Frommer's EasyGuide to Rome, Florence and Venice (2015)
Italy is so vast and treasure-filled that it’s hard to resist the temptation to pack in too much in too short a time. It’s a dauntingly diverse and complex destination, and you can’t even skim the surface in 1 or 2 weeks—so relax, don’t try. If you’re a first-time visitor with very little touring time on your hands, we suggest you go just for the classic nuggets: Rome, Florence, and Venice could be packed into 1 very busy week, better yet in two.
How can you accomplish that? Well, Italy ranks with Germany and France in offering mainland Europe’s best-maintained superhighways (called autostrade). You’ll pay a toll to drive on them (p. 231), but it’s much quicker to use them than to trust your limited time to the array of minor roads, which can be much slower going.
The country also boasts one of the fastest and most efficient high-speed rail networks in the world. Rome and Milan are the key hubs of this 21st-century transportation empire—for example, from Rome’s Termini station, Florence can be reached in only 91 minutes. In fact, if you’re city-hopping between Rome, Florence, and Venice, you need never rent a car. Upgrades to the rail network mean that key routes are served by comfortable, fast trains; the key connections include the Venice-Florence-Rome line. You’ll only really require a rental car if you plan rural detours.
The itineraries that follow take you to some of our favorite places. The pace may be a bit breathless for some visitors, so skip a stop occasionally to have some chill-out time—after all, you’re on vacation. Of course, you can also use any of our itineraries as a jumping-off point to develop your own custom-made adventure.
ROME, FLORENCE & VENICE IN 1 WEEK
Let’s be realistic: It’s impossible to see Italy’s three iconic cities fully in a week. However, an efficient, fast rail network along the Rome-Florence-Venice axis means it’s surprisingly easy to see some of the best they offer. This weeklong itinerary treads the familiar highlights, but these are the most visited because time after time they provide memories to last a lifetime.
Days 1, 2 & 3: Rome
You could spend a month touring the Eternal City, but 3 days is enough to get a flavor of it. There are two essential areas to focus on in a short visit. The first is the legacy of Imperial Rome, such as the Forum, Campidoglio, and Colosseum (p. 72). Bookend your day with the Forum and Colosseum (one first, the other last) to avoid the busiest crowds; the same ticket is good for both. On day 2, tackle St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums (p. 67), with a collection unlike any other in the world that includes Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. On your third day, it’s a toss-up: Choose between the underground catacombs of the Via Appia Antica (p. 95); treading the streets of Rome’s ancient seaport at Ostia Antica (p. 107); or visiting some of the capital’s quieter museum collections, including the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (p. 92). Spend your evenings in the bars of Campo de’ Fiori or Monti (p. 105), and the restaurants of Trastevere (p. 59) or Testaccio (p. 60). Toward the end of day 3, catch the late train to Florence.
Italy in 1 Week
Days 4 & 5: Florence: Cradle of the Renaissance
You have 2 whole days to explore the city of Giotto, Leonardo, Botticelli, and Michelangelo. Start with their masterpieces at the Uffizi (you should definitely have booked admission tickets ahead; see p. 142), followed by the Duomo complex (p. 140): Scale Brunelleschi’s ochre dome, and follow up with a visit to the adjoining Battistero di San Giovanni, Museo Storico dell’Opera del Duomo, and Campanile di Giotto (p. 140). Start the next day with “David” at the Accademia (p. 152). For the rest of your time, spend it getting to know the art at the Palazzo Pitti (p. 155), the intimate wall paintings of San Marco (p. 153), and Masaccio’s revolutionary frescoes at the Cappella Brancacci (p. 158). In the evenings, head south of the Arno for lively wine bars and better restaurants (p. 127). Leave via an early train on the morning of day 6.
Days 6 & 7: Venice: The City That Defies the Sea
You’ll ride into the heart of Venice on a vaporetto (water bus), taking in the Grand Canal, the world’s greatest main street. Begin your sightseeing at Piazza San Marco (p. 208): The Basilica di San Marco is right there, and after exploring it, visit the nearby Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace; p. 207) before walking over the Bridge of Sighs. Begin your evening with the classic Venetian aperitivo, an Aperol spritz (Aperol with sparkling wine and soda) followed by cicchetti (Venetian tapas) before a late dinner. Make your second day all about the city’s unique art: the Gallerie dell’Accademia (p. 210), the modern Peggy Guggenheim Collection (p. 212), and San Rocco (p. 215). Catch the latest train you can back to Rome. Or add another night—you can never stay too long in Venice.
