Italy is a perfect choice for your summer vacation since it has everything – from big famous cities to quiet lesser-known villages and beach towns. You can pop in for a quick weekend getaway or spend a few weeks touring all around the country, whatever floats your boat. It’s also easy to score affordable flight tickets (although mostly during the off season), and the warm Mediterranean climate will not disappoint. Last year, I went on a three-day trip to Verona and Venice, two of the most popular Italian cities loved by couples and solo travellers alike, and rightly so.
Most of us know Verona as the hometown of Romeo and Juliet, protagonists of the tragic love story by Shakespeare. Naturally, one of the main attractions there is Juliet’s balcony at the Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s house). You can pay to go up there but you can also admire it from the outside at no cost. The nearby souvenir shop sells love padlocks, and there’s a wall you can leave a message on. There’s also Romeo’s house, but it’s simply private property with nothing touristy.
For €5 you can climb up the Torre dei Lamberti, a tower that overlooks the whole city, unravelling a sea of cute red-roof houses surrounded by mountains. It truly looks spectacular and is worth the heavy climb! If you want to see the panorama for free, you can opt for climbing a hill instead.
Another famous attraction is Castelvecchio, a medieval castle (now museum), and a bridge of the same name. They both offer amazing views of the Adige River, with the city and mountains in the distance. There’s also a coliseum in the city – not as majestic as the one in Rome but still very beautiful.
Overall, less than a day was enough to see the main objects in the city so I set off to Venice in the late afternoon and visited Padua on the way. This city has several beautiful churches and cathedrals but since I arrived quite late, I just had a lovely walk around and treated myself to some Italian food.
Let me start this off by saying that Venice is really expensive so if you’re not keen on spending too much, you should plan your visit well. The city centre with all the canals and tourist attractions is in the island that you can easily reach by bus or train from mainland Venice, where accommodation is much cheaper. The restaurant prices are obviously very high, and the service charge is mandatory everywhere but there’s a McDonald’s and a couple of grocery stores on the island. Public bathrooms are all paid, except one cheeky loo at the top of a supermarket near the Rialto Bridge. This supermarket also has a free viewpoint if you want to see the mesmerising panorama of the city.
“The best way to experience Venice is to wander around on its narrow streets, without any plan really, and see where it takes you”
OK, now on to the exciting part! The best way to experience Venice is to wander around on its narrow streets, without any plan really, and see where it takes you. You can easily take a random turn that will instantly lead you away from the packed touristy places to a quiet living area. There are many dead-ends but it’s practically impossible to get lost. You can also follow the canals, the Venetian version of streets – there are no cars, just private boats, public ferries (water-buses), and gondolas roaming the waters. Just be prepared to encounter huge crowds of people, especially if you travel in summer.
While exploring, don’t forget to visit the main attractions too – the Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Basilica. The entry to the Basilica is free but the queues are long, and be prepared to pay if you want to visit its museum, treasury, or the Bell Tower.
Gondola rides officially cost €80 for 40min but it’s for the whole boat that fits six people, so you can split the cost. The gondoliers might raise the price though – you can try to bargain. You can also purchase tour tickets online and find the best value-for-money option.
Otherwise, you can get a 24-hour public transport pass for €20, including unlimited water bus and land bus trips (land buses in the mainland). You can use water busses (not to be confused with expensive water taxis used for personal hire) to visit the neighbouring islands, like Murano, famous for its glass-making industry, where you can attend a glass-making demonstration.
Situated a bit further out, Burano Island is full of brightly-coloured houses that together with blue canals and colourful boats create a picturesque view. Get those Instagram filters ready! Finally, you can visit the beach in Lido Island. These boat rides let you savour the views of the blue sea all around but they are quite long (60 minutes or more) so maybe don’t risk it if you have a flight to catch.