- Explore Venice's canals and grand palaces on foot (and by gondola)
- Let a guide show you Florence's beautiful medieval piazzas and cathedrals
- Train or hike between five rugged villages in the Cinque Terre
- Sip wines in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany
- Go back in time to ancient Rome with a tour of the Colosseum
|Day 1||Arrive in Venice, Explore||Venice|
|Day 2||Self-Guided City Tour of Venice||Venice|
|Day 3||Train to Florence, Explore||Florence|
|Day 4||Historic Walking Tour of Florence||Florence|
|Day 5||Pick Up Rental Car, Drive to Pisa & Explore||Pisa|
|Day 6||Day Trip to Cinque Terre||Pisa|
|Day 7||Drive to Siena via San Gimignano||Siena|
|Day 8||Chianti Wine Tasting Tour||Siena|
|Day 9||Drive to Rome, Explore||Rome|
|Day 10||Vatican Tour: Museums, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's Basilica||Rome|
|Day 11||Visit the Colosseum & Roman Forum||Rome|
|Day 12||Depart Rome|
Day 1: Arrive in Venice, Explore
Welcome to Italy! Upon arrival in Venice, you'll transfer to the city center and check in at your hotel. Get settled and then spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the city on your own.
Located in northern Italy, Venice is famous for both industry and tourism. With nicknames like "Queen of the Adriatic," "City of Water," and "The Floating City," it's clear that the city's myriad canals are its main draw. Stretching across 117 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea, Venice has long been a commercial and cultural hub thanks to its strategic placement. Silk, grains, spices, and art were traded through the Middle Ages, making Venice very wealthy.
The city is also famous for its many beautiful historic attractions, such as the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) and the Grand Canal. Before you experience the highlights, take a gondola to a lesser-visited neighborhood called the Cannaregio District, the site of the former Jewish Ghetto. The area is filled with great restaurants, bars, and shops offering kosher Venetian specialties, a Jewish museum, and several tourist-friendly synagogues. Eat and drink your way through regional specialties as you celebrate your first night in Italy. Buon appetito!
Day 2: Self-Guided City Tour of Venice
After breakfast at your hotel, start a self-guided tour of Venice. A good place to begin is the center of it all in St. Mark's Square. Take a moment to breathe in the sights and sounds of this famed plaza before getting a deeper look inside the buildings and architecture that surround it. One such place that will likely grab your attention is the impressive Basilica San Marco. Enter early in the day to marvel at the incredible mosaics before the crowds, and if you're up for it, climb the bell tower that offers incredible views. Just make sure to wear appropriate clothing (no bare arms or bare legs).
From here, turn your attention to Doge's Palace, also located in St. Mark's Square. This almost 600-year-old building has served many purposes over the course of time but always continued to remain an impressive symbol of Venetian history. Most notably, it was the home to the Doge, the ruler of Venice, and the center of government during the Venetian Republic. Then walk over to the Grand Canal side of the palace for a look at another iconic spot in Venice: the Bridge of Sighs. This ornate Baroque-style bridge connected the palace with its first-floor prison and was used to transfer its prisoners.
Having seen the highlights of St. Mark's Square, it's time to make the 10-minute walk to Rialto Bridge—one of the four scenic bridges that span the Grand Canal. A short walk from here brings you to the buzzing Rialto Market. Stroll around this lively epicenter of daily Venetian life and culture, tasting local products that help create the city's incomparable cuisine. Next, head to more of the four iconic bridges crossing the Grand Canal and then take a seat at a bar and order a glass of wine and cicchetti (the Venetian version of tapas).
Day 3: Train to Florence, Explore
After breakfast in Venice, it's time to catch a train to Florence, Tuscany's regional capital and most populous city. Long considered Italy's cultural capital and the "Jewel of the Renaissance," Florence is home to many masterpieces of art and architecture.
Once settled at your hotel, make the most of your afternoon by visiting some iconic sights, like the Studio Artemisia, located steps away from the Ponte Vecchio, to learn about ancient fresco painting techniques. You can also visit the Chiesa e Museo di Orsanmichele, which served as the granary for the Sisters of San Michele in previous years. If the weather is nice, take a walk through the peaceful Boboli Gardens, surrounded by various sculptures and lots of greenery.
In the evening, walk to the La Terrazza Continentale for a predinner cocktail on the terrace while you enjoy the sunset. Then make your way to the Sant'Ambrogio neighborhood for dinner accompanied by a glass of Tuscan wine.
