The main problem for anyone planning a trip to Italy is that it’s impossible to see everything you want in one trip! This leads to the biggest travel planning mistake that most people make in Italy: They try to see too many things in too short a time. We hate to be the bearers of bad news but overloading your itinerary is a recipe for stress.
We understand why you do it and we sympathize, but let us repeat: rushing your Italian vacation is a surefire way to ruin it. Luckily, the solution is easier than you think: narrow down your focus and divide your time accordingly.
The rhythm of any trip to Italy, that is, how long you spend seeing what you came to see and experiencing what you came to experience, is just as important as what you see and experience. In fact, you could simply book a trip to Rome and spend two weeks hanging out there without ever getting bored. In order to help you get an idea of how to budget your time in some of Italy’s most popular regions, we have written three sample itineraries.
After many years of traveling in Italy and interacting with other travelers, we have honed the rhythm of these itineraries to perfection. Feel free to crib them as is, or use them as a base to create your own custom itinerary. In this case, the where isn’t important; it’s the when that matters. As always, we’ll be waiting in the comments sections for anyone with questions.
The Major Cities Trip
Italy has more major tourist cities than most countries. Of course, the capital is a must, but cities like Florence and Venice are big draws and, honestly, must-sees. This sample itinerary is perfect for the first-time visitor who wants to “see all of Italy” but can’t choose between zones. It gives a great overview of the most historically significant parts of the country. As a bonus, it will also help you plan where to focus your sightseeing during your return trip to Italy.
The Major Cities trip is a great introduction to Italy for those who want to see the most famous art and architecture in the country. It includes the Colosseum, the Duomos of Milan and Florence, and the canals along St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. To avoid packing in too much, we budget a minimum of two weeks to travel Italy. If you have anything less than that you should take a more leisurely trip (see below).
- Rome: 4 days
- Florence: 3 days
- Venice: 3 days
- Milan: 4 days
For anything less than two weeks you can make the following amendments:
Cut one city entirely or one day from Rome and one day from Florence. But don’t cut more than one day from each city.
Cut a city. Rome and Florence have the most to offer the majority of visitors to Italy so they should probably remain on your itinerary. Choosing between Venice and Milan depends on the time of year and what you are looking for. Venice has more tourism draws like the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, and of course, all those canals. However, it is also packed with tourists in the high season. Milan is not as pretty and has fewer attractions but it’s cheaper, less crowded, and has better food. If going in the summer we would recommend Milan. On the other hand, an autumn or winter trip to Italy would have us favoring Venice.
Choose one of the major cities that you are dying to see and stay there. Seriously, one is enough. even in a city as small as Venice you will have more than enough to keep you occupied as long as you take your time and really immerse yourself.
When you plan your trip to Italy, consider no fewer than 3 days in Rome. As both the ancient and modern capital of Italy, it’s a hub for a lot of things you’re going to want to see. The history, sights and feel of the city can hardly be seen with less time.
Venice can be visited in a day trip, and many people do it that way, but they miss out on the fantastic nightlife, the feel of Venice with fewer tourists, and the beauty of the city by night. If you really can’t give it three days, you should at least try staying for one night. Take the next day to visit the Venetian islands of Burano and Murano.
Know Before You Go:
Dedicate all of your time to each major city and don’t stray, there’s no time on this Italian travel plan to visit small towns; plan your travel days in advance: you can book high-speed train tickets between cities at TrenItalia or ItaloTreno. Or, if you think you might feel overwhelmed by the Italian train system, why not opt for easy-to-use ItaliaRail? It provides 24/7 English-speaking customer service, facilitates multiple currency options and allows you to purchase tickets for up to 20 passengers in one booking. Oh, and it has a VIP Lounge in Rome Termini Station! If you have only one week but don’t cut a city, you’re still committing the biggest mistake travelers make in Italy.
For more on getting from one city to another check out our guide to traveling by train in Italy.
The Regional Trip
A regional trip is perfect for those who have already visited the major Italian cities in a previous trip to Italy and want to really take some time in one area to experience it like a local. It’s a great way to fully immerse yourself in Italian culture and avoid the crowded, tourist routes. Though you can choose any region that interests you, Tuscany is probably the most popular region in which to base yourself. It offers a great mix of history, culture, cuisine and natural beauty with the added bonus of being close to transport hubs like Rome and Florence. If your Italy trip takes you farther afield you can apply these same time frames to any region but you will need to choose your own destinations.
