Romantic Italy is a destination that many people dream of visiting. It's rich in culture and beauty, and it's one of those places that truly lives up to the hype. Vineyards cloak the rolling hills in Tuscany, and in the far north beautiful lakes are surrounded by the dramatic peaks of the Alps. You can wander through the ancient ruins in Rome or get lost in the canals of Venice. Stunning coastal villages cling precariously to the rocky coastline. You can get lost in the towns around Cinque Terre or head further south to the Amalfi Coast. This country can easily be explored as a highlights tour, but if time allows, get of the beaten path. Many people hit the major sights like Rome, Florence and Venice, but to truly experience all that this area has to offer you must see the countryside, the coastline, and the small villages. Spend some time leisurely lingering in Tuscany. See a whole different side of the country in Sicily. Chat with the locals, but most importantly dine leisurely on pasta and sip wine by the vineyards. Italy really can surpass expectations, even though those expectations have often been set high.
Because of the area's high popularity, travel costs can be high. It's possible to find cheaper meal options and if you're on a particularly tight budget, order your food to go. Most restaurants charge a sitting fee if you dine inside. Hotels are usually of high quality but the rooms are smaller than you might expect if you're used to traveling in the United States. Choose a hotel based on location, not size, and you won't be disappointed. Traveling in the off season or shoulder season can also save you lots of money. This will also help you avoid the crowds which can be overwhelming during the summer months. If you can visit the area during the fall or spring, then this is ideal, as the weather is pleasant, the crowds are less, and prices remain low. Winter can be cold, but is also a fun time to visit. Traveling to Italy during the winter months helps you see a whole different side to this normally touristy country.
At A Glance
- Train travel can be expensive in Italy. Costs are generally comparable to what you will find elsewhere in Europe. You'll usually get the best prices if you book your tickets in advance. There are discount passes available, but these passes usually come with limitations and requirements, so they are rarely worth the deal.
- Southern Italy is less expensive than northern Italy. It's also less touristy. If you're looking to save some money and get off the beaten path, head to the south where your money will go farther and you'll see a whole different side to the country.
- You'll save money on food if you have a filling lunch in a restaurant and then prepare a picnic for dinner. There are many great markets where you can pick up Italian cheeses and breads as well as regional wine for a good price. Even if you don't have access to a kitchen, you can turn these items into and excellent meal.
- Most people visit Florence, Rome and Venice during their trip to Italy. Pick at least one small town to visit that is off the beaten path. Spend a day or two exploring its streets and neighborhoods and you'll leave with a whole new perspective on this country.
- Avoid doing a tour. Italy is easily visited independently. Transportation is excellent and the tourist infrastructure is well established. There is really no need to visit this country as part of a package tour.
Top Tourist Attractions
The Amalfi Coast: The Amalfi Coast is a stunning stretch of coastline on the Sorrentine Peninsula. It is popular with tourists for its dramatic cliffs, historic towns, and picturesque vineyards. It's a popular stop off for cruises, but if you're traveling on your own you can easily explore the towns in more depth.
Venetian Canals: The canals in Venice are idolized around the world. There have been several attempts to replicate them, but nothing can recreate the atmosphere of wandering the streets and canals in the city of Venice. Take a gondola ride for the full experience.
Cinque Terre: This is a rugged piece of coastline that is known as the "Five Lands." Along the water's edge you will find five villages are strategically positioned along a walking trail that is lined with vineyards. Most villages do not allow cars, so the towns feel as if you've stepped back in time to a forgotten world.
Italian food is famous worldwide. There is rarely a country you can visit where you can't find some form of Italian pasta or pizza. Often times, these international versions pale in comparison to what you get within the country. In Italy, you can expect homemade pastas and natural ingredients. The meals usually require a few simple ingredients and the flavors speak for themselves. Sauces are rarely heavy, and the ingredients all have the freshest flavor. If you're looking for a good restaurant, head outside of the touristy areas into a local neighborhood and you likely won't be disappointed.
Fegato alla Veneziana: This is a traditional Venetian dish that is made from thinly sliced veal liver and onions, sauteed and served together.
Gnocchi: Gnocchi is a dumpling dish that is made with wheat flour, potatoes, butter, and egg. It's usually served with any number of sauces, anything from tomato to pesto to cheese based. It's a filling dish that is often part of a first course, but people many choose to make it their entire meal.
Risotto: This Italian rice dish is made with Arborio rice which is usually cooked in a broth and served with cheese. It's often topped with vegetables or mushrooms and has a very rich flavor. It's a nice alternative to pasta, but still has a similar Italian flavor. Unlike most rices, Arborio rice is very creamy and brothy, giving it the texture of pasta.