First solo trip to Italy: Pisa, Florence, Siena

trip-to-italy-image

It was early 2019 and I had been in Germany for around one year, but haven’t done a proper solo trip in Europe. But went to Amsterdam several times for work, to Switzerland with a student group, but not a trip that I organized all by myself. Then I thought that it’s a good time I do one.

Florence

TLDR;

  • Duration
    • 1 day in Pisa
    • 3 days in Florence
    • 1 day in Siena
  • Budget
    • Travel: ~€90 (Flight + Bus + Train)
    • Accommodation: ~ €170 ( 6 nights)
    • Food: ~ €100 – €150
    • Sightseeing: ~€100
  • Use apps
    • Inspirock
    • GetYourGuide
  • Don’t use ATM machines
    • Bring enough cash

Where to go?

Among many destinations, I chose Italy. And of course, there are many cities in Italy to visit, so I had to choose. After thinking a lot, I chose three cities: Pisa, Florence, and Sienna.

Then I had to decide where to start, how many days I will spend on each destination, how to travel in-between them.

  • Arrival
  • Pisa – 1 day
  • Florence – 3 days
  • Siena – 1 day and return to Florence
  • Departure

I will explain more about how to find places to visit in a different section of this article.

Planning

Since this was my first real solo trip, it took me a lot of time to plan everything as I was super cautious about everything.

There were several aspects I wanted to plan.

  1. Flying tickets to and from Italy
  2. Train tickets inside Italy
  3. Accommodation
  4. Tickets for sightseeing

Flights

Booking flying tickets are straightforward since there were many options. I booked my ticket with RyanAir and it was pretty cheap. It got the return ticket for $35.42 (€33.68), but the only issue was the flights were not from Dusseldorf International Airport, but from Weeze Airport: a local airport around 2 hours away from Dusseldorf city.

But given the price of the flights, I settled with that even though I had to spend around €13 more for the bus to get there. I got those cheap tickets to and from Weeze airport using Fibco: another local bus/train booking service offering cheap tickets between cities.

Trains inside Italy

I thought of booking train tickets beforehand just to prepared, and trust me it’s worth it. Even though you still can book trains after you get to Italy, this is much easier since you don’t have to walk around and try to buy tickets on Italian speaking counters.

I used the Tren Italia website to book the tickets and it’s very easy and straightforward as well.

I had tickets booked:

  1. Pisa to Florence and back to Pisa
  2. Florence to Siena and back to Florence

I didn’t use any other form of public transportation except a bus from Pisa Airport to my accommodation at the arrival. Otherwise, you can pretty much walk around everywhere, even though there is quite a lot to walk.

Accommodation

Even though this was my first trip, I was also on a limited budget and didn’t want to spend a fortune on hotels. So I decided to stay in hostels.

I usually use trivago to find best deals (yeah, I drink my own soup, but not sponsored!) and I found pretty cheap places to stay in Pisa and Florence.

In Pisa, I stayed in a very nice hostel called Hostel Pisa Tower, Pisa and I only had to pay €32,82 for two nights! And the best thing is it was walking distance to the Pisa Tower.

In Florence, I stayed in a hostel called David Inn, Florenz and I only paid €135 for five nights! Even though it was a bit expensive than the previous one, this hostel was at a walking distance to the Florence Dome and many other museums. So, it was also worth paying the extra amount.

Both of these hostels were super clean and super friendly. If you ever go to Pisa and/or Florence, I highly recommend these hostels!

Tickets for sightseeing

This was one of the hardest things to do TBH. The number of places to visit in these cities is humongous and it’s super easy to ill-plan (if that’s even a word).

There were two main challenges.

  1. How to optimize the visits to cover most of the places
  2. How to book “skip-the-line” tickets

Itinerary

The first one can be a very hectic task, especially when we don’t know how much time would it take at a given place, as we don’t really want to be late for any of the locations.

We could spend hours spending looking at Google Maps and try to optimize the shortest or the most optimal path to cover all our destinations, but nobody has time for that! There should be an app for that!

And yes, there is. It’s Inspirock.com and it’s awesome! We only can start by giving out the dates and the cities we want to visit along with our preferences for the locations (i.e art, culture, nightlife, etc.) and it will generate a custom itinerary for us!

Suggested timetable from Inspirock
Timeline suggested by Inspirock
Map view with directions

There are many other options in the app such as booking tickets for the sights and booking accommodation apart from the itinerary generation. This is one of the best travel planning apps I’ve ever tried and the best part is it’s FREE! You should definitely give this app a try on your next trip.

Book tickets

I didn’t use Inspirock to book tickets for the sights. I used another app called GetYourGuide. The app itself is free, and it’s like a hub to buy tickets for (almost) all the touristic places.

Don’t even think about visiting these places without having a ticket already booked.

You just have to type which city you want to visit, the types of places you want to go, and the dates and it will show you a lot of options to chose from skip-the-line tickets, guided tours, audio guides, city tours, and many more.

