How to Backpack Through Italy

Traveling in Europe on a college student's budget is always daunting, especially for first time travelers. To get the most for your money you need to know where to go to have the most fun for the least dough.


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    Buy a Eurail pass to get the most travel for your money.
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    Pick the one that works best with your travel plans, and compare the price for individual train rides before using your Eurail stamps up. Another option is the TrenItalia pass, an intra-Italy train pass - be sure the check the travel restrictions to see which rail pass is best for your trip.
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    Check out the famous landmarks in Venice first, but keep an eye out for incredible finds. It is easy to get lost, but once you accept this, your visit will be a lot more fun. Embrace the winding paths and mysterious turns! Be sure to purchase some Murano glass, made on an island nearby. Take the water taxi for a cheap tour of the city, while actually cruising the canals! By the way, if you don't stop and get gelato, don't even bother telling anyone you went to Italy.
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    Milan is beauty incarnate. See the grand Cathedral (which recently underwent a massive renovation).
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    Check out La Scala Opera House (said to be the most acoustically perfect theatre ever). Do not miss Da Vinci's Last Supper painting, housed in a nearby church. Tickets can be hard to get, so it is best to purchase a bus tour of the city in your language, then make sure the tour includes a visit to the church! That is the easiest access, though treasure your time with the art, as it is a constantly rotating crowd, portioned and monitored by security guards. You get one look, and no photos... the gist shop is great and has all the image reproductions you could want.
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    Go shopping! Look for the cute boutiques, which have something for all wallet girths.
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    By all means do not miss a stop in Cinque Terre, on the northwest coast. It may take time to get to by train, but it is worth it. These five seaside villages are the realization of the quaint picturesque scenes Americans envision. Most importantly, the best things about these cities are cheap or free. One can spend evenings watching the sun set on the rocks with a bottle of wine and a group of new international friends. And for only a few Euros, you can try the incredible pesto, which was created in this region. The fresh seafood is amazing as well, though beware most places charge by the weight of the fish. By far, the most famous attraction in Cinque Terre is the trek across the four mountains that separate the cities. The climb gets harder as you go North and the third mountain is a two-hour trial. But, the magnificent views, sights of the towns, and sense of accomplishment make the walk well worth it.
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    The next city down the road is Florence. The Florence flea market is a great place to pick up your mementos and Euro fashion at the best prices in Italy. Unfortunately, the museums are costly and there are many of them (even many churches charge entry fees.)
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    Research ahead of time and pick one or two places if art is important to you. One of the city's best kept secrets is the Piazza Michelangelo. A simple hike or bus ticket takes you to the hilltop Piazza, just outside of the city, which gives way to beautiful views of the city. This trip is especially worthy at sunset. A hip hangout seems to be in front of the Duomo, so head there at nightfall to see all sorts of locals and internationals alike. There is a great pizza shop, which sells by the slice across the street from the Duomo, great for the budget traveler! Siena, another city very close to Florence is also a gorgeous city.
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    Making your way down the country, the next stop is Rome. The great thing about Rome is that most of the monuments are free. Some of these include the Pantheon, Roman Forum, Circus Maximus, Victor Emmanuel Monument, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain. The two big ticket items frequented by tourist are the Coliseum and the Vatican museums. The Colosseum is overpriced and underwhelming, and is usually accompanied by a long line. The Vatican museum does contain some famous masterpieces, including the Sistine Chapel. But, for those who are averse to spending money, you can still see most of the Vatican including St. Peter's Basilica for free. At night, the Piazza's are a flurry with activity. Camp di Fiori is fully of bars, many with Americans, and pub-crawls. The Piazza Navona is filled with street performers and artists, as well as outdoor cafes. The most beautiful sights in Rome are those of the monuments at night.
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    Travel back through the Trevi Fountain and the area from the Victor Emmanuel monument to the Coliseum to see the beauty of the monuments in lights.


  • Make sure to validate any public transport tickets you ever purchase (bus, train, metro).
  • In Cinque Terre, the most attractive cities are Riomaggiore and Corniglia.
  • If cheap hostels are not for you, do your research and be willing to pay a few more dollars, especially in Rome.
  • As always, respect the culture you are visiting... a smile helps out any situation.
  • If you would like to spend a longer time in one place find a website that connects students and travellers looking for free accommodations with families and seniors looking for care. You get free room and board in exchange for few hours a week of helping out. You could do tutoring, child care, senior care, home care, etc.
  • The pub crawls are great and cheap (especially in Rome) be sure to check them out if you're on a budget!


  • Pickpocketing is a possibility in Italy. Most travelers choose to wear a money belt (which you can buy in a travel store) under their clothes.
  • It is easy to get lost.

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Categories: Italy | Backpacking and Hiking