- See Rome's historical monuments and hip neighborhoods where locals like to dine
- Join a private cooking class in Florence and learn how to make fresh pasta
- Spend a day on the Mediterranean coast with access to hiking and beaches
- Tour the romantic city of Verona with bridges and Shakespearean monuments
- Relax at Venice's waterfront bars serving the local version of tapas, called ciccetti
|Day 1||Arrive in Rome, Explore||Rome|
|Day 2||Self-Guided Visit the Colosseum & Roman Forum||Rome|
|Day 3||Vatican Tour: Museums, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's Basilica||Rome|
|Day 4||Rome Underground & Catacombs Tour||Rome|
|Day 5||Train to Florence, Explore||Florence|
|Day 6||Florence Self-Guided City Tour||Florence|
|Day 7||Tuscany Day Trip: Siena & San Gimignano||Florence|
|Day 8||Local Cooking Class in Florence||Florence|
|Day 9||Day Trip to the Cinque Terre||Florence|
|Day 10||Train to Verona, Explore||Verona|
|Day 11||Verona Guided City Tour||Verona|
|Day 12||Valpolicella Wine Tour||Verona|
|Day 13||Day Trip to the Dolomites||Verona|
|Day 14||Train to Venice, Explore||Venice|
|Day 15||Venice Self-Guided City Tour||Venice|
|Day 16||Murano & Burano Half-Day Excursion||Venice|
|Day 17||Classic Gondola Ride in Venice||Venice|
|Day 18||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 longtime 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: Self-Guided 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: Rome Underground & Catacombs Tour
Head underground today to explore the hidden world beneath your feet. Meet your guide, then descend to the shadowy tunnels of the second-century Roman Catacombs, a former refuge for early Christians who sought a safe site to practice their forbidden faith and honor the dead. From here, cross the neighborhood to see the Basilica San Clemente, a 14th-century church whose resident cleric was nearly driven mad by the mysterious sound of running water. On this tour, the guide will point out the sites of the 5th-century church, the fourth-century temple, and the first-century street and aqueduct located underneath the basilica.
In the afternoon, continue exploring on your own. Perhaps you want to visit the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo history museum or tour the Renaissance Villa Farnesina in the Trastevere district. You can also head out of the city for a day at Ostia Beach for miles of sand and warm sea. Another option is to walk to the historic and fascinating neighborhood of Testaccio to see the giant Monte Testaccio, an ancient pile of discarded olive oil jars from the second century CE.
Day 5: Train to Florence, Explore
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 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 trendy Sant'Ambrogio neighborhood.
Day 6: 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, home of 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 is 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 midmorning 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 another 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.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 7: Day Trip to Siena & San Gimignano
In the morning, you'll head to the countryside to explore Tuscany. Your first stop will be the medieval village of San Gimignano, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located an hour from Florence. Explore the city's beautiful squares, palaces, and churches before taking a break with a coffee in a terraced café.
In the afternoon, you'll visit nearby Siena, a medieval city with historic sites. You can't miss the great main square, Piazza del Campo, surrounded by the Gothic Pubblico Palace, the Tower of Mangia, and the Gaia Fountain. From here, walk over to the 13th-century cathedral, Duomo di Siena, which dominates the city's skyline. In the summer, the town comes alive with festivities, as the Palio takes place in July and August. This exciting horserace, held twice a year in the main square of Siena, ignites the town in fervor.
Finish the day with a visit to the medieval fortress town of Monteriggioni, perched on a hillside, where you can explore the intact castle walls. Continue to the Chianti Classico wine region to visit a typical Tuscan winery (with tastings!) before returning to Florence for the evening.
Day 8: 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 Tuscan 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 9: Day Trip to the Cinque Terre
This morning you'll depart for a full day on the Cinque Terre, a section of the Italian coast famous for its five medieval villages, stunning cliffs, and beautiful hiking trails. A great place to start is Riomaggiore, where you can walk along the beautiful Via dell' Amore (Lover's Pathway) to take in the exhilarating views of the Mediterranean Sea.
