You want to visit Italy. But where to start?
It is a beautiful country with so much to see and the hardest part is to choose where to visit, and where to stay.
If this is your first visit to Italy, I suggest focusing on these incredible Italian cities – all beautiful and all very different.
I have listed each city in the order I would visit, and I have included train times to the next location. You can fly to Rome and depart from Venice.
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Italian Itinerary by Train
Travelling around Italy by train is easy. The high-speed trains are a comfortable way to travel, sit back and relax and before you know it you will be at your next destination. If you are going in summer, I suggest pre-booking your seats as popular routes can book out.
I like to travel in the offseason, and even then for peace of mind, I book the longer trips before I leave home.
I would plan for at least two weeks staying in each location long enough to see the highlights, with some time to relax and absorb the atmosphere and to enjoy a day trip.
This way you will get a taste of what Italy has to offer and more of an idea of the areas you would like to visit on your next trip. Because, let’s be honest, once you visit Italy you will want to keep coming back time and time again.
For the budget travellers, I have also included five free things you can do in each city.
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Rome is a large city filled with ancient ruins, history and architecture as well as art and culture. It is home to the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel. There is much to see and do no matter your interests, and I believe it is a city everyone should visit.
At least once anyway. I see people asking the question a lot, about whether they should bother with Rome or not.
My feeling about Rome is that it is big and noisy and a little crazy. But maybe that’s just the feeling I got from the mad taxi driver that picked us up one afternoon!!
But despite the experience of being driven at break-neck speeds while overtaking cars through intersections, I liked Rome.
We loved our five days stay in Rome in an apartment in Campo dei Fiori. And despite being in the city for five days, there is still so much I would like to see and do if I go back.
There are many must-see highlights for the first time visitor. And a lot of free things to do as well.
As well as the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, we also visited St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican and the Trevi Fountain, Campo dei Fiori and Piazza Navona, and we only touched the surface. There was a lot of gelato eating, of course, and sampling Roman cuisine.
Planning a Trip to Rome
I suggest at least four days. You will still only scratch the surface, but it will give you an idea if you would like to return one day and explore more.
I have a unique planning formula that I follow when planning each of my trips. Each trip starts at four days and includes a day trip. This way, I get to explore my location as well as venture further afield and experience more.
Where to Stay
I loved Campo dei Fiori. It was close enough to the most famous sights that we could walk, but not be right in the middle of the tourist area. The area had an abundance of shops, everything from food, clothes, markets and the most delightful bakery ever! Which we visited each morning for breakfast.
It was nice staying in an apartment with locals as neighbours, doing our shopping each day at the market in the square.
You can find apartments in this area on Airbnb, or there are several hotels in the area that would be great too.
The area around Piazza Navona would be a good choice for accommodation as well.
Day trips are a great way to see more without having to pack up and move on.
Suggested Day trips from Rome (under two hours by train):
Of course, there are many other places to visit. And you can also join a specialised tour like food and wine tasting in Tuscany.
5 Free Things to do in Rome
- Trevi Fountain – I highly recommend visiting early in the morning or late at night to avoid the crowds
- Visit the markets in Campo dei Fiori (open daily except for Sundays)
- Villa Borghese – there is a fee to visit the museum, but the gardens are free to wander
- Free Walking Tour – I recommend this one.
Rome – Florence by Train
Taking a high-speed train from Rome Termini Station to Florence Santa Maria Novella Station will take around 1.30 hours.
You can also catch a Regional train which will cost lest, however, it will take you over three hours.
Florence exceeded all of my expectations.
Florence, the capital of Tuscany, is filled with art, extraordinary architecture, museums, fantastic food and much, much more.
What makes Florence so beautiful apart from all the things I listed above is its size. It is compact and easy to walk around. I love any city that I can explore on foot. It was easy to explore each day, pop back for a rest or two at my hotel during the day and then feel comfortable walking around at night.
On my three-week solo trip to Italy, I saw the statue of David at Galleria dell’Accademia, which blew me away. Walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo for the best views over Florence, joined walking tours and an incredible Food & Artisan tour with the lovely Maria, visited the Boboli Gardens, the Medici Chapel and San Lorenzo and Mercato Nuovo Markets to name a few things.
Planning a Trip to Florence
You can read about my incredible experience in Florence in – How to Experience Florence, Your Way.
The blog post includes hotel recommendations, tours and more. It is a valuable resource for anyone planning a trip to Florence.
Again, I recommend no less than four days, and because Florence is small, most areas are good to stay in.
Where to Stay
I stayed in the San Lorenzo area with the Mercato Centrale and San Lorenzo markets around the corner, a five-minute walk to the Duomo and an easy walk to the Arno River, Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi Gallery, Piazza della Repubblica and the main shopping precinct. It was a fantastic location for accommodation.
