If you are a planner like me, and enjoy scheduling your travel itinerary to the hour (or half hour?!), then read on!
I extensively researched many travel blogs trying to deduce how many days to spend in Italy on our trip. Unfortunately, I have a regular job which prevents me from taking elaborate long European holidays. If one week is all you have - make the most of it!
Here are my recommendations for how to divide up your week. This is based on the assumption of flying in on Saturday, and leaving the following Sunday.
Fly into Rome (FCO) airport.
Consider purchasing a SIM card here for an increased price due to convenience. There is a TIM kiosk which I used and it was activated within 15 minutes. (This kiosk does not seem to honor the advertised prices online). Otherwise you will have to locate a store that sells SIM cards in the city (I have used TIM and Vodafone services with success).
Settle into your hotel/apartment.
Visit one tourist site if you have time. The Vatican is only open on the last Sunday of the month (Free).
8:30 am: Colosseum - the busiest compared to the Roman Forums or Palatine Hill (purchased ticket covers all three), try to see it first. Your visit may be longer or shorter depending on your interests and how long the line is. Depending on the season, booking a tour that can skip the line can be worth it.
9:30 am: Roman Forums / Palatine Hill. You could spend all day here if you wanted, exploring the ruins. It's mostly outdoors with little shade.
12 pm: Foods choices near the Colosseum are sparse. Return to your hotel for a respite from the heat (or cold, or tired legs). Try Nonna Betta (Jewish Italian food) or Dar Filettaro (fried fish) for lunch.
2 pm: Go to Capitoline Museum for beautiful statues and other historic works of art and archaeologic finds. Warning: You could spend a whole day in this museum. Famous include the colossal head of Constantine, She-Wolf, and the entire Palazzo Nuovo (statues for days!)
6 pm: Venture over the river to Trastavere. Check out The Basilica of Santa Maria for intricate 12th century mosaics that will take your breath away.
7:30 pm: First reservation seating at Da Enzo. Walk past the line of unfortunates and go to the front for a seat at a table reserved for you. Order the artichoke starter, amatriciana (or two), polpette al sugo, and their mascarpone custard with wild strawberries. Enjoy.
Wednesday (Rome / Florence)
7 am: Visit St. Peter's Basilica, climb the dome (opens at 8 am), and line up for entrance to the Vatican Museum (9 am). Visit the Sistine Chapel first to get a decreased size crowd, and make sure to spend time in the Gallery of Maps. Don't miss the Raphael Rooms and try to spot on the School of Athens fresco: Plato, Aristotle, and Michelangelo. If you have time left, consider visiting Bonci for flaky, fresh, and dreamy pizza. If you don't want to venture that far out (it is slightly out of the way), then try their outpost at Termini station (though I feel the quality is a bit different).
12 pm: Catch the train to Florence from Termini Station. Which train to catch? Read up on my post about trains.
1:30 pm: Settle into your new digs! Check out the Uffizi Gallery. Closed Mondays. While it will be difficult to see everything, favorites include Spring and The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, The 7 Virtues by Botticelli / Pollaiolo, Medusa by Caravaggio, and the Leonardo da Vinci room. Check hours for the gallery, the museum stays open later in the summer.
4:30 pm: Visit the nearby Palazzo Vecchio to see beautiful tapestries and Dante’s mask. I found the audio tour (at least English version) quite interesting and explanatory. Look for the extensive Medici symbols everywhere! Note that Palazzo Vecchio closes early Thursdays.
6:50 pm: Check out Ponte Vecchio bridge, filled with jewelers (initially butchers were here, but the Medicis soon changed when they used the secret corridor to travel between Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti.
8 pm: Eat the butter chicken at Trattoria Sostanza, say yes when they as if you want the lemon squeezed on top. Reservations recommended.
11 am: Quick meal at Mercado Centrale: pastas and other Italian food in a nice variety.
12 pm - 2 pm: Hop on a train to Venice. Thankfully Mercado Centrale is right next to the train station.
2 pm: Catch a vaparetto to your hotel (hopefully near a vaparetto stop otherwise you will be dragging your poor luggage over many stairs and bridges). A water taxi will get you there faster but its expensive if you aren’t splitting it with friends. Settle into your hotel and relax, you are in the city of love!
3 pm: Catch a ride on a gondola. It’s touristy but you will get to see views of canals and buildings that you won’t be able to see otherwise. Depending on where you hire the gondolier, your ride will be in that vicinity. If you want to see the Rialto bridge or another landmark while in the gondola, try to catch one in the vicinity or ask if they can take you there.
4 pm: Visit the Rialto bridge and wander around Venice. Explore the artisanal shops and visit the quirky bookstore Acqua Alta Library where books are stacked high.
7 pm: Dinner at Osteria Alle Testiere where the menu changes based on the availability of the fresh seafood.
Time to go! Be sure to make the necessary preparations ahead of time as traveling to the airport or train station by boat can be more time consuming. Be sure to check tax refund protocol to make sure you do the steps correct. More information can be found here. (Apparently you can even file your tax refund in “downtown Venice” here.
What city do I fly into?
The cheapest option I've found is usually Rome. Occasionally Milan or Naples. Venice is unlikely given it's location.
Roundtrip from the same city is cheaper.
To maximize your time, fly into one city, take trains in between cities, and fly out of another city. I suggest going South --> North or vice versa. The trains are very easy to manage, unless you have a lot of heavy luggage.
