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Classic Italy tour: Rome, Florence and Venice

Italy's finest art and architecture in a simple 'highlights' tour

Italy independent travel itinerary


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This is the classic Italy itinerary for first-timers and long-haul travellers with few chances to explore Italy. The tour visits Italy's three most fascinating cities: Rome, Florence and Venice, and works either as a slow-paced holiday or as a whistle-stop taster anticipating longer future visits. Ideally, I'd recommend flying into one of the two Rome airports (Fiumicino or Ciampino) and out of Venice.

The tour can be enjoyed in either direction. I've started with the hubbub of Rome, Italy's capital, where you can explore archaeological sites, eat long slow meals and get to know Italy at its most characteristic. Florence is a quieter contrast, with a much smaller town centre and art galleries and palaces to admire. Venice is unique in the world, and will amaze the visitor even after Rome and Florence. Your trip will finish here, on a high note.

Highlights

The highlights of this trip seem obvious: Italy's greatest jewels. The Colosseum, Piazza Navona and St. Peter's in Rome, the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and the palaces and canals of Venice. All three cities have lots more to offer, though, and your personal highlights may be very different: cheap wine and pasta at little trattoria in medieval Rome, for example; a peaceful walk to a belvedere in Florence, or a boat ride across the Venetian lagoon.

You'll wander through the buildings of various great empires and civilisations; the Roman Forum and Palatine hill in Rome were the heart of the Roman Empire; while the Popes in the Vatican controlled much of Italy and the Catholic world. Florence's glory days under the rule of the Medici family are recorded in the city's great buildings, artworks and in the historic collections of the Uffizi Gallery. Venice was at its greatest as a fabulously rich Republic controlling many of the sea routes around the Mediterranean and bringing back treasures to deck St. Mark's Basilica and palaces which still line the city's canals.

Airports

Rome Fiumicino Airport and Venice Marco Polo Airport are the principal international airports for this holiday. European budget airlines also fly to Rome Ciampino and Venice Treviso, which make good alternatives.

Travel, accommodation and food

This trip is limited to cities, and there is no need to hire a car and drive - in fact, unless you are incorporating long countryside tours, it would be a very bad idea to do so. Both Florence and Rome have very restricted access to the city centre for traffic, and scarse, expensive parking, while a car will be of no use at all in watery Venice. The cities are linked by a fast railway line which is convenient and not too expensive, especially if you obtain a reduced rate by booking your ticket well in advance.

Italy's three principal tourist destinations all have a good range of hotels to suit every budget. You get what you pay for though; and will find the widest choice available if you book ahead.

If you stay away from the most touristy eateries in Rome and Florence, you should be able to eat well and affordably. Pasta dishes are naturally a speciality but Rome is also renowned for its pizza (thinner than the Neapolitan version). The most local wine to Rome is white wine from the Castelli Romani area, including Frascati, while Tuscany is famous for reds like Chianti. Venice is not such a heaven for foodies, but it is possible to find decent restaurants and to eat specialities like seafood and fresh catches from the lagoon.

Duration and timings

Each of the three cities could keep you busy for days. If you are restricted to just one week for the entire tour, I'd suggest spending three nights in Rome, two in Florence and two in Venice; enough to see the really important sights. You would get a lot more from your visits, though, if each stay could be extended by a couple of nights.

Detailed itinerary
Rome Fiumicino Airport is connected by an express train to Rome's main station, Stazione Termini, and also by a local stopping service which calls at suburban Rome stations. Ciampino is connected by buses to Stazione Termini. It may be economic to catch a taxi into town, especially if you are travelling as a family or group. From Termini, buses or Metro trains run to all parts of the city.
The Pantheon, Rome

Rome

Rome is full of things to see and do; at least three nights would be a minimum for seeing the city. On your first trip, spend a day just exploring on foot and getting to know the city. Visit the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine, the historic centre, the Vatican and the Pantheon. A longer stay would enable you to consider day trips, such as Tivoli, Frascati or Sperlonga. Naples could be added to your itinerary as a long excursion.
> Residenza in Farnese - nice 4-star right in the historic centre
> Hotel Raffaello - excellent 3-star in walking distance of Stazione Termini

Book a fast Eurostar train from Stazione Termini to Florence's main station, Firenze Santa Maria Novella. This is within walking distance of the historic centre and of some decent hotels. The train journey takes just over an hour and a half.

