Italy is well-known for its rolling Tuscan hills and divine cuisine. While road tripping the Tuscany area over the summer, my family and I left Rome and drove to Siena, setting up home base just outside the city walls. We stayed in an apartment rental that was once an old horse barn now completely remodeled into the most beautiful apartment with breathtaking views from the flower garden.
Tuscany can be challenging as rental cars are restricted in many of the walled, hilltop cities. Choosing this rental just outside Siena allowed us easy access to the city bus as well as the highway to reach other famous Tuscan cities. There is no rail system in Tuscany, which makes it necessary to rent a car or book a tour of this area of Italy.
We rented a car from Avis at the Rome Airport and drove to Siena from there. The rental process was smooth, and the airport is easy access right to the interstate that takes you to Siena. Italy does however have some of the strictest rental policies around. For one, you must get an additional international driving permit from your local DMV before you go to Italy. Second, you are required to purchase total collision insurance in addition to your personal auto insurance.
You can rely on a map to drive in Italy, as highways are pretty straight forward. However, GPS will help you find parking and specific locations easier. You have a few different options when it comes to getting GPS directions. You can pay for an international data plan from your cell phone provider ($10 a day for Verizon), download the map of Italy on your Google Maps app while connected to wifi before you hit the road, or choose a rental car that offers GPS.
I hope this post sparks your interest to visit this city and to love it as much as I do. I used Rick Steve’s Guide to Italy as my “tour guide in a book” if you will. He describes each destination beautifully and provides the history that makes everything come to life!
For cheap flight options, sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights to get alerts when cheap flights are taking off near you. I started this European trip in Paris, France, because Scott sent me an alert for a flight from Atlanta to Paris for $495. Once you are in Europe, easyJet has cheap, country hopper flights, and I could not have been more impressed with easyJet as an airline company.
Siena, Italy is known for medieval history and impressively preserved architecture. Many still live in and within its walls, keeping up Siena’s romantic reputation and cheering for their favorite team during the annual horse races in the square. Siena is a bustling city in tourist season, but quite walkable. Stay on the sidewalks as city buses stop for nothing! Just wandering the streets is breathtaking when admiring the architecture that remains perfectly sound to this day. There are plenty of things to do in Siena to explore this area for at least 2 days. A few popular activities in Siena include shopping, eating, visiting museums, take a tour or class, and having an elegant Opera evening.
Most Tuscan cities have cute, touristy shops that offer post cards, trinkets, and lots of leather! Italian leather is something you will want to take advantage of while here. Real leather is hard to come by in the states, but even the smallest of shops in Italy offer genuine leather purses for as little as 20 Euro. You could also grab a tasteful leather journal to record your best Italian travel memories. I grabbed my green, stamped leather purse from an upstairs vendor as well as leather bracelets for friends back home.
It’s no secret that Italy is known for incredible food– pizzas, pastas, aperitifs, gelato, and delicious wines. You are basically good to go with food on every corner in Siena. We found a quick, a la carte spot that charged by the kilogram, and everything was delicious. Look for where locals are eating on their lunch break, so you know it must be good.
Siena is full of history, culture, art, and beauty. To get the backstory on this incredible city, visit a few of the many museums it offers, or visit them all if you are staying a few days. Museo dell’Opera Del Doumo boasts of having one of the best views of this beautiful city, so be sure to bring your camera for scenic, landscape shots. The Siena National Art Gallery is also a great way to see the local talent that came from this area. Be sure to bring your student ID everywhere in Europe as most attractions offer a discount. Another excellent museum to view is the Santa Maria Della Scala, which holds the actual Fonte Gaia that was replaced by a replica fountain in Siena’s main town square, Piazza del Campo.
Take a Tour
What better way to experience a city than with a local? I took a tour and pasta-making class through Airbnb.com while visiting Rome, and it is one of my favorite memories of Italy to this day. Airbnb has several experiences in Siena with great reviews, including cooking classes, wine tastings, Opera evenings, and themed tours. All you have to do is search your destination on Airbnb.com, and choose the “experiences” option to display all tours and activities offered in that city.
Elegant Opera Evening
The best Opera, according to Trip Advisor ratings, is the Italian Opera in Siena, which is only a 10 minute walk from Piazza del Campo. Adult tickets are 25 euro and students get a 10-euro discount with their school ID. Children under 12 are free. The opera begins at 9:30 pm, so get all dressed up, and enjoy a delicious Italian dinner before the show.
