- Wander around Rome's famous fountains and piazzas upon arrival
- Explore Florence's compact historic center and incredible architecture
- Shop for ingredients at a Florence market, followed by a cooking class
- Hike between the medieval villages of the Cinque Terre
- Take a gondola to Venice's former Jewish Ghetto for hip bars and restaurants
|Arrive in Rome, Explore
|Visit the Colosseum & Roman Forum
|Vatican Tour: Museums, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's Basilica
|Train to Florence, Evening Wine Tasting Experience
|Florence Self-Guided City Tour
|Local Cooking Class & Market Visit in Florence
|Train to the Cinque Terre, Explore
|Free Day in the Cinque Terre, Sunset Cruise
|Train to Venice, Explore
|Venice Self-Guided City Tour
Day 1: Arrive in Rome, Explore
Welcome to Rome! According to legend, Italy's capital was founded by brothers Romulus and Remus in 753 BCE atop Palatine Hill, which you'll see tomorrow. As the long-time center of the powerful Roman Empire, you'll find nearly 3,000 years of architecture, history, and culture throughout the city. After arriving at one of Rome's airports, transfer to your hotel in the historic center. Settle in and then step outside for a stroll. The next few days will involve lots of sightseeing, so spend your first few hours enjoying some of the highlights at a relaxed pace.
Perhaps you want to start at the Catacombs of Priscilla, which were originally used from the 2nd to 5th 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 beautiful fountains and classical Roman and Baroque architecture, including the Pantheon, a 2,000-year-old temple.
You can also make your way to Colle Aventino, one of Rome's famous seven hills, and Parco Savello (Orange Tree Park), where you can find the famous keyhole that gives a direct view of the Vatican. This is a good place to grab a cappuccino and snack from one of the adjacent cafés. Or, 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 2: Visit the Colosseum & Roman Forum
Dive deep into ancient Rome today with a self-guided visit to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum with an entrance ticket that combines both sites. It's best to start early to beat the crowds, as walking through the Colosseum is like taking a trip back in time to the days of the Roman Empire. Learn about its illustrious citizens, such as Julius Caesar, Emperors Augustus and Nero, and the Flavian Emperors who built the Colosseum, and keep an eye out for the Arch of Constantine, which was constructed to honor Emperor Constantine's victory in the battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE.
A short walk from here is the Roman Forum, where you'll see excavations dating back 2,000 years that 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.
Complete your self-guided tour of ancient Rome at Palatine Hill, located 131 feet (40 m) above the city. Take in the incredible views of the city, with the Forum on one side, Circus Maximus on the other, and the Vatican in the distance. After all this exploring, venture to the nearby Monti neighborhood, less than a 10-minute walk, and tuck into a well-deserved meal.
Day 3: Early Morning Vatican Experience
This morning 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 4: Train to Florence, Evening Wine Tasting Experience
After one last Roman breakfast at your hotel, transfer to the train station for your ride to Florence. Upon arrival, check into your hotel and then set out on foot. Florence is home to many masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture, including the iconic Duomo, a terracotta-tiled dome, and the Galleria dell'Accademia, which displays Michelangelo's "David" sculpture.
You might want to start your exploration with a walk through the peaceful Boboli Gardens to see the oval-shaped Isolotto, a small island surrounded by various sculptures and lots of greenery. You can also visit the Chiesa e Museo di Orsanmichele, which served as the granary for the Sisters of San Michele in previous years.
In the evening, make your way to a local family-run wine bar, where you'll be guided through a tasting of wines that Tuscany is known for. You'll learn about the culture and tradition behind each glass and the best way to pair and taste them. Enjoy an accompanying meal with your tasting in this intimate setting, all without leaving the city center of Florence.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Florence Self-Guided City Tour
Wake up refreshed and start the morning with breakfast at your hotel. You'll want plenty of energy before you spend the day strolling the streets of Florence on a self-guided tour. There's no rush, and you can take your time to enjoy the sites along the way for a full-day experience. Start at the iconic Duomo, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which is one of the largest churches in the world. Entrance into the main sanctuary is free, and keep in mind the modest dress code (no bare arms or legs). There's often a line to get in, so give yourself an hour to visit this architectural marvel.
From here, make the short walk over to the Mercato Centrale on the second floor of the Mercado di San Lorenzo, where you'll be able to meander through the stalls of local goods and grab a mid-morning pastry and espresso. Give yourself an hour or two to soak in the sights and smells and buy some traditional leather goods as souvenirs. Next, head to the nearby Piazza della Republica, the perfect place to soak in the atmosphere of Florence's city center and its incredible architecture.
Then take a moment to pass through Piazza della Signoria, where replicas of famous statues, including Michelangelo's "David," line the square before stopping for lunch nearby. Across this same piazza, you'll find the entrance to the Uffizi Gallery. Even if you decide not to peruse the expansive art collection, you can cross through its courtyard, Piazzale degli Uffizi, to make your way to the Ponte Vecchio. This famed bridge is now dotted with jewelry shops and is an iconic sight in the Florence cityscape. Walk along the bridge, admiring the views along the Arno River.
