Travel Tips & Tricks to Adopting Our Daily Routines in Rome & Florence Tuscany Italy
This article details how my wife and I (both in our 50s) adapted our daily routines and habits during our 2-week trip to the cities of Rome, Tuscany, and Florence in Italy in mid-October of 2022. I wrote these tips and tricks as we were traveling around the Italian cities, touring the sites, and functioning day-to-day.
This article is NOT a hotel, attraction, or activities tour guide. While I have included things to see in the cities with notations of my opinions, my goal was to fill in basic daily survival details. I did not provide full details of all the activities and attractions but did mention an overview of the places we visited and noted any specific details I thought important.
My attempt was to include details that might improve the comfort and experience of my readers. I’m hoping these notes and tips fill in some of the gaps when navigating and traveling the Italian cities and landscape of Rome, Tuscany, and Florence. I’ve tried to cut to the chase and provide information without any gloss to keep it simple.
Included in this article are Amazon affiliate links to the products I used along with Google AdSense advertisements. This is how I receive a menial return for the time I spent putting this information together.
I hope this is helpful…
We packed very light with both of us traveling with only carry-on suitcases that fit in the overhead compartment of the airplane along with mid-sized backpacks. We did not rent a car and traveled around Rome and Florence by public transportation by walking, taxi, train, and bus.
We packed lightweight clothes and what we thought was the bare minimum for a two-week trip. After a week in Italy, I thought I even overpacked. We traveled with about 6-7 days of clothes and purchased items like toothpaste and shampoo in Rome. We planned to have a Rome Laundromat do our laundry as needed.
Note: The hotels we stayed at provided shampoo and soap, we didn’t really need to buy these items. But as the wife was particular about what products we used; we purchased items there.
I packed quite a few of the Columbia safari-type pants that were lightweight, rolled up well, dry quickly, and with the zippers that would transform them from pants into shorts. This worked out very well as the October weather shifted between 60-80 degrees. Not only were they extremely functional from a weather perspective, but they also had additional large zipper/Velcro pockets on the sides. Since our back pockets were useless (see Pickpocketing section), the side pockets became very valuable.
We also packed lightweight short and long-sleeve shirts we could use for layers as the weather shifted. Many of these were thin Under Armor-type tops that compressed easily but still maintained temperature. Most of the packing resembled outdoor hiking gear, which paid off in spades in the long run.
We took advantage of the travel compression bags we purchased from Amazon to further compress our clothes. They were simple to use and we didn’t need to bring the pump that came with the package. We simply put clothes into the bag and sat on them, then you could roll up or fold any extra air from the package and close them up. Super simple and very effective.
Both my wife and I agreed that these were extremely valuable as they allowed us to pack more efficiently with smaller luggage and with less aggravation.
We ended up with more than enough clothes. We also packed a small travel bag that rolled up into a small ball. This was in the event we had gifts to bring home. On the flight home, we could always check one of our suitcases with the gifts and tote the travel bag with any overflow on the plane as a carry-on. We didn’t care so much if our luggage got delayed on the flight home. It was the flight out that we wanted to keep our luggage with us.
This ended up being one of the more important items that we didn’t plan on. Italy for us was not like our other vacations where we drove a little, went exploring for a few hours, then got back in the car and drove to another destination. Rome and Florence Italy were mostly walking non-stop for 10 days. There were brief respites in trains, buses, and taxis, but it was just constant walking from one thing to another.
We each brought 2 sets of shoes, one for walking around in and a second pair for going to dinner or out for nightlife. I brought the most comfortable sneakers I had along with Superfeet insoles. My wife didn’t want to wear sneakers with her dresses, instead opting for comfortable flats.
My wife suffered significantly with what she thought were comfortable flats she brought for the trip. They didn’t have the arch and cushion support to handle that many days of hiking, not to mention the treacherous streets of the cities. She later regretted this decision as the duration of time walking without proper support caused her considerable pain.
If there was anything I was going to be prescriptive about, it would be to carefully consider footwear of comfort and quality.
I must give a shout-out to the Superfeet Insoles I purchased on Amazon. I’ve tried other insoles, but none have worked so effectively. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found my feet complain a lot more. The Superfeet insoles provided a lot of support during the long marches. They have a lot of different versions and I used the “green”, which really held up. I don’t think I could have done as much walking without them.
I have an Android Samsung Tablet S3 that I loaded up with movies, TV shows, and apps I’d wanted (Lightroom, Outlook, Facebook, etc.), and a few books. The Samsung S3 only cost me $180 and it was well worth the value. It’s a little slow but works well. I purchased a SanDisk 256GB Extreme microSDXC card to expand its storage and had plenty of room for movie files and all of my Camera RAW and JPG files I took during the trip.
