15 Books to Read While Visiting Italy

Italy. It’s the place of pasta and Puccini, and hundreds of stories. If you’re visiting Italy, you should be reading books about Italy and books set in Italy! Here are a few to consider:

Non-Fiction Books About Italy

  • The House of Medici: It’s Rise and Fall

    If you want to understand modern Italy, start understanding the Medici family. The great patrons of many of the arts, this book brings much of Tuscany to life. You’ll look at Florence with new eyes, and see Siena anew, not to mention Milan! If you’re headed to Rome, you’re also going to be surrounded by the papacy – and understanding the Medicis is great for seeing the art in Rome too!

  • Leonardo da Vinci

    A new biography by Walter Isaacson, he looks at the life of Leonardo da Vinci. If you want to understand Italy, look at one of its most favorite sons. This is also a great book to read alongside the Medicis – da Vinci was able to share his genius with the world because of the support of the Medicis.

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The Vatican Scavi Tour: What It Is & How to Get Tickets

The Vatican Scavi tour is one of the hottest tickets in Rome – the Vatican only allows 250 people in each day as part of a guided group! The tickets are also incredibly reasonable – they’re 13 Euro a person, which (in my opinion) makes this the most incredible steal of a tour in any country!

My mom and I both LOVED this tour – it was the absolute highlight of our Italy trip (and also something of a “life overall” highlight).

So first things first:

What is the Vatican Scavi?
The Vatican Scavi is the necropolis that’s under St. Peter’s. It’s where they’ve excavated to find details from the early Christian church.

What is the Vatican Scavi Tour?
The Vatican Scavi Tour is an hour-long trip through the necropolis, ending at (what the church believes are) the bones of St. Peter. Each tour is led by a guide employed by the Vatican who is actually an archaeologist. Tours are arranged by language grouping, so you’ll have a guide who speaks your language. Read more

My Ranking of 34 Italian Gelato Flavors

I love ice cream. And I love gelato. So I knew I’d love Italy! This is not a comprehensive list of all of the gelato flavors I tried (alas, I forgot to write some down… whoops!), but suffice it to say Italy has pretty amazing gelato.

I heard people say before that “you get like a ton of gelato for like one Euro!” and I don’t think that’s true any more – or it wasn’t true where I went! It was more like you get a nice serving for 2-4 Euro, depending on where you are. The chains are more expensive, as are the super-nice gelaterias in Florence, Rome, Venice, etc.

Some things to look for in and know about your gelato:

  • You frequently walk by shops that have gorgeous, heaping gelato in freezer cases. Seriously,
    it’s the most gorgeous thing ever. Shockingly, that is NOT the best gelato. The best gelato is kept where you can’t see it. You’ll find gelaterias with silver pails to keep the gelato in.
    Those are the best! That way, you know it’s made fresh in small batches. The heaping portions on display? Those aren’t small-batch gelato.
  • And as gorgeous as the bright colors in the heaping gelato can be, you don’t want gelato that has bright colors, either. I heard a lot of people tell me you can judge a gelateria based on their pistachio – if it’s bright green, walk away. If it’s a brownish color that doesn’t look quite as pretty – dig in! When gelaterias are making gelato that’s most true to artisinal gelato, they’re not using artificial colors and flavors. So you trade off some level of “pretty”
    for amazing taste.
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Spreadsheeting: How Much I Spent in Central Italy (Venice, Florence, Pisa, Siena, and Rome)

Early on in my trip, my mom decided she’d be spending the last week of my trip with me in Italy, visiting Venice, Florence and Rome. I was looking forward to this for almost the whole trip! My mom is great at joining me in the search for economical travel (and was an excellent sport!), so we tried to do the best at seeing as much as we could, but economically!

In all, in 8 days through Central Italy, I spent $1,144.45.

Red, orange and pink sunset vista in Siena, Italy with Siena Duomo

How did that work out? Read more

Rome and The Vatican

It’s funny to think that the whole itinerary for my mom’s and my trip to Italy was actually planned around the last day! A few months prior, I emailed the Vatican Scavi and managed to get us tickets on a tour of the Vatican Necropolis. For the best chance at getting a spot, you have to give them all the dates you’re going to be in Rome. I sent all the dates Mom would be in Italy, knowing we could then figure out the itinerary from getting this.

Cool fountain in Rome Read more

Wonder Number 8: The Colosseum

Mom and I took the train into Rome first thing in the morning, and we got into Rome to spend the afternoon and next day there. We arrived at the train station, and walked to our hotel, which was close to the train station.

I’m still scarred and don’t want to get into it, but it was a HUGE frustration. They “lost” our reservation but conveniently could send us to a super shitty hotel around the corner. I’ve rarely been so upset. (And yes, they got BURNED on my reviews.)

But alas, Mom was a much better sport about it than I was, and we made the best of it so we could head out for the afternoon. We were going to see the Colosseum.

Guys, I seriously get a bit teary-eyed talking about this one. As my twenties come to a close, seeing the Colosseum represents achieving a goal I set for myself on my twenty-fourth birthday. A goal I have spent the rest of my twenties in the pursuit of – seeing all eight wonders of the world. (Yes, there are eight – don’t worry, there’ll be a post on that soon!)

Amanda Plewes at her eighth wonder of the world Read more

Siena: The Heart of Tuscany

When my mom and I were planning the trip to Italy, I asked where she definitely wanted to go and she said “Tuscany.” So I tried to figure out how best to do “Tuscany” with neither of us wanting to rent a car. (Are you sensing a theme? I feel like, while I hate to admit it, renting a car makes a lot of Europe much more accessible. So one of these days I’m going to learn to drive a stick shift so next time I’m open to renting!)

As I was looking at different options, I considered finding an agriturismo near Florence where we could just put our feet up for a couple of days, or finding one in the heart of wine country. But the problem is that all of these options definitely meant either a rental car, or a lot of taxis.

View of Siena Cathedral and upper old town at sunset Read more

Florence: Experiencing the Renaissance

The second stop on mom’s and my tour of Italy was Florence, a city I’d heard so much about from so many friends! I was so excited to come, because so many people told me it was their favorite city in Italy!

We arrived on the first Sunday in October – which was lucky, because the first Sunday of every month, all of the museums have free entry! Our hotel was right around the corner from the Academia, so we stood in line for about 30 minutes for the chance to go in and see Michelangelo’s David.

Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence, Italy Read more