We’re back with more Quick Intros! This time: Northern Italy. Italy is not a country where you can visit everything in one trip. It’s a huge country and there are so many places to visit. Most people usually choose between visiting the north of Italy or the South with Rome in the middle.
I chose to visit northern Italy stopping in Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome across two weeks in the off season of February. It was a little chilly in Milan, Venice and Florence (40°-50°F) but not so cold that you couldn’t spend all day outside wandering. Here are some of my quick tips for visiting Northern Italy.
The best way to get around Italy in my opinion is by train. I was shocked by how many options, how fast and how nice the trains were. There are trains between all the major cities daily. The ticket prices depend on the speed of the train and the class. You can book your tickets online or at the ticket machines when you arrive at the stations.
I flew roundtrip starting and ending my trip in Milan. It was the least touristy and felt like a perfect small city. It was the city I visited that I could see myself most living in.
This is the place to shop, especially for luxury goods. I loved wandering around the old streets just northwest of the Plaza where most of the designer shops are located. Look down to spot the tiles in the street designed for their famous Italian designers. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II mall is a must see just for building even if you don’t go inside any shops. A little bit farther from the center of the city 10 Corso Como and the surrounding area is a very popular spot to visit for fashion and art lovers.
Milan is a great place for food (I mean really where in Italy isn’t it?). I loved the restaurants in the picturesque Brera neighborhood.
DUOMO DI MILANO
Seeing the Duomo for the first time, especially on a sunny day is a pretty magnificent site. The rooftop of the Duomo was my favorite place in Milan. The entrance to the roof is around the outside of the Duomo.
SEE ALSO: My Favorite Rooftop in Italy
THE LAST SUPPER
Probably the most famous thing people want to see here is Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Make sure you book tickets ahead of time online though. Even in the off season it’s almost impossible to get a ticket day of.
You can walk most of Venice but a ride on the Vaporetto is pretty fun. The Vaporetto is like the subway for Venice but it’s a boat that goes through the canals and to the neighboring islands. Ask your hotel where to buy a card, you just scan your card before you get on the boat at the dock and then just walk on.
BURANO & MURANO
Burano (lace-making island with beautiful colored houses) and Murano (glass making island) are the most famous trips off the main island. You can do them both in one day. Go to Burano first thing in the morning though if you want pictures without the crowds. There’s also another island Torchello right near Burano that everyone says is pretty but I didn’t get a chance to see.
MY FAVORITE THING
Definitely go to the top of St. Mark’s Campanile, it’s a narrow tower right off the main piazza, there’s an elevator that takes you right up. My second favorite thing was seeing the gorgeous Bridge of Sighs from the outside and then taking the tour that goes inside the prison and of Doge’s Palace where you can walk inside the Bridge to see the contrast in view.
SEE ALSO: 7 Venice Must-Dos
Rome was just as impressive as everyone says it is. It was also much less overwhelming than I anticipated.
COLOSSEUM & ROMAN FORUM RUINS PARK
Your ticket for the Colosseum covers that and the Roman Forum Ruins Park together, don’t pay twice. If you enter the Roman Forum Ruins Park from the Colosseum side, go left and up the hill to get a cool view overlooking the city and an orange tree garden. I would recommend visiting the Roman Forum when it’s cooler earlier in the day as there is not any shade.
Gelato is cheap in Italy but there are a few “expensive” places near the Spanish Steps in the fancy shopping area and some of the other tourist areas. Keep walking a little bit farther out and there will be another shop around the corner.
It can get very hot in Rome and you will probably be outside a lot of the day. Make sure to bring a water bottle and keep hydrated.
If you are near the Spanish Steps and looking for a break, Babington’s Tea Room is a famous tea room and a good spot to sit and take a break.
Supposedly Italy has a very high instance of pickpocketing in the major tourist areas. I didn’t experience anything aggressive but be mindful when in crowded areas and riding the metro. Carry a bag that can securely close.
VILLA BORGHESE PARK & MUSUEM
The “Central Park” of Rome, you can rent Segways or bikes to explore Villa Borghese Park. Get an amazing sunset view over the city from the park just over the Piazza del Popolo. If you plan on visiting the Borghese Museum make sure to get a reserved ticket ahead of time.
SEE ALSO: 3 Sunsets I’ll Never Forget
If you have extra time and are looking to see another side of Rome visit Trastevere just across the river. Some people refer to it as “Brooklyn” of Rome because of the older brownstone neighborhoods. There’s a pretty church to look out for Santa Maria and some pretty cool hidden streets of older homes you can wander around.
There are two entrances to the Vatican, one side for St. Peters (it’s free to enter) and then the museum on the other side, a 5-10 minute walk around.
I started at St. Peters and even though I was early there was still a line. It moved pretty quickly though. I’m not sure how the Museum side line is in the morning but I went in the afternoon and there wasn’t a wait.
At St. Peters I signed up for a tour (right outside the entryway to the church after security). It was a little pricey (around 15euro) but it was great because I learned about a lot of things in the church that you can’t learn just wandering around yourself. Also, just so you’re not surprised when you go inside, they have many of the popes embalmed on open view inside.
The Sistine Chapel is inside museum. It is designed so you basically have to walk through the entire museum to see the chapel. You can’t just head to the chapel and then head out. If you have the time I would recommend taking a tour. It’s not the kind of museum with placards explaining each piece of artwork or room.
I didn’t spend too much time in Florence because I had visited most of the museums and main sites when I had visited in college. My recommendation is to definitely go to the top of Piazzale Michelangelo for the view over the city and to check out the gold shops on the Ponte Vecchio bridge.
Florence is the landing point for visiting Tuscany, a must for any wine lover. If you only have a short amount of time there are wine day tours you can sign up for that take you around Tuscany. You might want to look online and book ahead during the busy season (summer).
If you’re looking for a good day tour outside the city I did a tour instead that saw Pisa, San Gimgniano, and Siena in one day.
This is the place to buy leather but make sure you ask lots of questions. A lot of items are just Made in Italy but then using imported leather or Italian leather but made somewhere else. If you do end up buying something, NEGOTIATE! They jack up the prices. Most of all the shops and vendors get their products from the same place so you can usually find the same item at another shop if you want to practice your negotiating skills.
Most places accept credit cards but sometimes the automated machines that you get train tickets out of don’t accept credit cards without the chip and pin. Make sure you have some cash with you or have a card with a chip and pin.
You’ll need some cash on hand because many of the old churches and museums will make you pay a few extra euro to see certain parts, like to go the roof, or see a special chapel and they only accept cash.
Water isn’t free in restaurants and sometimes it’s more than the house wine, just so you know and aren’t shocked before you get the bill.
The pasta is amazing but it’s probably not the same style of pasta you’ve had in America. I was told that most of the Italian food we have in the States is mostly Southern Italy style pasta. The north is famous for their meat and the prosciutto is amazing. They also don’t really do bread at the start of meals. They just give it to tourists because they expect it and it’s not very good.
Also don’t forget to eat some veggies occasionally! I went five days only eating meat/cheese/pasta and then got sick.
Drink lots of cappuccinos with chocolate croissants for breakfast.
Dinner isn’t until at least 7pm so you will see a lot of restaurants are closed before then unless they are more of a tourist restaurant and open earlier.
Don’t buy the fake designer handbags on the street, they are very strict, especially compared to cities like New York City. They fine purchasers and sellers very highly.
Italy also has a tourist tax exempt program. If you buy something over a certain price they’ll write you a tax receipt and then at the airport you can get your tax refunded.
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