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Best of Italy in 17 Days - best experiences and recommendations

We are thrilled to be booked on our first Rick Steves’ tour (Best of Italy in 17 Days - May 2022) and are impressed by the rich and varied community of travelers who are willing to share their thoughts and learnings. With that in mind, and for those who have been on a Best of Italy in 17 days tour, what have been your best experiences and recommendations?

Posted by
8242 posts

I'm looking forward to the replies. I'm booked for this tour the end of September. I've been on a number of RS tours and have been to Italy 3 times on various RS tours.

I'm planning 3 overnights in Milan first. One day to do the Last Supper and the Duomo and one day to try and visit the location the great-grandparents emigrated from. I'll go to Varenna 1 or 2 nights ahead of the tour start date.

I will also stay in Rome for a few nights after the tour ends but that number is up in the air so far. I want to visit the Borghese Gallery and see the Baths of Caracalla and Baths of Diocletian. In a previous visit I went to the Capitoline Museum and want to return there. I'm also collecting some resources on WWII sights in Rome.

Posted by
262 posts

It’s still our favorite tour out of the 6 we’ve taken. Almost every day there will be a best experience. You know those greatest hits albums where you listen to your favorite artist and say “This song is my favorite!” but then the next song you say “No THIS song is my favorite!”? It’s like that.

Posted by
15 posts

Our all time.favorite tour. I recommend seeing The Last Supper in Milan and arriving a day or two.early in Varenna. Every place was truly fabulous. The tour really showcases the diversity of Italy. I wish we had been able to stay a few days in Rome after the tour. My husband and I actually talk about taking this tour again. Enjoy! It was a trip of a lifetime for us.

Posted by
51 posts

Hi Jon:
Exciting, right? I’m scheduled on the June 12 BOI (my first tour). I am considering starting in Venice for 3 nights, then Saturday early train to Milan, then train to Varenna Sunday to join the tour. I feel like I want a bit more time to explore and get lost in Venice since this may be my only trip to Italy. After Rome, I plan to travel on to Paris (via a two night stay Annecy if I can coordinate the timing of plane to GVA and shuttle combo. Or, via Caen - Bayeaux if transport isn’t too hard from Rome).

I am looking forward to experience such varied areas and environments in Italy. I’m perusing guidebooks and this forum to discover options for free time. The scrapbooks from former travelers are great resources as well. Enjoy the planning and anticipation, and thank you for posting this!

Posted by
1951 posts

Jon and Pam,

I took this tour (my 3rd RS tour) as my first time to Italy and loved, loved every minute! I highly recommend arriving 2 or 3 days early and staying after if you can spare the time.

I flew to Milan from Atlanta via JFK 2 days early and spent 2 nights there. I stayed in the Hotel Berna, a short walk from the Central train station.

Booked a walking tour of the historic center with the Walks of Italy that included tickets to the Last Supper and the climb to the top of the Duomo with a guide. Granted, it was pricey, but I had limited time there and we had a good guide and and saw a lot of interesting things I wouldn’t have known to see. I was able to chat with other tourists in the walking group, too, which was pleasant. I then spent time touring the Galleria, a neat shopping center of sorts but very nice. The next day I went to the La Scala Museum and had another Walks of Italy tour of a couple art galleries, there were only 3 people on this tour. This was in a different part of town. I took the train to Varenna and made it just in time for the introductory meeting!

I flew multi city on Delta into Milan and home from Rome. I flew home the last day after breakfast. Because I didn’t have the additional vacation days to stay longer in Rome, I was determined that I would return to Rome the next year in March on the RS 7 Days Best of Rome tour. That trip was also amazing and I loved delving deeper into Rome.

I agree the Borghese Gallery is definitely a must if you have the time. Also, Ostia Antica is another interesting day trip.

Have a fantastic trip!

Posted by
871 posts

I took this tour in 2018. I really enjoyed the tour and think that it was arranged well. Unlike a lot of folks, Italy is nowhere near my favorite country in Europe, but it has a lot of unique experiences to offer. Comments/suggestions:

