Planning your trip to the Bel Paese: First-timers guide to Italy

First stop: Rome

Everyone will tell you that if you have never been to Italy before, a good place to start is Rome. It would take a lifetime to get to know this city filled with twenty-seven centuries of history, art, and architecture. Of course, you cannot see everything in just a few days, but there are some essentials or must-sees for every first-time visitor.

The first piece of advice any experienced traveler to Italy will tell you is to make sure you pack comfortable shoes as much of the sightseeing is done on foot. There are many tours available to visitors including the option of taking a hop-on/hop-off bus, which will allow you to see this beautiful city at your own speed. Or if you prefer something a little more guided, you can take a walking tour to such renowned monuments as the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and the Spanish Steps.

Even if you have never climbed them yourself, the Spanish Steps or the Scalinata di Spagna is a Roman staple. The steps are always filled with people, tourists snapping pictures, and various vendors selling jewelry and flowers. On a sunny day, it is nice just to go walking around the piazza, do some shopping, or read in the sun.

Of course, you cannot go to Rome without visiting Vatican City, home of the Pope and St. Peter’s Basilica. Take a tour of the Vatican Museums and be prepared to see an astonishing amount of historic art and masterpieces such as the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo. It is best to do this with a guide because there is just so much to see and learn. And if you happen to be here on a Sunday at noon, you will be just in time to catch the Pope delivering a blessing from his window for all those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

After days of sightseeing, head down to the Trastevere neighborhood, a picturesque old district of Rome on the other side of Tiber with a maze of alleys, full of old churches, small stores and many restaurants, pubs, and clubs.

Where to stay in Rome:

Hotel Executive: 4-star and centrally located.

Polo Hotel: 4-star and situated within walking distance of Villa Borghese, if you are looking for something quieter.

 

Next stop: Florence

We are now traveling by train to spend a few days in Florence, home to more world-class art and beauty, and within minutes of Tuscany’s wine country. People who have been here will tell you there is nothing like it anywhere else. It is a place where old and new come together. While the signs of its Renaissance past still resonate everywhere you turn, it is also pulsating with modern life and vibrancy.

Just like Rome, there are so many exciting places to discover here, such as the beautiful Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, also known as il Duomo di Firenze, and its amazing baptistery; the Palazzo Medici Ricardi and its gardens (Giardini di Boboli), home of the Renaissance ruler Lorenzo il Magnifico; Basilica di Santa Croce, the final resting place for many of Italy’s most illustrious figures such as Michelangelo and Galileo; and the Piazzale Michelangelo, a belvedere offering the most impressive panoramic view of the city.

While there are no hop-on / hop-off bus tours in Florence, there are many options for half-day and full-day excursions. If you love art you will definitely want to take a guided tour of the Uffizi Gallery, one of the most beautiful museums in the world. It houses some of the most important and valuable paintings of the Renaissance by Masters like Leonardo Da Vinci and Botticelli. Speaking of Masters, a trip to Florence is not complete without seeing one of Michelangelo’s greatest masterpieces, the statue of David, which stands at the Accademia Gallery.

If you would rather go out on your own, you can rent a car and take a day trip to Siena to visit the Cathedral or Piazza del Campo, or take a drive to the Tuscan countryside and visit the Chianti vineyards for a wine tasting. You can also visit Pisa for its famous Leaning Tower or Montecatini for its renowned thermal therapies, which are both short drives away.

Finally, you simply cannot leave Florence without shopping – and window shopping. Good bargains can be found at Mercato San Lorenzo, and if you are looking for gold, head to Ponte Vecchio – a magnificent medieval bridge that crosses the Arno River lined with jewelry shops.

Where to stay in Florence:

Hotel Machiavelli Palace: 3-star and centrally located. Also near the market.

 

Final Stop: Amalfi Coast

 Now we are heading south to another Italian jewel: the Amalfi Coast, a popular destination for honeymooners. The best way to get here is by car for a spectacular scenic drive from Florence. You can spend a week here visiting some incredible places like Sorrento, Ravello, and Positano while enjoying the breathtaking views of the Amalfi coastline itself.

The legendary island of Capri is a must-see while you are in the area. You can spend the day and take the funicular up to Anacapri village, which sits on top of a mountain. Enjoy the peacefulness of this quaint village while sipping on a glass of limoncello or enjoying a refreshing granita. And if you are itching to relax on a beach, Maiori is the place for you. A ferry service will take you there.

Where to stay in Amalfi:

Hotel Raito: located in Vietri Sul Mare and perfect for honeymooners. It has a private beach and views of the stunning Amalfi coastline.

Hotel Santa Lucia in Minori: if you are traveling with the kids and looking for somewhere more budget-friendly; also located close to the beach.

 

They say if you flip a coin into the Trevi Fountain and make a wish you will one day return to Rome. So hurry now, book your tickets, and flick that penny to ensure a return visit, because there is no doubt that a trip to il Bel Paese will leave you wanting more!

 

Flights and hotels mentioned are available with Transat Holidays.

Plan your itinerary at:www.transatholidays.com

Written by Laura Casella