‘Romance’ is the word that comes to one’s mind when the destination is ‘Italy’! Well, for solo travelers too, Italy is every bit fun and mesmerizing as it can be to those traveling with their partners! So you know already that a candle lit dinner wasn’t among my list of things to do in Italy! But yes, everything else you find here would surely be worth your time!
Venice was my first stop! Well, I love walking and enjoyed exploring most Venice on foot. If you love walking and can walk comfortably, then one of the best things to do in Italy is a Venice walking tour! Venice is built upon 2 islands with the famous Grand canal in between that stretches to almost 3.8 kms. Exploring the St. Mark’s Square with St. Mark’s Basilica was indeed always on my list of top things to do in Italy. So, that’s where my walking tour started. St. Mark’s square is the heart of Venice! Also known as ‘Piazza San Marco’ or ‘La Piazza’, it is located just a few steps away from the ‘Rialto Bridge’ and also from the Doge’s Palace or Palazzo Ducale. The most convenient way to get to St. Mark’s Square is by water transport. Even though one may find lot of tourist crowds and the entire square pretty crowded even on a weekday, that does not defy the charm of the place one bit! The Square looks as rich in heritage with its several beautiful Government buildings and important historic monuments. It is the largest open space in Venice, located at the end of the Grand Canal. The waterfront is an amazing sight, especially in the evenings. One can find the water bus stops and water taxi jetties in front of the square. This is also the point from where I took the Gondola ride. Being a solo traveler didn’t make me shy away from the Gondola ride as I saw hundreds of couples enjoying romantic evenings. For couples ofcourse it must be included in your list of things to do in Italy! While the Square itself is a big open space, the area north of the square has narrow lanes with shops, mostly touristic. The Glassblower’s demonstration is a must to be on your list of things to do in Italy! I will leave the details for some surprise when you visit.
St Mark’s Cathedral or what is exactly known as ‘Basilica di San Marco’ is known to be one of the best examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. The cathedral has over forty three thousand square feet of mosaic, which has been developed over eight centuries of the Basilica’s history! Gold is the prominent color of these mosaic decorations spread throughout the Basilica. The cathedral is open on most days but it does have some restricted visitor timings on Sundays or any holidays or events. Hence, it is always best to check the timings before you plan your visit and especially if you have only a day or limited time in hand in Venice. Am sure you would not want to regret missing this beautiful place of architecture and worship! It sure was crucial to me and being on top of my list of things to do in Italy, I did check the timings in advance and planned my visit accordingly.
After exploring the St. Mark’s Cathedral, I moved on to visit the adjacent Doge’s Palace. It was the headquarters of the rulers of Venice. The Doges are said to rule Venice until the late eighteenth century. The Palace houses some great works of art including paintings by the famous painter Titian. The Palace is also famous for its majestic staircases and the ‘Bridge of Sighs’, along with the government chambers and prison cells. One can also visit the Correr museum for art and history. Then there is also the National Archaeological museum with some popular Greek and ancient sculptures. One will also see articles made of bronze and ceramic along with precious gems and coins.
The ‘Leaning tower of Pisa’ was second on my list of places to visit and things to do in Italy and so after spending 2 days in Venice, I moved to Pisa. The 185 ft. high tower is an architectural wonder that took almost two hundred years to complete, primarily due to several wars in between. The leaning tower, along with three other buildings form the entire cathedral complex in Pisa which is collectively called the ‘Field of Miracles’ or ‘Campo dei Miracoli’. The leaning tower is also known as the Bell Tower or Campanile. Whether the stereotypical clicking of pushing the leaning tower should be in your list of things to do in Italy or not, is entirely your choice! I did have mine though and am glad I did..
After Pisa, my next stop was Florence. Since this was a short trip and I intended to keep maximum time at Rome, Pisa was just a one night stop. However, for those who have the time and prefer more leisurely trip may consider two nights at Pisa. Florence is well known for its statue of Michelangelo’s David, followed by the Signoria Square and The Duomo, which is the Cathedral. Uffizi Gallery houses art works from the Renaissance period including art by Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and several Greek and Roman sculptures. There is so much history in every wall you come across in Florence that I felt 2 days did not do justice. I could have spent another day here but as I mentioned that I had limited time and hence I couldn’t reduce days in Rome.. it definitely had the most stuff from my list of things to do in Italy.
From Florence I went to Assisi to see the Basilica of St. Francis. I will not get into the history but it is a must visit destination. After a day in Assisi, I arrived all excited at my final and most awaited destination of the trip – Rome! You can feel my excitement even in this article as you can see how I skipped some others just to get to my favourite part J .. Well, now that I have reached here, I am at loss of words, just as speechless as I stood in Rome! I had four days planned for Rome but again it would depend on how much time you have in hand. A minimum of two nights are required here.
