As I reflect on our honeymoon, I’ve tried to think critically about what we missed, what we should have done differently, or some of the mistakes to avoid in Italy that we could have missed with a little more preparation. Truthfully, every aspect of our Italian honeymoon was magical and it went incredibly smooth. If we replicated that entire trip, I wouldn’t complain. That being said, I want to share a few travel tips that might make your first trip to Italy better. (Tom and I are always trying to make each subsequent trip better!) These suggestions aren’t too crazy. They are just a few small things that can make visiting Italy more enjoyable for everyone!
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Biggest Tourist Mistakes In Italy
No, I don’t mean that we ate not-good-for-us food, but rather that we made poor restaurant choices. Despite all the restaurant research I did before our honeymoon in Rome, we made a lot of food mistakes. (I’m going to blame the pre-trip professional exhaustion.)
The first night, I insisted that we walk to the very tasty and deliciously cheap La Montecarlo, which is allegedly a favorite among Rome’s taxi drivers. It did not disappoint and the long walk was great for beating jet lag.
Unfortunately, it all went down hill from there.
For most meals in Rome, we ended up opting for conveniently located (read: next to our hotel) restaurants that catered to the tourist crowd (with tourist prices and tourist fare). We should have committed to our previous research and ventured out in search of better food.
Another thing I should mention is how surprised Tom was at the difference between American Italian food and actual Italian food. Since I studied abroad in Italy, I was more prepared for this. He was surprised by the portion sizes, the flat pizzas, and the lack of meat. I feel like this conversation comes up a lot, so scale your expectations.
Be aware that some restaurants don’t accept credit cards. Just because they are ubiquitous in the United States doesn’t mean they ubiquitous in Italy. Some of my favorite meals are cash only. Be prepared before you go.
The good news? It is easily fixed. There really is no shortage of good food in Italy. Do your research ahead of time, don’t be afraid to travel for good food, and eat with the season. I have more tips for eating in Italy, if you’re interested. I try to update this blog with additional recommendations, as well as share updated TripAdvisor lists. (That’s where I save every restaurant I come across.) You can find my public trips under my profile – I’m listed under Journey of Doing, of course!
Not Staying Near Public Transportation in Venice
If I had to identify one part of our honeymoon that I would have done completely different, it probably would have been Venice. Venice is so romantic and we’ve returned several times over the years. (It was lovely, truly.) Our honeymoon in Venice could have been easily improved in so many ways though. What is surprising about this is that I visited Venice more frequently. I knew what I was getting myself into!
We stayed at the just-opened JW Marriott in Venice and it happens to sit on its own island. There’s a certain amount of romantic glamour in a location like that, but transportation proved to be a bit of a challenge. The first hotel shuttle to San Marco didn’t run until 8:30am. Unlike some of the other Venetian islands, there is not a public vaporetto stop on the Isole delle Rose. We ended up missing a tour that started earlier than the shuttle started running (which we didn’t know when we booked the tour). On our last day, we missed most of the only sunny day of our entire trip to Venice.
On previous and subsequent trips, we’ve stayed at the Hilton Molino Stucky. They operate a shuttle to San Marco (and Zattere) and are a short walk away from the vaporetto stops. This makes it easier to get into Venice in the early morning, which is 100% worth it. We’ve also stayed at the Hyatt Murano several times, which is convenient to vaporetto stops as well.
If I could do it over, we would have stayed at Hotel Danieli for our honeymoon. (That room is what Venetian honeymoon dreams are made of and we love a room with a view.) The Palazzo Veneziano is great if you’re on a budget or you want to stay in a quieter location.
Staying near the vaporetto stops will give you the most flexibility on your trip to Venice. One, you can enjoy the early mornings and late nights. Two, you can save your feet when you’re tired of walking. Three, you can DIY a water bus tour of the canals. (This is Tom’s favorite thing to do.)
