How to Travel Italy Like a Real Local
Traveling through Italy’s biggest cities at any time of the year, doesn’t have to be daunting. With many travelers stopping by just for a couple of days on short trips, or in summer en route to the beach, it can feel overwhelming to find unique things to do off the beaten tourist track. If you like traveling local, here’s a quick guide that features the three cool and unique things to do (and where to stay) in Rome, Florence and Milan.
1/ Take a Food Tour
In a tourist city like Rome where everyone comes to eat and just about every restaurant or food outlet claims to be real-deal, let Eating Italy Food Tours light the way! On their walking food tours around the pretty village-like Trastevere and working class foodie hun neighbourhood of Testacioo, they show you how Romans shop and eat. With around 8 tastings at Rome’s bars, market stands, bakeries, restaurants and gelaterie, there’s no better way to experience Rome like a local.
2/ Go underground at the Capuchin Crypt
Rome isn’t short of a church, but the Capuchin Crypt near Piazza Barberini, is one of the most quirky and unique. The crypt is hauntingly decorated with the bones of former Capuchin friars – over 4,000 of them! It’s a cultural and spiritual experience not to be missed.
3/ Walk up to Gianicolo
Seeing Rome from above is a must for all visitors. Walk up to Gianicolo or Janiculum Hill for expansive views of the eternal city. The buildings, pines and domes spread out before your eyes and the surround walkways are just as pretty.
Where to Stay: Baglioni Hotel Regina
Because: It’s nothing but decadent luxury on the famed Via Veneto – home of La Dolce Vita. Boasting over 100 rooms, each with elegant art-deco touches (and many with balcony views), the hotel remains family run to this day. The Baglioni brand has become synonymous with Italian design and class. It features award-winning dining options and a fully appointed day spa on site and the concierge team are beyond helpful, treating every guest like a VIP.
1/ Explore the Oltrarno
Oltarno literally means beyond the Arno river and features a series of neighborhoods like Santo Spirito, your classic gentrified neighborhood that offers cool bars and restaurants and the Borgo San Frediano filled with Florence artisans. Take the Other Side of Florence Food Tour for the best way to explore this lesser known and more local part of Florence (and eat your heart out!). Try the famous Lampredotto (cow tripe) which is Florence’s most historic street food, visit a 3rd generation baker and try some of the best gelato you’ll ever taste.
2/ Stroll the Boboli Gardens
Indulge in a green oasis right in the heart of the city. Featuring sculptures from the 16th-18th centuries, the Boboli Gardens were the original and main seat of the dukes of the Medici family. Check out the fountain of Neptune and the lovely views of the city. And why not bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it.
3/ Learn about Florence’s Artisan History
Florence is home to the best leather makers in the world. It’s artisan history is alive and well today and the city remains a hub for design including handmade leather goods such as clothing, jewellery, bags and accessories. Visit the Scuola del Cuoio (Leather School) in an old Friars monastery and see the art in motion or book in for a class and make your own bag even; a uniquely Florentine thing to do! Popular site Lost in Florence (www.lostinflorence.it) regularly publishes profiles about the city’s artisans and where to sample their ware.
Where to Stay: Relais Santa Croce
Because: How many times in your life can you say you slept in an old palace with frescoes on the viewings? Located right by the Santa Croce Basilica, the hotel has a boutique feel with around 25 rooms. The Guelfi and Ghibellini restaurant showcases the best of local Tuscan cuisine and with its 3 Michelin stars, the Enoteca Pinchiorri is the ultimate in Florentine fine dining.
1/ Check out the fashion scene at Fondazione Prada
In 2015, the famous Italian fashion house moved into new digs about a half hours drive south of the city center. As stylish and flashy as one would expect, it features a museum and exhibition space, cafe and one of the buildings in the complex is casually covered in 24 carat gold leafs.
2/ Take in an Aperol Spritz with a view
One might avoid this terrace right because of its proximity to Milan’s centerpiece, the Duomo, but that would be a mistake! For about €15, at the Aperol Bar and Terrace, you can have the best view of it with a risotto Milanese and sip on your Aperol spritz too.
3/ Uncover the Canals: the Navigli
Venice may be Italy’s true canal city, but did you know that Milan has a few as well? Just south of the city center this area of the city, complete with what used to be a 5 canal water way, comes alive especially in the evenings with restaurants and bars. You’ll see locals sitting along the waters edge especially in the summer months.
Where to Stay: Baglioni Hotel Carlton
Because: Located in the high end fashion district, the hotel is a Milan institution. Facing on to the prestigious Via della Spiga, the hotel features original art pieces throughout and following a recent refurbishment, the rooms are either Art Deco or classically styled. The restaurant Il Baretto is not only popular with hotel guests, but you’ll find locals here dining for business or pleasure, testament to the quality of food and wine offering. For a more casual affair, Caffè Baglioni is your place.
About the Author: Maria Pasquale
An unabashed romantic, Maria created HeartRome because of her love of Rome and writing. In Rome you’ll find her walking the streets of Trastevere, checking out the latest bar for an aperitivo or dining with friends. Find more of Maria’s Italy travel tips on her Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.