Does anyone have any advice or helpful tips about traveling through Italy (Milan, Venice, Florence, and Rome) that you learned along the way but wished you had known before going?
I spent 5 weeks last year traveling through Italy-France-England-Ireland, all by train. Great way to travel. You've already gotten some great tips (although honestly I never had a bad meal in Italy, including the great little walk-in places.) Here are some other recommendations:
1) Download an app called Rail Planner, it has the official rail timetable for most all trains in western Europe. So easy -- type in where you are and where you want to go on what date. You'll see all the train departures, types of cars, arrival times at every stop. Makes life easy! Remember, trains leave on time in Europe.
2) Don't bother paying for first class on the train. I went in March/April with a first class ticket rail pass (those are great -- if you have a second class rail pass, you just get on and sit where you want -- look for the # 2 on the outside of the carriages.) I wrote second half the time because I'd often have four seats all to myself, or even a compartment. You don't get electric plug in second, or free snacks. You can buy rail pass tickets here or there, but here is a little easier. They are either by number of days or number of times you get on.
3) If you have big bags, chances are you'll have to put them at the end of the car, although overhead is best. Put mine at the end several times without incident. People there are like here, 97% good.
4) If you are bumming around like I did without any set places to go or reservations, you can always (well, don't know about summer!!) find a room in one of the 2-star hotels across from the train station. Just walk outside and look. 2-stars are just fine -- clean, nice basic rooms, hot water, etc. You'll always see some railroad station personnel in uniform in the station lobby you can ask, too. Never found one who didn't speak at least some English. BTW, hostels are also a great way -- but know how far from the station they are!! Go to HostelWorld.com to find out more -- membership is worth it. Never had any problem of any kind at a hostel.
5) Never change money at one of the walk-in moneychanger outlets that are all over the place in any big city. It sounds good, but their "fees" will kill you. Best idea -- take a debit card and just get money from one of the many ATMs that are in banks and even along the streets.
6) You can buy a cheap phone with an Italian SIM card at any train station. Good idea, although frankly I never did that. I did use my phone all the time where I had internet access to pull up maps of the city -- great for finding bus stops, tram stops, metro stops, and places you are looking for. Great time and frustration saver. These cities aren't the easiest places to get around.
7) Take a bus. Sometimes I'd just get on one and ride around. You can always find your way back by looking at the maps on the bus stops. Ask, people are very helpful.
8) If you plan to go to any popular museums, make sure to get a museum pass. You can get it here through a travel agent. When you see the l o n g lines, you will bless getting one! Just walk by the hundreds of people (honest) standing in line, show your pass to the guard, and walk right in. There's also a special pass to get into St. Peter's -- and you SURE need it there, too!
9) Don't bother with cabs (expensive) in Rome. The Metro is easy (if limited in where it goes) and you can get it right at the central train station.
10) There is an extraordinary church just a couple of blocks from Termini (the main station in Rome) I'll suggest to close. It is Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri If you don't know it is there, you'd walk right by it, just a simple door in what looks like rock wall. It is directly across the wide street from the Repubblica metro stop and circle. It is the last church Michelangelo designed in Rome. Inside is truly amazing!
Have fun. Talk to people. I never met anyone anywhere who wasn't willing to try to help -- just be polite, smile, and try to use some Italian words. BTW, I have another answer to a similar question in here somewhere with more thoughts.
1.That train travel in Italy is very good. Trains themselves are generally not swish and sleek but are clean, reliable and cheap. They are also a great way to see a lot of the country, including small towns and villages that you might otherwise miss. See: www.trenitalia.com
2. That it is always good to know a few sentences in Italian. People in Italy are generally very warm and friendly especially when you speak a little of their language.
3. Food is wonderful and is mainly regional. Always try the best local dish.
4. Ask for wine recommendation. You'll be amazed at the quality of local wine.
5. Be very very careful if you drive in Puglia!!!
Buy some cookbooks about the local cuisines (eg Venetian cuisine, not just Italian). That will give you an idea of some interesting local foods to try. I believe all those cities have amazing bookstores. In particular Libreria Acqua Alta di Frizzo Luigi comes to mind.
Book your train tickets on www.trenitalia.com before you go, print them out and show them on board. It's very easy to go by train in Italy =).
I love this place. If you want to see the Basilica di San Marco you can book VIP-tickets online and skip the long wait. The St Mark's Campanile is another thing you shouldn't miss. Go up in the elevator for a wonderful view over the city and the nearby islands. Take walks in the evening when the town is more quiet.
I could probably give you more advice but I'm too tired right now =). I hope you have a great tip! Remember to drink water and look at the local tourist sites for more tips =).
