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BlogDestinationsCapturing la dolce vita: your ultimate Italy travel guide
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Capturing la dolce vita: your ultimate Italy travel guide

Oct 03, 2023 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

In Italy, the art of living is a harmonious blend of good food, an appreciation of beauty, and an unwavering love of life’s simple pleasures. When you join us on one of our trips to Italy, you can capture some of la dolce vita and experience Italy like a local. Whether you’re seeking cultural enrichment, embracing tradition, or looking to spend some time unwinding amidst Italy’s breathtaking landscapes, our Italy travel guide will help you plan your trip of a lifetime. We’ll cover what to see in Italy, the best things to eat, and our favorite insider tips for Italy travel. Soon enough, you’ll be living la dolce vita. 

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The basics

The best time to go

Cities to visit

What to see

What to eat and drink

What to do

Souvenirs to buy

What to pack

Italy travel guide basics

Currency: The euro

Language: Italian (along with several regional dialects). Many people speak some English, especially in the larger cities, but you may find it helpful to learn some key phrases before you go.

UNESCO-listed sites: Italy boasts more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country in the world. The country is home to more than 50 UNESCO-listed sites, including the historic center of Rome, the archeological area of Pompeii, the Amalfi coast, and the entire city of Venice. 

Getting around: Italy’s cities are extremely walkable, and in Venice, you’re definitely going to want to take a water taxi, or vaporetto. When you join us on one of our Italy tours, we’ll take you between cities and sites on a private coach with your fellow travelers. 

Interesting fact: The piano was invented in Padua, Italy, a town outside of Venice, in 1709. 

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When is the best time to visit Italy?

If you ask us the best time to visit Italy, we’ll tell you that there really isn’t a bad time to go. If you’re seeking seasonal cuisine, stunning architecture, welcoming locals, and revolutionary artwork, you’ll find those things in abundance year-round. However, there are some season-specific things to do in Italy that you may want to plan your tour around. Below are our favorite seasonal reasons to take a tour of Italy.

Visit in the fall for the wine harvest and truffle hunting.The bulk of Italy’s wine harvest occurs between September and October, which makes the fall a great time to witness traditional harvesting methods. The season is also accompanied by plenty of tastings and festivals, so if you join us on a tour of Italy in the fall, be prepared for your glass to be full. A fall trip will also coincide with Northern Italy’s truffle hunt, which you can join on our Food & Wine: Northern Italy & the Italian Riviera tour.

Visit in the winter for off-season delicacies and Carnival. Many people associate Italian cuisine with the bountiful fresh herbs and produce of summer, but if you visit Italy in the winter, you’ll have the opportunity to try off-season delicacies that may not be available during the warmer months, like chestnuts and cassoeula, a fortifying winter casserole. The end of January is also marked by Carnival in Venice, an elaborate masked celebration that’s not to be missed. One of our most useful Italy travel tips for if you plan to visit Venice in the winter, is to pack a pair of rain boots. The city experiences the phenomenon known as aqua alta, meaning “high water” in November and December, and the streets may flood at high tide.

Visit in the spring for flower festivals and Easter celebrations. Many of the top attractions in Italy will see fewer crowds in the spring since, despite the mild weather, this time of year is still considered the shoulder season. Visit Italy in the spring to see colorful carpets of flowers blanketing Sicily’s streets during the Noto’s Baroque Spring Festival. You can even celebrate Easter in Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Basilica and the Piazza San Petro—one of many reasons to visit Rome in spring.

Visit in the summer for glittering beaches and the freshest produce. Want to take a dip in the azure waters of Capri and linger over sun-warmed tomatoes and glossy mozzarella drizzled in fresh olive oil? Book a summertime trip to Italy. Some parts of the country can get very hot in the summer, but luckily, we know several ways to stay cool in Italy when the heat reaches its peak—gelato, anyone?

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The best places to visit in Italy

There are so many places to visit in this captivating country we couldn’t possibly list them all in one Italy travel guide. We believe traveler Eular said it best after returning from our A Week in Italy: Venice, Florence & Rome tour: “Each city offered its own unique experience and vibe. Venice literally transported travelers to a destination of unimaginable beauty and joy. Florence was the epitome of the Renaissance with its colorful landscape and architecture. The energy of Florence is extraordinary but inviting. The guides were knowledgeable and appeared to love their stories and the history. Rome was the city of kings and legends and simply breathtaking. The schedule is busy and fast-paced but enjoyable. We ended in the perfect place, the Amalfi coast, one of the most beautiful places in Europe.” Below are some of our favorite places you’ll visit when you join us on one of our Italy tours

Rome

Italy’s capital city is the perfect place to experience la dolce vita. Whether you’re strolling through one of Rome’s many enchanting historic neighborhoods, sipping an afternoon espresso at a sunny cafe, or soaking up the art and history of the Eternal City (washed down with a glass of local wine, of course), you’ll experience the sweet life when you join us on a tour of Rome.

