When imagining the perfect vacation in Europe, it’s hard for your mind not to wander to Italy. It’s no surprise though, as Italy offers countless cities to visit, each featuring their own unique history, culture, and sights to see. All of these options can be daunting, especially to someone who’s never been there. That’s why I’ve put together this guide of what I call the “Big Three” Italian cities: Rome, Florence, and Venice. You can complete this itinerary in a week! The best part? With this schedule, there’s no need to run around, you can venture at your own leisure!
Day 1: Rome
Arrive in the early afternoon, head to your Rome accommodation to freshen up, then wander out to the city. Stop by the Trevi Fountain, winding your way through the crowds to throw a penny in the fountain to make a wish! There are fairly good restaurants near the fountain where you can dine outside while enjoying a delicious meal. Afterwards, go for a wander around the Trevi Fountain area, making sure to try the gelato at the Gelateria Valentino on Gianluca Lo Grasso. From here, head back to your hotel for the night.
Day 2: Roman Monuments
Take your time getting up, enjoying a cappuccino and croissant at an outside cafe. After breakfast, make your way to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, one of the most ancient sites in Rome. Spend an hour or two wandering around this huge complex, starting with the Roman Forum then up to Palatine Hill. When at the Roman Forum, be sure to walk to the Temple of Venus and Roma which is just a few hundred feet away from the Coliseum, making for the perfect viewing point of the huge structure. Before heading to the Coliseum, grab a slice of pizza from one of the shops nearby.
Next stop: The Coliseum. Be sure to buy your tickets online so that you won’t have to wait in line. This impressive amphitheater definitely lives up to hype; the incredible 2,000-year-old architecture features two levels and views of the underground level in the center. Wander around the lower level, then make your way up the very tall steps to the second level where you’ll find a small art gallery featuring paintings of the Coliseum over the centuries along with sweeping views over the levels below.
After the Coliseum, head over to the Pantheon, an ancient Roman Temple turned church that dates back to 126 AD. The building is known for its impressive dome, which creates a perfect circle over the incredibly detailed marble floor. During the day, the sun comes in from the window in the dome, illuminating the entire building. It is definitely not to be missed! From here, take a little wander through the winding streets, finding a small bistro to enjoy dinner at. Enjoy the rest of the evening with a stroll through the streets, taking in the fantastic atmosphere of Roma!
Day 3: The Vatican
On this last day in Rome, head to one of the most well known sites in the city, the Vatican. This is another site where you’ll want to purchase your tickets online, although expect long lines for entering both the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. First, go into the Basilica where you’ll enjoy ancient relics and can even purchase a ticket-cash only-to climb to the top of the dome to get 360˚ views of the Vatican and Rome. From here, walk around the corner to the entrance of the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel is actually found by wandering through a museum that features incredible artworks, finally leading to the famous painted ceiling. Behind St. Peter’s Basilica, you’ll find the Vatican gardens and piazzas where you can wander about, soaking in the sunshine.
After the Vatican, walk along the Tiber River, finding a little restaurant to enjoy lunch at. Once you’ve refueled, make your way to the Spanish Steps, 135 gorgeous marble steps that connect the Piazza Trinità dei Monti and Piazza di Spagna. Climb the stairs for incredible views and even relax on the steps to soak in the sun. Wander over to the Piazza Navona where you’ll find the incredible Fountain of the Four Rivers and the beautiful facade of the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. Around the piazza are great restaurants where you can enjoy dinner, explore the surrounding area, then head back to your hotel to get ready for traveling tomorrow.
Day 4: Pisa and Florence
Start the day early, catching a morning train to Pisa where you can see the infamous Leaning Tower of Pisa. There are lockers at the ticket office where you can leave your bags so that you can wander the Pisa Cathedral and even book a time slot to climb the leaning tower. If you’re not afraid of heights, it’s definitely worth climbing the tower in order to gain incredible views of the city and surrounding architecture. Enjoy lunch at one of the cafes on the route back to the train station, then hop on a train to Florence.
Once you’ve arrived in Florence, or Firenze as the locals call it, get settled in at your hotel then go for a walk around the city. Walk to the St. Trinity Bridge where you’ll have great views of Ponte Vecchio, then continue along to the massive Florence Cathedral where you can walk around the entire Piazza, taking in the beauty and complexity of the architecture. From here, head to the Piazza della Signoria for dinner at one of the many restaurants in the plaza. Continue exploring the city, even picking up some gelato, before heading to bed.
