Of course, visiting only one country in Europe isn’t quite enough for one trip, so we continued our European adventure in Italy after leaving Spain!
Date: November 7th to 13th
Day 1: Arrive in Florence
Day 2: Florence
Day 3: Florence
Day 4: Train to Rome at 10 am
Day 5: Rome
Day 6: Rome
Day 7: Vatican City
DAY 1-2 | FLORENCE
Ponte Vecchio: The iconic medieval stone bridge in Florence, famous for its many shops built along both sides. The shops were once occupied by butchers, but are now owned by jewelers and souvenir sellers.
Ditta Artigianale: Unlike the coffee shops I’m used to elsewhere, many espresso bars in Italy, like this one, also offer alcoholic beverages. They have two locations; the one in Oltrarno neighborhood, across the River Arno, is much better – roomier, more modern and has bar seating. The atmosphere here is lively yet not noisy; the perfect place to get out of the crowd and enjoy a drink, day or night.
Piazzle Michelangelo: A square on a small hill that offers a stunning panoramic view of the city. All visits to Florence should start with this lovely little walk on a clear morning, then grab some gelato on the way back to enjoy by the river.
Palazzo Vecchio: The town hall of Florence, overlooking Piazza della Signoria square, with its copy of Michelangelo’s David statue in the front and other Renaissance statues in the adjacent open-air gallery.
Piazza del Duomo: Wandering through the tight, maze-like streets of Florence, we suddenly find ourselves in front of this magnificent and picturesque architecture. Entrance to the main cathedral is free, but other areas such as the dome, bell tower and baptistery, require a ticket. Due to limited space at the dome, the line can be very long.
I’ Brindellone: Our B&B host said this restaurant was his favorite spot for the Tuscan specialty – Florentine Steak. It’s a huge piece of meat that can easily feed two people. Make sure to make a reservation beforehand, or come early.
DAY 3 | FLORENCE
Accademia Gallery: A small art museum that’s best known as the home of Michelangelo’s sculpture David. Since the museum is quite small, if you come here during peak season, reserving tickets online is recommended.
Museum Galileo: If you’re like me — easily overwhelmed by the amount of churches, architectures and art museums in Europe — this science museum is a great alternative. It’s fascinating to see how arts and science used to be closely linked together; all of those artifacts and instruments are so beautifully presented.
All’Antico Vinaio: Seriously the best sandwiches ever! €5 for a huge sandwich with warm bread, various meats and veggies, packed with flavor. They have two storefronts across from each other; the one with an open-air window is takeout and cash only, the other one has seating inside. The line can be pretty long, especially during lunch hour, but it’s totally worth it. We went there two days in a row, and our favorite sandwiches are the Favolosa and Inferno.
Mercato Centrale Firenze: A market full of fresh meats and produce on the first floor, and an elaborate food court on the second floor. Great place to try all sorts of street food in Florence.
DAY 4 | ROME
Traveling from Florence to Rome
Convenient and fairly inexpensive – the railways in Italy are easy to use between major cities, but not so much when you have to transfer. When we accidently bought a slow local train ticket from Rome to Fiumicino Aeroporto, there were no train numbers or transfer information printed on the ticket. The information board wasn’t extremely helpful either, as it only lists the final destination. So, if you aren’t familiar with the railway system in Italy, it is best to avoid the hassle and pay extra for a direct route.
When you search for a route on the Trenitalia official website, you’ll see lots of options: Frecciargento or Frecciarossa are fast-speed trains, while Regionale is a slow regional train. Our ride directly from Fiumicino Aeroporto to Florence cost €25; the ride back to Rome cost €20. You can also buy tickets at the station if you prefer some flexibility. Just remember, in order to use a credit card at the ticketing machines, it needs to have an associated PIN number.
Trevi Fountain: Among the many water fountains in Rome, Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in the city. You’ll see lots of people here, taking selfies and tossing a coin or two for good luck.
Pantheon: Once a Roman temple, now a church, this impressive architecture remains one of the best-preserved Ancient Roman buildings. Its dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, which has a central opening (“the Oculus”) to the sky.
Piazza Navona: This elegant and spacious square dating from the 1st century CE is slightly less busy than the neighboring sites, and a good place to rest your feet and do some people watching.
