Non-traditional things in Italy that made your trip remarkable.
April 20, 2016 6:21 AM   Subscribe

What are your non-traditional things in Rome, Florence, and Venice that made your trip really remarkable?

My wife and I are heading to Italy for about two weeks for the first time in May. We are flying into Rome, spending five days, then to Florence by train for five days, and finally heading to Venice by train for six days. We will be back so we don't feel like we need to rush our pace such that we don't miss everything this one trip.

We have the big stuff planned*:

- Rome - Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Vatican, Vatican Necropolis, Sistene Chapel, trip to Ostia, Forum, Colliseum, Capitoline;

- Florence - San Miniato al Monte, Uffizi, Accademia, Piazzale Michelangelo on Sunday evening, Museo Gallileo, a run along the Arno, Basillica of Saint Croce;

- Venice - Campo santo formosa/Sant’angelo, Rialto bridge, canal ride, St. Mark's, the secret-ish Doge tour, Bridge of Sighs, Museo Correa, a day on the beach at Lido di Venezia, Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Pont/Galleria Accademia, Guggenheim;

What I am more looking for are the teeny tiny things in each city you love. This might be a cafe with good coffee, a spot for lunch, tiny museums/galleries, a small place to see live music or theatre, a park to lounge in for an afternoon, or a particularly remarkable shop (emphasis on hers and/or his leather shoes.) Given we are both introverts and do not tend to travel at the speed of a bullet - places to catch a breather, without a billion people, are especially appealing.

MeFites - what are your hidden gems in Rome, Florence, and Venice? Thanks in advance.

* We are aware of a variety of "must-see" type things not on our list for tourists, however the volume/selection of things is a function of the speed we like, things we are especially interested in, and our ability to do crowds for only so long.
posted by scrittore to Travel & Transportation around Italy (54 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Segwaying around Rome.
King Grizzly is a great craft-beer bar in Florence that plays excellent dub and reggae.
posted by pompomtom at 6:35 AM on April 20, 2016

In Venice, we took the boat tour to the islands Murano, Burano and Torcello. That was my favorite part of Venice.
posted by jillithd at 6:35 AM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you like cats? In the heart of Rome, there's a cat sanctuary at Largo di Torre Argentina where the ruins of Pompey's Theater can be seen. Best gelati in Rome is at nearby Gelateria Vice.
posted by Right On Red at 6:36 AM on April 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

I just want to add that two of my favorite things in Florence are: The Brancacci chapel and the Convent of San Marco. The former is usually quiet as they only let in a few people at a time and you have to reserve in advance.
posted by vacapinta at 6:36 AM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, Burano is great. You can also just get the boat-bus. Torcello has a lovely Byzantine church.
posted by pompomtom at 6:44 AM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

One of my all-time favorite tourist experiences in any city, anywhere, was taking the self-guided tours in Venicewalks. The book has been out of print since 1998 or so, so you'll have to buy a used copy on Amazon, and obviously anything relating to restaurants and opening hours and the like will be decades out of date. But the historical stuff should not have changed, and based on some of the recent Amazon reviews, it's still worth letting the book guide you.

In particular, one of the walks takes you to the courtyard where Marco Polo grew up, and guides you to the last remaining stones of his childhood home. I felt like that was particularly magical.

Alternatively, I see that there is an updated audio-only version of the book from 2006.
posted by yankeefog at 6:49 AM on April 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

They light up the Republican Forum in Rome at night...very tasteful up-lighting. It's eerie and breath-taking in the wee hours of the morning, when the rest of the city is quiet. You can't go right up to the buildings (they block them off with gates) but you can gaze down from a nearby bridge or balcony. When it is foggy it is absolutely other-worldly.
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:52 AM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

L'Eau Vive is a French cuisine restaurant in Rome run by Carmelite nuns. Definitely worth spending one of your evening meals there. It's the most fun I've had with nuns, and the singing was lovely even for a heathen like myself.
posted by roue at 6:56 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd give anything to have eaten more gelato (it's just not the same in Canada) and try more out-of-the-way mom-and-pop restaurants.

Weirdly enough, my favorite place in Rome was Castal Sant'Angelo. When I got to the top, I wept over looking Rome. I mean - WEPT. It was so beautiful.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:03 AM on April 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

There's a weird little grotto in Florence's Boboli gardens that was a highlight for us, although partly because we stumbled on it unexpectedly on our way out. The flea market is also great.
posted by babelfish at 7:08 AM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

In Florence, delicious sandwiches at Antico Noe.

