As an art history major and taking an Italian Masterpieces class, lots of time is spent touring museums and visiting churches. Though spending time in church is probably the last thing you think you’d want to do, some of the coolest art can be found in these places: the tomb of Michelangelo in Santa Croce, the frescoes by Masolino and Masaccio in Santa Maria del Carmine, and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. Even if art isn’t your thing, if you’re in Italy, at least take the time to go to the Uffizi (originally office buildings designed by Vasari for the Medici family) or spend some time in the Duomo (if you don’t mind enclosed spaces and hundreds of stairs, take a trip up through the dome for a great view of the entire city).
If you decide to spend a day on some art, there are some things you need to know to be prepared. Gypsies and pickpockets love to hang out around tourist areas, most living right around the Duomo. If you’re carrying a bag, keep close track of it, holding it close to your body and making sure it’s zipped up—though keep in mind, there are some who will go the extra mile and cut your bag if they can discretely. Many suggest using a money pouch—kind of like a fanny pack but under your clothes and very easily hidden—to protect your money, even if your bag does get compromised. Mostly, if you pay attention to your surroundings and tell the gypsies a firm “NO,” you’ll get by just fine.
If you’re going into a church, you need to be dressed appropriately—even in the summer. Shoulders and knees need to be covered. Occasionally they’ll let you get away with your knees showing as long as they’re almost or partially covered, but you need to decide if it’s worth the risk. A few churches, like San Miniato al Monte, will provide awkward poncho like cover ups if you’re dressed inappropriately, but you will just look like a ridiculous tourist. Bring a scarf or shawl to wrap around your shoulders. Opt for bermuda shorts or a long skirt to hide those knees. You can always bring some clothes to change into if you get too hot, but the interior of churches are generally nice and cool.
Finally, you’re going to want to take tons of pictures to show off to your friends…but you’re going to have to refrain. Most museums with few exceptions will allow you to take pictures—if you can, the flash MUST be off, or you’ll add to the damage many of these works have already suffered. The majority of churches would also prefer you looked around without filming or photographing its content, partially because some are still filled with practicing monks or just because the decorations are old and need good maintenance. Even if you can sneak a picture or two, try to hold off from doing so; it will only make the paintings fade and flake sooner, and soon only reproduced images will be left—we definitely don’t want that.
No matter where you go in the world, there is sure to be a wide variety of art and architecture marking its growth and culture. Take the time to appreciate it, even if you aren’t interested in museums. You may be surprised by the talent you stumble upon.