5 Cities to Visit in Italy in 2016, Part One

Italy is a land of great diversity.  Here are our top cities that you should check out on your next Italy trip!

#1 Venice

You have to visit Venice at least once in a lifetime. To describe the city as unique doesn’t really do it justice. Venice plays host to millions of tourists every year, but it is still very much a working city which is home to many people. Somehow the locals live happily amongst the many tourists.

Venice is a surprisingly compact city and it is very easy to get around on foot. Take some time to get off the tourist track. It is a lot of fun walking around the winding, historic streets. You may think you are lost, but somehow you always find your way back to the main streets

Some of the best times we have spent in Venice are very early in the morning, before the crowds arrive. It is just such a different experience exploring this great city at sunrise or after dark. Venice is a very safe city which has very little violent crime, but as with any major tourist destination they have a problem with pickpockets. Just use common sense to cut down your risk of being targeted.

The busiest places in the city are Piazza San Marco and St. Mark’s Basilica. Try and arrive early in the morning to experience walking around the Piazza. There are lots of shops to browse around in the day, but if you go early you can still window shop before they open, and you will not be sharing the experience with the masses.

We know that this is controversial, but we would say that if you only have limited time in Venice you should skip St. Mark’s Basilica. The line can be ridiculously long and the experience inside is spoiled by the crowds. Take some time to research the major tourist attractions before you arrive, so that you can establish which you think that you will be most interested in. It is often the unexpected, not so popular, locations where you have the most memorable experiences.

As with all Italian cities Siena is rather touristy in some areas. If you want to escape this just look around the corner. It is not difficult to find somewhere that you can feel more like a local than a visitor.

#2 Siena

We have to admit that we thought for a long time about whether to include Siena, or it’s more popular cousin Florence. When we are limited to only 5 cities in Italy some of the good ones are not going to make it to the list!

If you are someone who likes to be a little different and not follow the crowd, then pick Siena if you want to see a beautiful Medieval Italian city.

#3 Milan

This is a great place to visit if you want to see ancient and modern Italy living side by side in perfect harmony. It may be known as the fashion and design capital of the world, but it is also very much an historic city with plenty of attractions to please any visitor.

The Duomo is a definite must see when you visit Milan. This stunning Gothic Cathedral took hundreds of years to build. Make sure that you allow enough time to explore this amazing building. If you love art you will want to make sure that you see da Vinci’s Last Supper. Many are surprised that this masterpiece is housed in Milan and not Rome or Florence.

When in Milan you must do as the Milanese do – eat great food. Do your research and stay away from the tourist hot spots Eat like and local and you will find some amazing restaurants in Milan.


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5 Things To Do In Rome, Part Two

#3 Explore The Vatican

A visit to Rome is not complete without a visit to Vatican City. At roughly one eighth of the size of New York’s Central Park, Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. Even though it is an independent country it is right in the middle of the city of Rome.

The Vatican Museums are well worth a visit. Inside you can see many priceless works of art. The highlight of the visit is The Sistine Chapel which houses the amazing ceiling fresco painted by Michelangelo.

One thing which The Vatican Museums are known for is their long lines. This is one of the most popular places to visit in the world, so knowing your way around the ticket system is a must. Fast Track Tickets are available and can be well worth the upgrade. Another option is to have engage the services of an authorized tour guide. This will mean that you can skip the lines altogether.

Remember to dress appropriately. If you are wearing shorts, a short skirt or have bare shoulders you will be turned away – even if you have been standing in line for hours and no one mentioned it to you prior to reaching the door!

#4 Imagine the Gladiators in The Colosseum

You will see gladiators outside the Colosseum, but only the ones that want you to pay them to have a picture taken with them! When you visit this amazing historic building with such a violent history, you will find yourself imagining how it used to be when the Roman crowds were entertained here. This huge space used to hold 55,000 spectators.

The Colosseum is a magnificent building. Much of it has been lost over the years, but a remarkable amount of the original structure still remains.

This is a popular attraction so there are always long lines. You can avoid waiting by buying your ticket online in advance. Another great idea is to buy a guided tour. Not only does this help you skip the lines, but it will also enhance your experience by learning more about this ancient building.