For all of those cities: Play Assassin's Creed 2 before and/or after you go. It's pretty fun to run around in the game, climb buildings you saw and jump off their roofs.
posted by benbenson at 7:18 AM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was just looking at pictures from our Rome trip three years ago on time hop.

This link includes one of my more favorite activity from that trip - grab a sandwich or three and some other delicious snackables from Volpetti an awesome deli with just incredible selection and friendly service (its not cheap but it is so good). They can give you a map with directions up the hill to the Giardino degli Aranci with gorgeous views and you pass by an amazing oppotunity to look through this

In Florence i loved my visit with Beatrice proprietor of this amazing food stand specializing in offal (the tripe was amazing, she was out of lampredotto but had a tiny bit left and gave me a taste- it may have been even better than her tripe.) shes a hoot in addition to an amazing cook, she was speaking at least three languages other than italian simultaneously with several customers when i got in line.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:19 AM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

In Rome, walk down from the top of the Gianicolo. You can take a bus up, or also walk up. Every time you come around a corner there will be a little chapel you can duck into or a slightly different view.

Pick a theme like fountains and take pictures of all the ones you see for a while, the ones not famous or named.
posted by BibiRose at 7:22 AM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Something weird and memorable in Rome is the Capuchin Crypt on the Via Veneto. It's not meant to be macabre, but there's only so much you can do when there's chandeliers made of human rib bones...

I love the Mithraeum at San Clemente, it's so fascinating how the different religions and cults just kept the same spaces and build on each others' traditions.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:29 AM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Pick a theme like fountains and take pictures of all the ones you see for a while, the ones not famous or named.

We did statue butts. There are many from which to choose.

Seconding the Capuchin Crypt. It is totally awesome.

Also try a lampredotto sandwich in Florence (or bollito if you're not into organ meat). There's a street cart maybe halfway between the Piazza della Signoria and the Duomo that was pretty good.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:41 AM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

We did a very similar thing 3 years ago and ended up regretting spending as much time in Venice as we did. We should have stayed longer in Tuscany. Venice is entirely seeable - including getting a taste of the less-obvious bits - in 3 days, but Tuscany kept us occupied for 10 without setting foot in Florence. (we spent most of our time in Lucca.)

As far as less-obvious things: we loved biking around the tops of the city walls in Lucca. The lucchesi market was amazing, and we made several homecooked meals that I wouldn't have traded for Chez Panisse for a moment. there is a pasta made around there somewhere that comes in yellow bags and is astonishingly good, buy some and eat it with just butter and parmesan.

Siena's main square is calm in a way I have never experienced anywhere else.

Watching little kids chase pigeons around St Mark's Square in Venice is perhaps obvious but great fun.
posted by Fraxas at 7:41 AM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

There's a little company in Venice that does "chamber" versions of opera in a 17th-century palazzo. We saw The Barber of Seville with an audience of about 20 people. Even if you aren't into opera, it's just delightful.
posted by ostro at 8:03 AM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Galleria Borghese has some amazing Bernini statues that are well worth visiting, and afterwards you can hang out on the grounds of the Villa Borghese -- people jogging, kids learning to ride bikes, and couples strolling. It's gorgeous, and a nice little oasis of quiet in the middle of the busy city. If you decide you want to do it be sure to book tickets to the Galleria in advance.
Just around the corner from Largo di Torre Argentina is a little piazza with the Fontana delle Tartarughe -- a lovely surprise when you emerge from a narrow alley and there's a silly fountain ahead of you. From that piazza if you head west on Via dei Falegnami about 100 feet or so there's a Pizzeria Tavola Calda where you can get pizza by the slice as well as other stuff. I'm not claiming it's the best pizza or anything, but it's very authentically Roman and not touristy at all. I used to get my lunch there and go sit on the railings around the fountain while I ate.
posted by katemonster at 8:22 AM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

in florence we had a couple of meals in the local restaurant (near where we were staying). the food was (of course) excellent, but more than that, the whole damn culture of families eating together and knowing each other, kids running around, etc, was just mind blowing. fwiw, it was this place (which seems to be rated pretty high on trip advisor so perhaps we just lucked out).
posted by andrewcooke at 8:38 AM on April 20, 2016

By the time I got to Italy I was just... museumed-out. Seriously. If I saw ONE more damned portrait of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus...

