Italy typically ranks in the top five of the most visited countries in the world and for good reason! I have now visited Italy on three separate occasions (two with Grant) and have loved every moment I’ve spent there. I could easily spend many more vacations in Italy – and I am usually looking for new adventures, not repeated ones! Below we share our one week Italy itinerary from our most recent trip and our recommendations for alternatives.
Personally, I would recommend an Italy itinerary of several weeks or even a month or longer, but not everyone has that kind of time off work (or budget). If all you have is a week, then you should certainly make the most of it! You may not see everything, but a week is enough time to see the highlights of the major cities in Italy.
We just got back from a week-long school trip (with EF Tours) to Italy. This is the basic itinerary we followed, along with suggestions on how to make it even better. Oddly enough, even in just one week, we still managed to see several new sites that we missed a few years ago when we spent a month in Italy! That’s just proof that no matter how long you stay, there’s sure to be more to see.
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One Week Italy Itinerary
- First Day: Arrive in Milan, Lunch in Verona, Dinner/Hotel outside of Venice
- Second Day: Venice
- Third Day: Florence
- Fourth Day: Pisa (AM) & Florence (PM)
- Fifth Day: Rome
- Sixth Day: Rome
- Seventh Day: Depart for Home
Flights to/from Italy
We arrived in Milan and departed from Rome. Our trip was set up this way because it was the cheapest and easiest route for our group. That may not necessarily be the case for your Italy itinerary. Pick the flights that are best for you and your budget and adapt as needed.
One thing to consider is that train travel in Italy is typically very inexpensive and easy. Thus, we suggest flying in/out of the cheapest nearby city, even if you don’t plan on touring that city. After arriving in Milan, we immediately got on a bus and headed east toward Venice. You can easily do the same thing on a train.
Another consideration is the time it may take you to return to a city for your flight home. Even if an open-jaw ticket (flying into one city and out of another) is more expensive than a round-trip ticket, it will save you time and money if you don’t already have a “loop itinerary.” So, while the plane ticket may be more expensive, you may save in other areas.
Local Transportation in Italy
We did all of our transportation on a bus (or walking) while in Italy with the group. We had a bus that took us from city to city as well as between various points within cities, when appropriate.
That won’t necessarily be the case when you are traveling on your own. On our previous trip, we traveled by train/subway almost exclusively. Almost all of our travel between cities was by train, which is easy to use, relatively inexpensive and generally a pleasant (and often scenic) ride.
Rome has a decent, but not great, metro (subway) system which was useful at times. Grant and I also used public buses in several cities, including Rome and Florence. We did take taxis a few times, but only when there was no other option. Expect a lot of walking. Seriously, we did A LOT of walking on both trips! If you aren’t up for that, then budget a good amount for a taxi.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to drive a car in Italy. The Italian drivers are CRAZY, especially in the big cities! Also, cars are not allowed in many of the smaller cities, or in the very touristy parts of big cities. Thus, a car won’t necessarily be useful all the time.
Verona (Optional) – Two Hours
Verona is definitely NOT a must-see stop for an Italy itinerary. For our group trip, it was a good stopping point for lunch and to give us something exciting to do within the first few hours of being in Italy.
If stopping in Verona, you need an hour or two, maximum. You’ll want to see the “Juliet Balcony,” the Arena and maybe wander the streets or grab something to eat. As Juliet, of Romeo and Juliet fame, was a fictional character, this balcony was not actually “hers.” But, it’s dedicated to her and thousands flock here for this reason.
There is also the Arena, a Roman-style amphitheater, which dominates the middle of the town. It is basically a miniature Colosseum, but in much better shape, and is still used for outdoor opera concerts.
This is really about all that is interesting in Verona. It’s a lovely small city, and you should not ignore the small cities if you have time for a visit. But, you are not missing much if you don’t stop here. In fact, we did NOT include it in our month-long Italy itinerary.
I include it here as a good “rest stop” if you need it or have a particular interest, but otherwise, I’d skip it. After stopping in Verona, we continued east towards Venice to our hotel in Treviso.
Venice – One Day
One day in Venice is plenty for most folks. On both of our trips, we thought it was the perfect length of time.
Must see attractions in Venice include St. Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace and the Grand Canal. You also should spend time wandering the streets and exploring. Venice is such a unique city that just walking the streets is a treat itself!
If you plan to visit Basilica di San Marco, the main cathedral, give yourself plenty of time. The line is usually long and you have to check backpacks before entering (in a separate location). We tried to visit on both our trips but never made it inside.