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I enjoy traveling through Italy & I even lived there (in Pisa) as an au pair for a summer... My best advice to tourists is to try to visit some of the smaller towns and not just the BIG cities! If you are traveling to Florence, Pisa and Lucca are a must. Tuscany has many charming hill towns perfect for vacationing, one of my favorites and most picturesque is San Gimignano. If you enjoy hiking and the outdoors then head to the Cinque Terre... For more in depth about any of these towns you can check out my detailed blog posts all about Italy! http://thesportysightseer.com/category/italy/
Best of luck, I hope you fall in love with Italy as I have!!
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Don't be paranoid, but went on the train watch your luggage. Put it above and across from you so that you don't lose eye contact. Mine was directly above head and I had no idea it was taken. The most important advice I could give you is to go slow and not feel a rush to see everything on this trip. You'll be back. if you take the time to just lean in and enjoy the experience with some planning beforehand and some must sees you will have a way better trip.
Yes. First, the people (in general) in Rome were a lot less friendly than I had expected. They're not outwardly aggressively mean, but they're a bit cold. And I got the sense that they thought less of tourists. I won't get into details but I got some sub-standard food at some restaurants that I was convinced would never have been served to a local. I personally found the food to be disappointing in Rome, which surprised me immensely. You MUST see Rome, and all of the sites, but you really only need a couple of days. I knew this going in, but in case you don't, the pizza in Rome is generally sub-standard. Rome recs include Ristorante Cadorna for a great carbonara (best of my life), a fantastic bakery off of Campo de' Fiori called Il Forno Campo de' Fiori for either a pistachio tart or ricotta tart, and for hotel Jumeirah Grand Hotel Via Veneto. Florence is surprisingly tiny, but it's a lot warmer in terms of atmosphere. You can spend several days there and enjoy the relaxation aspect of it. Take the train there from Rome and pay for the express train. It's worth it. It was difficult to get tickets next to one another using the automated ticket screens, which was very odd, so that was unexpected, and we had to go to the office to get our seats next to one another. Maybe it's fixed now? Recs for Florence include the best Gelato in Italy Gelateria Santa Trinita http://www.gelateriasantatrinita.it/index_ing.html, a visit to the Mercato Centrale Firenze Srl, and dinner at Trattoria I Due G which is off the beaten path but had great bisteca fiorentina and was a truly authentic experience.
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Go now and go often! I have been a number of times, the last time being October 2014, when I took a cooking class for a week in Abruzzo Our village of Carnuchio shown in picture. I met some lovely people and had the best time. In fact one couple from Newfoundland is visiting me next week.
I did have an experience with the train from Rome to Venice several years ago. We couldn't figure out which car to get on and a young woman came up and showed us the car and offered to help us get settled. I figured she was a train employee. But after it was all said and done, she expected tip. No way. Could have been scary.
Getting around Venice isn't nearly as difficult as it might seem - once you are rid of your luggage, that is! Navigating the alleys and the water busses with luggage in tow isn't fun. On the other hand, everyone is in the same "boat" at least twice each trip so no worries, it's all do-able. And if you arrive in the wee hours then the wheels on your bags will sound like a jet engine amid all the silence!
Travel light. Train is the best way to travel. I think it is very safe as long as you keep your eye on your belongings (I would do that on any train around the world). Reserving a seat on the train doesn't mean you won't find someone sitting on it. You can politely ask them to leave.
If your travel plan is:
1) Verona (between Milan and Venice) - to catch an Opera and to see where Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet is set.
2) Pisa (90 minutes from Florence). It is certainly fascinating to see the leaning tower.
Also, the "free" glass factory tour from Venice is a good experience but expect some hard selling. You can walk away buying something small or without buying anything.
On our trip, we did not book any hotels, except at the first stop (we flew into Zurich and flew out of Rome). This gave my wife and I a lot of flexibility to stay to change our itinerary. You can find hotel deals at the train station. Make sure to ask for a room with a bathroom, if you care for it.
Have a good trip.
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Get a guide to tour Vatican City. Our guide led us into the Sistine Chapel at least 5 minutes before anyone else arrived. At our guide's suggestion, we just looked up until we were surrounded by hordes of tourists, then he began the tour. Obviously we had an early tour but we didn't have to wait in line and whatever it cost it was worth every penny. Plus the local guides are so knowledgeable.