#5 Get Away from The Tourists

There are of course so many obvious things to do in Rome which we haven’t mentioned – visit The Forum, go to the Colosseum, or see the Spanish Steps. There are so many tourist attractions it can be overwhelming. Sometimes the best thing to do is just to seek out something different and go where other tourists are not.

Think outside the usual tourist plan. If you are adventurous why not rent a Vespa and ride through the winding streets at night? Looking for where the locals eat? Take a stroll around the San Lorenzo District. Drive out to Monte Mario to get a fabulous view of the city from Rome’s highest peak. Visit the tourist attractions at night – the Trevi Fountain is magical in the evening when most of the tourists are elsewhere.

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5 Things To Do In Rome, Part One

You will be spoiled for choice about what to do when you visit Rome. It is one of the most amazing cities in the world – it seems as though everywhere you turn there is something else to see. It can be difficult to choose what to do when you only have limited time in this great city. Here are our suggestions of 5 things to do in Rome.

#1 People Watch at the Trevi Fountain

You know the pictures you have seen of the Trevi Fountain? Well forget those because those photo shop out the masses of tourists which pretty much engulf this amazingly beautiful fountain. You really do need to see this because it is an amazing site, but just be aware that you will not be alone.

You can either be put off by the crowds or embrace the fact that they are there. As well as being able to take in the incredible beauty of the Trevi Fountain you can also indulge yourself in some people watching whilst you are there.

It is always fascinating to watch people throw a coin in to the Fountain – legend has it that if you do then you are bound to return to Rome. Not a bad deal. What many people don’t know is that for this to have any hope of coming true you have to do it in a certain way. You have to throw the coin over your right shoulder. If you throw one you will return to Rome, two and you will find romance, three and you will be married. So be careful what you wish for or you could get way more than you bargained for.

What happens to the coins after you have thrown them in the Trevi Fountain? They are all collected and donated to the charity Caritas. So even if you don’t believe that wishes come true you are donating to a good cause.

#2 Visit The Pantheon

This is one of the attractions which can get pushed down to the end on a list of must see historical sites in Rome, but we really think that it deserves a place high on any must see agenda. The Pantheon is a remarkable building. It is one of the few buildings anywhere in the world where you can be sure that you are standing and seeing almost exactly what people experienced 2,000 years ago.

This Roman temple was built between A.D. 118 and A.D 125. You really can’t describe the feeling of wonder at standing in a building which was created at the time that Hadrian was Emperor of Rome. Michelangelo said that this magnificent ancient building looked more like the work of angels, not humans.

There are many fascinating things about the Pantheon. It is the world’s largest unsupported concrete dome. That architects were able to create this design all those thousands of years ago is a remarkable achievement. The dome has a hole in the top – this is the only source of light in the building, apart from the door. When rain fails it drains through the same system which was created 2,000 years ago.

As with all of Rome’s tourist attractions get there as early in the morning as you can to avoid the bulk of the crowds.


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8 Tips for Budget Travel in Italy, Part Two

#4 Make it a Business Trip

You may be able to expense all or part of your trip by doing work-related activities and education.  A friend who owns a fire and water restoration company in New Jersey was able to expense part of his trip due to his visit to Venice – the city of water.  They have some unique problems there.  On his visit, he made contact with some of the local construction companies to talk about how they deal with water and mold.  This was pretty unusual for the Italians, but it was very educational for both parties since construction techniques and regulations vary between each or our countries.

#5 Save Money on Food and Drink

One thing that you will never be short on in Italy is amazing places to eat and drink. The most expensive places are in the major tourist centers of the places that you will visit. If you don’t want to spend a fortune on a cup of coffee, then don’t have it in St Mark’s Square in Venice. Walk 3 minutes around the corner and you will find something at a fraction of the price.

It can be cheaper to eat your main meal at lunch time as many restaurants have a cheaper menu for less busy times of the day. Always remember to ask for tap water with your meal. If you just ask for water you will most likely be brought an expensive bottle of water.

Make sure that you read the menu. Some places in Italy have a cover charge – just make sure that you are aware of this before you order your meal. That bread that they bring may not be free either, so always ask what is included and what is not.

It will also save you money if you take a picnic. There are plenty of amazing places to enjoy a meal outside. Just pick up some bread, cheese and maybe even some wine from the local grocery store, market or deli. It could save you a fortune.

