We get it — you don’t have unlimited vacation days or a bank account brimming with euro. But there’s never been a better time for a trans-Atlantic trip, because airfare’s just as cheap as a roundtrip flight cross-country. So skip an actual California-based Pizza Kitchen and instead opt for the original.
To maximize your first visit, focus on the Holy trifecta: Rome, Florence and Venice (and then you can come back for more). Here are our top picks in each.
In the name of the Father: Rome
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Known as “The Eternal City” for over two thousand years, the capital is home to Italy’s ancient “best of.” Chances are this is where your journey will start or end (perhaps both!), so be sure to tack an extra day onto your itinerary to either acclimatize or come to terms with an eventual arrivederci.
Birthplace of the Baroque style, there’s art around every corner. First, take a refresher in high school history and spend some time at the city’s architectural marvels.
The Colosseum lives up to its name as the largest amphitheater ever built. And since the earliest 80s (that is to say the 8-0 ADs) it was the venue up to 80,000 bloodthirsty spectators would flock to in order to watch gladiators battle.
The ancient Italian equivalent of the National Mall, known as the Forum, was the heart of Rome’s government for centuries. Today it’s an incredible place for a sunny stroll as the landscape is dotted with shrines and monuments to rulers dating back hundreds of years before Julius Caesar.
Neither the Colosseum nor the Forum have withstood the test of time as well as the Pantheon, so for a more complete picture check out this former temple (and now Catholic church). The 2,000-year-old unreinforced concrete dome atop it is still the world’s largest, and the building itself is one of the best-preserved from the era.
And now that you’re a world traveler, pop into the city-country within the country for a visit to the Vatican. The smallest state in the world (both by size and population) is the Pontiff’s playground, and there’s a whole lot to Holy See: home to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the not-to-be-missed Vatican Museum, you needn’t be religious to appreciate the art and ambiance.
The Son: Florence
The Tuscan sun shines bright on the artistic standouts that make Florence a tourist Mecca. The best-known site in the city is called Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, but you might recognize its shorthand name, The Duomo.
Ready for a break from church in order to appreciate some art? While in Florence, make a move to the Galleria dell’Accademia and ponder Michelangelo’s masterpiece in marble, David. There are also works by Botticelli and Ghirlandaio on site, as well as a Pietà that may or may not have been carved by Michelangelo.
The Uffizi Gallery is arguably the most historic in the country, and has been open to the public for over 250 years (compared to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, a youngster at 146-years-old). They’ve got your Ninja Turtles (Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo), as well as Rembrandt and countless pieces of art you’ll recognize even if the artist’s name escapes you. An organized tour is definitely your best bet, as it can take up to five hours in line just to get in otherwise during peak season.
And the Holy Ghost: Venice
We’re calling Venice “the Holy Ghost” as this ethereal destination (comprised of 118 small islands, separated by canals and linked by 400 bridges) is slowly sinking into the ever-rising sea. As such, there’s no time like the present to visit.
You’ll find Venice’s two greatest charmers, Doge’s Palace and the Basilica of San Marco side by side. The Palace’s apartments, Opera House and even prisons contain almost 700 years’ worth of history and artefacts. St. Mark’s, on the other hand, is closer to 1,000; inside you’ll find more golden mosaics than all of Trump’s Towers combined, and outside in the Piazza San Marco as many pigeons as in all of Central Park.
After a whole lot of walking, treat yourself to a gondola ride along the Grand Canal. This is a great way to get a feel of the place and take a break from the crowds.
The real must-do in Venice, however, is to simply get lost along back alleys and on small bridges. This will no doubt happen even if you do bring a map, and will make for incredible, authentic memories.