There are so many amazing sites to behold in Rome that you could easily spend a week or more trying to see them all. But, if you only have 3 days, we recommend visiting Vatican City for a ½ day tour as well as a 3 hour tour of the Coliseum and Roman Forum. We are not usually big on formal group tours especially while traveling on a tight budget; however, the sheer volume of tourists flowing through Rome on any given day makes it very difficult to show up and buy tickets without a bit of pre-planning. Thus, we highly recommend getting tickets to the Vatican and Sistine Chapel as well as the Coliseum at least 2 days before your planned arrival. You can buy tickets directly from the Vatican website or there are tons of reputable travel companies selling them as well just make sure to check their reviews on TripAdvisor. We found the Vatican website to be the cheapest and then we booked our Coliseum tour through a company called Musement.
We arrived in Rome from La Spezia via train in about 5 hours. We had reserved a business class train which was quite lovey and comfortable. Upon arrival at the San Pietro station, we took a 10 minute cab ride to our apartment near Vatican city which proved to be an excellent home base for site seeing. We had a great AirBnb located 5 minutes walking distance from the Metro station for an affordable price of only €100 per night. We were also located about 10-15 minutes walking distance from the Vatican entrance.
On our first full day, we took a 3.5 hour guided group tour through the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica that we booked directly through the Vatican’s website for about €37 per person. The tour groups are large but well organized by language. You have a live-guide walking groups of up to 35 people through the museums and galleries at a slow, manageable pace. Don’t be surprised by the heavy security or the massive amounts of tourists at the Vatican. We were told that 22,000 tourists visit the Vatican every single day so you can imagine how crowded the spaces get. I also contracted a cold 2 days after visiting the Vatican, so be vigilant and careful not to contract those Holy germs.
The highlight for me was seeing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel; but sadly, you are not allowed to take photos or videos inside the chapel. I guarantee you have NEVER seen a vivid piece of artwork quite like that. And once you learn a bit about Michelangelo’s process in painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, you will be utterly amazed at the masterpiece he created!
The highlight for Mike was the famous fresco by Raphael “the School of Athens” in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. Not only is it striking for its size, vivid colors and natural movement of the figures in the painting, but when you learn about all the people in the painting and understand the significance of their contributions to the arts and sciences, it becomes even more powerful! We also very much enjoyed the Gallery of Maps as well as the grandeur of St. Peter’s Cathedral, the largest in the world! It is also interesting to learn the history of The Vatican and to understand that it is its own Country within Italy.
• Pre-Book your Tickets ONLINE! You will regret it if you don’t.
• Make sure to eat breakfast before you go and bring a bottle of water.
• Make sure to wear comfortable shoes for this tour. It’s long and tiring but well worth it.
• Dress church appropriate – no shorts, hats, low cut tops or sleeveless shirts. We saw some women being turned away in the Sistine Chapel for inappropriate dress.
If you have the energy after your tour, you can always plan a walking route around the city to see some of the other nearby-ish highlights. Some of the other MAJOR sites are the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. The Pantheon was built as a Roman Temple in 1st century (118-128) AD and even 2,000 years later, it still has the largest unreinforced cement dome in the world. It’s quite spectacular. The Trevi Fountain was designed by Nicola Salvi in 1762 and is certainly one of the most beautiful, grandiose fountains in the world. It is lovely to visit both day and night but is definitely more romantic at night. Rumor has it, if you throw a coin into the fountain over your left shoulder, you will be sure to return to Rome in the near future! I hope the legend is true for us!
There are so many other historical buildings, churches and sites to see in Rome. The list is endless. So, we just focused on the ones that were recommended to us including the Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Venezia and Baths of Caracalla. We walked until we couldn’t bear to walk any longer, then we stopped for an aperitif and went home to freshen up for dinner.