In the other direction, it was a short walk to Galleria dell’Accademia and the Santa Maria Novella Train Station.
Next time I would stay in an apartment, and I spied a few lovely ones on Airbnb. I love to cook and would like nothing more than shop at places like Sant’Ambrogio Markets, buying fresh produce and taking it back to cook. Not to mention the cheese, prosciutto and wines I could buy!
Suggested Day Trips from Florence (under 2 hours by train)
5 Free Things to do in Florence
- Visit Piazzale Michelangelo – sunset would be magnificent
- Walk around Piazza del Duomo
- Wander around Piazza della Signoria (like an outdoor museum with all the sculptures)
- See Ponte Vecchio (at different times of the day as the colours change)
- Wander the markets like Mercato Nuovo and San Lorenzo (free of course if you don’t buy anything)
Florence – Bologna by Train
Taking a high-speed train from Santa Maria Novella Train Station to Bologna Centrale station will take approximately 35 minutes on a high-speed train. Of course, for a cheaper fare, you can take a Regional train taking around 1.10 hours.
Because it is such a quick trip, you can still enjoy some activities in the morning in Florence, get to Bologna and enjoy a full afternoon sightseeing.
Bologna Centrale is a huge train station. Don’t get overwhelmed. When you are leaving, allow enough time before your departure time to navigate your way through.
Bologna was a massive surprise to me. I stayed for five days in Bologna and thoroughly enjoyed exploring on foot. I also joined a food tour, because as any foodie should know, Bologna is a gourmet’s delight and the food capital of Northern Italy. It may even surprise you to know that Bologna is Italy’s 7th largest city.
So, apart from the food, what makes Bologna so different from other Italian cities?
I found that it has a totally different feel to it. It is an industrial city, but more than that it is also known for its university. And because of that, it has more of a multicultural feeling.
The people are warm and welcoming, and I appreciated the different café culture I found there. It is more acceptable for people to sit and enjoy their coffee with a pastry while sitting down, although locals still enjoy their morning coffee standing at the bar.
I loved the city and even though it feels very different and at times seems grungier than other cities, I felt safe and welcomed.
One thing you must do in Bologna is a food tour with a local so you can try traditional ragu (the original Bolognese), tortellini and mortadella – just a few things Bologna is famous for.
Planning a Trip to Bologna
I stayed in Bologna for five days, and others visit Bologna as a day trip. It is also popular as a weekend destination for Europeans. I don’t think one day does Bologna justice. There is so much to see, AND of course, there is all the food you should try. If you have no idea where to start planning, you can read – How to Plan Your Ultimate Trip to Bologna.
Bologna is easy to walk around, but you can also jump on the City Red Bus, a hop on hop off bus that will familiarise you with the city.
I joined a walking food tour which was a great way to see the city and find the best food places, especially if you are on a budget or want to eat like a local
Where to Stay
I liked staying in a central location in Bologna. My accommodation was less than a five-minute walk to Piazza Maggiore, the main square in the city. From the centre, the train station is about 20 minutes on foot. Accommodation does get cheaper the closer you are to the station. The city is comfortable to walk around in any weather. The porticoes, an attractive architectural feature of the city, provide shelter.
I stayed in Residenza San Martino, converted novice cells of the convent. It was in a perfect location, it was tranquil, and my room was large enough with a well-appointed ensuite bathroom.
Suggested Day Trips from Bologna (under 2 hours by train)
5 Free Things to do in Bologna
- Walk up to the San Luca Basilica (or you can pay for the express train)
- Visit the library, Biblioteca Salaborsa (see ancient roman ruins beneath your feet)
- Find the secret window and hidden canal
- Visit Orto Botanico
- Maybe a bit odd, but visit Certosa Cemetery
Bologna – Verona by Train
As mentioned, Bologna Centrale is enormous. It is the central hub for train travellers, and there are four levels to navigate. Allow enough time to find your way around, and you will be fine. If you are catching a taxi, the driver will try and take you to the side that is closest to your platform. But don’t despair if they don’t, we couldn’t get through on the morning of my departure, and it didn’t take me too long to get to where I needed to be.
The train from Bologna Centrale to Verona Porta Nuova will take between 55 minutes to 1.10 hour on a high-speed train.
Be aware that the train station is approximately a 20 – 30-minute walk to the main centre of Verona. I suggest a taxi if you don’t want to bother with public transport or want to walk.
Verona is a delight. A small and quaint city that is easy to explore on foot. Although famous for Romeo and Juliet, Verona has so much more to offer.
I did a walking food tour and by chance was the only person on it, which was fabulous. It was my own private tour with Diana, a lovely local girl. I learnt about the history of the city as well as taste the food.