Venice has a long history of glassblowing. One of our group experiences was to visit an artisan glass-blowing factory (Arti Veneziane all Giudecca or AVG). We watched a short demonstration and then had time to shop. If you have the chance to visit a glassblowing factory, or even just to shop for glassware, I highly suggest it!
The hidden surprise of this trip was the gondola! We thought it was cheesy, touristy and over-priced on our first trip and skipped it. With the group we got a great rate, so we jumped right in! Granted, there were six people in our boat, but it was still a great experience.
The gondola actually was one of the most pleasant and relaxed moments of the entire trip. It is amazing how quiet Venice is once you get off the streets! Even with six of us in one boat, it felt like we had escaped the madness. While it is pricey for just two people (€80 for 40 minutes), it was a great experience and one that we would suggest budgeting both time and money for.
Where to Stay in Venice
To save money, I suggest staying outside of Venice proper. We stayed at the Hotel Columbo in Treviso with the group, which was about an hour bus ride from Venice. While the hotel was nice, it was in the middle of nowhere and much further than I would want if traveling on my own. I understand why we stayed there with a group though.
On our personal vacation, Grant and I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Mestre, which was a great location. There was a city bus stop just down the road. A quick 10-15 minute ride to the city was perfect.
Florence – Two Days (including Pisa)
We had a four-hour bus ride to Florence. A train will only take about two hours, though. Schedule the train for early morning or late evening to save some daylight touring time. Or enjoy the scenic Italian countryside by traveling at a more “reasonable” time.
Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, thus it is teeming with interesting architecture and art galleries. The food is also amazing – though that is the case almost anywhere in Italy! I consider Florence to be my favorite Italian city (at least among the big cities) and a must-see for anyone visiting Italy!
We spent the early afternoon on a walking tour of the city. Sights included the Santa Maria del Fiore complex, Ponte Vecchio bridge and Piazza della Signoria. Spend some time wandering the streets and walking by the water. There are several bridges parallel to the Ponte Vecchio that provide a good resting place and great views.
The Uffizi Gallery, considered one of the best art museums in the world, has several sculptures outside that are interesting. Most of these outside statues are replicas, but they are interesting none-the-less.
Spend a second day in Florence entering various art galleries and museums. Our favorite is the Galleria dell’Accademia, where Michelangelo’s statue of David is housed. There are some other interesting pieces, but David is the real draw here. Boboli Gardens is an open-air museum that we enjoyed on our first trip and one stop that we highly recommend.
We ended our second day at Piazzale Michelangelo. It is a steep walk up, but doable for anyone in moderately good shape. The views are very much worth the hike. From here you get a great view of the skyline of Florence. It is beautiful any time of day, but amazing at sunset!
Pisa – One to Two Hours
A side trip to Pisa took up one morning of our time in Florence. Like Verona, there is really only one reason to visit Pisa, and that is the (Leaning) Tower. Though actually, the Tower is just one of several buildings in the Piazza Miracoli and all the other buildings are interesting and worth a visit as well.
Our tour included the Tower, Baptistry and Cathedral. A guided tour or at least a good guidebook is worth a small investment to learn some of the history here.
Again, there isn’t much else in Pisa, but it is a fun little town. I definitely suggest adding a stop in one small town somewhere on your Italy itinerary. Pisa is about an hour train ride from Florence, so a side trip will take up about half of your day, but it is very interesting.
Another option to visiting Pisa is to stop on your way to/from another city. This is what Grant and I did on our first visit. There is a luggage check at the train station, so we left our big backpacks there. We then spent a couple of hours getting lunch and visiting the sights before picking up our bags and continuing on our way.
Where to stay in Florence
Our group stayed at Hotel Villa la Stella, which was just about 10-15 minutes outside of the main part of town. The building is an old convent, so the layout was a little confusing, but the views were amazing! I highly recommend this hotel if you are ok with being just outside the city.
On our first trip, Grant and I stayed at B&B La Notte Blu. This was a lovely bed & breakfast and only a 10-15 walk to the main attractions in Florence. The location was perfect and the rooms were just right.
Rome – Two Days
Rome is another must-see stop for your Italy itinerary! While it may not be my favorite city, it is definitely a great city with some amazing history. There are interesting sights around every corner, almost literally.
Our four-hour bus ride from Florence was filled with scenic views. The train will probably take only about an hour and half.
Once in Rome, we enjoyed a tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum. You will find MANY guides right outside the Colosseum – I was probably asked if I needed a tour at least 20 times. No, I’m not exaggerating.
A guide is nice, but I honestly don’t know that we really learned anything new with the guide that we hadn’t already learned in history class or read in a guide book. If you have a particular interest in the Colosseum or want to get into some of the restricted areas, then definitely hire a guide. Otherwise, just read up and enjoy.
