- Explore ornate palaces & medieval piazzas in Venice
- Learn about the history of Trieste
- Visit Lake Bled on a day trip to Slovenia
- Tour the Romantic city of Verona and see Juliet’s balcony
- Visit regal castles and villas on Lake Garda
|Day 1||Arrive in Venice, Transfer to Trieste||Trieste|
|Day 2||Trieste Walking Tour||Trieste|
|Day 3||Slovenia Day Trip||Trieste|
|Day 4||Trieste to Grado, Self-Guided Tour||Grado|
|Day 5||Archaeology & Roman History in Grado||Grado|
|Day 6||Grado to Venice||Venice|
|Day 7||Venice Walking Tour||Venice|
|Day 8||Free Day in Venice||Venice|
|Day 9||Venice to Verona, Guided Tour||Verona|
|Day 10||Wine Tour from Verona||Verona|
|Day 11||Guided Tour of Lake Garda from Verona||Verona|
|Day 12||Goodbye Italy|
Day 1: Arrive in Venice, Transfer to Trieste
Welcome to Italy! After you arrive at Venice's international airport, transfer north to Trieste by high-speed train (2.5-hour journey). Trieste is an ancient city with recorded habitation dating back to the second millennium BCE. The original name, Tergeste, comes from the Venetic word meaning 'market.' Trieste became part of the Roman Republic in 177 BCE, during the Second Istrian War. For the next 2,000 years, the city was prosperous and eventually operated as a major trading hub for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Trieste occupied this niche until 1918 when Italy took control.
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. During 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, operating primarily as a coffee shipping center for the rest of Italy (Trieste supplies more than 40% of Italy's coffee). Check in to your hotel and, in the afternoon, head out for a leisurely stroll along the wide avenues, tree-lined parks, and beautiful waterfront to explore the city sights on your own, then stop by a cafe for a relaxed meal.
Recommended places to visit:
- The Castello di Miramare & Gardens sits on a rocky outcrop outside of Trieste. The castle boasts a sprawling landscaped garden with rare and exotic trees.
- Castello di San Guisto is built on the site of a former Roman fort. This 15th-century castle houses the city museum and armory.
- Molo Audace is a long pier that stretches out into the Adriatic Sea and is a favorite for evening strolls and people watching. It was first built in the 18th century atop a sunken ship.
- The Piazza della Borsa was one of Trieste's great centers of economy and industry. These days it's a great place for a cup of coffee.
- The Canale Grande, lined with squares, churches and historic cafes, is located in the heart of the city in Borgo Teresiano. It lies halfway between the train station and Piazza Unità d'Italia.
- The Museo del Mare is 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
For dinner find a waterfront wine bar or bustling restaurant at Piazza della Borsa, close to the Ponte Rosso bridge. Settle in with an aperitivo as the locals do, and watch the sunset roll in.
Day 2: Trieste Walking Tour
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, you'll 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 on to see the Teatro Verdi Opera House (you might find it a mix of Milan's La Scala and Venice's La Fenice, as the architects behind each contributed to the design of this 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 a 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 and enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding sea from its perch high on the cliff.
In the evening, head out for a corretto, Trieste's answer to the aperitivo, made with coffee and grappa. Then try some dishes influenced by Hungarian, Austrian and Slovenian culture such as branzino (oven-baked sea bass with mussels, shrimps, and clams), cevapcici (spiced grilled meatballs) or bresaola (gnocchi and goulash).
Day 3: Slovenia Day Trip
Trieste is heavily influenced by Slovenian and Italian culture, as seen in the food, architecture and local dialect. You are very close to the border, so today is a great opportunity to cross into Slovenia and spend the day exploring. Join your small group tour in Trieste and drive across to the capital city of Ljubljana and Lake Bled, a site of spectacular natural beauty.
Ljubljana is an extremely important city to Slovenians, with a rich history and cultural heritage. The city's architecture is a blend of modern and ancient design. Jože Plečnik was responsible for designing many of the iconic buildings, parks, bridges, and squares and truly transformed Ljubljana's center. You'll notice his influence as you walk around the Old Town. Here, you will find the Ljubljana Cathedral, Town Square, and the Triple Bridge (three historic bridges over the river Ljubljanica). Pass through the central market and pick up some delicious local foods. Try the local meats and cheeses, as well as burek (a warm pastry filled with cherries, apples, or cheese). Eat your treats as you enjoy a walk along the river towards Ljubljana Castle. The castle is protected by a dragon on top of the spire, and this dragon in turn is represented by four copper dragons sitting astride a bridge leading to the castle. Summon courage as you cross this bridge and signal your peaceful intent. After you've had your fill of dragons, head back to meet your group and drive further to explore more of Slovenia.