Day 5: Florence
Today is one of the busiest days of the trip, although with all the sights so close to each other, you can easily fit all of this into one day! Get an early breakfast then head to the Santa Croce, a stunning Gothic church and burial place of many famous Italians such as Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. You can pay a small fee to go inside, or just admire the intricate facade from the piazza in front of the church. From here, take the winding streets to the Piazza del Duomo where you’ll find the Florence Cathedral, Giotto’s Campanile, and the Florence Baptistery. In order to get into all of these sites, you must purchase a ticket from Museo dell’Opera del Duomo ticket office located at 8 Piazza del Duomo. When you purchase your ticket, you get access to all three sites. Now for some very important information: if you want to climb up to the dome of the Florence Cathedral, which I highly suggest you do, then you must sign up for a time slot at the ticket office. Follow the signs for the Dome entrance and start lining up about 10 minutes before your time slot, making sure to keep all tickets visible as staff checks them multiple times.
Now you can spend a few hours admiring the awe inspiring architecture and climbing up the hundreds of steps of the Campanile and Dome to enjoy 360˚ views of Florence. Pop down one of the streets near the Piazza del Duomo to grab some lunch before starting on the next leg of the tour.
When lunch is finished, head north to the Galleria dell’Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s David. Once you’ve seen David and enjoyed the other incredible works here, head over to another cultural landmark, the Uffizi Gallery. The Uffizi features some of the most famous works of art such as The Birth of Venus by Botticelli and Bacchus by Caravaggio. After touring the Uffizi, wander down to Ponte Vecchio, the famous bridge where you’ll find little shops and get great views of the city. After walking across the bridge, walk along the streets, finding a piazza to enjoy dinner at before heading back to your hotel to get ready for Venice tomorrow.
Day 6: On to Venice
Take a late morning train into the city of canals, dropping your bags off at your Venice hotel before heading out to the famous Rialto Bridge that crosses the Grand Canal. The Rialto offers stunning views of the canal, with gondolas rowing past and stunning houses sitting right on the water’s edge. From here, head to one of the best hidden gems in Venice, the Scala Contarini del Bovolo, an ornate spiral staircase built in the 1400’s. After admiring the Gothic architecture, make your way to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection which is located inside the home of the late Peggy Guggenheim. The collection features modern and contemporary paintings and sculptures throughout the various buildings and gardens. Continue wandering through the streets of Venice, stopping at the bridges to catch glimpses of gondolas on the canals and beautiful architecture. Find a little restaurant to enjoy dinner at then enjoy an evening gondola ride through the canals. Keep in mind that all the gondolas are priced the same, although you’ll want to agree on the length of time and price before getting on. After your relaxing boat ride, make your way back to your hotel for the night.
Day 7: Venice
Enjoy a light breakfast at one of the cafes along the Grand Canal then head over to the Piazza San Marco. In the Piazza you’ll find St. Mark’s Basilica, St. Mark’s Bell Tower, the Torre dell’Orologio clock, and Doge’s Palace. Start with a wander through the basilica where you’ll find ancient architecture and beautiful artwork around every corner. On the way out of the Basilica, you can turn left and head upstairs where you can purchase a ticket to get on the balcony of the basilica-they only accept cash at the ticket stall. You can walk along the balcony to get beautiful views of the piazza and San Giorgio Maggiore Island in the distance. Head out of the basilica to St. Mark’s Bell Tower just a few feet away. Again, you must purchase a ticket to go up the bell tower, although unlike many other places in Italy, this site has an elevator that whisks you right to the top! From there, you’ll get panoramic views of the city and its incredible canals.
Before going into Doge’s Palace, walk across the bridge outside of the palace entrance in order to see the Bridge of Sighs that connects the palace to the old prison. Continue wandering down to grab a bite to eat before making your way back to Doge’s Palace. Once inside the palace, you’ll find ornately decorated ceilings, stair cases, and beautiful works of art throughout the complex. You’ll even get to cross the Bridge of Sighs and walk about the old prison. After you’ve toured the palace, walk outside to the edge of the water where you’ll see one of the most famous views of Venice: gondolas tied up to posts with the San Giorgio Maggiore island and church in the background. Take a taxi boat out to the island where you can explore the church and grounds before heading back for dinner. After filling up, take one final wander around Venice, stopping off for your last gelato of Italy before heading back to your hotel to pack for your flight home tomorrow.