Many of my family, friends and acquaintances have contacted me when they are planning a trip to Italy and want the best advice for which towns to visit, what to do and eat in each place and other general tips. I figured since I’ve added a travel component to my blog for my travel advice, this would be the best place for this information to live.
Every time you visit Pinterest or look at articles on Facebook recommending new towns in Italy that you must check out. Of course they’re beautiful and you pin it or save it for later so the next time you’re planning a trip to Italy, you have a list of must see places. But sometimes that list gets too long and you won’t be able to hit all of those spots. There are so many beautiful and quaint towns, how do you choose!? Well, I’m going to give you the most ideal and organized travel plan for your trip that allows you to see the best cities and the easiest ways to travel to each of them. I lived in Italy (Florence) for four months and have traveled there with my family in 2011, so I feel like I have a pretty good feel for the best places to see.
Where to start:
If you are planning a long enough trip where you have time to travel to a few cities I would suggest starting in the North and flying into Florence. This is the most ideal northern city to call your home base. This gorgeous city is filled with beautiful architecture, home to The David and other magnificent artwork, the Medici family history and of course delicious food and Tuscan wine! Click here to navigate the best hot spots in Florence. This link includes the best places for food, nightlife, shopping, historic sights and some helpful travel tips.
If you would like to do one of the best wine tasting money can buy, click here to learn more. I highly recommend it and the people who have taken this advice, loved the experience.
I suggest starting here because there are so many beautiful and famous cities surrounding it, that are easily accessible by train or bus. DO NOT feel obligated to see all of these places. These are just the ones I enjoyed and if they appeal to you, take the opportunity to check them out. These cities include:
When in Tuscany, you have to take a trip over to Pisa, for the very obvious reason of seeing the Leaning Tower. It is EVERYTHING it is hyped up to be. It is so incredible to look at, in fact when we were in Pisa, we stayed there for hours just laying on the lawn looking at the tower, after getting our fun pictures of course. If you go to Santa Maria Novella train station, you can get a ticket that goes straight to the Pisa station. Once in Pisa, you go straight down the main street where there is a lot of common Italian shops and then you’ll eventually take a left towards the tower. There are signs and maps to help guide you. Pisa can be done in a morning, you don’t have to spend an entire day there. If you choose to grab lunch there, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do yourself a favor and go down any side street and find a cute little restaurant. If you eat at one on the main street, they will be expensive and terrible quality food. We learned that the hard way.
Venetian Islands (Venice, Murano & Burano)
Everyone always talks abut how beautiful Venice is, but I honestly wasn’t a fan. Once you walk through the little streets and over the bridges, it kind of all looks the same and it feels like a very confusing maze. If you decide to see Venice, I would highly recommend making arrangements for a boat ride over to Murano (the island where glass blowing originated) or at least Burano (the island of beautiful colored houses). Everyone I’ve recommended this too absolutely fell in love with Burano and preferred it over Venice. If you can, make this a day trip. You can easily get there by train so leave earlier in the morning to get back to Florence for dinner.
Cinque Terre, directly translated it means five lands, describes the five quaint little towns on the cliffs by the sea in the north west coast of Italy. These little towns, although the draw a large amount of tourist attention, stay true to the little town feel, with the small family owned markets and restaurants and the little old ladies airing out their laundry from their balconies above. There are a lot of tour groups who will take you from town to town and it is definitely a beautiful site, especially on a sunny and warm day!
Siena is a great little Tuscan town that has a beautiful city center where they have a million little booths set up selling the best chocolate. The hilly streets contains some of the most beautiful churches, old palaces and great little restaurants and shops.
I never made it to Assisi but it’s an easy train ride away from Florence. If you want to see the town where St. Francis is from and the church there, it is a great place for a day trip.
Of course, when you’re traveling to Italy, you’ll have to see Rome and the ancient ruins that living inside that gorgeous city. I would suggest staying in Rome for 1-2 days. If you can get an early train from Florence to Rome, I would spend the first day exploring Vatican city and getting a tour of the inside to see the iconic mural by Michaelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica of St Peter. It takes a while to get inside to the Vatican and the church but it is totally worth it. There is so much amazing history and art throughout the entire place and if you get a guided tour, the guides will give you incredible detail behind each of the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. If you plan your trip accordingly and can be in Vatican city on a Sunday when the Pope is intown, he stands in a window and will bless the crowd! How cool would it be to say you saw the Pope!
On your second day in Rome, I would suggest you make your way through the city to see some of the great buildings, piazzas and of course the remaining landmarks of Ancient Rome. Here are some of my favorite landmarks, parks and piazzas to see in Rome. (Vatican city is included so you can see where it is).
After you’ve seen the beautiful towns of Northern Italy and the ancient ruins in Rome, it’s time to head towards il mare (the sea)! The easiest way to get there is taking the high speed train from Rome to Naples. You can get a “first class ticket” which isn’t expensive at all but they’ll bring a drink cart by and have comfy reclining seats. You’ll travel through the beautiful Italian countryside, definitely a beautiful site, and then arrive in the Naples train station. If you’d like, you can have lunch there since it is the city where pizza was created, but the city doesn’t give you the safest feeling. If you took the advice from earlier and got pizza from O’Vesuvio in Florence, and I’m sure you had pizza in Rome, you’re going to also have great pizza in Sorrento too. When we traveled to Sorrento, my mom hired a driver to bring us from the train station to our little villa in Sorrento (email me or comment below for those details) and that was the best way to travel from one place to the other, especially since he acted as a tour guide throughout the drive.
Sorrento is filled with beautiful leather shops, clothing store, restaurants and of course mozzarella shops, since mozzarella is native to this area. The main square has lots of cafes, restaurants, bars, churches and live music at night. We went to Sorrento because that’s where our ancestors emigrated from and throughout the city we found a lot of remaining pieces of our family history. However, this is one of the popular vacation towns for the south of Italy and is in a great location to see a few of the beautiful surrounding towns. If you end up in Sorrento, I would highly suggest you visit:
This is one of the little islands off of Sorrento and is a great day trip. It’s easily accessible by boat. You can walk through this hilly island and see all of the beautiful shops, enjoy the local cuisine or spend the day enjoying a swim in the crystal clear water. This island is famous for the Blue Grotto, they have little boats that will row you in to see the glowing blue water inside the beautiful caves, but the islands perimeter is filled with plenty of quaint grottos that won’t be crowded and are easy for you to swim in.
Some people may tell you to skip this town because it isn’t as beautiful as the other town, but it has so much incredible history. You can take the train there from Sorrento (shouldn’t cost more than 5 euros for round trip) and it makes for a wonderful day trip. When you arrive, you can rent out these little phones for an audio tour and throughout the ancient city you’ll see numbers posted around the area, when you punch that number into the phone, it will tell you what the site used to hold. I just found it absolutely incredible that even though this natural disaster happened so many years ago, no one has touched it or tried to create a new and modern city on top of it. It is an absolutely incredible site and piece of history that you wouldn’t want to miss, especially if you are that close.
I never got to go to Positano but it is close by to Sorrento and is another wonderful town along the sea. My cousin went for her honeymoon and said it was absolutely beautiful.