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Help with Itinerary for 1st Trip to Italy Please

Hello-

I have booked flights for my mom (75) and myself (45) to Italy for late February into early March. We fly into Venice arriving 2/23 and out of Rome 3/7. We will be relying on trains, and will not have a car.

I'm thinking of splitting our time as follows:

3 nights in Venice- Doge's Palace, St. Marks and Accademia, and I would like to see San Francesco del Deserto. Train to Florence.

4 nights in Florence- Duomo, Uffizi, Accademia, churches. I would also like to do some shopping and was thinking about hiring a guide for a tour to Siena and some smaller villages. Train to Rome.

6 nights in Rome- Colosseum/Forum, St. Peter's, Vatican Museum, Borghese Gallery, more churches. Considering a day trip to either Ostia Antica or Pompeii.

Am I splitting the time between the 3 cities ok given what we want to see? I prefer early Christian churches. I'm planning to try to stay as central as possible to reduce the amount of walking my mom has to do at least a little.

Posted by
3696 posts

I think it sounds like a great trip. I am not sure I would bother with a guide for Siena. It is easy enough to take the train or a bus to Siena for the day. It's small enough for you to do on your own. There are any number of little day trips out of Florence to villages or wine tours. Kind of a fun day to hook up with some other travelers.

Posted by
10295 posts

Reserve the Uffizi in advance, probably also Accademia.
Your allocation of days makes sense, every traveler would do it a little differently re allocation of days.
Focus on finding early Christian churches. Many are re-built later on sites of earlier churches, such as St. Peter's.
Also advance reservation for Borghese.
(Congratulations on knowing not to drive between those destinations.)
Rick's Italy guidebook may help.

Posted by
7124 posts

Given the time of year (Feb/Mar - late winter) I don't think the countryside would be that enjoyable.
I would perhaps stay only 3 nights in Florence, 5 in Rome, and look at 2 nights in either Padua or Verona.
Church of San Zeno Maggiore in Verona is really different.
Giotto frescoes at Scovegni Chapel in Padua are stunning.
St Anthony's basilica in Padua is quite breathtaking as well.
San Clemente in Rome you may find particularly of interest, as well as Quattro Coronati.

Posted by
10295 posts

February and March you'll want to focus on indoor things.

Posted by
3696 posts

Did not notice the dates... Carnavale in Venice starts on Feb. 9th... and ends on the 23rd.... If there is any possible way you could go a few days earlier you could catch the last few days of one of the most interesting times in Venice. It is an amazing experience and if you are there in the winter you may as well try and experience it. I went a few years ago and am going again in 2016. You can PM me for more details if you decide to make that happen. I would catch the last 2 days of Carnavale, then stay on an extra day or two as all the crowds will leave and you can explore a bit more. Definitely take layers of clothes so you can be comfortable. The weather can vary quite a bit from rather chilly, dreary, misty and rainy to relatively warm and sunny. But, you will really be able to experience these locations without a ton of tourists (except Carnavale).

Posted by
11977 posts

3 nights in Venice are just 2 full days (plus the evening on when you arrive, but you'll be tired and jet lagged). If you increase one night in Venice, you might get a chance to see other Veneto towns, such as either Padua or Verona (or both, even). Currently with only 3 nights you can see only Venice one day and the other islands (Murano, Burano, Torcello) another day.

4 nights in Florence are only 3 full days plus the afternoon of the day when you arrive from Venice. Florence alone will take 2 days. The extra day can be for Siena (without a car you won't be able to do much more in a day). If you add another night in Florence, you might be able to add more of Tuscany, such as Pisa+Lucca (which are near each other) or Arezzo + Cortona (under the Tuscan sun), or San Gimignano+Volterra, etc.

6 nights in Rome (5 days) is 50% of your entire trip. I think you can do with 4 nights (3 full days + the afternoon of when you arrive from Florence). In spite of what those Romans think, you can visit Rome in two or three days. After a while all those ruins start to look alike. With 3.5 days you even have time for a day trip to Orvieto.

I would divide your 13 nights as follows:
Venice and Veneto towns: 4 nights
Florence and Tuscany towns: 5 nights
Rome (and possibly Orvieto or Ostia Antica): 4 nights

Posted by
2454 posts

I agree with Roberto, less time in Rome. Also, I have been to Italy in January and February. The weather was cool, but not cold. It did not keep us inside except Venice. Our January visit to Venice was foggy/rainy and; consequently, was the coldest place I have ever been in my life! And I was a skier and live in New England. Florence in February had us in shirtsleeves, but Sorrento needed a sweater and jacket. I have often traveled in the winter and the only thing different the sun set earlier and perhaps we'd stop for a hot drink on occasion. You will have a lovely time and be outside a lot, if you want to be outside. Italy is fascinating.

