Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Top 14 Things to See & Do in Italy

1.Eat....well, anywhere
I really don't think you can go wrong eating at just about any restaurant in Italy.  The rich buttery flavor of the pasta and delectably salty, cured meats make Italy's cuisine a destination in itself.  A little known fact is that before the 19th century, Italy's cuisine was as fractured as its many vying states.  Food became one of the unifying aspects of building the Italian nation, and my oh my did they do a good job, but because of this, there are still pockets where different foods are more common.  The north is better at curing and doing meats and cheeses, the south is better at pasta and seafood.  That being said, you're likely to have an amazing meal wherever you go.  But if you want a real authentic Italian experience, find a Italian home restaurant.  These are literally restaurants that are done out of a family's home, and they are amazing.  Make sure to order at least a taste of almost everything on the menu.  You won't be disappointed.

2.Take a week in Tuscany
This comes from the advice of one of my Italian friends.  He said "take a week in Tuscany, it will change your life."  If you've seen the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, you probably already have seen how it will do this.  The slow casual Italian lifestyle is extremely evident in the rolling countryside amidst the vast vineyards and cosy villas.

3.Visit Cinque Terre
The famous five cities.  This region isn't the greatest for its food or its beaches, but these beautiful cities are all about the view.  Not only is the trip to Cinque Terre unforgettable (And you'll really come to understand why no one before the modern era was really able to control the northern areas of Italy).  From the rocky shores, to the thick forests and rolling hills, the five painted cities transport you to a new world.

4.Relax on the Amalfi Coast
Much like the coastline of Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast is famous for its beautiful hilltop villages and lovely coast.  But unlike Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast is a bustling hub of the relaxers and sun bathers that just want to relax by the seashore or anchored in some cove in a yacht.  The Amalfi Coast has everything that Cinque Terre doesn't in terms of swimming, sandy beaches, and great food and wine.  What it lacks, however, is the unique colorful charm of the five cities.  It is also much closer to Rome, and therefore, much much more crowded.

5.Take a gondola ride in Venice, perhaps during the Carnival of Venice
Venice is probably my favorite city in all of Italy, but it ranks down on the list just thanks to its sheer notoriety.  If you're going to Italy and not planning on going to on a gondola ride, what is wrong with you?  So it goes without much saying that this amazing city should rank on your list.  Not only are the canals fascinating, but the feel of the city is unmatched in just about anywhere else in Europe.  The tight city streets everywhere you go and the beautiful landmark views set this city apart.  And if you're there in February, make sure to plan time for the festival.  This is Venice's famous mask carnival, complete with a masquerade ball.

6.Visit the Vatican Museum
Few museums can truly rival the Vatican's grand museum in terms of antiquities.  If you don't believe me just look at all the nations filing complaints against the museum to have their antiquities returned (of course the Vatican files its own return requests as well).  One large problem with the museum, however, is that most people go to see the Sistine Chapel, which is located at the very end of the museum, and there are signs throughout the museum that say Sistine Chapel - this way.  Of course, really that means, here is the route to see the entire museum and the last space will be the chapel.  I say that is bad because you keep thinking you are about to stumble upon the chapel and become increasingly disappointed as one room yields to another room of antiquities and art.  If you are prepared for this, however, you can spend hours admiring and studying the past before you finally reach the chapel.

7.See the David in Florence
Ok, so there is a lot more to do in Florence than just see the David statue, but the statue is one of the most famous antiquities in the city.  And besides visiting the Duomo in Florence, there are many other great aspects to this city from the perfectly preserved roofs, to the tiny streets.  Take time to enjoy Florence.

8.Take a jet ski on Lake Como
I'm not even sure you can take a jet ski on the lake, but they did it in Top Gear, so why not try?  This beautiful lake, however, is one of the great sites in all of Italy.  With beautiful villas perched on the sides of the lake it really looks like the stuff of fairy tales.

9.Wander the ruins of Pompeii
This ranks relatively highly on the list thanks to the many tours that leave from Rome to reach the city.  Walk back in history to see a perfectly preserved Roman city, but don't wait too long, rumors are that the city is beginning to decay from lack of funding.

10.Hike the Dolomites
Visit the great UNESCO site of Val di Funes.  This area of Italy is a little bit more Austrian (See my top 10 in Austria) than Italian, but the amazing view and smell of the mountain air makes this trip well worth your time.

11.Ski the Alps
Italy's resorts do not quite match the scale and size of those in Austria, France or Switzerland, but they do have some of the most beautiful views in the world.  You also can't really go wrong with skiing days and sipping Italian wine and eating Italian cuisine at night.

12.Visit the Monastery of the Franciscans
This grand city is still a great pilgrimage site for Catholic faithful. While the basilica here seems a little excessive for the principles of the Franciscans it is still a marvel to behold and being not far from Rome, this is a great cultural visit for any interested in Italy's tortured past.

13.Discover the forgotten Rome in Ravenna
This is another site that almost never receives any mention unless you are a huge history buff.  This now forgotten city lies near Venice, and was once the capital of the Roman empire. It was moved here before the sack of Rome, and hence Rome was allowed to be sacked in a sense.  Ravenna became the cultural capital and home to some of the most interesting and guilded artwork in all of Italy.  This is home to the cathedral built in honor of the Byzantine rule Justinian, and the artwork is not only meticulous and well-preserved, but few visitors reach here.  If you want a gem hidden off the beaten track, this is it.

14.Don't forget the Leaning Tower
I hardly need to mention this, but if you're in Florence, might as well make the trip to the leaning tower as well.  While this certainly is not my top choice in all of Italy.  If you are a boaster.  See my list on the 7 Types of People who Travel.  This is definitely a place for you.

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