Though you can always base yourself in Florence and see Tuscany with multiple day trips, we’d suggest splitting your stay. Try a few nights in Florence with a day trip to Pisa and a separate day trip to the walled-in city of Lucca. Then, pack your bags and head into the countryside to the red-brick town of Siena. From there, you can take day trips to San Gimignano and nearby Volterra, or south to Montepulciano and Pienza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just don’t forget to try the wine!
Florence: 4 full days. From Florence, take a day trip to Lucca and schedule about a half day for Pisa, with the rest of the day spent in Florence.
Siena: 2 days in the city, with a further 8 days using it as your base to travel to other areas of Tuscany. From Siena, dedicate day trips to Montepulciano, Pienza, San Gimignano and Volterra, with a half day dedicated to Monteriggioni
This leaves you with 1 day of extra travel time and one day to return to your favorite town or simply take a well-deserved rest.
Combine San Gimignano and Volterra and/or Montepulciano and Pienza.
Cut a day from Florence or cut two of the towns farthest from your accommodation. Take a bit more time to explore the towns you do see.
Base yourself only in Florence. Take 2 full days to see the city, then take a day trip to Siena and another to any other city on the list near Florence, such as Pisa, Lucca or San Gimignano.
Insiders’ Tip: A regional trip is all about diving deep into a specific region. Besides Florence, Tuscany’s famous towns and cities tend to be quite small. You can easily visit one town per day, and sometimes even more than one! Your best time saver here is a clear plan about which towns are near to each other and a really good train schedule or GPS.
Know Before You Go:
Hilltop town hopping during your day trips means a lot of driving (or bussing it) around countryside, but in beautiful Tuscany that’s an advantage. For starters, you won’t have to lug your suitcases around or waste time checking in and out of various hotels. Also, your base will feel more like home. Instead of staying in a travel hub you might also consider setting up in an agriturismo or a small apartment; it’s a chance to really get to know a region and get a taste of small-town Italy; with regional trains you don’t need to your tickets in advance, but you should read up on the train schedules ahead of time.
The Thematic Trip
A thematic trip to Italy is a unique way for you to connect with your destination. Not only will you see towns that you may not have visited otherwise, but following your theme is sure to create lifelong memories and unique experiences in each place you visit.
The theme is up to you. Perhaps you want to trace the twisted trail of Caravaggio around the country or sample Italy’s best outdoor adventures. One of the most common themes for Italian trips is food. An Epicurean itinerary will not only give travelers a chance to see less-visited regions and understand the customs and peculiarities in Italy’s cuisine, it’s also just delicious!
Sample Epicurean Itinerary:
Though every region in Italy has its own unique cuisine (See: There’s No Such Thing as Italian Food), some lend themselves to tourists better than others. Head to Naples to try traditional Neapolitan pizza and sample their tradition-infused coffee culture. Then go to Rome to explore the beautiful contrast between the city’s love of pork and its delicious kosher traditions in the Jewish quarter. From there, move on to Emilia Romagna, potentially the most famous region for food in all of Italy. After all, its capital city, Bologna, is even nicknamed “The Fat One”! Try the famous ragù sauce on top of fresh tagliatelle pasta or in a traditional, gluttonous lasagna. Finally, Mantua, in the heart of northern rice country, was named Italy’s Cultural Capital for 2016 and the European Capital of Gastronomy for 2017!
- Naples: 3 days
- Rome: 4
- Bologna: 3 days
- Mantua: 3
- 1 day extra travel time
Cut one city. Which city depends entirely on your tastes.
Visit just Bologna and Mantua in the north, or Naples and Rome in the south.
Explore the culinary intricacies – of which there are many – of just one city.
Your thematic journey can lead you to smaller cities and lesser-known destinations but it can also see you traveling longer distances. In order to avoid the “big mistake” of trying to fit too much in, consolidate your decisions. Any Italian will tell you that food should be enjoyed at a leisurely pace and a few meals in a given destination is always better than just one. You would be surprised how many things there are to try in each place you visit if you just take the time to look.
Know Before You Go:
If the point is to follow a specific theme, you’ll need to do plenty of research beforehand. We have dozens of food articles for specific destinations on our blog, but search books, blogs and documentaries as well. Don’t forget that unless you are very dedicated you’ll want to see a few things outside your chosen theme, so be sure to budget time for that in each location as well, but don’t stray from the map.
The itineraries above won’t help you see everything in Italy. In fact, if you follow our instruction you’ll actually see less of the country than most but you’ll enjoy what you do see a lot more. We all want to see everything, but rushing from destination to destination only adds stress and takes away from your overall experience. Don’t worry too much, you’re sure to return. After all, there’s always more to explore!