#6 Look Out for Free Attractions

There are so many things to see and do in Italy. Some of these activities can be very expensive and difficult to afford if you are on a budget. Consider cheaper alternatives. Take the Vaporetto and not the Gondola in Venice.

Most of the churches and cathedrals in Italy have no entrance charge. There are many attractions which you may be surprised are actually free. In Rome these include St Peters Basilica, The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and climbing the Spanish Steps.

#7 Visit a Small Town

The big cities of Italy are amazing places to visit, but they are also very popular with tourists. This means one thing – higher prices. Always consider visiting at least one less popular destination on your travels in Italy. Not only will you get a very different perspective and experience of this wonderful country, but you will also save money as food and accommodation costs will most likely be much lower.

#8 Avoid Travel at Peak Times

Not only will you experience Italy with less crowds, you will also save money if you travel at less popular times. Hotels and even restaurants often charge less in off peak times. The times to avoid are July and August. If you can wait until September to visit you will most likely have a much better experience, and pay less for your vacation.

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8 Tips for Budget Travel in Italy, Part One

A vacation in Italy can sometimes seem overwhelmingly expensive, but there are many ways that you can save. Here are some ideas for budget travel in Italy.

#1 Save on Transportation Costs to Italy

One of the major expenses of any vacation is how to get from A to B. First there is the cost of actually getting to Italy. Remember to always look at budget airlines – there are so many in Europe to choose from that the flight costs can be very competitive. Usually flying at inconvenient times will help you save on costs. If flight prices to a particular city are expensive you can always look at alternative airports as well to see if this will save you some money.

Remember too that many airlines charge per bag. Why not think how you can pack more efficiently to cut down on the costs and the inconvenient of having too much luggage. You never wear all of those shoes anyway do you??

It may be that arriving by train will save you money over the cost of the flight. Europe has very efficient train systems which can be very reasonable in price. Most rail stations in Italy get you right to the heart of the city. Once you factor in the cost of transport to and from the airport to the city, this may make the train seem like even more of a bargain.

#2 Getting Around Within Italy

There are saving to be made on transportation once you arrive too. The train is often the best option Renting a car can be expensive, and driving around major cities is only for he courageous! You can often make savings by buying a multi-day train ticket if you plan on touring around Italy or the rest of Europe. The train system in Italy is fast and efficient. Booking in advance will save you a lot of money. The earlier that you book, the cheaper that it will be.

Buses can also be a good mode of transport. The cheapest way to get around is to walk! We know that Gondola is tempting in Venice, but the city really is compact enough to explore most of it on foot.

#3 Save Money on Places to Stay

Your accommodation will most likely take the largest chunk out of your vacation budget, so it is here that most of the savings can be made. We all want to stay in a 5 Star hotel in Rome, but you can have just as much fun in a bed and breakfast.

Looking at vacation rental options can also be a way to save money. There are many websites which now offer everything to private villas to a room in someone’s home. This can be a great way of saving some money on accommodation in Italy.

Hostels are another good alternative. They are often very central in location and some are in amazing historic buildings. Be careful to choose the right one as they do differ a lot in the quality of the accommodation, but there are many high quality bargain places to stay the night.

You can think about booking a room a little out of the city. Obviously you do have to balance the downside of this as there may be extra costs of getting transport into the city every day, and also of course the extra time that you will spend on the bus or train.


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7 Tips for Visiting Italy, Part Two

#5 Eat Like a Local

Always avoid the main tourist centers when looking for a restaurant. Go just a little off the main tourist track and you will most likely find a great place to eat for a fraction of the cost.

Remember to always ask for tap water if that is what you want. Otherwise you will find a bottle of sometimes very overpriced mineral water on your table. When you order wine it is usually just fine to order the house wine. When in Italy the quality of the house wine tends to be very high.

Tipping is not required in Italy. If you think that your waiter is being inattentive because they are not bringing the check you are mistaken. They are simply letting you enjoy your time at the restaurant. In Italy you will have to ask for the check as it will not be automatically be brought to you.

If you don’t want to look like a tourist never order any coffee which contains any milk after 10 am. For the locals nothing identifies you as a tourist quite as much as asking for a cappuccino after your dinner!

#6 Think Outside the Box

When you are looking for accommodation always consider options outside the main tourist areas. In most major cities you will get a much better deal if you just go a little further away from the main tourist sites. As transportation within the city is often really easy this can save you a lot of money without being a major inconvenience.