My wife had an iPad Air, which had a similar configuration. The movies on the Android came in handy in the evenings when we wanted to unwind. The movies were not streamed, but the actual movie files I copied to the Android. While the hotels had TVs, we weren’t fluent in Italian. The TV shows and movies gave us a nice respite at the end of the day.
International Cellular and Data (Internet) Service
While we were traveling, we wanted to continue to have internet service, messaging, texting, and phone call capabilities. However, when going to Europe, our basic cellular service wasn’t going to cover it. You can always connect to a hotel or cafe’s Wi-Fi, but when you’re roaming the cities or traveling by train, we still want to have these services available to us. We explored a few options.
Data SIM Card
If you own your phone, you can call your provider and request the unlock code to unlock your iPhone or Android. Once unlocked, you can purchase a data SIM card ($15-$25 for 10 G-to-20GB) from Amazon or pick them up at an electronics store. You can then replace your regular SIM card with the data SIM when you get to Italy. This enables you to have data for texting, messaging, and the internet when Wi-Fi isn’t available.
However, as the SIM card maintains the phone number of your cell phone, you won’t be able to text or message using the phone’s original phone number. The SIM card you purchase will provide you with a phone number once you activate it and you can use apps such as WhatsApp, TextNow, and TextFree, which utilize the SIM data card and also provide a phone number for calling and texting. So you can end up with several phone numbers for calling and messaging and accessing the internet while traveling.
Unfortunately, our phones were brand new, and we could not unlock them. Well, I could unlock them if I paid an online service of $30 a phone, but things started getting more and more complicated.
But we did provide our family with WhatsApp and TextNow phone numbers just in case there was an issue with our AT&T international plan. You can install these apps on your phone, and they provide you with a Voice Over IP (VOIP) phone number you can use to call and text. It’s just like a regular cell phone number, but you’re strictly using an Internet connection rather than cell towers.
Service Provider for International Data
Since we couldn’t use a data SIM card, we still needed cellular data when we weren’t using the Wi-Fi at hotels or cafes.
As an AT&T customer, we were able to purchase AT&T international service for $10 a day per phone. AT&T capped our costs for both phones at $150 for the entire month. It was more expensive than the Data SIM Card option but worked out just as well.
Our Packing List
Our packing list is listed below. I’m not suggesting what you should pack, just what we carried. We did not rent a car as we were going to major cities with very heavy traffic and small streets. We traveled by train, bus, and taxi. We tried to pack very lightly as we wanted to move around easily and not drag large suitcases. This ended up being a huge benefit and in hindsight, we would have packed even lighter.
- Travelpro Maxlite 5 Softside Expandable Upright Carry-on Suitcase (very lightweight suitcase, held up great)
- Samsonite Centric Hardside Carry-on Suitcase
- 7 days of clothes (I realized that I had overpacked and could easily have packed less)
- Hygiene items (only the absolute basics, we purchased items in Italy)
- Lightweight windbreaker & rain jacket (easy to roll up and compress)
- Lightweight outer layers to create layers (Under Armor breathable type)
- 2 pairs of shoes: Walking and Dinner/Nightlife
- Superfeet Support Insoles
- Sunglasses and several reading glasses
- iPad and Android Samsung Tablet S3 tablet
- Anker PowerCore 100000 Portable Battery Chargers (one for each of us for our phones and tablets)
- Anker USB Lightning Cables: iPhone and Samsung USB-C
- 3 European Outlet Converters
- Medications and medications list/letter from doctor
- Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Dayquil (these became a necessity as flying can bring on illness and also to ease the pain from excessive walking)
- Camera equipment
- Bluetooth headsets for phones and tablets
- Printed hotels, flights, and museum tickets/receipts
- Passports and photocopies of passports
- 2 backpacks and a collapsible travel bag
- Vacuum Compression Bags
- Wash clothes (neither hotel we stayed in provided wash clothes)
- Snacks for traveling and breath mints!
- Cottonelle Wipes (6 small travel-sized packets)
- Hand sanitizers in little packets or containers
- Mobile Apps
- Airline apps
- InTaxi app (Italian Taxi app for Rome)
- Trenitalia (train schedules)
- Italo Treno (train schedules)
- Google Maps with downloaded Rome and Florence maps
- Google Translate app (translating menus)
- Rick Steve’s Audio Europe
Flight to Italy
We flew out of Chicago with a 10-hour flight overnight. We didn’t get much sleep on the flight and arrived at the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino International Airport in Italy around 9 am Italy time (6 hours ahead of EST). The airport there has two names, Leonardo da Vinci and Fiumicino Aeroporto. When searching for it on the train ticket stations, the Fiumicino is the one that appears. The two names caused me confusion at one point.
