The first thing I can say about Italy? Wow, just wow! The culture, the food, the architecture, the history, I could keep going. Since our wedding was in October, there was honestly not a lot of places to choose from. Most honeymooners go to the Caribbean which is what we were thinking. However, with my experience living in Miami for a few years I knew it was going to be hurricane season or we would at least get hit with a tropical storm. No thanks. We also thought about Tahiti, but after doing more research we are the type of couple who can't sit still on a beach for a week or two, we have to go do something after 1-2 days. Then there is the Zika. Grant it, it's very rare, but you just never know. We thought of Dubai, Crete and Athens, as well as Thailand, but it just didn't grab us or it was way too expensive. But then there was Italy; oh, Italy, how we love you so!
After having a terrible experience with several travel companies and agents, we decided to just plan everything on our own. One thing we wanted to make sure of was that, yeah, we wanted to see everything and do tours, but we didn't want to go, go, go. We wanted to be able to relax and just walk around if we wanted to. Since it was our first time going to Italy (and Europe just in general), we decided to hit the main cities - Rome, Venice and Florence...or should I say Roma, Venezia and Firenze ;)
When it comes to traveling for us, we like to experience the "local" culture. Yes, we like to do the touristy things, but as you can probably tell we like to go with it too. For instance, we look up restaurants that have awesome reviews from locals, read local blogs, research breweries, cocktail bars and speakeasies in addition to walking through random neighborhoods. You probably get the point. So here is what we did in Roma which I highly suggest:
-We stayed at 47 Hotel. Not only is it PERFECT location for all the ruins, restaurants and such, but the customer service was awesome!! And the view! It is about $250+ per night, but it's worth it. If you book the right package, you can even get hot breakfast in the morning along with free transportation in a VERY NICE car to and from airport and train station. They also have a "phone" called Handy in the rooms. This can be brought with you when you're out and about; you can call people back in the states without it charging them or you, use the GPS to get around, look up restaurants and attractions, you name it. It was very convenient.
-Day 1-2: You're jet lagged, enough said. We wanted to rest and go with it before just jumping into a long tour. We walked (you may want to pull up a map of Roma right now) from our hotel up to Circus Maximus which is crazy to see. I mean, you're just walking down the road and there it is, just chillin. Then there is the Colosseum maybe 1-2 blocks length from Circus Maximus.
We walked to Teatro (aka Theater) Marcello and then over to Capitoline Museums which is basically connected via a tiny road to go to the Altare della Patria (which means Altar of the Fatherland in English, which I'll get into in one second). You HAVE TO go on this tiny road; if you go up the stairs of the museum, you'll find this road in the back. There you will have one of the perfect lookouts of Roma including the Roman Forum (or the Foro Romano in Italian). It's unreal!
Now back to Altare della Patria; OMG the most amazing monument you'll ever see! It's all made out of white marble and it's MASSIVE! It's literally mind-blowing and majestic! There is a garden right across the front entrance of Altare; go over there and take a photo/selfie. You'll thank me later. Then we saw Piazza Venezia which is next door to the garden/next to Altare.
Afterwards, we stumbled upon the most popular shopping street after looking at the Piazza called Via del Corso. It just so happens that this road was on our way to Fontana di Trevi (aka the Trevi Fountain) anyways so we got to see all the Italian fashion along the way ;) Shortly after, we veered off del Corso and noticed that we really liked walking through the "neighborhood" to get to the fountain - there's so many stores, dessert shops, it's just cute!
Then we made our way up to the Spanish Steps of course. Just north of there, there's another piazza, Piazza del Popolo. There wasn't much there, but it was still pretty and great photo opps.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at Armando al Pantheon. Amazing! Honestly, the architecture there is beautiful. Nothing like the US. We jetted over to Campo de' Fiori before heading back to the hotel which there you'll find a ton of pop-up markets with fresh leather purses (which you can find these everywhere so don't feel like that this is the only place), produce, etc.
To get home, we walked along the Tiber River. Saw a local rowing team, breathtaking architecture, it was awesome.
-Days 3-4: We did the tours. By this time you're on Italy's schedule. We got a private tour to Vatican City for one of our wedding gifts which was the best thing ever!! Our tour guide was named Margherita. She was such a funny, kind, spit fire of a lady. She was hilarious and made our trip to the Vatican more educational than normal group tours. My husband and I aren't really museum types unless it's something large and famous, but we have to say that the private tour is the way to go. There were things that she was pointing out like rugs that were made hundreds of years ago and their history along with the little details while the big group tours walked right past. She let's you take your time in Sistine Chapel because it's just that beautiful. The little things matter so highly suggest a private tour for this one.