Be brave, rent a car and go wherever you want. Throw your luggage in the trunk and drive through those narrow streets in small towns. Stop to smell the flowers, inhale the vistas. Travel is mostly in the getting there. True story: flew into Milan, picked up our rental car at the airport, drove on a side road straight to the city heading for the hotel we had booked on line before leaving the states. We got sort of lost and came to a dead end with huge concrete barriers preventing us from going farther. So we stopped pulled out our map to get our bearings. We look out through the windshield and recognize that right beyond the barriers is the Santa Maria delle Grazie, the church and convent where da Vinci's "Last Supper" is located. We knew exactly where we were.
We wanted to go Venice but instead of booking hotels in Venice we stayed in a very nice little hotel directly across the street from the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua. We parked free at the hotel and took a 20 minute train ride into Venice every morning and returned late in evening usually stopping at a small restaurant or chatting with the night concierge at the hotel. His advice was to not drink the vini dalla casa at the restaurants. He said they mix all the left over wine together. We drank it anyway since it was cheap and good enough to satisfy a small meal and not feel bad about adding a bit of water to it which is not uncommon at a family home meal. He also gave me a couple of recommendations for local bottled wine which we followed him up on and bought one to take home.
I don't know if you can get to see Sabbioneta, north of Parma, any other way. Maybe so. But driving through the Arched entrance to this medieval commune at 10 in the evening was an unforgettable experience.
Okay, I know there are many negatives to driving but.........
Last fall we flew into Venice where we spent a few nights, took a train to Florence and stayed a few nights, rented a car there and drove to Castiglion Fiorentino where we stayed one night (too short!), then drove to Rome and stayed one night (which was enough for us), took a train to Sorrento where we stayed a couple of nights, took a boat to Capri where we stayed a couple of nights, then a boat back to Naples, where we stayed a night and then flew out of.
Venice was cool to see, but of course very crowded with tourists. We actually stayed on Lido, which seemed much slower-paced than Venice itself. The downside is you have to take a ferry into the city, but we did enjoy staying on the island.
Florence was fantastic. We stayed a couple of blocks from the Duomo, which was especially beautiful at night. The food in Florence was great, and very reasonably priced.
Sorrento was very beautiful. We rented scooters and drove all around the peninsula, which I recommend. I wouldn't do that in a car (too crowded!), but on a scooter you've got more freedom.
Capri was very expensive. Beautiful, but very expensive. Once was enough for us.
It was great to see the sights in Rome, but we didn't enjoy it as a place like we did the others. Same goes for Naples (but we did only spend a few hours there).
If you want a break from the big cities and crowds, spending some time in the countryside near Castiglion Fiorentino, Montepulciano, or similar small towns would be a great idea. It's a beautiful area, and the food is wonderful.
We found traveling by train and by rental car fine and mostly hassle-free. The train from Naples to Sorrento is a slower commuter train, but priced to match. The others we took (Venice -> Florence and Rome -> Naples) were fast and very comfortable, and we felt reasonably priced.
We went at an off-peak time, and were able to stay very flexibly with our plans. We only booked two nights in Venice to start with, and from there made decisions about where and when to go next on the fly. We were very glad we did that, since it let us spend more time in the places we enjoyed (Florence), and leave early when we weren't enjoying a place as much (such as Rome). We had great luck using AirBnB/VRBO to find accommodations.
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Rome: never been, but it is HUGE!
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1. Eat all the local food, especially ice cream and lasagna (not at the same time).
2. The trains are the best option. They drive like maniacs over there and flights can be expensive.
3. Nothing is for free.
4. Some are generally quite rude, especially if you end up not buying their goods. Don't take it personally.
5. Get a map app, like maps.me - as you will get lost forever in Venice without it.
6. Leave a tip if you like the service, but its not a percentage - more like 2-3 euros for a meal for two. Also, service in restaurants can be rather slow in Italy - its just the way it is. They will come round to you eventually.
7. Get the Roma pass from any kiosk, its definitely worth it.
I would look at a map and plan my journey, fly into one city, take trains to other cities and fly out of a different city. This makes traveling much easier, not backtracking.. I would also purchase my train tickets ahead of time. I noticed online they were cheaper, then when we purchased day of, they were more expensive.
One bag and put a travel lock on your suitcase is my standard answer for any travel tip!
If you decide to rent a car in Italy, be ready that car rental prices are very low in Italy, but the petrol prices are pretty high. Once my friends and I went to Italy and rented very cheap car at http://italy.rentalcars24h.com/milan-airport-malpensa/firefly-car-rental-at-malpensa-airport . We had unforgettable trip; however, we spend quite a lot of money on petrol.
Validate your train ticket before boarding! As clueless American students, we were lucky enough to get off with a warning, but I've heard stories from people who had to pay the fine. This post by Chanel at Cutural Xplorer is a great primer on train travel in Italy.