If you want to see as many of Italy's historic sights and locales as possible on a limited time frame, you'll visit two places: Rome and Sicily. This 13-day itinerary covers both, beginning in Italy's capital with tours of the city sights and art museums. You'll then fly to Sicily for a road-trip adventure in which you'll stop at its most famous cities, ruins, and landmarks, like Mt. Etna.

Highlights

  • Go back in time to ancient Rome with a tour of the Colosseum
  • Tour the halls and basilicas of the Vatican
  • Cool off by the Pretoria Fountain in Palermo
  • Visit ancient Greek and Roman ruins at Agrigento and Syracuse
  • Dine on fresh seafood in sophisticated Taormina

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Rome Rome
Day 2 Vatican & Classic Tour of Rome Rome
Day 3 Private Colosseum & Forum Tour - Cooking Class Rome
Day 4 Galleria Borghese - Free Afternoon in Rome Rome
Day 5 Fly From Rome to Palermo - Pick up Rental Car Palermo
Day 6 Palermo Street Food Tour Palermo
Day 7 Drive From Palermo to Agrigento - Stop in Monreale Agrigento
Day 8 Drive From Agrigento to Syracuse - Guided Tour of Valley of the Temples Syracuse
Day 9 Explore Syracuse - Day Trip to Noto Syracuse
Day 10 Syracuse to Taormina - City Tour Taormina
Day 11 Guided Mount Etna Hike - Wine Tasting Taormina
Day 12 Drive From Taormina to Catania - Fly to Rome Rome
Day 13 Goodbye, Italy  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Rome

Colonna di Marco Aurelio in Piazza Colonna
Colonna di Marco Aurelio in Piazza Colonna

Welcome to Rome, City of the Seven Hills! According to legend, Rome was founded by brothers Romulus and Remus in 753 B.C.E. atop Palatine Hill. The long-time center of the powerful Roman Empire, Rome boasts nearly 3,000 years of architecture, history, and culture. 

After arriving at one of Rome's airports, you'll transfer to your hotel in the historic center. Settle in and relax, then head out for a stroll and your first look at the Eternal City. Your next few days will involve lots of sightseeing, so check out some of Rome's landmarks and sites. 

For an authentic market experience stop by the Mercato dei Fiori, where locals shop for fresh vegetables, a wide selection of flowers, meats, and cheeses. Browse for authentic Italian pasta and other souvenirs then take a break with coffee and a pastry at one of the many cafes surrounding the market. 

Day 2: Vatican & Classic Tour of Rome

St. Peter's Square and the Vatican
St. Peter's Square and the Vatican

Today you will visit the Vatican City museums and Sistine Chapel, as well as other top sights for an exclusive 6-hour tour of the city's incredible art and history. Start at the Vatican, where you'll visit the Pio Clementio Museum, Gallery of the Candelabra, Gallery of Tapestries, and Gallery of the Geographical Maps

Continue to see the magnificent Raphael Rooms, ending in the breathtaking Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. Experience the magic of Renaissance art as you learn about the secret details and untold stories of the masterpieces. 

Afterward, continue into a city for a tour of the city's most notable landmarks. Cross Piazza della Repubblica to see the Fountain of the Nyands, then continue to see the Trevi Fountain, La Colonna di Marco Aurelio, and the Palazzo di Montecitorio, which was designed by Bernini.

Admire the exterior of the Pantheon and head inside for a look at the ancient Roman temple, then head to Palazzo Madama—the Senate seat—ending at Piazza Navona.

End your evening with a stroll to the neighborhood piazza for gelato and some people watching.

Day 3: Private Colosseum & Forum Tour - Cooking Class

The ancient Roman Colosseum
The ancient Roman Colosseum

In the morning meet your archaeologist guide and dive into the history of the Roman Empire with a private guided walking tour of the Colosseum, the world's largest amphitheater (tickets included). You'll explore the main complex, as well as the Belvedere, the recently opened third ring with a view of the arena and the Imperial Forums up to the fourth and fifth rings. 

Walking through the ancient amphitheater is like taking a trip back in time to the days of the Roman Empire. At its prime, the Colosseum held 50,000 spectators and was the central venue for gladiator fights. Learn about some of ancient Rome's most famous and illustrious citizens, such as Julius Caesar, Emperors Augustus and Nero, and the Flavian Emperors who built the Colosseum. 

From here, continue to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, built between 46 BCE and 113 CEC. Walk along the ancient Roman street Via Sacra to see the Temples of Vesta, Antonino, and Faustina. See the ancient Basilica Julia and Aemilia and experience the grandeur of the Roman Empire.

Enjoy some time to yourself, then, in the afternoon, head to a cooking class to learn to make traditional Roman pasta specialties. You'll make Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara, and Amatriciana—all Italian favorites. Start with a combination of great local ingredients (pecorino cheese, fresh meat, and eggs), then make the perfect sauce with fresh market vegetables. Form the homemade dough into the classic pasta shapes and combine everything for a delicious meal. 

