Last updated on November 19th, 2023
Photo: Old street in Rome, Italy. Shutterstock_1005998212.jpg
Please note: Due to the pandemic, there may be changes. We’re doing our best to check our tips, but if you have new or updated tips to share, please let us know by emailing [email protected]. Thank you!
Advice from my Italian connections
by Evelyn Hannon, Founder, JourneyWoman
When I need travel advice I go to the experts I meet online. For this travel tip article, I consulted with females (and one delightful guy) on Twitter who have an Italian connection. It was a treat to get to know these professionals and to find out about their personal favorite places to stay, restaurants to try, shops to spend euros in and much, much more. This article is all about the best of the best (but not necessarily the most expensive) from a local’s point of view. Enjoy, everybody!
P.S. We’ve provided links so you can also connect with each expert separately and see what their sites have to offer. Enjoy the journey!
P.P.S. All prices were correct at the time of writing. There may have been changes since. Please re-check to make sure you have the most up to date information.
Solo in Italy…
I’m a freelance writer and European travel consultant specializing in France and Italy. I often travel to Italy solo and would like to offer these tips to other JourneyWomen thinking of doing the same. You’ll love it.
Women need to pay particular attention to their attire when visiting churches in Italy in the warmer months. Out of respect, most churches won’t allow you to enter if shoulders, upper arms or thighs are showing. So in the warmer weather, nix the shorts (which aren’t worn by Italian women anyway) and opt for a skirt that at least grazes the knee. Carry a scarf with you at all times to wrap around bare shoulders if you happen to be wearing a tank top.
When traveling solo, some women find the thought of dining alone in a restaurant downright intimidating. For those women, I’d recommend seeking out an Italian wine bar, or Enoteca. They offer local delicious food – ranging from light snacks to full meals, a large assortment of Italian wines by the glass and a much more relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Many have a bar where you can sit alone and blend in. If you visit during aperitif hour you might be lucky enough to score free food with the purchase of your beverage.
One of my favorite budget hotel gems in Florence is the Hotel Abaco. It’s in a prime location, halfway between the train station and the Duomo and is run by the friendly, accommodating and advice-giving, Bruno. He will do a load of laundry for you, recommend places to eat and make reservations for you too. Housed on the 2nd floor of an old palazzo (no elevator), each room is named after a Renaissance artist and is decorated with antique pieces in the Barocco style. Exposed beams, high ceilings, parquet floors, rich jewel-toned fabrics and lots of gilt gold lend a luxurious charm to the otherwise basic space. Rooms from 70€-90€ per night.
Robin Locker’s passion for travel, European culture, and lifestyle is featured in her blog, My Mélange, which includes travel tips, travel essays, photos, restaurant and hotel recommendations, recipes and ideas on how to live La Dolce Vita from abroad.
Shopping in Rome…
Rome is a Mecca for any kind of made in Italy shopping. As a personal shopper, I’d like to recommend the charming Monti district, where Julius Caesar grew up. It has an excellent choice of boutiques, gourmet stores, home furnishings and cozy enoteche you won’t find anywhere else. The streets to check are Via del Boschetto, Via dei Serpenti, Via Leonina and Via Panisperna.
You’ll love browsing at Spazio Artigiano, a treasure trove of hand-crafted items, including a great selection of Sicilian ceramics (vicolo dei Serpenti 13).
Le Gallinelleis a small boutique that sells an intriguing mix of new and vintage clothing and accessories (via del Boschetto 76, Monti). This is well worth a stop.
At the corner shop, 244 Via Panisperna (that’s the name as well as the address), look for eclectic styling in shoes along with made-to-measure clothing.
End your pleasant shopping day in Rome tasting delicious cassata, cannolo, granita, or gelato at the Sicilian gelateria Ciuri Ciuri located at via Leonina 18/19/20. That’s what Italian women do.
Stefania Troiani is a Travel Consultant & Personal Shopper in Rome.
Eating, drinking, playing in Rome…
I am an ex-pat career and personal branding coach living in Rome who helps fellow ex-pats use their personal brand to build a career that fits who they are and their international lifestyle. I am happy to offer a few tips to travelers to what I believe to be the most beautiful city in the world!
