Tips for solo travel through Italy

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As a solo female traveler, I never once felt unsafe nor was I lonely or bored during my travels in Italy. I had a chance to travel through Venice, Rome, and short trips to the Amalfi coast and Florence during my stay. I would like to share a few learnings :

Venice

  • Venice is an extremely safe and walkable city. Choose a time of the year when there is not much heat (it can get very humid in Italy).
  • It is not possible to avoid tourists. In fact, this is one city that perhaps always has more tourists than residents. However, the Venetians accept their guests extremely gracefully. 
  • In my opinion, for a traveler pressed for time, a 3-4 day stay is sufficient.
  • Choose  a place to stay in areas in that are actually on the main islands – Dorsoduro (where I was staying) is a lively island populated mainly by students and I personally liked the fact that it was quite close to the main spots whilst being quiet in the late nights. One can opt to stay in San Marco, San Polo, Santa Croce, Cannaregio or Castello too although San Marco is the most popular among tourists, it being the closest to the important sights of the San Marco square and the Doge’s palace.
  • The main islands are accessible by convenient buses from the Marco Polo airport and the St Lucia train station.
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Rialto market produce
  • Wake up early and take the effort to see the fish , vegetable and fruit market right next to the Rialto bridge. Going early will give you a chance to see the vendors unfold their produce for their day. Once it is all set up, there is too much crowd. Regardless, this market has been around for centuries and is something definitely worth seeing.
  • Waking up early will also let you enjoy the San Marco square by yourself. It is a gift that you should treat yourself to. Beware of touts looking to get some easy money from you. Walking away from them and a strict no should keep them at bay.
  • Gondolas are romantic, pretty, old-worldly yes, but will certainly leave a deep hole in your pockets. There are other options such as traghettos and vaporettos and are pretty enjoyable experiences and are good options if you do not want to walk as much.
  • Islands of Murano (for authentic glass making) and Burano (for the charming colorful houses and streets) should be planned for a day. Souvenirs in Murano are expensive and a demo on glass making is great to see, if you can get one. These islands are accessible from the main islands by water taxis.
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Colourful Burano

 

  • Make sure you punch your tickets every time you board any of the water taxis. The tickets are valid only for a limited period of time. Check the timings on your ticket after purchase. Be prepared to wait in long queues and for a long time for these taxis. 
  • You are bound to get lost in Venice. It happens to everyone but then you also will find your way back. Getting lost in the umpteen similar looking streets is a wonderful experience and you must carry a map on you all the time.
  • Last but not the least, always educate yourself before going to any place and especially to a place like Venice. They are not only good conversation points, but will also help you to appreciate the city even better. I watched ‘Francesco’s Venice‘ and thereby had a very clear idea as to what I would love to see on a priority. 
  • Most importantly, just wander in the streets. There is no city that is more charming than Venice to just randomly walk around. 

 

Rome

  • All roads lead to Rome and all major trains from other parts of Italy lead to Rome. There is the primary train that operates in Italy – the TrenItalia, but be sure to check out other trains such as ItaloTreno . I found a lot of discounts on the latter, especially if you can schedule your travels on weekdays, off beat seasons and in ungodly hours.
  • Rome is also a petite city, very easy to walk to all the beautiful attractions. I didn’t get the Roma pass as I specifically wanted to see only a few places. Weigh your options against the number of days you will be staying and judge. 
  • One can opt to stay near the tourist attractions (for the proximity), the train station (for the convenience) or the Trastevere area (for the vibrant atmosphere). I preferred staying near the train station because most of the day trips would start early in the morning and all required me to be near the train station. Consider this if you are planning for a long stay in Rome.
  • There is plenty to see and do in Rome and a week is a good amount of time to spend in which time a couple of day trips can also be managed.
  • Even you completely fit the description of a tourist, don’t expect the Romans to help you with directions. Most of them are afraid of touts pretending to be tourists only to pick their pockets. I learnt it the hard way. Your best bet is to head to a restaurant or a bar, have a coffee and take help from the staff.
  • That said, keep your own belongings safe. I witnessed at least two instances of pick pocketing. They are especially prevalent on the busiest bus lines and in major tourist attractions. 
  •  Major sites such as the Colosseum have two to three ticketing offices. Don’t be fooled by the long queues at one ticket booth. There will be others.
  • As usual, earlier the better. If you plan to travel in July or August, beware of the sweltering heat. Heading early to certain sites will ensue less crowds and more tolerant weather.
  • Vatican city is a must even if you aren’t catholic or religious. Wednesdays you get to see the Pope addressing masses. The best days to visit the Vatican museums and the St Peter’s Basilica are Tuesdays through Thursdays. Book your tickets online and try to get in early. I covered the museums, the Sistine chapel and the Basilica in 4-5 hours at a moderate pace. 
  • There are plenty of museums and churches to keep the artistic side of you busy.
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“Forno a legna” pizza
  • Food is a delight. Authentic pizzas are made in ovens. They are specifically mentioned on the boards “pizza forno a legna”. 
  • The Trevi fountain, Piazza Navona and the Spanish steps are always extremely crowded. Either go early in the morning or late at night to see these places devoid of the excessive crowds. 
  • See the colosseum by night. It is wonderful.
  • Explore the Trastevere area, especially for the food.
  • A day trip to Pompeii is an excellent option and need not be necessarily done from Naples. I did mine with a group called “Walks of Italy“. The amount of time spent in Pompeii and a glimpse of the Amalfi coast was exactly what I wanted. I even got a huge discount on this tour when I travelled.
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A view of the Amalfi
  • Florence is not far from Rome. An hour and a half hour train ride from Rome will land you in Florence. Allocate time separately for Florence if you must visit the Uffizi gallery and the Accademia. The rest of Florence can be covered on foot.
  • When you are in a major historic center as Rome, it doesn’t make sense if you arrive there completely uninformed about the history, especially the renaissance. Read as much as you can so that you will know what to look for, when there, for example, Moses by Michelangelo is in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli. It will help you appreciate everything a lot more.
  • Lastly, do throw a coin in the Trevi. You will want to come back.

 

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