Sapori e Delizie: A very small pizza joint in the less touristy area of Rome. Their Diabola Pizza, with spicy salami, was the best pizza we had in Italy!
DAY 5-6 | ROME
Ticket to Palatine Hill, Roman Forum and Colosseum is sold together for €12. It includes one entrance to Palatine Hill/Roman Forum, and one entrance to the Colosseum. You can use it for two consecutive days in whichever order. All three sites are connected and mutually accessible.
To avoid lines, you can easily buy tickets on the official ticketing website with a €2/ticket fee. Buying tickets on site, though, is a bit more intimidating. When you get there, many “tour guides” will approach you asking you whether you have tickets or not. They try very hard to sell you their tickets or tours by giving you false information, such as exaggerating the wait times. The rule of thumb here is to only buy tickets from official sources.
There are actually three ticket offices on site:
- Inside the Colosseum: since the Colosseum is the most famous attraction in Rome, the line here is the craziest. Avoid it at all cost.
- Outside of Roman Forum: located on the passage from the Colosseum to the Forum. It has a line, but a lot shorter than the Colosseum one.
- Outside of Palatine Hill: located on Via di San Gregorio. If you’re walking from the Colosseum, the street is behind the Arch of Constantine. Walking along the street, you’ll find a small entrance to Palatine Hill, and the ticket office has little to no lines.
Palatine Hill: Often overshadowed by its famous neighbors, Palatine Hill is surprisingly peaceful. It is the largest site among the three, with many ruins and gardens, making it a great place to escape the crowds. It also has possibly the best panoramic viewpoint in Rome, overlooking the labyrinthine ruins of the Roman Forum in their entirety.
Roman Forum: Right underneath Palatine Hill are the ruins of many important ancient government buildings, temples, and shrines.
Colosseum: The most iconic and popular, but actually the least interesting of the three. There weren’t as much to see or explore inside, and we didn’t get any audio/tour guides, so it was hard to get a sense of what everything was. If I could go again, I would try to book a tour of the underground chambers, which you can’t see otherwise.
La Botticella: A classic-looking Italian restaurant in Trastevere neighborhood. Tables, in general, are very close together in Europe, which I actually prefer, for it giving the opportunities to make interesting conversations with complete strangers. Their fried zucchini flower and red pesto pasta were both unique and rich in flavors!
DAY 7 | VATICAN CITY
Faro: A third wave coffee shop in a less touristy part of Rome, offering various specialty espresso beans, and delicious pastries.
St. Peter’s Basilica: We actually didn’t get to go inside, because when we got there in the afternoon, the line was ridiculously long. Since the basilica is free to visit and you can’t reserve any tickets, in order to avoid lines, you’d have to book a tour combined with Vatican Museum, or get there early.
Vatican Museum: On your way to the entrance, there’ll be many “tour guides” telling you that the tickets are sold out for the day. Ignore them, and head directly to the gate. The information by the entrance can be misleading too, since the directions are only listed for Tour Groups or Reserved Tickets Only. However, the actual ticket office was inside the building, and we had no trouble getting in and purchasing tickets right there in the early afternoon. If you want to avoid lines or potential problems, you can also reserve tickets online with a €4/ticket booking fee. The museum is one-way only, and the Sistine Chapel is the last thing you’ll visit. The rest of the museum is often overlooked by visitors, but it is just as impressive, if not more.
Giolitti: An historic gelato and pastry shop in the center of Rome. Out of many gelato places we’ve tried in Italy, they definitely have the best gelato and the most variety of flavors. Depending on the time of the day, it can get very crowded. It may seem chaotic at first, but there are actually two lines. You need to pay at a booth in the front first, then bring the receipt over to the gelato counter to pick your flavors. Our favorites are pistachio and rice (surprisingly), but you really can’t go wrong with anything.
Avoid the hustlers on the street. Once you arrive in a major Italian city, you’ll notice the street hustlers. They can be “tour guides” approaching you at a tourist attraction, giving you false information about tickets in order to sell their tours; or disguised as “friendly travelers” asking you where you come from or giving you a high five, then ending up selling you some useless knick knacks.
Restaurant reservations, similar to Spain, are quite important in Italy. Sometimes making a reservation even a few hours beforehand could save you a spot. If not, make sure to show up right when the restaurant opens.