One of Italy's biggest attractions has always been its food, and you can sample plenty of it over the course of these two weeks. You'll relax by the seaside, walk through former Roman cities, and hike over mountains as you make your way to various tasting and art experiences to satisfy all of your sense.

Highlights

  • Visit the world-famous School of Mosaic in Spilimbergo
  • Explore the ancient Roman city of Aquileia
  • Tour the historic streets of Trieste
  • Hike along the ancient towns of the Carso Ridge
  • Taste history on a food tour of Bologna

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Venice, Transfer to Udine Udine
Day 2 Spilimbergo Tour, Mosaic Workshop, & Prosciutto in San Daniele Udine
Day 3 Arrive in Grado & Self-Guided City Tour Grado
Day 4 Archaeological Sites in Aquileia & Roman History in Grado Grado
Day 5 Transfer from Grado to Trieste Trieste
Day 6 Tour of Trieste Trieste
Day 7 Hiking Tour of Carso Ridge Trieste
Day 8 Trieste to Venice, City Tour Venice
Day 9 Murano, Burano & Torcello Excursion Venice
Day 10 Venice to Milan, City Tour Milan
Day 11 Lake Como Day Trip Milan
Day 12 Discover Bologna, Food Tour Bologna
Day 13 Modena Vinegar Tour & Bologna City Tour with a Local Bologna
Day 14 Depart Bologna Bologna

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Venice, Transfer to Udine

Chefs stirring polenta during the annual Friuli Doc celebration
Chefs stirring polenta during the annual Friuli Doc celebration

Welcome to Italy! Arrive in Venice International Airport, then transfer to Udine by high-speed train. You'll be met by your tour representative who will help you check in and answer any questions you have about the week ahead.

Udine lies in the autonomous region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the north of Italy. It's surrounded by Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east. Thanks to the region's strategic position on the Adriatic Sea, it's a major travel corridor for Southern Europe's trading routes. The region is diverse with a cultural mix of Italian, Austrian, Slovene, and other international influences.  Multiple languages are spoken here, including Friulian and several other local dialects. 

The city of Udine has a distinct Venetian charm and a historic downtown characterized by medieval buildings, Venitian piazzas, and open-air cafes. The Piazza Libertà is known as "the most beautiful Venetian square on the mainland," and the Piazza Matteotti is a popular gathering spot with locals and visitors. The piazza is surrounded by covered porticos which lend it the vibe of an open-air lounge, and the nearby cafes are a great place to enjoy a coffee and people-watch. 

In the 18th century, the town was home to the legendary artist Giambattista Tiepolo, whose famed rococo masterpieces are displayed in the Gallerie del Tiepolo, Duomo, and in the Chiesa della Purità.

After you've settled in, head out for a guided tour of the city to explore its Venetian architecture and lively piazzas. Start at the Piazza Libertà to see the Loggia del Lionello, an impressive 15th-century Venetian Gothic building that bears a strong resemblance to Venice's Doge's Palace. Across the piazza stands the clock tower (Torre dell' Orologio), which was built in the 16th century by Giovanni da Udine. 

Continue down the main avenues to see the 14th-century Cathedral and the Oratorio della Purità, an 18th-century institution built for the religious education of young girls and women. 

Your next stop is the hill in the middle of town, to reach Udine Castle. From here, the views of the town, peaceful countryside, and the snow-capped Alps are breathtaking. 

In the afternoon, spend a few hours learning about Udine's history and culture from one of the city's many museums and churches. Chiesa di San Giacomo, Arco Bollani, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Museo Etnografico dei Friuli, and Lignano Sabbiadoro are all great options. 

If you're in the mood for shopping, check out Via Mercatovecchio, Via Rialto, or Piazza XX Settembre

In the evening stoll along Piazza del Duomo, Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, Via Vittorio Veneto, or Via Poscolle for plentiful dinner options.

Day 2: Spilimbergo Tour, Mosaic Workshop, & Prosciutto in San Daniele

Dry cured hanging ham
Dry cured hanging ham

Today's half-day trip is a combination of art and food—two areas where Italy excels. Start your day with a  visit to Spilimbergo. Tour the medieval town center and visit the Castello di Spilimbergo to see colorful frescoes painted on the exterior walls of the 15th-century Palazzo Dipinto (Painted Castle). 

Continue to the 14th-century loggia, which once housed goods and wares in medieval times, and the 13th-century Palazzo del Daziario (Duty Palace), which once housed the magistrates. You'll also see the 14th-century Cathedral, one of Friuli's most notable Gothic buildings. Inside, beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from the New and Old Testaments adorn the ceiling. 

