10 Things You Need To Know Before Traveling To Italy

We don’t yet know for sure when we will be able to travel to Italy again, hopefully it will be later this summer. Regardless of when we can go, whether it will be your first time or a return trip, the following 10 things are really important to keep in mind. In fact you can file them under things you wish you knew before you went to Italy!

10 Things You’ll Wish You Knew Before You Traveled To Italy

Milleluci, Colle Val d’Elsa, Tuscany

Pack Light

It took me a while to get on board with this but you really do need to pack light. I advise my travelers to pack half of what they think they need.

Most travelers will have to get their suitcases on and off trains, lift them onto train or ferry luggage racks, carry them across cobblestoned streets (notorious for breaking suitcase wheels) and sometimes up multiple flights of stairs. Your hotel or accommodation may have an elevator, but that doesn’t mean it will be working. Many train stations don’t have escalators or elevators so you can find yourself carrying heavy suitcases down one flight of stairs and up another if you are changing trains. Trust me, it’s a nightmare.

Cars are smaller over there so taxis and rental cars may not fit excess or large luggage.

Also shopping in Italy is fantastic. You will want space in your suitcase to bring things home. (Checking a second suitcase should you need to buy one while there will cost you an additional 100 euros)

image via cntraveler.com

Plan Your Outfits

Don’t pack any just-in-case items. Plan your outfits ahead of time. Separates give you the most options, with the ideal 4 tops for one skirt or pair of pants. Pack easy to wear, easily packable items. Sundresses and travel dresses are ideal, with a light jacket or sweater in case it gets cold.

I normally get my travelers to plan an outfit for each day. This makes the process so much easier and really helps to condense your packing.

At the moment post-pandemic there is talk of the airlines not supplying blankets and pillows inflight. I always travel with a large pashmina/shawl that can double up as a blanket. My best travel tip for flying is to wear a long sleeve merino base layer. See here and here and here This lightweight fabric is super warm but regulates temperature to keep you comfortable from sub-zero temperatures to around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It also wicks away moisture, so you won’t get sweaty or smelly.

Bring Good Walking Shoes

Italy is all walking, much of it up and down hills, most of it on uneven or cobbled streets. My average day in Italy involves walking between 8 and 10 miles, and I’ve had plenty of days when we’ve walked double that.

Really good, supportive walking shoes are essential.

RELATED POST: THE BEST SHOES TO WEAR IN EUROPE

The Sofft Mirabelle has been my go to sandal for Italy for several years.

I recommend one stylish pair of athletic shoes (well, as stylish as possible – try to avoid the big, clunky, ugly ones) and one pair of sandals. I typically wear the Mirabelle by Sofft see here as they don’t need any breaking in time and can take a beating. My last pair did over 300 miles of walking in Italy and are still going strong, although I have since replaced them with a new pair.

Always break in and sneakers/athletic shoes before coming, and I suggest putting insoles in as well see here.

Ideally only bring only 2 pairs of shoes, and plan your outfits around them. Leave high heels, wedges and platforms at home – the chances of you braking or spraining an ankle in them are huge.

Bring Currency

Any time you are traveling to a country with a different currency you should bring some of that currency with you. Airports normally have ATM machines but they may be out of cash and definitely will have the worst exchange rate.

Order a small amount of foreign currency from your bank prior to leaving for Italy. I recommend bringing 100 euros cash, in small denominations. Many vendors will not have change for a larger bill and may not want to risk accepting a counterfeit bill. Your best bet is to bring an assortment of cash in 20 euro notes and smaller.

Arriving in Naples, June 2019

Use The Trains

The train system in Italy is fantastic. It is really efficient and very affordable. I advise taking the train across country rather than flying. On the rare occasions that I fly internally there are invariably flight delays and it would have taken just as long by train!

RELATED POST: HOW TO USE THE TRAINS IN ITALY

I recommend buying tickets for the high speed train online ahead of time. Tickets typically go on sale around 3-4 months prior to departure with the prices going up as you get closer to the date.

Intercity and regional train tickets can be purchased at the station the day of travel.

Plan Your Airport Transfers

Plan your transport from the airport ahead of time. Especially if this is your first trip to Italy you can be exhausted after the long flight and find the arrival overwhelming.

If flying into Venice you will need to pre-book passage from the airport to the city on the Alilaguna boat see here. If flying into any other major city either plan for a private driver transfer (recommended) or a taxi. Your accommodation will be able to advise you on car companies and taxi fares.

