As a well-known pesto, stuffed pasta, and ice cream enthusiast it made complete sense to spend my spring break travelling through Italy. Visiting the boot of Europe was number one on my bucket list and I spent my eleven-day vacation taking full advantage of savoring every bit of its culture. Even though my range of Italian vocabulary consisted of “Ciao” and “Prego” (plus the name of every type of spaghetti and sauce) I managed to order my entrees correctly and find my way back to my hostel, which is quite the achievement in any foreign country. Traveling through seven cities takes a lot of planning and stamina, so I’ll present to you my “must-dos” and “biggest regrets” so you can enjoy your future trip.
Must-Do: Instead of this being a must-do, the only thing you can really do in Pisa is take a touristy picture of yourself sustaining the famous Leaning Tower. The city is incredibly small and quiet outside of the tourist square so spending an hour walking around is suggested.
Biggest regret: Not climbing to the top. The Tower has recently opened its doors again to the public after years of restoration and tourists say that the view is definitely worth the 294-step climb.
Bonus Fun Fact: The Tower is not as tall as I imagined it to be.
Must-Do: Ride in a gondola, Vaporetto (public transportation boat), or water taxi.
In other words, the best way to see Venice is from the water. To be honest, I felt like I was on a Disney boat ride half of the time because the city is so unreal. People actually live navigating through the waters to get to their homes, the market, or restaurants. It’s really an escape from normalacy.
Biggest regret: Stay in a hotel. Since Venice is so tiny, hostel options are extremely limited and they are not pleasant to stay in.
Must-Do: Simply visit it.
This vibrant city literally lights up your walk. Each house is painted in a bright color ranging from pink and yellow. Citizens cannot change their house’s color unless it falls under the city approved color scheme. Back in the day, citizens started doing this so that fishermen knew which was their house when they returned at nighttime. The city is so tiny that it only takes 45 minutes to walk through. However, I suggest buying some hand-made lace and drinking orange spritz, which are all unique to the island.
Biggest regret: Not buying a beautiful handmade lace scarf. One can find them throughout Italy, but they’re much more expensive.
Must-Do: Visit David, Il Duomo, and seek out family-run restaurants.
I do not think that anyone can really understand why Michelangelo’s Statue of David is so famous until you see it. Standing at 17 feet tall, the statue is so incredibly lifelike that at one point, I thought I saw his chest rising up and down as if he were breathing. One can easily spend 30 minutes marveling at its physique.
Il Duomo, also known as The Cathedral of Santa de Maria del Fiore, is Florence’s oldest and largest cathedral. It is definitely hard to miss since its famous Dome grazes over the skyline and its architecture paints the building in red, green, and white images. Going into the cathedral is free and worthwhile since you can visit the remains of the original church dating back to 408 A.D. I also recommend climbing to the top of the Dome (depending on the temperature, see below) because the landscape is beautiful.
Lastly, I ate the best meals in Florence because my roommate and I found several family establishments. The food was exquisite! The mixture of flavors was so fresh and savory I would return to Florence just to eat more pesto sauce, tortellini, and crostini.
Biggest regret: Not visiting the Uffizi museum, which hoards Italian Renaissance masterpieces. Also, standing two hours in any line with vicious winds is not worth getting a cold.
Bonus Fun Fact: The best night to go out in the city isn’t on the weekend, but on Monday.
Must-Do: Visit Ancient Rome and eat gelato from Frigidarium.
If you go to Rome and somehow do not run into The Ancient City, I’m not exactly sure where you’re walking around. Ruins are everywhere and you can touch all the old (we’re talking 8 B.C. old), which is incredible. Definitely must visit the Coliseum because…it’s the Coliseum, no questions asked.
The most delicious gelato I had during my trip was at Frigidarium. We casually ran into the best family-run gelato shop in all of Rome while walking near Piazza Navona. I suggest the house flavor of the same name; it’s a light caramel, chocolate swirl, and cookie crumble scoop of delight.
Biggest regret: Unfortunately my trip to Rome did not play out like the Lizzie McGuire movie. I did not become an international superstar upon stepping into the Coliseum and missed the opportunity to ride a Vespa after meeting an Italian singer at the Trevi Fountain. Le sigh.
Must-Do: Pay for a private tour guide to take you around the city and avoid a 2-4 hour wait in line.
Whether you’re a Catholic or not, Vatican City is worth a visit. The museums on the Basilica grounds are filled with Egyptian, Renaissance, and private art collections of former popes. Not to mention that you can visit Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, which is a once and a lifetime experience.
Biggest Regret: All the restaurants in the city are ridiculously expensive since they are all tourist traps. Simply walk over the bridge to Rome and be amazed when prices suddenly decrease by ten or more euros.
Must-Do: Grab a map or buy a tour book that explains each structure in the city.
Pompeii made my 6th grade history nerd run wild. After learning about it then, I made it my goal to visit it because I was obsessed with their culture and unfortunate demise. The visit solidified my understanding of how people lived starting from the 2nd century B.C. Surprisingly, it is not drastically different from how we do today. One can visit the remains of several gyms, baths, amphitheaters, bakeries, and markets. Mosaics and frescos still adorn some homes, while the plaster casts of residents are on display in their permanent resting state.
Biggest Regret: Not grabbing a map before entering, which left us having to eavesdrop on tours to realize the purpose of some ancient ruins.