No visit to Spilimbergo would be complete without a visit to the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli, the only professional school of mosaic art in the world.  Colorful tiles decorate the walls, and the light and movement of the mosaics make the artwork come to life. 

After your tour, try your hand at crafting your own mosaic. Follow the instructions of a mosaic Maestro as you learn about classical and modern mosaics and immerse yourself fully into the ages-old craft.

In the afternoon, head to the nearby town of San Daniele del Friuli. Your main stop here is a prosciutto producer to learn about local pig breeds and see how fresh haunches are turned into San Daniele hams. Tour the temperature-regulated cellars, as well as the final aging cellars to see where hundreds of hams await inspection and branding. Following the tour enjoy a prosciutto tasting and savor one of Italy's finest delicacies.

Day 3: Arrive in Grado & Self-Guided City Tour

Spring evening in Grado
Spring evening in Grado

In the morning, transfer from Udine to Grado on the coast. The trip takes approximately an hour, leaving you with a full day to explore the beach resort town. Situated on a narrow spit of land and surrounded by lagoons, there's no shortage of waterfront beaches, cafes, and strolling paths. Inside the town, narrow calli (lanes) lined with shops and cafes crisscross a maze-like medieval city center. On the seafront, luxurious mansions, beach huts, and thermal baths line the beach. Take a load off with a relaxed afternoon at one of the local baths—the local grey sand is considered curative and is used in many treatments. 

Grado's historic center sits atop the site of the ancient Kostroma settlement and is mostly restricted to the Campo dei Patriarchi area. The square is a present-day reminder of the city's religious history as the former place of refuge for the bishops of Aquileia, who were often in confrontation with various political forces. To preserve the historical integrity of the monuments the city center is closed to car traffic, giving pedestrians and cyclists free rein. 

Head out for a day of sightseeing on your own, starting with the town center. Here, the 6th-century Basilica of Santa Eufemia, Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie, and the baptistery (Santa Euphemia's bell tower) dominate the square. The Basilica of Santa Eufemia stands atop the ancient Castrum and is the city's oldest Christian Church. Its construction dates back to the 6th century when it was built atop the Basilica of Petrus (whose ruins can be seen, in part, within the church.)

In addition to the church's Byzantine architecture and mosaics adorning the interior, the adjacent baptistery is Santa Eufemia's main highlight. Inside, the octagonal-shaped building contains a hexagonal baptismal font and a simple interior. 

In the afternoon, get out of the city and explore the area's sights. Wildlife and nature enthusiasts will love Riserva Naturale Regionale Foce dell' Isonzo, a natural reserve that's a haven for hundreds of migrating bird species. Wild ponies and a variety of other animals roam the coastal waters and marshes within the park. Enjoy an afternoon hike and take in the sights and sounds of nature, then (if there's time) head to the Santuario Di Barbana, located on Barbana Island on the Grado Lagoon. The ancient Marian shrine and monastery date back to the 6th century, when the Patriarch of Aquileia built a church near the hut of a hermit named Barbanus. 

Return to Grado in the evening in time for dinner.

Day 4: Archaeological Sites in Aquileia & Roman History in Grado

Marano Lagoon
Marano Lagoon

If you want to relive the dramatic history of the Roman Empire but can't make it that far south, today's visit to the ancient Roman city of Aquileia will transport you back in time. Founded in 181 BCE, Aquileia has UNESCO World Heritage designation for its historical and archaeological sites. The city has seen the passing of Caesar's legions in the first century BCE and Attila's army five centuries later. Aquileia was also a critically important commercial center, with trade routes connecting the city to all other parts of the ancient empire. 

Visit the city's forum, the remains of the public baths, and the ruins of private houses with beautifully preserved mosaic floors. Walk along ancient Roman roads and see a Roman cemetery. End your visit with a stop at the ancient Basilica, one of the western world's largest and most spectacular early Christian mosaic floors. On your way out, stop and see the stunning Byzantine frescoes in the crypt. 

From Aquileia return to Grado for another afternoon of sightseeing. Today is a good day to hit any historic sites you might have missed on previous days in the city. Dive into Roman history with a visit to the ruins of the Basilica Della Corte and the ancient Lapidarium, which houses fragments of Roman and early Christian buildings. The centrally-located Piazza Biagio Marin and its Roman archaeological site are also worth a visit. 

Round out your day of sightseeing with a delicious gelato as you enjoy an afternoon stroll along the scenic Diga (a historic sea wall) and admire the views of the Adriatic Sea.

Day 5: Transfer from Grado to Trieste

Seafront promenade in Trieste
Seafront promenade in Trieste

In the morning, take the train to Trieste, then transfer to your hotel.  

