By Emma Kent
I just returned from a two-week trip to Italy during which I ate delicious Italian food, drank amazing wine and lived a dreamy European life for a brief period of time. Now, my husband and I have returned to Mississippi, and we’re back to eating turkey sandwiches for lunch every day instead of silky cacio e pepe. When I got back to work, I figured, why not relive the trip by sharing it with our readers? So, I’ve been scrolling through my hundreds of photos from the trip all afternoon to find a few to share here. I may have also done some daydreaming about going back. This is for you, really.
On each trip that I take with my husband, Jacob, we keep a detailed notebook of what we did, where and what we ate and other important details we want to remember. This trip was no different. I love being able to look back and have those details of our vacations recorded, and it’s helpful when giving recommendations to friends who may be traveling to some of the places we’ve been to. Below is a little slice of our Italian vacation, from activities to advice to what you *must* order at a particular Roman pasta restaurant.
You could spend weeks in Rome and not see everything there is to see. The city is pretty big, and with so much history to squeeze into just a few short days, we had to narrow down our list of attractions to visit. These are a few of the spots we visited and enjoyed.
Things To Do:
The Vatican Museums, Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel — These are some of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, so be prepared for a lot of people. If you can, I’d suggest taking an evening tour of the Vatican Museums, which ends at the Sistine Chapel. We did this, and while there were still a lot of people, it was much less crowded than we expected. The guided tour helped us hit the highlights in the museums, which are massive and a bit overwhelming. There’s also something awe-inspiring about seeing the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel lit up at night.
The Roman Forum, Palantine Hill and the Colosseum — These ancient Roman monuments are sure to be packed with tourists, but they’re absolutely worth your time nonetheless. Be sure to have plenty of time to wander through the ruins at the Forum and Palantine Hill, and I’d recommend a guided tour to make the most of your visit.
Campo di Fiori Market — A large open-air market selling local produce and other treats. Restaurants surround the market, so it’s also a nice place to grab a bite to eat. If you’re in the mood for pizza, check out Forno, just a stone’s throw from the market, for delicious handmade pizza by the slice.
Walk along any of Rome’s beautiful bridges that cross the Tiber River.
Visit the Spanish Steps in the evening, preferably around sunset. The steps offer a beautiful view of the city and a good place to sit and people watch.
Another monument to see at night is the Trevi Fountain. The fountain is lit up, and although the area around the fountain will still likely be crowded, linger and enjoy the view.
Galleria Borghese — This art museum is housed in a luxurious 17th century villa, and while the pieces of art inside the museum are beautiful, the building itself is the real masterpiece.
Where To Eat:
We ate delicious homemade pasta at Ditta Tranchetti, located in the Trastevere neighborhood, for dinner. The menu features mostly pasta dishes and small plates. Get the grilled Pecorino cheese (a Roman specialty) with honey and walnuts.
Il Mercato Centrale — Located in Rome’s Termini Station, this market is made up of food stalls serving everything from pastries to pizza to ramen. In the center is a full bar, so you can also just pop in for a cocktail or cappuccino.
After walking nearly 30 miles during our few days in Rome, we were thankful to find that Florence is a much smaller and more walkable city. We did a lot more eating in Florence than anything else, so these recommendations are a little food-centric.
Where To Eat & Drink:
Oltrarno neighborhood — Across the river from the center of Florence you’ll find this area with a very lively plaza and lots of delicious restaurants and bars with a local vibe. Stop by in the evening to sit and have a drink.
Rasputin — This speakeasy bar in Oltrarno is literally the coolest bar I’ve ever been to. It can be a bit hard to find, but that’s part of its appeal. A search on Google maps will take you to a quiet side street and put you in the bar’s general vicinity. The doors are unmarked and unassuming, so without giving exact directions (it’s more fun this way), I’ll just say to look for dim lights and a chandelier through the doors’ windows. You’ll know when you’ve found the right place.
Gustapizza — Also in Oltrarno, this is the best pizza we ate on our whole trip. Get it to-go and find a scenic spot to sit, eat and enjoy.
Simbiosi — This restaurant is close to many of the major attractions in Florence, making it a convenient stop for lunch or dinner. It’s divided into two spaces, one, more casual, serving pizza, and the other serving homemade pasta.
Locale — Yet another hard-to-find (but amazing) bar. Although it looks small and pretty average from the entrance, once you enter, the bar opens up to reveal an open-air roof and walls of beautiful vertical gardens. The drinks are expensive, but they’re one-of-a-kind, and the bartenders really know their stuff.
Things To Do:
Walk across Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge in Florence that wasn’t bombed during WWII. It’s now a market dotted with small shops selling fine jewelry.
I would recommend doing a walking tour of the city when you arrive. We did one and loved learning about the history of the city and its art and architecture, all of which are connected. Also, it’s pretty small, so you can see a lot without walking too many miles.
The Duomo & The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore — Everyone says to go inside the cathedral and climb to the top of its dome, known as “the duomo,” but the prettiest part of this centuries-old church is the outside of the building. One of our tour guides told us the inside is pretty plain and that it’s better to just avoid the lines, save your money and admire the cathedral’s beautifully-decorated marble facade. We trusted her on this one and decided not to go in. Instead, we found a spot nearby to sit, have a drink and gaze upon the cathedral’s glory.
Bardini Gardens — If you’re looking for views, this is one place to be sure to add to your itinerary. Not only are the gardens beautiful, but strolling through them also offers some of the best views of the city of Florence.
Gucci Garden — This place is part Gucci museum, part boutique and part restaurant. Inside you’ll find a history of the designer’s work and his garments on display. It’s honestly worth a trip just to drool over the clothes in the boutique.
Accademia Gallery, also known as the museum where you’ll find “The David” — Even if you’re not into art, you need to visit this museum if for no other reason than to see Michelangelo’s famed sculpture of David (of David and Goliath). It’s truly a feat.
Venice is an interesting place. It’s beautiful, with all of its colorful buildings and canals, but it’s also a major tourist destination, and it can be hard to get a feel for the real Venice. I’d say it’s best to embrace both sides of the city — enjoy all it has to offer to tourists, but take the side streets and explore its nooks and crannys, too, for a more local vibe.
Things To Do:
Doge’s Palace — This building was home to the government of Venice before the city became part of Italy. It’s a beautiful structure, both inside and out, and contains a wealth of Venetian history from art to politics. We did a guided tour, and I’d do it again.
Saint Mark’s Basilica — Right next door to Doge’s Palace, Saint Mark’s is a must-see. We did a guided tour that allowed us to skip the line to go inside, and it was definitely worth it. It was great to have some context about the building and its history, and the line for regular admission was crazy. You’ll want to spend some time in this 11th-century church taking in the mosaics and gold work that adorn the walls.
Libraria Acqua Alta — Libraria Acqua Alta is a super cool, very quirky and all-around one-of-a-kind bookstore. You’ll find a gondola in the middle of the store, stairs made of actual books and several friendly bookstore cats.
Where To Eat:
Eat far away from the major tourist attractions. The food is much better and much cheaper if you wander a little bit off the beaten path.
Frary’s — Yes, I’m recommending you eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Italy. We stumbled upon this gem of a place on our last evening in Italy, thinking we would open the menu to find pasta and seafood dishes. However, we didn’t mind trying something different, and the food was amazing. The menu also features an impressive selection of Greek and Middle Eastern wines.