The Honeymooners
May 19, 2006 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Help me plan a trip to Italy - Rome, Florence and the countryside in Tuscany and Umbria.

I'm leaving for Italy next week for my honeymoon. I'll be spending two weeks in Rome, Florence, Tuscany and Umbria. I've made my hotel reservations already, what I'd like to know is - what are some attractions in these places that we can't miss? The only thing we have planned so far is a bus tour of Rome's ancient monuments (Colosseum, Roman Forum, etc...). We're also planning to see the Vatican, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

What else should we see?
posted by thewittyname to Travel & Transportation around Italy (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Climb to the top the Il Duomo in Florence. Incredible view of the entire city and surrounding countryside.
posted by saladin at 11:57 AM on May 19, 2006

You might know these thing, but just in case:

The Vatican tour is free to visitors on every last Sunday of the month. Plan on waiting in line, but hey . . . free!

And while you're in Florence, you have to, have to, have to go to the Accademia to see David. It is easily the most breathtakingly beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life.
posted by Skot at 11:58 AM on May 19, 2006

Lucca was my favorite small town in that area. It's very charming. Street cafes and fairs and such. No cars in the old town, and it's surrounded by a giant old wall that has a bike path on top. We rented bikes and just rode around for a couple of hours.

Siena is also wonderful. It doesn't get much more romantic than sitting on the Campo as the sun goes down.
posted by smackfu at 12:20 PM on May 19, 2006

This is all for Rome, and the first things I thought of:
Porta Portese is a completely overwhelming flea market in Rome. Only on Sunday. And, if I remember correctly, just across the river from the "main" entrance (the actual "porta") is la Bocca della Verita, and its very pretty (in my opinion) church. I also like the busloads of tourists who jump off, get a picture of themselves with their hand in it's mouth, giggle, and jump back on the bus. Weird.

I think the Galleria Borghese should not be missed. It made me love Bernini, no small feat. AND, there's a room practically full of Caravaggio paintings. *swoon* I think you need to make reservations, which you can do online.

There is SO much to see in Rome. I lived there for a year and still didn't see everything (although, I'm lazy). Take it easy, and give yourself time to just wander around. Pick a few things you HAVE to see, and focus on those, and don't worry about "I have to see everything in 3 days!" It's just not possible. It doesn't sound like you're in that mindset; just sayin'.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 12:22 PM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh! and the Capucin Crypt.

Sorry for these crappy links, I just picked the first ones on google.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 12:25 PM on May 19, 2006

If you're going to the Vatican Musems, wait in line to get in first thing in the morning. Rush through the entire huge museum trying to ignore all the priceless art and historical artifacts so you can get the Sistine Chapel. Seeing it in a nearly empty room is worth the effort because it gets absolutelyfreakinpacked later in the day. Then spend the rest of your visit leisurely looking at the rest of the museum that you skipped.

My favorite thing at the Vatican, though, was the tour of the Necropolis under the cathedral. I think you have to schedule that in advance with their archeological office, and it helps the enjoyment to be a classics nerd.

Also: in Rome, wander the Trastevere at night. Lots of bars and the streets are filled with people. Also, the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is a great museum filled with Roman coins, portrait busts, and spectacular restored rooms with original wall painting from the Villa of Livia (Augustus' wife).

You might also consider attending a Sunday mass in one of the enormous cathedrals.

Oh, and get gelato at Giolitti's or della Palma near the Pantheon.
posted by stopgap at 12:36 PM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Seconding what ruby.aftermath said: I was in Italy for a week and spent most of it wandering around Rome and Florence. There's a lot of hidden stuff that you just stumble upon, open air markets and such.

Here's what my friend who spent the fall in Rome recommended. It worked out pretty well for the three days I was in the city, although I didn't get to see all of these:

- St. Peter's Basillica
- The Vatican Museums
- Villa Borghese (it's in the northern part of rome and the art museum up there was one of my favorites plus the grounds are absolutely beautiful)
- Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fontain)
- Campo dei Fiori (go in the mornings on the weekdays... it's the most amazing open air market for the italian experience plus really good fruit and cool italian souvenirs for cheap)
- Piazza di Spania and the Spanish Steps (go at night! it's beautiful then and there's a little night life. day time is fun too though)
- for night life: check out: Testaccio (it's an area in southern Rome), Campo dei Fiori, Piazza di Spania, Piazza Navona)

St. Peter's Bascilica and the Vatican museums close around noon (although they might be open later this time of year), so go there early.
posted by strikhedonia at 12:43 PM on May 19, 2006

Oh god, *don't* do the bus tour.
There's nothing sadder than sitting in a cafe in a sunny piazza and watching the poor wan bus people go by, faces up against the glass.
Most of Rome's major monuments are within a couple of square miles. Wander. Seriously, it's the only way to go.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:43 PM on May 19, 2006

Yeah, I've done the sights both by bus and by walking. The bus makes everything feel very far apart, because of the traffic and because the roads the buses have to use tend to be less direct. You end up having no idea how anything relates to anything else.