There are many accommodation options for visitors to Rome. For those who want something inspiring and central, I usually recommend the Hotel Raphael. Near Piazza Navona and decorated with art throughout, it has a roof-top terrace with gorgeous views of Rome. However, for the ethical traveler on a budget, I recommend The Beehive Hotel & Café. It’s a stylish, contemporary, ecologically minded budget hotel run by absolutely lovely people who will make sure you are taken care of during your stay.
As you must spend some time in a café if you are in Rome, I usually recommend Antico Caffe Greco, Rome’s oldest café for those who want that classic Roman café ambiance and don’t mind other tourists. However, for the more artsy bunch, I recommend Salotto 42, full of high-backed velvet chairs and books on art and design. I love Salotto 42’s cozy-chic and the fact I can get a smoothie while looking out at a 1st-century temple.
To experience Rome from a local’s perspective, I recommend contacting Italian aficionados, Alan and Diane Epstein. Long time resident and entertaining speaker, Alan is the author of the bestselling book, As The Romans Do. Armed with a Ph.D. in history and a passion for storytelling, Alan gives fascinating walking tours that make the grandeur of Rome come alive. Diane is a well-known photographer and creative cook whose photo explorations and culinary adventures offer a view of the city through an artist’s eye and a taste of its local flavors. Her photographic journeys will lead you through the city’s markets, piazzas, ancient monuments and the daily life of Rome. They’re lovely people who will make Rome feel like home. www.AsTheRomansDo.com
Megan Fitzgerald’s website is at careerbychoice.com. She also shares tips for how to build a successful career or business abroad at www.careerbychoiceblog.com.
I run an agriturismo B&B and cooking school in the Umbrian hills a place I believe women travellers will love.
Assisi is a town in Italy in the province of Perugia in the Umbria region. The Assisi area is divided into two villages – Assisi proper and Santa Maria degli Angeli 3 km away. I find both are interesting for visitors. Santa Maria degli Angeli generally offers cheaper shopping, that’s where the locals go. Assisi is a splendid medieval town and if time allows it’s worth exploring the surroundings.
I suggest that you go to the Subasio Mountain and picnic at Eremo delle Carceri, a Franciscan hermitage reachable on foot or by taxi. This is a timeless place far from the crowds (except on big holidays) and very lovely. When you’re done you can go back to town and watch the magnificent sunsets from the hexagonal tower of the fortress, Rocca Maggiore. The views are breathtaking!
To buy delicious picnic ingredients in Santa Maria degli Angeli go to Terra Umbra Antica in Via Patrono d’Italia. The cheese and prosciutto are the best in the area. In Assisi I suggest Baccanale in Via del Comune vecchio for great wines and interesting preserves.
For good simple restaurant food in Santa Maria degli Angeli I suggest Ristorante Basilica, Via Protomartiri Francescani 11 and in Assisi I like Trattoria degli Umbri, Piazza del comune 40. These are both local family-run places offering good quality and reliable fare at honest prices.
Female-friendly in Pisa and Siena…
I am an Italian woman who manages a vacation rental in Casina di Rosa in a village between Siena and the coast of the Maremma. Here are my suggestions for women travelling to my part of Italy.
For spa lovers Southern Tuscany offers many opportunities to spa lovers. If you are looking for a spa center and some luxury and comfort, my recommendations are Bagni San Filippo, Petriolo Spa and Resort, Terme di Saturnia. If you are looking for something simpler, you should look into La Melosa near the village of Roccastrada in the Upper Maremma, or Podere Santa Maria near Paganico in the Maremma. They have a fabulous underground hot pool. Further north towards Pisa, Il Calidario in Campiglia Marittima is a lovely place. If you like gardens as well, then the beautiful Grotta Giusti in Monsummano Terme is what you are looking for. For something less expensive, the Thermal Park in Uliveto Terme and the Spas in Montecatini Terme are a nice alternative.