*I spent my first day in Italy in Milan. I stayed at Hotel Berna. I pre-booked tickets to The Last Supper. I ate at Luini's and went to the roof of the Duomo. I visited Michelangelo's Rondanini Pieta at Sforza Castle. I visited the Crazy Cat Cafe.
*I chose some goals ahead of my trip. They were to see all of Michelangelo's Pietas and some other specific art pieces. Previous to my Italy trip, I was not much into art. I did enjoy sculpture, but I never understood paintings. I studied the Renaissance before I left and so much of the trip was art exploration. Now that I understand more art history and I was able to stand in front of so many famous and some less famous beautiful pieces I now officially appreciate art!
*If there is an optional dinner at Festuccio's home, don't think about it....GO.
*I also pick at least one food item that is local and that I have never had before. Octopus and Osso Bucco was eaten.
*I was extremely prepared for all of my free time. I notice that at least one person on every tour doesn't even know the itinerary. Free time is for drinking or hanging out at cafes. Of course this is fine if it is the goal. My European trips are not for relaxation, they are for expanding my knowledge of history and culture. So I think knowing what you want from the trip ahead of time is critical.
*See a live music performance in Venice and then get lost. Be careful about where you eat in Venice I chose poorly for lunch one day.
*Get an Ufizzi art book from your local library and pick a few pieces and then find them in the museum. The pieces meant so much more to me when I knew their story. It was so fabulous to be in their presence!
*Go to the Bargello Museum in Florence and touch Donatello's David.
*Eat every flavor of gelato at least once and drink as many Aperol Sprites as possible.
*See how many Contrada mascots you can photograph in Siena
*Understand that you might be surprisingly drawn into a site that you weren't expecting and you might be disappointed by a place you were looking forward to (Assisi for me)
*Don't miss Orvieto (see above) and visit he Etruscan museum and the market.
*Book tickets early for the Borghese in Rome. Consider taking a food tour in Rome

Thanks for the invitation to relive my trip, gosh I had a great time!!!!

Posted by
3768 posts

As others mentioned, arrive a few days early. We flew into Milan and took the train to Verona for our first three days - really enjoyed Verona, and it’s an easy tourist city to acclimate. Then we took the train to Varenna to meet the group that evening.

It really is a fantastic trip! So much that during subsequent trips to Italy, we have returned to almost every location. Walk as much as possible ahead of time, so you’re able to go, go, go. The best experiences: the evening gondola ride in Venice, hiking in the breathtaking Dolomites, appreciating the art in Florence, learning about the fierce competition of Siena’s neighborhoods in their Palio (love that town!), and on & on. None of the locations were a let down.

We flew home early the morning the trip ended in Rome to head back to work. If you’re retired, stay an extra three days in Rome. There’s so much to see beyond the Vatican, Colosseum & Roman Forum. We’ve stayed several days near the Pantheon, and that’s nice to enjoy at night, along with strolling in the evening. Ostia Antica is very interesting and straight forward to get there by metro, etc. We also did a cooking class on a subsequent trip - lots of ways you could spend some extra days there.

Posted by
262 posts

I hope all of you who have signed up for this tour get the wonderful Francesca Caruso as your tour guide for at least part of what you see in Rome. We were lucky enough to get her for 2 days, the Forum and Colosseum, and then the Borghese Gallery the next day to discuss all the art in that beautiful museum. She is just as interesting and smart as she is on Rick’s shows.

Posted by
5 posts

We're doing the Ten Day Best of Italy in May. I'm glad to hear some many people are also choosing to fly into Milan. We plan to arrive two days before the start of the tour to get over jet lag with a stay at Lake Como then train over to Venice for the start of the tour. Any suggestions?

Posted by
238 posts

OH , BIG sigh…..the Borghese museum is fabulous! I wannnna go baaaaack…..and the little things, like seeing all the kitties at the Cat Sanctuary in the middle of Rome, the beautiful graveyards and markers and stepping into a pharmacy and looking down and seeing excavations of Roman ruins while you are paying for your toothpaste, under glass at your feet, getting lost anywhere and so much more that is not at all related to your tour. Just go with it….

Posted by
7 posts

Great! Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences and recommendations - so very helpful!

Posted by
284 posts

Jon, the Best of Italy tour was our first RS tour in 2017 and our first trip to Italy. Best experience?..."Everything!" lol.
Seriously, best experience was spending the day in the Dolomites.
Being in Cinque Terra was also special, but weather was not great, so boats couldn't run and trails were closed.
We arrived 4 days early; spent 2 nights in Milan and 2 in Varenna. We walked the city on our full day and toured the Duomo. We had tickets for The Last Supper the next day before leaving for Varenna (I didn't want to break up our full day in Milan with a timed visit to The Last Supper).
We loved staying in Varenna. Would have loved an extra day, but 2 nights were sufficient (Think: relaxing vacation).
Rome: Our tour ended in Rome the middle of September...and it was HOT! It was hard to be enthused about the Forum when all we wanted was to stand in the shade. We stayed an extra night in Rome mainly to tour the Borghesa Gallery and just have a leisurely day before moving on to week in Tuscany.

Posted by
60 posts

Thanks so much. We are doing the Best of Italy tour at the beginning of September and the posts have been most helpful. We are following up with a back-to-back Best of South Italy tour that will start in Rome a few days after the BOI tour ends. Any thoughts about this tour?

Posted by
1049 posts

The Best of Southern Italy was on my list to do until my wife became ill. I researched it more than I did the Best of Italy. I found the best source of information were the videos Rick did before an audience when he hosted reunions at his travel company and the “scrapbooks” that people submitted on Rick Steves website.
If you have any specific questions about the Best of Italy Tour, you can send me a personal message and I will try and answer them.

Start getting in shape now. My wife and I were avid walkers and the days that we spare time, we would average about 6 miles and on some days around 12 miles.