A 2-WEEK ITINERARY
It’s obviously difficult to see the top sights of Italy—and to see them properly—in just 2 weeks. But in the itinerary below, we lead you around the best of it all in 14 days. We’ll go beyond the well-trodden (and spectacular) Rome-Florence-Venice trail to include the southern region of Campania, specifically Pompeii, which has Italy’s most complete Roman ruins. Additional stops in the center and north are Pisa (for the Leaning Tower and more), Padua (with its Giotto frescoes), and Verona (city of lovers since “Romeo and Juliet”).
Days 1, 2 & 3: Rome
Follow the itinerary suggested in “Italy in 1 Week,” above. Because an extra week allows you to add a day trip to Pompeii, on day 4, choose your third day from between the catacombs of the Via Appia Antica (p. 95) and Rome’s less visited museums. Using Rome as a base for the first part of a longer stay, means you should consider apartment rental rather than a hotel room in the capital: See “Self-Catering Apartments,” p. 38.
Day 4: Pompeii: Europe’s Best-Preserved Roman Ruins
On day 4 take the high-speed Frecciarossa or Italo train from Rome to Naples, then the Circumvesuviana train 24km (15 miles) southeast of Naples to spend a day wandering the archaeological remains at Pompeii (p. 107). It’s better if you have packed water and some lunch, because onsite services aren’t especially enticing. The city was buried for 2,000 years, having suffered total devastation when nearby Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79. Some of the great archaeological treasures of Europe—including the remarkable patrician villa Casa dei Vettii and the frescoed Villa dei Misteri—are found here. Return to Rome for overnighting: This is a very long day. Alternatively, you can do the trip as an escorted visit by bus from Rome. Several operators offer it; ask at your hotel or at one of Rome’s tourist information points (see “Visitor Information,” p. 108).
Italy in 2 Weeks
Day 5: Tivoli: A Day Trip to Rome’s Imperial Villa
Take your foot off the gas with a more relaxed day trip, 32km (20 miles) northeast of Rome to Tivoli (p. 109). It was out here that Emperor Hadrian built his serene rural retreat, known now as the Villa Adriana (p. 110). It is the grandest retirement residence you’ll ever see, complete with theaters, baths, fountains, and gardens. This emperor had an eye for design.
Days 6 & 7: Florence
Follow the itinerary suggested in “Rome, Florence & Venice in 1 Week,” above.
Day 8: A Day Trip to Gothic Siena
It’s just over an hour to Siena (p. 166) on the rapida bus. Leave early and set out immediately on arrival for Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped main square, including its art-filled Museo Civico (inside the Palazzo Pubblico). This is a flying visit, but you still have time to squeeze in a fast look at the Duomo and Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana, where you’ll find Sienese master Duccio’s giant “Maestà.” Stop on the Campo for a late afternoon drink and then head to a restaurant in Siena’s atmospheric back streets. Reserve an early table: The last bus back to Florence departs at 8:45pm, arriving back in Florence at 10pm.
Day 9: San Gimignano: A Town Stuck in the 1300s
It’s another long day on the buses, but well worth it to see one of the most perfectly preserved Gothic towns in Europe. You’ll change buses in Poggibonsi for the last, ridiculously pretty leg through the vine-clad hills to San Gimignano (p. 170). The “city of beautiful towers” had over 70 of the things spiking the sky in its medieval heyday. Now there remain just a handful, including the Torre Grossa (which you can climb). The frescoed Collegiata is the essential art stop. You can dine early at Chiribiri (it’s open all day), then leave on the late bus. Also consider renting a car for this day: The roads of central Tuscany are pretty, at any time of year, and parking on the outskirts of San Gimignano is well provisioned and signposted.