From here, continue to the village of Monterosso al Mare for some free time. The city's medieval center remains nearly perfectly preserved, with its ancient tower houses and network of carrugi (narrow alleyways that lead from the sea to the cliffs above the town). Monterosso is also renowned for having the best gelato on the Cinque Terre (make sure to try some!) and more breathtaking views of the sea and surrounding landscapes.
Next, head up the coast to the town of Vernazza, a small resort town located at the mouth of a river and naturally protected from wild sea swells by a rocky promontory. This natural wave break protects the harbor, making it the only major docking point in the Cinque Terre. Enjoy lunch on your own as you explore the local cuisine and savor regional delicacies. After sightseeing, follow your nose to the neighborhood bakery to sample the local focaccia with pesto for a delicious local specialty. In the afternoon, transfer back to Florence in time for aperitivos before dinner.
Day 10: 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 11: 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 (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 Bra Square, 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 12: 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 is 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 13: Day Trip to the Dolomites
Today, set out from the city of Verona to explore the nearby natural wonder of the Dolomite Mountains, which form part of the Southern Limestone Alps and extend from the River Adige to the Piave Valley. This full-day small-group tour takes you by car, giving you the opportunity to admire the views along the way.
Take a moment to breathe in the spectacular view over the Dolomites. After a few hours, you'll enter the Val di Fassa, an expansive valley framed by this impressive mountain range. Enjoy the ride before arriving at Pass Pordoi, at an altitude of 7,345 feet (2,239 m). From here, you'll board a panoramic funicular that reaches more than 10,000 feet (3,048 m), with breathtaking views of the Dolomites. Enjoy some free time to walk around, have lunch, and simply admire your incredible surroundings before heading back to Verona in the evening.
Day 14: Train to Venice, Explore
Today you'll 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.
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 15: Venice Self-Guided City Tour
Today is your chance 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 16: Murano & Burano Half-Day Excursion
Having a few days to spend in Venice allows you to get off the beaten track and visit the lagoon and neighboring islands of Murano and Burano during a half-day tour. First, board your motorboat in the center of Venice and make your way to the islands, about 45 minutes away. Along the way, your guide will offer insights into the spectacular Venetian lagoon and its various islands. Arrive first at Burano and have free time to explore. Traditionally a quiet fishing village, it's known for its exquisite lacemaking and the colorful houses that adorn its postcard-worthy canals.
From there, return to your boat and head to the island of Murano, famous for its colorful glass. Visit a glassblower to see a demonstration and learn about the history of glassmaking and the process behind it. Marvel at the intricate pieces, and peruse Murano's many local shops to see the many forms of this delicate craft for yourself.
After spending the better part of your morning enjoying the sights and sounds of the unique islands, return to Venice by boat in time for lunch at one of its many delicious local eateries.
Day 17: Classic Gondola Ride in Venice
There's something to be said for the classics. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and when in Venice, take a gondola tour of its romantic canals. This is the classic route, too—a leisurely 30-minute jaunt along Venice's waterways under the power and guidance of a professional gondolier.
It may be a popular tourist activity, but gondolas have been used as transport in the City of Water for well over 1,000 years. This elegant and romantic mode of transport will leave you perfectly content as you leisurely glide on the surface of the water, under Rialto Bridge, and as you pass iconic landmarks like Rialto Square.
After 30 minutes on the water, you'll hop off the boat and can continue to enjoy Venice on foot however you choose. Make the most of your last day here and discover art at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection Modern Art Museum and La Biennale di Venezia Art Museum. You can also browse textiles, craft shops, unique boutiques, and galleries in the bohemian San Samuele district. In the evening, consider a performance at the Teatro La Fenice, one of Europe's most famous opera houses.
Day 18: Depart Venice
Say goodbye, or ciao, to Italy for now! Take advantage of any extra time with one last morning stroll around the canals. After one last Venetian breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Safe travels!