Once you're finished, sit down to enjoy your creations for dinner paired with the perfect glass of wine.

Day 4: Galleria Borghese - Free Afternoon in Rome

Exhibition of Bernini sculptures
Exhibition of Bernini sculptures

Today is a free day to explore the city. Head to Galleria Borghese, one of the world's premier art museums, for a self-guided visit to see works by extraordinary artists Bernini, Caravaggio, Canova, and Rafaello. The gallery's highlights include sculptures and paintings from Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s collection (1579 - 1633). 

Admire Caravaggio's most important paintings, including "Boy with Basket of Fruit", and see Bernini and Canova's sculpture collection, boasting works such as "Apollo and Daphne" and "David". Rafaello's "Entombment of Christ" is also a must-see. 

Walk through the ornate rooms and explore the splendid frescoes, stories, and masterful techniques behind the masterpieces. End the tour with a peaceful stroll around the Villa Borghese gardens, enjoying its beauty and calm far from the chaos of the city. Please note that although this is a self-guided tour, a guided option is also available. 

In the evening head back to the Trastevere neighborhood for dinner at an osteria or a trattoria, followed by drinks at a trendy wine bar.

Day 5: Fly From Rome to Palermo - Pick up Rental Car

View over Palmero at sunset
View over Palmero at sunset

Today, a transfer will take you to the airport where you'll board a one-hour flight to Palermo. Sicily's regional capital boasts beautiful Mediterranean weather and a long and storied history with Roman, Byzantine, Arab, and Norman influences. You'll see this mix of cultures reflected in Palermo's architecture, music, and cuisine. 

Upon arrival at the airport, you'll pick up your rental car and drive 45 minutes to your hotel in the heart of the city to settle in. The rest of the day is yours to spend as you like.

You can discover Palermo right away on a self-guided walking tour. The best place to begin is Palermo's historic center. Its medieval streets are easy to navigate by foot, and there are many attractions and restaurants within walking distance. To get your bearings, take a passeggiata (stroll) along the narrow Via Maqueda, a pedestrianized thoroughfare that connects the north of the city to the south. A good place to start is the Fontana Pretoria, a Baroque fountain in the Piazza Pretoria.

Day 6: Palermo Street Food Tour

Street vendor sells pastries
Street vendor sells pastries

One great way to experience Palermo is on a street food tour. You'll snack your way through the city's historic streets while visiting back-alley markets, modest bakeries, old bars, and various food stalls while on the hunt for sweet and savory eats.

You'll meet your guide in the morning and meander over to the Vucciria and Capo markets. These two open-air markets are so abuzz with activity that they're reminiscent of Arab souks. You'll discover how Sicily’s unique culinary history informs its street food scene as vendors of local produce and seafood proffer their goods.

Throughout, you'll visit bakeries, cafés, and food stalls to try a variety of popular Sicilian street snacks: pani câ meusa (sesame-flavored bread stuffed with fried veal and spleen), panelle (chickpea fritters) and arancini (deep-fried balls of rice stuffed with meat, vegetables, and cheese). Wash it all down with sweet Sicilian wine before digging into a seasonal dessert like cannoli (deep-fried pastries filled with sweetened ricotta cheese), gelato, or a refreshing granita (a fruity semi-frozen treat).

Day 7: Drive From Palermo to Agrigento - Stop in Monreale

The celebrated Monreale Cathedral
The celebrated Monreale Cathedral

Get an early start and make the 30-minute drive to the town of Monreale. Here, on the slopes of Monte Caputo, you'll discover what is thought to be the greatest example of Norman architecture in the world, the Cattedrale di Monreale (Monreale Cathedral). This 12th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site features ornate cloisters and gold mosaics depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Admire the Norman-Byzantine art and architecture as you tour this national monument.

When you're ready, spend a little time wandering Monreale itself. Consider a stroll through the Belvedere public garden. It offers a beautiful view over the Conca d'Oro, a fertile valley abounding with citrus trees.

From here, continue driving 2.5 hours to Agrigento, a hilltop city on Sicily's southwestern shore. After checking into your hotel, you can head out and explore. Stroll through Agrigento's densely-packed historic center to Via Atenea, a busy thoroughfare lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. From Via Atenea, climb your way upwards through a maze of cobblestoned narrow alleys and side streets past 18th and 19th-century palazzi (estate homes).

Day 8: Drive From Agrigento to Syracuse - Guided Tour of Valley of the Temples

Temple of Concordia
Temple of Concordia

After breakfast, you'll visit Agrigento's UNESCO-protected archaeological site. Here you'll meet with a licensed guide to discover the ruins of the ancient city of Akragas in the Valley of the Temples, so named for its well-preserved Greek temples. One such intact gem is the Temple of Concordia, one of several ridge-top temples that once served as beacons for homecoming sailors. 