Lake Bled is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the country. Approaching by car, you'll have a great view across the magnificent lake towards Bled Island. With your guide, you will walk around the lake and learn about the significance of Bled Castle, the oldest in Slovenia. Many people choose to get married at the church on Bled Island, so if you hear a bell ringing then you know it's someone's wedding day. Along the walk are monuments and many great viewpoints to snap photos. It's very pleasant to swim in the lake's clear turquoise water in the summer months, though it can be extremely busy with both tourists and locals. At the end of the tour, your guide will offer you a taste of a sweet vanilla and custard cream cake called kremna rezina, a specialty originating from the area. It is delicious and a little messy to eat. Breathe in some fresh alpine air, enjoy your treat, and really take in your surroundings here, one of the most picturesque and calming places in Europe.
You'll return to Trieste with great memories. The city has many great local restaurants in the center, take your pick and wind down after an active and invigorating day.
Day 4: Trieste to Grado, Self-Guided Tour
In the morning, transfer from Trieste to Grado on the coast. The trip takes approximately 1.5 hours, leaving you with a full day to explore this beach resort town. Taking the train, and then a private transfer or bus the rest of the way, is the easiest way to travel from Trieste. You will change at Cervignano-Aquileia-Grado train station and head on to Grado.
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, a 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, 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 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 not to be missed. Inside, the octagonal-shaped building contains a hexagonal baptismal font and a simple interior.
Situated on a narrow spit of land and surrounded by lagoons, there's no shortage of beaches, waterfront cafes, and strolling paths here. Inside the town, narrow calli (lanes) lined with shops and cafes crisscross a maze-like medieval city center. On the seafront, luxurious villas, beach huts, and thermal baths line the shore. Some beaches are free, such as Spiaggia Costa Azzurra. At others, you pay a fee to use beds and facilities, including Spiaggia Principale. A nice way to explore is by renting a bike, as there are many cycling and pedestrian-friendly paths. 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.
Later in the afternoon, we recommend getting out of the town and exploring the larger area's sights. We suggest the following places for an afternoon full of wildlife, nature, and boating:
- The Riserva Naturale Regionale Foce dell' Isonzo is a natural reserve, a haven for hundreds of migrating bird species. Wild ponies and a variety of other animals roam the coastal waters and marshes as well. The park is accessible by car or bike, and will take approximately half a day to properly explore and enjoy.
- The Cavanata Valley Regional Natural Reserve is also a lovely park, and is a little closer to Grado than Foce dell' Isonzo. There is a protected lagoon habitat here with wild birds like flamingos and herons.
- Take a ferry to Barbana Island on the Grado Lagoon. The Santuario Di Barbana is an ancient Marian shrine and monastery dating back to the 6th century, when the Patriarch of Aquileia built a church near the hut of a hermit named Barbanus.
In the evening, partake in local specialties for dinner. Fresh fish is served on every menu. We recommend the boreto, a traditional dish of fish in vinegar and garlic sauce served with polenta.
Day 5: Archaeology & Roman History in Grado
If you want to relive the dramatic history of the Roman Empire, but can't make it as far south as the Eternal City, today's visit to the ancient Roman city of Aquileia will give you a compelling taste. Founded in 181 BCE, Aquileia is UNESCO World Heritage designated for its historical and archaeological sites. The city saw 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.
With a local guide, you'll 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 6: Grado to Venice
Despite being in different regions, comparisons can be made between Grado and Venice, with similar styles of architecture and narrow streets surrounded by water in each. Today, you'll transfer from Grado to Venice and check in to your hotel. The journey by train is around 2.5 hours.
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 geographic placement, luxury goods like silk, grains, spices, and art were traded here throughout 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 notable 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.
Introduce yourself to the city with a romantic cruise down Venice's canals on a historic gondola. You'll 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 and soak up its unique atmosphere. Join the locals and stop for an aperitivo at a bar along a canal, before finding a delicious spot for dinner in the Jewish Quarter.