Posted by
10295 posts

In January you won't be able to see outside after 5pm, in June you can see until 9pm. Then there's the temp difference between January and June.

Posted by
307 posts

I just did a very similar itinerary with my 75 year old mom! It was a nice, relaxed pace. One question about your mom's mobility, is she ok with going up and down bridges? There will be quite a few she will have to pass while walking around Venice. Otherwise, you can get a vaporetto pass and boat to the different neighborhoods/locations.

Posted by
104 posts

I'm coming from Minneapolis so I'm probably less worried about the cold and dark than some as the weather will likely still be better than it is at home. We visited in Paris the 1st week of March this year and liked going at that time.

My flight is a rewards flight so I need to stick with those dates.

I will likely reduce Rome by 1 night and probably add it to Venice. I think 4 nights in Rome might be a bit short. I'm on the fence about adding another night in Florence though.

My mom is ok to do some stairs but she does have a bit of arthritis so hopefully not too many.

Posted by
7124 posts

If you do 4 nights in Venice, still consider Padua as a day trip - it's only 30mins by train.

Posted by
11613 posts

Keep the six nights in Roma if you are interested in early Christian churches, or cut it down to five and spend two nights in Ravenna (steal a night from Firenze).

Other early Christian churches in Roma: Santa Sabina (see the original carved wooden doors), Santa Prassede, Santa Costanza, visit the catacombs of Priscilla. Santa Maria Maggiore has some early Christian mosaics and is close to Santa Prassede. Santa Maria in Trastevere is an important early Christian basilica. The baptistery of San Giovanni in Laterano is beautiful and is close to San Clemente and Quattro Coronati (odd opening times).

Posted by
14003 posts

I'm thinking about how easy or difficult it will be for your mom to walk. My memories of all my trips to Italy: hundreds of stairs every day, hard to find anywhere to sit and rest except cafes ($$). . . and churches (expect them to be cold inside). I don't know how many hotels in Venice have elevators. Keep in mind that a first floor room means one flight of stairs.

Venice is flat, except for going over bridges, and except for the big ones over the Grand Canal, they are small. You just want to avoid a hotel that you'd have to go over more than 1-2 bridges to get to/from. Florence is also flat. Rome is not (seven hills, right?). The hill towns, like Siena, have steep inclines. Pompeii is very difficult to walk through, so Ostia Antica is a much better choice. Another option would be Herculaneum which was also buried by Vesuvius.

In Venice, you can take the vaporetto to avoid some of the walking. In Florence, most of the sights are 5-10 minutes' walk from each other. I would not recommend visiting places like Siena, with it's difficult walking conditions. You could take a day from Florence (if you drop the hill towns) to add to Venice, just because you'll be going slowly in Venice. For Rome, you should become familiar with the bus lines and plan on taxis too. Avoid the metro - stairs and more stairs!

Posted by
1994 posts

Zoe's advice is excellent – if your interest is in early Christian churches, keep the time in Rome. The list she gave you will take you to the key churches, and you'll need the time you alloted. I spent a very happy 10 days in Rome on one trip using Thomas Merton's Seven Story Mountain as my tour guide – visiting the early churches that he mentioned as being important his conversion. Also, you can find a list of the early house churches on the web (I think I found it by searching for a list of the titular churches in Rome). After the Edict of Milan, those house churches commonly became the sites of the earliest purpose-built churches.

In Florence, definitely visit San Miniato al Monte. Construction began in the late 900s, if I remember correctly, and the apse mosaic, crypt ceiling frescoes, floor, and marble mosaic work date mostly to the 11th to 13th C. And happily, it escaped Baroque rework. The sunsets outside the church are spectacular, and it provides wonderful views over Florence and the surrounding hillsides. The Badia Fiorentina also dates from the same era, although the interior underwent an unfortunate Baroque redesign. However, the monastic community in residence there prays some of the most beautiful liturgy I've ever participated in – if that interests you, I'd suggest going to vespers and the mass that follows it. You can find their liturgical schedule on the website of the monastic fraternities of Jerusalem – just click on the icon for the Badia.

Since you mentioned visiting San Francesco in Venice, I have one related suggestion. The island of San Lazarre (sp?) has a monastery of the Armenian rite of the Catholic Church. The community dates from the 1700s, so you won't find really early construction, but I found it to be a fascinating visit. One vaporetto a day stops there, and someone will meet the boat to show visitors around the island.