Trieste is an ancient city whose recorded habitation dates back to the second millennium BCE. The original name, Tergeste, comes from the Venetic word meaning 'market.' Later, Trieste became part of the Roman Republic in 177 BC during the Second Istrian War. For the next 2,000 years, the city was prosperous and became a major trading hub for the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918 when Italy took control.

During this time Trieste was a major cosmopolitan center for culture and literature in the Austrian Riviera and was frequented by artists and philosophers such as James Joyce, Italo Svevo, Sigmund Freud, Zofka Kveder, and Dragotin Kette. The 20th century brought unrest into the city, as the Italian lower class sought to wrest power from the middle-class Slovenes. As a result, many ethnic Germans and Slovenes left Trieste, while ethnic Italians from newly-formed Yugoslavia relocated to Trieste. Around the time of World War II, Nazi forces systematically exterminated Trieste's large Jewish population (Italy's third-largest at the time), as well as many Slavs and anti-fascist Italians, at the Risiera—the only concentration camp built on Italian soil. 

Today the city is a thriving economic and cultural hub, primarily as a coffee shipping hub for the rest of Italy (Trieste supplies more than 40% of Italy's coffee).


In the afternoon, head out for a leisurely stroll along the wide avenues, beautiful tree-lined parks, and waterfront to explore the city sights on your own, then stop by a cafe for a relaxed meal.

Recommended places to visit:

  • Castello di Miramare & Gardens - sitting on a rocky outcrop outside of Trieste, the castle boasts a sprawling landscaped garden with rare and exotic trees
  • Castello di San Guisto - a former Roman fort, this 15th-century castle houses the city museum and armory 
  • Piazza dell' Unita d'Italia - Italy's largest sea-facing piazza, the vast public square sits adjacent to the city's grandest palazzi. Head here for a drink or a chat, or gaze out over the ships on the horizon 
  • Teatro Romano - the ruins of a Roman theater from the 1st-2nd century CE. During the summer, the venue hosts open-air concerts 
  • Molo Audace -  a long pier that stretches out into the Adriatic Sea and is a favorite with locals and visitors for evening strolls and people watching. It was first built in the 18th century atop a sunken ship 
  • Piazza della Bosa - one of Triste's centers for economy and industry; these days it's a great place for a cup of coffee
  • Canale Grande - located in the heart of the city in Borgo Teresiano, halfway between the train station and Piazza Unità d'Italia
  • Museo del Mare - a city museum that traces Trieste's roots to the Adriatic and features exhibitions on boats, nautical instruments, letters, and more. Round out your visit with a visit to the Trieste Harbor, located a 10-minute walk away 

Day 6: Tour of Trieste

Miramare Castle
Miramare Castle

Today's small-group tour is the perfect way to get to know the city of Trieste. The tour starts in the Old Town, home to the city's oldest neighborhoods and shops. Antique dealers, bookshops, potters, framers, and art galleries line the narrow city streets. Nearby, the ruins of the Roman Theater and Augustan Triumphal Arch offer a window into the city's past. 

From here, walk along Trieste's elegant seafront to admire exquisitely constructed Neo-Classical palaces. You'll reach Piazza Unità d’Italia, site of the Town Hall and Italy's largest seafront square. Continue to see the Teatro Verdi Opera House (a mix of Milan's La Scala and Venice's La Fenice, as both architects helped design the building) and the Piazza della Borsa with its stunning Stock Exchange Palace

Your tour of Trieste continues through the Theresian district, which gets its name from Maria Teresa, Austria's much-loved Empress. This neighborhood is also home to the palace-lined Grand Canal, St. Anthony's Church, the adjacent Serbian-Orthodox Church, and the bronze statue of James Joyce over the Ponterosso bridge

Enjoy a leisurely lunch, then continue your tour to see the Miramare Castle, which sits directly on the seafront and is surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens and botanic gardens. Stroll through the romantic residence of Maximilian of Hapsburg and Charlotte of Belgium to see the different native and exotic plant species. The castle is the perfect place to spend the afternoon enjoying the panoramic views of the surrounding sea from its perch high on the cliff.

Day 7: Hiking Tour of Carso Ridge

View of the sea from San Croce
View of the sea from San Croce

Take in the beautiful nature, sweeping views, and quiet villages on today's half- to full-day walk through the countryside. Start your day with an 8:30 AM pick up from your accommodation in Trieste, then head out to the Carso Plateau to explore the landscape on foot. Spend the day walking from Duino to Opicina along old roads and trails and learning about local biodiversity. Frequent stops in villages along the way for coffee and food round out this laid-back tour. 