So I just... walked. Got out into the city with nothing but a map (this was before smartphones) and my nearly nonexistent Italian (turns out French or Spanish and a polite smile is enough to get by) and just let my feet take me where they wanted to go. And it was amazing. I found the most delightful things to see in the windows of random shops, ate entirely too much gelato (not that I regret it for an instant) and generally had the time of my life.

I don't remember many specifics, unfortunately, but. If you love stationery, the Fabriano store in Florence is amazing, and I loved seeing the maskmakers in Venice. Oh, and nthing Murano. One of my greatest regrets is not going.

Also? Go to St. Peter's first thing in the morning, before the crowds get there. It was mind-blowing in its sheer gorgeousness even for an atheist-in-the-middle-of-a-crisis-of-faith like me. The Sistine Chapel on the other hand, eh. The 3D tour you can find online is way better.
posted by Tamanna at 8:46 AM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

oh, and there's another restaurant you can walk to from there that's near the observatory that's also good (and you get to walk in the countryside). we also had a tour of the observatory itself (iirc we sat in the building where galileo lived and ate sandwiches), but that was because we know people there (maybe they have tours?). anyway, the restaurant we walked to is trattoria omero.
posted by andrewcooke at 8:48 AM on April 20, 2016

If the food truck with pizza is still in St. Peter's Square--GET THE PIZZA. That's the best pizza I've ever had in my life.
posted by sperose at 8:52 AM on April 20, 2016

As Fraxas mentioned, you don't need that much time in Venice. If you have the flexibility, I'd shift a couple of those days either to Rome or to a smaller Tuscan town. If not, don't worry, you won't be bored in Venice.

As far as cafes, the notable thing about Italy is how hard it is to find bad food. So rather than searching out a specific place, wander around until you find someplace that looks appealing and try it. If you like it, come back; if not, move on. Presumably you'll have about 30-40 meals, so no matter what you'll do well on average.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:56 AM on April 20, 2016

I'd give anything to have eaten more gelato (it's just not the same in Canada) and try more out-of-the-way mom-and-pop restaurants.

And as it turns out - There is a way you can do that in Rome! I think - it looks like part of your time in Rome will be during the gelato festival, an annual event which I stumbled across purely by accident when I was in Florence in 2013. You bought a book of coupons (it looks like this year it's a single pass card) and those coupons entitled you to a free scoop of gelato from any of the booths they had set up at scattered locations throughout the city. One cluster of booths had the more popular commercial flavors that had corporate sponsor tie-ins, and I think there was some kind of a funfair/amusement-park with kiddie rides set up nearby; but the first cluster of booths I found was the high-end artisan gelato crafters who were trying out new flavors, and I spent a very happy half hour wandering from the place that had the single-origin Guatemalan coffee flavor gelato, to the one that had the chocolate-chip-and-candied-orange-peel gelato, to the guy who had something called "fantasia" that was a spiced pumpkin with blueberry sauce and candied walnuts. The Gelato Festival starts and ends in Florence, and you'll miss it there - but it will be in Rome from May 5 to May 15th.

As for other things...

* In Florence, if you are reasonably fit, consider walking up the stairs of the bell tower at the Florence Cathedral instead of taking the elevator to the Duomo. it is a long and steep walk - something like 400 steps - but it stays open longer, the tickets are cheaper, and the views are spectacular. And there are a lot of places along the way where you can stop at each level to take the views in and rest a bit, and they also have a row of benches right by the last step at the very top for people to sit down. (One of my favorite memories is how, when I got to the top, every single one of the people who came up after me also collapsed onto one of the benches and all did the very same gasping "eh-HAAAAAAH eh-HAAAAAAAAAH eh-HAAAAAAAAAAH" wheezing I'd done, and we all were kind of bonding over that.)

* The MeFite crew in Rome is a cool bunch; we had a mini-meetup, and they all brought me to this little hole-in-the-wall place that had variations on salt cod. (Guys, if any of y'all are looking in, what was that place?)

* The Vatican Museum has a surprisingly cool contemporary art collection; works by Matisse, Gaugin, and Dali among them, and some more modern works (this thing gave me flashbacks to my Catholic-in-the-1970s-girlhood like you would not BELIEVE).

* There is a little band based in Florence called the Draba Trio - I stumbled upon them on the Ponte Trinita, and ended up just sitting around listening to them for about an hour and a half. (I think this video was shot about 20 minutes before I came along, because this is them and that's the bridge.) If you see them about, stop and listen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've been to Italy four times, pretty much all over the country at this point (the only major regions I've never been to are Sicily and the Ligurian coast). My last trip was for two months, a month of which I spent living in Tuscany.