On our final full day in Rome, we had pre-booked a tour of the Coliseum and Roman Forum. I was so grateful we had the foresight to pre-book tickets because the line for day-of passes was about 90 minutes long. Ours was a small group tour (10 people) and we paid €50 per person for a 2.5 hour walk around the Coliseum and Roman Forum. The guide was super informative and it is so much more memorable to hear about the history of Rome, the sheer genius of the engineers and architects in 80AD rather than just walking it on your own. It’s incredible to see how they built such a large, technologically advanced marble stadium to fit 70,000 Romans. Once you hear the stories of how the coliseum shows were used as political propaganda for the emperors, it helps to piece together the reason for the rise and fall of the Roman empire.
Also, before the tour, I thought the Roman Forum looked like a bunch of piles of rock and broken down pillars/statues. But, it is so much more than that…and it’s incredible to think that only 30% of ancient Rome has been excavated to this day. That means 70% of Roman history is still lying beneath what we know as modern day Rome. It’s a history I cannot fathom. And when you’re in Rome, you should definitely put this tour on your list!
As I mentioned, there are dozens of historical and architectural wonders in Rome. I suggest making a list of your must-sees and plotting them out on a map (printed or Google) so that you can make sure to fit them all in. Rome is a large city and it’s challenging to do it all by foot unless you have 5+ days. You can make it easy on yourself by doing a city site seeing bus tour OR if you’re brave enough to navigate it, you can use the metro lines as well. There are only 3 metro lines in Rome and they are quite cheap and fairly easy to navigate if you just pay attention. For example, we rode the A and B lines to the Coliseum for only €1.50 each! Plus, riding public transportation makes you feel more like a local and honestly, it gets you to your destination often times faster than a taxi due to the heavy traffic in Rome.
One of the greatest things about Rome is the amazing food selection. The locals we met all provided us with a laundry list of amazing restaurants. Be warned that dinner in Rome does not begin until at least 7:30 or 8pm. If you’re like us, we are usually starving by 8pm which works out quite well because the restaurants are not super busy that early in the evening. It turns out, most of the locals have dinner after 8:30pm. So, if you’re trying to get into a popular restaurant without a reservation, make sure to turn up early and you’ll likely snag a table.
Having spent so much time in Italy already, I can’t say the food in Rome is really any better than what we already experienced; however, there is just so much more of it. You won’t be hard pressed to find great food in any neighborhood. But one of the most well renowned areas is Trastevere, a colorful, boho area known for its trattorias, pubs and artisan shops. Make sure to have dinner at one of the Trattorias here at least 1 evening during your stay.
I do want to point out one very memorable experience we had at a little, family owned restaurant called Ragno D’oro. It’s a local’s spot and you can pretty much guarantee a packed house every night of the week, tables filled with large, animated and loud Italian families having a blast. Fabio is a fantastic waiter. We never even saw a menu. All the food was served family style from appetizers, to the pasta course and the main entrée as well. And don’t forget about dessert...they brought out a sampler platter for us to try it all. Wine was flowing in 1 liter jugs and somehow we ended up with a bottle of limoncello on our table at the end of the night. The food was traditional Italian style as well as the ambience. It was an amazing, genuine experience that can only be had in Italy!
No matter what you decide to do in Rome, you are guaranteed a truly unique experience filled with rich history, culture, shopping and excellent food. It’s no wonder the Capital of Italy is such an influential and awe-inspiring city!
Saint Peters Basilica Vatican
There are 2 major things to consider before you pack your bags for the Amalfi Coast in Italy: Location of your Lodging and Means of Transportation. It is quite a long, windy, mountainous coastline that can be hard to navigate. Keep in mind that a drive from Salerno to Positano is 65km and can take about 2 hours. The Amalfi coast can also be very expensive; so, depending on your budget, you may find it easy to break the bank on hotels! In order to help you make the most out of your holiday in Amalfi, please consider the following before you go:
1) Consider your lodging home base carefully! No doubt you’ve seen the photos of Amalfi and Positano and are dying to stay in the heart of either of those 2 towns. Keep in mind, hotels in Amalfi and Positano are very expensive. Even in off season, we found rates of $300-1,200 per night. If your budget allows, these are the 2 best places to stay and great hubs for exploring the coastline.