If you’re interested in history and culture, you’ll be overjoyed by the architecture and ancient ruins of the city. “Sunny Rome is a city on a grand scale, and seeing the Colosseum, Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and St. Paul’s was awe-inspiring,” said traveler John after returning from our A Week in Italy: Venice, Florence & Rome tour. “To stand on the site where Charlemagne was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III felt surreal. The tour guides were knowledgeable and shared fascinating details everywhere we went. Seeing Rome during a night tour revealed the magic of the Trevi Fountain and the splendor of Bernini’s Piazza San Pietro with astounding architectural precision. The Colosseum and Catacombs are grand and magnificent to see.” Whether you spend two days here on our Grand Tour of Italy or stay for a week on our Rome: The City Experience tour, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in the legacy of Rome. 

Florence and the Tuscan countryside

Florence is a luminous city that celebrates art, culture, and, of course, food. The rich history and Renaissance mindset are apparent around every turn. On a tour of Florence, you’ll marvel at the intricate architecture and stroll through lively plazas and along the Arno River for a taste of the vibrant culture of the city. 

Speaking of taste, if food and wine are among your interests, head outside the city to the sundrenched Tuscan countryside for its pastoral scenery and rustic cuisine. Join us on one or both of our optional excursions: Fiesole Villa Dinner or our Medieval Lucca & Farmhouse Lunch to taste local wine and enjoy fresh produce warmed by the sun. “We spent time in Florence (and a night in Rome), but the small towns we visited were the highlight,” said traveler Margaret, who joined us on our Food & Wine: Flavors of Tuscany & Umbria tour. “We definitely took a step back in time. So much to look at and see. What a treat this trip was; I enjoyed it immensely.” One of our top tips for exploring Tuscany? Take some time and enjoy the moment. 

Venice

The romantic city of Venice is unlike anywhere else in the world. Once the seat of a great republic, Venice appears to be an elegant city floating on the water, and so much of its charm lies beneath the surface—figuratively speaking, that is. Here, you’ll find ornate cathedrals like the Italo-Byzantine St. Mark’s Basilica, wide plazas like the Piazza San Marco, and winding canals crossed by ornate bridges, like the ivory-colored Bridge of Sighs—a bridge that offered prisoners one last glimpse of Venice’s beauty as they were ushered from the Doge’s Palace to the New Prisons. However, Venice is more than just romantic waterways and elaborate architecture. When you join us on one of our Venice tours, you’ll also discover masked celebrations, artisan crafts, and some of the freshest seafood in the world. 

The “Bottom of the Boot”

If your dream itinerary for a trip to Italy includes seaside castles, colorful cliffside villages, and the best pizza you’ve ever tasted, head to Southern Italy, affectionately known as the “Bottom of the Boot,” for ocean breezes and laid-back lifestyle. “I loved the leisurely attitude and seeing how the locals live,” said traveler Deborah of our Amalfi Coast Walking Tour

Explore the seaside Castel dell’Ovo, situated on a peninsula in the Bay of Naples, board a ferry on our Capri: A Day on the Iconic Island excursion to explore the lush island paradise, and soak up the sparkling cliffside views of the Amalfi coast. Whatever you do, take a tip from our Southern Italy travel guide and be sure to save some time to enjoy Naples’ famous pizza—or join us on the optional A Naples Tradition: Neapolitan Pizza excursion offered on our Food & Wine: Campania, Puglia & the Amalfi Coast tour for a demonstration of how the signature specialty is made. 

Sicily

A visit to Sicily on your tour of Italy almost feels like stepping into another country—ask any local, and they’ll tell you they’re Sicilian first, not Italian. The Mediterranean island boasts gorgeous beaches, volcanic vineyards, and charming, walkable cities and villages. “Touring this island, blessed with sun-kissed small villages dotting the countryside, was wonderful,” said traveler Pat after returning from our Sicily: A Cultural Journey tour. “We saw all the highlights. I have been to Sicily twice before on my own, but Go Ahead takes you to places you might miss. We enjoyed wandering the streets and markets and learning more and more of the Sicilian history.” 