The hike is easy-going, and you won't need technical clothing to enjoy the day. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a camera to make the most of today's hike. Follow the old trail along the Carso Ridge, which used to link the ancient villages of Ceroglie, Malchina, Prepotto, San Pelagio, Ternova, Samatorza, Sales, Sgonico, Rupingrande, and Opicina. 

As you walk, learn about the unique Carso (Karst) environment, and how the word became the scientific term for similar land formations around the world. Breathe in the fresh countryside air as you stroll through meadows dotted with red sumac, along the Istria seafront and Grado lagoon, and on high ridges overlooking the coast. 

Today's hike is fully customizable, from short 1.9-mile (3 km) walks to 9.3-mile (15 km) hikes. The maximum duration is approximately 9 hours.

Day 8: Trieste to Venice, City Tour

Gondola on the Grand Canal
Gondola on the Grand Canal

In the morning, transfer from Trieste to Venice by train (a 2-hour trip.) 

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, the city 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 wealthy.

Venice is well known for several artistic movements, particularly from the Renaissance period. The city's many musicians, like Antonio Vivaldi and others, played essential roles in the shaping of symphonic and operatic music. Numerous artists have called Venice home, and their work continues to draw visitors worldwide. 

The city is also famous for its many beautiful historical attractions, such as the Piazza San Marco and San Marco Basilica, the Grand Canal, and the ornate Doge's Palace. The Lido de Venezia is a famous luxury destination that attracts actors, critics, and other cinema industry celebrities.  

A great introduction to the city is to take a romantic cruise down Venice's canals on a historic gondola to see stunning architecture and narrow waterways. This is not a guided tour but rather a relaxing cruise that allows you to take in the city from the water. 

In the afternoon and evening, head out for a private guided walking tour of the city's top sights. Start at Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), the heart of the city's cultural and administrative district. The piazza is also home to the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), a Venetian Gothic palace built as the primary residence for the Doge of Venice in 1340. 

Adjacent to the palace is the San Marco's Basilica, originally the Doge'spersonal chapel. The building is one of the best surviving examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture and features a stunning collection of Byzantine art, gold mosaics, and exquisite marble floors. 

The palace is connected to the next-door prison by the infamous Bridge of Sighs, which has joined the two buildings since the 16th century. The bridge features a small window onto Venice's harbor and earned its grisly name from the prisoners' sighing as they got one last glimpse of the city on their way to execution. While most visitors gather outside the bridge to look in, you'll get the best sense of history from inside the bridge, looking out from the same window as the doomed medieval prisoners.

Day 9: Murano, Burano & Torcello Excursion

Glassmaker on Murano
Glassmaker on Murano

Head out for a tour of Venice's three famous neighbors—the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Begin your boat and walking tour aboard a motorboat en route to Murano, passing the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, the tip of Sant'Elena and the Lido. Tour Murano, which is famous for its colorful glass-making. Visit a glass blower to learn about the process and marvel at the intricate pieces, including elaborate chandeliers. 

From here continue to Burano, a picture-perfect island known for its colorful houses and elegant lacework. You'll have time to explore the island before the short boat trip to nearby Torcello to see the ancient cathedral with its fine mosaic inlays, followed by a visit to the Church of Santa Fosca. 

After spending a full day enjoying the sights and sounds of the unique islands, return to Venice by boat in time for a relaxed evening in a neighborhood restaurant.

Day 10: Venice to Milan, City Tour

The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci
The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci

Start your morning with a transfer from Venice to Milan. Once you arrive, spend the day discovering sights and history on today's combination bus and walking tour. Start on the bus to see panoramic views of the city, then hit the streets with an expert guide to see the city up close. 

The bus tour starts at Foro Bonaparte, built to celebrate Napoleon's victories, to see the Arco della Pace (arch of peace), the Santa Maria delle Grazie and Sant'Ambrogio churches, as well as the San Babila and Fontana Piazzas.
Drive by the Corso Venezia, a luxury shopping street in the Quadrilatero della Moda district. 

From here, leave the tour bus behind and walk to see the 18th-century Neoclassical Teatro alla Scala and the iconic gothic Cathedral (local's tip: head to the roof for panoramic views of the city). The Cathedral took nearly 600 years to complete, and its shiny marble facade and striking late Gothic architecture make it the symbolic monument of Milan. The massive church is the largest in Italy and the fourth-largest in the world. 

Stroll through the airy halls of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a spacious indoor shopping mall famous for its ornate architecture and skylights, which now houses historic restaurants, bars, and trendy shops. 

