Do you ever feel like you need a vacation to recover from a vacation? I know this is a major first world problem, but I honestly felt like I needed one.
After we got back, I just couldn’t muster up the energy or the words to recap my trip. I’d like to think that the slower paced Italian lifestyle rubbed off on me a little but my continuous need to speed walk tells me otherwise. Either way, three weeks later, I’ve racked my brain and wrote this super long post.
Keep in mind that I’m not a travel blogger. But I do know that researching and planning for a trip in a new country can be stressful. So I wrote this hoping to be as helpful and informative as I possibly can.
Feel free to click ahead to the sections that interest you the most.
3. Cinque Terre
Milan is where we decided to start and end our Italy trip. The only reason we stopped here was because we found a flight deal through Scott’s Cheap Flights.
We figured we would fly in and out of Milan and travel to the places we wanted to visit by train. So don’t be discouraged if you ever see a flight deal for a city that’s not quite the one you want to visit, especially if trains are affordable and convenient to use. Of course, always do the math (price of flight + train ticket costs) to see if you end up saving more than if you just flew into your city of choice.
Okay, enough rambling. If you’re also making a pitstop in Milan and need to know
1) how to get from the airport to the center of the city, 2) where to eat dinner and 3) what to do if you’re just making a pit stop, keep reading.
If you’d rather skip right on to Florence click here.
1) Getting from the airport to the city center
Buy a bus ticket! You’ll find a vendor at the airport once you land. For €8 you get a one way bus ticket from the airport to Milan’s central station. We were too out of it after our flight, but if you get a roundtrip bus ticket (€14), you can save €2. This only makes sense if you’ll be flying out of that same airport.
You might be thinking, why not take a taxi? Because it can cost you €100 since the airport is about a 45 minute to 1 hour ride from the city center. Save the taxi money for when you finally make it to the city center. We carried our luggage (one suitcase, one duffle bag, and a purse) from there to our airbnb since it was only a 15 minute walk. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re carrying a lot especially when it’s warm out. You will get very, very sweaty.
2) Where to have dinner
We had no idea that a single portion of pasta would have been good enough for two people. While Vadim had no problem finishing his carbonara (it was his first time and he loved it), I tapped out ¾ way through my pappardelle with bolognese. They were both so good and I highly recommend it if you’re close by. Oh, and definitely get the spinach to start. It was garlicky and delicious. If you still have room for dessert, definitely order the tiramisu to share.
Pro tip: Make a reservation. This place gets packed with locals very quickly, and before you know it the whole room is packed.
FYI, the restaurant packs tables quite closely together so if you would like a more private ambiance, this might not be your best option.
This is going to sound crazy but Vadim and I had the best chicken curry dish here. It was light but very flavorful. It totally outshined the carbonara we had. And, this is less crazy but they had the best homemade tiramisu. So freaking good. This was also where we had our last dinner in Italy before flying out the next day. No regrets here. And, unlike Da Oscar, the tables here are spaced apart pretty well, so that’s a plus. We made a reservation, but you can also just show up since the restaurant is a decent size. But, it never hurts to secure your dinner plans.
3) What to do if you’re making a pit stop here
Duomo di Milano aka the cathedral
Vadim and I aren’t religious but we wanted to see the duomo in person. So when we landed and dropped everything off at our airbnb, we took a 20 minute walk to see this architectural marvel that took nearly six centuries to complete. I have to admit, it’s quite a sight in person. We decided to sit on the steps and people watch. If you are interested in going inside and climbing to the top though, I imagine it would be wise to buy tickets in advance.
Go to the supermarket
I don’t know about you but when I travel to new places, I love going into supermarkets. It’s so interesting to see how much things cost and imagine what living there would be like. So once we landed and put our stuff in our airbnb, we stopped by the Carrefour express right next to us and picked up some essentials. In case you’re not familiar, Carrefour is a French based supermarket chain that sells everything from bread to laundry detergent. It seems silly that I’m recommending this, but you’ll definitely need to pick up some water for yourself at the very least. And while you’re at it, pick up a bottle of wine to enjoy at your airbnb/hotel. Water and wine will cost only a fraction of what they will charge at restaurants and hotels, so it’s definitely worth stopping into one. I mean look at everything we got for €11.
That’s everything I can think of for Milan, please feel free to leave me any questions and I might be able to help.
Next up, Florence. One of my all time favorite cities.
Ah, where do I begin?
Well, it all started six years ago when I studied there for a month. I fell in love with the city and returned in 2015. I always hoped that I would return with Vadim, and this year it finally happened.