Join us on a tour of Sicily to stroll through sunny Palmero, gaze out over the Mediterranean from a terrace in Taormina, and taste wine made from grapes grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Etna. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of some activity from the active volcano. “We saw so many amazing sites,” said traveler Lori, who visited Sicily on the Taormina Region extension of our Journey through Italy: Milan to the Amalfi Coast tour. “Seeing lava flowing from Mount Etna was an unexpected bonus and a real highlight.” Need another reason to visit Sicily? You’ll get to see your favorite filming locations from productions like The Godfather and White Lotus

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What to see in Italy

You’ll find marvelous landmarks and hidden gems around every corner on your trip to Italy, and when you go guided, your Tour Director will make sure you don’t miss a thing. These are a few of our favorite things to see in Italy. 

The Trevi Fountain

The dramatic and detailed Trevi Fountain is a majestic example of Baroque sculpture tucked away within the historic heart of Rome. The elegant fountain is one of the most romantic places in Italy and the perfect spot for a photo op. Plus, throwing a coin over our shoulders into the fountain to ensure a return trip to Rome is one of our favorite things to do in Italy! 

The ancient ruins of Pompeii

Pompeii was once a prosperous port town before it was buried in ash by Mount Vesuvius. When you visit the ancient city on a tour of Pompeii, you’ll see how the volcanic ash turned the entire town into a time capsule. “It was amazing to walk through Pompeii and see the ancient temples and houses,” said staffer Jamie. “Our guide pointed out that there are still grooves in the stone roads from the carts that drove over them thousands of years ago. There were even names carved into the stone walls. It was like stepping back in time.” 

The Florence Duomo

The grand Florence Cathedral, known as the Duomo, is one of the most beautiful buildings in Italy, a country with no shortage of breathtaking architecture. The rose-colored Duomo was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and took more than 140 years to construct. One of our best Italy travel tips? Climb the nearby Campanile di Giotto, Giotto’s Bell Tower, instead of the Duomo. “Both the Duomo and Giotto’s Bell Tower offer 360-degree views from the most central part of Florence, but my pro tip is to climb the Bell Tower instead of the Duomo,” said staffer Everett, who lived in Florence for several months. “You can get the actual Duomo in your panoramic photos of Florence once you get to the top.” Seeing the Duomo set against a panoramic view of the Renaissance city is number one on our list of experiences to have in Florence

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What to eat and drink in Italy

The incredible cuisine is one of the top attractions in Italy, and we think it’s worth the flight alone. “Bologna is touted as the food capital of Italy; personally, I believe that Italy is the food capital of Italy,” quipped traveler Michele after returning from our Food & Wine: Northern Italy & the Italian Riviera tour. One of our best Italy travel tips is to try as many things as possible in each region. These are some of our favorite dishes to enjoy on a tour of Italy

Try the pasta in Bologna…and the risotto in Milan. You already know that the pasta in Italy is going to be good, and the pasta in Bologna is among the best of the best. Visit on our Food & Wine: Piedmont & Tuscany with America’s Test Kitchen tour and indulge in tortellini, tagliatelle, and hearty meat sauce, known locally as ragú. On a trip to Milan, be sure to try the Risotto alla Milanesa—a classic dish made with rice, beef broth, and plenty of saffron. 

Try the gelato in Florence…and the granita in Sicily.  Gelato, Italy’s favorite sweet, frosty treat, was invented in Florence, meaning there’s no better time to enjoy a cone (or two) than on a tour of Florence. (Check out our Florence food guide for our favorite spots to grab a scoop). If you’re craving an even more refreshing treat, try the granita on a trip to Sicily. This flavored shaved ice is a summer staple in Sicily, where locals often eat it for breakfast on hot days. 

Try the wine in Tuscany…and the amaro in Campania.  It’s no secret that the country is overflowing with some of the best wines in the world, and you’ll have the opportunity to taste wine from several regions when you join us on one of our tours of Italy. If you’ve already had your fill of Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino in Florence, head to Campania on our Food & Wine: Southern Italy & Sicily tour to sip something a little different. Amari, bittersweet digestif liqueurs, can be found regionally all over Italy, but we love Beneveto’s Strega—the sunshine-colored liqueur has soft saffron, fennel, and herbal notes. 

