- Soak up Rome's fountains, piazzas, and ancient landmarks at your own pace
- See the highlights of the Vatican's 54 museums with a private guide
- Join a Tuscan cooking class and learn to prepare fresh pasta
- Taste a range of wines from the Valpolicella region outside of Verona
- Get lost in Venice's colorful maze of 150 canals on foot and by gondola
|Day 1||Arrive in Rome, Explore||Rome|
|Day 2||Visit the Colosseum & Roman Forum||Rome|
|Day 3||Vatican Tour: Museums, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's Basilica||Rome|
|Day 4||Train to Florence, Explore||Florence|
|Day 5||Florence Self-Guided City Tour||Florence|
|Day 6||Local Cooking Class in Florence||Florence|
|Day 7||Train to Verona, Explore||Verona|
|Day 8||Verona Guided City Tour||Verona|
|Day 9||Valpolicella Wine Tour||Verona|
|Day 10||Train to Venice, Explore||Venice|
|Day 11||Venice Self-Guided City Tour||Venice|
|Day 12||Depart Venice|
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 have a chance to see tomorrow. As the long-time center of the mighty 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.
You may want to start at the Catacombs of Priscilla, 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 periods. Or, simply 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.
If you have energy remaining, walk to Colle Aventino, one of Rome's famous seven hills, and Parco Savello (Orange Tree Park), where you can find the renowned keyhole that gives a direct view of the Vatican. This is an excellent 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, where locals like to dine.
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. 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 gladiator matches. Historians and archaeologists refer to the Roman Forum as the most prominent 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: Vatican Tour: Museums, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's Basilica
After an early breakfast at your hotel, you can visit Vatican City's museums and other top sights during a three-hour guided morning tour. The Vatican is rich in history and art, housing some of the most important Renaissance masterpieces in the world. During the tour, 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 personal 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 historical 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 pizza, gelato, and people-watching.
Day 4: Train to Florence, Explore
After one last Roman breakfast at your hotel, transfer to the train station for your ride to Florence, the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance period. Upon arrival, check into your hotel and then set out on foot. Not surprisingly, Florence is home to many Renaissance art and architecture masterpieces, including the iconic Duomo, a terracotta-tiled dome, and the Galleria dell'Accademia, which displays Michelangelo's "David" sculpture.
If the weather is nice, you might want to start your exploration by walking through the peaceful Boboli Gardens to see the oval-shaped Isolotto, a small island surrounded by various sculptures and greenery. You can also visit Chiesa e Museo di Orsanmichele, a church that served as the granary for the Sisters of San Michele in previous years.
In the evening, stroll around the historic Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, for some people-watching, followed by dinner and drinks in the hip Sant'Ambrogio neighborhood.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Florence Self-Guided City Tour
Start your first morning in Florence with breakfast at your hotel. You'll want plenty of energy before you spend the day strolling the historic streets 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, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, one of the world's largest churches. 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 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 today, 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 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 seen yet include the sprawling 15th-century Pitti Palace and the world-famous Uffizi Gallery, with its impressive collections of ancient sculptures and paintings. Be sure to purchase your tickets to the Uffizi online to avoid disappointment!
In the afternoon, you'll meet your host near the center of Florence for a traditional Italian cooking class. He or she will first welcome you with a glass of prosecco as you begin the three-hour experience with an appetizer of Italian cheeses and other local products.
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 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 Verona, Explore
Today you'll leave Florence and make your way up the Italian peninsula to Verona, home of Shakespeare's famous love story. The train journey takes about three hours, with a stop in Bologna. When you arrive, make your way to your hotel to check in before getting out to explore.
An excellent place to start is the Ponte Pietro, the historic arch bridge facing the San Giorgio in Braida Church. From there, venture up the stairs nearby to the Piazzale Castel San Pietro for a stunning view of Verona and a perfect place to watch the sun go down. This centuries-old fortress perched on a hilltop is an impressive architectural wonder in and of itself, but the view it gives of the city below is what makes it so unique. Admire the church towers, river, and city skyline below before returning to the city center.
Finish the day at Piazza delle Erbe, where you can relax with dinner and a glass of wine amid your beautiful new surroundings.
Day 8: Verona Guided City Tour
After breakfast at your hotel, take a two-hour guided tour of Verona with a local guide. You'll see why this romantic city is more than the setting for the most famous Shakespearean love drama; it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and your guide will share information regarding its history and archaeological importance.
Your walking tour will start with one of Verona's most notable landmarks, the Arena in Piazza Bra. 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 delve into the importance of the ancient economic and political life in the quaint market Piazza delle Erbe.
Nearby, you'll visit the house of Verona's famed lovers and see Juliet's balcony and the Casa di Giulietta, said to have inspired Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Continue your tour and learn why Verona is important in Northern Italy's medieval history. Visit Piazza dei Signori and crisscross through side streets and back alleys as your guide points out the best local cuisine to add to your list of places to try.
After the tour, take some free time to explore the Roman Theater and Archaeological Museum before crossing the Castelvecchio Bridge, constructed centuries ago in the 1350s. This is where you can visit the Castelvecchio Museum, a small castle and a lovely example of the Gothic architecture of the time. Head back to Piazza Bra in the evening, where restaurants and bars are buzzing with locals and visitors alike.
Day 9: Valpolicella Wine Tour
After a relaxed breakfast, head out for a half-day wine tour to experience the vineyards of the Valpolicella region, which is surpassed only by Chianti and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo in terms of red wine production. The name, Valpolicella, comes from a mix of ancient Latin and Greek and translates to "valley of many cellars."
This sprawling district in the Veneto region sits between the foothills of the Italian Alps and the surrounding valleys of the Lessini Mountains. Valpolicella's rich, alluvial soils cultivate some of the world's best-quality grapevines, which make up 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 Valpolicella wine for every palate.
You'll stop at two local wineries to learn all there's in the production process and tour the cellars and see how wine barrels are stored for wine aging. Here, you'll have a couple of tastings to finish off the day before heading back to Verona. In the afternoon, explore the city of Verona on your own, perhaps with a visit to Giusti Garden, located just behind the Giusti Palace. Stroll through its maze of lawns, pristinely kept hedges, and Greek statues that adorn its walkways.
Day 10: Train to Venice, Explore
It's time to take a one-hour train to Venice! Enjoy any remaining time in Verona with a morning walk around the historical center before departure. Upon arrival, get settled at your hotel and start exploring.
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. Due to its strategic placement, Venice has long been a commercial and cultural hub, stretching across 117 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea. Silk, grains, spices, and art were traded through the Middle Ages, contributing 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 essential roles in shaping symphonic and operatic music. Numerous artists have called Venice home, and their work draws visitors worldwide. The city is famous for its many beautiful historical 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 has excellent restaurants, bars, and shops offering kosher Venetian specialties, a Jewish museum, and several tourist-friendly synagogues. Eat and drink through regional specialties as you celebrate your first night in Venice. Buon appetito!
Day 11: Venice Self-Guided City Tour
Today, it's time to explore Venice on a self-guided tour, starting with 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 surrounding 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 stunning 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 time but has remained 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 to 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 bustling 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, then sit at a bar and order a glass of wine and cicchetti (the Venetian version of tapas).
Day 12: Depart Venice
Say goodbye, or ciao, to Italy for now! Take advantage of any extra time with one last morning stroll or gondola ride around the canals. After one last Venetian breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport for your flight home. Safe travels!