The first thing I'd tell you to do is stop thinking of this trip as a list of things to be crossed off. All the best things that have happened to me in Italy were accidents. And a lot of the big Must Dos of any trip have been either meh or disastrous. (Not that you shouldn't go to museums and tourist sights, just be laid back about it.) Give yourself plenty of free time to wander around and just experience stuff. Especially in Venice: just let yourself get lost, which is going to happen anyway, and enjoy it.

If you see a thing that looks good to eat, eat it!

Have breakfast every morning in what we'd call a cafe but which is called a "bar" in Italy. A cappuccino or shot of espresso taken at the bar with a pastry (a cornetto is the classic, but any of the pastries in the case that look interesting are worth it).

I can't tell you what the "teeny tiny things" are for your trip, because then they become Must Sees and lose their magic. But here are some things I've loved from my trips over the years:

1. Go to a train station and get a ticket for a smaller city on a whim. Spend a day there. I had great luck with Verona, from Venice, but there are a lot of choices here. If you'll be driving, take a detour into a smaller city that wasn't otherwise on your agenda.

2. Drinking prosecco and eating cicchetti in a tiny restaurant in Venice that there's no way I could navigate you to, because we were thoroughly lost when we stumbled upon it.

3. Everything about Orvieto, in Umbria. I've actually been a few different times because I love it so much. One of the highlights was being there on their local Medieval Festival day (these are good to check out if they're happening while you're in Italy), but honestly just wandering around was great.

4. Driving up to the top of Monte Amiata in Tuscany and taking goofy pictures. This barely even rates as a tourist attraction, and I'm not sure I'd tell you to go find Monte Amiata rather than any of a million things you could do with your time in Italy, but like most of everything I've said it was just a fun spur of the moment thing. Most Italians do not spend their time at the Duomo in Florence. They do the kinds of things you do at home in your spare time: going on local hikes, having a long leisurely lunch, going to the beach, the aforementioned Medieval Festival, etc. so if you can do stuff like this you will feel a lot more like you "experienced Italy".

5. I love Oltrarno, in Florence. A much more relaxed and fun neighborhood to stay in, and it's only a ten minute walk from the major attractions for Florence. I like the Ponte Santa Trinita better than the Ponte Vecchio, and there's a great gelateria right as you hit Oltrarno. The Florence Mercato Centrale is also amazing (and not in Oltrarno at all; it probably doesn't belong in this paragraph really.)

6. Check out some of the more obscure classical ruins outside of the major cities. I've loved Paestum and the Villa Jovis in southern Italy, Aquileia northeast of Venice, and Verona has a pretty fantastic Roman museum and its own coliseum. Less obscure, I've been to Pompeii twice and totally stand by it as a thing to do.

Also don't eat the pizza in Venice or the risotto in Rome. Try to learn a little bit about regional specialties and eat what's local to each place you go. Even if it means you went all the way to Italy and never got to have pesto because that's a Genoa thing and you didn't go to Genoa. Likewise, try to eat seasonally. Find out what will be in season when you're in Italy (which honestly can be as easy as taking a spin through the Mercato Centrale or just looking at what's on display at the local shops) and pick that stuff as often as possible.

Feel free to PM me if you have other Italy questions!
posted by Sara C. at 9:22 AM on April 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

In Venice, the Libreria Acqua Alta, or Library of High Water is the most unusual bookstore I've ever been in, let alone heard of. Don't miss climbing the staircase of books for a view over the back wall.
posted by Homer42 at 9:37 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sort-of in keeping with Sara C.'s "obscure classical ruins outside major cities" theme...

I don't know that they are *that* obscure, and I think they are technically in Rome, but I really liked the Baths of Caracalla. It's in the city but it felt pretty far from the center and the tourist crowds. I walked there from my hostel, which was near San Giovanni, it took an hour or so and the areas I went through definitely did not feel like tourist Rome (not that tourist Rome is necessarily bad). The ruins were huge, and it was surprisingly quiet.

I also took a bus to a town outside Florence (I think it was Fiesole? something like that) which was a cool little town on its own, but probably the highlight was just stumbling upon a little archaeological site with some classical ruins. It was very small, but I was literally the only person there. It contained a the ruins of a small amphitheater with a great view if the surrounding hills, and one of my favorite memories is just sitting there gazing out at the countryside.