I hope this post sparks your interest to visit Siena and to love it as much as I do. I used Rick Steve’s Guide to Italy as my “tour guide in a book” if you will. He describes each destination beautifully and provides the history that makes everything come to life!
For cheap flight options, sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights to get alerts when cheap flights are taking off near you. I started this European trip in Paris, France, because Scott sent me an alert for a flight from Atlanta to Paris for $495. Once you are in Europe, easyJet has cheap, country hopper flights. I could not have been more impressed with easyJet as an airline!
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While exploring Germany, my friend and I hopped from one village to the next on a scenic Rhine River cruise for only 10 euro. This River Cruise could really be utilized for a good 2-3 days, exploring castles and roaming each riverside village. In this blog I’ll explain why the KD Rhine River cruise is something that should be experienced while staying in Western Germany.
KD is a company that runs several cruising boats that float up and down the Rhine River all day long. The cruise ticket, found at the ticket booth near the river in each village, is only 10 euro and includes access to every KD boat on the river for one whole day. For example, a boat makes several stops at different villages throughout the day. You can get off of one boat, explore the village, and board another KD cruise to get back to your hotel. This cruise sells food and drink,which is most likely the only way that they make a profit. We just enjoyed the cheap ride. This cruise has an audio system that is your own personal tour guide, explaining the history behind each castle that you pass. My favorite history lesson was about the famous Lorelei cliff- known for its mythical sirens supposedly enticed sailors with their beauty and caused numerous shipwrecks.
Why is KD Such a Good Deal?
Well, let me tell you! I’m not sponsored by them, I just thought this was an awesome experience. KD cruising is easy, relaxing, educational, and cheap. A train ticket to the next village along the Rhine would be about 10 euro, but it wouldn’t be near as fun as cruising! We took all our belongings from our hotel in Boppard, Germany and used the cruise to get to our next stay in Bacharach. While that’s one way to do it, booking a stay for one day in each village, you could also take the cruise a few days in a row, exploring different villages during the day, and taking the cruise back to your hotel in the evening. While many villages are similar along the Rhine, they each have distinct characteristics that are fun to experience. First, each village has its own elaborate church, no two are the same. Second, unique castles tower over several villages, creating the fairy tale reputation that the Rhine River is so famous for. In Boppard, ancient Roman and Medieval walls still stand throughout the town. And in Bacharach, old castle ruins sit at the peak of a hill and have been recreated into a youth hostel with incredible views. When we climbed to the castle, a middle school group was staying at the hostel for a historical and fun field trip.
The beautiful, quiet villages along the Rhine River are worth visiting for the castles alone, but add the beautiful scenic views and a sunny boat ride, and you have an unforgettable German vacation.
Just before the rush of tourist season, Europe’s crisp spring breeze begs for an afternoon espresso while touring its finest sights. Here are some places that stood out as my favorite stays this past May when travelling across Europe. In my opinion, all of these cities are bucket list quality, each having their own unique look and activities.
This quaint little town, situated along the Rhine River, is filled with rich history. An old, large post office hides tucked away in the back near the church, now serving delicious cuisine to its outdoor guests seated underneath cozy overhead heat lamps. Half-timbered houses adorn the sides of the cobblestone streets, some serving their local wines while others still housing families. After school, children flood the restaurants enjoying soda and snacks after a long day of learning. The nicest elderly lady ever known opens up her centrally-located home to weary travelers of all kinds as she runs an incomparable Bed n’ Breakfast. At the top of this fairy tale sits medieval castle ruins that have been recreated into a youth hostel with an envious view.
Things to do (recommend 1-2 days):
Altes Hausfor delicious white wine and apple strudel// Stahleck Castle Hostel// Wernerkapelle Church ruins built in 1287// 200 year old post office (posthof)// Well-preserved town wall and tower (best seen at castle)// KD Rhine Day Cruise//Haus Irmgard Orth(BnB we stayed in).