We took the Leonardo train at the airport to Roma Termini Station. Termini is the major bus and train transportation hub in Rome. From Termini, you have access to most of the public transportation available. We walked 15 minutes from Termini to our hotel.
With little sleep on the flight, a 6-hour time change, and an 8-hour day ahead of us, we were glad we didn’t schedule any tours or activities for the first two days. We toured parts of the city on the first and second days, catching up on sleep and getting comfortable until we could get our feet under us again.
We didn’t load our days with scheduled tours or activities. We purchased a few hours ahead of time as I’ll mention in the Tours section but left most of our time to explore as we wanted. I think a person could spend months in Rome seeing all the sights. We thought it was more fun to soak up the city life and culture as we went. We had a list of recommended places and things to see, and we did a good job of seeing just about all that we wanted. But we really enjoyed just exploring and adding tours as we had time and energy.
The Cities of Rome and Florence Italy
Rome the City
Rome is busy like NYC, just prettier with all the old buildings and architecture. No skyscrapers or high rises. The architectural theme is maintained throughout the city, and it lends itself to a beautiful city landscape. But the streets are packed with people, walking on the sidewalks and streets. Pedestrians take no heed of cars and just seem to cross the streets in front of moving vehicles. Amazingly no one gets hit. The sidewalks and streets, with many cobblestones, are at times treacherous. Uneven blocks, little to no sidewalks, cobblestones, sudden dips, and rises, holes, and a huge variety of pedestrian challenges. A lot of the attractions also have numerous stairs to climb. It was a walking nightmare at times, and I’m surprised both of us got back without having an injury.
I’ve listed a few of the things to see in both Rome and Florence at the bottom. I’ve noted the places we visited with my thoughts, but everyone will have a different experience and want to see different things. There are attractions and restaurants that require tickets or reservations to be purchased days in advance and have noted such.
Florence the City
Florence is very similar to Rome, just smaller and cleaner. We didn’t see graffiti as we did in Rome, and they are more active in cleaning the streets. But it was always packed from 8 am to 10 pm.
Rome and Florence felt like architectural and medieval artwork centers of the world. However, neither my wife nor I were big architectural or artwork buffs. While the city and the sights were amazing, after spending a few days seeing a consistent stream of churches and museums, things became a bit monotone. We could only ingest so many frescos, paintings, and statues. After a while, we couldn’t consume the detail and started looking for other things to see and do.
The shopping options were staggering. Every block had a variety of different stores, craftsmen, and retailers of every type. High-end clothes, leather handbags, and jewelry seemed to be the primary focus, but the selection across the board was truly impressive. We didn’t end up buying too many items. An Italian handbag of course. A few shirts and blouses, a bit of jewelry, and a few gifts for family and friends. However, we did see many other tourists purchasing large suitcases to pack their loot into for the trip home.
The city is plagued with pickpockets. Everyone warns you and on our first day, we saw two young men attempting to reach into someone’s purse. We followed the guidelines, nothing in the back pockets, and wear a shoulder bag, belly pack, or backpack around in FRONT of you.
Public Water Fountains
There are potable water fountains around both cities. They look ancient and you wouldn’t realize they were drinkable until you saw the sign. We both filled our water bottles from them and didn’t experience any digestive issues as a result.
General Tips for Italy
You’ll need passports to get into Italy and back into America. I don’t remember needing them for anything else during the trip. A policeman randomly stopped us and asked for our passports. We told him we left them in the hotel room (which we did) and he said ok and moved on.
Kilometers (km) to Miles
Europe uses km. Easy conversation formula for converting km to miles. 1 km = .621 miles. Take whatever km and multiply it by .621 to get the equivalent in miles.
When we visited Italy the Euro, and the US Dollar were close to a 1-to-1 value. After we made ourselves comfortable at the hotel, I went to one of the ATMs and withdrew Euros with my bank ATM card. The ATM calculated the exchange for me, and we didn’t need to visit any of the Money Exchange services.
The $1 and $2 Euro are coins. They seem to hoard these in Rome, and they do in fact come in very handy. Especially when you’re in situations where you don’t want, or can’t negotiate change (public restrooms, Metro tickets, Taxis, etc.). To get around the limitations on finding the $1 and $2 Euros, we’d purchase items at the markets or restaurants with larger bills (5, 10, 20, and 50) and hoard the change for a bit. We kept a few $1 Euro on us in case we needed to use a public bathroom.
Internet Access & VPN
Most of the hotels, restaurants, and cafes have Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi information at the cafe and restaurants is usually listed on the menus and works just fine.