Not that the distances are tiny, but you can piece together a pretty good route between things that isn't too strenous. Maybe Spanish Steps to the Trevi Fountain to the Pantheon to the Forum and then to the Colosseum. (The interesting Victor Emmanuel monument is along that route too.)
posted by smackfu at 12:53 PM on May 19, 2006

San Gimignano is incredible and unforgettable! Lovely twisty streets and strange tall towers. I enjoyed visiting this town, though I'm not sure if it's so accessible if you're not traveling by car.
posted by cadge at 12:56 PM on May 19, 2006

The first thing I'd recommend is not to try to "do" everything that "should" be done. There is so much to be enjoyed in Italy just by walking the streets or driving the back roads. That little church unmentioned in the guide books is likely to hold as much history as any of the more famous ones. The shops in the Veneto selling horsemeat; the markets that almost every small town holds at least once a week; the abundant cafes and cucina divina. I suggest you make a concious effort to immerse yourself in the everyday things, rather than ignore them on your way to the "tourist sights".

Having said that though, there are of course many things worthy of the fame heaped upon them:

In Rome: the history lesson of the Colosseum and Forum; sitting at a cafe table opposite the Pantheon in the evening; the Vatican galleries. Explore the back streets and ignore the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain.

In Florence: the David; Il Duomo (a great restaurant on the eastern side: Le Botteghe de Donatello); the Uffizi galleries. Beware gallery burn out! It may be better to spend a short time examining a few paintings closely rather than cramming them all in and remembering nothing but a blur of annunciations , crucifixions and ressurections.

In the Tuscan countryside: stop at any of the fattori and vineyards to sample the wares.

In Umbria: Assisi? The famed basilica of St Francis is impressive, but much of the town is a little too plastic and tourist-oriented for my liking. Visit the smaller hill towns of Spello and Montefalco, sample the "Coglioni di Mulo" (mule's bollocks) and "Palle del Nonno" (grandfather's balls) - both a type of salami.

In short: take it easy, get out and about, absorb.
posted by TiredStarling at 12:57 PM on May 19, 2006

Walking is the way to go in Rome, but ignore all the tour guides that tell you they can get you through the line (Colosseum, Vatican, etc) quicker. I can't believe I can't got scammed twice by that.

In Florence, along with the already mentioned Duomo and Accademia, check out Ponte Vecchio. It's a pretty quick visit, but still neat for the insane amount of jewellery shops. It was the only bridge in Florence the Germans didn't destroy during WW2, supposedly because Hitler told them not to.
posted by n-clue at 1:05 PM on May 19, 2006

I've been to Florence and Siena and a bunch of small towns in between, and I'll simply second what the others have said about those places (with a special recommendation for Lucca and San Gimignano). I was there with an architect, so we ended up visiting every church in Tuscany, and I liked it. It's very easy to walk the streets of whatever town you're in and go into any church that looks interesting. You might want to make sure to visit Galileo in Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence.
posted by booth at 1:15 PM on May 19, 2006

Florence - the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella is excellent. Originally a monastery, it supplied soap and perfume to Catherine de Medici. Also, it's where Hannibal Lecter buys his handcream in Hannibal. The area around Santo Spirito (on the other side of the Arno) is worth checking out if you want to eat - I really enjoyed Trattoria La Casalinga for basic local food and genuine atmosphere (it's pretty cheap too).

Umbria - Perugia is strangely cosmopolitan for a small town, I think beause of the number of foreigners who attend the language university. Also famous for chocolates and the artist Perugino. It's a town to wander around with an ice cream. Gubbio is the archetypal Umbrian mountain village - and it's difficult enough to get to that it is almost entirely unspoilt.
posted by ganseki at 1:58 PM on May 19, 2006

Volterra. It's right by San Gimignano though harder to find. And of all the hill towns it is the least crowded. My wife an I have stayed there numerous times and are contemplating buying a small apartment there this fall. It is heaven on earth.

You can eat and stay here. There are cheaper places to stay - but the food here (as in most of Italy) is amazing.

And if you have a bit more money - not much more really - you can stay here. It is centrally located between ALL the hill towns but closest to Volterra.