Day 7: Venice Walking Tour
Experience Venice's highlights with a guided walking tour. Start at Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), the heart of the city's cultural and administrative district. There, see Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), a Venetian Gothic palace built as the primary residence for the Doge of Venice in 1340. The palace stands on the Piazza San Marco, but don't just view it from the outside- its resplendent interior decor and priceless works of art make it a must-see for history and architecture buffs.
Adjacent to the palace is the San Marco's Basilica, originally the Doge's personal 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. Your tour includes a visit inside, where you'll be able to see for yourself the incredible art and architecture it holds.
Away from Saint Mark's Square, you'll delve deeper into the heart of Venice and away from the crowds. You'll be guided through the maze of streets and canals that makes Venice so unique as your guide shares fascinating stories. Admire the incredible views over the Grand Canal, and feel free to ask your guide for a dinner recommendation before your tour's end!
After the morning's tour, grab lunch at one of the city's many cafes before spending the afternoon exploring.
- Tour the 18th-century Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta (also known as I Gesuiti) in the Cannaregio district and the baroque 17th-century Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, Venice's second-most renowned church.
- Ride the elevator to the top of the Campanile di San Marco for a bird’s-eye view of Venice.
- Dive into history at the Correr Civic Museum to see art and artifact displays from Venice's history as well as the former royals' quarters.
- Go shopping at the famous Rialto fish market, located at the heart of Venice. The smell of seafood and sound of vendors vying for shoppers' attention make this colorful and hectic market a must-see for any Venice traveler.
Around the Rialto Market are restaurants and bacari bars serving good food all day long. At dinnertime go for Cichetti, small plates of Venetian tapas, and order the fresh seafood dishes.
Day 8: Free Day in Venice
Today is a free day to explore Venice. Make the most of your time in the city with some of the following suggestions:
- Discover art at the Ca' Pesaro Galleria Internazionale d'Arte Moderna, Peggy Guggenheim Collection Modern Art Museum, and La Biennale di Venezia Art Museum.
- Explore San Giorgio Maggiore, one of Venice's smaller islands that stands separate from the main canals.
- See an opera show at the Teatro La Fenice.
- Haggle for produce at the busy Mestre market, held every Wednesday and Friday.
- Go shopping for luxury items on Le Mercerie and Salizada San Moisè.
- Browse textiles, craft shops, unique boutiques, and galleries in the bohemian San Samuele district.
- Rent a kayak and explore Venice from the water.
For lunch grab food on the go and find a spot by a canal to sit down. Depending on how hungry you are look out for Pizza al Volo (a full pizza to takeaway), whereas a slice of your favorite is known as Pizza al Taglio. Around the Rialto Market are restaurants and bacari bars serving good food all day long. At dinnertime go for Cichetti, small plates of Venetian tapas, and order the fresh seafood dishes.
Day 9: Venice to Verona, Guided Tour
Staying within the Veneto region, make your way west to the city of Verona, the setting of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Traveling by train is easy and will take no longer than 90 minutes. After checking in to your hotel, enjoy learning about the romantic city of Verona on a 2-hour tour with a local guide. You'll see for yourself why this city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and get to know firsthand the culture, history and archaeology underpinning these charming streets.
Your walking tour will start with one of Verona's most notable landmarks, the Arena in the Bra Square. Still used today, this ancient Roman amphitheater is one of the best-preserved of its kind. From there, wander through the cobblestone streets and arrive at the central Piazza Bra, the largest square in the city and the perfect spot to learn more about Verona's ancient economic and political life. alongside the quaint market Piazza delle Erbe.
Nearby, you'll visit the Casa di Giulietta featuring Juliet's balcony, said to have inspired Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Continuing, you'll learn more about why Verona holds such an important place in Northern Italy's medieval history and visit the former political center Piazza dei Signori.
Crisscross your way through side streets and back alleys as your guide points out the best local cuisine and traditional food, and make your list of places to try. Make your way to the River Adige, where you'll be able to admire a beautiful view of the Ponte Pietra, the Roman Theatre, and the Archeological Museum.
After your tour, take the rest of the day to explore on your own. Spend some time seeing inside the Roman Theater and Archaeological Museum. Admire the impressive archaeological feats before heading over to the Castle Vecchio. First, cross the Castelvecchio Bridge, constructed in the 1350s. You'll travel back in time as you walk over its red brick and take in the incredible scenery of the Adige river from this ideal vantage point. As you reach the other side, you can visit the Castelvecchio Museum. This small castle, built for military purposes, is a lovely example of Gothic architecture.