You should also think about renting an apartment rather than booking a hotel room. There are many websites which offer privately rented accommodation to tourists and this can be a great way to save money. It often has the benefit of putting you in touch with someone local who can make recommendations of the best way to see your destination.

Hostels can also be great places to stay in Italy. These are not just for the younger set these days, and you can often pick up a decent private room for a reasonable rate. Just do your research and find one that suits your needs.

#7 Take Some Time to do Absolutely Nothing

One of the major pleasures of visiting Italy is sitting relaxing in a beautiful place and simply watching the world go by. People watching is one of the most entertaining and memorable things that you can do on any vacation and it also has the huge benefit that it is completely free of charge. The pace of life is much slower in Italy so just sit back and embrace this. You will most certainly be very glad that you took the time to do nothing.

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7 Tips for Visiting Italy, Part One

Italy is one of the most beautiful countries in the world – everyone should visit at least once in a lifetime. There is certainly something very appealing about visiting Italy and 46 million tourists every year seem to agree. Here are some tips to make your experience of visiting Italy even more memorable

#1 When in Rome

The saying goes “When in Rome do as the Romans do.” In other words, get out there are enjoy what the locals enjoy about the city. This of course doesn’t just translate to one city in this great country. Get out there and leave the tourist track for at least part of your visit to Italy. You will be very glad that you did. Do your research and seek out a restaurant which is a local favorite, visit a beach which is off the beaten track, get a specialist guide to take you somewhere the tourists don’t know. The possibilities are endless.

#2 Time Your Visit Carefully

There are certain times which are more popular than others. If you visit in peak season not only does this mean that you will be sharing the beauty of Italy with many other tourists, it also probably means that you will be paying top dollar for it too. Prices for accommodation are likely to be much higher in peak season than when hotel rooms are more difficult to fill.

Also always consider the weather. Not only will Venice be completely full of tourists in August it will also most likely be unbearably hot. If you can travel off season always take this option.

#3 Driving May Not be the Best Option

This decision really depends upon the location that you are visiting as well as your budget and preference. There are certain areas that you really don’t want to rent a car. If you spend one minute being driven in Rome, you will be thankful that you decided not to take the wheel yourself. It is chaos. Many other Italian cities are like this too. Those winding roads may give you beautiful views, but the way the locals drive may give you anxiety! Consider other options for getting around.

The train system in Italy is very efficient and will take you to the heart of the major cities. Even more remote places can be easily accessible with a combination of rail and bus travel. This can be fun and give you a whole new perspective on the country. Always book as far in advance as possible to get the best prices on rail travel.

#4 Accept the Pace of Life

Things are different in Italy. That is part of its charm. So don’t expect the most attentive or friendly service in a restaurant in a major city. There are some fabulous dining experiences, but be prepared not to be offended if the waiter is not your instant best friend! The quality of the food and wine will more than make up for the lack of cheery waiter. The concept of service is just different. The good news is that you won’t be expected to tip either.

Shops often close in the afternoon. If you see something you want in the morning, then buy it because when you walk back in the afternoon you may see a closed sign on the door!


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Top 10 Tourism Attractions in Italy, Part Two

#6 Visit the Past in Pompeii

Pompeii was nearly destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79. Around 2,000 people died and the land was covered in volcanic dust for many years. Pompeii was deserted for almost 1700 years. The lost city of Pompeii was rediscovered in 1748 when it was found that the ancient city was extremely well preserved under the layer of volcanic dust. The ancient city was largely intact.

If you are interested in Roman history a visit to Pompeii is a must when you travel to Italy. The best way to see it is to take an audio tour, or a professional guided tour of the site.

#7 Take a Trip to Sardinia

This beautiful island is known as the playground of the rich and famous. The coastline is stunningly beautiful and the warm, blue ocean is very inviting. There are plenty of places to avoid the tourists and find amazing places to explore in Sardinia. Try and visit in the off season and avoid July and August if you want to leave the crowds of the mainland behind.

Sardinia doesn’t just have a breathtakingly beautiful coast line. Its interior offers plenty of stunning landscapes and experiences. Make sure that you are prepared for the hair pin bend cliff top roads though – they are definitely not for the faint of heart!