GetYourGuide app

GetYourGuide team is just a broker for buying tickets. In stead of you going through all the websites and booking tickets for different places, they will do it for you using their direct connection with the sights for a special price.

But sometimes your reservation might get cancelled or rejected from the sight (i.e. museum) due to many reasons such as renovation, over-booking or even bad weather. In that case, GetYouyGuide team will help you to find another place to visit during that time.

Places I visited

During the time of one week, I’ve visited many places that I couldn’t even count or remember. But here are some significant places you should visit.

Pisa

Florence

There are hundreds of places to visit in Florence! If you’re into culture, art and old architecture, Florence is like heaven.

Here are some awesome places I visited.

Michelangelo’s David

If you’re in Florence, this is an obvious place to visit. This amazing sculpture of a young man (named David) is standing among hundreds of astonishing sculptures by various artists including Bernini.

Ufizzi Gallery

Ohh my!!! This is one hell of a museum to visit. It’s enormous and has more than a thousand valuable paintings, sculptures, and more. You will at least need 4 hours to walk around and around 5-6 hours if really want to enjoy it.

This amazing museum shelters art from well-known artists such as Giotto, Simone Martini, Piero Della Francesca, Beato Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Mantegna, Correggio, Leonardo, Raffaello, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio. I will NOT post all the pictures I took there on this article, as it’s a lot. But here are some significant ones.

Florence Cathedral with the Dome

This is the symbol of Florence! If you go to Florence, this is a must see place and you should try to get on top of the Dome to see an astonishing view of the Florence city.

Dante House

Are you a fan of Dante Alighieri: the writer of the famous poem series Divine Comedy? In other words, the base of the famous novel/movie Inferno by Dan Brown? Yeah, it’s him!

One of the hidden gems in Florence is the House of Dante: the house of the Dante family. It’s a very small museum in a very well hidden corner in Florence yet within a walking distance from the center.

Note: This place was not listed in the GetYourGuide app, so I had to buy tickets from the counter at the premise.

Ponte Vecchio

This is a stone bridge near Palazzo Vecchio and many butchers, jewelers have their stalls on and around the bridge.

Timelapse on the bridge

Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence

Santa Croce, Florence

Palazzo Vecchio

This is the town hall of Florence.

Leonardo Da Vinci Museum

This was on the opposite street where I stayed and it’s a pretty cool place to visit. However, I didn’t find the 14 EUR ticket fair TBH. And we can’t take photos inside the museum, so nothing I can share here.

However, there are a lot of models of the designs from Da Vinci which you should try out. There are gear systems, pistons, aeroplane models, and many more.

Some more photos from Florence

Siena

Siena is a village bit far from Florence towards the south of Italy. But your can easily reach there via train and I took an early train from Florence to reach there.

The village is very calm and picturesque. You would immediately appreciate the quietness and the fewer tourists there. They have great authentic/local food such as White Pizza and great Wine.

Things to note

Plan ahead

  • Book your accommodations beforehand since it can get pretty expensive.
  • Book/reserve the tickets for the sightseeing way ahead.
  • Better to buy the train tickets if you’re planning on traveling within Italy.

Be aware of ATM scams

Avoid using ATM’s as much as possible, especially in shady areas.

I had to get some cash and I had to use an ATM machine in an alley. Then a day later (on the day before last), I had my ATM card scammed where I had unauthorized withdrawals from my card. I (stupidly) canceled my ATM card immediately, leaving me only 5 Euros to survive a day. Thankfully, I had everything booked ahead, except food of course. I used my Sri Lankan credit card to buy two meals and thank god I had it with me!

I somehow got those amount reimbursed, but it’s not worth the risk. So bring enough cash to Italy!

Taxes

There are several taxes you have to pay when you visit touristic places in Italy.

Like any other touristic city, you have to pay the city tax when you reach the accommodation, which is €1 per person per night.

There is another tax called Coperto: the tax/fee you have to pay for table at a restaurant for occupying space there. It sounds funny, but you have to pay that. It’s usually €1 or €2 per meal and it’s not shown in the menu or anywhere. So better to ask it before sitting down 😉

Don’t Tip!

When you go to a restaurant, it’s a custom/norm to leave a tip for the waiter. But that’s not the case in Italy. Mainly because almost all the employees get a decent wage. In other cases, most of the restaurants (maybe not bigger ones) are family businesses, so they don’t really need any extra money from you as a tip.

Be aware of scammers

The roads are filled with scammers trying to sell you different stuff. They’re always on the run as it’s illegal to sell things on the open areas on the street. And there is no guarantee on the credibility of the stuff they’re selling and they could even be stolen ones. So as a rule of thumb, don’t buy things from these kind of sellers.

And also, keep your luggage and valuables always at your sight. The last thing you want is to lose your wallet or passport in Italy!

Summary

As the first solo trip, I’ve learned a lot not just how to properly plan a trip, but also how to survive in another country for a week as a tourist. It’s definitely out of my comfort zone, but that’s the fun and the learning of traveling.

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