Italy is an absolutely beautiful country. Being long and narrow, it is home to every type of landscape imaginable. From huge mountains, to fields and valleys, to lakes, to gorgeous coastlines, to unique islands, Italy has it all! It is home to some of the most fantastic cities in the world as well as beautiful villages that ooze Italian charm. Farmlands and vineyards pop up everywhere you look.
If you are looking for a vacation where you can cover the gamut of activities, Italy is the place for you. Explore larger cities like Rome, Florence, Milan and many more. Stop at smaller cities like Venice, which will never disappoint. Both relax and rage on Lake Como. Spend your holiday drinking all the best wines that Tuscany has to offer. Travel down the Amalfi coastline and be prepared to never want to leave. Go where ever you desire. It will be fabulous.
Italians are a very fun and lively bunch. Family and friends are everything, as well as good wine, great food and 'football'. Sounds like they have it all figured out to me! Restaurants and bars are open late and you can always find clubs if that's your thing. Food and drinks are also very reasonable if you are on a budget. Wine is so cheap and so good! Stock up with a few bottles and sit off at a nice park or on your hotel balcony. Enjoying happy hour with an Apreol Spritz is a no brainer. If you've never had one, you'll have to try it. It is a very popular cocktail throughout Europe and is fantastic.
Breakfast isn't a big meal like it is in the US. Most of the time, Italians just grab a coffee, fresh orange juice and a croissant or pastry. All delicious. Cafes here do not open super earlier either. Lunch and dinner are where it's at! Lunch for Italians is typically from 1-2pm. With that, you will find that many shops and bodegas actually close from around 1-3pm. Make sure you take this into account if you were planning to shop a little bit. But back to the food... As you know, authentic Italian food is just so freaking good! Homemade pastas and sauces are to die for. Legit pizza. Don't forget to make room for the best desserts as well. Gelato, tiramisu, cannoli's, cream puffs and more. I'm drooling just making this list. Pretty much be ready to crush some carbs. You will be dreaming about the food as soon as you leave. Go off the main drags and choose a more local spot. It'll be worth it!
Being part of the EU, the Euro is also the currency for Italy. Make sure to have cash with you for small cafes in villages. Italian is obviously the national language, but in the cities, most people will speak English as well. In more quaint areas and villages, you may experience a little bit of a language barrier. Be sure to download Google Translate if you intend to travel around. It will help with communication and with signs and menus. You'll be surprised how quickly you will pick up some words and phrases.
Traveling in Italy and most of Europe for that matter is relatively easy. You can take the train to most prime tourist locations. It is a very nice and relaxing way to get around. You also get the perk of seeing a lot of the amazing scenery throughout the journey. You can also do a quick flight if needed here and there. Flights within Italy are very cheap as well if you prefer. Finally, you can rent a car if you want to explore and get out of the cities. Make sure you request an automatic : ).
Personally, I have a million things on my Italian bucket list, that I could spend a whole year just traveling this country alone. But I am checking things off the list, one weekend at a time! Much much more to come!
What a gorgeous place! Built on tiny islands within the sea, this mind blowing city is a site to behold. Every narrow alleyway and bridge takes you somewhere new and unexpected. Canals flow through the entire city and are filled with gondolas and wooden motor boats. You really have to be skilled to be able maneuver all the twists and turns.
The city has both beautiful architecture as well as its own unique ambiance. You can explore the endless canals, take in the beauty of all the sites, visit the museums, discover the various districts, shop local or high end and eat and drink until your heart is content. While in Venice, you can also ferry over to neighboring islands for a day trip. It's nice to get on the water and see places with totally different vibes than the main city.
Venice is larger than I originally thought. It has 150 canals throughout the city, which is insane. The most well known and largest is The Grand Canal. Venice also has so many little neighborhoods here and there. With that, and all the unmarked alleyways and dead ends, it is extremely easy to get turned around. Remember you're never really lost! Make sure you have a phone with GPS available without being on WiFi. You will need it. I don't know how people found their way back in the day. Yes, your hotel will give you a map, but even getting to your hotel from the train station or water taxi is an event. With that, Venice is not a place to get wasted and try to find your way back to your hotel. Unless you stay in a main area, which is a straight shot back, I wouldn't chance it. I have zero sense of direction, but Steve has this weird inner compass. Even he had to Google Maps quite a lot. Think about Venice being its own version of a corn maze... just this maze you can't cut through when you get pissed because you can't find your way.