If your budget is not so rich, you should consider B&Bs or AirBnB as they provide a much cheaper option with most breakfasts included. Though make sure to look into the reviews closely. It’s easy to get bamboozled on an old, rundown B&B if you don’t research thoroughly. And finally, for a tighter budget, consider staying in nearby towns like Salerno, Maiori, Minori, Conca dei Marini, Praiano, etc., as they are not as well known but offer considerable charm and good proximity to Amalfi and Positano.
2) Consider your means of transportation! As I mentioned, the Amalfi Coastline is 65km from Salerno to Positano; thus, you need a means of transportation. Many tourists rent cars, take taxis/private drivers or book day trip tours to get around. Keep in mind that a one-way taxi ride from Salerno to Amalfi is €120 which can add up quickly.
We opted for the cheaper, more exhilarating route and rented a scooter. The cost for 4 days on a scooter was a mere €160. But, driving in the Amalfi coast is NOT for the faint of heart. The steep cliffs and winding roads will definitely get your adrenaline going whether you travel in a coach bus, car or by scooter. We do NOT recommend walking or bicycling the coastline. There are no sidewalks or bike paths.
And finally, the fastest way to get around Amalfi is by boat. Ferries run from town to town daily at scheduled intervals from as low as €8 per person but you will be at the mercy of the ferry schedules.
Upon arrival in Salerno by train, we scheduled a taxi to our AWFUL B&B “Locanda D’Amalfi” which cost us €120 one way. We knew the B&B was nothing special when we booked it but it seemed to be centrally located in Amalfi with ocean views and well priced at $135 per night via Booking.com. I can’t tell you how disappointed we were when we finally saw our room. It was nothing like the photos and resembled a jail-cell tomb with no sunlight, no proper windows and not even a proper door. We couldn’t understand how that horrible hotel received 4 star reviews. Well, upon deeper inspection, past guests had only given positive reviews regarding the 2 ocean view, balcony rooms offered by the hotel, whereas we had booked a standard room. My point here to you is to do your research. Make sure you know what you are signing up for before you book your room on the Amalfi Coast as many hotels and B&Bs are old, rundown and disappointing.
Unfortunately, we were not able to get any refund from the hotel as the management staff was horrible to work with but we ended up having quite an opposite and lovely experience once we moved to our new boutique hotel in Vietri Sul Mar called Aquaboutique. We highly recommend this hotel as it’s BRAND NEW, beautiful, tiny and the staff/service is 5 star. The only drawback is that it is located near Salerno which is quite a bit further from the towns of Amalfi and Positano.
It is nearly impossible to get around and visit all the prime tourist locations without a car or scooter. That said, we rented a Scooter for 4 days which was one of the most nerve-wracking, exhilarating and fun things Mike and I have ever done together. It cost us a mere €40 per day and was so fun to ride up, down and over the Monti Lattari mountain range in Campania Italy. We even rode the scooter (along with our friends John & Amy) all the way to Pompeii for the day.
Due to the location of our hotel and the spread out nature of the coastline, it is important to plan your time out well. We were glad we had 6 days in Amalfi so that we could take several day trips to enjoy the most important and beautiful towns. Below is a recap of all the day trips we took while in the Amalfi coast:
Our day trip started with a 30 minute scooter ride to Ravello from Amalfi which proved to be a lovely climb up the Monti Lattari mountains. As you climb up 365 meters, you have an incredible view of the sea below.
Ravello is a small resort town well-renowned for its cliffside gardens in the Villa Rufolo as well as the Infinity Terrace at Villa Cimbrone. It also plays host to outdoor concerts every summer, bringing music lovers from all over the world for the Ravello Festival. It’s a lovely pit stop for lunch and a garden stroll with your lover. It’s fun to wander the town, enjoy the Tuesday market, have a few drinks and take in the views of the coastline below. 2-3 hours is plenty of time to enjoy what Ravello has to offer.