If you love music, you might be interested in Lucca Jazz Donna, a jazz festival dedicated to women and female jazz players organized in Lucca every year in February. Some hotels in the city offer special rates to women who visit Lucca for the event. In Arezzo, “notte rosa”, the pink night, is held every year with events organized by and dedicated to women: plays, concerts, dinners, and other events. This year the ‘notte rosa‘ is on July 24 and the main event is a cooking exhibition with cooks from all over the country.
The winery of Donatella Cinelli Colombini in Trequanda, near Siena, is a unique example in Italy because the owner and all the oenologists working there are women. Mrs. Cinelli Colombini chose to challenge the system which had always relegated women wine experts to the margins of the wine industry. She has had much success and has set an important precedent. It is possible to lodge at the winery and visit the cellars and vineyards. The guides are all women of course! Another “unusual” women-only enterprise is the “Grapperia Nannoni”, near Civitella Marittima (Grosseto) in Maremma. Three women produce some of the best and most appreciated grappe in Italy.
This is a shopping tip for those women, who like me, like nice clothes but can’t easily find their size in most Italian boutiques. In Pisa, I would like to recommend the very reasonably-priced Coin Department Store and the more expensive Elena Mirò boutique in Corso Italia (right next to the Furla store by the way!). Also, Più Donna in Borgo Largo (Via Oberdan 54) with really nice clothes in all different price ranges. My favourite shoe shops are Charlot in Corso Italia and Samarcanda in Via Oberdan. In Navacchio, by the “I Borghi” shopping mall, Scarpe & Scarpe has an amazing selection.
If you visit Pisa and you like ceramics and houseware, you should not miss the 2nd floor of the Upim department store in Corso Italia, the two Pasqualetti stores (Via Oberdan and Via Pascoli), I Mercanti in Via San Lorenzo and a fabulous store on the corner of Via Benedetto Croce and Via Turati. If you take a trip to Lucca, go to Mamma Rò store in Piazza Anfiteatro. Amazing!
Women, especially those travelling alone, should avoid hotels in the area of the Pisa Centrale train station. At night it’s quite rough. I would recommend Hotel Royal Victoria for its excellent location: right in the heart of the city, with a bus stop on the line to and from the airport right opposite the main entrance. Another nice hotel is Hotel Verdi near the theatre in a safe and popular area in the centre.
Need a hairdresser or a beautician in Pisa? A dry cleaner? A tailor? Just a few steps away from Piazza dei Miracoli, in Via Galli Tassi there are a good hairdresser and a beauty center. Another excellent hairdresser is in Via Crispi, Maurizio Serretti. If you are looking for a laundromat there is one in Via Cameo, just outside the Porta Nuova city gate. It works with special coins obtainable from a machine located in the laundry itself. If you need a proper dry cleaner there is one on the same street right before the entrance of the parking La Torre (they might not be able to give you back your clothes in an hour or two). Otherwise, near Corso Italia, there is a good dry cleaner in Piazza Chiara Gambacorti. If you need a tailor, you should go to Carnet, in Via Consoli del Mare 13, for custom made clothes. For small jobs, you can ask at the haberdashery Fantoccino in Via del Castelletto 12.
If knitting is your passion, you should know that it’s also a good way to make friends in Pisa.
You’ll enjoy Arezzo…
I’m an Italian-American who, after serving 81/2 years in the military and completing a BA at the University of Rochester, now lives in Italy. I’m ready for any questions about Italy (especially on Tuscany) that you can think of. Here are my women-centered tips for Arezzo.
Arezzo is a city in central Italy; it’s the capital of Arezzo province in Tuscany, located about 80 km/50 miles south-east of Florence.
If you’re planning a trip to Tuscany, on your own or with girlfriends, and your budget and personal security are at the top of your priority list, I suggest making Arezzo your home-base while you explore the region. Arezzo is a beautiful, small, safe city where tourists haven’t yet taken over (i.e. hotels don’t cost an arm and a leg, and great restaurants are affordable!), and where you can feel truly immersed in Italian culture.. Rich in art and history, it is also very well connected by both train and bus to all of the other places in Tuscany you want to visit, as well as to Rome, Napoli, Bologna, Padova/Venezia, and Milano.
