We recently took a 12 day trip to Italy. Looking back, we should have done longer, but the amount we accomplished in the time we were there was staggering. Although finding craft brew in Italy was tough, it was not impossible.
Our visit included 3 nights in Venice, 3 nights in Florence, 2 nights in Cinque Terra, and 2 nights in Rome (travel time knocked off essentially 2 days). We also had a 7 hour layover, which allowed some time to hop into London and get a brew.
In short, Rome had the best beer scene, Florence seemed to have a growing one, Cinque Terre had one good beer bar, and Venice was…tough. I will go through each city in the order we visited.
Venice is kind of insane. We arrived late night out first night, so in reality had 2.5 days to explore. For me, that was enough.
Venice is strikingly beautiful. Literally around every corner you have a completely unique, beautiful setting. I found this to be especially true the further out you got from the main touristy areas (ie St. Mark’s square). Maybe this was because there were way less people.
Each day we were there we walked about 16 miles. To us, that was the way to actually see and experience Venice, as many of the more tourisy things here did not hold much appeal. Part of the reason we put in so many miles simply had to do with the fact that you are constantly lost. I tend to have a pretty good sense of direction, and can get around most cities within a few hours (I am a bit of a planning nut and so spend many hours looking at maps of where we go), but this was far from true in Venice. At first, I struggled with the lack of control, but by the second day, this became part of the fun.
We stayed at an incredible AirBnb. The hosts were unlike any AirBnb host you will find. They gave us detailed instructions before we arrived, met us at the boat station and walked us to the apartment, gave us a quick tour of the area and detailed instructions on a map of where to go and what to see. I would highly recommend staying in any of Maurizio’s apartments. Here was ours: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1005660
As mentioned above, Venice was tough for beer. The bar scene is fun, just not for beer, especially craft brew. This is made more difficult by the aforementioned propensity to get lost. Meaning, even if I could find a place that looked good for beer online, actually physically finding the place was easier said than done. Given this, we simply walked around and if we saw a place that looked good, went for it.
Fortunately, on day 1, we found Birraria La Corte in the Campo San Polo. We had not researched this place, but I saw “Birraria” and had to go. Apparently, this was the first local brewery in Italy! The building also at one point housed the bulls for the bullfights in the Campo. There is a huge patio that overlooks the Campo, and the best beer selection we found in Italy. I had a few Brad IPAs (from Bradipongo brewery, a little north west of Venice) to go with my pizza, which were not bad. I would absolutely return here if in Venice again (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187870-d793024-Reviews-Birraria_La_Corte-Venice_Veneto.html)
The only other bar we found that had more than the usual Forst, Peroni ot Birra Moretti was the Corner Pub. We stumbled across the Corner Pub as part of one of our 16 mile death marches. The Corner Pub was just as it sounds. We actually sat outside at a little to-go counter and enjoyed a beer just before noon (do not judge, we were on vacation), overlooking some solid scenery. I cheated, and had an Irish IPA (McGargles Knock Knock Neds IPA) which was OK. They had a few other beers on tap, as well as wine and a full bar. Basic food that looked good as well. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187870-d1953035-Reviews-Corner_Pub-Venice_Veneto.html
Other than these two spots, nothing else really stood out for beer. I drank a good deal of wine, and bought an IPA in the grocery store to enjoy at our apartment as the gondoliers floated by, many times singing.
One of the more enjoyable things to do in Venice definitely was to enjoy the Cicchetti. Each night we bar hopped, had a few small plates (cicchetti is essentially Venizia tapas) and tried some interesting dishes (lots of fried seafoody dishes). You could typically score a glass of wine for 1-3 euros (yep!) and go to a few different spots. This made for a smaller dinner, which was fine by me.
The one touristy thing we did do that I recommend is a sunset cruise along the Grand Canal on the vaporetti (Water bus). Cheap but beautiful, and by this time the city has quieted down so we were able to score outside seats and just enjoy the views.