Day 10: Pisa & Its Leaning Tower
The set-piece piazza here is one of the most photographed slices of real estate on the planet. Pisa’s Campo dei Miracoli (“Field of Miracles”) is home to the Leaning Tower (p. 169), of course. You can visit the Duomo, with its Arab-influenced Pisan-Romanesque facade, the Battistero with its carved pulpit and crazy acoustics, and the rest of the piazza’s monuments and museums on the same combination ticket. You should book a slot ahead of time if you want to climb the Leaning Tower, however. For dining alla pisana, head away from the touristy piazza. The “real Pisa” lies in the warren of streets around the market square, Piazza delle Vettovaglie. Finish your visit with a stroll along the handsome promenade beside the River Arno.
Days 11 & 12: Venice
Follow the itinerary suggested in “Rome, Florence & Venice in 1 Week,” above.
Day 13: Padua & Its Giotto Frescoes
Lying only 40km (25 miles) to the west, Padua (p. 227) is a straightforward day trip by train. In 1 fairly relaxed day, you can visit the Basilica di Sant’Antonio (p. 288) with its Donatello bronzes and the Cappella degli Scrovegni (p. 277), or Arena Chapel, with its Giotto frescoes—perhaps the most important paintings in the history of Italian art. Also look next door at the Chiesa degli Eremitani. One of the saddest sights in Italian art is here, the Ovetari Chapel, where Mantegna’s frescoes were almost totally destroyed by a World War II bomb. Return to Venice for the night.
Day 14: Verona: City of Lovers & Gladiators
Although he likely never set foot in the place, Shakespeare placed the world’s most famous love story here, “Romeo and Juliet.” Wander Piazza dei Signori and take in another square, Piazza delle Erbe, before descending on the Arena di Verona (p. 229): Evoking Rome’s Colosseum, it’s the world’s best-preserved gladiatorial arena, still used for monumental opera performances in summer months. Head back to Venice for the night. It is well worth booking your tickets for the high-speed Frecciabianca train ahead of time. The journey is just 1 hour, 10 minutes, compared with over 2 hours for the slower regional service.
ITALY FOR FAMILIES
Italy is probably the friendliest family vacation destination in all of Europe. Practically, it presents few challenges. But if you’re traveling by rental car with young children, be sure to request safety car seats ahead of time. Let the rental company know the age of your child (up to 12), and they will arrange for a seat that complies with EU regulations. Rail travelers should remember that reduced-price family fares are available on much of the high-speed network; ask when you buy your tickets or contact a booking agent.
As you tour, don’t go hunting for “child-friendly” restaurants or special kids’ menus. There’s always plenty available for little ones, even dishes that aren’t on offer to grown-up patrons. Never be afraid to ask if you have a fussy eater in the family. Pretty much any request is met with a smile.
Perhaps the main issue for travelers with children is spacing your museum visits so that you get a chance to see the masterpieces without having young kids suffer a meltdown after too many paintings of saints and holy bambini.
Remember to punctuate every day with a gelato stop—Italy makes the world’s best ice cream. You will even find creative soya flavors for anyone with lactose intolerance. We also suggest planning fewer long, tiring day trips out of town, especially by public transportation. And end your trip in Venice, which many children may assume was dreamed up by Walt Disney anyway.
Day 1: Rome’s Ancient Ruins
History is on your side here: The wonders of Ancient Rome (p. 72) should appeal as much to kids (of almost any age) as to adults. There are plenty of gory tales to tell at the Colosseum (p. 72), where the bookshop has a good selection of city guides aimed at kids. After that, little ones can let off steam wandering the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. (The roadside ruins of the Imperial Forums can be viewed at any time.) Cap the afternoon by exploring the Villa Borghese (p. 88), a monumental park in the heart of the city. You can rent bikes, and there is also a small zoo in the northeast of the grounds. For dinner, head for some fluffy crusts at an authentic Roman pizzeria, such as Li Rioni (p. 53).
Day 2: Rome: Living History
Head early to St. Peter’s Basilica (p. 66). Kids will find it spooky wandering the Vatican grottoes, and few can resist climbing up to Michelangelo’s dome at 114m (375 ft.). After time out for lunch, begin your assault on the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. Even if your kids don’t like art museums, they will probably gawk at the grandeur. Later in the day head for the Spanish Steps (a good spot for some upscale souvenir shopping; see p. 85) before wandering over to the Trevi Fountain. Give the kids coins to toss into the fountain, which is said to ensure their return to Rome—perhaps when they are older and can better appreciate the city’s many more artistic attractions.