Really, the moral of all this is: leave ample time for wandering.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:43 AM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

This looks like a great trip, but it is very urban oriented. If you can swing it, when in Florence rent a car and take a drive through the Chianti region and doing some tasting and buying of wine direct from the vineyards. The view is wonderful and in my past experience doing this it is always quite memorable.
posted by dgran at 9:55 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recommend the Ex Urbe blog (by Ada Palmer) for many awesome things about Florence in particular (I highly recommend her Machiavelli series of posts for getting a really solid sense of a lot of history that many people don't connect as clearly.)

But in particular, her Gelato Atlas, some of the travel log page, food map of Florence, and how to spot good gelato from 15 feet away are all relevant to your interests.

I spent a summer in Siena 20 years ago, and I loved the contrast between Siena (which is still very medieval in a lot of ways, rather than Renaissance) and Florence. It's not a horrible train trip, so if you feel like you have a spare day, it's a city that is very central, and really rewards wandering around just enjoying things. (The duomo is also stunningly gorgeous, and not nearly as huge as it was planned to be.)
posted by modernhypatia at 10:41 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

A couple of streets behind the Pantheon, there's a restaurant that serves a fantastic lunch to a crowd that was mostly Italian when we were there -- probably because the place is really hard to spot. It's basically off the street, down an alley. Not sure if it counts as a "non-traditional" thing but if you're wandering around near the Pantheon (which you should!), it might be a nice place to eat.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 12:31 PM on April 20, 2016

I wish I had spent more time, and money, shopping for leather goods in Florence. That soft leather jacket, sigh.
posted by theora55 at 12:44 PM on April 20, 2016

Lot's of good advice here, but I beg to differ from the answers which recommend to use less time in Venice in favor of Florence: both places are beautiful, but if anything, I would shorten the time spent in Florence, maybe as many have suggested to go out into Tuscany. So much to see out there. Florence is the most touristy place I've ever been to in Italy, and I've only really enjoyed my stays there when a friend lived and worked there and could get me in "behind the scenes" of everything. That said, I am really, really grateful that I have seen the Brancacci chapel, and I return to Florence now and then only for that. In Florence, San Miniato al Monte is also a very charming place, but that's already on your list. The Laurentian Library isn't - but it should be. Pre-book tickets for everything!!!!!! Lines are often insane.
Now Venice is a very secretive city - sometimes I imagine that the few inhabitants left there prefer the tourists to stay on the tourist routes and cook in the sometimes stinky heat, while they keep all their shady streets, the most beautiful places and best bars and restaurants to themselves. Often good restaurants and bars have very little signage - most will have English menus inside - but avoid places with loud signage in English outside.
Torcello has been mentioned - go there, there is a nice restaurant with a garden you can have lunch in.
I think you will be there for the Architecture Biennale - maybe even for the opening, in which case every famous architect in the world will be out partying in the city and there will be tons of galeries in the city offering free Aperol Spritz, the signature drink of Venice. If you have any interest in architecture, it is very interesting, this year the curator is Alejandro Araveno, and it's bound to be thought-provoking.
Each quarter in Venice has a "school" - a scuola, which is not really a school, but a communal space used for community activities, and each of them has wonderful world class art. You can spend a whole week just seeking these schools out, not only for the art, but because this is a way of getting around the whole city, even the unknown parts, and finding treasures on the way. As far as I remember, the core of the Accademia is such a school. Another fascinating place is the shipyard where they build the gondolas. And though I can go on and on, my final suggestion will be the Palazzo Fortuny. Even though Rome is my favorite place, I have seriously thought of buying an apartment in Venice. I think it is good for ones soul to go there.
Rome is my favorite place, and like others, I suggest you just wander around, inhale the atmosphere, see what intrigues you. There is far too much to see for 5 days - and it's really difficult to prioritize. St Peters and the Vatican take a lot of time, maybe a whole day, depending on your interests (remember to prebook everything). I like the Tempietto in San Pietro in Montorio, and Sta Maria in Trastevere. I've mentioned in other asks: avoid the food trucks and snack bars! It is both cheaper and better to eat at real restaurants, at places advertising tavola caldo, and at pizza al taglio places (pizza slice places). Sto Stefano Rotundo is a really weird church with gory paintings of saints being mutilated. Also the Doria Pamphiilj Gallery gives an impression of how the many big pallazi are inhabited inside.
Have a lovely holiday!
posted by mumimor at 1:21 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

In Venice, go have the seafood risotto for dinner at Ristorante Alla Madonna.