Wear good sneakers! You will be putting in miles walking around, we averaged 10+ per day. Remember, Venice is a super old city. The streets are cobblestone with lots of stairs. If it rains, your feet will be getting wet. Being pretty much at sea level, heavy rains cause serious flooding. You will see some pictures of how high the water has risen in the past and how much it has flooded. Bring an umbrella and a light rain jacket just incase.
Also, do not pack like you are moving in for a month. There are no cars or taxis in Venice. You have to carry or roll your luggage all the way to your hotel, which may be quite a walk. Make sure your luggage wheels are ready for the uneven cobblestone terrain and can squeeze down the alleyways and tight corridors. You can take the ferry taxi to different drop off and pick up locations, which may be a little closer. Work with the concierge of your hotel to determine your best option.
I would say that I enjoyed Venice even more than I would have expected. I usually do not like feeling confined with a lot of people, even before all this craziness, but luckily there wasn't an insane amount of visitors. For reference, Venice receives approximately 20 million tourists each year, which is quite a lot for a smaller city. With that being said, I would suggest going to Venice in the Spring or mid/late Fall. We went in May which was perfect, even with some days being a little toasty. The city gets very hot and the curves of the walkways block a lot of the air circulation. Also, the canals aren't really 'flowing' waterways per say, so they can get that stinky stagnant water smell. Mosquitoes are also around, so watch leaving your hotel balcony windows open.
Venice is a dog friendly city. Astrid was allowed anywhere and everywhere, however, grass is hard to come by. If you intend to bring your furry friend, find a hotel within a short walk to the park. Also, if you intend to take the dog on the ferry, you must have a muzzle for the ride. It is a weird rule there that we didn't know about. Muzzles are not required on trains however.
Everyone, this is yet again another place that you must believe the signs in your hotel bathroom. Do not flush the toilet paper. You don't want to deal with that fiasco on your romantic get away.
WONDER THE CITY
The best way to see the city is to wonder around and see where you end up. You'll come across some of the iconic brides on your travels such as The Bridge of Sighs and The Ponte di Rialto which sprawls over The Grand Canal. You'll walk along gorgeous side paths with flowers overflowing from balconies. You will discover all the local neighborhoods that are much more peaceful than the hot spots. Find some amazing bakeries and coffee shops. Explore from one end to the other; north, south, east and west. It's totally doable and you'll see so much! Just wear good sneakers and get in those steps. Remember, it's an island, you really can't leave. : )
VISIT ALL THE SITES
Venice is not scarce when it comes to beautiful buildings, churches and history. You will be spending a good bit of time trying to see it all. Try to get a hotel near the heart of the sites if you can. St. Marks Basilica and Square is brilliant. It contains a lot of the main sites you will be dying to tour such as Piazza San Marco and Doge's Place. Get your multi ticket bundle ahead of time and arrive for when they open. That is the only way you will beat the lines and have a moment to take it in. If you are into the arts, check out the Opera House or the Leonardo da Vinci Museum and many more.
Take a moment to enjoy the ocean air and walk along the sea. If you take a left when you hit the ocean near St Mark's Square area and follow the walking path, you will eventually come upon a nice park area called Giardini Pubblici. It is filled with walking paths lined with rose bushes and trees. This is the only true grassy area in Venice. After a long day of exploring, it was nice to grab a bottle of wine and sit off in the park before your evening begins. If you have a pet, make sure you have a hotel in close proximity.
