Why would you try to cram an Italian vacation in a week you ask? Well, shingles and good luck. Sweet Husband had an itchy spot on his side last summer right before we were ready to pack our suitcases for Italy. It was shingles and his doctor said it could get very bad and advised against travel. Thankfully shingles were no big deal and I’m even more thankful that shingles caused us to delay a trip that would have put us in the biggest heat wave Italy has ever seen. Train travel came to a pause in places as tracks buckled due to heat. Many buildings have little or no air conditioning so it was difficult for people to get relief. I’m thankful that we weren’t in Italy in the summer months but that left our kid’s Fall Break to cram in ten days of plans we had made for Summer travel. If you are beholden to school and sports schedules this fast track through Italy is for you and if you are fortunate enough not to go to Italy like you are competing in The Amazing Race, then you can work off this itinerary and take a slower pace and add in more excursions. Either way you will see the sites and leave Italy without feeling like you missed something.
Two Days in Rome
Day 1– Arrive in Rome and get right to it!
We arrived in Rome just before 9am local time. Getting through customs was very simple as we just waited in line and showed our passport. We visited the ATM at the airport and got Euros in our pocket for just a small ATM fee- much cheaper than exchanging your money abroad. We pre-arranged our transfer from the airport to the hotel so we soon found ourselves in a private van headed into the city. Ride share services are spotty at best in Italy although we used the Uber app more than once that arranged a professional taxi service. There is train transportation into Rome from the airport but transfers are faster, more convenient and go directly to your hotel with your luggage. We checked our luggage with our hotel and headed to Galleria Borghesi. Luckily we had seen this wonderful art museum inside Rome’s largest public park on Rick Steve’s Europe, streamable TV Series available on Amazon Prime. The museum has some of the most important works of art in Europe, most notably The Rape of Proserpina sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini along with many pieces of art that was the spoils of the Roman Empire. You must buy tickets in advance AND reserve your date and time. No need to schedule a group tour, this museum is very accessible, especially with the use of the optional audio guide. Book your tickets directly https://www.ticketone.it/artist/galleria-borghese or have your travel advisor include it in your travel package. It’s a must-see! If you happen to arrive to Rome on a Monday when the museum is closed, be sure to include it another day or see it on the day of your departure by utilizing their baggage check service. Allow for 2-3 hours.
After our museum visit and meandering through the park, past the Spanish Steps and onto Trevi Fountain, we found a local trattoria, or an Italian restaurant serving simple food. The touristy areas of Rome have mainly the same offerings from one place to another as many of the hotels, restaurants and shops are not owned by local Italians but foreign investors. We managed to find a locally owned restaurant for authentic pizza and antipasto with a little luck and discernment. Finally checking into our hotel, we took a much deserved nap and wandered the area around Trevi Fountain at night. While you should be vigilant against pickpockets especially in the most crowded areas and public transportation, our small group felt quite safe and enjoyed walking around to have gelato and visit the small tourist shops each evening after dark.
Day Two- Wear your walking shoes!
I read a “what to pack” travel blog that advised that athletic shoes and attire was considered tacky in Italy. The streets are made of cobblestone and the museum floors made of marble. Every other tourist in the city had on sneakers and for good reason. On this day we had tickets to the Vatican Museum. Those are timed tickets and you will want to buy your tickets well ahead of time with a voucher that allows you to skip the ticket purchase line (very long) and head straight for the museum. Vatican Museum tickets sell out very fast so if you don’t find any directly from the Vatican Museum Website, ask your Travel Advisor to book them for you. Expect to spend 4-5 hours inside the Vatican Museum. We had said we were only going to look at the Sistine Chapel, with a shortcut that allows you to see it in about an hour and a half. The Vatican Museum is massive and just walking to the basillica takes around an hour in heavy crowds. There are many guided tours available and while they would help you get more out of what is on display, you might find yourself feeling like cattle being herded through the galleries. While we didn’t think we necessarily wanted to spend a lot of time in this museum, it ended up being a favorite of our whole vacation. Be sure to see the cars in the basement garage as you exit near the cafeteria. There is much to see in Vatican City, you can easily spend an entire day (or week) here.