If you still want to do roundtrip, then keep in mind:
Rome <--> Milan is 3-3.5 hours (by train).
Rome <--> Venice is 3-4 hours (by train).
Rome <--> Florence is 1.5 hours (by train).
Let's assume that you are flying into Rome and flying out of Venice. Let's also assume that because you only have 7 days, that you focus on the big cities/sights. While Milan is vibrant and dynamic city, I chose to exclude it on this list. If however your interests strongly include visiting the fashion capital of Italy, La Scala opera house, or seeing the Last Supper in person, then modify accordingly. Venice is a hit or miss. Venice is awe-inspiring, but some may be overwhelmed by throngs of tourists.
Be sure to double check museum time openings/closures for the most up to date information! Keep in mind that this is a very ambitious itinerary as I like to pack in as much as possible when I travel.
9 am: Borghese Gallery - make a reservation ahead of time, in advance especially in tourist season. Visits are scheduled as 2 hour blocks of time. First visit is at 9 am. Closed on Mondays.
11 am: Take a stroll around the Borghese gardens next door and head towards lunch
12 pm: Enjoy tagliatelle bolognese at family owned Colline Emiliane. Reserve in advance!
1:30 pm: Take in the Trevi Fountain next door. Beware of the hoardes of tourists which guard the fountain at all hours. (Hint: For the best photo op - wake up very early!) No tickets needed (as of August 2018).
1:45 pm: Walk towards the Spanish Steps and do some luxury shopping. For a nice refreshing treat, try Fatamorgana gelato. (Address: Via Laurina, 10, Roma, Italy)
3 pm: Visit the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Explore the city center of Rome with its narrow alleyways and ivy covered buildings (think Hotel Raphael). If you are tired of wandering the city, consider dropping by Palazzo Doria Pamphilj for viewing of a large private art collection (Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian). Last entrance at 6 pm.
6 pm: Have a drink at Etablì in a delicious leather armchair and you may suddenly feel like you are sitting in someone's living room.
7 pm: Dine at an established favorite Armando El Pantheon: reservations made in advance! Order the cacio e pepe or spaghetti alla amatriciana. And if they have the fava bean pasta, definite yes.
8 am: Visit the Duomo, Bell tower, Baptistry, and Duomo Museum (all in one spot!). If you want to climb the Duomo, timed reservations are required. Beware though, the Duomo and Bell tower both have a lot of stairs. Our legs ached the next day from the climb. No elevators available. The Baptistry is a quick visit but a line can take an hour long in peak season. We saw a young female turned away because she wore a spaghetti strap dress. (She was later readmitted after purchasing a shawl nearby). Shorts are supposedly not admitted but we saw them letting men in with shorts on. The Duomo Museum has the original Gates of Paradise doors (the ones on display outside are a beautiful replica). Be sure to look for Ghiberti’s self portrait in the doors and brush up on history regarding the 1401 competition. Wikipedia has a nice article that sums it up neatly.
12 pm: Put your name down for Trattoria Mario and order the 'pasta with meat sauce'.
1:30 pm: Visit David at the Accademia, you can buy your tickets online in advance. The museum is small, but nevertheless a line can form to get inside. Closed Mondays.
2:30 pm: Palazzo Medici may not look that formidable on the outside, but inside you can see the innerworkings of one of Italy's most renowned family dynasties. Spend some extra time if you can in the Magi Chapel and see if you can find all of the Medicis that Gozzoli placed in the frescoes. Palazzo Medici is closed on Wednesdays.
4:30 pm: Spend some time either at the Medici Chapel (that green marble!) and stroll to my personal favorite church in Florence Santa Maria Novella. When at Santa Maria Novella, read up on the frescoes beforehand for full appreciation. Shop at Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy for their luxurious pollen cream, or at least visit to take in the sight of their ancient apothecary shop. Alternatively, you could visit Palazzo Pitti across the river to see the stately royal apartments or gorgeous Boboli gardens.
7:00 pm: Across the Arno river (the side that Palazzo Pitti is on), try the wild boar pasta at Osteria Del Cinghiale Bianco.
9:30 am: Admire the beauty of the Piazza San Marco and the San Marco Basilica (the visit is quite brief, quoted 10 minutes on their website but you could linger for longer). There was a small queue in May (despite our “reserved time”) but the wait was minimal and the line moved fast.
10:30 am: Visit the San Marco Campanile (right next to the Basilica) where you can ride an elevator in the belltower to the very top for a beautiful 360 degrees view of Venice. I highly recommend reservations as the line without is much longer.
11:30 am: Visit Palazzo Ducale (also very close to the Basilica) to see where the doge lived. My favorite detail is in the Chamber of the Great Council where the Doge Marin Faliero had a failed coup d’état and thus subsequently his portrait is “blacked out” by a black shroud.
1 pm: Enjoy a meal (albeit pricey but delicious) with a beautiful view at the Club de Doge of the Gritti Palace. It is iconic.
3 pm: Visit Ca’ Rezzonico for beautiful Venetian architecture, gorgeous rooms, frescoes, and paintings (including Canaletto). And for something entirely different, try the Peggy Guggenheim museum which is situated in a beautiful building of its own. For the art fanatics, visit Gallerie dell’Accademia (I recommend researching the art for Guggenheim and Accademia beforehand as both are not included in the museum pass).
7/8 pm: Catch a show at Teatro La Fenice to ogle at the beautiful opera house and watch/listen to a wonderful event.