My fiancé and I just spent the most magical 10 days in Italy, experiencing the history of Rome, the calm of the countryside, and Florence’s charm. We were invited to attend a friend’s wedding in the Marche region and thought it would be a great opportunity to visit a country that was truly foreign to us. I spent months researching everything I could; reading foodie blogs, watching travel vlogs, and basically studying Google maps any chance I got (I expected my sense of direction to be way better than it was.) I’m hoping that my experience can be helpful to others who are planning a similar trip, as I’m so grateful for those who blogged before me. We spent 3 nights in Rome, 2 nights in Fossombrone, and 3 nights in Florence. Please enjoy this chronological retelling of our Italian vacation.
We flew direct to Rome from JFK. As a nice kick off to our trip, we stopped at the TWA hotel, located at Terminal 5. Essentially, it’s a time capsule of an era gone by filled with modern hospitality (and prices.) Highly recommend checking it out before your next flight out of JFK.
I reserved a parking spot online in JFK’s long-term parking lot. The price felt reasonable at $20 per day, and the whole process was super easy.
We flew Delta direct to Rome over-night. I was determined to sleep on this flight. I bought melatonin gummies (that didn’t work) and a specific wrap around neck pillow (that I found incredibly uncomfortable.) So, alas, I didn’t get more than 30 minutes of light sleep, but I did get to watch Eat, Pray, Love AND Roman Holiday, so I still consider the flight a win.
Unfortunately, 2 days before arrival, our host cancelled our reservation (for a legit reason so they’re not dead to me.) After a brief moment of panic, we were able to secure another host with a similar apartment in a great location. Kudos to the Airbnb support team who instantly messaged me similar homes and offered a discount on the re-booking.
This place was close to great cafes and restaurants, in walking distance to all the major sights, with working wifi and air conditioning. We didn’t spend much time in there (because Rome) but it was perfect for what we needed. Hosts will ask to take pictures of your passports. It’s not a scam, they just need to register you as a guest with authorities.
We were mostly interested in food and drink on this vacation, but knew we couldn’t come all the way to Rome without checking out some serious landmarks. Most important to us were the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and the Pantheon. No shade to the Vatican, but we didn’t want to take up half a day looking at religious art surrounded by sweaty tourists.
We bought our tickets online in advance to gain skip the line access. (No tickets needed for the Pantheon.)
If you’re independent like us, and prefer to tour the sights at your own speed, I highly recommend downloading Rick Steves Italy Audio Tours. You can walk around at your own pace and still gain insight into what you’re looking at. The Colosseum and Pantheon were so impressive, in both size and significance. But to me, the Roman Forum was the most stunning. Imagining the ruins as they once were, while walking the same streets Caesar walked is a once in a lifetime experience.
In fact, the ruins are my favorite thing about Rome. It seems that every street you turn onto has a fountain, a statue, or remnants of a column. The collection of potable water fountains scattered around the city are both beautiful and much appreciated (especially in the July heat).
FOOD and DRINK
Coffee, pizza, spritz, pasta, wine, gelato. Repeat.
There is no such thing as a bad meal in Italy. Unless you have food allergies or enjoy writing bad reviews on Yelp. The coffee is small, some places close in the afternoon, aperitivo starts around 5pm, dinner starts after 7pm, and carry some cash for small tips (we’re chronic over-tippers and I won’t apologize for that.)
I made dinner reservations at 2 popular places, but the rest of the meals we decided on the fly.