Twice a year, every year, Arezzo puts on a medieval joust in which the four quarters (quartiere) of the city compete for bragging rights. The week leading up to the joust is a great time to visit Arezzo and soak up the local culture. If you’ve never been to an Italian dinner for a couple of thousand people before, you will definitely want to make it to town in time for one of the quartiere’s pre-joust dinners/celebrations. Go with a group of girlfriends or go alone and make friends over great Italian food and wine. Don’t forget to buy your quartiere’s flag and display it proudly like the real Aretini (people from Arezzo). Check out this website for more details: giostradelsaracinoarezzo.it/en/
There are three reasonable bed and breakfasts in Arezzo I’d like to recommend. Camera Caffe` and La Terrazza and Camera Caffe; girlfriends have stayed in La Chimera. Each is comfortable and clean, and each includes a continental breakfast. (the best continental breakfast among the three is at La Chimera, but the best bang for your buck is at Camera Caffe`) The quality of the rooms is quite high; you would easily spend between 100 and 150 euro/night in a larger city like Firenze or Siena. Based on my experience and my nosy questions, noise is not a problem at any of these places. The nice part about these B&B’s is that they are small, family-owned and operated businesses, and those families take a lot of pride in their work, which means they do all they can to make your stay comfortable and positive.
When it comes to shopping, from personal experience I suggest Corso Italia, a street that boasts many designer names and popular Italian clothing and shoe stores. It’s a must-see when staying in Arezzo. This area offers a great selection ranging from high-fashion and upscale (Sugar, featuring Italian designer duds on Corso Italia, 43) to trendy but affordable (Zara, Upim, and Pimkie). The serious shopper should also scour the side-streets to see the local – unforgettable – boutiques. Happy shopping, everybody!
Follow Natalie on Twitter: twitter.com/Natalie_Lupiani
Milan is marvelous…
I am a business journalist and a travel guide-book editor who lives between Milan and Lake Lugano. Here are my bits of advice.
Milan is known for its high style fashion so I must give you at least one shopping tip. Especially if you’re in town for only a short time, the Rinascente department store in Piazza Duomo offers a great way to peruse the best Milan has to offer in terms of designer apparel, without needing to trek from store to store, and without having to endure ‘hovering’ sales assistants. If you remember the Rinascente as a dowdy department store eschewing designer labels, that’s past history. Check out the fashion floors: all the top names are there.
If you want to check out Milan’s boutiques anyway, grab a map and work out an itinerary that takes you through Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea, Via Verri, Corso di Porta Venezia, and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.
These days, not only is money tight but so is time. A personal shopper may be a perfect investment. Yes, their fee adds to the cost of your shopping, but if you are pressed for time, they help you save – time and money — by taking you straight to the best places for you. When in Milan, call upon Melanie Payge Anderson. A long-time resident of the city, this chic and friendly gal from New Mexico knows where it’s at – and will make sure you find it. See her site: www.melaniepayge.com
If you are getting just a little weary of seeing Milan’s major art galleries, take a break in one of the family mansions that have been donated to the city, and have become museums. For masterpieces on a more human scale, check out the Bagatti-Valsecchi Museum, the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, and the Casa-Museo Boschi di Stefano.
If you’ve flown into Milan’s Malpensa airport before, you may recall the lake you saw as the plane came in to land. That was Lake Maggiore. Just 20 minutes away by road. So, why not spend your last evening before your transatlantic flight at the magnificent lakeside Il Sole Hotel at Angera? The restaurant, too, is an experience to write home about. Enjoy!
For something more low-key, contact the Associazione B&B Varese. This agency will make a reservation for you at a bed & breakfast establishment within driving distance of Malpensa airport.
Although it is now several years old,’Nan McElroy’s’ Italy: instructions for use’ remains one of the best and most useful guidebooks around. Not only does this slim volume cover the main elements of being in Italy, for the visitor and resident, but it conveys a powerful message: the best experience comes when you go with the flow, and try to understand and appreciate what seems unfamiliar, rather than comparing it (unfavorably) to what you know already.
