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First time to italy itinerary

I'm going to Italy in May, YAY!!! Leaving the hubby and kids at home and celebrating turning 40 in style with my BFF. This is the itinerary we've come up with: Day 1 we arrive in Milan and head straight for Stresa on lake Maggiore, where we will stay 2 nights. Day 3 we will go to Verona and spend 1 night. Day 4 & 5 will be in Venice. Days 6-8 will be in Florence Day 9 in Siena
Days 10-12 in Rome. Does this sound OK? I know it's stupid not to stay a day or so in Milan, but there are really only a few things we thought sounded interesting to us. I would have like to see Cinque Terre, but my friend wasn't interested, and I also would have liked to see more of Tuscany. I wish I had more time and money...

Posted by
238 posts

It's a lot of traveling. I would not spend less than 2 nights anywhere since you lose so much time traveling.

Posted by
9454 posts

Celeste is right: you are moving awfully fast and will see little when you have a one night stay. It helps to lay out your trip in terms of the number of nights in each place so you have a grasp of the full days in each location. Each time you change locations you lose half a day, so that "one day" in Verona becomes 1/2. I figure you have 11 nights, is that right? Here's a suggestion to allow you to actually realx a tiny bit and see something other than out the window of a train. Stresa - 2 Venice - 3 Florence or Siena - 3
Rome - 3 On the way from Stresa to Venice, stop in Verona if you really want to see it. You can take a train at 08:55 and arrive in Verona at 12:57. Spend a few hours, catch a train at 17:30 and arrive Venice at 18:40. This way you have two full days in Venice. Stay in either Siena (my recommendation) or Florence, and day trip to the other. Leave Venice early to maximize your time in this location. 2 full days plus afternoon of arrival. Leave for Rome early, again to maximize your time in that great city. You'll end up with effectively 2 1/2 days in Rome. Not much time, but you'll get a taste for it. Alternately, if Verona is on your hot list, skip Venice, spend 2 nights in Verona and add a night to Rome or Florence. It's not stupid to skip Milan if you don't have a burning need to see something there. Catch it "next trip" along with the Cinque Terre.

Posted by
6544 posts

Angela: Many first time travelers to Italy try to see it all. With so much art, history, food and architecture to take in, it will be a blur unless taken slowly. Northern Italy is also quite a culture shock for any but the most advanced traveler. Don't worry about missing Milan, as it's a big, high fashion business city. The other big cities on your itinerary have great shopping. With the time allotted, most travelers would limit their travel plans to Venice (3 nights), Florence (3 nights), Tuscan hill country (2 nights) and Rome (4 nights). Tuscan hill country is just 15-30 miles south of Florence, and day trips to Siena, San Gimgnano, Voltera and Chianti wine tours are within reason. They're best done by rental car, but buses frequently run between these cities. Tours are also available out of Florence and Siena. Don't forget that you're losing 1/2 day every time you move. You be sure to have the best 40th birthday possible. And, don't forget to mention it's your birthday where ever you dine.

Posted by
651 posts

Thanks everyone! We have a total of 12 nights, actually, but I wasn't counting the last day because we leave so early.
I'm not really into shopping much, and my travel buddy doesn't intend to see many museums. We tend to like gardens, castles, and food. And I love architecture!

Posted by
31076 posts

Angela, My suggestions are much the same as Laurel mentioned. With such a short time frame, it's a good idea not to try and fit too many locations in. What are you planning to do in Stresa? One nice day trip is to travel on the scenic Cento Valli Railway to Locarno (Switzerland) and then return to Stresa in the afternoon by boat. I'd suggest packing along a copy of the Italy 2012 Guidebook, as that has lots of good information on sightseeing, transportation, Hotels, restaurants, etc. Especially for a first trip to Italy, it's a fantastic resource! I agree with the previous reply - don't worry about not spending any time in Milan. It's nice if you have time, but with such a short trip, your time is better spent elsewhere. Whether to choose between Florence and Siena will depend to some extent on your interests. If you're more interested in renaissance art, then Florence is a good choice. Of the two, I would also suggest Siena as it provides some good day trip possibilities, and it's a wonderful city to wander around in the evenings. For a day trip from Siena to Florence, travel by Bus is the best option, as that avoids a trip down the hill to the rail station. The Corse Rapide Buses are fairly quick (but fewer departures) and the Corse Ordinarie aren't much slower (but more departures). Don't forget to validate your tickets in the yellow machine! For travel in May, pre-booking Hotels would be a good idea! Happy 40th!