After our visit to Ravello, we decided to brave the drive to Pompeii! It’s impossible for me to fully describe the beauty of this 1.5 hour scooter drive to Pompeii. It’s an extremely curvy road, narrow at many points, green, lush vegetation with lemon trees for miles, goat crossings and even Italian men on scooters pulling horses along the way. You’ll see dozens of traditional farming villages and drive through the impoverished, yet bustling city of Pompeii. It’s quite a treat, but don’t forget to make sure your Google Maps is on point because it’s very easy to get lost!
My only regret was leaving a little too late in the day for Pompeii as we didn’t arrive to the ruins until 4pm which only gave us 2 hours to explore the massive archeological site. Tickets to enter are €13 per person and well worth it. You can easily spend 4 hours there and definitely sign up for a guided tour so you can get the most out of your visit. For those of you who don’t know much about Pompeii, its an ancient Roman city that was demolished by Mt. Vesuvius when it erupted in 79AD. The city was not re-discovered until 1748 by a group of explorers who started the excavations which are still going on today. What they found was enough to make you speechless…much of the city of Pompeii was left intact underneath the lava rock. It is a MUST-SEE during your time in Amalfi or in Naples. You can also take a group tour via coach bus or a private tour via taxi from your hotel in Amalfi or Positano. A scooter trip is NOT required but it is highly recommended for the adventurous types.
We also had a delicious and inexpensive lunch while in Pompeii at a hotel/restaurant called Hostaria Plinio. They specialize in traditional Italian fare such as pizza, pasta and shell fish! The waiters spoke English well and even offered us free Parking if we dined with them. The ambiance was lush, green and romantic as well.
No trip to the Amalfi coast is complete without spending the day in Positano. As I mentioned previously, Positano is probably the most beloved area of the Amalfi Coast with the most 4 and 5 star hotel accommodations. There are tons of B&Bs as well but the prices are as steep as the stairs to reach them!
It is impossible to get around in Positano without climbing and descending thousands of stairs; so, if you are not in physical condition to do this, we highly recommend staying in a different area. Even having a stroller in Positano can ruin your experience. On the bright side, walking the stairs on a regular basis sure helps you burn off all the calories from the amazing pasta dishes served in their impeccable restaurants.
While in Positano, you must enjoy a day or two or 10 at one of the beaches. We spent the day at Pupetto Café Beach Restaurant which is on one of the smaller, more secluded beaches where you can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas. We paid €24 to rent 4 towels, 2 chairs and 1 umbrella. The café serves excellent cheap cocktails at an average of €4 each and damn good pizza too! Just keep in mind that the beaches in Amalfi are rocky and not sandy so wearing water shoes will save your feet!
While in Positano, you can explore several other beaches including Spiaggia, Laurito and Fornillo beaches. All provide amazing views and have beach clubs where you can rent chairs and purchase food/drinks.
During your time in Positano, you should check out the shopping and definitely try the array of fine cuisine. As far as restaurants, make sure to secure a reservation at Chez Black, located in the heart of Positano. Their seafood and pasta dishes come highly recommended as well as the people watching!
And, if you’re in the market for some new sandals, you can have a pair or two made specifically for you for about €50. They have hundreds of varieties and the shoe makers literally make them to order on site. It’s a truly unique experience!
Once again, just beware of the stairs! They are endless…and for better or worse, they are one of the most memorable parts of Positano for us.
Again, what trip to Amalfi is complete without a stop in Capri?! Capri is as glamourous as it gets on the Amalfi Coast with smoothies that cost €12 each, celebrities taping reality TV shows in private boats, and overpriced pink convertible taxis escorting tourists to 5 star resorts and restaurants.
If you’re like us and are trying to experience Capri on a beer budget, don’t worry, there are still plenty of ways to soak up the island culture. First off, we booked a jet ferry boat from Salerno to Capri round trip for €48 each. The best thing about the ferry boat was getting to see Amalfi and Positano from the water as well.