Next we had a group tour (yes, we had a group tour because it was already booked but we honestly don't regret it) to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. We decided to spend a little bit more and get the VIP package where you go down to the basement of the Colosseum, totally worth it! We saw the river that flowed through for fresh water which still exists, we saw the levy that brought the lions and such up to the battlefield, the hallways which are still standing, it's just fascinating. Be ready for some stairs though - you get to go to the very top floor of the Colosseum which they just so happened to open that week so we were one of the firsts. The stairs are very steep so make sure to hold the railings, especially on your way down. You then head over the Roman Forum which was my favorite part. They have pillars still standing, Julius Caesar's tomb built by Cleopatra, etc. You then head up to the top of Palatine Hill which the #1 spot to overlook all of Roma. Best photo opp by far. This tour we booked through Viator and the touring company was called City Wonders (Marhia aka Maria was awesome!)
-Best restaurants out of our whole trip and in Roma: Dar Poeta (pizza) <--OMG you HAVE TO, HAVE TO, GO! We obviously had a lot of pizza on this trip and by far nothing could compare to this place. It's located in the Trastevere neighborhood which is the perfect place to just walk around in addition to that one neighborhood I mentioned on our way to Trevi. Down the road from Dar Poeta (take a right outside the restaurant and it's on the right corner) is a gelato place that...get ready for it...get ready for it...BISCOFF COOKIE GELATO!! ;)
Another great restaurant was I Vascellari, also in the Trastevere neighborhood. I honestly don't know what the dish was exactly called, but it was pasta and it had the following ingredients: pasta, garlic, oil, chili pepper and basil. That's it! So good. Also get the Bruschetta from there, it's like a bruschetta bowl! It's bread chunks, red onion, green onion, basil, oil, pepper, tomatoes and sea salt.
For dessert, go to Pompi Tiramisu (no place to sit, just a cocktail table). I don't even like Tiramisu and the berry one was delicious!
-Best cocktails/beer in Roma: Loved the brewery Baladin! It does get busy even on a weekday night so beware.
One of the best cocktails we have ever had besides Dead Rabbit in NYC is The Race Club! It seems like no one is there when you arrive because it's just a big dark grey freight door and a tiny window with broken glass, but definitely ring that doorbell to the left of it. I believe it was the owner that welcomed us after the doorman didn't know English, but he was the nicest man ever. He made us feel right at home. It's a $5 membership that's good for a year per person, but do it! Not only do their cocktails come with flair and they're just pretty to look at, but they come with snacks! We actually got pretty full. Their popcorn? Yum! Their cookies? Delicious!
One thing we didn't plan out was looking at events happening in Italy. We left Roma to go to Venice the weekend they were having the International Beer Festival. Darn it!! :( Side note: the train ride to Venice is beautiful. So let's head to Venice...
It's a water town so don't expect a taxi to be lugging you around all day. We stayed on the island Giudecca at Hilton Stucky so we had no choice but to take a water taxi to get anywhere. As far as the hotel, we would probably stay there again, I think?? It was very expensive if you eat there like we did when we got stuck in a rain storm our last night. It was $28 for a burger and then $6 per bottle of water. No joke! They also suggest you don't open your windows because of the mosquitoes and the birds, but it's kinda hot in their rooms so you have to. They do have the highest rooftop in Venice though and it's gorgeous at night! PS - get they smoky old fashioned.
-We only spent a day and half there after talking with people that have been there before which I highly suggest you do too. Maybe spend two days there if you're planning on going to Murano and Burano (famous for their glass blowing and rows of bright colored homes) which we may do next time. Other than that, it's a lot of walking and just looking at stuff, so a day and a half is good.
-If you have never been to Venezia, although it seems touristy and too expensive (20-30 mins = $80), you must do a gondola ride. It takes you through the neighborhoods that you don't really get to see. It's fascinating! We got the best photo opps while on our boat ride. Most likely you'll go under the Rialto Bridge like we did and then there is a statue with large arms coming out of the sidewalk up onto a building. Pretty awesome to see.
-Another touristy thing that I think is WAY overrated to be honest when it comes to it's drinks but yet you still have to go to say you did it (just like the gondola ride) is, Harry's Bar. Our drinks were TINY and cost about $21-$28 per drink. However, you can say you were in the bar that Ernest Hemingway sat in along with other famous historians. They are famous for their Bellini, but I hate to be the Debbie Downer, but it's not good. Best Bellini in my opinion is at Oreganos in Arizona.
