Friday, 9 October 2009

Italy City Guide

I spent a month in Italy, and visited seven different places, all of which I have to say were different, beautiful, sun drenched pieces of heaven (can you tell I'm an Italianophile?). If you're planning a trip (and you should) here's my handy city guide to help you pick the place for you and hopefully make the most of your time there!

This is where my tour started. It was a hot, dusty, busy, noisy slice of perfection - exactly what you would expect of the Italian capital! I spent my days drinking excessive amounts of espresso, jumping out the way of mopeds and wandering around ancient ruins.

What to See: The Colosseum is not to be missed, and not just because I have a major historical crush on Emperor Vespasian who built it! You get a joint ticket which gets you in to the Palatine as well so I'd recommend queuing for the Palatine first, buying your ticket, then walking straight passed the massive queues at the Colosseum! Also on my must see list is the Vatican Museum, which is pricey but you can quite happily spend a whole day there - there's so much to see. Don't miss the Map Room, it was fantastic. If you like your sights to be a bit on the creepy side head to the basement of the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Concezione, where everything including the light fittings are made of the bones of 4000 dead Capuchin monks!

And for Free: Throw a coin over your shoulder in the Trevi Fountain to ensure your return to Rome. Pose on the Spanish Steps with Rome's young and beautiful. Stroll around the streets near the steps and check out Rome's most expensive shopping streets. Look round St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican (just make sure you dress appropriately - shoulders and knees covered!). Gaze up at the amazing dome of the Pantheon. Chill out by the fountains in Piazza Navona.

The biggest city in the south of Italy, and one with a not undeserved reputation for being dirty, smelly and dangerous. Looking beyond that though beneath the grime there is definitely a shabby beauty and a chance to see a different side of Italy from most of the tourist spots.

What to See: Pompeii is only a half hour bus or train ride away, as is Herculaneum, another lost city completely destroyed by Vesuvius. Both are absolutely staggering, the scale is just unbelievable, there is so much to see. From Pompeii you can also take a bus trip up Vesuvius and stare into the mouth of the crater (which is overdue for an eruption by the way!). Back in the (relative) safety of Naples visit the Archaeological Museum to see all the finds from Pompeii, and don't miss the 'secret room' filled with ancient Roman erotica!

And for Free: There is an old Castle by the coast which you can climb right to the top of for spectacular views over the bay of Naples in one direction and the city in the other. Also nearby is a lovely park (one of the few green spaces I spotted in Southern Italy) where you can relax away from the hustle of the city.

What a change from southern Italy! Tuscany is greener, the streets are wider and you move through time a few centuries leaving Ancient Rome behind and exchanging it for the excitement of the Italian Renaissance.

What to See: For art lovers, and everyone else besides the Uffizi gallery is the art gallery to see in Italy. If you don't feel the need to stay all day (and that's ok!) head there at 4.30-5pm to miss the worst of the queues. Don't miss the Botticelli room! Climb the 400 or so steps of the Bell tower by the cathedral and look out over terracotta rooves and rolling Tuscan hills crammed with vineyards and olive groves.

And for Free: Browse the many markets selling leather goods and souvenirs. Head inside the cathedral, which is remarkably simple and beautiful - not what you'd expect from the outside! The Ponte Vecchio bridge is one of only three bridges in the world to have shops on it, definitely worth a walk over. Although the real Michelangelo's David is hidden away (and very expensive to go and see) you can see a copy outside the Palazzo Vecchio, and who'll know the difference anyway?

Famous obviously for just one thing - the leaning tower, Pisa is actually a pretty cute University City with more to do than you'd think.

What to See: It's expensive, but you really can't go to Pisa and not climb the leaning tower. Get a joint ticket and see inside the cathedral, baptistery or museum as well. Pisa University's Botanical Gardens are not often on any major tourist map but they were gorgeous and well worth a look.

And for Free: Join the university students lying on the grass in the shade of the Baptistery. Make sure you don't leave without a photo of you 'pushing the leaning tower over' - it's got to be done! A cheap train journey away is the gorgeous medieval town of Lucca, with amazing walls all round the city which have been planted with trees and are now a public park! It's an easy stroll all round the city, with great views.

I defy anyone to come back from a trip to Siena and not say 'oh it was beautiful' with a dreamy sigh! The cobbled medieval city is indeed gorgeous, and it's pedestrianised streets were a huge relief!

What to See: Get a joint ticket and visit several museums for a reduced price including the Palazzo Publico and the Santa Maria Della Scala. The Pinacoteca Nazionale has a stunning collection of Sienese art (although you may never ant to see another medieval altarpiece again after visiting!)

And for Free: Sit out in the bowl shaped Campo and soak up the sunshine. Go exploring the narrow streets and take photos of all the flags of the different regions of the city.

Everyone, actually everyone is beautiful and chic here. There are almost no exceptions (and the exceptions are probably tourists). Although it's expensive and perhaps not as pretty as other cities in Italy, Milan definitely has a style and a buzz about it which makes it hard not to love.

What to See: The roof of the cathedral is like a magical world. Possibly the best thing I did the whole time I was away, it's like you've been transported to a white marble Elfin paradise! The Castello has about ten museums inside, all of which are quite interesting, although a bit random. If you're sick of art and Roman ruins but still after a bit of culture then this is the place to be. The science museum I didn't rate that much, but the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit there was good.

And For Free: Not a lot! Browse the markets by the canal side on a Saturday, peep inside the cathedral (I got turned away because my skirt was an inch too short!), test out the helpfulness of the designer stores' sales assistants (full marks to Gucci and YSL, none to Prada and Armani!).

Geek Out...

.Check out Megan's guide to Milan on a Budget parts one and two.
.I Want You To Know also has a post about Milan.
.The Glamourous Grad Student features Rome and Florence in her City Chic series.

If you've been, where is your favourite place in Italy? Or where do you dream of going?


S.Elisabeth said...

No no no no!! Ahh this post reminds me vividly of my time in Italy and now I'm missing that trip so very badly! =)
I saw Florence & Rome, and spent about half a day in Naples. (Actually I was there to take a ferry to Capri and that was it. It was kind of gross with the old men, etc!) I'm dying to see Milan and Siena, etc! Ah I threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, so one day I shall return!

Sherin said...

I want to go Itally so badly now!!! I've always wanted to go and now I need to go. Great post. Rome is definitely the city I want to go to!

wishwishwish said...

i'd love to visit italy one day x