Once we arrived in Capri, we were excited to book another short boat ride to see the famous Blue Grotto. Unfortunately, the Blue grotto was closed for the day due to the high tides. But luckily, we found a tour company to take us around the island and to 2 other grottos (Green Grotto and White Grotto) for only €15 per person. The company was called Laser Capri and their office is just off the pier at Marina Grande. The highlights of our 1 hour boat tour around Capri included: Arco Naturale, Grotto Bianca, Villa Jovis, Grotta Verde, Punta Carena and Marina Piccola as well as the famous rock formations I Faraglioni. It was a lovely and inexpensive way to see the island of Capri from the water.
Once we returned from the boat trip, we still had about 4 hours to enjoy the day before the last ferry back at 5:15pm. So, we decided to take a taxi to Marina Piccola on the other side of the island and enjoy the crystal clear waters at Torre Saracena. The beach here is very secluded and rocky. It costs €12 each to get in and to be able to use their facilities. Even though it wasn’t the biggest or most comfortable beach ever, it was BEAUTIFUL and the swimming was unforgettable. From this beach, you can swim to several grottos on your own. And when you get thirsty or hungry, the Torre Saracena restaurant is right there to serve you amazing coastal cuisine. I had the best oysters of my life here!
But, if you prefer an easier and cheaper beach day, you can always enjoy the Marina Grande free of charge. There are literally dozens of beaches around the island of Capri. I recommend taking a look at the map to see which locations suites your needs best!
You can easily spend several days exploring the island of Capri. If we had more time, we would’ve gone to the center of the island to ride the Monte Solaro chair lift for the panoramic views and the Capri Funicular or railway system that takes you to the main city center.
We would’ve also liked to explore the area of Anacapri. No matter what you choose to do on your day in Capri, you will undoubtedly experience the opulence and beauty of this unforgettable Italian island!
Even though we spent 6 days in the Amalfi coast, we were not able to see and do everything on our list. A few other tours and attractions to take in that are unique to this area of the world are as follows:
• Limoncello Tour – There are several companies that take you to the lemon fields and show you how to make the traditional Italian Limoncello! You also get to taste all lemon-flavored favorites such as cakes and gelato.
• Visit Ceramics Factory & Shops – Amalfi Coast is known for its painted ceramic tiles, walls and furniture. Take a tour through one of the many factories and even have a custom piece made for your own home!
• Day Trip to Sorrento – Although it is on the other side of the peninsula, Sorrento offers much of the same beauty as Amalfi and Positano. If you have time, it’s worth a day trip. We will have to return for this in the future.
While riding the scooter along the Amalfi coast, we stopped to admire the picturesque view of Positano and the surrounding mountains! What a beautiful sight to see!
We were advised that we must experience the city of Napoli during our 6 week tour of Italy. I have to admit, upon arrival at the train station, we were immediately taken aback by the sheer amount of people, poverty and traffic. After a week in the Amalfi coast, it was a bit jarring. But once we arrived at our AirBnB in the historical center (Via St. Gregorio Armeno), we were very pleased with the old world feel. There were souvenir shops lining the streets and many tour groups mesmerized by the large, handmade nativity scenes and thousands of comical figurines for purchase. You will not see artisan fares like this anywhere else in Italy, I can assure you.
Our first item of business was to find the BEST pizza in Napoli. This is obviously a controversial topic but 2 restaurants seem to rise to the top of everyone’s list: L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele and Pizzeria di Matteo. We selected Da Michele as they have been making pizza in Naples since 1870 so it must be good, right? Talk about a long line and small menu. At 5:30pm (too early for dinner in Italy), we waited about 30 minutes for a table and were shocked to see that there are only 2 pizzas on the menu: Margherita and Marinara. Mike and I both ordered our own Medium Margherita pizza and I must say, it was one of the best I’ve ever had. The sauce is so fresh and the dough is perfectly prepared. It’s pure, delightful simplicity. So Italian! We loved it. And the best part is, were out the door with beer and pizza filled bellies for less than €20.