Continue to the Castello Sforzesco, a 15th-century castle and fortress which now houses a large art museum and works by Leonardo Da Vinci. 

After this, take a bus transfer for today's tour highlight: a guided visit to see Da Vinci's "The Last Supper", a world-famous fresco located in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The renowned work is highly regulated and the painting can only be viewed by appointment.

Day 11: Lake Como Day Trip

Springtime in Bellagio,
Springtime in Bellagio, "The Pearl of the Lake"

After breakfast head out for a full day on Lake Como, Italy's third-biggest lake. The area is known for its upscale resorts, dramatic landscapes, and views of the Alps. Start your day with a guided tour of the city of Como, which lies on the southwest branch of the lake. Tour the Gothic 14th-century Cathedral of Como, sprawling Villa Olmo park and exhibition halls, and the Museo Didattico della Seta (Museum of Silk) to learn about the region's historic silk industry. See the sights with a ride on the funicular railway and enjoy the views with a stroll on the waterfront promenade. 

The rest of the day is self-guided. Take a boat north to the resort town of Bellagio, which sits on a promontory which juts into the lake. Explore the cobbled streets and elegant neighborhoods, then enjoy lunch at a lakefront restaurant. In the afternoon visit the terraced 18th-century gardens of the Villa Serbelloni Park for views of the lake before sailing to the opposite shore to Cadenabbia. From here, catch a transfer back to Milan in time for a relaxed evening stroll to the neighborhood wine bar.

Day 12: Discover Bologna, Food Tour

Local shop with traditional cheese & prosciutto
Local shop with traditional cheese & prosciutto

In the morning take a train ride to Bologna, the bustling historic capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Arrive in mid-morning and start your day with a cup of Italian espresso and head out to explore the city on foot. 

Walk through the downtown area to see many of the city's notable landmarks. The Piazza Maggiore, a sprawling central plaza surrounded by the city's oldest buildings, is a beautiful 20-minute walk from the train station. Visit the City Hall, the 14th-century Basilica di San Petronio,  and the medieval Asinelli and Garisenda Towers which flank the Piazza. 

Head to the 11th-century University of Bologna to view the Anatomical Theater, used in older times for students to dissect cadavers, and stroll the medieval university grounds. On the way, stop to see the former Jewish Ghetto, then continue to the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, the National Art Gallery, housed in the former Saint Ignatius Jesuit novitiate near the university. This building also houses the Academy of Fine Arts

Pause for lunch and enjoy some of the city's delicious specialties—tortellini and ragu alla bolognese, a rich tomato and meat sauce. In the afternoon explore the city via the medieval porticos, a network of covered walkways that connect city landmarks, museums, and neighborhoods and protect pedestrians from snow, rain, and the hot summer sun. Visitors with an eye for fashion will enjoy browsing the designer boutiques and medieval Quadrilatero market district for the perfect Italian leather shoes or for gifts to bring home. 

In the afternoon go for a walking food tour with a local guide to explore the local markets and shop for regional delicacies, such as artisanal tortellini, mortadella, and a variety of cheeses. Visit traditional food shops like a bakery and pasta maker to see the handcrafting process.

Day 13: Modena Vinegar Tour & Bologna City Tour with a Local

Modena Cathedral
Modena Cathedral

Wine tasting in Italy is a traveler's rite of passage, but few visitors explore the equally fascinating traditions of vinegar production. Spend the morning in Modena (a 25-minute train ride from Bologna) visiting one of the city's oldest traditional balsamic vinegar producers, touring the vineyards, and learning about all the stages of production (from pressing the grapes to barrel aging.) The 2-hour tour includes plenty of opportunities to sample fresh and aged vinegar, as well as regional food and wine tastings. 

Return to Bologna in time for lunch. In the afternoon, explore the city with a personally matched host to discover the local haunts. Your like-minded host is assigned based on a questionnaire about your personality and interests, ensuring an enjoyable afternoon. 

Follow your host through the labyrinth of cobblestone streets and porticos to see local street art, cozy bars, down-to-earth eateries, and secret historical sites. You'll have the opportunity to communicate directly with your host about a suggested 3-hour itinerary, as well as agreeing on a place and time to meet. The itinerary is flexible and fully customizable to make your visit to Bologna unique and unforgettable.

Day 14: Depart Bologna

Santuario San Luca A Bologna
Santuario San Luca A Bologna

Transfer to Bologna Airport or back to Venice Airport for your connecting flight home. Have a great trip!

Map

Map of Explore Northern Italy: Trieste, Venice, Milan, Bologna, & More - 14 Days
Map of Explore Northern Italy: Trieste, Venice, Milan, Bologna, & More - 14 Days