#8 Visit Renaissance Florence

If you love art and history you will be in paradise in Florence. One of the must see attractions is the Duomo. This amazing Gothic Cathedral is staggeringly beautiful. If you are feeling energetic you can climb up to the top of the Duomo. It is 463 steps to get to the top, but the view makes it well worth the effort.

The Uffizi Gallery houses some of the most important art works in the world. Here you will find works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Titian and Rembrandt.

The charm of Florence is not just in its headline tourist attractions. Take some time to visit the areas off the beaten track to that you can get an idea of how the locals see this great city.

#9 Enjoy the Historic City of Siena

If you want to see a perfect example of a medieval walled city Siena should be on your list of places to visit in Italy. This walled city is in the heart of Tuscany and is well worth a visit if you are staying in that region. Visit the Duomo, the Torre del Mangia and the Piazza del Campo.

Make sure that you reserve some time to do absolutely nothing except watch the world go by. One of the delights of visiting Italy is that in many places life is lived at a much slower space. Enjoy a long leisurely lunch with a glass of local wine and live like the locals do – even if it is just for one day.

#10 Drive Along the Amalfi Coast

If you want breathtaking scenery and somewhat scary hairpin bends, then your ideal place is the Amalfi Coast! The white knuckle ride of a drive up to the top of the hill becomes more than worth it when you reach Ravello. This picture perfect small town has to be one of the most idyllic places in Italy. You will recognize the view from a million post cards, but nothing actually beats the feeling of standing there in person and taking in the vistas.

This is one of those places where you should spend more than a few hours if you possibly can. Most tourists just visit briefly and leave. If you can you should consider staying a night or two so that you can explore and really absorb the atmosphere of this beautiful town.

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Top 10 Tourism Attractions in Italy, Part One

There are so many wonderful places to visit in Italy. There is such a diversity of landscape, architecture and local flavor. Here is a section of the top 10 tourist attractions in Italy.

#1 The Canals in Venice

The city of Venice is of course known for its canals. Venice has some 150 canals, the most famous of which is the Grand Canal.

There are many ways to explore the canals in Venice. For many people a trip to Venice is not complete without a Gondola Ride. This is just one way to travel to get a view of Venice. Why not think about something a little different? You can take a private excursion along the Grand Canal and out to Murano Island. Or sail out to Burano to get a very different view of another part of Venice.

#2 The Vatican Museums

Vatican City may be the smallest country in the world, but it is also one of the most spectacular. We know that technically this isn’t part of Italy, but as it is located right in the heart of the city of Rome it really belongs on this list. The Vatican Museums are very popular as they contain some of the finest works of art in the world including the breathtaking ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which was painted by Michelangelo.

The Vatican Museum can get very busy – treat yourself to a guided tour so that not only do you get an expert guide; you also get to skip the lines.

#3 The Ancient City of Rome

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it certainly needs more than a day to take in even a fraction of the things that it offers to the visitor. The history of Rome goes back more than 2,000 years and many buildings are still standing as testament to this. The most famous attractions include The Colosseum, The Forum, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon.

Don’t forget to take some time to spend away from the major tourist attractions in Rome and explore some of the lesser known places in the Eternal City. Visiting the attractions at night can give a very different perspective, or walk around the San Lorenzo district to see how the locals live. To give a different view of the city take a drive out to Monte Mario.

#4 Spectacular Lake Como

There is a reason why George Clooney bought a house on the banks of Lake Como – it is a stunningly beautiful area. Take a boat across the lake and visit the picture perfect town of Bellagio.

Make sure that you take some time to visit Villa Carlotta – a stunningly beautiful house high up above the lake which offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. You may think that some of the views look familiar. Villa Carlotta is frequently used as a movie location and was featured in Star Wars, Attack of the Clones and the James Bond movie Casino Royale.

#5 Explore Cinque Terre

This is one of the most beautiful areas on the French Riviera. Cinque Terra means “five towns”. These beautiful traffic free towns seem to cling impossibly to the hillside of the coast. This used to be one of those hidden areas where tourists were rare, but the secret is now well and truly out. You will have to share this beautiful place with other tourists, but it is still well worth a visit.

Each of the five towns has its own personality. Our favorite is Vernazza which is arguably the most beautiful of them all. It has a very lively harbor which is great for people watching.


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