If flying into Florence or Pisa see this post, if flying into Rome see this post.

Never accept a ride from a driver soliciting business inside the airport. Taxis are required to come through the taxi stand outside the arrivals terminal. They all have the correct insignia for that particular city and will have fares posted. There is always a set fare from the airport into the city.

Eat Regionally

In Italy food is regional. Each region has its own specialties, and other than at tourist restaurants you won’t find American Italian items on the menu. Rather than trying to order pizza and lasagna everywhere you go, order the food from that area. My best seller Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy breaks down what foods to order in each region as well as which wines to order by region.

Fattoria la Tagliata, Positano

It also gives you expert advice on how to choose a restaurant, how to order coffee, what to do if you get sick, how to get your sales tax back – loads of essential information for travelers. It is available worldwide on Amazon.com

Learn A Little Italian

Over the years Aldo and his wife Lidia have become dear friends of mine.
Capri 2019

Before you travel learn some basic things to say in Italian. Things like hello and goodbye, please and thank you, and a few other easy bits and pieces. Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy also has a section on basic phrases and how to say them.

Slow Down!

Don’t pack your itinerary with too many things. Plan to see fewer things in fewer cities. Don’t waste time standing in line for hours to see the major attractions. Pick one or two per city and then spend the rest of your time seeing the places the tour buses don’t go.

Long lunches with a view.
Montalcino, Tuscany

St Peter’s in Rome is great, but there are no end of other churches just as fantastic with no line to get inside. The Duomo is Florence is ok inside but there are so many staggeringly fantastic churches in the historic center of town that you can walk right into. St Mark’s Basilica in Venice is incredible and is worth waiting in line for.

Every city in Italy has vastly more to offer than just the main attractions. Spend your time wandering and exploring these lesser known sites, stop for a coffee or a gelato, enjoy a long lunch somewhere with a lovely view.

Even in the busiest cities you can find places to chill out and just wander.
Rome 2019

My second book, Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome is also an international best seller. It gives you more than 101 incredible things to see and do in Rome, all within walking distance of the big attractions, and most with very few tourists. I have a new book coming out soon with 101 Fabulous Things To Do in another famous Italian city. To get a heads up on it and when it’s coming out join my Private Member Newsletter here. You can unsubscribe at any time.

10. Buy Artisanal

Sandal maker, Positano

Whether you are buying a gelato or whether you are buying souvenirs, or anything (and everything) in between, don’t buy from the high street shops, buy from the artisans. This post explains why you must only ever buy artisan gelato. Don’t worry, there are artisan shops everywhere and they cost the same.

Gelateria del Teatro, Rome

RELATED POST: WHY YOU SHOULD ONLY BUY ARTISANAL GELATO IN ITALY!

Buying from artisan boutiques, shops, workshops and markets helps keep the trades Italy is famous for alive for more generations. From shoe shops to leather bags to clothing, jewelry and crafts – everything you can think of, it’s all available in cheap Made in China imitations, or as the real deal. Don’t support the made-for-tourists merchandise, support the true Italian merchandise. It is all very easy to find and centrally located.

This artisan weaver makes exquisite scarves in Colle Val d’Elsa. She took time to show us how she sets the loom and makes her beautiful designs. We all bought gits here.

Check blogs, ask google and ask your landlord or hotel where you can buy artisanal products. They will be happy to guide you!

Did you find this post helpful? My Private Members Newsletter comes out twice each month and is full of great information for anyone planning a trip to Italy, now or in the future. You can join the group for free here.

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10 things you need to know before you travel to Italy

Why You Need To See The Medici Palaces In Florence

For more than 300 years the Medici family ruled or ran the city of Florence.

They were bankers, politicians and the world’s most prolific patrons of the arts. From the architecture of Florence to the art that fills the city everywhere you turn, the Medici’s impact on the city and on the world of art will last for centuries after you and I are gone.

The Medici had numerous cardinals in the family as well as two popes. In 1513 Giovanni de’ Medici became Pope Leo X and in 1523 his cousin Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici became Pope Clement VII. The family came from modest means but elevated themselves to becoming the hereditary Dukes of Florence then in 1569 Pope Pius V made Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany.

With centuries of drama, intrigue, assassinations and slick political maneuvering, this is one fascinating family.

