Italy: Where to go? What to do?

Sun 22 Feb, 2004 03:10 pm
I have been saying I want to visit Italy for the past year or so. I was just wondering if anyone has any recommendations on where to go, what to see for someone who will most likely only have about ten days to spend. Any great restaurants you've been to? What about places to stay? The best time of year to go? And what is the best way to travel around the country?
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Sun 22 Feb, 2004 04:08 pm
Kicky, I am a crazed italophile, I love italy very much, including the difficult bits. I've been there three times: once for a month (with one week in there of renting a car, the rest of the time walking or taking trains); once for two weeks (walking, trains, buses); and again for a month, trains, trains, trains.

I've been to about twenty cities, have read a lot as follow up.
So, I'll be glad to babble on about places, but need to know something about what you might like first -
hiking, cycling, etc.

looking at places like the roman forum, Hadrian's villa, water gardens in Tivoli

museums - art and anthropology, for example

food - I have actually chosen cities for the food

architecture - there are layers and layers of architecture, very rich bath of architecture

cities (large or small) or country, tourist spots or not

whether you take heat or cold better... re walking around...

clubs, concerts, etc

your budget re where to stay. I haven't stayed in hostels, but I've stayed in one star hotels (low end) to three star ones, mostly one star though. One or two nights in a nifty three star can be wonderful, even by yourself.
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Sun 22 Feb, 2004 04:19 pm
What are the difficult bits about Italy, osso?
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Sun 22 Feb, 2004 04:22 pm
I'm certainly not an expert on Italy <sigh> but I still dream of Florence. Lovely! <sigh>
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Sun 22 Feb, 2004 04:23 pm
a friend of mine leads food, wine and cycling and food, wine and photography tours of Italy. it's a dream of mine to join one of the groups, though my preferred combo would be food, cycling and photography. she and her husband are professional chefs, they bring a photography instructor along on the photog tour. <sigh> that would be fabbbbuuuuuuuulous.
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Sun 22 Feb, 2004 04:35 pm
Oh, that's a little hard to come up with, infra. I did have trouble on my last trip making it from Lucca to Viterbo before dark via diff trains and buses (I have weird eyes, am quite nightblind) trying to find the bus stop for the only connecting bus... in a certain town.

I took a dizzying number of trains on my last trip, as it was primarily a phototaking trip to 13 cities/29 days. I made every possible mistake, loved it all.

My first trip, my then husband and I got to Rome after being awake about 36 hours, and decided to take the metro from the main station to our hotel. We had very stupidly brought giant suitcases for the thirty days, not only giant suitcases but additional little ones (first lesson of many..) Caught them in a turnstile, and once past the grief of getting them all through the turnstile we found the subway was going the wrong way. We were helped out by an elegant older man who simply accompanied us all the way to the right train, which, as I remember, meant going upstairs..
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Sun 22 Feb, 2004 06:07 pm
Okay, Ossobucco, here's what I'm thinking.

I am probably not into cycling or hiking very much, but I'm fine with walking around for hours. I live in New York, so I'm used to a lot of walking. and I'm young, so I am not worried about being oversome by heat or cold, though I'd prefer to go during warmer weather.

The roman forum, Hadrian's villa, and the water gardens in Tivoli all sound interesting, although I have only heard of the forum. I am not completely against tourist spots, but I'd also like to explore the "real" Italy.

Any info on nightlife would be greatly appreciated also. Clubs, pubs, music, etc.

I'd love to see at least one great art museum, and the architecture you mentioned.

And food, yes, food! Any restaurant recommendations would be very much appreciated!

I guess budget-wise, I was thinking of staying in at least one really nice place for a couple days, but other than that, I'd like to keep my money for the adventures. And I think I'd love to see some beautiful countrysides too. Venice is one place I've always wanted to see.

Does that sound like too much to do in one ten-day trip?
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Sun 22 Feb, 2004 07:38 pm
Yes, Kickycan, sort of like my 13 cities in 29 day trip, which I knew was asking for aggravation as I chose to do it.

I've been there in early October, through the month of March, and through the month of April. I think July is very hot and very tourist mobbed, but I haven't been there then.
And friends have complained about mosquitoes in Tuscany in summer...