You lucky lucky bastards.
posted by tkchrist at 2:00 PM on May 19, 2006

In Florence, you must Must MUST see the Accademia and David. Don't let anyone tell you that you can see David in front of the Palazzo Vecchio because that is just a copy and nowhere near as amazing as the real thing. You can book the museum in advance (something I would also recommend with the Uffizi), and I'd recommend trying to get in the first group of the day. As soon as the doors opened, we made a beeline past the first gallery and had about 15 minutes alone with David before any other visitors made it over there. Also, the Museo del Bargello (I think that's the right spelling), and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo are great.

A fun day trip out of Florence is to go up to Fiesole, which is on a hill just outside the city. There is a bus that will take you directly there, and if you have clear weather there will be a lovely view over the city, including the Duomo, etc.

In Rome, make sure you go to the Borghese museum. It was my favorite museum I saw in either Rome or Florence when my wife and I went last summer. You do have to make a reservation; we booked ahead and I would recommend that. Also, take the guided tour of the museum. The museum is small and very tempting to do on your own, but our guide was wonderful and there was only one other couple with us on the tour, so it was like we had a private guide showing us around. There are a lot of little details in the Bernini sculptures I know I would have missed on my own, and our guide had such an evident love for the art that it made the whole visit a really wonderful experience.

After the Borghese, you can walk down to the Spanish Steps in a couple minutes. The Steps aren't that exciting, but they are a fun place for people watching. Also, Gian Lorenzo Bernini's dad did the boat sculpture at the base of the steps, which you'll want to see after you go to the Borghese museum like we've told you to. :)
posted by sbrollins at 2:32 PM on May 19, 2006

For Rome:

Definitely go to the Galleria Borghese.

Don't go to the Vatican Museums on a Monday; most of the other museums are closed, so everyone goes to the Vatican instead. (Yes, I learned that the hard way)

The Doria Pamphilij Gallery is a small but enjoyable museum, and the audioguide is very entertaining.

If you're a coffee fan, be sure to stop for an espresso drink at Caffe St. Eustachio, near the Pantheon.
posted by mogget at 2:34 PM on May 19, 2006

In Florence, we highly recommend a restaurant called L'osteria Pepò.
posted by mookieproof at 3:17 PM on May 19, 2006

If you like wine and atmosphere, go to Montalcino and Montepulciano. Do yourself a favor and buy as much Brunello di Montalcino (97 and/or 98 are the vintage years) as you can afford and ship it home. Also ship some to me.
posted by missmobtown at 3:23 PM on May 19, 2006

For Florence: The Bargello museum is one of my favourite museums in the world, it has the best collection of Donatello scupture anywhere. My favourite cathedral is the Santa Croce, which also has a leather school and the Pazzi Chapel. Also worth going it the Pitti Palace, which has a ton of different parts, with art, sculpture, jewelry, and the Boboli Gardens. Best place for pizza is Il Gatto & La Volpe (The Cat and the Fox). Best place for expensive dinner is Pane e Vino. Il Francescano is great for local Tuscan food.
posted by orangskye at 4:50 PM on May 19, 2006

So this is totally not a huge tip, but in Siena, there's a cathedral with the finger of Saint Catherine in a niche on the wall, I think. I think I remember walking up a significant hill to get there. The large tower at one end of the main fan-shaped square has a really scary staircase to get to the top which makes the view worth it. I went in late afternoon and everything was all golden and pre-sunsety.

Just walk around Rome - get a little street atlas or something at a bookshop or a tobacconist's and you'll be set. Rome, the Eternal City, will be there when you get back.
posted by mdonley at 7:12 AM on May 20, 2006

I second Galleria Borghese. Boboli garden in Florence has a nice city top view, and is reached via Ponte Vecchio Bridge which houses multitude of shops Uffizi museum itself is fairly run down, but houses Da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi. Campo Di Fiori is my choice of area to stay in Rome, has a lively outdoor market, as well as shops(pasta, leather working, etc), and will find many furnished apartment options.
posted by MD06 at 8:34 AM on May 20, 2006

If you haven't bought the Rick Steve's guide to Italy, purchase that. It's the best guide to Italy as far as I am concerned.

Also instead of waiting on line, consider purchasing, many weeks in advance, reservations for the major museums (Accademia, etc.) at Weekend a Firenze. If time is money to you, then you'll be happy to have bought the reservations ahead of time.
posted by gen at 1:08 AM on May 21, 2006

Also, to see Umbria, you really need a car. We rented from Europcar in Firenze, and that gave us access to Assisi, Perugia, Orivieto, Deruta, and many other key locations in Assisi. There's a million great places to eat in Italy, but one favorite of mine is Tre Vaselle in Torgiano.
posted by gen at 1:10 AM on May 21, 2006

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