Florence

It takes at least a couple of days just to see the very best of Florence's art and architecture. The Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio are obvious destinations, but don't miss the sculptures in the Bargello, or the views from the Boboli Gardens or Piazzale Michelangelo. If you're staying longer, possible excursions include Fiesole, Siena, San Gimignano or organised wine-tours.
> Hotel Degli Orafi - a very good, smart 4-star hotel just yards from the Ponte Vecchio
> Hotel Tornabuoni Beacci - 3-star with old-fashioned charm in a very central location

From Florence, catch the Eurostar service northwards all the way to Venice (2 hours 40 minutes). Venezia Santa Lucia station is right by the Grand Canal; travel by foot or by ferry to your hotel. If you want to add another destination, break the train journey in Bologna, a pleasant university town famous for its food.
Venice

Venice

Venice is a staggering sight even without any in-depth exploration. The lagoon island city can be all things to all people - you may wish to plan a packed artistic itinerary, explore quiet canals off the beaten track, visit the beach or go on boat trips around the lagoon. Good excursions: the lagoon islands, Padua, Vicenza and Treviso.
> Palace Bonvecchiati - a good modern 4-star hotel with international standards close to St. Mark's Square.
> Hotel Campiello - nice little 3-star near a vaporetto stop and St. Mark's Square

Venice Marco Polo Airport is fifteen minutes from Rome's bus hub, Piazzale Roma - there's a direct bus and a local stopping service. From other parts of Venice, the Alilaguna airport ferry service may be quicker and more convenient. Treviso Airport (served by Ryanair) is connected with Piazzale Roma by a special bus service which coincides with flights.

Options and alternatives

I've suggested some easy excursions you could make from each of the three towns. Getting away from the tourist crowds will add immeasurably to your experience and enable you to see another, less urban, Italy. Bologna, which is on the Florence - Venice railway line, makes an easy addition to your tour. Another option is to extend your itinerary to Verona, a couple of hours by train from Venice, and fly home from Verona Airport.

My top option, though, if you have more time, is to take a breather from the cities and hole up for a few days in a smaller destination - perhaps even hiring a car and heading into the countryside. From Rome, you could move for a couple of nights to the coast, to Sperlonga or Terracina. Within a couple of hours of Venice you could be by the picturesque shores of Lake Garda: the train journey from Venice to Desenzano del Garda takes just 90 minutes..

Advice

With a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy, it's tempting to schedule every day for maximum sightseeing. However, Italy is not a country for strict timetables. Museums may be closed, meals may be lengthy and there are always pleasant distractions to draw you from your route. I'd recommend arriving in each city with a shortlist of two to four must-sees and a good guidebook. After an initial stroll around the town centre, you'll have a good 'feel' for the place which will help you plan the rest of your stay. Leave time for unexpected treats and relaxing moments watching the world go by.

The mainline train service linking these cities is very efficient. But Italy is prone to strikes, particularly at weekends. Before beginning your holiday, check if there are any transport strikes scheduled, and either book on 'guaranteed' train services or - ideally - rearrange your plans to avoid travelling on that day.

I've recommended using Eurostar trains, Italy's most fast and comfortable train category. You should book these in advance online or at a railway station; tickets include an automatic seat reservation. But if you are on a tight budget, you could save a lot of money by taking slower trains. The cheapest kind is the Regionale, which will typically be half the price of the Eurostar but may take twice as long to reach its destination.


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