Last updated 9 November 2020
After spending two months in Italy, here’s what we’d recommend if you have some spare time, a bit of extra cash and the luxury of travelling a little slower. There's a lot of amazing things to see in Italy, so we've dedicated this list to North and Central Italy (Rome and up).
It doesn't need to be Milan... It could be Genoa or Naples or any city apart from Rome or Venice. Starting out in a working city gives you a chance to ease into the Italian way of life without a million tourists.
Our suggestion is still Milan: there's plenty of shopping, famous brands and a café culture. All in all, a great place to recover from jetlag. There’s the Duomo and the Galleria, so there’s something to see, but not enough to be overwhelming. The station in Milan is big with connections everywhere, so it’s also a good place to start navigating public transport.
Think Verona if you like culture, the Dolomites if you enjoy the outdoors or the beautiful lakes (Garda or Como). Pick a spot and spend a couple of days there, relaxing and enjoying life the Italian way - with lots of good food and wine
Venus can be madness during the day, full of crowds and tours from cruise ship. At night, it seems to take a deep breath, the crowds thin and the vibrancy and magic come through. St Mark’s Square is especially beautiful at night with live music and soft lighting.
Try not to invest too much time or money in trinkets or tours – just walk around and you’ll see the best of what the city has to offer.
I may be biased because we were based here for a while, but Florence deserves more than the obligatory three days. It’s full of Renaissance art, sculptures and architecture. You can see the big attractions in a day but take your time and relax.
Don’t feel compelled to visit the Uffizi Gallery or Academia if the crowds put you off – in my opinion, there other worthy attractions in Florence. Try the Museum of San Marco to see how the monks lived, visit the Boboli Gardens across the river and the palace there, wander to the old town walls… my favourite church in Florence was the Baroque San Gaetano
It doesn’t matter where, but it’s worthwhile seeing a hill town or a vineyard in Chianti. Make a quick stopover at Pisa if you really want a photo with the tower – seriously that’s all you need (Pisa was my least favourite place in Italy).
Have a long lunch somewhere with a pretty view, drink good wine and see the rolling countryside and vineyards. Tuscany is famous for a reason.
It seems obvious, but lately I've met a number of people who have been to Italy, but haven't made it to Rome. It’s the eternal city after all – busy, big, vibrant, a clash of business people and tourists.
There’s lots to see and do. Here I’d make time for the clichés. Go and see the Colosseum and the Vatican. Book tickets ahead of time and save yourself hours of waiting in lines. Rome can be ‘done’ in a couple of days but try to spend more time either here or in Florence and try to integrate a little.
Start with the Cinque Terre, the five villages dotted along the coast. Do one of the longer walks with views over the coastline, but be warned, some the hill routes are like goat trails.
For an easy coastal walk, head further up north to Santa Margarita and walk to Portofino. It’s beautiful (though food and drinks are expensive in Portofino) and you can see where the movie stars spend their holidays. Take the ferry back to Santa Margarita.
It’s a great way to find some interesting places. And, if you can, spend a day or two in small village off the tourist track. You'll get a bit more insight into rural Italy, and have plenty of opportunities to practice your Italian.
It's the little things... Learn to drink espresso like the locals – it’s a habit that can be hard to give up. Try out an aperitivo hour Get used to eating standing up.
Most of all, relax, keep smiling, speak Italian where you can (it makes a difference) and have fun.
Take it slow and give yourself enough time to really understand the places you visit. If it all feels a bit rushed, do what we did, and leave the South for another trip!