a good supplement to trains. You can go to most towns by train but in some cases bus is better. A good example of this would be Siena. In my experience it's easier to bus in otherwise you have to take a local bus from the train station which is on the outskirts - avoid the extra transfer and take a long-distance bus that will put you closer and inside city walls. If you do go to Siena (which I'd highly recommend) you'll likely be doing it as a day/half-day trip from Florence, so just bus in from Florence. For other small cities like this, you may want to consider if there are bus routes and if the bus stop(s) will get you closer to points of interest vs where the train station is located.

Capsu78

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Re: First Trip to Italy
« Reply #22 on: September 06, 2017, 03:56:56 PM »
I open jaw my flights every time I am in Italy- Into Rome out of Venice, or into Pisa out of Milan.  I see no value in round tripping from one airport.  You lose a day getting back to Rome.  YMMV