AND BE MERRY
The amount of restaurant options in Venice is almost overwhelming. You can eat on a patio looking over The Grand Canal, beside the ocean with a welcomed breeze, tucked in an alleyway within the city walls or slightly further out in more local areas. All areas give different vibes for dining and have great food. I don't want this to become a food blog, but there are two spots that I will for sure go to again on my next trip to Venice. Suggested to us by our local concierge as one of the best pizza spots, is Rossopomodoro. It did not disappoint. Holy cow. You know it's good when there is a waiting line there and no where else in the city. We obviously had a lot of pasta while we were in Venice. By far the best pasta I had was at Nevodi. It's off the beaten path in a more local street (close to the park) that has a lot of other restaurants and a fun nightlife. Get the Pesto Pasta! Literally, the best pesto I've ever had in my life. I've been talking about it for months.
ENJOY A GONDOLA RIDE
When in Venice, it is tradition to go on a gondola ride. The experience is just a nice 'to do'. To be chartered around this magical place is relaxing. To see the city and some of its canals from a different perspective. To be in awe when you make tight turns without hitting anything. The gondola rides are actually pretty expensive, but if you do it right, you can bargain the prices. Make sure you only show interest away from the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal is the gondola tourist trap and you will not be able to pay less than 80-125 Euros. We were able to get a steal within one of the side streets for a 30 minute ride, only 45 Euros. Honestly, that’s really all you need. There are longer ones, but it's not really necessary. You still are taken to the hot spots as well as on the Grand Canal. Then the gondolier takes you back along his route to drop off near where you started. You’ll learn a little more about the city during your ride and as you pass historical sites. You’ll see reminisce of how high the water rose from flooding. If you ask, you’ll learn about what it is like living in Venice and that owning a gondola is a family business most of the time. A skill and culture passed down from generation to generation. Also, make sure you grab a cocktail to go to enjoy during your ride. Cash only!
FERRY TO THE ISLANDS
Take a day to explore some of the other islands that surround Venice. You can get a 24 hour ferry pass that is unlimited where ever you want to go. It was very reasonable and much cheaper that buying individual tickets. This pass also covers riding along The Grand Canal, where you can hop on and off wherever you may choose. My favorite island by far, was Burano. This fisherman’s island is just a happy place. The bright rainbow colors will light up your day. It is also a very different vibe than Venice. I would suggest spending a half day here walking around and exploring. They have a lot of local artists and this island is also known for its Italian lace. There is also a main square that has some very cute cafes for lunch. I truly loved this little island. The island right beside Burano, called Mazzorbo, is a little side trip to do. There is a bridge that connects them so you do not need to hop on the ferry again. This little island holds a vineyard and some farmland, which is very pretty. It is also home to a Michelin Star restaurant and hotel if that is your thing.
There is also Murano island, the glass island, that is right next to Venice. This island has extremely similar vibes to Venice, with hundreds of glass shops. To be honest, it was pretty, but I wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time there. If you are after art glass, you can still find tons of shops in Venice itself with art from the island. Also, if you do go to this island in the hunt for art glass, don’t buy at the first shop you see. When I mean there are hundreds of glass shops and museums, I’m not kidding. Prices also get more reasonable the further you go. These are only a few of the many islands that you can choose to explore. For these three islands, you have to pick up the ferry on the North end of Venice.
Visiting the Amalfi Coast has been on my bucket list for quite a long time. It was simply beautiful, with nothing simple about it. Small towns are tucked within the twists and turns of the cliff facings. It is really remarkable that these towns were created and possess a relaxing but vibrant ambiance. The sea is a bright blue with hidden coves within the rocky cliffs. The most well known towns on the actual coast are Positano, Ravello, Amalfi and Praiano. Amalfi is the largest and holds the most tourists during the summer months. Positano is known for being the ritziest with high end shops and restaurants everywhere.
We only did a long weekend, so we spent most of our time in Positano. Positano is the iconic Amalfi Coast town with the gorgeous golden church dome. It has immense beauty and was built on both sides of a large mountain crevice. It also has a small harbor filled with massive yachts and boats as well as beach areas. Beaches on the coast are rocky with dark sand. Do not expect never ending white sandy beaches. You will need to go somewhere else for that. But you are there for the scenery and the sneaky posh vibes.