In Florence, go to the Osteria dei Centopoveri, the pizza is great, but DO try some of the other options.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:48 PM on April 20, 2016

the notable thing about Italy is how hard it is to find bad food

(It's actually super easy -- just get stuck at an airport, past security, when your plane ends up being massively delayed. but except for that, agree 100% with your suggested strategy.)
posted by effbot at 2:23 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're at all interested in beer, there's an Italian craft brewery called Baladan that has a brewpub in Rome called Open Baladin. They have great food and an enormous menu of amazing Italian beers, both their own and from other breweries. I went three times over five days in Rome.
posted by Itaxpica at 4:04 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

During my time in Rome, I saw several outdoor solo piano concerts at the Teatro do Marcello. It didn't attract large crowds and it was a beautiful way to spend a warm summer evening.

It looks like that particular concert series only runs in July, but this site has a list of classical concerts in interesting venues across the city.
posted by bkpiano at 7:03 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I did this walking tour in Venice (with Veronica) and it was absolutely fantastic. Very off-the-beaten-track, and she gives lots of tips for places to go and explore later.
posted by superfish at 12:51 AM on April 21, 2016

Some nice suggestions here already, especially Sara C.'s about trying not to have a list, lest that keep you from just soaking up the various neighborhood's atmosphere.

To be honest, the list of things you already have planned look like a whole lotta plenty for five days in each of the cities. So here are a few out of the way things that might not be on your radar, but are each worth considering in lieu of the more famous items already on your agenda:

Rome: get a secret-recipe espresso at Caffé Sant'Eustachio; check out the weekend farmers' market in via S. Teodoro (all the local produce Campo de' Fiori doesn't have, and even a bite for lunch); cool off at the Chiostro del Bramante (central, secluded cloister-cum-museum, worth it even just to have a drink at their courtyard caffeteria); try the Gelateria del Teatro (the most charmingly set, yet inspiredly delicious of all the gelaterie in the city); bike along the lungotevere (to get a close-up view of the new William Kentridge opus, too); buy local artisanal chocolates at Moriondo&Gariglio; have dinner in piazza at Tiberino. Neighborhoods to have a stroll around: Borgo Pio, Monti, Testaccio, Garbatella.

Florence: drop by the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella (for a synaesthetic full immersion into the city's officinal past); peruse the Museo della Specola (half a day's worth of meraviglie, in a historical palazzo setting); visit the tiny Cappella dei Magi (on the first floor of Palazzo Medici-Riccardi), as well as the even tinier Rucellai Sepulchre, and the museum housed next door, in the former church of S. Pancrazio, dedicated to the modern Tuscan sculptor Marino Marini; have an gastro-theatrical evening a Fabio Picchi's Teatro del Sale. Neighborhoods: San Frediano, San Niccolò, Mercato S.Ambrogio - S. Croce.

Of Venice I most remember the public service canal-crossing gondola, free early morning tastes at the Rialto produce & fish market, and Costantini's glass insects - but for the rest just wandering around the maze of backwater alleys...
posted by progosk at 7:41 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

I forgot to mention a fun cool thing for Rome. Again, like I said above, I think adding stuff like this to your list of Must Dos will probably bog you down. But you wanted cool stuff, and here's a cool stuff!

The Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano is a 12th century church built directly on top of a 4th century church which had been converted from the home of a 1st century Roman noble family, with a 2nd century Mithraeum in the basement. It's all set up as an archaeological museum nowadays (though of course there's a working church sanctuary on the premises as well, which apparently according to that Wikipedia article also houses relics of Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola?), where you can descend down through the various levels to see how it all worked. The whole thing takes maybe an hour to do, tops, and is within a few blocks of the Coliseum, if you were planning to check that out at all. Frankly, San Clemente packs a much more interesting historical punch than the Coliseum itself, which is pretty underwhelming on the inside.
posted by Sara C. at 9:21 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

I live in Florence -- I second pretty much everything that's been written; plus, newly opened, the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo tells the story of the cathedral, with a lot of originals which were removed in order to protect them; if things haven't changed recently, a single ticket valid 24 hours gives you access to the Duomo, including the visit to the top of the Cupola, the belltower and now the museum. Oh: from Piazza San Marco take bus n° 7 to Fiesole, climb on top of the hill for the views, and maybe visit the roman theatre.

(also, I was in the small Sichuanese restaurant mentioned in mumimor's link just above this the other night: crowded and a bit noisy but excellent)
posted by _dario at 6:20 PM on April 23, 2016

The MeFite crew in Rome is a cool bunch; we had a mini-meetup, and they all brought me to this little hole-in-the-wall place that had variations on salt cod. (Guys, if any of y'all are looking in, what was that place?)