Posted by
524 posts

Angela What a wonderful 40th Birthday present! One of the reasons the previous posters mention reducing the number of stops on your Italy trip is the time it takes to get from one place to another. Take a blank calendar for the month you are going. Put down your current itinerary with US fllights indicating your last day as a travel day. Then include at least 1/2 half day for traveling to your next stop. Yes, it is true! Because this is really what is included in your travel time: pack, check out, travel to train station, train time, train station to new hotel, check in, unpack, get oriented, etc. Add this to the calendar. Now you can see why you need to stay in a place at least 2 days cuz you don't do anything except check in and out of the hotel! Or to get a more specific itinerary, go to www.bahn.com for possible train routes and time between places. Don't decide on a train now, but choose a train length of time that seems reasonable. Add this to the calendar. Can you see the issues with your itinerary? With your current itinerary, you are going to 6 destinations in 11 days! It won't work. 3 days just in travel time. In looking at reducing the number of places you go, you may want to look at outliers in terms of geography, time, or cost to get there. Stresa and Verona? Another poster may be able to say whether you can stop in Verona on the way to someplace else. I also suggest you stay in Florence or Siena and take a day trip to the other. Keep us posted on how your revised itinerary is coming together. Bobbie

Posted by
7737 posts

You are indeed trying to do too much in 12 days. I suggest Venice, Florence, Siena and Rome in that order (possibly flipping Siena and Florence). And it's not stupid at all to avoid spending time in Milan, esp. on your first trip to Italy. I'm not sure why David says that "Northern Italy is also quite a culture shock for any but the most advanced traveler." On the contrary, from my experience, it's southern Italy that can be the shock. The north in Italy is much more industrial and industrious, and they even pride themselves on it, thinking of the southerners as lazy. Rick's general advice (with which I agree) is that Italy gets more challenging the farther south you go (with some exceptions such as Sorrento/Amalfi).

Posted by
97 posts

Agree with the posts above. You are trying to do a lot in a short time. A couple suggestions: 1. Definitely keep your general plan of moving from north to south. Venice and Florence are pretty easy to navigate. Rome is a little crazy, especially for the first time traveller. It is great and you will love it, but better to make a rookie travel mistake in Florence and learn from it, rather than in Rome.
2. Plan a mini-vacation within your vacation. After 7 days or so you will be worn out. Pick a day where you have absolutely nothing to do. Just hang out on a piazza in Florence and drink a bunch of wine. Or go to Villa Borghese in Rome and enjoy the park.

Posted by
653 posts

Angela, Happy Birthday! I suggest going to Venice from Stresa and making Verona a day trip out of Venice. Same for Siena or Florence - stay in one or the other and do a day trip.

Posted by
96 posts

Oh, lots of decisions and it's so hard to eliminate places. Just looking at your itinerary, I think I would first drop Verona and like someone mentioned, go straight to Venice. Do what you want in Venice and if you feel you have seen as much of Venice as you want then day trip to Verona or maybe you would rather day trip to Murano or just use all of your time in Venice. We spent 2 nights in Florence (1 1/2 days) and then went to Siena for 1 night. Most travelers LOVE Florence, but for me 1 1/2 days was plenty. I am just not into art museums that much ( but we did go and saw lots of "Madonna and Child") and that is really the highlight in Florence. Of course, there is beautiful architecture and gardens to see. So you may want your focus to be on that. The bus trip to Siena is around an hour. We loved Siena and just exploring all of the passageways through the town. One night just wasn't enough so when we went back to Italy, we put Siena back on our itinerary and we spent another 1 1/2 days there. Another thing to consider is the possibility of rain and if you have only one day to be somewhere and it rains, you really feel kind of cheated. We had rain (not just drizzle but full out rain) while in Venice and since we had a short stay we felt like we needed to be out in the rain to see as much as we planned. A little more leisurely scheduled would have made that more pleasant. Have fun.

