I’ve traveled quite a bit in Italy, but I haven’t always done it well.
Maybe there was no time to do proper research. Maybe we got there at the wrong time or the wrong day. Maybe we missed the best thing there was to see.
Because even though I harp on and on about being prepared, I know it’s not always so easy. And travel mishaps happen!
So with the desire to be transparent, here are some top destinations that I’ve personally visited … but not so well. You might as well learn from my travel mistakes!
My Travel Mistakes and What I Would Do Differently The Next Time Around:
Pisa: Get out of campo dei miracoli
Pisa truly is a sight to see. If I ever go back, I’d try to actually see some of it. On my first-ever trip to Italy my grandmother, mom and I got off the train in Pisa, somehow made our way to the Campo dei Miracoli, took some goofy pictures then went and had lunch and left. I didn’t see anything else the city had to offer and to be honest, barely toured the things I did see adequately. The Leaning Tower is incredible, but it’s not the only draw.
Ferrara: See something
We thought Ferrara was a small enough city that it didn’t need planned, but we were wrong. First, the Palazzo Schifanoia was closed for renovations. Second, we didn’t make restaurant renovations so couldn’t find a lunch spot to take us, let alone one with the infamous salama da sugo. We also came at a weird time so didn’t take the time to tour the inside of anything, preferring to just walk around the city and see it all from the outside. Fine, but overall we left without feeling like we had seen anything in particular and without much of a lasting impression.
Siena: Not take three visits to tour the Gates of Heaven
Ok on a personal level, this couldn’t have been avoided: the Gates of Heaven tour wasn’t even open the first times I went. But for anyone who has yet to go to Siena, be sure to add this to your list!
Read about how to visit the Gates of Heaven in Siena
Padova: Book chapel ahead of time
We had a wonderful time in Padova and with the short time we had, we were able to see quite a few things. What we weren’t able to see is the most famous, jaw-dropping site the town has to offer: the Scrovegni Chapel. Visits are by reservation only and usually need to be done with more than 24-hour notice. So we went all the way to this random town in northern Italy and missed out on seeing world-class frescoes by Giotto. Damn.
Cortona; Ferrara; Padova: Book restaurants ahead
In the end Cortona wasn’t bad. Ferrara was a total disappointment and in Padova we didn’t eat until nearly 11:00 pm. only took a couple tries, but we’ve learned our lesson.
Take it from me: when in small-town Italy, make restaurant reservations.
Venice: Avoid August at all costs
I’ve never really loved Venice and I think this is a huge reason why. Venice in August is suffocating. Both for the overwhelming humidity and the panic-inducing crowds. Like water in a bottleneck, the crowds get physically stuck on bridges as too many people try to cross or stop to take pictures or simply be in a space that is too small. In the end, overwhelmed by the people, we didn’t see anything, further hampering our Venice trip.
Orvieto: Dedicate more time
We stopped in Orvieto on a road trip from Le Marche, down across Umbria like a U and back up through Tuscany. Though our schedule was relatively flexible, we only stayed one night in Orvieto. We were adamant to avoid one long, rushed return trip home, but in retrospect it would have been worth it to be able to see the double-helix well that we didn’t have time for and tour the inside of the Duomo.
Orvieto is magical – I’ve got to go back to see it all!
Vatican City: Reserve tickets in advance and try alternative hours
I’ve been to the Vatican Museums twice, once was a pleasant early-morning visit with just an average ticket line. The other was a harrowing mess with four-hours of waiting along the imposing Vatican walls under the immense Italian sun. Being shoved wall-to-wall with thousands of other tourists isn’t fun. It’s even less so after you’ve already waited in line for hours. Reserve your tickets ahead of time.
Rome: Look beyond the Colosseum
My God there is so much to see and do and eat and know about Rome that you could spend a lifetime there and not have discovered it all. That said, we probably could have done a better job about seeing more of the city. Beyond the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and Colosseum and into the secondary churches, unique neighborhoods, boutiques, contemporary museums and underground discoveries that merit a look.
Dolomites: Break in my hiking boots before a five-day hiking trip
Having never been for-real hiking, I blame this mostly on my husband. Jokes aside, our trip to the Dolomites was a completely new experience for me. The jagged peaks, the constantly changing landscape and the idea that I was all the power needed to travel up and down and around a mountain was life-changing. Dampened only by my bruised and swollen ankles from my brand-new hiking boots.
Check out: A Brief Guide on Hiking in the Dolomites
Urbino: Go during the day, not just at night
Though we had an absolutely wonderful meal of traditional food, I didn’t see anything else in Urbino beyond that. Some town squares, a type-of castle thing, ice-cream post-dinner, and that’s it. We got to Urbino just a bit before dinner, meaning anything worth visiting was already closed. Maybe there’s nothing worth visiting, but I doubt that. Next time I’ll go during the day to find out.
Florence: See more of the little things
Oh there is so much I’d do differently if I could do it again, but that’s the price to pay for being naive and 19. If I could choose I’d do fewer clubs and more museums. I’d research the city more and see all those small, secondary things that you can really take advantage of when you live there. I wouldn’t leave so often on the weekends so I’d actually have time to do those things! The truth is, my first time living in another country, and a non-English speaking one at that, I was overwhelmed and navigating it all the best I could. What I did was at the limits of my capabilities, but I do wish that after visiting the Duomo, Uffizi, Davide and other major sites, I had also stopped to see something like the free Orsanmichele church or the Ferragamo shoe museum.
Obviously we travel with the knowledge we have at that moment. This isn’t a list to beat myself up about my trips, but to see what I wish I had done differently and try to follow that on other trips. Plus, it’s a mental ‘note to self’ for when I eventually get back to all these incredible Italian cities!
What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently on a previous trip and where were you?