Getting to the coast is expensive, be forewarned. You have to fly into Naples (Nap-oh-lee), not Naples as in FL haha. From there, you can choose a few different options to get to the coastal towns. First, you can Taxi/Uber, which is a fixed rate to Positano. It took 1 hour and 15 min and costs 130 Euro. If you do not book via Uber, you have to pay cash. We found on the way back, that if you pre arrange a pick-up/drop-off through your hotel or a online car service that you can get a ride for 90 Euros one way. If time is of the essence, you have to bite the bullet and just pay. If you have extra hours to spend, you can get a train from Naples to Sorrento and then take a ferry, taxi or bus to your final destination. You just have to get to the train station as well. It is a hell of a lot cheaper, but will take a good while longer. Also, the roads to the coast are literally tight switchbacks that go up and down the mountain cliffs. If you tend to get car sick, I would suggest sitting up front. You can rent a car, but unless you plan to make a big trip out of it, I would advise against it. Limited parking and difficult roads to maneuver.
Positano itself is also expensive when it comes to lodging. I would suggest doing your research to find a budget friendly B&B. Note, if you find a hotel on a normal booking website, google the place and go to their own site. Sometimes they have specials listed and have better deals. We ending up booking last minute, but found a very reasonable B&B right on the cliff, a hair up from town. We had to walk down into town, which was totally fine! It only took 15 min and we had amazing ocean views. Just make sure you pay attention to cars coming around turns as you walk. Also, my handy trick, grab wine and beer from the bodega to bring back to your hotel. Sit off on your balcony and enjoy!
I thought food and drink prices in Positano were reasonable, for such an exclusive town. Yes, there were the insanely expensive options, but there were also restaurants with more typical prices and great Italian food. Pasta, pizza, seafood, salads, breads etc. Also fantastic bakeries and desserts.
EXPLORE ALL AROUND TOWN
The town of Positano is very very pretty. Winding walkways and stairs flow through the entire town. You'll find new little alleyways each time you walk around. The paths can take you deep into the heart of town, but also up to the sides which give you the best views. Wonder around, both in and out of town. Shops and both indoor/outdoor restaurants line the streets. You will also see beautiful flowers, greenery, lemon trees and grapes vines galore. It really is a relaxing, but with a slightly posh vibe. Also, be prepared for all the stairs! Up, down, sideways, you name it. You will be feeling it in your calves the next day, especially if you are wearing sandals.
HIKE THE PATH OF THE GODS
With a name like that, it has to be good, right? This hike is a great way to break up your trip and work off some of those carbs you've been crushing. The hike itself is moderate I'd say, but you definitely need good running sneakers and gym clothes. Some people we passed were wearing actual hiking boots, but that was a little aggressive. There are a few routes that you can take for this hike. I would suggest beginning with a bus to the Bomerano bus stop. At the stop there aren't really signs, but just take the stairs on the left that go up. You'll begin by going into a village and again, just take the next left turn up the stairs. When in doubt, always go up ha! Once you head up, you will start seeing tile signs that say "Path of the Gods" or "Sentiero degli Dei." Enjoy! You will have beautiful views of Positano and Nocello as well as the ocean and mountain cliffs the entire way. The trail is unique in that you will go through numerous different ecosystems throughout your journey. At one point, you'd think you were in a jungle. If you do the trail properly, it will be a loop. Follow the path until you see a trailhead sign with a split. Take the split upward to the left. Continue on and then follow the signs for Nocello. It will loop you back to that split I just spoke of. Then head back the way you came and follow the Nocello and Positano signs. When you get into Nocello, follow the signs to walk back to Positano. You will also pass a Lemon Granita stand (cash only) on your decent. So refreshing! From there it's all stairs downhill and then a right when you hit a main road. The views back to town are incredible! With the walk back and some pit stops, it took us a little over 4 hours. Start early and finish in town with lunch and a swim.