That first time we went we landed in Rome on March 1st and it was fairly chilly for the first few weeks, in the forties during the day, mostly. We wore sweaters And jackets and had mufflers and I wore a beret. Some small hotels in smaller towns aren't open yet then. On the other hand, that trip we always got the best room wherever we stayed, and at fairly low rates.

The last trip, which was April... well it rained maybe six days of that month. (Which brings up the umbrella or no umbrella question, back on that later) was still a little on the cold side some days, but mostly great for lots of walking. I was in Rome on Easter sunday and it seemed the whole town was alive with people "promenading" a lot of the day.

The middle trip, October... wonderful. I think it was around 80 degrees one day, somewhat less other days. Lots of tourists, but not impenetrable clumps of them.

My favorite hotel in Rome is out of the way, off the beaten path, but if you are a walker, it is a fine walk. I've stayed there three times, and friends have stayed there too. Check out Villa San Anselmo and Villa San Pio on the Aventine Hill (two hotels, same people run them). They're three star rated. I paid something like $110. for a single last time I was there ('99); it's always about the same as some other three stars around Old Rome. It's not fancy but I find it very charming. People who come to do reports at the UN Food and Agriculture building often stay there, so if you have
coffee and a roll before you set off for your walk by the Palatine Hill or to the Colosseum or to the Pantheon, your breakfast room mates will probably be from all over the world. These hotels are up the hill a bit (three or four blocks). I always stopped for a second espresso and dolce at a Bar down the hill on Viale Aventino, on which the FAO and the Circo Massimo metro station are located. The Circus Maximus stretches out from there to the west towards, for example, the Pantheon, or you can fork over to the forums, or colosseum. I don't recommend these hotels to everybody, because of the walk, but I like the walk and I like the neighborhood.

I've also stayed at Hotel Elide on Via Firenze, two blocks east of Via Quattro Fontane; this is closer to the train station, very cheap, nice people, miserable accomodations, but ok enough if money is tight. (something like $40.00 a day, with bathroom of your own, such as it is). Very walkable to just about anywhere.

Another, somewhat better than H. Elide, was the Hotel Flavia, on via Flavia, less costly than Villa San Pio, more than Elide. This was in the neighborhood south and east of Piazza Barberini. Also very walkable... but I've walked the whole city in lots of directions, so all these locations are fine with me.

With a bit more to spend, I'd think about the Hassler, and maybe some better hotels in old Rome. The Hassler is a famous good hotel, near the top of the Scalinata, or Spanish Steps. Then there are a few other good ones near Borghese Park, probably quieter, though I'm not sure. I like the book called Charming Small Hotel Guides: Italy. Used to use it a lot - so with a little bit more budget than I usually have, I'd go through that book first.

On the lower end - I've heard some negatives about the relatively cheapo hotels right by the train station (Termini) but don't know about that personally.

I'd look at Fodor's online... I also used to use the old small American Express Guidebooks; not that many hotels listed but AE is pretty trustworthy. I would guess they've got a website by now!

I have lots more to say about Rome and environs, you'll get sick of me talking before I even get out of there.
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Sun 22 Feb, 2004 08:52 pm
Osso always gives good Italy advice.

If you want galleries, architecture, metc., you have to go to Florence. There's no place better.

I, too, would recommend Fodors on line. You get some travel mafia types on Fodors, but also some good sensible advice. Inregularly check out the Europe section, just for general interest, and I've just started checking out the US guide for a friend. I answer questions for the Australian guide myself.

Also check slowtrav.com, who specialise in Italy.
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Sun 22 Feb, 2004 08:52 pm
Things to see in Rome - too much.

Well, the forums. (fora). I liked them almost empty on an early sunday morning in drizzling rain...
the colosseo - there is even a metro stop there, opening doors to see the colosseum for the first time is a kick.

Me, I'd see 5 churches before I'd go to the Vatican; they are at a different scale - I think if I went to the Vatican first I'd feel overwhelmed.

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane - designed by Borromini
San Andrea del Quirinale - designed by Bernini - check out adjoining rooms if open.. rather mind boggling. (churches, by the way, are closed during siesta, which is from 1-4 or thereabouts)
nice little restaurant near there, Da Tullio (or it was..)
Sant'Ivo - by Borromini

These first three are real architectural jewel boxes. The first two are next door to each other across from the Quirinale Palace (presidential palace)

Santa Maria del Populo - old church tucked in a corner of Piazza del Populo, has a nice Caravaggio in it, a small chapel by Raphael, a statue by Sansovino...
San Clemente - a church over a church over a mithras temple, and you can walk down through the layers of time..