Dal Filettaro - It's in a tiny little piazza off of Via dei Giubbonari near Campo dei' Fiori (Largo dei Librari, 91)
posted by romakimmy at 1:44 AM on April 24, 2016

Italy is best experienced through food and discovery.

To do this, hire a car, buy a copy of the Michelin Guide Italy (I think it only comes in Italian - but this is no problem, you're only getting the book for addresses) and drive around from town to town eating at any place that has a 'fork' rating.

I swear I've never had more fun eating.

"Agriturismo" is also a pretty great way of travelling - regional foods served at ma'n'pa style B&B's. You can find them all over Italy, you usually pay for 'full pension' (breakfast + dinner + bed for the night) or half pension (dinner + bed for the night). Really cheap way of discovering the smaller towns and out-of-the-way destinations.

We stayed in Agriturismo's on our last trip through Sardinia, and ate like kings for two weeks.

I miss food.
posted by channey at 2:58 AM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Great question! I wish I'd asked it before my husband and I went last year. Here were my two favorite things:


We had a great time doing this walk outside of the city (approx. 2 - 3 hours). As someone above mentioned, get the bus to Fiesole, and then walk to Settignano. It was an absolute delight! You'll need nice weather.

Here's a picture from said walk.


Take the waterbus to San Giorgio Maggiore. You'll be exhausted by all the gilded architecture by then, and the interior of this church is sparse, bright and welcoming. More importantly, for a very small fee you can go up in the bell tower and the view is INCREDIBLE. There was no line. It was breathtaking.
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 12:32 PM on April 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, seconding the Vatican's modern art collection, and Perche No! is the best gelato place in Florence.
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

In Rome, I had maybe the best meal of my life at Rosetta, about a block from the Pantheon.

We didn't find the Appian Way park until our last afternoon in Rome, which still makes me sad, because it's a beautiful park with a two thousand year old road (some of the original stones are still there!) with, like, random medieval households you can wander off and just crawl around in to your heart's content, and it's a little out of the way, so there was barely anyone else around. Keep going and you get to the acqueducts, which are so cool, and partly in a residential neighborhood where you can take long walks past these giant stone things on one side, and, like, the local high school track team practicing on the other. I could've spent a week there and been totally happy.

I don't get the appeal of Florence and wouldn't have cared to spend more than a day there, if that. Tuscany, if you can swing it, is absolutely beautiful, and full of old walled cities worth wandering around.

Venice: I love it while understanding completely while people don't love it. You do have to shlep a bit to get away from the parts that feel like Disneyland. The best parts of the trip for me were (1) picking a direction and walking, and I mean till you don't see any tourists, just people rolling home groceries or walking their dogs or whatever, and wander around till you don't see anybody.

(2) Completely by accident, I was there for the Biennale, which I only stopped by at the recommendation of a German couple next to me at a restaurant who make the trip every two years and I'm so ridiculously glad I did. I think you're on the wrong year for it, but it meant wandering through this gorgeous city and turning a corner to see a mini petrified forest wedged in next to a souvenir shop, or a phoenix taking up an entire ship's berth in the old city arsenal, and made the whole place feel a little bit magic. This was just this past August, I don't know if any of that stuff is still up now.

Either way: besides walking, take the waterbus up and down the Grand Canal, both day and night. Stop at anything that looks interesting. If you have time, go see the islands, and again keep walking till you stop seeing other people. I will say I got super excited for what I'd heard described as a random island populated by cats, because I didn't see one lousy cat.

Also, if you happen to be there at the full moon, there's (what I gathered was) a really talented local tango group that has a public dance on the steps of a fancy church right on the Grand Canal. Just, gorgeous people in beautiful clothes dancing together next to the water and they let you sit and watch.

Have an amazing time!
posted by jameaterblues at 1:52 PM on April 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

In Rome: go to the top of the dome of St. Peter's, look down inside the cathedral, but walk around on the roof too. Not too many people up there, probably because there is some climbing there.
posted by nothing.especially.clever at 2:25 AM on April 25, 2016

We went last year and my favorite part was a stopover in Traviso on our way to Venice. Treviso is a beautiful walled city and we spent an afternoon walking around the wall. The town is full of canals with deep green and golden plants and darting fish. The sound of the water wheels is hypnotic. It is a gorgeous place, and I know we will go back again some day.
posted by domo at 6:51 AM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Late to the thread, but I would highly, strongly recommend taking two days that you've planned for Venice and spend them in Bologna. As mentioned before, Venice is easy to see in 3-4 days, but I found 2.5 in Bologna to be my favorite part of the trip. You'll undoubtedly transfer trains in Bologna anyway; please do yourself a favor if you can and check out the city.
posted by OHSnap at 9:24 AM on April 28, 2016

In Florence, if you visit the Museum of the History of Science you can view Galileo's preserved middle finger, flipping off all of the future for all time, as well as a truly alarming collection of old-fashioned gynecological instruments.