If you have plans to visit Florence sometime in the future, here are my recommendations broken down by 1) some things to keep in mind, 2) gelato, 3) lunch/dinner restaurants, and 4) tourist things that are worth doing.
If you would rather skip right ahead to Cinque Terre, click here.
1) Some things to keep in mind
Disclaimer: These may be obvious but I figured I would cover them just in case.
–Tipping is not required in restaurants. Most restaurants will have a cover charge of about €2-3 per person.
-Beware of pickpockets. They’re pretty easy to spot if you take a look around you. Especially in train stations. Keep your valuables close to you. I sound like a train announcement but you definitely don’t want something like this to ruin your trip.
-Wear comfortable shoes. You don’t want to ruin your feet on all the cobblestone streets.
–Buy tickets in advance to tourist attractions (museums and the duomo).
-Making loud noises after 11 pm is considered disrespectful. Neighbors might come knocking or call the police. So definitely keep the time in mind when you get back to where you’re staying at the end of the night.
Now that we have that covered, let’s jump into the fun stuff.
Pro tip: If the gelato is piled high, it means that it’s full of air and preservatives (aka not fresh). Avoid these places. You’ll want the authentic stuff, trust me.
Gelateria di Neri
This was recommended by our airbnb host. And when we decided to stop in, our host was also there getting gelato. So you know it’s legit. Anyway, their pistachio gelato is so good. Get it and find a stoop somewhere and people watch.
Try their black sesame flavor! This is the only place where I’ve seen black sesame offered as a flavor. Come here at night and enjoy your gelato while sitting on the bridge (Ponte Santa Trinita) stargazing or people watching. Nighttime in Florence is truly the best time to be outside. The locals would agree.
Here’s a picture from three years ago because I forgot to take one this time around. Oops.
3) Lunch/dinner restaurants
All’antico Vinaio (lunch)
This was recommended to us by our host. And I can see why. For €5, you get this insanely delicious sandwich. It’s definitely big enough for two people. Picture below is just half of the sandwich.
Pro tip: They actually have four stalls where you can get a sandwich. There are two next to one another and another two across the street. And when I say across the street, I mean 20 feet apart. I’m guessing from memory here, but the streets really are that narrow in Florence. So make your way to the shortest line.
Osteria dei Centopoveri (lunch but also a great dinner option as well)
Best €10 you will ever spend. For the lunch pre-fixe option, you get 2 glasses worth of wine (per person), water, a first course, and a second course. You will not be hungry by the time you leave. This place is pretty hidden, so you will need to map it. P.S. Locals come here for lunch, so you know it’s worth it. I’ve been here three times because it is that good.
Trattoria Boboli (dinner)
Pro tip: If the weather is nice, ask to sit outside/on the terrace. Also, mark this as your dinner spot after visiting the Boboli Gardens (will talk about that next).
I first discovered this place four years ago with my friend, MJ. It was right round the corner from our airbnb and it had the best spaghetti all’arrabbiata. We ate there a total of three times during that one trip. So this time, I knew I had to return and see if it was as good as I remembered. And, it was! Definitely order their spaghetti all’arrabbiata.
It has a kick to it, but it’s definitely not spicy (or at least, not for me). And save room for dessert because their tiramisu was delicious and perfect for two.
This is not a recommendation but more of a tip for anyone curious about Florentine steak.
There’s this place (Il Latini) that’s highly recommended and was even recommended by our host. Vadim and I went, but we weren’t fans. Here’s why/what to know before you go:
-We made reservations but it is pointless because It’s first come, first serve.
-Once you get in, you already feel like you’re in a tourist trap. Everyone around you is a tourist and there’s not a single local dining there.
-The steak is cooked only one way, rare. There’s no sweet talking your way into a medium rare steak.
-And last but not least, it also costs about €50 so if you’re not a steak person (like me), then definitely opt for a different dinner spot because all the other food choices are disappointing.
4) Tourist things worth doing
Ponte Vecchio (“old bridge”)
It’s the oldest bridge in Florence. But because there’s constantly so many people around trying to take photos, I suggest that you take your photo and make your way over to Ponte Santa Trinita for better reviews, people watching, and gelato. Even better if it’s at sunset.
Ponte Santa Trinita
I personally think the views and the people watching are better on this bridge. Especially, at sunset. Don’t you think so?
Make sure to grab a gelato at Gelateria Santa Trinita and enjoy it while sitting on the bridge people watching.