There is a chance that your device’s data can be seen and read by persons with technical acumen when using these public Wi-Fi services. This does not happen all the time of course, but it does happen. I found the VPN essential and probably protected us a few times. Once in Rome, I didn’t have the VPN activated and I used Facebook and one other application at a cafe. A few hours later I received notice via email and text from both applications that someone had requested a password reset. This means someone had monitored the open data traffic of my device and attempted to gain access.
I have a subscription to an International Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. Basically, they make a secure encrypted connection from your device (computer, phone, tablet) to the Internet. No one can read your internet traffic when using a VPN. I configured our tablets, iPads, and phones with the VPN service so it would activate automatically and secure our devices whether we were using Cell Data or connected to one of the public Wi-Fi services. If you’re not comfortable or familiar with technology, have the neighbor’s tech child configure your devices before you leave. The cleanup required post-hack is considerably more time-consuming than the pre-trip configuration.
There are a lot of VPN providers, so finding one with an international presence is probably important to note. I use Private Internet Access, which has international access and only costs $60 a year. I connected through Malta most of the time and it worked beautifully for our entire trip covering 4 devices.
The hotel’s internet service didn’t have the bandwidth or stability to handle streaming media and movies. But we could do basic things such as browsing the internet and accessing our social media platforms without issue. I was working with Adobe Lightroom (photo editor), which is a heavy data consumer, and the hotel’s internet couldn’t handle the traffic and blocked my tablet.
I was able to successfully connect my tablet to my phone’s Mobile Hotspot and continue working. I just lessened the traffic load on the hotel, so they didn’t block my phone.
We never came across any big box grocery stores such as Acme, Shoprite, Publix, or anything similar in the city centers. Rome and Florence, Italy, have a lot of small mini-markets with a very limited selection of items. We didn’t find that we needed much, mostly just bottled water, fruit, and a few snacks for tours, and we picked up items like shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, and such.
American-style coffee can be hard to find in affordable quantities that most people I know like to have in the morning. They serve espressos and small coffee servings, about the size of a shot glass. I had to hunt around for what Americans normally think of as a small coffee, which was a large Cafe Americano @ $4 Euros. Forget about finding the 24oz coffee to go. But it tastes great, I couldn’t find a bad cup of coffee anywhere, just in small quantities.
It can be hard to find a coffee shop open before 7:00 am-7:30 am. Only one of the two hotels we stayed in had a hot plate to make hot water. Neither had a coffee machine. This is something to consider if you’re an early riser and enjoy coffee first thing in the morning.
We never encountered any large, big box pharmacies like in the US (CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid). You also can’t find any medications such as ibuprofen or other over-the-counter drugs we have in the US in any of the Italian grocery stores.
The pharmacies are called Farmacia and are lit by a green plus sign. They are everywhere, but extremely small and overpriced. I purchased 12 ibuprofen @ $5-6 euros. It seems you must ask the pharmacist for everything. I couldn’t find things on a shelf. Even the mini-markets didn’t appear to have any medications. It all seemed to be available only at the Farmacias.
My wife needed antibiotics early on in our trip to treat an infection. We used the website DoctorsInItaly.com, which requires the WhatsApp app. We registered her on the website, and she was able to get an appointment a few hours later with an English-speaking Italian Doctor for 60 Euros. We took the WhatsApp video appointment on her iPhone while having lunch at a Piazza. It took 5 minutes and within 30 minutes she had a prescription that Farmacia filled for her.
Wine, beer, liquor, and alcohol can be found in some variety in almost all of the markets.
The Tabacchi shops provide tobacco-related products. There is usually one on every block and a pack of cigarettes costs anywhere from $3-$6 Euro.
Rome and Florence (and probably everywhere in Italy) have Piazzas all over the city. These are public squares anywhere in size from a small city block to a very large multi-block setting. They are usually lined with stores, restaurants, a church, and statuaries or fountains. Most of the time we were traveling from one piazza to another. In Florence, the Piazzas were always busy with activities, concerts, vendors, musicians, and the like. On a single evening in Florence, my wife and I danced to a wonderful guitar player playing old-world Italian songs, listened to a classical opera singer, enjoyed a circle of people singing along with a guitarist playing contemporary songs, and ended the night with a pianist playing traditional covers.
I listed the two hotels we stayed at when in Rome and Florence. Both were nice and we didn’t have any complaints. Both were very comfortable and located right in the middle of everything we wanted to do, so it was nice just to walk out of the hotel and start exploring. While both of these were affordable and very nice, looking back I think we would have rented an Airbnb or something with more amenities.