Crowds in halls of Vatican Museum
After a thrilling taxi ride back to the hotel from Vatican City straight out of the chase scene in the DaVinci Code movie, I put my sneakers on and we caught a bus to the Colloseum. These timed tickets are available from https://www.coopculture.it/en/tickets/ . Tickets also include the Palatine Hill area including the Forum and entrance to Pantheon within 48 hours of your Colloseum entrance time. Be sure not to skip Palatine Hill or the Pantheon, although the latter we visited the next morning before bidding Rome arrivederci.
The Colloseum is getting some repairs
Three Days in Florence
Day 3- Train to Florence (Firenza)
If you haven’t made your way to Pantheon or perhaps went for a bike ride on the Appian Way enjoy an early morning excursion before your train trip to Florence. We booked our train tickets in advance on the https://italiatren.com on a high speed train into the S Maria Novella station in “Firenza” (what modern Italians call Florence). I highly recommend installing the app on your phone. We booked our tickets in advance since we were traveling with our children and wanted to be sure we had seats together. It wouldn’t have been necessary to pay extra for seats but it was worth the peace of mind. For more regional service (like a daytrip to Pisa, https://italiatren.com/ will get you where you want to go efficiently and inexpensively.
Our train in the station in Rome on our way to Florence
Once we arrived in Florence we walked with our luggage to our hotel because the line for the taxi service was about an hour and our hotel only a few blocks. We checked in and began to explore the city by walking along the picturesqe Arno river and it’s bridges. You can walk to Basilica of Santa Croce, visit the leather market and of course have more gelato. Our trip through Rome seemed fast and a checklist of must-see sights, in Firenza, we chose to experience the culture and slow down a bit. Although it felt a little touristy- our whole family enjoyed The Three Tenors In Concert at Auditorium Santo Stefano al Ponte Vecchio and dinner on our own (as opposed as the available dinner package with the Three Tenors tickets) before walking along the river and getting our pictures along the Ponte Vecchio bridge at night. A perfect introduction to one of Italy’s top tourist destinations.
Day Four- Naked Marble Man!
You didn’t come all the way to Italy just to leave without seeing the David! Buy and print your tickets ahead of time or have your Travel Advisor organize your timed entrance tickets for Accademia Galleria. Most visitors would also want to see the Uffizi Gallery (available in the same link) or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and enter the dome with a ticketed entrance. We spent an hour or so in the Leonardi Da Vinici Museum, because I have scholars who were super interested. After an afternoon of exploring Florence, our dinner was at a pasta making class which is a great way to soak in a little more Italian culture. Honestly our fresh pasta made and shared by the group was the best meal of our trip. Of course we finished our meal with a trip through one of the many gelato establishments on our walk back to the hotel.
Pasta Mania Class and Leaning Tower of Pisa
Day 5- Pisa and Chianti
We were getting a little full of ourselves and how well we were traveling. We walked back to Santa Maria Novella train station, purchased our train tickets to Pisa at the kiosk and took our stop at Pisa Central. We bought our bus ticket to Piazza Del Duomo (where the tower is) in a little machine on the sidewalk in front of the buses at the train station. While on the bus a group of American students were fined $40 each when the bus authorities boarded and checked to make sure everyone had validated tickets. Bus tickets and routes can be a bit confusing. After easily getting to the leaning tower of Pisa, our return trip was a bit more difficult and confusing. We were unsure of the bus route and number or where to find the tickets while we were out and about in Pisa. In retrospect, we should have bought two sets of bus tickets at the train station and we would have just been able to board the bus we had come by. We eventually got back to the train station and rode the train back to Florence. After a late lunch we headed to our next excursions, an evening tour of the Chianti region of Tuscany in Fiat 500’s as part of a tour. The setting sun over the many vineyards and hills was a beautiful end to our time in Florence and made for wonderful pictures. We enjoyed antipasto, chianti and the very Italian Aperol spritz al fresco at a Tuscan estate before boarding our city bus back to the hotel. In all we had enjoyed classic Italian opera, learned to make pasta, seen the leaning tower, the David, and took in the beauty of Tuscany and the city of Florence. If you find yourself with extra time to spend, adding days in Florence is well worth it.