One way to avoid the crowds in Florence is to take yourself on a walking tour of the Medici Palaces. I have found that my Glam Italia tour groups who have watched The Medici on Netflix get a huge thrill out of doing this. The palace we stay in in Florence is opposite the Medici-Riccardi palace, built by Cosimo the Elder and home to all our favorite Medici (Cosimo, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Cosimo I). At night we look across into the Medici palace and see all the frescoes on the ceilings lit up, invisible during the day.

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The Medici-Riccardi Palace

Our story starts with Cosimo de’ Medici, known as Cosimo the Elder. He married the daughter of a noble family, Contessina de’ Bardi. They lived in the Bardi palace across town but when Cosimo came back to Florence from exile in 1444, newly empowered he decided to build his own palace.

At that time you just built onto existing medieval buildings, but Cosimo had a different idea. He acquired the property diagonally opposite the Basilica San Lorenzo and razed the existing building to the ground. His Michelozzo designed Medici Palace was the first true Renaissance building.

The fortress like exterior with its rough hewn blocks on the first level, evolving into smoother stone on the second and third level was considered grand and quite ostentatious at the time but became the prototype for all the Renaissance palaces in Florence from then forward.

The garden at the Medici Palace

The lovely courtyard with its beautiful garden was the original home of Donatello’s controversial statue of David (now in the Bargello). As you walk through the garden to the inner courtyard, imagine more than a hundred years of Popes, foreign dignitaries, important political figures along with the greatest artist and philosophers of the time all walking these same steps as you!

The inner courtyard of the Medici Palace

The palace was home to the Medici until Cosimo I moved to the Palazzo Vecchio. Minor members of the Medici family lived there from then until 1659 when Ferdinando II de’ Medici sold it to the Marquis Gabriello Riccardi.

 It is now a museum. Highlights include the Riccardi family collection of marble, the Magi Chapel and the Giordano Gallery.

The Giordano Gallery in the Medici Palace, Florence

Also of interest, Lorenzo the Magnificent moved the young Michelangelo into the Medici Palace and raised him as his own. For 3 years Michelangelo lived as a brother to the 2 Medici popes, was educated with them, ate meals not only with the family but also the greatest minds of the time. Lorenzo created a world for Michelangelo where he not only benefitted from life at the Medici court but also had freedom and opportunity to rise to his full potential as an artist.

Address: The Medici Palace is on the corner of via dei Ginori and via Cavour, diagonally opposite Basilica San Lorenzo

Visit their website HERE

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Palazzo Vecchio

In 1540 Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici moved his family from the Medici Palace into the Palazzo della Signoria, now called the Palazzo Vecchio. This is the castle-like building in the Piazza della Signoria with the replica statue of David outside.

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

He hired Giorgio Vasari to decorate the inner courtyard and the sumptuous Salon of 500. Cosimo I centralized all the government offices into a new building next door named the Uffizi, or offices. He had Vasari build a passageway that he could walk through from his next home, the Pitti Palace to the Palazzo Vecchio. This is now called the Vasari Corridor.

Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici
This painting is in theStudiolo of Francesco, a secret room in Palazzo Vecchio

The palace is still Florence’s City Hall but is also a museum. I recommend taking a tour of Palazzo Vecchio, my favorite being the Secret Passages Tour which combines seeing the secret rooms and yes, the secret passages, with a visit to the Salon of 500, the rafters above the Salon of 500 and ends at the Medici apartments. The tour is tremendous and gives fascinating insight into the lives of the Medici.

Inside the Medici apartmentss in Palazzo Vecchio

Address: Piazza della Signoria

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The Pitti Palace

Cosimo I was very happily married to a Spanish blue-blood, Eleanora of Toledo. To Eleanora the palace seemed small and provincial, nowhere near grand enough for someone of her stature to be raising her family, so she bought the biggest private palace, the Pitti Palace, and moved the family in there.

Eleanora of Toldeo, wife of Cosimo I

The story of the Pitti Palace actually starts with the Medici Palace. Luca Pitti was a wealthy Florentine banker who loathed the Medici. When Cosimo (the Elder) built the Medici Palace Luca Pitti decided to outdo him and in 1458 built a bigger palace on the south side of the river. He wanted his windows to be larger than the doorway of the Medici Palace, and he wanted his courtyard to be so big you could fit the entire Medici Palace inside it. That courtyard is now the Piazza Pitti, in front of the palace.

The Pitti Palace. When Eleanora bought the palace it was only the center section. She and Cosimo tripled it in size.

