These are questions I am frequently asked about traveling in Italy. If there is something that is not covered that you are wondering, you can e-mail me, and perhaps Iíll have an answer for you. I will also be adding to this FAQ as I think of things.
1.0 Where should we go?
3.0 What should we watch out for?
4.0 Cultural Experiences/Culture Shock
5.0 Getting Around.
7.0 Suggested guide books.
1.0 Where do you suggest I/we go?
Italy is no bigger than Arizona. Despite this fact, there is a lot to see, and depending on your tastes, you will want to spend various amount of time in each place. I have broken my recomendations down into must see cities, highly recommended cities, good sites and other points of interest. I have also provided how long I would recomend you stay in the city to assist in planing your time. Lastly, I have provided links to the cities I have pictures of.
1.1 Must see Cities! These cities people will wonder why you missed.
A. Florence(2 to 4 days in Florence, perhaps a week to do day trips)
An art loverís and grommetís dream. You will need to spend at least two days taking in all the major tourist sites, as well as sampling the various food. This city overflows with its history and still echoes the renaissance. Also a convenient staging area for day trips to hill towns and Pisa. Donít stay downtown though.
B.Venice (1 to 2 days)
Completely different from all other Italian cities. No cars at all. This city is a network of islands held together by foot bridges. Venice is going through a slow and prolonged decline from its days as a Maritime power. Facades of the buildings still radiate that splendor though. After seeing San Marcos, get lost and explore the city. Its a small city though and you can see just about everything in 2 days.
C.Rome (2 days, 3 if you are an art buff.)
You need a day to see the Vatican and Vatican museum. Go in the morning, any day but Sunday. The Museum closes at 1 or 2. Spend the rest of the day in St. Peters. Your second day can be spent exploring ancient "Rome". The Coliseum, forum, Spanish steps, capitol hill, Pantheon and a fine collection of churches and ruins are all with in easy walking distance. They can all be seen in one day. Spend a third day if your are an art buff, but city is polluted and to me seem grimy so donít linger.
1.2 Highly Recommended. These sites I highly recomend you visit for their splendor and beauty.
A.Cinque Terre (2 days, maybe more)
5 picturesque towns on the Italian Riveria. This can be a vacation from your vacation (to quote Rick Steves). All of the towns are connected by hiking trails and the local train, and are tucked in between impressive cliffs. Spend at least two days relaxing. Warning this is a popular tourist area for Italians, it can be crowded during the summer time.
B. Hill Towns of Tuscany (One day each, can be done as day trips from Florence).
1. Sienna. A Former medieval powerhouse. However plague and rival city-states caused its demise. As a result it was pickled gothic. Sienna remains a fine example a Gothic city-state. It is a very beautiful and scenic town to walk around. Plus, no cars down town.
2. Assisi. Assisi is a quiet and scenic hill town with a beautiful Basilica.
3. Others: There are numerous hill town throughout Italy, each with its own little charm. If this is what you desire, Rick Steveís "Italy" or the Michelin guide should give you more information. Both books can be ordered throughAmazon.com from my Recommended Italian guide book page.
C. Amalfi Coast( 2 to 3 days).
South of Naples, this coast line boasts impressive cliffs with beautiful beaches hidden below. All of this against the a scenic sea. Plenty of small towns, as well as resorts. A bit touristy though.
D.Pompeii. (Day trip)
This town was stopped "dead" in its tracks by a volcanic eruption. A very fine example of what life was like in the 1st century. The town has been beautifully preserved.
E. Lake Como. (2+ days)
I have never been here, however its very scenic.
F. The Dolomites. (2 days?)
Said to be one of the best and most unique mountain thrills in Europe.
G. Sorento.(1 or 2 days)
Resort town on the Amalfi coast, a nice break from Naples.
H. Capri.(1 to 2 days)
Scenic island off of the Amalfi coast. Unfortunately it is packed with over priced resorts and tourists.
1.3 Other Good cities to visit. Other good places to visit but you shouldn't linger.
A. Naples. (1 day, spend the night in Sorento or Salerno)1.4 Other sites of interest. Sites that are intersting to the history buff or someone who wants to escape the tourists.
Good museums, interesting town to walk around. Also a dangerous city after dark due to crime.
B. Milan. (1 day)
Shopping and fashion hub of Italy. Impressive cathedral, plenty of shopping. Good people watching. Not worth more than a day though.
