Rather than staying at hotels or B&Bs we opted to rent apartments during our stay. Overall, renting apartments was much more convenient and affordable than staying at a hotels since we could cook in the apartment – plus we had a lot more space! Choosing to stay in an apartment was the best decision I could have made.
Finding the right apartment took a lot of work! There are a ton of websites that connect short term renters with hosts and I found that most of them are don’t make it easy for the renter to really understand the location of the apartment or the apartment’s amenities. For example, we were staying in Florence and Rome for several days each and I wanted to make sure that our apartments in both cities were in the their respective historic centers and within walking distance of major attractions since we were not planning to rent a car. Most of the sites I searched use names of regions that don’t appear on traditional maps. Since I am not from the area, I had no idea where these regions were, what they meant, and whether attractions were actually within walking distance.
In the end, I discovered that mostly all of Florence’s historic center is walking distance from everything. As long as you stay in the historic center somewhere, you are fine for walking everywhere in Florence. Rome’s historic center, however, was more confusing (I think). I found that you have to be very careful where you choose to stay or you will need to pay for transportation (car, train, cab) and that expense can really add up! In the end, I found a map that was a huge help in finding the best apartments. It is hyperlinked here, if you need it. In short, the area (and the area in which we stayed) with convenient walking access to just about everything a tourist will want to see is the Campo Marzio. From there you can easily walk to the Piazza Navona, Coliseum, Forum, Vatican, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. The only time I used a cab was coming and going from Roma Termini train station which was a bit further than I was willing to walk with luggage in hand (though it is possible to walk to Termini from Campo Marzio – about 35 minutes’ walk at a normal pace from where we stayed).
I booked the Florence accommodations using Booking.com and I used 9Flats.com to book the apartment in Rome. Both apartments were excellent but my actual booking experience was better using 9Flats. The nice thing about 9Flats was that everything is a credit card transaction and conducted through 9Flats. With Booking.com, I had to really work hard to find apartments that didn't insist cash payment either via wire transfer or in person at the time of check-in. And, for something so new to me, I wanted to know that I could dispute erroneous charges, if necessary. Also, 9Flats has other protections in place to make sure that you aren't scammed. For example, you pay 9Flats using a credit card and they hold the money until you are checked into the apartment so you aren’t gambling. Finally, I really liked 9Flats selection of apartments. I definitely recommend 9Flats to anyone looking for short term apartment rentals for vacation.
When using these apartment booking sites, be sure to use the amenities filters on the site to make sure you get the right apartment for your needs. For me, internet access was a must. Additionally, I wanted to travel light – no checked luggage! That meant I needed to be able to conveniently do laundry mid-trip. So, a washer or easy access to a laundromat was important. As an interesting tid-bit, while finding apartments with washing machines is easy, it is virtually impossible to find apartments with driers. People in Italy line dry their clothes. So, after washing clothes in our Florence apartment, I had to do as the Romans do J and hang laundry. The clothing dried and I was surprised to find how nice my laundry smelled once it dried. While I won’t be throwing out my home drier any time soon, I am no longer horrified by the idea of line drying clothes on vacation. In Rome, I had no washer, so I took necessities to a local cleaner.