Italy; the most beautiful, romantic overcrowded and over-touristic country there is. Italy has so much to offer it's no wonder the whole world aims to see it. The historic churches, the delightful food and the gorgeous countryside are just a few reasons why this country is remarkable.
I began my tour of Italy in Naples and used the public train system to travel through four major cities and one get-away location all in seven days! Yes, it's totally possible to see the majority of Italy in one week and the train system is simple and easy to navigate, not to mention quite affordable. It was an action-packed week, but it was fun and I learned a lot about Italia and the culture it has to offer the world.
In my week of Italian adventures I spent less than $600 USD. Yep, lots of people still think I hit the lottery and that's how I travel, but that simply isn't the case. I choose the backpacker route which means things are constantly kept as cheap as possible. I started saving as soon as I came back from my last trip and I worked six days a week for several months in order to build up enough funds for this journey. I would have liked to have saved a little more but time and chance brought my trip quicker than expected, thus the challenge of traveling on a shoestring is even more invigorating. If you too are looking at making a quick and cheap trip to Italy, continue reading my notes on such.
I had read lots of mixed reviews before going to Naples. Some people said it was Italy's underrated gem while others said it was the armpit of the country. I spent two nights and one full day here and looking back I would definitely say it's worth skipping. As a solo traveler, I felt safe in every city except for Naples. The streets were full of trash and sketchy characters, the traffic was insane and the sites were less than captivating.
I recommend instead, staying in Pompei, Salerno or anywhere on the Amalfi Coast. I spent half a day in Pompei and it was amazing! I didn't have time to check out Salerno or the Amalfi Coast but everyone I talked to said it was definitely worth a trip.
Best Experience: The pizza was life-changing, probably because it was invented here. It's the only good thing I have to say about Napoli.
Worst Experience: Walking the streets at any hour of the day felt uncomfortable and messy.
My Experience: http://www.thesparklinghippie.com/europe/naples
Rome amazed me simply because of the depth in historical value. Not only the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Roman Forum but all over town I found rubble and old churches and burial grounds that were much older than my country of origin. What a mind-opening experience!
I spent a day and a half in Rome. I logged twenty walking miles during my stay, though the city was so interesting I never felt as though I had walked that far!
Best Experience: The Borghese Gallery. As an avid art fan, the Borghese was definitely a great way to spend a few hours. It is one of the world's best private art collections and I can definitely see why! Hint: If you plan on going to this Gallery or any other big-ticket site in Rome, I recommend pre-booking online so you can skip the long lines.
Worst Experience: The crowds. Two days was plenty for me, after that I was ready to get out of the crowds. Fighting through tourists and tour groups was not my favorite.
My Experience: http://www.thesparklinghippie.com/europe/rome
Florence is the city of fancy clothes and beautiful piazzas. I loved the atmosphere but hated the crowds and prices of everything. As a backpacker, I enjoyed the views but there was little else to do there besides spending loads of money on designer clothes. Unless you must see the Uffizi or Academia, I would recommend skipping this in favor of a more affordable option if you are on a tight budget.
Florence is the home of gelato. Even if you've had it before in other Italian cities, you have to try it again in Florence—it's even better!
Best Experience: Uffizi Gallery. I really enjoyed roaming through the halls of this world-reknown art gallery that houses the best selection of Italian Renaissance art.
Worst Experience: I found everything in this city to be over-priced. I did a load of laundry and it was five euro to wash, one euro for detergent and another five to dry. The Aussies I talked to said that was the cheapest in the entire city. The gelato, the food and the museums were equally as high in my opinion.
My Experience: http://www.thesparklinghippie.com/europe/florence
After Rome and Florence I was starved for space in the great outdoors. When I heard about hiking the coast of Tuscany through five small villages, I decided I had to do it. Just a short train ride from Florence, this was the best part of my trip in Italy. I only stayed one night but I could have easily spent several days meandering through the small towns and enjoying the views of the coast.
Though it is mostly a getaway for middle-aged couples, I'd definitely recommend visiting as a backpacker. The views from the hike were amazing and the other backpackers I met were adventurous and amazing people. The coast was easy to navigate and there were several affordable housing options on AirBnb and HostelWorld.
Best Experience: The hike! I hiked the entire route of the Cinque Terre on all reds in on 8 hour period. I only recommend doing this if you are well-rested and pressed for time. It was the most invigorating hike I've ever done, but also the most rewarding.
Worst Experience: Just like everywhere else in Italy, the eating prices were fairly high in Cinque Terre but I supposed the view and the atmosphere makes it slightly more tolerable.
My Experience: http://www.thesparklinghippie.com/europe/cinque-terre
Venice was the last stop on my itinerary before flying out of Italy. I had dreamt of the beautiful canals and I knew it would be a beautiful place. Aside from beauty, I had little expectations for Venice simply because I hadn't found much by way of itinerary, other than wandering through the lazy streets.
While the view was excellent, I felt the town had little else to offer backpackers. There was plenty of shopping and eating but it was all expensive and meant for lovers or families. I'd recommend skipping this destination if you're tight on cash and time.
Best Experience: The campground I stayed at outside of Venice was the best of its kind. I met lots of people, relaxed by the pool and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Worst Experience: I only walked around the city center for a few hours. It was hot, muggy, crowded and unaffordable.
My Experience: http://www.thesparklinghippie.com/europe/venice2
In just one week I felt as though I really soaked up a lot of Italian culture. I learned lots about the history, tried lots of great food and even picked up some of the language (which is remarkably close to Spanish!) If I did it over again I would go out of my way to find some smaller communities off the beaten bath to visit. I also would have enjoyed visiting or working on a winery in a rural area.
The people of Italy are kind and relaxed. I found them very eager to help tourists. Many of them talked my ear off even though they knew I didn't speak a word of Italian!
Wine, pizza, pasta and gelato are reasons enough to visit the alluring country.