CAPRI ISLAND BOAT TOUR
We had a great time taking a day trip to the island of Capri. The boat tour we chose was 8 hours in total and was 110 Euro per person. We were in a smaller group of only 12 and were on a very nice boat with tons of room to relax, layout and mingle. There are cheaper options, but they always have too many people crammed together. This tour also provided beverages (and some booze) as well as towels. The tour took you down the coast, where you could see the towns from the water. It is a totally different perspective than what you have been seeing from land. You will also see all the dramatic cliffs and stop off at different coves where you can enjoy a swim. Arriving at Capri, you see the jagged cliffs and pop into a few grottos. You see the dramatic Faraglioni rocks, which I thought were super cool. You can then choose to tour the Blue Grotto for an additional fee (cash only). Unfortunately, the sea levels were too high and the grotto was closed. From what I've heard, it's totally worth going in on the wooden boats. You dock at Capri island and have around 4 hours to explore around. Depending on what you want to do, you can take the tram to the main town and stop for lunch and then explore around. The town has tons of shops as well if you are interested. You can also walk to a Natural Arc. We really enjoyed it. Eventually, you head back to the boat and cruise around some more with one last chance to swim and to enjoy a glass of Prosecco before they take you back to town. Again, it was a great little day excursion.
RELAX AND UNWIND BY THE SEA
Directly below town are designated areas for beach goers. This area is also an active harbor, so space is limited. There is a public beach section where you will see everyone sitting off on their own towels. There is also a locals only section where you will not be allowed. Apparently being blonde and having a pasty white husband didn't make us look like we fit in haha. Following that, there are 3 more sections that have chairs and umbrellas. We found it to be rather expensive to sit in these exclusive areas. We were told 23-25 Euros per person depending on which row you want to sit at. If we planned to spend the entire day at that beach, we would have done it. But we were really only doing a few hours here and there. The public section worked for us! Just bring your own towels and grab some beers from the bodega and sit off. There is also a sneaky beach off to the right of town. Go up the walkway towards the towers and you will run into it. It is a little more quiet than the ones right at the harbor.
ORDER A LEMONCELLO SPRITZ OR 4
Folks, this is a danger zone. Positano is famous for its lemons and more specifically, its Limoncello. Let me tell you, it does not disappoint. They have the biggest freaking lemons you'll ever see! I literally had to do a double take thinking it was all in my head. Nope just really big lemons ha. These local lemons are used in a lot of drinks and desserts. Yummm. The Lemoncello Spritz is just, wow! Pretty much it is a lemonade mimosa. Prosecco, lemoncello and not sure what else. You can get it on ice or as a slushy. I'm sure my attempt to recreate at home will not be nearly as good. Be careful though, these will put you on your ass in no time. Don't want any alcohol? They also have lemonade slushies that are called Lemon Granita. These are so incredibly refreshing on a hot summer day.
TAKE A FERRY TO THE OTHER TOWNS
If you are spending more than a long weekend at the coast, I would highly suggest taking a ferry for daytrips to the other main towns. The large ferry is relatively cheap and has frequent trips both ways. Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore more, but really wish we did. Amalfi is the largest town to explore and also has some waterfalls that you can visit. There is also many others you can hop around to as well as Sorrento. Technically speaking, Sorrento is not a part of the Amalfi coastline, but it is still on the water and has similar vibes.
We were only in Milan for a few hours waiting for a connecting train. I wasn’t able to give the city a fair shake. But from what we saw in that short time, it may not be the city for everyone. Yes, the Gothic architecture is very beautiful. You witness it as soon as you walk out of the prettiest train station exterior that I’ve ever seen. We only had enough time to stroll down some of the streets and go to a city park, which was very nice. Tons of restaurants and shops everywhere. Inside the parks themselves, they have their own little cafes to enjoy a coffee and relax. The prices of food and drinks seemed very reasonable. The city itself was very busy and congested, even during Covid times, which makes me wonder what it is like normally. Until you get into the main touristy locations, it was also a little dirty for my taste personally. Maybe Switzerland and Boston have been spoiling me. Again, I still need to spend more time exploring and seeing the sites before I can provide you a valid interpretation. More to come!