Great Itineraries: Venice, Florence, Rome, and Highlights in Between

Venice, Florence, Rome, and Highlights in Between

This itinerary is designed for maximum impact. Think of it as a rough draft for you to revise according to your own interests and time constraints.

Day 1: Venice

Arrive in Venice's Marco Polo Airport (there are direct flights from the United States), hop on the bus to the main bus station in Venice, then check into your hotel, get out, and get lost in the back canals for a couple of hours before dinner. If you enjoy fish, you should indulge yourself at a traditional Venetian restaurant. There's no better place for sweet, delicate Adriatic seafood.

Logistics: At the airport, avoid the Alilaguna boat into Venice on arrival. It’s expensive, slow, and singularly unromantic. The bus is quick and cheap—save the romance for later. When you get to the main station, transfer to the most delightful main-street “bus” in the world: the vaporetto ferry. Enjoy your first ride up the Grand Canal, and make sure you’re paying attention to the fermata (or stop) where you need to get off. As for water taxis from the airport to the city, they’re very expensive, although they'll take you directly to your hotel.

Day 2: Venice

Begin by skipping the coffee at your hotel and have a real Italian coffee at a real Italian coffee shop. Spend the day at Venice's top sights, including the Basilica di San Marco, Palazzo Ducale, and Galleria dell'Accademia; don’t forget Piazza San Marco. The intense anticipation as you near the giant square through a maze of tiny shop-lined alleys and streets climaxes in the stunning view of the piazza (return at 7 am the next morning to see it senzapopolo [without people], when it will look like a Canaletto painting come alive). Stop for lunch, perhaps sampling Venice's traditional specialty, sarde in saor (sardines in a mouthwatering sweet-and-sour preparation that includes onions and raisins), and be sure to check out the fish market at the foot of the Rialto Bridge; then sunset at the Zattere before dinner. Later, stop at one of the bars around the Campo San Luca or Campo Santa Margarita, where you can toast to being free of automobiles.

Logistics: Venice is best seen by wandering. The day's activities can be done on foot, with the occasional vaporetto ride if you feel the urge to be on the water. Never leave your lodgings without a city map: Venice is very easy to get totally lost in.

Day 3: Ferrara/Bologna

Get an early start and leave Venice on a Bologna-bound train. The ride to Ferrara, your first stop in Emilia-Romagna, is about an hour and a half. Visit the Castello Estense and Duomo before grabbing lunch. A panino and a glass of wine at one of Ferrara's cafés should fit the bill. Wander Ferrara's cobblestone streets, then hop on the train to Bologna (a ride of less than an hour). Once you’ve arrived, check into your hotel and walk around Piazza Maggiore before dinner. Later you can check out some of Italy's best nightlife.

Logistics: In Ferrara, the train station lies a bit outside the city center, so you may want to take a taxi or a less-expensive city bus into town (though the distance is easily walkable, too). Going out, there's a taxi stand near the back of the castle, toward Corso Ercole I d'Este. In Bologna the walk into town from the station is more manageable, particularly if you're staying along Via dell'Indipendenza. In any case, both walks are not scenic, nor are they short.

Day 4: Bologna/Florence

After breakfast, check out some of Bologna's churches and piazzas, including a climb up the leaning Torre degli Asinelli for a red-rooftop-studded panorama. After lunch, head back to the train station and take the short ride to Florence. You'll arrive in time for an afternoon siesta and an evening passeggiata.

Logistics: Florence's Santa Maria Novella train station is within easy access to some hotels, and farther from others. Taxis at the station are usually plentiful. (The taxi stand is just outside the station.)

Day 5: Florence

This is your day to see the sights of Florence. Start with the Uffizi Gallery (reserve your tickets in advance), where you'll see Botticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus. Next, walk to Piazza del Duomo, the site of Brunelleschi's spectacular dome, which you can climb for an equally spectacular view (reservations are necessary). By the time you descend, you'll be more than ready for a simple trattoria lunch. Depending on your preferences, either devote the afternoon to art or hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking the city. Either way, finish the evening in style with a traditional bistecca alla fiorentina (grilled T-bone steak with olive oil).

Day 6: Lucca/Pisa

After breakfast, board a train for Lucca. It's an easy 1½-hour trip to see this walled medieval city. Don't miss the Romanesque Duomo, or a walk along the city's ramparts. Have lunch at a trattoria before continuing on to Pisa, where you'll spend an afternoon seeing—what else?—the Leaning Tower, along with the equally impressive Duomo and Battistero. Walk down to the banks of the Arno River, contemplate the majestic views at sunset, and have dinner at one of the many inexpensive local restaurants in the real city center—a bit removed from the most touristy spots.

Logistics: Lucca's train station lies just outside the walled city—it’s a very easy walk. Pisa's train station isn't far from the city center, although it is on the other side of town from the Campo dei Miracoli (site of the Leaning Tower). Still, it's a pretty walk. Since Lucca and Pisa are only about a half hour apart by train, you may want to return from Pisa to spend the night in more-charming Lucca.

Day 7: Orvieto/Rome

Three hours south of Pisa is Orvieto, one of the prettiest and most characteristic towns of Umbria, conveniently situated right on the Florence–Rome train line. Check out the memorable cathedral before a light lunch accompanied by one of Orvieto's famous white wines. Get back on a train bound for Rome, and in a little more than an hour you'll arrive in the Eternal City in time to make your way to your hotel and relax for a bit before you head out for the evening. When you do, check out Piazza Navona, Campo de' Fiori, and the Trevi Fountain—it's best in the evening—and have a stand-up aperitivo (Campari and soda is a classic) at an unpretentious local bar before dinner. It's finally pizza time; you can't go wrong at any of Rome's popular local pizzerias.

Logistics: To get from Pisa to Orvieto, you'll first catch a train to Florence and then get on a Rome-bound train from here. Be careful at Rome's Termini train station, a breeding ground for pickpockets. Keep your possessions close, and only get into a licensed taxi.

Day 8: Rome

Rome took millennia to build, but on this whirlwind trip you'll only have a day and a half to see it. In the morning, head to the Vatican Museums to see Michelangelo's glorious frescoes at the Sistine Chapel. See St. Peter's Basilica and Square before heading back into Rome proper for lunch around the Pantheon, followed by a coffee from one of Rome's famous coffee shops. Next, visit ancient Rome: first see the magnificent Pantheon, and then head across to the Colosseum, stopping along the way along Via dei Fori Imperiali to check out the Roman Forum from above. From the Colosseum, walk or take a taxi to Piazza di Spagna, a good place to see the sunset and shop at stylish boutiques. Taxi to Piazza Trilussa at the entrance of Trastevere, a beautiful old working-class neighborhood where you'll have a relaxing dinner.

Day 9: Rome/Departure

Head by taxi to Termini station and catch the train to the Fiumicino airport.

Logistics: The train from Termini station to the airport is fast and easy—for most people, it's preferable to an exorbitantly priced taxi ride that, in bad traffic, can take twice as long and cost much, much more.

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