Posted by
359 posts

the schedule is doable but as others have mentioned it's a bit rushed

Posted by
651 posts

I bought the airline tickets months ago because I got a pretty good deal flying into Milan and out of Rome, then planned the itinerary to work with within those dates (May 16-29 BTW). So we need to start the trip near Milan, thus the idea of Stresa. We plan to see the Borromeo islands and gardens, plus plan to take the cable car up the mountainside for a little hiking and the alpine garden, and check out the street market that is in Stresa on Friday mornings. Verona is on the way to Venice from there and we thought about just doing a day trip. We might re-think staying the night there. My friend INSISTS on seeing Pisa as she intends to hit all the usual tourist traps. Are connections any good from Siena to there? if not that makes it hard to change our base town fromFlorence. We are not complete novices to travel. I've been to England and France, plus to India twice. My friend has been to Germany a bajillion times, France, and Singapore. I really can't imagine Rome to be worse than India. It's also crowded, dirty, horrid traffic, people trying to rip you off or begging for money, etc. I'd like to see as much as I can on this trip because I probably won't get a chance to go again until the kids are grown.

Posted by
13 posts

I would think you are smart for going to lago maggiore(stresa)for 2 nights.Do not miss it!Do not o/n in Verona but do not miss it either!A good half-day there is plenty and make sure you get over by the river to see the scenery it is a 15 min. walk from the colosseo!Venice is great as is siena florence and rome!Siena a half-day and florence a full day then head to rome!
Dennis Pacelli

Posted by
47 posts

I'm not sure why everyone seems to be in agreement that traveling between every destination you have listed will take a 1/2 day. Verona to Venice and Florence to Siena are not half day trips as mentioned above. They take about an hour.

Posted by
23983 posts

Eric it is because there is so much more to moving from town to town than just the actual travel time. There is packing up all your stuff, Planning your route, Getting ready to go out, then getting all your stuff to the desk, Checking out, Getting to the transportation to the station, bus station, etc, Walking or bus, tram, etc., after waiting for bus or tram or taxi, Getting the ticket, finding the platform, getting there early to relieve anxiety, etc., = - the actual journey to the next station - = Getting out of the station, Finding the TI, finding the transportation to your new hotel, Getting lost, Checking in, maybe wait in a queue, Maybe leave luggage because room not ready yet, Maybe rest up,
Find how to get to the first place you want to see, and get there, maybe, just maybe, getting lost.... So, there's an average of a half day. How fast can you do all that?

Posted by
13 posts

If you are referring to my half-day comments that is not travel time but visit time!

Posted by
359 posts

if you plan to day trip to Pisa than it would be best to be based in Florence, it's a easy train ride to Pisa if you wanted you could do Siena as a day trip also (via bus) but of course spending a night or two there is great make sure you give yourself enough time for Florence itself, there is so much to see and do Flying into Milan and out of Rome is a very good plan Verona is lovely but hard to compete with the big three and with 2 nights at the lake your time is limited
Milan has some amazing sights but you can catch them on your next trip

Posted by
47 posts

Ouch Nigel. I'm glad I don't travel with you! How fast can I do ALL THAT?!?. Yes, packing your bags and checking out of a hotel could take all of 5 minutes. Leaving your bags at your new hotel? Planning your route? Getting lost? You're way overexaggerating. I mean, "rest up"? Really? I can rest up on the train. At the same time I use that time to plan my route to my hotel, my first sight, etc. Of course there's some time involved with getting to and from the train stations. Can that not be part of your vacation too? It can if you travel light. I have no problem wandering around in a new city with my backpack on. I guess it could be different if you are trying to wheel a monstrous piece of luggage over cobblestones. I'm sure Angela can decide which way she'd rather travel from our different perspectives.

Posted by
651 posts

I plan to pack VERY light, only carry on. Not 100% sure about my travel partner who claims she will but thought it was silly that I intend to do laundry halfway thru the trip. Neither of us is a "princess", however, except that she intends to bring enough shampoo that she'll have to check a bag. Getting lost will not likely be a problem. Not only am I uncommonly good with a map, but my iPad has gps if needed. All the hotels I've booked so far are very close to bus, train, or metro. Hotel Milan au Lac is across from the bus stop. Locanda al Leon looks super easy to find by Venetian standards. Soggiorno Bastistero near the duomo looks to be an easy walk from both bus and train. The only one I'm slightly concerned about is getting from Tiburtina bus station to our hotel near Barberini metro station in Rome. My b-day will be in Rome the night before we leave. Any good ideas for a restaurant that night? Looks like a lot of places close on Monday's.