Indulge in Italian food on tour

Fun things to do in Italy

Some of the best things to do in Italy call for diving right in and experiencing the culture firsthand. Your Tour Director will make sure you’re never short of amazing immersive experiences on your tour of Italy, and if you’re interested in even more activities, you can always join our can’t-miss excursions

Take a gondola ride in Venice. A trip to Venice would almost feel incomplete without a ride on one of the city’s iconic canal boats. Book our Gondola Ride: Venice Canal Cruise excursion to explore the city from the vantage of its winding waterways. “Being serenaded in a gondola on the grand canal with water sparkling all around was beautiful,” said traveler John after returning from our A Week in Italy: Venice, Florence & Rome tour

Visit a museum. From the Uffizi Gallery in Florence to the Vatican Museums, Italy is home to some of the world’s best museums, brimming with famous artwork, archaeological finds, and more. In fact, several Italian museums made it to our list of the top 10 museums to visit in Europe. One of our favorites? The Accademia Gallery in Florence, which you can visit on the Accademia Gallery excursions offered on our Florence tours. The museum is home to a wealth of Renaissance masterpieces, including Michelangelo’s iconic statue of David. “Seeing Michelangelo’s David in person was a dream come true,” said traveler Haley on our Journey through Italy: Milan to the Amalfi Coast tour

Take a pasta-making class. Food is such an integral part of Italian life and culture, so why not learn to make some for yourself. When you join us on one of our Food & Wine tours or book the Pasta-Making Class & Dinner excursion offered on our Italy tours, you’ll learn to make authentic Italian dishes from local experts. Learn about the fresh, local ingredients and try your hand at rolling pasta before sitting down to enjoy the fruits of your labor and a glass of wine along with your fellow travelers. 

Immerse yourself in Italian culture

Souvenirs to buy in Italy

The memories, photographs, and new friendships you acquire on your tour of Italy might be the most precious things you bring home, but you’ll probably still want a souvenir or two to commemorate your trip. These are some of our favorites. 

A bottle of olive oil. Good olive oil is a staple of Italian cooking, and regional varieties are just as varied as the country’s wine. One taste of the olive oil in Italy will have you stuffing your suitcase full of bottles to bring home. “[I] came home with wine and olive oil,” said traveler Lynn after returning from our Food & Wine: Flavors of Tuscany & Umbria tour. “Italy always turns me into an olive oil snob!” If you need help choosing your bottle, check out our guide on where to find the best olive oil in Italy

Leather goods from Florence. Artisans have been making leather in Florence for centuries, and you’ll find everything from jackets to bags to leather jewelry for sale in the Renaissance city. “The city is well known for its expertly made leather goods, and San Lorenzo is one of the best places to visit in Florence for the real deal,” said staffer Sally. San Lorenzo Market, the outdoor half of Florence’s Mercato Centrale, is worth a visit for the people watching alone. 

Murano glass from Venice. Hand-blown glass objects and artwork can be found throughout Venice, especially on the tiny island of Murano. When you visit on a tour of Venice, you’ll get to see a glassblowing demonstration and peruse the delicate artwork in the Murano Glass Museum. It’s the perfect opportunity to pick up a handmade vase, figurine, or a handful of colorful glass beads. 

Ceramics from the Amalfi Coast. When we think of the Amalfi Coast, we think of sweet sea breezes, candy-colored cliff-top villages, and lush lemon trees—but we also think of ceramics. The region is famous for its colorful decor and tableware, which you’ll find in tiny shops all along the coast. If you’re looking for useful treasures to bring home from your tour of Italy, consider buying ceramics on the Amalfi Coast

Bring home Italian goods

What to pack for a trip to Italy

Light layers and comfortable walking shoes are a must for nearly every trip. Below are a few more things you may want to consider adding to your suitcase when packing for a trip to Italy

Small bills and change for the bathrooms. You’ll find convenient ATMs across major cities, and many restaurants and businesses accept credit cards, but traveler Irene recommends bringing small denominations of euros for local shops and tipping. “We had quite a hard time breaking any Euro bills over €20,” she said, after returning from our A Week in Italy: Venice, Florence & Rome tour. “Italians like exact change! So smaller bills are recommended for future travelers.” One of our Tour Director’s tips for Italy travel is to keep some spare change on you as well—public restrooms can be found in almost every city and town, but they cost about 50 cents to use. 

A travel fan. Air conditioning in Europe is often not as strong as you may be used to in the United States or Canada, so pack a travel fan if you’re planning a trip to Italy in the summer. “If you go in July like us, expect hot weather beyond your imagination and little AC, so bring fans!” said traveler Katie after taking our A Week in Italy: Venice, Florence & Rome tour.

A reusable water bottle. The tap water in most of Italy is safe to drink, and you’ll find public drinking fountains—referred to by locals as “nasoni,” or “big noses,” in most cities. Bring a reusable water bottle and stay hydrated on your travels.

Ready to capture some of la dolce vita for yourself? Join us on one of our Italy tours!


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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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