Hotel Romano, Rome: https://www.hotelromano.it/en/
Hotel d’ella Signoria, Florence: https://www.hoteldellasignoria.com/
Their nightly rates were between $125-$150 a night. We made reservations with both hotels via email months ahead of time. Both hotels requested our credit card information be sent to them via email. This is a big no-no; I should have called them and provided the credit card information. But for the sake of getting things done, I reluctantly provided it over email. The Hotel Signoria requested I pre-pay for the rooms for a better rate.
There are a few peculiar things to note about these hotels and I don’t know if all hotels are similar. One was that the key to the room also was used to keep the lights on. So, when you came into the room, you either had to place a special key or your card key, into the wall switch to turn on the lights and outlets. When you left, you removed the key from the switch and the power went out.
This was a bit annoying as they only give you a single key sometimes and there were times I left in the early morning for coffee and ended up leaving my wife in complete darkness while I was out. Mind you she was asleep and the reason I took the key was so that I didn’t have to knock and wake her up when I returned, but one morning she awoke early and messaged me to return as she was in the dark!
They also didn’t supply coffee makers like in the US. I’m a frequent traveler and usually, the hotels I stay at have some sort of coffee maker, even if it’s terrible coffee. But in Italy, the first hotel in Rome had nothing for coffee or generate warm water for coffee or tea. This left us having to purchase Cafe Americano’s every day at $4 for a small cup, which added up quickly over the course of our stay. The second hotel in Florence had a hotplate that would boil water. That was at least an improvement as they provided tea bags and instant coffee. If you’re a morning coffee person refer to the Coffee section for more details.
In hindsight, I would have brought with us one of the small 1-2 cup hot water electric kettles. This would have been a big time and money saver to be able to make our own instant coffee or tea.
Italy uses the 2 prong outlets, so we brought 3 converters that had both USB and standard US AC outlets. With all the electronics we had, we consumed all 3 converters with Anker charging cables all over the room. It worked great. We kept battery Anker chargers with us during the day. Anker makes quality chargers, cables, and accessories. They cost more but are fast chargers and their quality is top-notch. I’ve used them for years and they rock.
We found Laundry Services to wash a large bag of our clothes. $20-$25 Euros and they washed, dried, and folded our clothes. We’d drop them off in the morning and pick them up in the evening. Super easy. There are also many self-service laundromats as well, we just didn’t want to wait around to do laundry.
Rome Laundry Service: We used Urbana Blu (Via Urbana, 97, 00184 Roma RM, Italy). Your clothes won’t smell fresh like blossoms in the sun, and they won’t remove stains. But they will be warm from the dryer, folded, and will not smell bad.
Florence Laundry Service: We used Lavanderia Oliveiri Simone (Via de’ Barbadori, 30/32r, 50125 Firence Fl, Italy). This service required overnight to do our laundry. They do have limited hours over the weekends.
Getting Around Rome and Florence
Street signs are not posted like they are in the US. You will find them as large stone placards with the street name engraved on them located on the sides of the buildings. They are easy to spot.
I found the Google suite of apps indispensable. Google Maps for finding my way around Rome and Florence. Google Translator to translate signs, menus, and instructions, as well as presenting more complicated translations to vendors and store owners (e.g., Cough Suppressant). Google Translator is not always correct, but it was better than nothing.
I downloaded Google Maps of Rome and Florence when I arrived. If we had to get to a location, we entered our destination and Google would provide driving, walking, train, or bus transportation methods with times and instructions. It was very accurate and provided not only the directions but also the phone number, website, review ratings, photos, etc.
I even began to understand what the map vibrations meant, which became very useful when using maps for walking directions:
- One long and two short vibrations = Turn Right
- Two short and one long vibration = Turn Left
- One Vibration = Reached Destination
It took me a few days to understand how to work with the taxis in Rome. There are a lot of them all over the city. But I couldn’t seem to wave them down like in US cities. I had to go to a taxi station marked on Google Maps and there weren’t many stations.
Uber was way too expensive, $30 to go anywhere. However, I did realize a few days later that Uber does have a Taxi option for around $16. We were also warned by an Italian tour guide that many of the taxis make up their own pricing.
I downloaded the Italian inTaxi app to my phone (there’s also an itTaxi app) and added a CC as a payment method and this worked great. Most rides across town were around $15 give or take and I could enter a payment to the driver into inTaxi app to pay for the travel. This worked out great! The only exception was in the early morning we couldn’t get a Taxi as they were all busy. In this instance, I was able to hail a cab passing by.
There are all types of transportation around the city. From 2 wheeled scooters, you stand on, to Vespa-type sit-and-ride scooters, car rentals, buses, etc.