I am not sure if I would have Venice high on my list of places to go back to. I cannot imagine it in the high season, as even when we went it felt overrun by tourists. By far, I enjoyed Venice the most after 8 PM and before 11 AM. The middle of the day is crowded and the charm is gone. That said, it truly is a remarkably beautiful and unique city.
We had 3 full days and nights and Florence, but I could have spent way more time here. Florence was a city I would live in in a heartbeat. I am a water person. Since I was about 10, I have not lived more than 15 miles from the ocean. Florence has no ocean, just the Arno River. Still, I loved it.
Florence is rich with history and beautiful. The duomo and cathedral, the Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio, Piazelle Michelangelo, Piazza della Signoria and it goes on. Yet, at the same time, it is a modern city with great, diverse food, beautiful people and BEER!
We scored again with Airbnb in Florence. We stayed in the Oltrano (the “other” side of the Arno) about a block away from the Ponte Vecchio. Our apartment was certainly older, and up a step set up stairs 6 floors up, but my goodness, the rooftop deckS (yes, two rooftop decks) were unreal. Literally 360 degree views of all of Florence. All the sites visible, cool breezes, and a brew or glass of wine? Unreal. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1482355
(the pics do not do the view justice)
Our first stop when we arrived in Florence was Il Mercato Centrale. This is somewhat akin to the Chelsea Market in NYC or the Ferry Building Building in SF. The first floor is an assortment of butcher, cheese, olive oil, and pasta shops, with a few coffee shops and a solid amount of produce. You can walk around and have cheese samples for free, or pay for an olive or balsamic tastings.
The second floor is full of essentially to-go restaurants that you order at the counter and find a seat. There are a bunch of awesome options. A place with fresh made cheese and sandwiches, butcheries, a place with all truffle dishes, a vegetarian spot, pasta and it goes on and on. There is also a bar in the middle with a birreria, and a wine shop. The bar had a somewhat disappointing selection of beers. Most of the beers were Birra Moretti, and I ws hoping for more smaller craft brews. That said, the food made up for it.
The third floor has a sit down restaurant, but the second floor to me was the place to be.
Outside was a large leather and trinket gift area. Fun to walk around and buy a few gifts.
Close by is the BrewDog Firenze location. I have had a few of their beers before, but wanted to pop in to see if they had the Born to Die IPA. Unfortunately, they did not have it on tap, but rest assured, they had a (large) bottle. It was an astounding $15 euros, but I had to pull the trigger. It was worth it. Fantastic, hop bomb with a smooth crisp finish.
Florence has two other breweries, Archea and Mostoldoce. Give the slew of things we wanted to do and see, we only had time for one, Archea.
Archea actually did not brew the beer on site, and actually brewed it several hours away. The tasting room was a great little pub, with several of their own beers and a few guest taps. I actually really enjoyed their Hydra IPA. The bartender was great, good people inside, and overall a great stop. Highly recommend dropping in.
King Grizzly was a solid beer bar. Probably around 15 beers on tap, seemingly all or mostly from Italy. Good scene, good beer options, the kind of place I would go to on the regular.
On our last day in Florence, we hired a private driver to take us down to Siena and then through the Chianti wine district. No beer, but an absolutely fantastic time. Lot of wine, great food, olive oil and sites beyond belief. You can read more about our day on my Tripadvisor review of our driver, who was fantastic. https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187895-d4331380-r375836127-Alessandro_Cammilli_Private_Tours-Florence_Tuscany.html#REVIEWS
Overall, Firenze was incredible. I could write 20 more pages about our time there. We had a few fantastic meals (our lunch at Liberia Brac was one of the best meals I have ever had – https://www.yelp.com/biz/libreria-brac-firenze). The David was amazing, the duomo and surrounding area was overwhelming, the Oltrarno neighborhood was lively and welcoming. If I could only go back to one place in Italy, Firenze was it.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which will recap Cinque Terre and Rome.