Day 4: Historic Walking Tour of Florence
Today's exploration of Florence begins with a half-day walking tour. First, meet your guide and then stroll through the picturesque historic center, where you'll find the most important squares and monuments, from the Piazza della Repubblica to the Palazzo Vecchio. You'll then make a stop at the iconic Duomo to see the terra-cotta dome, followed by Giotto's Bell Tower and the Baptistery, with its bronze doors. Finish the tour at the Galleria dell'Accademia to see Michelangelo's "David" while your guide shares stories of the artist and how this masterpiece came to be.
After your tour, continue exploring Florence on your own. If you're up for an uphill climb, cross over the Arno River to visit Piazzale Michelangelo (or take a taxi). This spectacular viewpoint offers an incredible view of all of Florence and is the perfect place to watch the sunset before you head over to Piazza Santo Spirito for predinner aperitivos.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Pick Up Rental Car, Drive to Pisa & Explore
Today, you'll pick up your rental car in Florence and begin the self-drive portion of your exploration of Tuscany. Make your way an hour west to the outskirts of Pisa, where your agritourism accommodation awaits. This style of farmhouse accommodation allows travelers a closer look into daily Italian life. Enjoy this unique experience as you escape the city and enjoy the beauty of the Italian countryside.
But first, before heading to your accommodation, spend the day in Pisa itself to see the famous Leaning Tower at the Piazza dei Miracoli. There's more to the city, though, including museums like Museo Nazionale, Pisa's most prized museum that features some stunning artifacts and sculptures. A lesser-crowded option is the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo to see a whole host of delightful art treasures. Also worth a visit is the Santa Maria della Spina Church, which, although small, is considered one of Pisa's most beautiful due to its ornate design and riverside location.
When hungry, take a seat at a streetside café near Palazzo dei Cavalieri for lunch, followed by a cone of gelato or glass of espresso. In the afternoon, you can shop for high-end luxury items on the historic Borgo Stretto and enjoy beautiful architecture as you browse. Pisa is also home to the incredible Pisa Botanical Gardens, the world's oldest university botanical gardens.
Day 6: Day Trip to Cinque Terre
This morning, head up the Ligurian coast in your rental car to visit the incredible Cinque Terre, a section of the Italian coast famous for its handful of medieval villages, stunning cliffs, and beautiful hiking trails. It's a good idea to leave your car for the day in a parking lot in the city of La Spezia, whose train station connects to all five villages of Cinque Terre, making it a cinch to get around.
Perhaps you want to sunbathe on the rocks or dive off the steep cliffs into the turquoise water at one of the Cinque Terre's beaches. The expansive and sandy Monterosso Beach has both public and private sections, while Vernazza Beach is rocky and perfect for sunbathing. For some of the best views, climb the Scalinata Lardarina, a steep 377-step staircase that connects the harbor with the village of Corniglia.
You can also tour the 1,000-year-old Castello Doria in Vernazza, the Cinque Terre's oldest surviving structure, for sweeping views of the town and harbor. Another castle is the 13th-century Castello Di Riomaggiore, which dominates the Cinque Terre coastline. Built to protect the town from seafaring pirates, the castle is now simply a throwback to a different time, as well as a great place for photographs. Head inside the castle to see the museum exhibit of the centuries of town history.
Other highlights include Cantina 5 Terre in Riomaggiore, the Cinque Terre's only major winery, where you can learn how ancient traditions mix with modern-day production techniques to produce a unique and flavorful wine. Sample the wines, especially the local white, and enjoy a relaxing afternoon. When you're ready, take the train back to your car in La Spezia and return to your accommodation near Pisa in the evening.
Day 7: Drive to Siena via San Gimignano
After breakfast, it's time to hit the road for the 1.5-hour drive to San Gimignano. This quintessential village is comprised of medieval buildings perched atop one of the iconic Tuscan hills. Located in the Elsa Valley, the area is known for producing Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a white wine with floral and fruity notes. However, San Gimignano is most famous for the 13th-century walls that encircle it, as well as its medieval plazas, churches, and stone towers dominating the skyline. It's for all of these reasons that the town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After exploring the village, be sure to pop in at one of San Gimignano's famous gelaterias, as the town has earned a reputation for producing some of the best gelatos in the world. Then hop back in your car and continue to another UNESCO-listed town, Siena, where you'll check into your accommodation. The city's historic center is one of Italy's most famous attractions with medieval architecture, museums, and the Palio, a popular horse race that takes place twice a year in the main square, Piazza del Campo.
Day 8: Chianti Wine Tasting Tour
Take the day to continue exploring the Chianti Classico wine region by visiting a typical Tuscan winery. Just a quick drive from Siena in the stunning Tuscan countryside, La Lastra Winery will delight your senses as you learn to savor this region's specialty. The unique characteristics of the local climate have made the region unfavorable to most crops but ideal for growing wine grapes. Soak in the views as alternating fields of olive orchards and vineyards characterize this idyllic landscape.