Here’s a list of where we ate, and what I loved…
Emma Pizzeria con Cucina
- Stumbled upon this place for our first lunch. Huge spritzes, delicious pizza. 7/10
- Made an early reservation here (7pm) for night 1. Found this place on a best-of list online. Rustic small interior. Great selection of meats and wines. We got the burrata with anchovies, mortadella, carbonara, tortellini, and a delish Barbaresco. 9/10
- In the cutest area near lots of shopping. Best lunch of the trip. Aperol Spritz, Caesar salad, fresh truffle pasta, and salmon with zucchini. So fresh and satisfying. 10/10
Armando al Pantheon
- This is where Stanley Tucci ate rigatoni all’amatriciana in Searching for Italy. Worth. The. Hype. Managed to score a reservation exactly one month out. When you order a glass of house red or white wine, the sommelier comes by to figure out your taste and grab you the right match. Very cool. Best mozzerella and tomato bruschetta I’ve ever had. All’amatriciana was very good, but the cacio e pepe was my favorite. Veal saltimbocca and potatoes were top notch. 10/10
BaGhetto Ristorante Kosher-Portico d’Ottavia
- We came for the Jewish artichokes and stayed for the lasagna and gnocchi (Douglas almost cried as he tasted the pasta) 9.5/10
- Sensible post aperitivo, pre-dinner snack of the best focaccia style pizza with what I think was burrata cheese and pesto. I’m obsessed with pesto, and wish Rome had more of it. They don’t heat their pizza up, but it doesn’t need it. 10/10
Clorofilla Cucina & Distillati
- If you want a craft cocktail, this is your spot. Beautiful décor. Homemade syrups. If you sit at the bar, you get to pick the glass your drink comes in. 8/10
Pizzeria Dar Poeta
- In Trastevere. Slammed on a Tuesday night at 10pm. Full of locals. Service was pretty slow, but that can be said for most restaurants in Rome (at least when compared to NYC.) Ordered 2 arroncini balls, a white zucchini pie and a Napoli pizza. Washed it down with beer. Delizioso. 8/10
Villa Borghese is a beautiful park worth spending some time in. Save your feet and rent a bike. At 10 euro for 1 hour, we peddled around in a two seater. It was quite the adventure.
Rome has Lime scooters! I’d never been on one. But rather than walk 20 minutes to the Colosseum we rented e-scooters through the app and arrived in no time. It was terrifying, but a quick way to get around if you’re pressed for time or already met your step count.
There are clean public toilets that cost 1 euro to enter. Always a good idea to have some euros on you for this reason.
There are self-service laundry stations in Rome. If you packed light like we did and sweated through everything, do a load and have a cocktail nearby while you wait.
Want a picture taken of you and your partner. Go up to a couple trying to take a selfie and offer to take their photo for them. 9 times out of 10 they will offer to return the favor.
Do not take the rose when the man hands it to you.
If you’re going to learn “Where’s the bathroom?” in Italian, also spend some time learning how to translate their response. You ask in Italian, they answer in Italian.
While Rome has Uber, their pre-book option is not reliable. Uber couldn’t find a car for our early booking one morning, so I cancelled and thankfully, was able to book a van through the app.
Pronounced Mar-kay, this is the area we were visiting for the wedding. Douglas booked our train tickets to Fano about a month in advance. Time-wise, the only train that worked with our schedule left Rome at 5:40am. After a brief layover in Ancona, with some of the BEST train station cappuccino, we arrived in Fano: a beach town full of locals and gorgeous beach clubs. We had a few hours to kill before a shuttle would take us to the wedding venue, and Douglas was determined to swim in the Adriatic Sea.
We arrived at a beach club’s reception dressed in denim with luggage in tow. And boy, did we luck out. The one English speaking employee offered to store our luggage for us while we sunned ourselves. He even had his brother run home and grab us some towels since we had none. Pretty sure we have Douglas’s charm and a generous tip to thank for that hospitality.
This relaxing day at the beach was exactly what we needed after 3 days of sightseeing and a 4 hour train ride. I’d never been to a rock beach before and I loved it! Aperol Spritzes and sandwiches made for a perfect lunch. I was surprised how few people were there. Perhaps locals mostly visit on weekends. If you’re thinking of visiting an Italian beach, I highly recommend Fano.
Rolling hills and stunning farmland can be seen for miles. Our bus driver did a heroic job navigating the narrow road that wound up a super steep hill to get us to our accommodations. Le Stonghe was the name of the property our friends chose for their wedding destination. Made up of a few villas and a large main house, we truly felt like we were extras on an episode of Succession. Apart from the wedding ceremony itself, the rest of our time was spent at the pool, drinking wine, eating, and taking photos. No need to rent a photo booth when your venue is the perfect backdrop.
This was a really great way to see another side of Italy. We were completely isolated. No tourists or bustling streets. Just countryside, sunsets, and mosquitoes. Lots of mosquitoes. I suggest adding a local moment into your trip. The Marche region is so quaint, rustic and peaceful, and I would never have thought to visit if not for our friends’ nuptials.
We arrived by train into Florence at around 2pm and headed right to our hotel to check in. I decided on Hotel Balestri. I liked that it was right next to the Arno River and offered a free breakfast. While we had a few issues with our room key and door, and there were unexplained Goofy statues everywhere, we scored an incredible view and loved the strong air conditioning. Front desk staff was quick to accommodate any and all requests.