Fiat 500 from our evening tour of the chianti region/ Tuscany with Fiat 500 Club
Two Days in Venice
Day 6- Goodbye Florence, Buongiorno Venice
By now we are comfortable with taking the train and writing strongly worded letters to our Senators to get high speed rail in the states. We were not prepared to step out of Santa Lucia train station and take in just how beautiful Venice was. We did not understand the water taxi system but since we had planned a tour early the next day we chose a hotel that was very near the train station. Instead of carrying our luggage over the very large bridge with many steps, we should have used the water ferry to cross the canal which we understood better later. There are many crowds of people in Venice, none of them seem to have any luggage. Perhaps they arrived in Venice knowing that buildings are quite old and rooms are typically very small and without elevators. We dragged our luggage up two flights of stairs in our hotel and then laughed when our whole room was just 3 beds with barely room to manaever. It was fine, and frankly added to the memories we made. While our room was typical in Venice, larger more modern rooms are available but they are closer to the beach and much more expensive. Venice is so beautiful you want to be out walking the streets with your camera anyway. Our hotel manager kindly mapped a path of sites for us to see and we spent the afternoon and into the evening taking it all in. You may need to pinch yourself to be sure it’s real.
We appreciated this map that marked out a wonderful walking path/ the canals
Day 7- The Dolomites might be the most beautiful yet
I have to give it to my teens. There were zero grumbles about having to meet our tour guide at 8am for our trip to the Dolomites. We had arranged the trip knowing that weather or less than six participants might cause cancellation. No matter, we had a plan B, C, and D. Most who visit Venice like to see Saint Mark’s Basillica Dome, maybe go to the beach via water taxi, see an orchestra or opera event in the world’s first public opera house, see Doge’s Palace, or tour the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. I saw some pictures of Lake Misurina in a travel guide and I was smitten. The aquamarine water with the mountains as a backdrop reminded me The Sound of Music, and for good reason. The real Von Trapps excaped to Italy via the Italian Alps and Dolomites, not Switzerland as portrayed in the movie. It was an incredible tour to Cortina d’ Ampezzo which hosted the 1956 and will co-host the 2026 Winter Olympics. It’s a beautiful alpineesque village with upscale shopping and ski options. Then onto Lake Misurna, a wave to Austria and our last stop at the breathtaking Auronzo di Cadore. This tour was probably my favorite part of our vacation and we saw many incredible things while in Italy so I don’t say that lightly.
Auronzo di Cadore from the dam.
Day 8- Arrivederci and back home!
There are many ways to get you back to Marco Polo airport to fly back to the US. You can catch a water taxi for about 200 Euros. That is probably the most effecient, however be aware that most flights to the US leave around 9:00am so there may be a crowd trying to get on the same transports you are. We were fortuneate to have an 11:30 flight so we walked to nearby Piazzale Roma bought tickets and took a public bus 5 for 32 euros. Piazzale Rome is the only place that cars and buses were allowed in Venice. There is not train service to the airport. Be aware of this snag that people often encounter on return from International Flights, if you have connecting flights, you will have to go through customs and back through security in each country. Pay attention to your layover time to make sure you will have a minimum of two hours. When we arrived in Newark, we had to go through customs, get our luggage (which was delayed) recheck it, and stand in a very long security line. Even after a security employee helped us move faster through the line we had to run a very long distance through the terminal and barely made our flight. Our luggage did not make it back home until days later. Ideally you would have 3 hours with each layover in a new country. Also make sure you have insurance for your luggage, cancellations, sickness and medical needs while out of the country, including insurance for flights and hotels and the more expensive of your excursions. Check your credit card to see if it includes any travel insurance and the airline and hotel policies for your reservations. Travel protection may be included in some of your purchases and your Travel Advisor can suggest a reputable insurance provider.
I hope you have enjoyed taking our whirlwind tour of Italy and maybe this will help you build your trip. As GuidetoAdventures.com, I’m available to help you plan and make reservations or you can browse and book your trip from my site http://www.guidetoadventures.com and click on book a trip.
My next blog will include this itinerary but in a calendar form without the dialogue.