10 memorable Italy experiences

10 memorable Italy experiencesAhhhh…Italy. So much to see. So much to do. So much to EAT. Every minute we have spent in Italy is a memorable moment, so it’s almost impossible to narrow our experiences down to just 10 memorable Italy experiences. But that’s the name of this series of posts, so I guess I’ll have to try!

Italy is a country of such incredible history and culture, natural beauty and mouth-watering culinary experiences. Plus it is a country of many contrasts. Milan in the north is very different to Naples or Sorrento further south. And Venice? How can I describe Venice other than as a real-life theme park?

Below I have listed our family’s top 10 memorable Italy experiences with links to the longer posts for each item. Like I said in previous “10 memorable…experiences” posts, these are the moments that have stuck with me, and bring a smile to my face at unexpected times, when I remember them.

1. Walking the streets of Pompeii

PompeiiPompeii Official English website, email: pompei.info@beniculturali.it  Phone: +39 0818575347

As I’ve described in an earlier post, Pompeii had been right up on my hypothetical bucket list since I was about 8 years old. There was something fascinating about a city buried in ash and volcanic stone, and therefore preserved for future generations to almost step right back into it.

When you’ve wanted to see something so much and for so long, there’s a danger it becomes over-hyped in your mind. But the much older Fairlie who eventually made it to Pompeii was not disappointed one bit. It is a quite a surreal experience to visit the excavations of Pompeii (and nearby Herculaneum/Ercolano) and see the ruins of towns as they were in 79AD, untouched by the layers of history and development that have altered all other towns around them.

But there is also an element of sadness when you realise what a terrifyingly horrific experience it must have been for the residents of those places to die in such an unstoppable natural disaster.

(Read more about our Pompeii and Herculaneum experiences here)

2. Experiencing Piazza San Marco without the crowds

San MarcoCity of Venice Tourist pages.

Anyone who has visited Venice lately will know that it is packed with crowds, particularly in and around Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square). It is difficult to ever take a photo without someone else’s body parts appearing in it.

So, to experience San Marco as we did, devoid of almost all other people was a very special moment. It wasn’t exactly planned though…

This post explains how this magic moment transpired…and why our mantra for that visit to Italy became, “Get there at opening time.”

(Read more about all our Venice experiences here.)

3. Wandering off the tourist track in Sorrento

SorrentoSorrento Tourism website E-mail: info@sorrentotourism.com  Phone: +39 081 8074033

On our last morning in Sorrento, we decided to wander off away from the busier main drag. Following (badly) a tourist street map of Sorrento, we ended up taking a turn which took us through what seemed to be a stormwater drain, but led us into the gorgeous area of Marina Grande (Big Marina).

It’s a beautiful small fishing harbour, only a few minutes walk from the centre of Sorrento, but with a totally different ambiance. You can read here why this is where we’ll return to, next time we visit Sorrento.

We walked through the fishing village, and across the narrow beach, where we watched fishermen repairing their nets before we found a cafe on the marina for our morning constitutional.

(Read more about our Sorrento experiences here.)

4. Swimming in blue grottos, Capri

CapriGianni’s Boat, Capri.  Phone: +39 338 1622275

It was Queenie’s 14th birthday while we were staying in Sorrento, so I thought I would organise something special for the day – the type of thing she would remember for the rest of her life.  And that experience was a boat tour around Capri, stopping to swim in grottos along the way. You can read about it in more detail here.

What girl wouldn’t want to say, “Oh, yes. I spent my 14th birthday sailing around Capri in Italy”?

The colour of the water in the grottos was incredible – azure, turquoise, aqua. As we jumped off the boat and swam through a particularly green grotto, I was struck by the thought that this was truly one of those experiences of a lifetime.

We used Gianni’s boat, and the service was excellent. When we returned to Capri marina to catch the ferry back to Sorrento, Gianni insisted on Queenie coming back to the cafe for special cake to celebrate her birthday.

5. Walking the Appian Way

Appian WayVia Appia Antica website (in Italian)

Sometimes there are incredible experiences that you could so easily miss out on, just because you’re tired and whatever it is seems too hard.  This was one of those times.

Reading the instructions in various guide books for how to get to the ancient Roman road known as the Appian Way and the various Catacombs along the road, made it seem like a very difficult task. It involved various forms of public transport, and then a walk…and we weren’t quite sure where that walk ended up exactly.