The views, the music, the arts, and the romance combine to make this city as fabulous as everyone claims it to be. Seated below the Monmarte Sacre Ceour are artists of every kind expressing their love for their home with each brush stroke. Tall buildings with ironwork and matching stone make for a uniform, yet dreamy style throughout the entire city. The Eiffel tower is surrounded by lovers, giving a red rose to their significant other in exchange for a kiss under the magnificent structure. The largest museum in the world is at the end of a bridge famous for its “love locks.” Many lock their initials to Pont des Arts Bridge and thrown away the key, symbolizing their love for Paris and for another. Along the streets outside the Louvre are curious green boxes that seem like nothing when closed. However, when their contents are unlocked, the boxes showcase paintings, old French novels, and trinkets that grab the eyes of every passerby. A lively area, the Latin Quarter, is filled with souvenir shops, tourists, and an enormous amount of food. The most divine crepes are sold in this quarter for the small price of 5 euro from the window. Savory and sweet aromas flood the streets and invite people to stop for a taste. On the other side of the street is the famous gelato shop, which makes beautiful flower designs out of a decadent frozen treat. The beautiful architecture throughout this city is incomparable, especially the Notre Dame. With cafes and bakeries at every corner, sitting with a coffee and admiring the view is just as amusing as traipsing through every tourist must-see. Around many of the city’s landmarks, tour guides tell interesting stories that explain the significance behind the building. This city steals the heart of many who choose to replace their goodbyes with, “until next time.”
Things to do (recommend as long as you can stay): Eiffel Tower// Notre Dame// Le Bon Marche (1st Dpt. Store)// The Louvre// Musée d’Orsay// Latin Quarter food// Love Locks// Green Box shopping// Palais Garnier performances// Saint Chapelle// Sacre-Coeur// Grand Palais// Place de l’Hôtel de Ville// Lauduree (macaron specialist)// Find elegant wedding and ball gowns for cheap near Gare Du Nord train station on Blvd. de Rochechouart// We stayed in an Airbnb in a great location
The quiet town of Brugge seems like it came right out of a storybook. Different colored, connected brick houses show off their various eves and architecture. This city is known to be frozen in time as it was built up in the 1500s with wealth from its lace industry and has remained dormant ever since. Though now a popular tourist town, the city still remains quite peaceful, allowing the chimes of the Belfry to be heard from blocks away. The scents of Belgian fries and famous, home-made chocolates fill the streets, inviting pedestrians to stop for a taste. Ivy covered houses hanging on the edge of canals create gorgeous scenes and backdrops for pictures. A steep climb to the top of the Belfry is challenging, but rewards every climber with an incomparable view of the beautiful city below.
Things to do (recommend 1-2 days): Climb the Belfry// St. Salvator’s Cathedral// The Old Chocolate House hot chocolate// Historium Bruges// Provinciaal Hof// Loppem Castle// The Markt (the square)// Church of Our Lady// Basilica of the Holy Blood// Homemade chocolate stores// Famous Belgian fries in front of the Belfry// Groenerei Canal// Several museums that I did not experience (beer, lace, chocolate)// We stayed in an Airbnb
Often described as a “mini-Amsterdam,” Haarlem has the lively activities and architecture of Amsterdam, but is much smaller and easier to get around by foot. The Grote Markt in the center of town is filled with visitors and locals alike who grab a drink, take a seat, and people watch the day away. To the right of the Markt towers a massive cathedral that is impressive both in size and design. The cobblestone road, Grote Houtstraat, makes shoppers’ dreams come true, offering every type of store imaginable with some stores like H & M reappearing two and three times. On Mondays and Saturdays, locals set up a supply of food trucks, tulips, clothes, shoes, and other goodies that fill up the entire square, catching the eyes of visitors and filling their noses with delicious aromas. This market offers what the regular shops offer, but for 5 to 10 euros less. Tucked away, but not forgotten, is the historic house of Corrie ten Boom, where tourists line up to see the Jewish hiding place during World War II. Her life is dignified throughout the tour of her home. Her faith in God is believed to be the very reason she lived the life that she did, helping the poor and protecting the weak.
Things to do (recommend 3-5 days): Shop until you drop// Ten Boom tour (available in English)// Tour by foot (tour map and explanations at visitor’s centers)// St. Bavokerk Church (Mozart played on the organ)// Molen de Adriaan Windmill// Bike the city// Eat and people watch at one of the many restaurants in the Grote Markt// We stayed in an Airbnb.
I hope this helps you while planning your next exploration!