When my best friend asked me to take a trip with him back in 2013, I stared curiously at a map. He was living in North Carolina. I was living in South Korea. Where in the world would make sense for us both to go? So we decided to meet somewhat in the middle of the two: Italy. With only 7 full days to explore a country I had wanted to visit for over a decade, we tried to squeeze in as much as possible without overdoing it. And I think we did a damn fine job with our Italy itinerary, if I do say so myself. We wanted a little taste of a few cities, and that’s exactly what we got. Could I have spent an entire week in Florence? Of course, I could live in Florence. But this is a trip to get the highlights of Italy when you can’t take a month off to do it.
In case you’re wondering, English was spoken almost everywhere we went, train stations and taxis were very easy to navigate, and we never felt in danger during the entire trip. Though we were warned MANY MANY times about pickpockets, so keep your purse zipped and your wallet in a safe, buttoned pocket.
Total Budget: $2100
Flight (RT from Seoul to Rome): $883
Daily Budget (€100 x 8 days): €800 or about $1200 at the time. The dollar is SIGNIFICANTLY stronger now. Almost 1:1 in fact which means this budget in today’s dollar drops down to about $870.
Accommodation: Gift from my rich friend! (Totaled $1740 for 7 nights or $870 for my half if I had to pay). Another thing that would be WAY cheaper with the stronger dollar.
Comfort Level: Fancy Grown-Ups (hotels, meals out, wine, shopping, taxis…no expense was spared!)
Over/under Budget: Came back with exactly €0 to my name, so I’ll say I was spot-on!
Traveler Rating: E for Everyone
Sleep in the airport because flights from Asia land at night and flights from the US land in the morning. Catch connecting flight from Rome to Venice.
Day 2-3: Venice
Take a water taxi from the airport. Wander around for an hour trying to find your hotel before you realize that Venice is made for getting lost and your hotel door just looks like a regular door so it’s not really your fault. Inside the door is a lovely courtyard before you enter the quiet, beautiful, and authentically Venetian “hotel.” It’s really more of a guest house with just a couple of rooms and windows opening to the narrow canals.
Venice is a city for wandering and getting lost so don’t worry too much about having plans and seeing everything. You’re here to eat and shop and see the pretty plazas and drink wine.
Save your €80 and skip riding the gondolas.
If you stay at Ca Maria Calla, the gondolas will pass right by your window anyway and serenade you for free!
Drink wine and eat bread and meat and cheese at Enoteca Osteria ai Specchieri .
Get the Ruan sparkling red. Sounds weird, but it was my favorite wine in all of Italy.
Buy something leather from this amazing store:
Go say hi to Mossimo, the sweetest, sexiest Italian alive, here: Hotel Becher
Get lost and barhop in Cannaregio
The train from Venice to Florence is only about 3 hours and it’s a lovely ride through the countryside. If you don’t love trains through the Italian countryside, there is something seriously wrong with you and you probably shouldn’t even go to Italy. Stop reading immediately. We booked our tickets online the morning of and didn’t have any problems.
Stay at Hotel Orto de’ Medici
It was the nicest of all the hotels on this trip and we reveled in how wonderful everything was. The room was gorgeous, breakfast was free and delicious, the courtyard was charming. Except for the one rude girl at the front desk, Orto de Medici was the perfect hotel experience. It was walking distance from the Duomo and everything else important, and the bed was one of the best I’ve ever slept on.
I’ve spent many hours trying to find the name of the spectacular restaurant we went to twice during our three days in Florence. I didn’t think it was possible, but thanks to Google Street View, I have finally done it! Osteria Dell’Agnolo. Get the Wild Boar (cinghiale) pasta. Then go back and get it again.
We really wanted to do a day trip out to Tuscany and go to some wineries, but alas the trips weren’t running the one day we had available, and we decided to just spend our time in Florence wandering the streets, looking at buildings, and eating delicious food. You really don’t need to do anything else to have a spectacular time in Italy. And in case I didn’t mention it, DUOMO!!!!!!!
Day 7-8: Rome
The train from Florence to Rome is about 3.5 hours and again, is a beautiful ride. Everything in Rome is old so leave your American preconceptions at the airport. Your room may be small, the staircase may be windy, but your hotel room is probably like 400 years old so try not to be a shitty traveler and complain about tiny details or let a cramped bathroom ruin your trip. This is Italy, it is ancient, get over it. OK, now we can move on and have a good time!
We stayed at the Hotel Grifo, which was exactly all of those things, but was incredibly charming for all those reasons.
The staff at the front desk were hands down the MOST HELPFUL HOTEL STAFF EVER. I am not exaggerating. They gave us the best recommendations, all the helpful maps, were honest with us about what sucks, and just seemed genuinely pleased that we were there and that they honestly wanted to help. The hotel was in a great neighborhood, and a cab from the train station was about €15. While there is a subway system in Rome, we were on a fancy grown-up trip and didn’t use it once. All taxis and strolling for us. We were also on a VERY tight timeline to get see the important sites, so there wasn’t much time for dilly-dallying. People with many days can afford to take the subway. People with 2 days must take taxis.
We arrived in the late afternoon so our first day was just some pleasant wandering, eating a spectacular meal, and of course, drinking more wine. The lady at the desk recommended we eat at Spagheterria L’archetto, and it did not disappoint. We found it tucked in a charming alley off Via del Corso, called Via dell’Archetto. Choose any 3 from dozens of different pasta dishes for your own special pasta sampler. And of course, more wine.
Skip Trevi Fountain.
It was stupid. Beautiful, of course, but with hundreds of people vying for photos any time of day or night it’s really not worth it. Maybe go at like 3am? Maybe it’s not busy then? Who knows. But there are lots of pretty fountains that don’t have 100 people all taking selfies at them.
Go to the Vatican.
I’m not usually much of one for tour groups, but this was well worth it. Our guide was SO passionate and knowledgeable about all of the art and architecture, it added so much more than if we had just walked around by ourselves. Plus in the €35 you pay for the tour, you also get to skip the lines.
Tour the Ruins
Again, you can see all these things on your own, but having someone explain the layers and layers of history at each of the sites really brought them to life. We did the ruins tour in the morning, took a taxi to the Vatican and did that tour in the afternoon. I do NOT recommend doing this if you have the choice as we felt pretty rushed and stressed the whole time. Our friendly hotel guy even laughed at us when we told him our plan. That being said, we still did it, so there.
After we finished the Vatican, we went out for our last Italian meal, drank our last Italian wine, and crashed for one last night at the hotel before our flights left early the next morning. It was a whirlwind trip, but not so fast-paced that we felt like we were missing out on a lot. If you have any questions or want any tips for your upcoming Italy trip, just let me know! And in case you were wondering what I think the best place is? Florence. 100 million times Florence. Anybody wanna move to Florence with me?