My exploration in Rome began with ‘The Colosseum’. Who doesn’t love the Gladiators! Colosseum was though much more than about Gladiators. It was the centre of entertainment in the Roman empire and symbolized grandeur of architecture and power in the Roman times. Several events were conducted here like the enactment of wars and animal fights and art dramas. The Colosseum was designed by a poet under the rule of the King Vaspasian of Flavian Dynasty and has been also referred to as the Flavian Amphithetare. It was considered to be the world’s largest amphitheatre. The word ‘Colosseum’ is said to have come from the nearby massive statue of emperor Nero also known as the Colossus. The entry to the Colosseum was free as it was a gift by the Flavian emperor to its Roman citizens. It took a decade for its completion. In its good old days it is believed to have a capacity to hold fifty to eighty thousand spectators and had around eighty entrance gates. It stood the test of time for several decades until the massive earthquakes of 847 AD and 1231 AD. These two earthquakes were responsible for the major destruction of the Colosseum. On one hand the Colosseum stands today as an example of incredible Italian architecture, counted among the seven wonders of the world and on the other it is also the slaughter place that took millions of lives of humans and animals. As I stood there watching this spectacle, I had a rush of mixed emotions. It was indeed overwhelming to hear all the stories about the monument and the historical events. Whatever emotions you may go through, the Colosseum is one historical monument that is a must visit. It is bound to shake you up and whether you are a peace loving person or a fan of the Gladiators, be prepared to be overwhelmed here!
I chose to explore the Vatican over a two days span as I had ample time in hand. Well little did I know that the Vatican is actually considered the world’s smallest country with hardly a thousand inhabitants. It has been a sovereign state for several decades now. You would definitely see thousands of tourists though on any given day. I first visited the St. Peter’s Square followed by the Sistine Chapel and kept the museum and other places for the next day. Commuting is easy by the local Metro and it is hardly a five minutes walk from the station to St. Peter’s Square. The Cipro metro station is a shorter walk if youo need to go to the Vatican museums first, whereas Ottaviano station turns out to be better and shorter if you want to go to St. Peter’s Basilica first.
There is a combined entrance to the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel. It is a good idea to book in advance to avoid the long queue. Even better reason to book in advance is that the Pope speaks mostly on Wednesdays and Sundays. One can also put an application in advance to get his blessings. Hiring a licensed guide is a must for this place and I did so in advance. There is so much history and knowledge here that you can not just do it all on your own and getting a guide is a sensible thing to do. Knees and shoulders need to be covered for both men and women so dress accordingly. Unfortunately a lot of petty thefts have been reported in recent years, especially near the St. Peter’s Basilica. Hence, beware of pick pocketers and keep your precious stuff in a small bag that you carry in front of you. Do not wear flashy jewellery or flaunt any cash. Men must not keep their wallets in their back pockets. Since the entire area needs lot of walking, travel light and wear comfortable walking shoes. Well, I was prepared fully and had a great time exploring the Vatican!
Photography inside the Sistine Chapel is not allowed but you can take pictures at the museums. The chapel is considered to be Michelangelo’s masterpiece creation and is not to miss among your list of things to do in Italy. It is a great architectural treasure not only for Rome or the Vatican but for the entire world. I stood mesmerized inside the chapel and spent hours admiring the architecture and history. The Popes are selected and crowned here. Besides Michelangelo, there were other famous artists involved like Botticelli, Perugino and Luca. Michelangelo did all the fresco paintings on the ceiling over a period of four years or so. Various stories from the Genesis are represented in these paintings. The ticket office closes at 4pm on weekdays and on Sundays around mid day. The Chapel is closed on Sundays except the last Sunday of every month and is only open half day on this Sunday. There are several closure days so it is best to check and plan in advance. The Vatican Museums are also the entrance to the Sistine Chapel. The collection gathered inside the museums is breath-taking. The best time to avoid crowds would be somewhere around 1pm in the afternoon on a weekday. ‘The Creation of Adam’ and ‘The Last Judgement’ are some of the masterpieces of art that one can see here.
St. Peter’s Square is one of the most renowned squares in the world and houses the St. Peter’s Basilica which is regarded as one of the largest churches in the world. It is built over the tomb of St. Peter, who was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. It took more than a century to complete its construction and hence the historical insights are spread across more than a century. The Basilica is so huge that it can accommodate almost twenty thousand visitors at a time. The most famous of all is the sculpture by Michelangelo called ‘The Pieta’ and another of St. Peter.
I visited the entire Vatican city on two days and spent enough time at the chapels and museums. If you are short on time then you may just keep a full day for the Vatican. However, remember that a minimum of two nights are a must in Rome as you don’t want to regret missing out on significant monuments.
I hope my experiences would help you in planning a fabulous tour to Italy and explore this gorgeous city in the best possible manner.