End your day with a visit to Piazzale Michelangelo. Getting here requires a bit of an uphill climb, or you can take a quick taxi ride. Either way, you can watch a sunset overlooking a spectacular viewpoint of the city before heading to Piazza Santo Spirito for some predinner aperitivos.
Day 6: Local Cooking Class & Market Visit in Florence
Enjoy a leisurely morning in Florence with breakfast at your hotel and a slow stroll through the historic center. Popular highlights that you may not have had time to see yet include the sprawling 15th-century Pitti Palace and the world-famous Uffizi Gallery, which is considered one of the best art museums in Europe. Be sure to purchase your tickets to the Uffizi online in advance to avoid being disappointed!
In the afternoon, you'll meet your local hosts near the center of Florence for a traditional Italian cooking class. Before getting started, head to a gourmet market together in a historic neighborhood to pick out the ingredients for your class. Your host will take you to a favorite café for coffee before you enter La Pegna, a high-end supermarket known for its specialty, high-quality products, pasta, and spices. After about an hour, you'll head back to start cooking.
Then roll up your sleeves and learn to cook four regional Italian dishes from recipes passed down through generations. Observe the chef's different tricks and techniques involved in cooking Italian family recipes. In the summer months, you might be able to use the small vegetable and herb garden in the courtyard where zucchini, tomatoes, and herbs are grown. No matter what the season is, the best part comes at the end when you and your hosts will sit down and enjoy your freshly-made dinner together.
Day 7: Train to the Cinque Terre, Explore
It's time to head west to the Mediterranean Sea! You'll first take a train or private transport to get to La Spezia, where you'll connect to the local train that provides access to the Cinque Terre. This is a rugged strip of the Liguria coastline made up of five old fishing villages—Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The coast, villages, and surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The region is renowned for its beautiful nature and an abundance of Mediterranean plants that cover the scrubby hillsides that tumble down to the turquoise water. The historic villages and breathtaking beauty of the region make it a popular choice for travelers. The historic towns prohibit vehicles to preserve the traditional charm, so most travelers arrive by train that runs along the coast or by tour boat.
The area's coastline hiking trails are some of the world's best, linking the small villages together on a beautiful footpath. The path from Riomaggiore to Manarola is called the Via Dell'Amore (Italian for Lover's Walk), and its midpoint—The Lover's Lock, a statue of two people kissing—is a favorite place for couples to copy the gesture for a photo. If you're traveling with your special someone, bring a small lock to attach to one of the gates or rails on the way to seal your eternal love.
Day 8: Free Day in the Cinque Terre, Sunset Cruise
Take the day to explore the Cinque Terre on your own. Whether it's soaking in the sunshine on a beach, hiking through its trails, or wandering around the colorful villages, you'll be enchanted by this incredibly unique area.
If you like historic churches, you can visit a few of them, including the Santuario di Nostra Signora di Montenero in Riomaggiore and the Church of San Giovanni Battista in Corniglia. Another option is to check out 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.
You can also walk up to the Torre Aurora, a medieval castle that stands at the intersection of Monterosso's Old Town and New Town. Or, pay a visit to Cantina 5 Terre in Riomaggiore, the Cinque Terre's only major winery, to learn about 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.
In the evening, head out onto the water to enjoy a small group sunset boat tour. Sit back and admire the views of the charming fishing villages on a 2.5-hour route from Vernazza. You'll pass by grottos tucked into cliffsides and admire the villages of Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore from the sea. Feel free to go for a dip in the water off the deck of the boat and toast your time on the coast with a drink in hand as you watch the sunset.
Day 9: Train to Venice, Explore
It's time to say goodbye to the Ligurian coast! At the appointed time, catch a short train to La Spezia, where you'll connect to Venice on the eastern side of Italy. Settle in for the five-hour journey, with usually two train changes along the way.
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, which all contributed to Venice's wealth.
Venice is also well known for several artistic movements, especially from the Renaissance period. The city's many composers, like Antonio Vivaldi and others, played important 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 historic attractions, such as the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), the Basilica San Marco, the Grand Canal, and the ornate Doge's Palace.
Before you experience these highlights, consider taking a gondola to a lesser-visited district called Cannaregio, 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 Venice. Buon appetito!
Day 10: Venice Self-Guided City Tour
Today, it's time to explore Venice on a self-guided tour, starting with Piazza San Marco (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 the nearby Doge's Palace. 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 here, 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. Continue walking along 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 11: Depart Venice
Say goodbye, or ciao, to Italy for now! Take advantage of any extra time with an early morning walk around the canals. After one last Venetian breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport for your flight home. Safe travels!