The Metro is Rome’s subway system. There is an A and B line that travels through the city. A basic one-way ticket costs $1.50 Euro and it was a quick and inexpensive way to cross the city or travel to any attractions along its route. They have other types of passes you can purchase for longer time periods and more frequent use. A lot of the Metro ticket machines were broken when we visited, so it was challenging at times to get a machine. But they do have a button for the screen to display everything in English.
Everyone kept making the same mistake with the machines. They will only give change up to $6 Euros. Everyone including myself kept putting in $20 Euros for two tickets and the machine would just return the money automatically and say nothing. So here’s another instance where the Euro coins come in handy.
Rome Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tours
There are quite a few tour bus companies where you can buy a 1-2 day pass and hop-on hop-off at various attractions throughout the city. These are the two-story buses that cruise around the city and visit the sights according to a preset schedule. We didn’t try one until the end of our trip. I can’t say they were that valuable or useful. The audio was terrible and even with all their stops, you still had to walk quite a ways to get to the sites. I Googled “Hop on hop off bus tours in Italy” and the results provided all the different tour companies, their stops, and reviews of each.
Public Restrooms & Toilets
With the help of Google Maps, we found public restrooms scattered throughout Rome. We used the bathrooms at restaurants and cafes, but they are really hit or miss. There are quite a few bathrooms, including restaurants and cafes that do not have toilet seats. The ability for women to “hover” over the toilet is a consideration. We used the Public Bathroom in Piazza Sangra – Spanish Stairs and one in Pisa. It cost $1 Euro and they are very well kept with seats on the toilets for the ladies.
The water for the sink is sometimes operated by a foot pedal.
Rome and Florence Shopping
There are boutique shops everywhere! We didn’t see any of the big-box retailers or mega-malls that you see everywhere in the US. They were either well-hidden or just didn’t exist in Rome or Florence. There were just thousands of those little shops with unique clothing, gifts, artwork, etc. lined along every street.
Mercato Centrale has a large gathering of street vendors with all sorts of products, mostly leather goods. But there are also high-end retailers all around the city center. People flock to the Ponte Vecchio bridge for jewelry shopping and to watch the sunset.
Ponte Vecchio is a medieval bridge over the river, which is loaded with jewelry vendors. https://www.visitflorence.com/florence-monuments/ponte-vecchio.html
Restaurants, Cafes, Pizza, and Patisseries are everywhere. And just l like in the US, they can be hit or miss as far as quality. We tried dozens of eateries with varied success. Again, Google Maps and their reviews held true, and we started to keep to the 4+ star rated restaurants. A few noteworthy places are listed below, you view their full details, website, and location on Google Maps. A few of these require advanced reservations, sometimes 4-5 days in advance, but are certainly worth the effort.
The steak we had in Rome was not good, but the steak in Florence was amazing. There are fantastic steak houses in Florence.
There are usually restaurants in the Piazzas (a public square) or in high-traffic areas. And there are many restaurants where there are hosts who are outwardly inviting you to come to sit at their tables. These places tend to be tourist traps. Higher prices, lesser quality. They are easy, since they are readily available, and you don’t have to walk to find them. But the food is usually not as good, and prices tend to be higher.
The meals often contain a lot of salt! Many of the meals we had from pasta to steaks and appetizers were rich in salt. It’s used in a lot of meats and cheeses for aging and to enhance flavor. It’s something to consider for anyone who may have issues with it.
Meal and Dinner Tipping
This was my biggest travel tip and learning experience!
Tipping for meals at restaurants is not like in the US. I’ve included a link to a good article with advice on tipping along with recognizing some of the unusual additional charges you’ll see. Restaurants also charge you for water and sometimes the to-go boxes.
Most of the Rome and Florence restaurants have English subtitles on their menus. But not all. We found using the Google Translate app very helpful in these situations. Some of the menu items are NOT obvious and spoke with quite a few patrons who accidentally ordered dishes they didn’t want to eat. Google Translate not only allows you to type English or Italian phrases, but you can use your camera to inspect a menu and it will translate the words. We used the translate app a few times, it was better than nothing.
Many of the restaurants and cafés serve an American Breakfast in the morning. This is the traditional eggs and bacon breakfast we enjoy in the US. The Italians tend to stick to the wide variety of pastries, which are fantastic. It’s rare to find restaurants serving breakfast past 10:30 am except for the Rooster Cafe in Florence.
Because of the huge tourist population, you can get lunch or dinner all day long and into the evening until about 8:00 pm-9:00 pm. Some restaurants stop serving at 3 pm and take a break until 7:00-7:30 pm. Quality dinners usually take about 2 hours, they don’t rush their food in Italy. But there are quite a few self-service or “fast food” places where you can buy pre-made sandwiches, pizza, and salads either with table service or to go. We had more than a few meals in our hotel during rest & recovery evenings.
