Before coming to Italy I went out and bought new, “Italy appropriate” clothes; I read about the culture, studied the language and devoured “insider’s tips” that promised to help me blend in with the Italians.
I packed and repacked and imagined things I had yet to see.
There’s always a certain amount of trepidation that comes before any new trip. Preparation is key. You have to research before traveling to know what the hell you’re doing.
But there’s another thing you can do to prepare yourself for your time in Italy:
The absolute best way to tour Italian cities, or any European city, is to walk it. Start from one end and walk to the other. Start in the center and move your way out. Go from one neighborhood to the next. Move from site to site on foot. The best way to explore is to get on street level with everyone else and take a stroll.
And listen here all you who think you’re just sooooo in shape. Running helps, but it doesn’t count. Swimming doesn’t count. Yoga doesn’t count. Though any physical activity will help you, it’s still not the same as being able to walk or stand for extended periods of time. You’ll understand what I mean when your super in-shape back starts aching after just two rooms in the museum.
Because few of us realize how little we actually stand in a given day. What’s your limit? Can you walk for four hours in the morning, sit for an hour lunch break then peruse masterpieces in a world-class art museum for the next two and a half hours? If not, you might have to fight the little old lady for the only chair in the place.
Not only do we not realize how little we stand or walk on a daily basis, we don’t realize just how much walking is involved in touring an Italian city. You’ll walk from site to site. You’ll stroll the city to admire the architecture, to find the metro, to get lunch. Everything is connected by just a minute’s walk here, another mile in that direction. Not to mention all the towers there are to climb.
Don’t believe me? Check out the distances in some of Italy’s top attractions:
Corso Como to the Milan Duomo: 2.5 km; 31 minutes walking
8 hours in Florence: 5 km from Santa Maria Novella Station to Piazzale Michelangelo and back; 1 hour walking
Piazza Navona to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City: 1.6 km; 20 minutes walking
The Boboli Gardens, Florence: 11 acres to explore, people typically spend about 90 minutes inside.
The Vatican Museums: One of the largest museums in the entire world, expect to wait hours in line (on your feet), then spend at least 2 hours inside, though art lovers can easily spend 4-5 hours inside. Keep in mind that there is very little seating inside the Museums.
The Spaccanapoli, Naples: 600 meters; 10 minutes walking
Corso Buenos Aires, Milan: 1.6 km; 20 minutes walking on this major shopping street.
(See also: How to Visit Milan on a Budget)
Unfortunately, few are actually prepared. So after you’ve planned your trip (maybe with this step-by-step trip planning guide), lace up your sneakers and start up a walking regimen in the weeks before your journey to the Bel Paese. I promise, it will make your trip that much more bello.
More of my favorite Italy walks:
From Portofino to San Fruttuoso on Foot
Hiking to the Secret Black Rock Beach
My Favorite Backyard Trek
The Perfect Sightseeing Walk in Milan
Running (ok I know it’s not walking but still) in the Park of Monza
And of course you can always comment, email or search the blog for questions or information!