Italy Travel Guide—Tips for Traveling to Italy

Country Guides, Italy, Planning, Tours & Attractions — By on January 24, 2011 at 6:00 am

Map of ItalyBy Jenny Avallon
LG Guides Editor

Country overview

La dolce vita. Italians believe in “the good life,” and any vacation here is contingent upon getting swept up in the beauty of the country and its people. From the narrow alleyways of Venice to the cobblestone piazzas in Rome to the shorelines of Amalfi, the music of the Italian language will lure you into its indulgent, romantic, and endearing ways, saying, Escape reality for a little while. Come experience la dolce vita. And you will follow.

Best places to visit in Italy

Venice

If you’re able to overlook the hoards of tourists that flock to Venice at all times of the year, than this stop is sure to impress. Try to have no itinerary whatsoever. This city is truly a maze of picture-perfect alleyways and bridges spilling into hidden piazzas. The best way to spend your time here is by simply starting in the centrally located Piazza di San Marco and allowing yourself to wander. And don’t forget to stop off for a gelato or espresso along the way! At night, sitting outdoors in Piazza di San Marco and sipping on a glass of wine to the music of live violinist is the ideal way to conclude a day of sightseeing. It will be primarily tourists and the wine will be overpriced, but well worth it nonetheless. If you’re in the mood for a bit more excitement, head over to the former Jewish Ghetto for a lively bar and club scene.

Taormina, Sicily

I can’t believe I didn’t discover Taormina until my third visit to Italy. This is truly a must-see destination. Sicily, notorious for its ties to the Italian Mafia, is a fascinating region in and of itself. Taormina seamlessly intertwines the old and the new. Beautiful, storybook, medieval buildings stand tall next to modern clothing stores and boisterous clubs. The main street, Corso Umberto, stretches for miles and holds some of the cities best restaurants and nightlife.

The Vatican

A visit to Rome is incomplete without a visit to Vatican City. Though some guides might encourage cramming everything this impressive sight has to offer into one morning or afternoon, I’d recommend reserving a full day if you have the time. There is so much artwork to get lost staring into, architecture to marvel over, and quaint corridors to weave between. If you’re feeling extra energetic, a climb up to the Cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica is both cheap and will provide incredible views of the ancient city. After a day of crowded sightseeing in the Vatican, cap the day off with a glass of wine and a slice of pizza at one of the many delicious pizzeria’s on the outskirts.

Amalfi Coast

If you don’t get car sick, love the ocean, and want to see how the Italians vacation, the Amalfi Coast is a must-see. Though some of these quaint towns can be definite tourist traps, there are many hidden gems throughout the coast. Amalfi itself, for instance, provides less foreigners and more local Italians than its neighboring town of Positano. The Nantucket or the Hamptons of Italy, this is a popular destination for Italians to have houses and spend their summer months. The winding roads and hilltop villages provide for leisurely drives with outstanding scenery. A word to the wise though, the roads are extremely windy, and not for the faint of stomach.

Things to do in Italy

Boat ride into the caves

When visiting the Amalfi Coast, one hidden gem is not in the quaint villages or on the jam-packed beaches, but rather out at sea.Rent a private boat for your group to cruise to the nearby Emerald Cave and others nearby. They’re awe-inspiring and make for a beautiful day on the water to see Italy from a slightly different vantage.

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius is not a sight to be missed and is one of Italy’s most surprising achievements. Amidst the land of pizza, gelato, history, romance, and wine, Mount Vesuvius offers a different kind of beauty. For an “I’m on top of the world” sort of feeling, a bus can take you right near the top of the crater. A quick warning: Bundle up. The temperatures up top are wintery.

Pub crawl in Rome

Roma, Roma, Roma. The capital city has so much to offer: art, history, music, and of course: nightlife. The Spanish Steps bar crawl packs so much fun into one night that, although it’s touristy, it is bound to be a great time in an incredible city. This agency provides the opportunity to meet expats, backpackers, and more all while exploring the city.

Renting a taxi in Capri

The land of wealth and fashion, Capri is well worth a day trip if you’re vacationing along the Amalfi Coast. The taxi cabs here are nearly all open-air and upon docking on this island, nearly any driver can be hired for the day to take you to all the must-see vistas and streets. Though there are certainly views to take in and sights to be seen here, part of the fun is riding in the back of your open-air cab and letting your hair blow in the wind while watching this beautiful city whirl by.

Gondola ride in Venice

Touristy, yes. Worth it, definitely. What trip to Venice, or Italy at that, would be complete without a ride in one of the Venice’s infamous gondolas? The epitome of romance, this quintessential Italian tourist activity will be one of those “wow, I can’t believe I’m in Italy” kinds of moments.

Where to eat in Italy

The real question is: where NOT to eat in Italy? Food here is just as much a part of the culture as history or art. A meal is a time to enjoy and a well-made slice of pizza is worth of applause. In all honesty, you can’t go wrong and it completely depends on your budget. Go ahead, try that in descript pizzeria or gelateria, because in Italy, you truly don’t need to spend much to eat well. Also, ditch your diet and eat gelato. Lots of it.

How to stay safe in Italy

Unfortunately, pick-pocketing is a part of Italian culture. My first trip to Italy, my camera was stolen right out of my purse while it was on my shoulder. I was completely oblivious. To be safe, always keep your bag zipped up and make sure the zipper is facing front. Some thieves will even go to the extent of unzipping your purse if the zipper is behind you and plucking out something while your back is turned. Another tip, keep anything valuable (passport, money, etc.) in a money pouch. They may not be particularly stylish, but in the unfortunate event you were to lose an entire purse, you’ll be so grateful you took this precaution.

How to save money in Italy

The easiest way to save the most money is to stay in a hostel if at all possible. Obviously, it depends on your group and their budget, but Italian hostels are known for being safe, comfortable, clean, and just downright fun. In doing so, you can save at least $20 compared to a cheap hotel.

Secondly, as mentioned in the food section, a good meal in Italy does not need to be in a five star restaurant. Street vendors, hole-in-the-wall cafes, etc., will almost always be filling and delicious. When you can, give one of these smaller joints a try in order to pinch some pennies.

Lastly, the subway system in Rome, though crowded, is both clean and efficient. Taxis get costly, so use this system whenever possible. Take note of the safety tip with pick-pocketers though, this is one of their favorite places to thieve!

And lastly, don’t leave Italy without…

Getting lost for a day. Italy, with all its weaving alleyways and cobblestone streets, is the ideal place to simply wander. Stop in at that local pizzeria, spend an hour reading your book in that quaint piazza, and wander aimlessly listening, smelling, seeing, tasting, and feeling all that this romantically indulgent country has to offer.

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    6 Comments

  • Buddy says:

    From the Venice hotels to the
    gondolas that can be view from just the balcony, its a really amazing feeling.i guess you have to go there to understand what this article is really talking about.
    well done Jenny.

  • Gelato!!! Is it true that they also put gelato on bread? I might be mistaken but I think I saw that on Bizarre Foods.

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  • Nice Guide. Italy is really a wonderful country. Their style, food, tourist places are really good. Venice is a nice city to visit. Love the pizza’s here.. To make a vacation successful, you must have proper transport service.

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