Successfully navigate a fun, no-fuss Italian getaway
A week seems to pass in a moment the first time you visit Italy. In fact, you could spend far longer than a week just in
Rome, starting with the vestiges of the Imperial Age. If possible, start your journey on a Monday to avoid the onslaught of European weekenders, and devote three days to Rome. Start with the Colosseum, follow up with the Piazza del Campidoglio and finish with the Forum. Your Colosseum ticket also grants you access to the Forum, Palatine Hill and the Palatine Museum. Prepare to spend up to six hours or more waiting to enter the Roman ruins and most major attractions. Pack water, a portable or solar mobile charger, and anything else you need to cope with the wait.
Visit the Vatican museums (hello, Sistine Chapel!) and St. Peter's Basilica on day two. Spend day three seeing the sights outside of the city center, such as the UNESCO World Heritage site Tivoli Villas or Ceveteri's City of the Dead, and hit a good restaurant for classic Bolognese. Take the train to Florence (about 1 1/2 hours) and prepare for the second leg of your trip.
Take a small or medium bag/backpack for day trips to the legacy sites in Rome, which prohibit rolling suitcases and bulky bags. Download the mobile apps for major attractions (or order online before you leave), and use them to purchase tickets before you line up.
Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance and da Vinci and home to arguably the best food and wine in Italy. To get the most out of Florence, spend day four sticking to a packed schedule and take day five at a loose pace.
Stop by at least two of the following major attractions on day four: the Uffizi Gallery ("The Birth of Venus"), Accademia (Michelangelo's "David") and the Bargello (Donatello's "David"). On day five, take a walk through the neighborhood of Oltrarno (Palazzo Gardens, Boboli Gardens) and pick up a few things to take home at the San Lorenzo Market. Take the train to Venice (about two hours) for days six and seven. Buy a Firenze card or order your tickets online before you visit Florence. The Firenze card gets you access to all Florence museums, and, like ordering tickets online, allows you priority entry.
Venice, a "fairy city of the heart." You'll likely encounter tourists and long lines everywhere you go in Venice, but arriving at major sites well before opening and purchasing your tickets ahead helps minimize wait times. Spend day six at Basilica di San Marco, Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) and Ca' d'Oro. Download the mobile apps for Venetian sites and use them to purchase tickets before you line up.
Spend your last day in Italy absorbing as much of Venice as you can on foot or by boat. Explore the canals, tool around the lagoon in a kayak and visit the Rialto Market. Finish with a cicchetti crawl (like an Italian version of a tapas crawl) and a few drinks to end on a light note.
- Gondola rides. Unless you have "ride in a Venetian gondola" on your bucket list, pass on the overrated romanticism. Take a traghetto instead. A one-hour gondola ride costs between $140 and $170 per hour – let that sink in for a minute. Traghetti rides (same type of boat, different purpose), on the other hand, last just long enough to get you across the Canal Grande, but cost under $5. Take a few trips across the canal and back, and you can save well over $100 and still say you rode in a Venetian gondola.
- Restaurants near major attractions. You can expect to pay unnecessarily high-to-exorbitant prices at restaurants and shops located near tourist hot spots like the Colosseum and Forum.
- Eat away from main thoroughfares instead. A lot of restaurants near busy attractions tweak their recipes to accommodate British and American tastes. A good rule of thumb is to visit establishments frequented by locals, Italian patrons "of a certain age" and workers on lunch breaks, where you'll almost certainly encounter shorter wait times, lower prices and more authentic cuisine than what you find in tourist-heavy areas. Carry a little cash with you. The number of restaurants and shops, even in major Italian cities, that don't accept credit cards will surprise you.