Menus typically have combinations of Appetizers, First Course, Second Course, and Desert. The First Course is usually a pasta dish and the Second Course is usually meat-related and/or more richly flavored foods. As I mentioned previously, not all of the menus have English translations, so Google Translate can help decipher the options.
There are also Italian Steakhouses. We ate at two of the Florence Steakhouses and enjoyed them thoroughly. You can order small cuts the size of a filet or large cuts of beef for 2 people, usually seasoned wonderfully but tend to be cooked on the rare side as they are so thick.
These are a few of the Italian restaurants we really enjoyed on our visit.
La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali
Via della Modonna dei Monti, 9, 00184 Roma RM, Italy
+39 06 679 8643
Absolutely fantastic traditional Italian dishes! Reservations days in advance are required (3-6 days ahead depending), but very well worth it. It’s a small restaurant just off Via Cavour Street. They serve both lunch and dinner. We tried both the first and second courses and dessert. Loved all of it, so much so that we made reservations again for dinner the next week. The pasta made me cry a little it was so good. Entree courses ran about $15-25 Euros each, and we ordered a total of 3, which I did not think was expensive considering the quality.
Le Terme del Colosseo
+39 06 483616
The restaurant is off Via Cavour Street headed towards the Colosseum. You wouldn’t even know it was there, the door is tiny and heads down under the building. It’s a neat experience as it’s in a refurbished wine cellar. They serve a 4-5 course dinner with 2–3-minute opera performances in costumes and small reenactments. The food is good, not great, but the show is what you come to see. They serve unlimited white or red wine with dinner. Approximately $45 euros per head.
La Buchetta Food & Wine Restaurant
Via dei Benci, 3, 50122 Firenze Fl, Italy
Reservations days ahead are required. Small dining room with a long wine list, and excellent steak and pasta dishes.
Via dei Girolami, 28/R, 50122, Firenze Fl, Italy
Only a dozen tables in a small below-street-level dining room. Very intimate with traditional meat and pasta. Their signature steak is enormous and delicious. Their menu is in Italian.
Rooster Cafe Firenze
Via Porta Rossa, 63R, 50123 Firenze Fl, Italy
I included the Rooster here because you can get breakfast here all day. This was a nice treat as we slept in a few days and wanted to have breakfast around noon. The food is good, more than just breakfast, and they have great service.
Rome Tours, Museums, & Attractions
You can purchase tour tickets online at most of the gallery or museum websites ahead of time. There were many times when we needed to buy tickets weeks in advance for some of the more popular tours. We also used Trip Advisor, Viator, and GetYourGuide. The major tour companies (and there are only a few) use these platforms to sell their guided tours.
The guided tours are hit or miss. It all depends on your guide. Some are great, others not so much. The tour companies and guides flood the attractions with their groups, you’ll see the guide holding up a flag or umbrella so their members can track them in the crowds. You can specify the language you’d like in the tour, English, Spanish, French, etc. The guides are usually Italian, and their English isn’t always so great. On one bus and walking tour in Tuscany, we had to listen to both English and French translations. It wasn’t so bad, but it can be a bit draining after 5-6 tours. And listening to someone slaughter English into your audio device in one ear for 3 hours can be exhausting. On some of the tours, I just removed the audio device and read the placards.
Rick Steve’s Audio Europe app has an audio narration of a lot of these sights. We installed them on our phones and used our Bluetooth headsets to listen. It was a lot easier to understand Rick Steve than some of the guided tours.
Roman Colosseum and Forum
A lot of it was under construction. It was interesting but lacked the wow factor. Maybe it was all the scaffolding. We purchased a CityWalk tour with a tour guide, getting a good guide is important. I thought our guide was just ok, they seemed to be missing a lot of detail. My wife loved the guide. Who knows.
The Trevi Fountain
Beautiful fountain and shopping area. Extremely busy with lots of unique shops in the area.
This is a free quick walkthrough of the Pantheon. It’s just a roundabout inside and we were done in about 15 minutes. The line is usually long, but you get through it very quickly.
This is a pretty square with a wonderful fountain and a Basilica that is beautiful. It was free and we spent about 15 minutes inside the Basilica touring and taking photographs. I took a lot of great photographs here, both inside the Basilica and with the statues outside.
Piazza di Spagna (The Spanish Steps)
This was another pretty Italian square, larger than most and there was quite a lot of activity. The Borghese Villa and Gardens is about a 5-minute walk from the top of the Spanish Stairs. Public bathrooms are located here for $1 Euro.
Borghese Park, Villa, Zoo, and Museum
Advanced Ticket purchases may be required for the Museum.