The next morning, I was on a mission for the other famous Napoli delicacies: Sfagliatella and Baba. Both are pastries eaten for breakfast with coffee or as desserts. Sfogliatelle are shell-shaped pastries with small, thin layers filled with a sweet, ricotta cheese filling. Baba are small yeast cakes soaked in rum simple syrup. Both are scrumptious and not to be missed while in Napoli!
There are several interesting sites to see while in Naples but most of them involve medieval castles and old Catholic churches and archaeological museums which we were needing a break from.
So, we decided to take a guided tour of Napoli Sotterranea or Naples Underground which takes you 40 meters below ground into a 5,000 year old Greek Roman Aqueduct and theater! Throughout centuries, the Greeks, Romans and Italians expanded the aqueducts to about 2 million square meters by the 20th century. During the 2nd World War, Neapolitans used the caves as air-raid shelters where up to 2,000 people lived periodically. The atmosphere in the caves is dark, damp and eerie, but the history is fascinating and we thoroughly enjoyed learning about the progression and uses for the underground city over the course of Past 5,000 years. This tour is something a little different from what you typically see in Italy so it was a treat for us.
We spent the rest of the day getting ‘lost’ in the city, walking through the shopping district as well as down by the water to see the Castel Nuovo. When in Napoli, you’ll notice a drastic difference in the culture and fashion as compared to Rome, Florence and the rest of Italy. Napoli was less expensive, a little grittier and an good spot for finding counterfeit products or knock-offs, which of course we were NOT in the market for. 😊
Another great day trip from Naples is to visit Mt. Vesuvius and the ancient city of Pompeii. We had already done the trip from the Amalfi Coast but it is much more convenient to see these 2 highlights from Naples!
When planning a trip to Italy, hardly a tourist would pass up the chance to visit Florence. So, 5 weeks in to our Italian adventure, we stopped and spent 3 days in the lovely, fashionable city of Florence. We found that 3 days was plenty of time to explore all the city has to offer and here’s how:
As far as covering the City Center, you can do it all on foot. We found that we could walk from one end of the city to the other in about 40 minutes. We were also surprised to see how much smaller Florence is than Rome and Naples. It is a lovely city that feels relatively quaint, upscale and filled with amazing shopping. No doubt it’s the most fashionable city in Italy aside from Milan with streets upon streets of independent boutiques as well as designer fares. And of course, it’s the perfect place to stock up on Italian made leather goods such as purses, duffel bags, belts, and wallets. You can find leather goods in Florence about as easily as you can find a sombrero in Mexico.
When attempting to explore the top attractions, the Duomo or the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore will likely be at the top of your list. It is built in 14th century Gothic Style with the exterior faced in marble panels in shades of green and pink. When you see it, you will know it immediately and it will stop you in your tracks as it is THAT striking!
One of the most popular things to do is to climb the Duomo with its 460+ stairs in order to see an epic panorama of the city and the surrounding hillside. It’s pretty amazing to get a closer look at the frescos painted on the inside of the Dome as well. The Dome is one of engineer Filippo Brunelleschi’s most famous works. You will want to book your tickets in advance, either online or at the ticket windows throughout the city. A ticket to climb the Duomo is about €16.50 per person but also includes entrance to the Baptistery and the Duomo Museum. All can be seen in about 2.5 hours.
In order not to get too burnt out on tourist activities, we recommend covering the Duomo and related sites in 1 day. Grab lunch at the Mercato Centrale where you can select from dozens of food vendors offering a little something for everyone at reasonable prices. After lunch, wander around the outdoor San Lorenzo market, where you’ll find hundreds of vendors selling leather goods like clothing, notebooks, bags, belts, wallets and jackets. It the perfect place to pick up your Italian souvenirs! Plus, it’s a great way to take a break from all the museums and churches of Florence.