The Chianti wine, made primarily of Sangiovese grapes, is the local staple. Learn about the specific grapes and vines cultivated in the region as well as the entire process of wine production. From the vine to the glass, you'll see firsthand all that goes into every bottle and the culture carried with it over time. Tour the cellars and vineyard of this local winery, then enjoy a wine tasting of four regional wines accompanied by local products. End your visit with a light lunch to pair perfectly with your palate.
Back in Siena, you can continue to explore the historic center of this timeless town. Visit the city highlights, such as the 13th-century Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Magnia, with a scenic bell tower. You can also walk to the green-and-white-striped Duomo and the Piccolomini Library, which is famous for its soaring Pinturicchio frescoes. Besides these, there's the Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana art museum as well as Siena's many churches, including the Basilica dell' Osservanza, Santo Spirito, and Sanctuary of Santa Caterina.
Day 9: Drive to Rome, Explore
It's time to leave lovely Tuscany and make your way to Italy's capital city. After a drive of a little under three hours, you'll find yourself in the incredible center of Rome. A good idea is to drop your rental car at the airport and take a private transfer to your accommodation in the city center. According to legend, Rome was founded by brothers Romulus and Remus in 753 BCE atop Palatine Hill. As the longtime center of the powerful Roman Empire, you'll find nearly 3,000 years of architecture, history, and culture throughout the city.
Take the rest of the afternoon to explore on your own. Perhaps you want to start at the Catacombs of Priscilla, which were originally used from the second to fifth centuries as burial grounds for the elite families of Rome. Visitors can see the original structures as well as paintings and artifacts from various time periods. Another good idea is to stroll through the tangle of narrow streets in Centro Storico, one of Rome's most historic districts, to see classical Roman and Baroque architecture.
Next, head to the Colle Aventino, one of Rome's famous seven hills. Then continue to Parco Savello (Orange Tree Park), where you can find the famous keyhole that gives visitors a direct view of the Vatican. This is a good place to grab a cappuccino and snack from one of the adjacent cafés. For an authentic market experience, stop by the Mercato dei Fiori, where locals shop for fresh vegetables, flowers, meats, and cheeses. When it's time for dinner, head to the hip Trastevere neighborhood for some of the city's best trattorias.
Day 10: Vatican Tour: Museums, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's Basilica
Today you'll have the opportunity to visit Vatican City's museums and other top sights during a three-hour guided tour. The Vatican is not only rich in history but also in art, housing some of the most important Renaissance masterpieces in the world. You'll visit the Pio Clementio Museum, the Gallery of the Candelabra, the Gallery of Tapestries, and the Gallery of the Geographical Maps.
Continue through the museums to the Raphael Rooms, where you can admire the frescoes before entering the incredible Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. Your guide will help you experience the allure of Renaissance art by divulging secret details and untold stories throughout the tour.
The rest of the day is free for you to explore on your own. Stroll through more of Rome's historic center to see iconic monuments and architecture, such as the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. Then head over to Piazza Navona and admire the Fountain of the Four Rivers, designed by the iconic Italian sculptor Bernini. Finish your evening with a stroll through the piazza, stopping for some pizza, gelato, and people-watching.
Day 11: Visit the Colosseum & Roman Forum
Dive into the history of the Roman Empire today with a walking tour of the Colosseum, the world's largest amphitheater. Learn about the lives of some of ancient Rome's most famous and illustrious citizens, such as Julius Caesar, Emperor Augustus, Nero, and the Flavian Emperors who built the Colosseum.
From here, continue to the Roman Forum, where you'll see excavations dating back 2,000 years which reveal the ruins of temples, squares, religious sites, and other buildings. These were the venues for public speeches, processions, elections, and, of course, gladiator matches. Historians and archaeologists refer to the Roman Forum as the most celebrated place in world history, and you'll see why as you admire its grounds. You'll also cut through the Roman Forum along Via Sacra to pass by the Temples of Vesta, Antonino, and Faustina.
Your tour of ancient Rome ends 131 feet (40 m) above the city at Palatine Hill. From here, you'll have incredible views of the city, with the Forum on one side, Circus Maximus on the other, and the Vatican in the distance. In the evening, continue exploring more of Rome on your own. Perhaps you want to grab dinner in one of the city's other neighborhoods, such as the bohemian Monti or upscale Prati, which is brimming with Art Nouveau architecture.
Day 12: Depart Rome
Time to say goodbye, or ciao, to Italy for now! After one last Roman breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport for your flight home. Safe travels!
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