Tickets to the museum were sold out for the day, so we didn’t get to see it. There is also a small Borghese Zoo. We did not visit the zoo but have heard good things about it from others. We walked the park, which reminded us of NYC’s Central Park, just not as well maintained. We didn’t feel there wasn’t anything of note to see or do here.
A bit morbid but very unique to see! There are about 6 crypts, which are just cellar alcoves, decorated with the bones of the Capuchin monk. We purchased the audio tour but didn’t get any value from it. I turned it off after a few minutes. The interesting story of the Capuchin Monks is written throughout the museum on placards.
Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
Weeks in advance ticket purchases are recommended. This is an extremely crowded area and there are long lines for everything.
The Vatican, the Dome, the Museum, the Sistine Chapel, the Necropolis, and a few other sights are an all-day tour. There’s quite a lot to see and multiple tickets for the different sights. The Vatican Basilica is free. We purchased tickets ahead of time for the Necropolis and the Sistine Chapel. But there are quite a few other attractions there that we didn’t have the energy to see. As the crowds are voluminous here, purchasing tickets weeks in advance either through the website or through the guided tours is something to consider. We had trouble ordering tickets through the website 3 weeks ahead of time, they were sold out by then.
There is a special process to receive tickets to the Necropolis. This needs to be done weeks/months ahead of time. We narrowly missed our window to start our tour as it was difficult to find the Necropolis tour entrance, it’s location number 24 on this tourist map.
The Necropolis tour is a 1.5-hour tour that takes you underground beneath the Vatican Basilica to what they believe is the tomb and remains of St. Peter. It is a guided tour, but unfortunately, we couldn’t understand half of what she said. After the tour, while sitting for lunch, I Googled the Necropolis, its diagrams, maps, and history. Only then did I understand what the guide was trying to tell us? I wish I had done the research on the Necropolis prior to the tour as I could have understood what she was trying to say. It w
General Information: http://www.scavi.va/content/scavi/en/ufficio-scavi.html
Requests must be submitted by FAX
Requests may be submitted in written form by fax +39 06 69873017 ”
It is absolutely necessary to provide the following information:
1. Exact number of participants;
2. Names of participants;
3. Language requested;
4. Possible dates *when the Excavations Office can assign your visit (the time will be determined by the Office). *Please always write in full the name of the month (e.g.: from 01 January 2013 to 08 January 2013)
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Once you FAX this information to Scavi, they email you back with the details.
Tivoli Day Trip
This is a really nice day trip from Rome. The town of Tivoli is about an hour’s train ride east of Rome. We didn’t purchase a guided tour, but just went on our own and we didn’t regret the decision. It would be easy to spend an entire day touring Tivoli.
When you get off the train, you’re deposited into a not-so-attractive area. But once you walk toward and behind the Villa d’Este you are transported back in time. The town is adorable and walking through its narrow cobblestone streets is a great adventure and photo opportunity. The town feels medieval with its small streets and unique architecture.
Villa d’Este: We purchased tickets at the counter when we got there, it wasn’t busy. Wonderful fountains. Probably the most elaborate we’ve ever seen. They have an art gallery as well, but the gardens and view of the hills of Italy were really the selling point.
Grande Cascata di Tivoli: We purchased tickets when we got there, it wasn’t busy. This is a trail down and up through a little valley with caves, waterfalls, scenic views, and streams. It took us about 2 hours and we enjoyed it immensely.
Taverna di Dracula: This was probably the best part of our trip to Tivoli. We had a Romanian lunch at this little restaurant called Taverna di Dracula. It even had small caves you can walk through. The owner was extremely friendly, he and his wife ran it. He hosts, and she prepares the food. He gave us free shots of Romanian liquor and recommended some great appetizers and entrees. Overall it was just a great unexpected experience.
Via Mauro Macera, 8, 00019 Tivoli RM, Italy
Florence Tours, Museums, & Attractions
We visited a few of the museums and sites in Florence, Italy. There’s quite a
Huge art gallery in Florence! But you have to like art. After about an hour my wife and I had enough of it. We’re not big art buffs, but anyone who is into this style will love it for sure!
This is where you see the David (David and Goliath) statue along with a small selection of other art and statues. We stayed for about 30 minutes.
We didn’t get to visit, but this was recommended by a friend.
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella
We didn’t get to visit, but this was recommended by a friend.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo)
We didn’t get to visit inside the Cathedral, Tower, or Dome, but this looked like a great tour. The outside of the Cathedral was spectacular. There is a lot to see here and it’s recommended to get advanced tickets. Quite a bit of walking (400+ steps each) if visiting the Tower and Dome.