Roberta Kedzierski writes as @robertak on Twitter, where she reports from Italy, on Italy, and a lot more, besides.
Eating and drinking in Florence…
I have lived in Florence since 1984. I’m a Florence Market Maven, writer, foodie, and culinary guide. My tips for Journeywoman are all about food and wine.
Living in Italy is like living in a candy store for wine lovers! Every region of Italy produces wine. The best way to sample regional wines is not by touring the wine country and stopping at wineries, as we do in California, but by sitting down at a local bar and having wine by the glass. Coffee shops also pour wine, usually, a local table wine called vino da tavola. It is what the locals drink, a light wine to have while eating. For more important wines, or for a larger selection, try stopping by an enoteca or vinaio.
Remember Gelateria Le Carrozza (near the Ponte Vecchio). What better place to have a light lunch or meal than at an ice cream parlor. Located just on the Duomo side of the Ponte Vecchio, this is one of my favorite traditional ice cream parlors. Moreover, it has a small dining menu too. The banana splits are a big favorite here By the way, Marco Polo did not bring the banana split to Italy. The banana split was invented in 1904 at Strickler’s Drug Store in Pennsylvania.
This is one of my favorite bakeries in Florence. When I tire of unsalted Tuscan bread and need some flavorful fun bread, I go to Pany Da Lory Di Maestri Lorena (inside the Mercato di San Lorenzo) Lory is from northern Italy where the variety of bread is fabulous. Her stand in the central market is filled with great breads–whole wheat. pumpkin, rye, and many more. Her small baguettes are perfect for a picnic. Ask for a sample. She is a ray of sunshine and loves her job and it shows! She also sells fresh pasta, cookies, breadsticks, and sometimes cheeses from Alto Adige where she is from.
Eating at Il Latini is like being in a Fellini film. Come hungry and let them take care of you. Often you won’t even see a menu, just say “Basta!” when you are full! An institution in Florence where tradition rules-Pappa al pomodoro, ribollita, as well as great grilled meats. It is a fabulous meal as well as entertaining! It is hard to find but worth the search. Via dei Palchetti, 6R (off Via del Moro, near the Arno),Tel: 055-210-916, closed Monday.
Ice cream etiquette…
Think of Italy in the summertime, and you think of ice-cream. Having a gelato, whether seated at a café, or while strolling the streets, is a delightful treat that is synonymous with sunny weather and leisurely days. But what to choose? The average Italian ice-cream shop, or gelateria, offers between 20 and fifty flavors. These are divided into cream-based (creme) and fruit-based (frutta). You will see this distinction made on the menus when you are choosing your coppa, or ice-cream sundae. If you are opting for an ice-cream to eat in the street, you will notice that the display is divided into two: fruit flavors on one side, cream-based ones on the other.
Among the classic fruit-based flavours, lemon (limone) and strawberry (fragola) are always popular and work very well together. Other ideas could be peach (pesca), melon (melone), and fruits of the forest (frutti di bosco). In terms of cream-based ice-cream, there’s coffee, hazelnut, cream, as well as chocolate, which, incidentally is the Italians’ favourite flavor.
When to eat ice-cream? After lunch as a dessert, mid-afternoon as a cooling pick-me-up, about 7 pm, when it is not yet dinner time but you feel like a little something, and after dinner.
How to eat ice-cream? Either seated or walking around. What you choose depends on how you feel. Tired feet need a rest at times. Sitting under a shady umbrella, watching the world go by on a café terrace as you savour a delicious cup of ice cream — brought to you on a silver tray by a waiter — is what memories are made of. But you pay for the privilege. If you have bought a cone or a cup of ice-cream from that same café, and you want to sit and eat it, then you are expected to make your own arrangements. Find a convenient wall on which to perch, or a park bench, or just keep strolling. There’s no rush. Just enjoy.