On your 2nd day in Florence, it’s always a pleasure to enjoy 1 or 2 of the most famous museums the city has to offer. You can pre-purchase tickets for €16.50 per person for the World Famous Uffizi Gallery or if you’re energetic, try to cover Uffizi and Galleria dell’Accademia in 1 day. Most people want to know the difference between the 2 museums. Galleria dell’Accademia is most famous for housing the statue of David as well as the statue of Slaves, both by Michelangelo. It is also known for holding important Florentine art from the 13th and 14th centuries. On the other hand, the Uffizi gallery is much larger and is renowned as Italy’s best museum. You’ll want to allocate at least 2 hours to visiting the gallery and it is highly recommended to get a guided tour so that you are guaranteed to see all the most famous works. The rooms are set out in chronological order, from ancient works to the newest and divided by art period and artist. Key artists are Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Titian. After 3-4 hours of perusing the most beautiful artwork in the world, you will likely be ready to sit down, rest your aching feet and indulge in an aperitif!
As I previously mentioned, you will be hard pressed to find a better city for shopping in Italy than Florence. Take a walk down Via Calzaiuoli for boutiques and designer goods. Then make sure to check out Palazzo Vecchio and Ponte Vecchio which is most well known for jewelry and gold vendors. Ponte Vecchio is also a wonderful area to stop for a photo considering it’s one of the most amazing bridges we’ve ever encountered.
Another area to walk and wander in is called Oltrarno. The Oltrarno is and area located south of the River Arno. It contains part of the historic center of Florence and many notable sites including the church Santo Spirito di Firenze, Palazzo Pitti, and Piazzale Michelangelo. You must make to sure to hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset as it has arguably the best views of the entire city!
As you can tell from our write up altogether, Florence has so very much to offer! No doubt, it’s one of our favorite foodie cities in Italy as well. Mike was very pleased because steak is a huge deal in Florence as they are very proud of their high quality meats.
Here are some of our favorite restaurants that we highly recommend while in Florence:
• Acqua al 2: They only have menus in Italian but we recommend trying their sampler options. You can get a salad sampler, pasta sampler, meat sampler, cheese sampler and dessert sampler. Try them all if you’re hungry enough!
• La Giostra: Definitely fine dining atmosphere. Most known for their pear ravioli, wild boar ragu pasta and balsamic steaks!
• Gusta Pizza: Very small, casual pizza restaurant with high quality ingredients and many topping options. Most people get the pizza to go but if you’re lucky, you can snag one of the few tables.
• Mama Ginas: Excellent traditional Italian food with great service and a huge menu. The chicken parmesan is yummy and the T-bone steak was Mike’s favorite.
Ponte Vecchio Florence
Sunset over Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo. It's a MUST-DO while in Florence. We were lucky that Hotel California was playing live in the background!
Before we arrived in Tuscany, everyone told us that we must have a car to really see and explore this area of Italy. We heard the advice so often that we almost took it off our itinerary. Instead, we decided to select 2 home base towns from which to navigate Tuscany: 2 days in Tuscany and 2 days in Orvieto. We took the train from Florence directly to Siena and booked an AirBnB in the center of the San Martino District of Siena. This way, we had the freedom to walk the entire district on foot but could also explore the wine country outside of Siena via Vespa, bicycle or bus tour.
Siena is the perfect example of a medieval city, a masterpiece of urban planning, well integrated into the surrounding countryside. The San Martino District is most famous for the Piazza Del Campo, built in the 13th century, which hosts an annual horse race on the 2nd of July and 16th of August. Towering over the Piazza Del Campo is the Torre Del Mangia which you can climb (+400 steps) for panoramic views of the city. Additionally, the Basilica of Santa Maria Dei Servi is another monument of the town, dating back to 13th century and housing some very precious religious artwork of the time. We spent our first day in Siena, walking around this district and getting lost in the shops of the town’s narrow and steep streets.
The Camollia District of Siena is the part of the city facing its eternal enemy, Florence and was the most protected during the middle ages and renaissance era. The most famous street, Via Camollia is the first road taken by the pilgrims who travelled from Northern Europe to Rome. There are several Basilicas to see while in Camollia and the history of the area is quite rich. However, to be frank, we came to Siena for the Wine Country! Thus, on our 2nd full day, we signed up for a 10 hour wine tour. We found the book of tours at the Tourism office in the center of the city and selected the most extensive tour by the company called “My Tour – The Best in Tuscany”.