Italy for Families
Day 3: Rome: Underground
There are, literally, layers of history below the city streets, and kids will love to explore the catacombs of the Via Appia Antica (p. 95), the first cemetery of Rome’s Christian community, and where the devout practiced their faith in secret during periods of persecution. Context Travel (p. 99) runs an excellent tour of the city’s subterranean layers, that takes in San Clemente (p. 79) and SS. Giovanni e Paolo. It costs 255€ per party. Eat more pizza before you leave; Rome’s pizzerias are bettered only by those in Naples, to the south. And the next recommended stops all lie to the north.
Days 4 & 5: Florence: City of the Renaissance
Take the early train to Florence. It is usually thought of as more of an adult city, but there’s enough here to fill 2 family days, plus a couple of day trips. With 4 nights here, you should take an apartment rather than a hotel room, to give you all the more space to spread out. Check out the website of GoWithOh.com for a good range of quality places. Close to the Duomo, Residence Hilda (p. 124) is a family-friendly hotel that rents large, apartment-style rooms from 1 night and more. Begin with the city’s monumental main square, Piazza della Signoria, now an open-air museum of statues. The Palazzo Vecchio (p. 147) dominates one side; you can all tour it with special family-friendly guides, including a docent dressed as Cosimo de’ Medici. You won’t want to miss the Uffizi. With young children, you could turn your visit into a treasure trail of the museum’s collection by first visiting the shop to select some postcards of the key artworks. On the second morning, kids will delight in climbing to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome on the Duomo for a classic panorama. Get there as early as possible—queues lengthen very rapidly. You’ll still have time to climb the 414 steps up to the Campanile di Giotto, run around in the Giardino di Boboli, and stroll the Ponte Vecchio at dusk. Add the following two day trips—to Pisa and Siena—on to your Florence stay, returning each evening to your Florence apartment.
Day 6: Pisa & Its Leaning Tower
If your kids are 7 or under, you should consider skipping Pisa (p. 168): 8 is the minimum age for the disorienting ascent up the bell tower of Pisa’s cathedral, which more commonly goes by the name the Leaning Tower. Elsewhere in the city, kids will love the hyperreal monuments of the Campo dei Miracoli and learning about the city’s Galileo links: He was born here, and supposedly discovered his law of pendulum motion while watching a swinging lamp inside the Duomo. Before heading back to Florence, take them to taste a local specialty, cecina—a pizzalike, garbanzo bean-flour flatbread served warm—at popular slice parlor Il Montino. Rail connections between Florence and Pisa are fairly fast (1 hr., 20 min.), frequent, and affordable (around 8€ each way).
Day 7: Gothic Siena
Count yourself lucky if you can visit Siena (p. 166) around July 2 or August 16 for the famous 4-day Palio celebrations, when horses race at breakneck speed around Piazza del Campo. Year-round, a couple of epic climbs will thrill the kids. The Torre del Mangia, the bell tower of the Palazzo Pubblico, ends in a dramatic view of the city and the enveloping countryside. Through the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana, they can scale the “Facciatone” for an alternative, dizzying view down into the Campo. At Santa Maria della Scala, they will find Bambimus, the art museum for kids, where paintings are hung at child-friendly heights. The zebra-striped Duomo is jazzy enough to pique their curiosity. Siena’s many bakeries are famed for their sweet treats. Take the bus back to Florence after an early dinner.
Days 8, 9 & 10: Venice, City on the Lagoon
Leave Florence early for Venice, the most kid-pleasing city in Italy. The fun begins the moment you arrive and take a vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal. Head straight for Piazza San Marco (p. 208), where children delight in feeding the pigeons and riding the elevator up the great Campanile. Catch the mosaics inside the Basilica di San Marco, which dominates the square. At the Palazzo Ducale your kids can walk over the infamous Bridge of Sighs. As in Florence, make time for the priority art: Visit the Gallerie dell’Accademia (p. 210) and San Rocco, where kids view the episodic Tintoretto paintings like a picture book. If it’s summer, save time for the beach at the Lido (p. 219) and perhaps for getting a different angle on Venice’s canals, from the seat of a gondola (p. 179).