Head back to Piazza Bra in the evening where restaurants and bars are buzzing with locals and visitors alike. Grab an aperitivo before tucking into your meal.
Day 10: Wine Tour from Verona
After a relaxed breakfast, head out for a delightful half-day wine tour in the vineyards of the Valpolicella region, surpassed only by Chianti and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo in terms of red wine production. The name, which comes from a mix of ancient Latin and Greek, translates to "valley of many cellars."
This sprawling district in the Veneto region sits between the Alps foothills and the surrounding valleys of the Lessini Mountains. Valpolicella's rich, alluvial soils cultivate some of the world's best-quality grapevines, which produce four styles of revered red wines: dry, classic Amarone, spicy cherry Valpolicella Ripasso, sweet Recioto, and lively, accessible Valpolicella. With such a wide range of flavors, there's a wine for every palate.
You'll stop at two local wineries to learn about the production process and to tour the cellars, seeing how wine barrels are stored for aging. You'll have a couple of tastings to discover the different flavors and compare and contrast before heading back to Verona.
In the afternoon, explore the city of Verona on your own. Head to the Giusti Garden in the east of the city, located just behind the Giusti Palace. Stroll through the maze of lawns, manicured hedges, and Greek statues that adorn its walkways and appreciate the Renaissance style. For dinner check out the Old Town area and find a cozy restaurant to spend your evening in.
Day 11: Guided Tour of Lake Garda from Verona
Today you'll spend the day on the southern side of Lake Garda. After a short 25-minute train ride, you'll arrive at Desenzano station and meet your guide in the center of the town. Desenzano and Sirmione are somewhat larger than other villages around the lake, with vibrant bars and restaurants, but they are also steeped in history. Your guide will take you on a tour of these two villages on Lake Garda, hopping between them using the lake's ferry service. Additionally, if you'd like to visit other villages with your guide, that can be arranged in advance. During your tour, admire how the landscape changes around the lake, noting that the south is much flatter and less mountainous than the north, but also beautiful.
Explore the lakefront, old port, and winding streets of Desenzano. Learn about ancient Roman history from your guide when visiting the castle and Roman Villa. If you're interested in delving even further back in time there is also the Bronze and Stone Age museum in Desenzano (the G Rambotti Museo Archeologico). Wander through the center and check out the variety of high-end designers to smaller boutique shops, and if you are there on a Tuesday don't miss out on the market.
On the boat ride to Sirmione, you'll notice that it juts into the lake on a long peninsula, making its location and views unique. Sirmione is a very pretty town, with colored houses and cobbled streets to charm you. The two main sites to see are the Grotto of Catullus and Scaliger Castle. The grotto is actually a large Roman mansion built for the poet Catullus. It was very common for rich families to construct their villas around the lakes as they were inspired by the tranquility of the water and Alpine nature. The 14th century Scaliger Castle overlooks Sirmione and Lake Garda. For an unrivaled view across the lake, you can climb to the top of the castle up narrow stairs.
Towards the end of the day, enjoy some leisurely free time to explore at your own pace. We'd recommend finding a great spot for lunch in Sirmione's square Piazza Carducci or Piazza Cappalletti back in Desenzano, then hopping over to Peschiera del Garda, where you can choose from the following activities:
- Visit Roman archeological sites, the Palazzina Storica Museo, and the Sanctuary of Madonna del Frassino
- Hike to see the Waterfall of Varone, and after enjoy wine at Cantina Zeni and the Museum of Wine, set inside the Zeni Winery overlooking Lake Garda
- Enjoy nature in Peschiera at the Hruska Botanical Garden where you can find species from every part of the world, from the Himalayas to Africa
- Shop for, and sample, local food, and wine. Producers sell sweet and savory treats, including tortellini, formaggella di tremosine (a soft cheese), honey, and sbrisolona (a delicious crumble cake). Vineyards surround Lake Garda, producing Bardolino wine, Grappa and Limoncello.
After some last-minute shopping, take the train back to Verona. You'll return in time to sit outside and enjoy an aperitivo before dinner.
Day 12: Goodbye Italy
Your journey in Italy will end after breakfast, with a transfer to the airport to catch your flight home or to your next destination. Arrivederci!