Travel guide: Italy


Italy is the country where the Renaissance was born, the country that gave the world the Julian calendar, the Romans, proper roads and highways, and the first flying machine.

And with all its history, Italy is arguably one of the top places to go in Europe if you want to experience culture, class and romance. When it comes to choosing which place in Italy to visit, the list is endless, with each city bringing as unique an experience as the last.

If you’re heading off to Italy then the first stop should be the nation’s capital, Rome. Rome is the centre of the Empire, the seat of the Catholic Church and the backdrop to ancient ruins. It’s also home of the famous saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” And that is the goal when visiting this city – to fully immerse yourself in the culture and experience the city like the locals do.

The best way to explore Rome is by foot – it’s the cheapest option and the main attractions are all within walking distance. Being able to lose yourself in the tangled lanes of historic neighbourhoods like Trastevere and Monti is one of the great joys of the city. The aroma of freshly ground coffee fills the air, and with Rome being the inspiration for much Western art, the city is awash with priceless treasures, with ancient statues adorning the streets and world-class museums.

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Byzantine mosaics and Renaissance frescoes are two-a-penny, and if you walk around the city you’ll find (without even trying) masterpieces by Michelangelo, canvases by Caravaggio, Raphael paintings and fountains by Bernini.

Due to the high tourist population all year round, it’s possible to knock off the top sites of Rome like the Colosseum, Forum, Capitoline Hill and Pantheon in what’s known at as the “Caesar Shuffle”. It’s a quick way to visit all the top sites and get your fix of Roman culture. Most of these sites don’t require all day to see, so easy enough to get them out of the way. By mid-afternoon the tourist crowd around the Vatican will have died down, so it’s best to wait until later in the day to visit. And thanks to the perfect year-round weather, taking a leisurely evening stroll is always a fantastic way to end a long day of sightseeing, and you’ll be guaranteed to find some good, small, local eateries.

However, if you don’t want to stay in one area when visiting Italy, the train network visits all the major cities around the country. The Eurail Italy pass gives you unlimited travel and if you’re under 27, travelling in a group of two to five people, or have children under 11, you’ll get discounts on ticket prices.

Another must-visit is the city built on water, Venice. With plenty of alleys to get lost in, it’s best to leave the map at the hotel and see the city in an authentic way. Wandering through the narrow streets and crossing over the 118 islands that make up Venice, you’ll find picturesque buildings and cheaper places to eat without the crowds.

If you want to save money on your trip, but don’t want to miss out on the novelty of travelling through the canals, take the waterbus for half the price. It may not be one of the most romantic settings – using public transport to explore the city – but you’ll be guaranteed to see some of the most magnificent buildings. Another way to avoid the crowds is to venture out at night after dinner or in the early morning. After the sun sets, the city gets a lot calmer and a walk around the city can make all the difference when looking at the sites.

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The danger of visiting heavily touristic places is running the risk of pick-pocketers and over-priced restaurants that don’t necessarily serve good Italian food. St. Marco’s Basilica is one of the most popular sites in Venice, in the middle of Saint Marco’s Square. With towering domes and gold mosaics decorating the Church, it’s a place to get some good pictures and it’s also a prime example of how wealthy and powerful Venice once was. But there is a chance that you will have to struggle through the crowds to get a decent picture. If you insist on visiting, it’s best to get there in the early morning before the afternoon crowds join, take in the site and leave as quickly as possible to get back to the quieter parts of the city.

No matter where you go in Italy, you are going to experience crowds, but the best way to enjoy Italian culture is to avoid the typical tourist tour guides and let yourself wander the medieval streets. Or, better yet, talk to some of the friendly locals to find out properly where the best places are.

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