Original blog post featured on The Journal by Intrepid, by Julie Faye Cermansky.
Italy isn’t all cozy gondola rides in Venice and romantic Vespa rides through Rome. There are some incredible cities that ooze with experiences for solo travel, you just need to know where to go.
Not to say that a trip to the floating city of Venice isn’t worthwhile, but it can feel more suited to an idyllic couples getaway than a solo adventure. Not to worry; we’ve got you covered. From the rolling hills of Tuscany to the spectacular coastline, the dream Italy trip can be yours – whether you’re thinking of adventuring on your own, or solo on a small group tour.
So, now for the good stuff. Here are five great cities in Italy for taking in the country’s history, culture, beauty and – of course – delicious eats.
Naturally, we couldn’t talk about travel in Italy without swooning over the food. It’s hard to hone in on just one food mecca, but Bologna surely gives other cities a run for their money. Located in the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy, Bologna is nicknamed la grassa aka “the fat one”… It’s the place to indulge in ragù alla bolognese, mortadella sausage, tortellini and tortelloni (oh yes, you bet you can taste the difference).
It’s no secret — Bologna’s food is great company on its own, but there’s more to look forward to than that. For solo travelers, cultivating your relationship with food is but one of this historic city’s perks.
Bologna is also nicknamed la dotta, meaning “the learned one” as it’s the oldest university town in Italy. This learning culture makes Bologna all the more welcoming for solo travelers who, like students, bring a spunky energy and thirst for experiences (and for aperitivo). Many students speak English, which makes it all that much easier to learn the story behind the many massive graffiti murals and ask for help navigating through its roughly 40km of gorgeous porticos. That said, the medieval city center is perfectly compact, so easy to stroll through.
You’ll also notice eccentric Gothic fashion cues, perhaps influenced by the Gothic landmarks like Basilica di San Francesco and Abbazia di Santo.
VISIT BOLOGNA ON INTREPID TRAVEL’S 8-DAY ITALY REAL FOOD ADVENTURE
The city of Siena in central Tuscany, just south of Florence, is made up of stunning pink-hued medieval buildings built on top of three hills. It’s equal parts peaceful as it is rich in action. And then there’s the Palio horse race. Siena is famed for this race that takes place twice every summer (mid July and the end of August) in the main square, Piazza del Campo.
On the car-less roads, you can visit wine caves and sample some of the most delicious Chianti, Brunello, and Montepulciano wines that are exclusive to the region. Venture underground to explore the tangle of caves that house massive aging barrels. Buff up on your wine knowledge and food pairings as you hop from one sampling from the next – you’re well on your way to becoming a wine connoisseur!
The World Heritage Site also has many sweet shops for panforte di siena, a traditional fruit cake, and ricciarelli, Sienese almond cookies. And if you thought Siena couldn’t get any sweeter… One of the oldest universities is located there. Even more excitingly, you’ll find that Siena has very friendly people who are often out and about enjoying the city – just as you are.
Cinque Terre is made up of five fishing communities lined up along the Italian Riviera: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. This UNESCO World Heritage site is known for the mosaic of pastel houses that stretch along the coast. Stunning stuff. When in Italy for solo travel, this is the perfect place for “me” time.
One of the main attractions is the footpaths leading from one city to the next. It’s a foolproof way to explore the city and stay active, whether you want to spend the hike in your own head or chat with people you meet on the trail. There are different sections of the trail, each offering their own level of difficulty, so you can choose to challenge yourself or take it at your leisure.
Hiking is the best way to experience the rugged coastline from innumerable numerous vantage points and capture postcard-worthy photos. You’ll also get views of vistas, olive groves, and vineyards — a solid slice of la dolce vita.
Cinque Terre isn’t only a playground to be explored by foot. Pop into a kayak near Portofino or take a dip in the ocean and kick back on the beach. After, head down to the docks where fisherman and sailboats are docked. These oceanside towns have mouthwatering seafood, like friggitoria, a bite-sized seafood that’s served in a cone for optimal snackability.
VISIT CINQUE TERRE ON INTREPID’S 8-DAY HIGHLIGHTS OF ITALY TOUR
Florence is the dreamy capital of Italy’s Tuscany region. It’s home to some iconic Renaissance architectural masterpieces, so you’re not short on things to do and places to see. Thankfully, Florence is easily walkable so you’re not in the crossfire of traffic as you try to navigate between sights.
In Florence you can be admiring the works of da Vinci and Michelangelo one minute, exploring the Duomo cathedral another and end up on Ponte Vecchio the next, checking out the gold shops. Take in the ultimate view of Florence at Piazzale Michelangelo or take a stroll through the lush Boboli gardens.
Naturally, with all of these stunning points of interest, Florence is hot on the tourist trail. You’re bound to meet like-minded travelers to explore the city, perhaps over a cheeky afternoon Aperol Spritz? And of course, we yet again need to mention the food — arguably one of Italy’s main attractions.
You don’t need to be sitting around a table with your aunts and cousins to feel the familial atmosphere in Florence. Restaurants here are brimming with diners, especially when there’s a football match on. And dining alone in Florence isn’t uncommon; you can always grab a slice of pizza to eat on the edge of the Arno River.
How could you not indulge in Tuscan cuisine (think seasonal truffle dishes) or abide by the saying “a gelato a day keeps the doctor away” (…that’s how it goes right?). It’s also advisable, like anywhere, to pick up on a few essential Italian words that will come in handy with local interactions. That way, you’ll be able to barter for leather goods at San Lorenzo market like a pro.
Lucca is a little slice of Tuscan heaven. Renaissance-era walls enclose the historic city center and its large medieval square. Rolling hills, filled with olive groves and wineries, surround the walled-off areas.
Lucca’s agritourism and slower pace of living have created the ideal setting to learn olive oil-making processes and enjoy the countryside. Embrace slow travel by biking along Serchio River and cool down in one of the rivers’ swimming holes on hot summer days.
It’s a lot less hurried and crowded in Lucca —two characteristics that most travelers can come to appreciate after spending time in bigger cities. It also helps that the center of the city is closed off to traffic so you can mosey along the cobbled roads and admire sights like San Michele church without dodging motorbikes.
Thanks to its wholesome atmosphere, travelers tend to feel very safe in the city and less bothered by persistent vendors. This vibe even extends to Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, the city’s medieval oval plaza. Its surrounded by cafés serving dishes like tortelli lucchese, a signature regional dish of a delicious meat-stuffed pasta.
(Siena photo c/o Ambra Tonini. All other images c/o Intrepid Travel.)