Duomo-Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
Pro tip: Book your ticket weeks in advance. For €18, you get to visit all the monuments.
I didn’t take any pictures of it this time around because I already have this one from 2012.
I thought I already climbed to the top of the duomo, but it turns out I only climbed up to the bell tower in 2012. Anyway, we naively thought that 24 hours was enough time to book tickets for the next day. We were wrong. The next available time was days later when we would be in Cinque Terre. I guess we’ll have to save that for next time.
Even if you don’t get tickets, it’s always nice to go and look at it from the outside. It really is so beautiful and intricate.
Giardino delle rose (Rose Garden)
If you’re a fan of roses, you might want to bookmark this garden for your trip. Once you make it to the top, you’re surrounded by all these roses and an incredible view of Florence. And did I mention it’s free? I recommend sitting on a bench and taking it all in. It does require a bit of walking though, so definitely wear comfortable shoes.
Giardino Boboli (Boboli Gardens)
If you’re in the mood to lay out on a blanket and tan or have a picnic, this would be the spot for that. It does cost €10 but it’s definitely worth it since the garden is huge. As you walk up, there are views to see and spots to lay out. And once you decide to make your way to the top, you’ll be greeted with this view.
I’m repeating myself but definitely wear comfortable shoes for this too.
And, like I mentioned earlier, once you’ve worked up an appetite walking around the garden, have dinner at Trattoria Boboli (it’s right next door if you walk back to the entrance).
Gucci Garden (a small museum)
If you’re a fan of fashion, history, and Gucci, this is the place for you. For €8, you get to see some memorable pieces from the Gucci archive. It’s a really cute space with very clean bathrooms (in case you need it). And, it was really interesting to see how Gucci has evolved over time. It’s also where I got to take this photo below. If any of this sounds good to you, make it a point to visit.
We didn’t get a chance to visit this time, but here’s a picture from 2015.
If you’re up for a bit of cardio and uphill walking, then I would definitely come here around sunset. You can buy wine and snacks and enjoy it on the steps overlooking the city. There are also a ton of photo opportunities. Arguably the best place to enjoy all the views of Florence. It’s free and walkable. I would definitely recommend comfortable shoes for this. You can also take a bus which will take you straight to the top.
I already talked about this in my previous (May favorites) post, but it’s worth repeating. It was really fun to make our own pizza and gelato, and know how to do it right. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to buy store bought dough. But in case I ever want to know if pizza or gelato is authentic, I know what to look out for. They also provide wine. And, you’re doing all this on a private estate with this view.
Oh, and that’s Luca. If you get him as your teacher, you will 100% have a good time.
Walkabout Florence also offers a number of other tours and activities. It’s easy to book through them and I have only had positive experiences with them. Highly, highly recommend.
I’ve always wanted to visit and six years later, I finally got to. Cinque Terre literally translates to “five towns”. It’s where the houses are pastel colored, the pace is slow, the seafood is fresh and delicious, and the gorgeous views seem to be endless. Let’s get right into 1) what to know before you go, 2) where we stayed, 3) hiking, 4) restaurants, and 5) where to get the best views/photos.
1) What to know before you go
How to get to Cinque Terre
We decided to take the train from Florence to La Spezia (2.5 hrs for €17) and planned to take another train from La Spezia to Riomaggiore (~5 minute train ride for €4). We bought tickets for both trains, but our airbnb hosts were kind enough to pick us up at the La Spezia train station. All in all, it cost €21 per person to get to Cinque Terre from Florence.
The five towns are all connected and accessible through the Cinque Terre train system. When you’re in the station, it can be confusing to know which platform you need to be on. There will be one platform heading to La Spezia and another platform heading to Levanto. The platforms are numbered so make sure you look at the screen to see which one corresponds with which number (1 or 2).
The La Spezia train will make the following stops in this order: Levanto – Monterosso – Vernazza – Corniglia – Manarola – Riomaggiore – La Spezia (last stop).
The Levanto train will go in the opposite direction: La Spezia – Riomaggiore – Manarola – Corniglia – Vernazza – Monterosso – Levanto (last stop).
The stops from Riomaggiore to Monterosso are quite close to one another so if you’re taking the train one stop away, don’t bother finding a seat because it should only take a minute or two. You’re probably going to spend more time waiting for the train than being on it.
There’s about two trains every hour that go in both directions, until after the 10 pm train. Then it’s one train every hour. So keep that in mind when you’re making plans to have dinner in a different town.
