I had work overseas in Italy (for Michael and Carina‘s Horizon’s workshop in Ancona!) and this time I brought my husband along with me. I was beyond excited that M & C were gracious enough to let him tag along as Ryan has never been to Europe and neither of us have been to Italy specifically, so it was all new territory! We were unable to go on a weekend trip or anything on our anniversary in May, so this served as our belated anniversary trip. We had an absolute amazing time but I definitely spent tons and tons of time researching a good mix of touristy must-sees and non-touristy activities and spots. Below you’ll see a summary of our itinerary with some of my favorite tips on how we got the most out of our Italy trip.
We found a HECK of a deal on flights but if you’re doing to scour the internet for the cheapest, then you have to be okay with several layovers. We flew from Louisville, KY to Washington DC to Philadelphia THEN to Rome. It was a solid 24 hours of flying… it sucked but Ryan’s flight was $600 to Rome. WORTH IT. We landed in Rome then took a train straight to Florence (about a 2.5 hr train). We flew American!
We were only able to spend about 6 days total vacationing, not including the two days I had to work. So while my personal Italian bucket list included the Almafi Coast, the lake district, and more of the Tuscan countryside villas, we decided on spending a few days in Italy’s most popular cities. Let me just say that most of the advice I got was that we would like Florence but *LOVE* Rome. Both place were spectacular and completely different, but I must admit that contrary to popular advice, we LOVE LOVE LOVED Florence! We wish we spent more time there. We connected better with the smaller size and the more ‘local’ and casual feel. I didn’t plan a single restaurant the entire trip- we walked around and found the best places.
It certainly wasn’t anything fancy at all, as we knew we’d be out of the room more than in, but we decided on Albergo Firenze. We actually really liked this hotel and recommend it highly! Good rooms, breakfast is provided (granted it is an ‘italian breakfast’ which is not that great in American standards), but the best part was the location. Yes Yes Yes! We were right down the road from the Duomo and we felt very safe here.
TOURS VS ON YOUR OWN?
We opted to forgo most tours. We did indulge in one guided tour at the Coliseum in Rome, but we absolutely LOVED Rick Steves’ free audio tours! Love! We used them all the time to give us background and context just about everywhere we went. Each cathedral, basilica, and historical place in general was made so much more beautiful and meaningful when you know more about them.
Italian aperitif at Le Antiche Carrozze – one of my favorite memories! A man playing accordion plus sitting right on the street, love.
Dinner at Ristorante Pizzeria Orcagna – GO HERE at night! This was on the Piazza della Signoria with outdoor seating. They also offered free wifi and it was absolutely beautiful and wonderful. Very affordable!
Breakfast at La Menagerie – This place is a coffee shop/cafe/restaurant/bar/flower shop/home goods store. Need I say more? Plus we both fell in love. We spent every morning here in Florence! Excellent wifi as well and it was not a touristy area at all. Love love love. They serve a semi-American breakfast as well.
Afternoon – We packed two bottles of wine, stopped to pick up lunch at “La Botteghina”, a little tiny local sandwich shop across from Palazzo Pitti, packed it up, and headed to Boboli Gardens for the day. This was one of my highlights of my trip. If you like non-touristy activities, this is it. We ate our sandwiches and drank our wine in the gardens, surrounded by Cypress Trees and hiked all day, intermittently stopping, drinking wine, finding epic views over Florence, sitting by the fountains, etc. It is over Arno river and about a 30 minute walk from the historic district, so be prepared. Tip: bring some bug spray!
Evening – Go to the Piazza Della Republica square (main city center) for dinner. This is where the famous carousel is plus there was live music (in english, haha 90’s songs! yes!) and it was beautiful.
EARLY morning – We got up super early and visited the Duomo as the sun was rising. There were maybe 5 other people out at this time. It was so beautiful it almost brought me to tears! We had breakfast at La Menagere again, went to the Mercato Centrale for some snacks and shopping (got a really pretty scarf!), then window shopped at the leather markets.
Afternoon – Walked to the Basilica Santa Croce (holy cross). Michelangelo, Galileo, and other prominent historic figures are buried there plus there is a memorial to Dante which I found intriguing/scary/interesting ha. We stopped for lunch on the square, trekked to the Officinal Profumo Pharmaceutica (original perfumery and beauty shop for the royals! Ryan was so bored LOL), then stopped for American beer at Ryan’s request at an Irish bar.
Evening – We bought skip the line tickets for the Uffizi Gallery and did a Rick Steves’ audio tour! I personally think it’s important to indulge in a little history “when in Rome!” (although not in Rome, ha!). We ate dinner on the Piazza della Signoria again at a different restaurant, got some gelato for the trek, then headed out to my FAVORITE MEMORY of the entire trip: sunset at Piazza Michelangelo.
I highly recommend this activity. It was the most insane set of stairs and everyone was dying ha but the views are so worth it. Get there approx. 1.5 hours or 1 hour prior to sunset to secure a spot on the rail. We were speechless at the beauty. Tip: there are no bathrooms so go before. We saw people bring pizzas and wine and we wished we did the same!
It is hard to summarize our activities in Florence because we literally never stopped walking around. We had the absolute best times and I am more than positive I forgot some of the beautiful places and shops we stopped in along the way.
HIDDEN GEM – ANCONA
My work took us to the east coastline to the city of Ancona. We took a regional train (NEVER TAKE THOSE ugh) and were put up in the most beautiful B & B I’ve ever seen, hands down. Hindsight we would’ve loved to stay here longer and head to the beach or just relax here longer. We then visited the Villa Centrofinestre and then left the next day. An infinity pool overlooking Italian farming fields and the most scrumptious meals ever? Yes. Ancona was STUNNING.
We stayed in Hotel Parlamento and it was just okay! Except for the fact that this hotel had the most beautiful rooftop terrace that our room opened up to – I loved this so, so much. When we’d stop by the room in-between adventures, it was so nice to hop out on the terrace and enjoy a snack and a glass of wine.
We arrived late at night and felt super overwhelmed at the size and we were beyond hungry. Nothing exciting happened this night except for devouring pizza.
Morning / Afternoon: We woke up early and headed to the Vatican! Eek! I don’t have many photos because you were not allowed to take photos in many places. Obviously this is highly recommended but I also highly recommend buying Skip the Line tickets – so worth it. We used Rick Steves’ again instead of a guided tour but honestly, you could seriously not buy a guided tour and just hop in with others. But Rick Steves’ made it so much more meaningful and we loved this day.
Afternoon: We visited, in my opinion, the most beautiful cathedral that is 1) free to get into and 2) hardly known!!! We just happened to walk by and I suggested we go in! It was the Sant’Agnese in Agone. Oh my goodness, please go here. We sat here and I prayed and we just marvelled at the circular architecture. I truthfully appreciated how you had to be silent and we lit candles in remembrance of loved ones.
Evening: Random walking around, shopping, loving every minute! We visited the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain.
Morning: We woke up EARLY again and went back to Trevi Fountain where we found only about 10 people. So worth it people!!! Then we walked to Campo De Fiore which is like a flower market/food market/home goods market/everything market. Then we had the best breakfast of the entire trip: Caffe Bianco! Highly recommend, especially since you’ll miss “American” breakfasts!
Afternoon: Colisseum! We did a tour of the Forum, Palentine Hill, and the Colisseum – all obviously must-sees. Our tour was through Walks of Italy (there is an app!) and we originally purchased the ‘underground tour’. Unfortunately it rained HARD that day and the underground part flooded, which is why they gave us a tour of the Palentine Hill and the Forum. We actually liked this tour so much better and learned a lot! Highly recommended.
Then we left the next morning 🙂