You gotta see St. Peter's Square (Bernini) and St. Peter's (Michelangelo's hand in there..) inside. I would not approach it down Via Conciliazione, but would walk from the metro stop (Ottaviano) or side neighborhood for the most surprise coming into the piazza.
The vatican museum and library - long time involved in doing this.

The Pantheon - I drool when I talk about the Pantheon. Like it best almost empty in the rain. When in Rome I go out of my way to walk through it on the way somewhere else, just like being there.

Piazza Navona, built over site of old Roman boat races, a stunning space when first spied coming through a tight little side street.. key baroque scupture. Chocolate truffle gelato famous at Tre Scalini.

Piazza Trevi - I like it best as dawn colors the city

Piazza Mattei - exquisite fountain by Landini of boys helping turtles to drink from raised bowl

Campo dei Fiori - colorful street market in the mornings, market closes down around 1 in the afternoon.

Museums -
well, the Vatican....
the Capitoline hill museums (two, both good). Well, first of all that space, which is an ancient Roman one, was redesigned by Michelangelo..., and secondly, there is beautiful work in the museums.
the Barberini - last time I was there they had a big Caravaggio exhibit
Borghese Museum and Gallery - tickets, you need tickets. Pick them up and come back later.. I haven't been into it since it was remodeled, saw it before they shut down the upstairs for a decade. Major works there.
Via Giulia National Museum - greatest collection of Etruscan artifacts... (I haven't been to that etruscan museum, have been to sev others)

Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Palazzo of the same name, off of the Via Corso,
a trip through ornate space, with some good paintings, including a key Velasquez. This gallery one of my favorites anywhere, it is just spun sugar, including the elaborate flooring.

Things I haven't seen (and I have been in Rome about twenty days all together.. but I'm slow, just like to walk and laze about) - haven't seen the Baths of Diocletian or Caracalla. Haven't been into the Catacombs. Haven't been to the Appian Way. Haven't been into Hadrian's Mausoleum.

Things I was cranky when I saw and just blinked at - Michelangelo's statue of Moses at St. Peter in Vincoli; the Sistine Chapel (while they were cleaning...)

Viewing spots -
At the top of the Aventine hill, in the little park next to Santa Sabina (I think), you can look over the Tiber across Trastevere.... see St. Peter's Dome, etc.

From the Pincio, the park that sits above Piazza del Populo, also looking west, beautiful at sunset

From the Gianicolo, a park at top of Trastevere, looking east (I haven't done this).

Food, et al, later.

Will add to this as I think of things.. I know I am forgetting some obvious things.

I don't know much about night life there, I was always too damn tired.

Favorite guide book, I notice yet again, as I pick it to refresh my memory, is Richard Saul Wurman's Rome Access[/color].
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Sun 22 Feb, 2004 08:54 pm
My wife and a group of her friends just returned from eight days in Rome. They stayed in a Polish convent there, which while spartan, was clean and inexpensive. Most of their sightseeing was centered on religious sites, and they did take one day trip to Asissi. She said that Rome has decent public transportation, and if you eat where the locals eat it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg.

I got to stay home and take care of the dog.

If you have any questions for her, I'll pass them along.
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Sun 22 Feb, 2004 09:09 pm
I've heard of that polish convent, if its the one I think it is... near one end of the Circus Maximus...

I can't stay there, my bed would probably burn..
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Sun 22 Feb, 2004 11:53 pm
Well, you have given me a lot of great suggestions. I am overwhelmed already (and getting very excited about it)! Thank you so much! Oh my god there is so much to see just in Rome. I'd like to see Tuscany too. Isn't that known as a beautiful more relaxed place? Also, is it worth it to learn Italian? I'd really love to be able to go to some local joints and talk with regular folk.

I will have to get back to you with more questions once I've taken it all in. Thanks again, and if you feel like just going on and on about it all, I'm all ears. I love hearing this stuff.
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Mon 23 Feb, 2004 12:16 am
Kicky, I am barely started. There lots to do just outside Rome. Tuscany is big and bountiful. Venice, Ravenna, Parma, oh, oh! I haven't been south, have severe see the south pangs. I lost my mind over tuscany though. Siena. Of course Florence (Firenze). Well, enough for tonight. Then there's Umbria..