Posted by
9454 posts

I'm with you Nigel. If you've been to a city before, the transition time isn't so bad (second time in Venice we didn't get lost much), but orienting to a new place takes time. Pack and check out in 5 minutes? Unrealistic for most of us. Even as a light packer, it takes me a little time. Even an hour's train trip, changing towns, will take 3 hours and maybe 4. Get up at 7:00AM, shower & dress, grab breakfast at your B&B or hotel, say good-bye and out the door at 08:00. (Sometimes the good-byes are a bit long, too. Especially at a B&B.) Let's say your hotel is 20 minutes by foot from the station. Maybe you hop a cab and cut that in half; It's now 08:10. Your train is at 08:30 (have to have some lead time at the station. I've had long walks to my car at the front of a long Freccia!) Train ride is one hour (argument's sake) so you arrive at 09:30. Find your hotel or B&B; Now it's at least 10:30. And I really mean at least, because you may get lost, the train may be late, you took a later train, etc. Visit with the proprietor, drop your bagsd, figure out where you are going, get oriented, get out. It's easily 11:30 now. So 4.5 hours from out of bed to ready-to-tour. In a perfect world where trains aren't late and you don't get lost. We went from Vernazza to Siena once and it took 5 hours, 4 trains, and an interminable wait for a bus up the hill in Siena. Then we got lost. Left Vernazza on a train before 08:00 Finally got to B&B, dropped bags and found lunch about 14:30. That's why we say you usually lose 1/2 a day to changing locations. Sometimes it's less, many times it is more, and if you liek to sleep late, well, the whole day is gone.

Posted by
47 posts

I don't think we're that far off in our travel time descriptions. Maybe just in our perspectives. Laurel, in your example above, my clock stops at 9:30, as I've now arrived in my new city. If it happens to be Venice and I happen to "get lost" on the way to my hotel, well great! Isn't that the fun part of Venice? Just wandering around lost? Personally it doesn't matter to me if I have my luggage with me or not, because I packed light. I don't worry about getting to my hotel right away, so I'm not viewing this time as part of the travel day. I'm viewing it as productive time. (well, as productive as wandering around lost in Venice can be) If you absolutely need to find your hotel and drop off your luggage before you can do anything else, then of course that would increase the time you consider for travel time.

Posted by
8 posts

Any time I am near Milan I will try to see "The Last Supper" again. I also like walking the Galleria. That is absolutely all.

Posted by
8 posts

Any time I am near Milan I will try to see "The Last Supper" again. I also like walking the Galleria. That is absolutely all.

Posted by
6544 posts

Angela: Let me talk about luggage and travel. I live by Rick Steves' packing list. I've used it, and still carried more than I needed. When I go to Italy next month, I'm going to pack using his list, and then remove half of what I've packed. I never check a bag. Like you said, you can always wash a few clothes. A laundry starched pair of blue jeans can last 2 weeks if you stay out of mud. Last time I went to Amsterdam, Munich and Vienna by car, all 4 of us had one 21" carry on bag and a small shoulder bag. It was perfect. If you cannot handle your luggage and walk with it for 2 miles, get something smaller. I've learned the hard way, and I don't carry bags for anyone. Tell your partner to get on the Rick Steves wagon. And it's hard not to visit the greatest art and sculpture galleries on earth. I'm glad you're a seasoned traveler. You'll have a great time.

Posted by
96 posts

I saw that you said your travel partner wants to go to Pisa. If she is determined you may not be able to sway her from that but really, IMO if you are in the area, it is an ok stop but to spend much time getting to Pisa and shorting someplace else is a shame. We stopped because we were driving past on the highway and could see it, but really there is just not much there. I enjoyed our time there (about 1 1/2 hr maybe) but if you don't have a 1/2 day to spare then I would consider cutting that one. Sometimes you just gotta say you were there, right? Our rule is...one carry-on suitcase and a backpack...have never regretted it.

Posted by
13 posts

I have to say I'm really jealous of your itinerary! You'll love Verona and Florence, but then to have Venice right after?! You're in for quite a trip. One suggestion: look for Venice apartments that you can rent. We weren't sure about hostels last time we were there but found a fairly inexpensive apartment to stay in for a week. Made us feel like real Italians!