by Senior Reviewer Maytal Wichman
My husband and I recently celebrated our ten year anniversary in Italy, sans kids. I spent a good amount of time doing research on and off line and it paid off – our trip was amazing, romantic and pretty much went without a hitch. We had lot of fun adventures, saw beautiful sights and ate incredible food. As part of our trip we spent 2.5 days in Venice and 2 days in Florence. If you’re looking for ideas for an Italian couples’ vacation, here are some tips to guarantee a once-in-a-lifetime vacation!
Venice is a magical and romantic city. Although there are more tourists than locals, it’s really fun to walk around and enjoy its charm. This was my husband’s favorite part during our entire trip! There’s no other city like it in the world and it’s a place I hope to visit again someday.
View of Piazza San Marco from the Campanile Tower
What to Do: Piazza San Marco is the main touristy area. Don’t miss the Campanile Tower for spectacular views (there’s an elevator; go early to avoid long lines). The Basilica is also beautiful and worth a quick visit (purchase tickets ahead of time to avoid long lines). Another highlight: the Secret Itinerary Tour at the Palazzo Ducal, which shows you areas that visitors otherwise don’t get to see (get advanced tickets for this as well). Piazza San Marco is also gorgeous at night, and it’s much less crowded when the daytrippers are gone. Finally, walking away from the crowds and getting lost in the little streets is a must!
Interior of Palazzo Ducal:
Where to Stay: Venice is expensive but this is the ONLY place we splurged on and stayed in Venice itself (i.e. on the island as opposed to Mestre, the mainland). We wanted convenience and to be able to walk at night and enjoy the city without worrying about catching the water taxi back to our hotel. We stayed at Hotel Alle Guglie, which was away from the touristy area but instead was in an area that had lots of charm. The hotel itself was simple but comfortable, quiet and had a great breakfast and friendly staff.
Where to Eat: As long as you walk away from the crowds and avoid main streets, you will end up eating well. Just make sure you avoid restaurants with waiters standing outside. Be sure to try seafood, one of Venice’s specialties. Pizza is not a specialty in Venice but it’s still pretty decent and along with a panini makes for an affordable and quick option for lunch. We had breakfast included at the hotel but there are plenty of pastry shops all over.
Where to shop: The further you get from the touristy places, the better prices you will find. We got souvenirs like magnets, as well as soccer jersies and t-shirts. Many people buy items made of Murano glass.
If You Have More Time: The island of Murano, where they make the world-renowned Murano glass and the island of Burano, with the bright and colorful houses are worth a visit and I will definitely stop by next time I go. There are also wonderful museums, which we didn’t have time to explore.
Tips: There are no cars in Venice. Everything is easily walkable because all of the streets are flat. We avoided tourist traps like gondola rides and spent a lot of time getting lost in the little streets and seeing houses of locals.
Florence is a spectacular city and reminded me of Paris, in a way. It has incredible buildings, each one more beautiful than the other. Together with the picturesque Arno river that divides it, it makes for a beautiful metropolis with its own charm.
The Duomo, view from Palazzo Vecchio:
What to Do: The grandiose Duomo is a must. Avoid waiting in line for the bell tower. Instead, go to Palazzo Vecchio for the less touristy tower with incredible views. Be sure to visit Ponte Vecchio and Santa Trinita bridges. Piazza Michaelangelo offers stunning views but don’t skip San Miniato (a 3 minute walk) for more great views and a small shop selling products made by monks who live in San Miniato. Florence is known for its art galleries. Don’t miss the Ufizzi gallery (buy tickets ahead of time and look up must-see paintings if you’re pressed for time). The Accademia museum has one of the most famous statues in the world – Michaelangelo’s David. It’s definitely stunning in person. (Be sure to buy tickets ahead of time).
Where to Stay: We stayed at a very no-frills motel called Althea Rooms. It’s affordable and it’s located in a wonderful area, near colleges, so there’s a lively crowd out and great restaurants. Its also very close to the main touristy area.
Where to Eat: For an authentic and affordable Tuscan meal I highly recommend Trattoria Casalinga. The food was outstanding! If you’re looking for a romantic restaurant nothing beats La Terazza Del Principe – the most romantic restaurant I have ever been to. The food is a little more pricey but the views, overlooking lush green hills make for a very romantic atmosphere. (Go right before sunset so you can enjoy the views and then the pretty lights on the terrace when it gets dark. Bring bug spray!) We also liked Mercato Centrale, a modern, yuppy-ish market with incredible food – perfect for lunch.
San Lorenzo market:
Where to Shop: San Lorenzo market has lot of leather items, such as belts, bags and wallets. There are small markets everywhere for souvenirs.
If You Have Time: Boboli gardens are huge and you can spend half a day there. Next to them is Pitti Palace, filled with beautiful furniture and artwork – the largest museum in Florence! There are also numerous churches with beautiful frescos and other artwork.
Tips: Florence is known for it’s wonderful gelato. We loved the gelato places Gelateria Santa Trinita and Marco Ottaviano. I’m a fan of the nutella and chocolaty gelatos while my husband prefers the fruit gelatos. Either way, you can’t go wrong with these two places. Also, don’t miss street acts, like clowns, musicians and even an opera singer! In addition, various venues, such as churches, hold musical performances, some free. We saw a free opera at the Duomo!
Money: Most credit cards will tack on foreign transaction fees so try to pay with cash as much as possible. ATM’s are available everywhere.
Restrooms: Venice has public restrooms that cost 1 or 2 euros (look for WC signs on the ground). In Florence you need to go to a cafe, but that’s free (although many cafes don’t have soap or toilet paper so bring your own tissues and an anti bacterial).
Trains: The trains in Italy, generally speaking, are considered relatively inexpensive, frequent and comfortable. We took a train from Venice to Florence and found it a comfortable ride with nice views.
Restaurants: Most have a tacked-on fee of 2-3 euros just for sitting there. Many don’t serve tap water so you have to pay extra for mineral water. If you make a reservation you will typically get to sit in the nicer area indoors. Without a reservation you may have to sit in a not-that-nice area of the restaurant, or outside, assuming you can get a seat.
I was not compensated for this post. I paid for the entire trip by myself.
Senior Reviewer Maytal Wichman is the owner of Mama’s Bites and has also written for The Huffington Post. She has been living in New York City for fourteen years and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature as well as a Law Degree, but blogging is her true passion. Maytal is a stay-at-home mom to three kids (ages 8, 6 and 3) and loves finding great products that make her family’s life easier.