And in finding a link for you I see it's now changed its name to the Museo Galileo.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 1:41 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dal Filettaro - It's in a tiny little piazza off of Via dei Giubbonari near Campo dei' Fiori (Largo dei Librari, 91)

Yes! Dar Filettaro Santa Barbara. I remember the fried cod and the anchovies with butter on bread. It was the kind of place where we walked in, and I started looking at the menu but everyone else said "no, put that away and just trust us" - there is a specialty of the house, and it's pointless to order anything else BUT that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:40 PM on April 29, 2016

Some food recommendations, by no means definitive.

Rome - Cul de sac wine bar near Piazza Navona for decent food surrounded by an incredible selection of wine bottles (all Italian, of course) with a large selection by the glass, and Hosteria de Botticella in Trastavere, so good we ate there three times; especially nice if it's warm and you sit out on the little street. Trastavere is a good bet for higher quality food when in Rome. (Also seconding the earlier suggestion to visit Gianicolo, grab some picnic goodies in Trastavere and head up, the views over the city are amazing.)

Florence - Santo Graal in Oltrarno for really artistic creations and great bespoke cocktails and Le Volpi e L'Uva for wine and crostini next to the Ponte Vecchio. Another nice wine bar with great food is Il Santino, not as well known as the same owners' Il Santo Bevitore next door, but way better IMO, though tiny and sometimes requiring a wait to get in. And if you can rent a car in Florence and spend a day driving around Chianti, you won't regret it.
posted by fellorwaspushed at 4:49 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

You've almost certainly already done Florence by now, but for anyone else reading this thread: the best gelato in Florence, and possibly the world, is found at Gelateria della Passera in Piazza della Passera just south of the Ponte Vecchio. SO GOOD.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:20 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you to all who commented here - my wife and I scoured the thread and tried to fit a few things in, and found some by happenstance. I marked those I specifically found and knowingly enjoyed, although a few of the "theme" or "advice" type comments were well received as well and shaped our trip.

To add to the list - here are some we found ourselves:

- Our time in Venice was too long - however, it did give us a day to spend in Lido de Venezia (sprawled on the beach and exploring by bike) and to do a tour of Murano, Burano and Torcello which was amazing;

- We also spent a ton of time in Campo Santa Margherita which effectively blew my mind as a public space. From 4-7pm, you have dozens of kids playing, musicians strumming, and parents sitting on nearby patios enjoying Spritzes before dinner. The integration of things for parents to do and things for kids to do seemed to make everyone so much happier than, say, a North American park;

- We spent time in Tuscany which was very valuable and we ended up with a couple of wineries we may start shipping directly from now which is super cool;

- In Florence, we spent time and money at the Scuola del Cuoio and it was so. very. worth. it. We came home with incredible quality leather shoes and bags that are nice, but more importantly I spent an hour with leather shoemakers and learned an incredible amount about how to buy shoes I did not know before. I also now have a last on file for future shoe buying for a shoe that perfectly fits my foot;

- The best gelato we had the entire way was at Vivoli in Florence - although we had a ton of great gelati. Spotting the good vs. the dreck was relatively easy.

- Our best meals were:

- In Rome, we stumbled into two back alleys into Ristorante Santa Cristina al Quinale with basically no sign. The only people inside were a big group of bishops and other clergy. We knew it was the right place to go and it was a top five meal of my life;

- In Florence, we did the same to find Trattoria Bordino, whose truffle cream tagliatelle was a religious experience for my wife. We also had a spectacular meal at Cacio Vino, a three-table restaurant run by a couple who were the most gracious hosts I've ever seen. If you go this route, reserve a table because three tables fill up quick.

- In Venice, La Lantern de Gas was the best seafood we have had since living on the East Coast of Canada. Acqua & Mais did incredible Venetian street food and was the best $10 we spent the whole trip. We also found the food better in Cannaregio where the tourist quotient was a bit lower better than anywhere else.
posted by scrittore at 6:51 AM on June 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

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