At the time the Pitti Palace was only the center section of the current structure. Luca Pitti ran out of money and died in 1472 before construction was finished. In 1459 Eleanora bought the Pitti Palace and expanded it to its current size. The gardens behind the palace, the Boboli Gardens, were the inspiration for the gardens at Versailles.

The back view of the Pitti Palace.
From this side it looks out over the Boboli Gardens.

The Pitti Palace became the Medici family home until the dynasty ran out of heirs. It was then the home of the new rulers of Florence, the Lorraine-Habsburgs.

Inside the Pitti Palace

The Pitti Palace is now Florence’s largest museum. It is actually a series of museums, with the Medici private art collection, the History of Costume Museum, Porcelain Museum and Silver Museum. Unlike the Uffizi across the river which is perpetually packed with tourists the Pitti gets vastly fewer and is wonderful to explore.

Check out their website HERE

Address: Piazza Pitti

Are you planing a trip to Florence? My free Secret Florence PDF tells you my favorite restaurants, bars, shops and under the radar secrets of fabulous things to do in the Renaissance city, Download your copy HERE

Essential Florence Travel Guide
Discover the three Medici Palaces in Florence

Why Manifattura Is The Best Cocktail Bar In Florence

I can’t wait to get back to Florence. I think about it all the time.

If we are cleared to travel later this summer and my Glam Italia Tours are able to go, the first stop is Florence. I always arrive a couple of days before my first tour group, to get the final touches ready and to make sure I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed when the ladies arrive.

So I’ve been thinking about the evening I arrive back in Florence and what I want to do first.

APERITIVO TIME

My favorite time of day in Italy is aperitivo time, that glorious spell between late afternoon and evening when everyone congregates for an after-work or pre-dinner drink with snacks. This glorious combination of drink, snack and human interaction feels like the glue that holds everything together.

When you watch Italians doing aperitivo the first thing you notice is the interaction. No one is scanning the bar to see if there’s someone better to chat up, they’re not buried in their phones, instead they make eye contact, engage one another, participate in life. It’s just fantastic.

Are you planning a trip to Florence? Get my free Secret Florence pdf for insider secrets you won’t want to miss! Get your pdf HERE.

I have my favorite places to enjoy an aperitivo in Florence. Sometimes I want a drink with a sunset view of the Arno. Sometimes I want a glass of wine from a boutique winery. Sometimes I want a spritz Campari looking out over the Duomo. Once in a while I want a cocktail, and when I do there is only one place I want to go.

MANIFATTURA

Manifattura is an incredibly chic, old school yet modern cocktail bar.

These days wherever you are in the world cocktail bars seem to be the same. They either go for a faux international theme or a faux American theme. It’s all very homogenized, you could be anywhere – there’s nothing about the experience that specifically dictates which country you are in. You could be in Boise or you could be in Berlin.

Florence, like any city suffering from mass tourism, has lost some of its bar integrity, some of the national identity given away to tourist demand for Long Island Ice Tea.

When I’m traveling I crave authentic experiences specific to the place I’m in, which is no doubt why I love Manifattura.

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MADE IN FLORENCE

The décor is modern Italian meets 50’s retro bar. The bartenders wear crisp white shirts, the waiters wear suits. The drinks are old school, classic cocktails, all ingredients are strictly Italian. The underlying message here is Made In Italy. (Hence the name) It is fabulous.

The brainchild of co-owner Fabiano Buffolino, Manifattura is a celebration of Italy’s legacy of alcoholic drinks. Don’t expect to see bottles of Jack Daniels or Grey Goose on the shelves, every bottle is an Italian made product. Every drink is a classic Italian. And every drink is under 10 euros.

The bartenders and waiters are all extremely knowledgeable and will expertly guide you through ordering something specific to your taste as well as which foods to pair with it. Manifattura is not just a cocktail bar, it is an experience.

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The drinks are named for famous Italians

A relative newcomer to the scene Manifattura only opened in 2017, but Fabiano has been mixing high end drinks in Florence for years. His pedigree drew the attention of major publications around the world, all of whom have written rave reviews.

For local Florentines it is a connection to their heritage. For travelers looking for a window into Italian drink culture and craving a non-tourist, totally authentic experience, you cannot get better than this!

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Manifattura is located at Piazza di San Pacrazio, 1. This is about 5 minutes walk from Piazza Santa Maria Novella heading toward the river

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Essential Florence Travel Guide