– ITALIA –
The country of pizza, pasta & tiramisu.
During the summer of 2011 me and my friend Sara, who I met during my travels in America, decided to escape Sweden for an adventure in Italy. We planned our trip with great consideration, Italy being both of ours European dream destination (Rome no. 2 on the list Europe’s top destinations) there was so much that we wanted to experience. During our travels through Italy we spent time in Rome, Venice, Milano, Ischia and also made short trips to Napels & Arenzano.
The boot shaped country of Italy is famous not only for its pizzas, but also for its variety of landscapes and terrains.
The peninsular of Italy is in the perfect location for visitors to enjoy the Tyrrhenian Sea on the west and the Adriatic sea on the east. The spectacular Apennine mountains form the peninsular’s physical backbone and hills and historical cities are spread out all over its regions. Italy is, to this day, one of my favourite places in the world. It’s such a stunning, cultural and history rich country.
Whether you choose to travel by foot, car, bus, train, boat or scooter, Italy will provide you with plenty of opportunities to get off the more touristy routes to experience the country’s true culture & charm.
I’ve collected my experiences to create this list of recommendations for anybody wanting to make their trip to Italy stand out from the rest.
Always when I travel I try to make sure to include popular destinations like for this example Italy: Venice, Rome and Milano, but I also plan a trip outside of the most visited cities.
When we explored Italy we made our way to Ischia, which is the largest island in the bay of Napels. A little bit less known but so absolutely stunning!
To this day, when I meet Italians, all of them are impressed and happy that we went to experience a part of “The real Italy” and not only the most famous sites.
We spent 3 days on Ischia, one of my favourite memories was when we hired a vespa to explore the island and ran out of gas at the top having to roll down soundlessly creating smiles and laughs along the way. So much of Italy’s culture and friendliness is found beyond the beaten down tracks. We were rewarded with experiences we wouldn’t have been lucky to come across surrounded by thousands other tourists.
When traveling in Italy (or any place in Europe) taking the train can be easier than flying and will reward you the pleasure of watching as hills, small towns, lakes and mountains fly by outside. Although, whilst taking the train can sometimes be easier it can also be an experience in a league of its own. Sometimes traveling through Italy by train can turn into a crazy memory you’ll never forget. So, if you’re up for a fun and challenging experience than jump aboard the Eurail carrying a positive attitude, patience and an adventurous soul! Public transport here is a bit like gambling, you never know if you’ll end up with a seat facing a gorgeous Italian artist gazing at you with his hazel eyes, or pressed up in a corner, resembling a game of Tetris, only there’s a sweaty armpit right in your face…
So… if you prefer control and freedom, renting a car will be your salvation! However don’t even think about driving or parking your car in Rome… It’s an absolute mess and people might actually park their vespas on top of your car, not even joking.
3. Search for locally owned businesses.
In Italy cooking and eating is an art form that stretches back to a thousands of years, the modern Italians are no less interested in food and will make sure you have the best experience.
Leave McDonald’s as far away from your itinerary as possibly possible, this is a no exception rule to follow always.
In Europe the fancy 5 star restaurants might not be where you’ll necessary find the best cultural exchange, the best prices or the best food for that matter. If you’re after a cultural experience, personal service and a great memory, look beyond the big restaurants & shops and search for the locally owned places.
4. Go outside of the city centre
Don’t limit yourself to seeing only museums, major tourist attractions and the most famous buildings of a city.
Jump off the carousel and get outside of the city centre. Go for a walk to check out surrounding parks & side streets or consider spending a day exploring the suburbs. Make your experience stand out in your memory and not end up being a blur of “Old historical things I found in Italy”. Allow a city to show you its true colours, charm and culture.
When at your destination, see as much as you can by foot, that’s when you’ll discover the treasures of a place that, if traveling by bus or cab, might’ve otherwise passed you by. Walking the streets will allow you to take it all in; the street musicians, the artists, the smells of food and flowers and the sound of people laughing and speaking in foreign tongue. It will keep you present.
The best way to remember a place is to use all your senses, to take all of it in.
6. Learn something new.
What could make your trip to Italy more of a cultural experience than taking a cooking class or going on a wine tour?
Take a short language course or a photography class.
Bringing a new knowledge with you home is better than any souvenir.
The photos above are taken during our Ischia adventure where we were lucky to learn how to squeeze our own fresh juice, true italian style.
Italians are free spirits. They’re very passionate people and they love speaking to about themselves, even though they might not know the language very well, they will open their hearts to you without restrictions.
Some of the best travel experiences of my life have happened because I’ve taken the time to speak to the locals. Whatever your travel guide or guidebook may tell you, the locals know best and will reward you big time if you just take the time to look them in the eyes, ask questions and show that you’re curious and interested in their culture.
If you also take the time to learn how to say some common phrases and words you’re up for a gold run!
When my friend and I traveled to Italy we booked ourselves a little apartment in the middle of Rome.
This might sound very expensive but it ended up being a much cheaper option for us then staying in a hotel/motel.
The accommodation was about the same price but because we we’re in the heart of Rome we could walk everywhere and since our apartment had a stove and a refrigerator we could cook one meal a day for ourselves. This really helped our budget, plus we got to have our own place which made us feel right at home.
Don’t get me wrong, I love hotels! But these days there’s so many alternatives. Websites like airbnb and couchsurfing; alternatives that weren’t available a couple of years ago. Use technology to your advantage mindfully and trust your instincts! If it doesn’t feel right then pick something else.
9. Learn the language, including the body language.
Italians speak with their whole body; arms, hands, quick movements and intense facial expressions.
Use all the words you know and your muscles for the ones you don’t, pic up new phrases as you go.
People of Italy speak little english but will do their best to understand you, especially if you return the favour.
10. Allow time to be spontaneous
When planning an itinerary it is easy to want to pack as many experiences as possible into the time available.
I always try to keep at least one day at the end of each destination free, and I’ve never regretted doing so. By the last day I know what I’ve already seen and I will have all recommendations collected and can take them under consideration.
There’s been occasions when I’ve met someone interesting who has ended up showing me around or when I’ve received a recommendation… In Milano we realised, after all the shopping, that we needed some time away from the city and ended up on a train to Arenzano.
Keeping that one or two days open for spontaneous adventures just gives so much freedom.
Have you traveled to Italy? Or are you planning a trip?
Anything I missed or if you have any questions, let me know in the comments!