Not Using Public Transportation in Rome
This goes hand-in-hand with the eating badly mistake I mentioned above. While the metro isn’t the most effective way to visit Rome’s tourist attractions, it does make sense for covering long distances. Refusing to use it contributed to our poor restaurant choices.
Most of the restaurants I researched were in the less touristy areas of Rome. Those delicious neighborhoods are easily reachable by metro. For whatever reason, we relied too heavily on walking and taking cabs. We stayed at the Palazzo Naiadi; it has a metro station right outside the hotel! (It wasn’t until we got to Paris that we started using the metro.) I should have been planning how to use public transportation strategically, but I insisted we walk everywhere.
Public transportation is so efficient in Europe that you’re making a mistake if you don’t use it. I resolve that we will do better on this so that we can get off the beaten path while also enjoying more of what all cities (not just Rome) have to offer outside the city center.
Not Enjoying Early Mornings or Late Nights
I’m a sucker for beautiful light and less crowded spaces. The best way to enjoy both of those in popular cities is to get up early and stay out late. We did a tiny bit of this on our honeymoon in Italy.
I have some gorgeous photos in the Vatican Museum courtyards from our early morning tour of the Sistine Chapel. There is nothing like experiencing Venice without the huge tourist crowds. In 2010, my friend Erin and I took an early morning photography tour before the city woke up. It was magical and is such a different experience. Since our honeymoon, Tom and I make it a point to get up early and see the major tourist landmarks without the crowds. It’s worth it.
If you’re staying in a destination that is typically a major day trip (like Venice), staying out late has its perks. When we stay out in Venice, we often feel like we have the city to ourselves. I love to sit in San Marco, sip an Spritz (Select only in Venice, please!), and enjoy the music. Yes, you can do that at any time of day, but when the square is lit up? There’s nothing like it.
I would love to create a coffee table book where I photograph a city from sunrise until late evening to capture the changing light. I’m a big fan of listening to your body, especially when you travel, but find at least a few days to enjoy cities without tourists.
I resolve to get up earlier and experience those beautiful moments in beautiful cities that everyone else (me included) usually sleeps through!
Not Taking the Right Shoes
I actually did pretty well with this considering I purchased mostly new shoes for our honeymoon. I’m going to share what works for me, with the full caveat that you’re going to have to search far and wide to find some of these. You can find my complete Italy packing list.
- Stuart Weitzman 50/50 Boots – I don’t go anywhere without these. Mine are suede, they are water treated, and they have served me very well through winter, spring, and fall.
- Ecco Sensata Sandals – I have these in black and navy. I love them. They can be worn with almost anything (dresses, shorts, pants). They are super comfortable with plenty of padding and support. I can walk for miles in these shoes, literally. Mine lasted several years and now I purchase them on Poshmark or eBay when I find them.
- Tory Burch Leather Travel Flats – I took these in black and brown. These were comfortable enough. I loved the padded souls. HOWEVER, when it rained in Venice, they soaked up water like a sponge. My feet were very wet and very cold. I was miserable in these shoes. My feet turned purple from the wet leather.
- TOMS Flats – I mostly took these for travel days and as an insurance plan if I ended up with blisters. They were good for running to catch trains. I also unexpectedly hiked in them in Cinque Terre on another trip. They are a comfortable travel shoe, though I haven’t purchased another pair in a few years.
I’ve been in Venice when the tides rise, I don’t know why I didn’t have a waterproof shoe plan. If you’re going to Venice, make sure you have shoes that will survive the rising tides. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. I didn’t have any issues with blisters, but we ended up going back to the hotel early almost every day because of my lack of appropriate waterproof shoes. I’m a big believer in these Melissa + Jason Wu waterproof ballet flats. (Your Hunter boots are too bulky to be useful. I promise.)
