Guided tours are a good option when you don't want to do it all yourself. You travel along with a group (sometimes large, sometimes small), stay in prebooked hotels, often eat with your fellow travelers (the cost of meals may or may not be included in the price of your tour), and follow a set schedule. Not all guided tours are an “if it's Tuesday this must be Belgium” experience, however. A knowledgeable guide can take you places that you might never discover on your own, give you a richer context, and lead you to a more in-depth experience than you would have otherwise. They may be just the thing if you don’t have the time or inclination to make travel arrangements on your own.
Whenever you book a guided tour, find out what's included and what isn't. A "land-only" tour includes all your travel (by bus, in most cases) in the destination, but not necessarily your flights to and from or even within it. Also, in most cases prices in tour promotions don't include fees and taxes. You'll also want to review how much free time you'll have, and see if that meets with your personal preferences. Remember, too, that you'll be expected to tip your guide (in cash) at the end of the tour.
Even when planning independent travel, keep in mind that every province and city in Italy has tour guides licensed by the government. Some are eminently qualified in relevant fields such as architecture and art history and are a pleasure to spend time with. Lots of private guides have websites, and you can check the travel forums at Fodors.com for recommendations (it’s best to book before you leave home, especially for major destinations, as popular guides and tours are in demand). Once in Italy, tourist offices and hotel concierges can also provide the names of knowledgeable local guides and the rates for certain services. When hiring on the spot, ask about their background and qualifications—and make sure you can understand each other. Tipping is always appreciated, but never obligatory, for local guides.
Abercrombie & Kent. 800/554–7016; 630/725–3400; www.abercrombiekent.com. From $5,495.
Andante. 888/331–3476; www.andantetravels.com. From $2,795.
Maupin Tour. 800/255–4266; 800/255–4266; www.maupintour.com. From $4,200.
Perillo Tours. 800/431–1515; www.perillotours.com. From $2,995.
Tauck. 800/788–7885; www.tauck.com. From $4,790.
Travcoa. 888/979–2806; 844/840–1149; www.travcoa.com. From $9,445.
Biking and Hiking Tour Contacts
Backroads. 800/462–2848; 510/527–1555; www.backroads.com. From $4,298.
Butterfield & Robinson. 866/551–9090; 416/864–1354; www.butterfield.com. From $3,995.
Genius Loci Travel. 089/791896; www.genius-loci.it.
Italian Connection. 0932/231816; 335/8016115; www.italian-connection.com. From $750.
Road Scholar. 800/454–5768; 877/426–8056; www.roadscholar.org.
Golf Tour Contact
Italy Vacations. 800/482–5925; www.italyvacations.com/vacation-packages/special-interests.
Wine Tour Contacts
Cellar Tours. 310/496–8061; 030/8370783; www.cellartours.com.
Food & Wine Trails. 800/367–5348; www.foodandwinetrails.com.