After breakfast you'll explore Agrigento and its popular UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site, the Valley of the Temples, a ridge that's home to well-preserved ancient Greek temples. Here you'll meet an expert guide to walk through the ancient city of Akragas. You'll visit the temples of Hera, Concordia, and Herakles as your guide reveals historical insight that brings the ruins to life. You'll also learn how these ridge-top temples once served as beacons for homecoming sailors

Afterward, you'll drive 2-3 hours east to the island of Ortygia, the historical heart of the city of Syracuse, and check into your hotel. Sometimes called Città Vecchia (Old City), Ortygia is an easily walkable area full of treasures waiting to be discovered. Perhaps begin with a walk around the island before ducking into the network of narrow and winding alleyways, passing churches and baroque palaces as you go. You can't go wrong here, as everything is a visual treat.

Day 9: Explore Syracuse - Day Trip to Noto

View over Noto and its cathedral
View over Noto and its cathedral

Take the day to immerse yourself in historic Syracuse, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Renowned for its rich Greek history, culture, architecture, as well as the birthplace of engineer and mathematician Archimedes, Syracuse was long regarded as one of the major powers in the Mediterranean. 

Spend the morning exploring the ancient ruins of the Neapolis Archaeological Park. Or lose yourself in Ortygia's winding streets, visiting tucked-away gems like the 19th-century Palazzo Impellizzeri, the Temple of Apollo in Piazza Pancali, or go underground to the San Giovanni Crypt and Catacombs, which date to the 6th century. Alternatively, for some relaxation, you can sunbathe next to turquoise waters at Arenella Beach, just 20 minutes south of Syracuse.

In the afternoon, you'll drive 45 minutes to Noto and explore this postcard-perfect baroque city. In a couple of hours, you can easily cover the town on foot. Stroll Corso Vittorio Emanuele and walk beneath Porta Reale (Royal Gate), taking in the embellished architecture at every turn, like the Chiesa di Santa Chiara, and end your walk at the spectacular 18th-century limestone Noto Cathedral. Optimize your Noto experience with a rewarding granita (frozen dessert) from the popular Caffè Sicilia.

Day 10: Syracuse to Taormina - City Tour

View of Mt. Etna from the Greek theater
View of Mt. Etna from the Greek theater

After breakfast head out for the 1.5-hour transfer to Taormina, a sophisticated and popular resort town located up the coast from Syracuse, on the Ionian Sea. The town's amazing views and ancient theater, which is often used for operatic and theatrical performances, make it the perfect destination for fans of the arts. 

In the afternoon go for a three-hour guided walking tour of the city. Highlights include the 10th-century Palazzo Corvaja, named after one of the city's most influential families, the restored 17th-century Catholic Santa Caterina Church, and the Vicolo Stretto—the narrowest street in town. 

Skip the line to see the Greek theater, which boasts views of Mt. Etna and Giardini Naxos. From here head to the main square of Piazza IX Aprile to rest and refresh with a glass of Mt. Etna's famous wine at a local enoteca.  

Day 11: Guided Mount Etna Hike - Wine Tasting

Mount Etna's colorful landscape
Mount Etna's colorful landscape

Get an early start today and head inland toward Europe's largest active volcano, Mount Etna. You'll start in the Rifugio Sapienza, the southern access point to the volcano for your guided hike to Torre Del Filosofo. Rent any walking equipment you may need and then proceed to ride the cable car up 9,500 feet (2,900 m) to Torre del Filosofo. Take in the breathtaking vistas of solidified lava flows, fumaroles, and views that stretch out to the Mediterranean.

Hop back in your rental car and set out to tour the countryside, stopping at a Sicilian winery to sample the regional reds, whites, and rosés. You'll drive past fruit orchards, vineyards, and lava streams, then stop at various wineries to taste local wines, made from grapes grown on the nutrient-rich volcanic earth. Enjoy Sicilian delicacies of cheeses and salamis for lunch.

Day 12: Drive From Taormina to Catania - Fly to Rome

Via Etnea and Mount Etna
Via Etnea and Mount Etna

After breakfast, make the hour drive south to Catania. Sicily's second-largest city next to Palermo, Catania sits at the foot of Mount Etna and deserves a little exploration if there's time before catching your departure flight. Depending on traffic, it typically takes 15 to 20 minutes to travel from Catania's center to the airport. Best to arrive at least two hours prior to your international departure (and with some extra time to drop off your rental car).

Day 13: Goodbye, Italy

Farewell, Italy
Farewell, Italy

After one last cappuccino over breakfast, head to the airport for your connecting flight home. Have a good trip!

Map

Map of Rome & Sicily Highlights - 13 Days
Map of Rome & Sicily Highlights - 13 Days