Again, we weren’t too interested in museums or tours. While the Duomo is an incredible sight, and absolutely huge in person, I had no desire to climb through a narrow stairwell all the way to the top during a heat wave in July. These are the sights that made the cut…
Galleria dell’Accademia – The David
We couldn’t come to Florence and not see this dramatic statue in person. I ordered our tickets in advance online. I picked them up at the box office before waiting in our allotted time’s line.
Like the Colosseum and the Pantheon, we listened to a Rick Steves audio tour. The David is certainly the main attraction here, but I was just as impressed with the unfinished sculptures known as the “Prisoners.” Seeing a bit of Michelangelo’s process while listening to the story behind each piece made the experience all the more memorable.
One of the best views of Florence during sunset on the other side of the river. The hike up the hill is not that bad, so don’t let a lazy person’s warnings scare you. While we planned on staying ’til the sun went down, our timing wasn’t great. We sat with the sun directly in our eyes for about 10 minutes before deciding to head down early and take a shower.
A very old bridge lined with jewelry shops. I was excited to check out the gold on this bridge, hoping to buy myself a few pieces…until I realized just how expensive gold is. I did find a beautiful pendant necklace for a great price (due to the fact that it’s actually gold plated silver. No regrets.)
Wine Tasting in Chianti Region
We booked this tour through Airbnb experiences and I’m so glad we did. This was my favorite day of our trip. A Florence local picked up our small group up from a meeting point super close to our hotel. We then visited 2 wineries and 2 medieval towns. Douglas and I lucked out because we were sitting in front with the guide and were able to ask him lots of questions about the countryside and life in Tuscany.
While the wine was great (we have 12 bottles coming our way in a few weeks) and the views absolutely stunning, my favorite part was getting to chat with the other people in our group – 3 young Canadians and a couple from the Midwest. By the end of the trip, we were all fast friends, exchanging info and offering up our homes should anyone come visit (NYC happy hour doesn’t have quite the same effect on me.) The intimate nature of this experience was truly something special, and I’d suggest a similar tour to anyone visiting Florence.
FOOD AND DRINK
Hostaria il Desco
- My research led me to this place for Florentine Steak, and it was spectacular- medium rare with a great salty char. Really good price point, too. The chicken liver and lard crostini (yes I ate fat on toast) was killer. Get the wild boar ragu tagliatelle. Wash it all down with a bottle of Montepulciano. Great vibes. 10/10
Some restaurant near Basilica di Santo Spirito
- I want to say it was Gustapanino, but I’m really not sure. Huge menu of different kinds of pizzas. They were so good. One Napoli, one white with blue cheese. The white pie was my favorite. 9/10
Trattoria Mamma Gina
- A friend who used to live in Florence recommended this spot and the Bolognese especially. The house wine was so delicious and cheap. Meatballs were solid. Pasta bolognese was super filling and phenomenal. Truffle pasta was a delightfully light foil. Barely had room for our chicken secondi. 9/10
- Those huge cheap sandwiches you see in every #Florence post you’ve come across. Do it. Line wasn’t super long, and with 3 locations all next to each other, it moves fast. Get a sandwich from the menu. The Boss was perfection. 10/10
- Ordered 2 pasta dishes. The one place we went that was just ok. But even “just ok” in Italy is a 7/10.
The vintage shopping in Florence is incredible. Go to Epoca Vintage. Great selection of clothing/accessories. I almost bought 3 different coats. In 95 degree heat.
Leather is EVERYWHERE. I was on the lookout for a tote bag, and found one at “Misster” a large store with a super friendly owner. I had an image in my head of what I wanted. I quickly found the style and color I was looking for, and the owner pointed out that it was made there in Florence. The brand name Rossi looked familiar to me, and then I looked down at my backpack. The leather bag I’d been carrying daily, that I purchase in Solvang California, is also a Rossi bag. It was fate.
Mercato Centrale has a huge food hall on the second floor (or in Italian, the 1st floor). If we didn’t have lunch plans while we were there, we would have overindulged for sure.
There are still bugs in Florence, and if you open up those big beautiful hotel windows for the ultimate river view, you will get bit.
Perhaps it was just the places we visited, but it seemed there were fewer English speaking people here. At one watch shop, the owner had to run out and grab a younger man from another business to translate for him.
Italy is the best. I hope this helps you plan, but some of the best meals/experiences were unplanned. Get lost and enjoy!