Not Being Confident in Your Itinerary
This is not a mistake we made, but it’s one I see that floats around the travel blog community. The beaten track is beaten for a reason. Our honeymoon focused solely on Rome, Florence, and Venice. My husband had not been to Italy and I wanted him to see some of the best cities for art and architecture. I had no idea if he would love it as much as I did but I wanted the best opportunity for that to happen.
Make your first trip to Italy easy by finding cities you can link together by train. That’s generally the big three. I didn’t buy train tickets in advance, but I had a general idea of what time I wanted to leave and where I wanted to be by when. This gave us the most flexibility in our itinerary while leaving room for unexpected surprises.
In later trips, we’ve become more comfortable driving in Italy. This has allowed us to spend more time in the hill towns of Tuscany. It’s even gotten us to venture south to Puglia and Ostuni. You don’t have to see everything on your first (or any) trip. If you’ve never been to Italy, do your research and go the places that interest you most. The more comfortable you get with the language and cultural traditions, the more comfortable you’ll be exploring.
There are delicious restaurants in every city, town or village. (Some require you to search harder than others.) You can always find passionate tour guides who will provide you a glimpse into their home city. The world is a magical and beautiful place, even if, at times, it feels overdone. Seeing something once doesn’t stop us from re-watching our favorite movies, seeing our favorite musicals, or listening to our favorite music. Why would we let it inhibit our travels?
Be kind to yourself and every other traveler. We all travel for different reasons and there is beauty everywhere.
Too Many Day Trips
You know what is overrated and needs to end? The day trip. I’ve done a lot of research on day trips because I always this this is the best way to squeeze more into our trips. The truth is – day trips ruin amazing destinations. In Cinque Terre and Venice, day trips have contributed to overcrowding and a strain on infrastructure. Tourists come, take their photos, and rarely contribute back to the local economy. Restaurants start serving cheap tourist fare to accommodate the sheer number of tourists and the local delicacies become a thing of the past.
Rather than squeezing in a day trip, give yourself at least a night in some of these popular destinations. The beaten path is beaten for a reason. You shouldn’t skip popular destinations. You should, however, be mindful about how to visit popular destinations. Spending one night in Siena convinced us to go back for longer on our next trip. A wine tasting in San Gimignano has led to multiple trips to Tuscany. A short bus ride to Fiesole has led to romantic, delicious dinners above the Duomo.
There are instances where a day trip might make sense like having dinner in Fiesole instead of Florence – or visiting Pisa before flying out – but let’s try and contribute to the local economies and businesses during these stopovers, rather than just being a consumer of precious resources.
Over-relying on Short Term Rentals & AirBnB
This is going to be an unpopular opinion, but travelers need to stop overlying on Airbnb for affordable travels. Affordable travels are driving locals out of the housing market, which is leading to empty cities. It wasn’t until we spent time with a local wine producer in Cinque Terre that I started to better understand the strain that AirBnb was putting on young families.
Similar to the United States, Europe has international investors that can afford to purchase apartments to rent out to travelers, which in turn pushes out locals. If this trend continues, many historical city centers will be empty, pretty places to take pictures. Cities will become living museums, rather than vibrant, thriving cities.
These trends are not limited to Italy. Our Barcelona tour guide shared the same trend. No matter how often I hear it, the words resonate with me. A cheap, short-term apartment will not afford me the delicious experience of hearing a Florentine explain the different types of cheeses to try on my panino. A lack of affordable rents may cause some of my favorite restaurants to shutter, though they have been in business since the 1800s. Driving out locals in favor of “affordable” short-term rentals is not the type of travel that I wish to be a part of.
I book hotels when we travel. Going forward, I will continue to only book hotels or local B&Bs. (I can think of a brother and sister who run a B&B in Siena who I can’t wait to see again.)
I know everyone’s experience might be different, but I live in a city where affordable housing is drying up at an alarming rate. Our problem isn’t necessarily related to tourism or short-term rentals, but it is significantly affecting long-term residents of our city.
I don’t like that problem in my community and I don’t want to contribute to that problem in other communities.