Just in case you were wondering… what happens to those delightful ice-cream shops (gelaterie) when the sunny days become few and far between? Well, that depends. Some bars where you can buy fresh ice-cream, just shut down that section between October and April. Other places keep a small selection, because ice-cream is a welcome gift when one is invited to someone’s house for lunch or dinner. Rather than buy a cake, or even an ice-cream cake, you can take a box of ice-cream. Now, isn’t that a nice idea?
Roberta Kedzierski writes as @robertak on Twitter, where she reports from Italy, on Italy, and a lot more, besides.
Italians love bottled water…
Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world, drinking more than 40 gallons per person annually. But as their environmental consciousness deepens, officials here are avidly promoting what was previously unthinkable: that Italians should drink tap water. In Venice, officials took a leaf from the advertising playbook that has helped make bottled water a multibillion-dollar global industry. They invented a lofty brand name for Venice’s tap water – Acqua Veritas – created a sleek logo and emblazoned it on stylish carafes that were distributed free to households.
(New York Times 2009)
Visiting the Vatican…
The Vatican Museums can be a daunting and overwhelming experience so it is necessary to prepare both mentally and physically to get the most out of your visit. Here are a few tips to make life a bit easier.
Do your best to avoid Saturdays and Mondays, unless there is a free Sunday. Remember that the Vatican Museums are free the last Sunday of the month which takes some of the pressure of adjacent days that are as a rule pretty busy. My pick of the best days to visit the museums are Tuesday to Friday, with Tuesday and Thursday afternoons being the least crowded days. Generally, afternoons after 12:00 will be much less crowded than mornings, except for Saturdays and free Sundays. Crowds in the Vatican Museums are not just about the wait in line, they are also about a lot of confused people in relatively tight hallways taking pictures and constantly bumping into one another. However, lines and crowds have significantly diminished since the Vatican extended the museum hours in 2008. I have even heard that sometimes the line to pick-up reserved tickets is longer than the non-reserved line.
Use the restroom directly when you enter into the museums. After you make the line and arrive in the entrance hall (actually before purchasing tickets) use that restroom. There are a few others throughout the museums but for the most part, the one in the main entrance is the best and most convenient.
Pack a snack and water. Food and water are not readily available in the museums so I recommend having some food ready to nibble on to keep your strength up. I am not suggesting that you chow down while taking in the Raphael Rooms or under the Sistine but there are a couple of outdoor venues that would be appropriate. And being discrete about taking a couple of bits won’t hurt anyone.
Find Chris Carriero on Instagram: @ikangaroo
Buy a Rome Pass…
I started Nancy Aiello Tours to share my passion and expertise on Rome & Italy with all Travelista. Here’s a tip I think you will like:
Take advantage of the Rome Pass that can be purchased at Airport Terminals or at Tourist Information Points located downtown. The pass lasts 3 days after stamping it and costs € 23.00. It includes free access to two museums or archaeological sites of your choice, free movement on the entire public transport network and reductions on entrance to other museums, exhibitions, and shows but includes also Health Assistance and access to the city’s bike-sharing scheme. Tour Rome by bike and move freely through the city while respecting the environment; operates 24 hrs a day, each ½ hour is €0.50 with €5.00 registration fee. www.romapass.it
About women in Italy…
It is no accident, writes cross-cultural expert Robert T. Moran, that the two most popular and common expressions in Italy — Mamma Mia! and Madonna — refer to female icons. In Italy, the woman is the backbone of the family. This, combined with the renowned Italian love of beauty, gives the role of women a special place in the world of relationships.
(Source: Do’s and Taboos Around the World for Women in Business, ISBN 0 471 14364 2)
Ed.note: This respect for women doesn’t always extend to female tourists. Catcalls and an occasional pinch on the bum are not unheard of in the big cities. You can usually cut down this unnecessary attention by dressing like the locals (sunglasses, lots of black, lots of attitude, shoes not sneakers, etc.) and ignoring the men who try to get you to respond to them.
When a man just doesn’t get the message, answer loudly with the word, “Basta,” which means “Enough!”. I try to do this only when lots of bystanders can hear. This shames the silly man and he usually slinks away. If there is nobody else around I walk purposefully and quickly trying to put as much distance as possible between him and me.