Each ticket costs €4. Every time you get back on the train, you need a new ticket that you have to validate at the station before getting on. Look out for green machines at the station. You must have the appropriate ticket with validation, otherwise you will risk being fined €50 (if memory serves me right). Vadim and I saw this happen to a couple who got caught reusing a train ticket going in a different direction. They had to get off the train and pay the fine. Definitely not worth ruining a vacation.
The day card costs €16 and gives you unlimited rides on the train for the day that you get it validated for. If you know you’ll need to take the train multiple times in one day and you plan on hiking that same day (costs €5 if I remember correctly), then this is the more economical choice. This card also gives you access to “pay toilets” (public bathrooms you have to pay €1 to use), wifi where there are hotspots, and also serves as your pass to use the buses that run pretty frequently within each town that takes you to the bottom or top of the hill if you don’t want to walk it.
Train station to town center
All the towns except for Corniglia, have their train stations in the center where everything is accessible. In all the other towns, you essentially step out of the train station and you can start exploring. Corniglia makes you hike up a ton of steep stairs that feel endless. Vadim and I didn’t know it then, but the next day our host told us that we could have taken a bus all the way to the top. Oh well, at least we got some cardio in. And, this view on the climb down.
2) Where we stayed
Vadim and I stayed in this airbnb in Riomaggiore. I highly recommend this airbnb because our hosts, Nico and Greta were incredible. Their apartment had the most comfortable accommodations out of all the places we stayed on our trip. Like I mentioned earlier, they were kind enough to pick us up from the train station in La Spezia and drive us to the airbnb.
Limited accommodations in Cinque Terre: The residents live in their homes year round so there aren’t many airbnb options within Cinque Terre. Because the five towns are quite small, hotel accommodations are limited as well. We realized during our trip that we could have definitely stayed in La Spezia and taken the trains to explore the towns. I mean, we were taking the trains anyway so an extra stop wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Just in case you have trouble finding a place to stay within Cinque Terre, there are options in La Spezia.
We knew we wanted to hike but had no idea which route to take. Our host recommended that we either hike from Corniglia to Vernazza or Vernazza to Monterosso for the best views. We wanted to end our hike at the beach as our reward so we decided to hike from Vernazza to Monterosso. It took us about 1.5 hours to complete. We got very lucky with the weather because a few hours after we finished our hike, it started to pour. So definitely keep the weather in mind because trails will likely close if there’s a chance of rainy weather. Oh, and obviously wear sneakers, clothes that will be good for sweating, and bring water with you to stay hydrated during this cardio intensive hike. But don’t worry, it’s definitely worth the trek.
Il Porticciolo in Manarola
We came here for dinner on our first night and by the end of our trip we both agreed that this was our favorite restaurant. Definitely get the local seafood sampler. It’s delicious and you get to try a bunch of different things on the menu. And if you have room for dessert, definitely get the tiramisu (interpreted four ways) to share.
L’Osteria in Monterosso
After our hike, we were starving so we wandered around in search of food. We decided to avoid the restaurants by the beach because they offered things like hamburgers and fries, and we wanted something more authentic. We walked in the opposite direction and further into the town and found this hidden gem that you might walk right by if you’re not looking for it. We’re so happy we stopped in because everything we had was delicious! I definitely recommend the trofie with pesto. Hands down best pesto sauce I’ve ever had. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday lunch.
Caffè Matteo in Corniglia
If you happen to be in Corniglia in search for lunch, definitely come here. We had the nicest waitress and this seemed to have the best food option around. And, they even have a cat that seems to be running the show. Just kidding. But you’ll likely see this little guy hanging around.
5) Where to go for the best views/photos
We came here on our first night for dinner and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the all the pretty houses. I also highly recommend watching the sunset here. Better yet, let me just show you what I’m talking about.
Here are some of my favorite shots.
Hiking from Vernazza to Monterosso
If you’re looking for the best views while hiking, I highly recommend going this route. You get rewarded with incredible views along the way and in the end, when you land at the beach.
If you don’t plan on hiking and you just want to lay out on the beach, definitely go to Monterosso. When we finished our hike, we were greeted with an okay looking sandy beach. What we didn’t realize was that the nicer beach with the gorgeous views was down the road by the train station. If you get there by train, you’ll see the beach immediately. But if you hike there like we did, a bit more walking will get you there.
That’s everything I can think of to recap my Italy trip. I hope this was helpful and maybe even inspired you to start planning your own trip soon. Leave any questions in the comments and I’ll try my best to answer. Thanks for sticking through this super long post. See you in my next post!
Disclaimer: This is not an ad. All opinions are my own.