Visiting a new city in Italy can be exciting, but also overwhelming, especially when your time is limited. With so much to see and do, who wouldn’t want to make the most of every minute of the day?
In a perfect world, you’d visit all the major landmarks, dine at all the notable restaurants, carve out time for shopping (or some other activity), and visit the city’s best-kept secrets that only the locals know about, all while taking an endless number of snapshots to capture your memorable moments.
Since this perfect scenario is hard to come by, I wanted to share four of the best ways to explore a new city in Italy that will leave you feeling like you’ve accomplished everything we just mentioned (and more)!
1. Walking tours – free (aka “name your price”) or paid. To be perfectly clear, while it’s not compulsory to compensate the tour guide on the free tour, at the end of the tour, gratuity based on your experience is encouraged. Admittedly, it’s easier to find free walking tours in larger cities and there are many websites and apps to help facilitate this experience. However, when visiting smaller cities, a quick Google search for a free walking tour is worth a try – you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
One disadvantage of free tours is they tend to have large size groups. However, that’s easy enough to avoid since many tour guides specify upfront the number of people they’ll accommodate in a tour group, so you know what to expect and can choose an alternative.
When I visited Milan, I booked a free walking tour through GuruWalk (https://www.guruwalk.com/). The company also has an app which I highly recommend – it’s very user-friendly, gives you quick access to details about your tour, and you can interact directly with your guide in the days leading up to the tour. Chiara, our “Guru” (as they’re called) was extremely responsive, knowledgeable, fun, accessible, and even available for questions and offered recommendations in the days following the tour! I can’t wait to share more about my Milan trip with you in the upcoming weeks.
2. Food tour – If you’re looking for an activity that combines sampling local cuisine, learning about local history, and doing some sightseeing, then this next recommendation offers the perfect solution. While searching for things to do in Lecce, Puglia, I found this amazing food tour on Airbnb. It was the perfect activity to do after traveling several hours from Florence to Lecce. Although I was tired from traveling all day, the excitement of being in a new city left me completely uninterested in sleeping and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the remainder of the day. It was only after the tour was over that I felt I could finally rest – while I lost most of the day to travel, sneaking in that food tour made me feel like the day wasn’t a total loss (stay tuned for my blog post highlighting my trip to Lecce).
3. Trip planning apps – These are always a nice option, especially if you’re looking for a more structured itinerary, but still want some flexibility. I have an interesting story related to when I first heard about these two apps – let’s just say I learned a valuable lesson on my trip to Bologna that I will never forget (but that’s another post for another day). VisitaCity and GPSmyCity are the two apps that I learned about on my most recent trip to Italy. While I used the former more than the latter, I found both to be helpful.
VisitaCity offers options for booking tours, excursions, and visits to landmarks, as well as suggested itineraries depending on the length of your stay. GPSmyCity has more self-guided walking tours, a list of places to visit by category (e.g. food/drink, shopping, museums, landmarks/attractions, etc.), and travel articles. While some features of GPSmyCity require a paid subscription, there are still plenty of features available with the free version.
4. Hop-on-hop-off tour – Last, but certainly not least, there’s always the hop-on-hop-off tours which are relatively inexpensive, and nowadays they’ve expanded beyond the traditional double decker buses. They can be found in most major cities, you cover a larger area than walking tours, and it’s exactly what you need sometimes when your feet just need a break!
Although exploring while lost can lead to some of the best travel experiences, if that isn’t something you have time (nor care) to do, then be sure to take advantage of one of these recommendations.