Rome: In September, my husband and I kissed our pups goodbye, boarded a plane, and spent an unforgettable 25 days exploring Italy.
Though we loved the entire vacation, 10 experiences stand out as the best things we did.
We escaped the crowds of Venice by exploring nearby islands. Venice is an absolutely beautiful city, but with all the other tourists, the tight streets and narrow canals can start to feel too crowded after a while.
So, my husband and I boarded a ferry to Lido, the barrier island separating Venice from the open sea.
Here, we rented bikes, rode along the beach for some stunning views of the Adriatic Sea, and boarded another ferry to Santa Maria del Mare.
Once we arrived, we biked to the fishing village of Pellestrina and sampled the freshest-tasting seafood I’ve ever eaten.
I highly recommend visiting the surrounding islands if you have the time to leave Venice’s city center and want an authentic, less-touristy experience.
As an avid hiker, I knew I had to take a trip to the Dolomites.
We rented a car for this leg of the journey and saw stunning, bright-blue lakes and climbed the mighty northern Italian mountains.
The hike to Lago di Sorapis was the highlight for me, though I’d definitely say it’s a tough climb (we saw a woman with a sprained ankle being helicoptered from the summit).
For beautiful lake views without the steps, I recommend checking out Lago di Braies, which is accessible by car.
The boat tour of Cinque Terre was amazing. The five coastal towns of Cinque Terre are colorful and charming, but they’re also tiny and can get pretty crowded.
We went on a small-group boat tour to avoid the tourists and see the Cinque Terre.
It was admittedly one of the more expensive splurges of our trip, but we were out on the water and observing the towns for three hours.
Plus, the boat anchored in a few spots so we could get out, swim in the crystal-clear Ligurian Sea, and explore some caves.
The boat captain seemed knowledgeable about the area and answered all our questions — and for the last hour of the tour, he pulled out snacks and prosecco.
I won’t ever forget Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence.
We saw a lot of churches during our month in Italy, but none were as awe-inspiring as the Florence Cathedral (also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.)
When we went, it seemed the best way to see inside and jump the long line was by climbing the dome itself.
But be warned: There were a lot of steps, and it was narrow inside.
Still, climbing the dome allowed us to see the interior frescoes up close and get the most enchanting city views.
My husband and I loved the cooking class we took in Florence.
While in Florence, we signed up for a Tuscan cooking class.
Our chef walked us through how to make different kinds of pasta from scratch and had us help him cook chicken cacciatore, salad, and homemade gelato.
Learning to cook was fun, but we also enjoyed the camaraderie with other tourists sharing their travel experiences.
We swapped stories and suggestions for the remainder of our trips and received recipes to try back home.
We biked the Appian Way in Rome.
Rome is full of unbelievable ruins, but observing them in a moment of solitude among the roar of traffic and flood of people can be hard.
To escape the hustle and bustle, my husband and I rented bikes and rode them far down Rome’s oldest roads along the Appian Way.
Though the roads were initially full of people, the longer we rode our bikes, the fewer tourists we saw.
I recommend visiting the Catacombs of St. Callixtus and Villa di Massenzio.
Visiting smaller towns was a nice break from the tourists.
Rome, Florence, and Venice are Italy’s heavy hitters, but I wanted to experience less-touristy Italian culture.
That’s why my husband and I planned some day trips to smaller towns with fewer tourists: Siena, San Gimignano, Bracciano, and Orvieto.
My favorite memories in Italy were sitting at a café, sipping espresso or an Aperol spritz, and watching the day go by.
We visited Pompeii. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer size of Pompeii.
Exploring the archaeological site reminded me of how much damage the Mount Vesuvius eruption really did.
Though we spent five hours exploring the vast city, it felt like we barely scratched the surface.
I recommend getting an audio guide and going at your own pace.
The Path of the Gods was unforgettable.
For most travelers, the Amalfi Coast is the ultimate place to relax and unwind.
For me, it meant waking up at 6 a.m., going to a small town far off the beaten path, and hiking down the mountainside on the Path of the Gods.
It was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done, as I got sweeping views of the sea and the towns of Praiano and Positano.
We even met a flock of goats being shepherded by an adorable farm dog.
Just be warned: The strenuous hike ends with roughly 1,700 unforgiving steps down to the city.
Relaxing on the island of Capri was a great way to end the trip.
The island of Capri is a major tourist spot during the Amalfi Coast’s busy season.
We beat the crowds by getting the first ferry out in the morning and returning on the last boat of the day.
Once we arrived, we went to the small town of Anacapri to ride the chairlift to Capri’s highest point and see some magnificent views.
We also left time to hike down the Instagram-famous Via Krupp to a small beach, enjoy a few cocktails, and swim in the sea.
After nearly a month of intense traveling, I needed to lie on the beach in one of the most beautiful places on earth.