Planning a Trip to Verona
I was in Verona for six days, which was a little too long without doing a day trip.
I would recommend no less than three days in Verona. With a castle to explore, a tower to climb and amazing views over the city to be found, there is enough to keep you occupied.
Then there is the Arena, home to Opera performances in the summer, but open to the public to explore all year. There are many excellent restaurants, quaint streets to explore, and of course, you can see Juliet’s balcony and statue. Just don’t go in the middle of the day in summer as it will be jam-packed.
You can find out what to do in Verona in the Best of Verona, Italy.
The summer draws enormous crowds. I would suggest visiting in the spring or autumn if you want to contend with fewer visitors. I was there at the end of November the weather was cold but not unbearable, and the Christmas Markets were operating in Piazza dei Signori, which was a pleasant surprise. The Christmas lights were up in the city, making it a real treat to walk around at night.
Where to Stay
I would suggest booking accommodation anywhere near the centre for your first visit. I made the mistake of booking a B&B closer to the station and a 20-minute walk into Verona.
I underestimated how tired I would be after walking around for the entire day, and then I didn’t want to walk back into Verona for dinner. I ended up moving to a small hotel close to Piazza Bra after two nights and was much happier.
Suggested Day Trips from Verona (under 2 hours by train)
- Lake Garda
5 Free Things to do in Verona
- Visit Juliet’s Balcony
- Walk up to Castel San Pietro for stunning views over the city (funicular €2)
- Enjoy time in Piazza Bra and explore the Arena from the outside
- Stroll over Ponte di Castelvecchio
- Wander Centro Storico (historic city centre with Roman gateways, walls and bridge)
Verona – Venice by Train
The train from Verona to Venice’s Santa Lucia Station takes approximately 1.10 hour on a high-speed train.
If you haven’t been to Venice before, prepare yourself for the breathtaking view as you walk out of the station. It really is a stunning city.
Head to the canal and go left and you will find the waterbus stop. Purchase a ticket for however many days you are in Venice (much more cost-effective than single fares) and be on your way.
Make sure you have checked the map to see which water bus stop is closest to your hotel.
Venice is like no other city you will have visited. It is a wonder to see and explore. Even with over-tourism and the issue of large cruise ships, I still highly recommend you visit.
My only suggestion is that you stay away from St Mark’s Square during the day. Well, maybe have a peek, and you will see what I am talking about.
Seeing St Mark’s Square and surroundings early in the morning is like experiencing a totally different Venice. There is an ethereal quality about it. Or head to the square at night, after dinner. You can sit on the steps and listen to the music playing at one of the cafes. And if you are lucky, you will see pools of water rise in the square from the tide and catch beautiful reflections of the basilica.
Other than that, explore Venice to your heart’s content – away from the crowds. Here is what I did to See the Best of Venice.
Planning a Trip to Venice
I would avoid the summer. Summer anywhere in Italy is crowded. And hot. But especially in Venice, the crowds are insane.
No matter the time of year I suggest you stay out of the main tourist areas during the day and visit places like Burano as early as possible in the day.
Other areas around Galleria Accademia are lovely to explore as is the Jewish Ghetto.
Venice is beautiful and like every other traveller who has been there and suggests, just wander and get lost. You will find yourself walking over bridges, down laneways and discovering hidden piazzas. My favourite time to explore was early morning where I would start my day enjoying a coffee at the café bar with locals before heading out to explore.
Where to Stay
It has contributed to the significant problem Venice has with tourists, and I would rather spend my money at a hotel or accommodation that employs locals.
With that said, next time I visit Venice, I will stay in the area near the train station, Cannaregio. It is on the Grand Canal, and with a waterbus pass, I can venture out and explore each day.
On our last visit, we were in the San Marco area, and even though it was May, it was terribly busy. As soon as you walked out of the hotel door, you were swept up in a sea of people.
Suggested Day Trips from Venice (under 2 hours by train)
- Lido (enjoy a beach day)
5 Free Things to do in Venice
- Cross the Rialto Bridge and visit the markets
- Enjoy St Mark’s Square at night
- Visit the foyer of the Hospital (no photos allowed)
- Walk around the Jewish Ghetto
- Wander and get lost (see how long it takes you to find your hotel!)
Enjoy Italy! And on your next trip why not visit these Three Must-See Towns in Tuscany.
If you are travelling around Italy, you might find this useful:
- What to See and Do in Rome
- How to See the Best of Venice
- How to Plan Your Ultimate Trip to Bologna
- A Day in Milan
- How to Plan Your Ultimate Trip to Florence
- The Best of Verona
- One Day Complete Guide to Visiting Orvieto
- A Tuscan Town Called Cortona