Rick Steves Doesn’t Know Everything: How to See the Real Italy

Written by Kaden June 21, 2016

The owner's were so happy to have us eat there that he wanted a picture with us!

Eat gnocchi, it's the best!

If you are going to travel to Europe and you haven’t heard of Rick Steves, you should do a quick Google search.  Over the years, Rick Steves has produced several excellent guides to help you hit all of the key parts of Europe, including monuments, museums, and restaurants.  I suggest you use them when you start planning your European excursions (I know I’ve found them useful).  However, I also suggest that you to not be afraid to think outside of the book.  Below are some of my personal experiences of stepping off of the beaten tourist path and exploring aspects of Italy that I never knew existed.

Visit More Than the Tourist Sites

During my time in Italy, I have traveled to Venice, Florence, Pisa, and Rome and they were all beautiful places.  However, I noticed something that each one of these places had in common: Americans.  All of these places were swarmed by American tourists.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all of these cities, but I had to go outside of the main hubs in order to have a true authentic Italian experience.  One of the best places that I did that in was Lucca.  Have you heard of Lucca before? No? Exactly. On the train from Pisa headed back to Florence, we stopped in Lucca because of a suggestion from a friends.  I was not disappointed.  Lucca is a walled city with a beautiful downtown market area and parks to visit.  If I hadn’t listened to someone outside of a travel website, I never would have found this gem of a city.

Try New Foods

Coming to Italy, I wanted to get as much pizza and pasta as I could get my hands on.  When I first started going to restaurants though, I didn’t really venture far in the menu, ordering “safe” foods like cheese pizza and pasta with meat sauce.  It wasn’t until I went to a pasta-making class and ordered gnocchi (noodles made out of potatoes) that I realized that there were other great foods that I had never known existed.  In addition to the foods I ate, I also expanded on where I ate.  Initially, I tried to focus only on restaurants that had a menu in English and had nice seating.  This changed when my group of friends walked into an Italian butcher shop after hours of walking and decided to “settle” on eating here.  I was shocked as I had some of the best salami and cheese that I have ever had (and I couldn’t pronounce a single one).  When you travel in Europe, make sure you eat at places you never would have and order foods that are new to you.

Embrace the Culture

This is the most important part of a trip to anywhere: embrace the culture.  Getting to learn about a culture that is new and completely different than my own back home is something the part of my trip to Italy that I will remember the most.  However, this would not have been possible if I had not ventured out of my comfort zone during my travels.  Traveling to non-tourist areas and eating at hidden restaurants gave me a chance to truly see how people live their life in Italy.  Italy is a MUCH more chill country than the United States.  Italians value truly living in the moment and worry less about trying to achieve goals and career successes.  Take the time to talk to the local people and shop owners and hear about their life experiences.

Don’t take this blog post as me bashing on tourist sites.  I’ve loved everywhere that I have visited!  More so, use this as inspiration for you to travel off the grid and see the other, real side of Italy.