The small group tour we selected is called “San Gimignano, Chianti and Montalcino Full Day Wine Tour.” We spent the first part of the day in and around the town of San Gimignano which is known as the city of 100 towers and is the birthplace of Vernaccia, a white wine produced exclusively in this region. From there, we drove to Monteriggioni a tiny ancient fortress town built in the 12th century. After a brief 40 minute stroll through the town, we stopped at a beautiful Chianti winery called Tenuta Torciano with 15 generations of family wine makers. It was here where we stopped for a wonderful lunch, met the family and tasted 7 different wines from Vernaccia and Chianti Classico to Sangiovese and their IGT Super Tuscan proprietary recipes. We continued our tour with a stop in Montalcino which contains 1500 hectares of Brunello vineyards, making this area world famous for its wine.
Our last stop was a small local wine cellar where we had the opportunity to taste 5 wines, including the world famous Brunello di Montalcino, the best of the DOCG wines. We purchased some wine (€29-50 per bottle) and they even offered to ship it back to the USA for an additional charge. The tour was a great time. We met interesting people from around the world, we got to drive through the breathtaking region of Tuscany and try some of Italy’s best wines. The tour cost was €100 per person for a 10 hour tour.
On our final day in Siena, we spent the morning recovering from our long day of wine touring and then hopped on the train to the small, medieval town of Orvieto.
Orvieto is a small city perched on a rock cliff in the Umbria region of Italy with a famous Cathedral dating back to 1290. Underneath the façade of the city walls lies a vast network of underground caves which attests to the city’s Etruscan roots. During the sieges throughout history, the people of Orvieto dug tunnels to extract water for survival. You can see a small section of the Orvieto Underground via a guided tour (€6 per person) which takes you through a labyrinth of subterranean rooms and passages corresponding to the city above. The tour guide points out how the nobleman of the time raised pigeons for food and you will get to see an old olive oil mill. It’s amazing to think that the entire city of Orvieto sits atop thousands of caves created thousands of years before. You can also see Pozzo di San Patrizio (St. Patrick’s Well). It is an engineering masterpiece of 1527, commissioned by Pop Clement VII that is 62 meters deep.
Unlike the seaside towns of Italy which specialize in shellfish and sardines, the Tuscan countryside specializes in local produce, meats and seasonal dishes. Tuscan cooking is also called “Cucina Povera” or Poor Cooking as it’s all about simple, locally sourced preparations that are inexpensive and can be made in large quantities.
It’s very common to start your meal with an Antipasto of cured sliced meats. Tuscan people are also very fond of soups such as bean soup or lentil soup. In Tuscany, it is very easy to find tagliatelle or ravioli al tartufo which is basically different types of pasta covered in truffle sauce.
Don’t worry, you’ll still find all your common Italian dishes like Pizza, Lasagna and Bologneses while in Tuscany; however, you’ll also find additional sauces made from wild hare, pigeon, rabbit and wild boar. While in Tuscany, definitely try to local dishes because you’ll find the local meats are much more fresh and tender. Stay away from the “tourist menus” as you won’t be as impressed with the recipes or flavors. Here are some highly recommended restaurants in Siena and Orvieto:
Guidoriccio (Siena) – Tuscan food and lots of pasta in a rustic, old wine cellar ambiance
Taverna di San Giuseppe (Siena) – Upscale Tuscan cuisine in a small, quaint and romantic environment
Trattoria la Palomba (Orvieto) – Down Home Cooking in typical Tuscan style
Trattoria del Moro Aronne (Orvieto) – Down Home Cooking in typical Tuscan style
To give you a taste of the history in Orvieto, here is a video of the AirBnB studio apartment we rented, built in the1300s. The entire town is like this: small, old, quaint and very memorable!