However, as described in this post, The Poolboy insisted and we gave it a go. And we’re so glad we did. Although the Appian Way is not far from the centre of Rome, it feels like you are miles away, out in the countryside.  And descending underground into the Catacombs was a fascinating experience.

(Read more about our Rome experiences here.)

6. Arriving in Venice in a water taxi

Venice Grand CanalI’ve posted before about the memorable moment experience of arriving in Venice via private water taxi from Marco Polo airport. It’s much more expensive than the ferry, but after a long-haul flight I think the door-to-door (or dock to canal dock) service is worth it!

And besides, that 20 minute speedboat journey across the lagoon, in addition to blowing away the jetlag cobwebs, becomes your own personal ‘James Bond’ moment.

When you’re standing in the water taxi though, awe-inspired by the iconic buildings of the Grand Canel, and a little groggy from your long flight, you just need to make sure you keep a watch out for low-bridges as you traverse some of the smaller canals en route to your accommodation.  (I’m sure there has been a few near misses…)

(Read more about all our Venice experiences here.)

7. Seeking out a local restaurant in Trastevere

Da Augusto.  Piazza de Renzi, 15,  Trastevere 00153 Rome. Ph: +39 06 5803798

Trastevere, an area of Rome on the  west side of the River Tiber has the feel of a small Italian town. It’s a busy place with people and cars all over the cobbled streets.  Streets run at every angle, and meet in tiny squares, which often contain a small church.

We spent a morning wandering through the streets, until close to lunchtime when we sought out a particular restaurant that had been recommended to us.  Da Augusto has the feel of an authentic Roman trattoria and serves good, uncomplicated food. This place is not fancy, but it is reasonably priced, the house wine is drinkable and served in carafes, and they write your bill on the paper tablecloth. Will it win restaurant gold-plate awards? No. But it was a fun experience and as we left, the queue of people waiting to get in stretched across the piazza.

But what makes this restaurant particularly memorable for me, was The Impossible Princess’s reaction at finding out the toilet was squat-style. The expression on her face was priceless.

(Read more about our Rome experiences here.)

8. The gattini of Italy

GattinoWhen you have a family who are as obsessed about cats as The Poolboy, Queenie and The Impossible Princess are, the fact that Italy seems to be over-run with the creatures is a matter for total delight. Everywhere we went, we managed to find cats of all colours, breeds and descriptions.

You can see a selection of the gattini (kitties) we encountered around Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast here.

9. Missing bits and naked bods in Florence


The city of Florence is, of course, awash with sculptures created by the renaissance artists as they rediscovered classical forms of sculpture. Michelangelo’s David and Bartolommeo Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, as seen in the photo above are just two of many examples.

The statues are mostly larger than life, and (quite obviously) generally naked.  That bit didn’t phase our girls one bit. But when we visited Palazzo Pitti and they discovered that nearly all the male sculptures in the rooms there were missing their…ahem…appendages, they were intrigued. (You can read this story in detail here.)

So, that led to a discussion about the ‘fig-leaf campaigners’ of the Counter-Reformation.

And that’s what I love about travel with kids…it opens up so many varied learning experiences.

(Read more about all our Florence experiences here.)

10. The Italian stairmaster experience

Milano DuomoOfficial website of the Duomo di Milano. Via dell’Arcivescovado, Milan

After three weeks in Italy, eating pasta, enjoying the delicious gelato, sipping the occasional vino, I was sure I would have gained several kilograms. However, when we returned to Australia, both The Poolboy and I had actually lost weight.

I put that down to the amount of walking we did in each place we stayed, plus what I like to call ‘The Renaissance Stairmaster’. Everywhere we went, there was a church tower, church dome, church rooftop, or steep stairs to a church to climb. And we couldn’t resist. See high place…have to climb.

The highlight of these was the climb onto the roof of the Duomo in Milan. Built in the 14th Century, the Duomo is a magnificent example of Gothic architecture and one of the largest churches in the world.

There is a lift to the rooftop, but we used the stairs, and once you reach the top you step out and walk on the actual roof of the Duomo, which was a bit of a surprise. The views across the  city to the snow-peaked Alps are magnificent.

(If this list of Italy experiences has you salivating for more…click the following link to read all my posts about Italy.)


This post is linked up to the #SundayTraveler linkup – go there to find lots of fabulous travel posts.

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