-St. Mark's Square is pretty especially if you go into the basilica, but there are A LOT OF BIRDS!! If you hate and fear birds like I do, just look from afar. It's petrifying! So long story short, a flock of them flew up while we were walking into the square in which I started to cry/laugh so the husband had to go in and take photos by himself.
-Best restaurant that we had (but take in mind we got stuck on Giudecca the last night because of the rain storm) was Bacaromi. I got the Risotto with Beef Ragout (aka ragu) and the husband got John Dory fish. Phenomenal, especially his and I don't even eat seafood. But when you're in Venice, you almost have to get seafood, I mean it's a water town ;)
-If you happen to stay on Giudecca, make sure to go to Majer. We went there every morning and it was spectacular. Their coffee, pastries and the view!!
So yeah there isn't much to do there which I'm sure you have heard before, so only spend maybe 2 days there, but that's it. It's just a pretty place to look at it. So many photos to be taken, great seafood. It's just beautiful! After our day and half trip, we got on the train to head to Firenze, our third and final stop...
-We stayed at the AC Hotel which was kinda out there to be honest :/ We had to walk about 15-20 minutes to the city center which was fine, but it would have been nice to be closer.
-The first day we walked around (surprise, surprise - that's how we spent our time here as well) we saw the Duomo. We didn't actually go in it though - if you have a problem with small spaces you probably won't be able to go in there. It's a tall, narrow staircase that's pretty enclosed that goes all the way to the top. Just like the Statue of Liberty, no elevators so make sure you have been working out to prep for this one. The Basilica is gorgeous. They actually talk about this church on your Vatican tour so you almost have to go when you're in Florence.
-We saw Ponte Vecchio which we totally thought was going to have a lot of shopping, which it did, but it was only gold jewelry. It was pretty to see though and say we were on it.
-We also took a cab up to Piazzale Michaelangelo. We saw it at night which it overlooks all of Florence which I highly suggest. However, I would go up there during the day too! It's breathtaking. That's one thing I regret is not seeing the daytime version of Florence from up there.
-We OBVIOUSLY took a wine tour. We booked through Viator and it was called Chianti Half-Day Wine Tour from Florence. Only $56! Best tour ever!! We stopped in Greve which was the cutest town, nice and quiet. Then we went to the first winery which I have to say was the best wine!! We had Chianti Classico and the other favorite we had was the white wine called Viogner. Holy moly! We loved it so much we shipped three reds and three whites back to the US (do not try to bring this on the plane, it's a pain. Just ship it!) Their cheese and chili pepper olive oil on top was fabulous! So stinkin pretty too! What you think Chianti looks like is exactly what it looks like. The winery? It's called Castello Il Palagio. We will definitely go back to that winery next time...or order more wine online from there.
Next winery was called Poggio Amorelli. Their wine was okay to be honest :/ But their balsamic and truffle oil...OMG!! We had aged balsamic, 20 years to be exact. Who has that?? The view is breathtaking so make sure to take a selfie like we did. We were there when the sun was setting too so it was 10x more beautiful. Make sure to say hi to their winery black cat too; it's name is Truffle. And finally, the last stop was Castellina. It's an old medieval town. You have to go, it's darling. It's like the classic Italian village you read about in books or see pictures of.
One thing I will say is that you most likely will get motion sickness from this trip. You get on a bus and there's very curvy roads throughout Chianti. I had my motion sickness patch on and it still made my stomach upset. My husband doesn't even get motion sickness and he felt icky :( Maybe if you got a rental car and drove through it yourself you may be okay??
-Unless you're there for four or more days, I would say you can probably hit only one museum (we did this on our last day). We chose to go see the David at the Galleria dell' Accademia! He is honestly a lot larger than we thought he was going to be. This is also the museum where we realized we appreciate a private tour because there were things in there that we didn't know anything about and it would have been nice to have a local in there educating us :/ Next time I think we'll spend some more time here so we can go see the other famous museums. Three days flies by!
-Best restaurant was Il Gatto e la Volpe (The Cat and The Fox), best pasta ever!! Yeah I mentioned that place in Roma because it was amazing and simple, but this place was even better! We went there twice. The Penne alla Vodka is fabulous and then there is another dish which we have no clue what it's called, but YOU HAVE TO get it. Just show them this photo and the waiter will know exactly what it is. DO NOT SKIP THIS RESTAURANT. YOU'LL REGRET IT!
Another good place is actually a sandwich place called All'Antico Vinaio. Get the sandwich that has the truffle on it. I got the a salami one and it was good, but not as good as that one. It has arugula on it and I think tomato? Delicious!