C. Sicily (1 day)
Good diving, hub of organized crime.
D. Pisa (Day trip from Florence)
Famous for its leaning tower, also has a picturesque basilica (conveniently by the tower). The tower is constantly under scaffolding. If you picnic its a nice diversion, or a side trip to/from Florence.
A. Paestum (1/2 a day, and be a day trip from Salerno, Pompeii or Salerno)
Former Greek trading town with three well preserved Doric temples plus other Greek ruins. Is considered the best preserved ancient Greek site outside of Greece. Two of the temples were in scaffolding when I was there.
C. Salerno(1 or 2 days as a staging area)
A city on the Amalfi coast. It has a safe, friendly, extremely helpful youth hostel as well as decent sand beaches. A good staging area to go to Naples, Pompeii, Patestum, Hurcleanium, as well as for coastal tours or for those making a break for Brendensi to get to Greece.
D. Verona (day stop between Milan and Venice
The famed town of Romeo and Juliet. Claims to have Julietís home, but it doesnít really exist.
2.0 What should we bring?
A. Money Belt. Keep your money put away in a money belt.
B. Small camera and film. Film is expensive. You want a camera you can easily hide.
C. Comfortable walking shoes
D. Comfortable clothing, one or two changes only.
E. A Hat and Sunscreen.
G. ATM card with a 4 digit pin.
H. Day pack.
I. Travelís Checks.
J. A good attitude.
3.0 What should we watch out for.
A. Thieves. Thieves target American tourists. Not because they hate Americanís but because they know that Americans carry large amounts of money on them. They especially target the Elderly and people caring to many things.
B. Distractions. Often staged so another person can pick your pocket.
C. Large crowds of people.
D. People giving you opened drinks. They could be spiked.
4. Cultural Experiences...Culture shock
A. Table Fee.
All restaurants and bars charge you (about 1000 L per person) to sit down. This is the Italian version of a tip for service. Therefore, you are also not expected to tip. Bars are free to stand at though.B. Body Odor
Italy is a Mediterranean country and thus it gets very warm during the summer time. People tend to sweat a lot. Italians are use to sweating a lot and donít notice it. Westerners do and tend to complain. This is rude.C. Time
Italian donít worry about time as much as westerners. Their trains are improving, but donít expect everything to be exactly on time for you.D. Siesta.
Italy is on the Mediterranean. Therefore it gets very hot during the middle of the day. So hot places often close down, not so much in the large cities, to take a rest.
5.0 Getting around.
I've listed the three main ways to get around.
Public transportation in a fairly cheap and easy way to get around. Trains are an ideal way to get from one city to the next. All big cities are connected, along with most small ones you will want to visit. Though once notorious for being late, the Italian rail service is getting better. When I was there, I only had one train canceled and only one other (from the same city too) was late. The train also gives you a scenic view of the countryside. Euro-rail passes only save you money if you travel to or from another country. Italian rail also has their own pass that will save you money in Italy. Going from major cities to other major cities you will need to reserve a seat in advance or risk standing on a long trip. On busy days you may also consider reserving.5.2 Busses
Busses connect all of the major cities. Though slower than the train, they provide you with a scenic view of the countryside. They are also slightly cheaper than the train. Inner city busses seemed to be quite good. You buy a ticket at a kiosk and you validate it on the bus. It was about a buck in each city for a 1 way trip. In Florence you will need to take the busses to get around.5.3 Rented cars.
Rental cars let you go where you want and when you want. However, in tourist congested cities, cars can be more of a headache than a luxury. Plus, you are sharing the road with drivers that donít have the same sense of self preservation that you do.
6.0 Hotels and Hostels
During the summer it is a necessity to make hotel reservations at least two days in advance. This insures you have a place to stay in a city and you are not wasting valuable time going from hotel to hotel. If you are not going to stay at a place you have made a reservation at, it is consider good etiquette to call and let them know you are canceling. Hotels vary from the four star verity to little holes in the wall. I suggest you pick up a guide book, listed in my guide book section, and check their recommendations. A good one is Rick Steves Italy.
Hostels have gotten a bad rap in both the US and Italy. However, I found that though they were not the Hilton, they all provided a safe, quiet, cheap place to say. Most provided lockers for you to use or had lockdowns during the day when you are away. One draw back is they do not accept reservations. It is first come first serve, but they give you extreamy good directions in advance.