After this tour, we took a quick walk through the city to the Pantheon – a must visit for the architecture inside and outside. Again, just about every street has an interesting statue or just a fun square where you can sit, relax and people watch. This is one of the greatest things about Rome!
Another can’t miss in Rome is the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. You could spend hours upon hours inside the Vatican Museums. There are so many interesting things. We had a great guide that gave us an overview of the artwork, including the Sistine Chapel.
I suggest allowing at least half a day for the Vatican. Lines are long, too, so if you can book something in advance and avoid waiting in line, it is worth the added cost!
Rome at Night
Touring Rome (or any other city) after dark is a real treat as well. I know it is tempting after a long day of sight-seeing to go to sleep early, but if you can keep yourself up for even just a short stroll through the streets after dinner you won’t regret it!
Our second night in Rome we spent visiting the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona. All of these are must-see visits while in Rome, but shouldn’t take too much time. Just be ready to fight the crowds as they are very popular!
If you have time, visit sites in the day and at night to see the transformation. It is amazing how much difference the lights make. And, usually, the crowds are at least a little smaller after dark.
Outside of Rome
One of our favorite attractions in Rome is the catacombs. While generally located outside the city, we highly recommend making time to visit the catacombs. You will need a bus or taxi to get there, but it is well worth the time.
This trip we visited the Catacombs of St. Domitilla. At more than 10 miles of catacombs, it is one of the two most extensive catacombs in all of Rome. On our previous trip, we went to Catacombs of San Sebastiano, which is along the Appian Way (another great stop if you have time).
Both of these catacombs were interesting and unique. Any catacomb visit will definitely be with a guided tour, so check ahead on times (and which language the tour is in). There are many catacombs to choose from. We would recommend either of the two mentioned above.
Another interesting stop outside of Rome is the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. The name says it all – it is located at the presumed burial place of St. Paul and is outside the old city walls.
St.Paul’s Outside the Walls is the second largest church in Rome, behind only St. Peter’s Basilica. If you have a few minutes to spare, and can get there (not sure what the public transportation options are) it’s worth a stop. You should’t need more than 30-45 minutes for a thorough tour. This is definitely a worthwhile stop, especially if you can’t get into St. Peter’s Basilica.
Where to Stay in Rome
Our group stayed at Hotel Villa Giulia in Ciampino, about 30 minutes outside of Rome by bus. The train is only about a 15 minute ride and very inexpensive! The hotel, which is very close to the train station, was fabulous, with most rooms having balconies.
Ciampino was a lovely little city that provided a nice neighborhood walk with gelato! There also is an airport, which may provide an alternative to Rome’s main airport, Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino. I would highly recommend staying here if you are ok with staying outside of Rome.
Unfortunately, we do not have any recommendations for staying inside Rome, as our experience on our first visit was not one we can recommend.
Pro tip for both Rome and Florence: You can get serious discounted admission and skip lines if you purchase the city cards. On our first trip to Italy, we skipped the lines for the Colosseum and the Galleria dell’Accademia by using the city cards for those cities.
Other Suggestions for an Italy Itinerary
Venice, Florence and Rome are by far the most popular cities in Italy, and for good reason. Each of these cities should be considerations for any Italy itinerary.
Florence and Rome are definite must-dos for everyone. While Venice is a unique city, it is not for everyone, especially now that it has gotten very touristy. Below, we offer some alternates to Venice.
In Tuscany, we recommend Siena (especially if you are in Italy during The Palio) or Cortona. If you are not familiar with Cortona, read (or watch) Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes and you will understand why we recommend it. Most any of the Tuscan hill towns are worth a visit, just to experience small town Italy, but these were two of our favorites.
If you are a beach person, consider the Amalfi Coast. You can get a hotel in Sorrento or Salerno and then take a boat and/or bus to Amalfi or Positano for additional sight-seeing.
Pompeii is another good option, especially if you have an interest in history. Pompeii is easy to visit from the Amalfi Coast. It could also be done as a day trip from Rome, though it would probably be a long day. One piece of advice if you visit Pompeii: don’t go to Naples. We did not enjoy our time there at all!
If you do want to get to the northern part of Italy or are flying in or out of Milan, but aren’t excited about Venice, Lake Como is a good option. We enjoyed several days in Varenna. There are opportunities to get outside and enjoy the lake and do a little hiking. If you are interested in nature, this is a good option. It may be difficult to do in just a week, though.
More Time in Italy
If you have more time than just a week, take a look at our One Month Italy Itinerary. Along with more on our visits to the cities mentioned above you will find information on Sicily, the Cinque Terre and Turin and Trento in northern Italy.