But italian classes are so much fun.. I took it for quite a while on Saturday mornings at UCLA extension....
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Mon 23 Feb, 2004 08:34 am
Ah, Tuscany. My sister-in-law lives in Siena. It's very beautiful there. I believe you'll need a car to get there from Rome, but perhaps there are buses. Certainly there are tour buses, but you'll be paying through the nose.

Also - go see Pompeii if you can. We went when I was 6 (yes, 6) and I still remember Pompeii vividly. It's quite an eye-opener.
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Mon 23 Feb, 2004 08:42 am
Jim, how did you feel about your wife taking off to Italy with her friends? My girlfriend wants us to go to Italy but I wonder how my husband would feel about that. Before I lay it on him, could you share your feelings?
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Mon 23 Feb, 2004 10:45 am
I've been to Siena by train, no problemo. From Rome there is a change at Chiusi to a smaller train, but no big deal.
I've also gone on the train from Faenza (east) to Siena, don't remember any change on that one.
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Mon 23 Feb, 2004 09:20 pm
More on Rome -

ice cream. This is terribly important. Me, I like Giolitti, on via Uffizi Vicario, which you find by walking down the Corso to piazza Colonna, around corner to Pz di Montecitorio (Parliament) and another little twist to the wee street with Giolitti. Basically you follow the cones... Don't give up with the line, it moves fast. Numbers of gelato flavors vary through day, many many (60?) rich flavors in early afternoon. Good pastry (consider the sfogliatella) and coffee there too, nice bar. Not to mention a good bathroom, which might grow in importance. Then there is La Palma, or similar name, just north of the Pantheon. Not bad, but..

My favorite pizza used to be at l'Archetto (the pizza Vesuviano) but I'm over it. Now I like the little place just in front of Santa Maria della Pace church. Finding the front of the church is not the easiest thing in the world, but you can sort of tell by the big door. It's an outdoor cafe, I'll post the name when I double check it. This is all slightly north of piazza Navona...

taxis - you can only get them at taxi stands or at hotel, waving in street will do you no good. There's one at Piazza del Populo, at Termini, at Ostiense station, and just to the north of Navona. When I made it back to Rome at the end of a lonnnng day in 1999 I just gave up and took a taxi to my hotel in the Aventino from piazza del Populo (you've heard of All Roads Lead to Rome? - it was through that gateway area they were talking about); for ride quite a way across town it was about $10.00 fare, worth every cent.

I have lists of good restaurants but mostly I/we just looked around and picked a place. People in rome historically eat their big meal around 1 or 2 pm and then take a snooze - many leave work to go home for lunch. The city quietens. Tourists keep going, better they should/could eat and snooze too. I always kept going since I was usually miles from the hotel by midafternoon in one direction or another.
Things pick up again around 4:00, 4:30....

For the finest trattorias/ristoranti in italian cities/towns, see if you can get some list or two from SlowFood.com Really really good places are part of their network of restaurant members...

Next - Rome Environs, stay tuned...
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Mon 23 Feb, 2004 10:03 pm
Hey, during my first stay in Rome I was in Villa Sant'Anselmo!
It was expensive to my pocket, back then.
The least expensive hotels are located near Termini Station (certainly not the best), but as you move along Via Nazionale, they get better.
One good offer would be Albergo Palatino, in Via Nazionale.

The only restaurants in Rome I do not reccomend are the ones situated near the Vatican. Tourist traps all of them.

Osso, you even remember your trains right!
Rome-Chiusi/Chianciano Terme-Siena

Jespah is right about not missing Pompei (and the Vesuvius climb, you can actually see the fumes). Unforgettable.

Ice creams are an absolute must. If they say apple, it tastes like apple. So is caffè freddo in the winter.

My personal opinion is not to try to see many cities and places in one trip, but get to know the few ones you go to.

Now... I bet Osso is going to talk next about the Tivoli Gardens.
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Mon 23 Feb, 2004 10:11 pm
You're right, fbaezer, you who know much more about italy and other places than I do... I still remember your Morocco trip, such good writing...

I agree about doing one place well, getting to feel like it is partly yours, but hardly anyone follows that. Most people try to do Rome, Florence, Venice.
Whipped by statues... herded in buses, oh, never mind, I have my biases.

Have you been back to Rome? Where would you stay now?
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