Gusta Pizza is great, but not as good as Dar Poeta in Rome ;) PS - Do not get this place mixed up with Gustaosteria. We spent the night also walking around Piazza Santo Spirito. By the time we got done with dinner, things were closing up, but it looks like a lively place and definitely an area you want to check out for a bar type of a night.
Some people say that you need to have Florentine steak while you're in Firenze. We did! It was a little too much for me because it basically comes out purple/red in the middle, but it was good, and very large. We shared it which is what I would suggest for you.
-Of course we also went to some breweries; first was BrewDog Firenze, yes the same BrewDog that has a show and lives in Scotland. We also went to Archea Brewery which was amazing!! It's definitely a local bar and it's super cozy. We felt like we were right at home. Another place to check out for craft beer is Beer House Club.
And that's how we left Florence <3
On the train we went back to Rome to fly out the next day. We made the mistake of taking the train and booking a hotel next to the airport. It cost us $75! We definitely didn't plan that out right haha! Plus the airport is actually really far from the city center of Rome so although we planned to get Dar Poeta again, we just couldn't. But I guess that just means with our $5 membership to The Race Club and missing out on getting our favorite pizza a second time means that we will just have to go again within the next year ;)
So there you have it ladies and gents, our Italian honeymoon. We honestly wouldn't have done anything different as far as location. It was amazing, adventurous and romantic; it was perfect.
More Italy tips
They don't do tips. When you're at the restaurant, paying your cab, don't tip them. I mean you can if you really want to, but it's not the norm like it is here.
It sometimes seem like there are no "lanes" in Rome. Cabs just drive wherever they want. Also be careful when walking down the side streets; cars come whipping around the corner and streets are already super narrow.
Speaking of driving, they don't have Ubers.
They don't serve actual breakfast. They eat a croissant and espresso. Sometimes they do eat pizza though ;) But that's it.
Speaking of coffee, if you want something similar to OUR coffee, order an Americano; it's an espresso watered down served in a larger cup. "Caffe" is espresso which is their “our coffee”. For more coffee terms visit this link.
Make sure to bring outlet converters. Your hair straightener, phone charger, etc. won’t fit in their outlets.
Make sure to make reservations for dinner, especially in Rome. Places book up quickly, meaning you should call AT LEAST a week in advance.
Most places open up in the morning and close around 2pm. They reopen at night around 7:30pm or 8pm and stay open till about 10:30pm / 11pm. Some places are open during the day, but you really have to search or walk around. So plan your eating schedules accordingly.
I have AT&T and my husband has Verizon; both services charge $10 per day for using the internet, etc. Don’t do this (except for Venice since some roads just end abruptly by a canal). There are plenty of places that have WiFi that you can connect to. PS- no one sits on their phones during lunch or dinner. They actually have conversations with one another.
Water in Rome, Florence and Venice is SAFE to drink, including the fountains you find throughout the neighborhoods.
The string in the tub? Don’t tug it! It’s there in case you fall or have a problem in the shower. The hotel staff gets alerted and they’ll come straight up to your room.
To turn on the lights and to leave them on in the hotel room, most hotels have a slot right in the entryway where you are supposed to insert your room key - so make sure you don’t forget it there when you leave for the day ;)
Best way to plan your arrival to Italy is to make sure you land at night time, their time (if you don’t feel rested when you sleep on a plane). You need to get on their schedule. Otherwise if you arrive in the AM like we did, we just stayed up. However, we were pretty well rested from our sleep on the plane.
When you visit Sistine Chapel, make sure your shoulders and chest are covered. It’s considered disrespectful. And reminder, you can’t take photos or speak once you get in there.
There are a few Irish pubs and such around food-wise, but for the most part there’s gelato, pizza, pasta, seafood and pastries.
The prices on the menu for wine is for a bottle, not a glass. They don't even believe in glasses of wine I don't think?? You'll also notice everyone drinks during the day, but that's their culture.
There’s cobblestone streets everywhere. If you are hopping around like we did, do a large backpack as your luggage. It’s nearly impossible to wheel around your carry-on or suitcase across Italy. Which brings me into my next thing...
There is a lot of theft at the train stations so stay alert! When you get into those narrow streets or sidewalks throughout the Italian neighborhoods or get into a crowded area like the Trevi Fountain, put your hands in your pockets or hold your purse. Do not put things in your back pocket.
Make sure to book your train tickets well in advance, maybe a week. We waited till a day or two before we were leaving and they were a lot more expensive than we viewed a few days prior to that.
There’s so much to do in Rome that I would suggest doing five days if not more, no more than a day in a half in Venice or two days if you plan on going to Murano or something like I mentioned. Then Florence I would do at least four days to see another museum or if you want to go on another winery tour. Maybe even do six days here if you really want to.