Posted by
11613 posts

I stayed at a nice little hotel in Venezia with an elevator - Locanda San Marcuola, 50 meters from the vaporetto stop San Marcuola. Also visit Torcello for the earlyish church there. Get a vaporetto pass and just cruise around if you get tired (all those little bridges add up).

Posted by
104 posts

Zoe's and Chani's posts in particular have me re-thinking the itinerary changes. Part of the reason I had originally allocated 6 nights in Rome was due to the number of churches, plus possibly a day trip. Ostia Antica I think will be a better option for my mom, and easier to get to.

I think Siena is going to be too much climbing for my mom so I will save that for another time so I'm thinking 3 nights in Florence will be enough. I've been trying to research the mobility of different areas, and specific sites but it's not the easiest information to find.

I was planning on using the vaporetto in Venice to cut down a bit on the walking. Florence looks like it should be ok for walking. I am planning on a mix of taxis and buses in Rome.

Are some areas in Rome better than others to stay in, in terms of how hilly they are? I was looking at hotels either in the Centro Storico (around the Pantheon) or in Monti near the Colosseum.

At the moment, I think our itinerary will be:

  • 4 nights in Venice, including a side trip to Padua. I watched Rick's episode on Padua and Verona, and I like the idea of visiting Padua as it looks less crowded than Venice.
  • 3 nights in Florence
  • 6 nights in Rome, including a side trip to Ostia Antica

Thank you for all the feedback so far.

Posted by
2 posts

You can kind of figure out how strenuous a place is by looking at the Rick Steves tour itinerary details. It lists how much walking a day will entail. It may help guide you toward or away from some activities or places if you have a similar day planned.

Posted by
11613 posts

One thing you might consider splurging on (I did this last year for a friend who had some mobility issues but wanted to see the monuments at night in Roma): I went to a taxi stand and arranged with the driver for about 45 minutes of driving around to see the monuments, since taxis can get closer than buses, and even private tour buses. I paid €50 for both of us (some bus tours were €40 each), he stopped for photo ops, and threw in a few extra sights. He spoke very little English but was very kind to my friend. He kept the meter on and it showed about €46 by the end of our "tour". This is an individual thing so your experience may vary.

Posted by
7124 posts

Padua is fantastic, and being a university (one of Europe's oldest) town, it has a great youthful vibe and energy. I don't think crowds will be an issue for you anywhere in Feb/Mar.

Posted by
4522 posts

Kathleen,

I've traveled with my mom, who is also elderly & finds stairs challenging...

Beware that some of the hotels will have a dozen stairs just to get to the entrance... or once you get off the elevator, you will have to climb 8-10 stairs to reach your room.

On our most recent trip, I contacted each of the hotels I planned to book & asked specifically about stairs.

As others have mentioned, buy the vaporetto pass while in Venice & just hop on & off to avoid many of the bridges.

Check this website for vaporetto passes info:http://www.actv.it/en/movinginvenice/prices

I've been trying to research the mobility of different areas, and specific sites but it's not the easiest information to find.

Check these websites for information on mobility accessibility, although this info is mainly for wheelchairs, I found it helpful for my mom as it discusses the type of surface you'll be walking on & if the areas are flat or hilly, etc...

Padua (Padova) is a nice & flat city to visit & very close to Venice. You can visit the Scrovegni Chapel & St. Anthony's basilica.

If you want to see amazing mosaics, you should consider visiting Ravenna. My mom & I spend a day & night there & wished we had stayed an extra day.

Have a wonderful trip with your mom!

Posted by
21 posts

Kathleen--is your mom intent on seeing all the sights that you want to see? I just got back from Rome, and in my three days there, the buses and Metro were on strike most of the time I needed them. We either walked very long distances or took cabs, but the wait for a cab during a strike can be interminable.

If you don't mind walking and your mom is OK with it, maybe have a backup plan in the event of a strike, where she relaxes at the hotel while you run around the city.

Is she steady on her feet? The combination of cobblestones and uneven pavement and curbs could be a problem if not. I would suggest you travel arm-in-arm if she feels uncomfortable.

Stairs are everywhere in all three cities. Do check with your hotel as to where your room is located. I had room 27 in a Florence hotel, which I naively thought might be on the second floor--but it was up seven flights of very slippery stone steps.

Fortunately, I found the pace of street traffic to be very leisurely, so it shouldn't be a problem if you and your mom take your time while walking.

Posted by
1501 posts

Agree with Zoe as usual! I'd add that while you're in Florence you may want to see the Santa Croce Church, although it was built in the late 1200's. It's absolutely beautiful, and some of Florence's Most Famous Sons are buried their and the Crypts are beautiful. The Architect was Jewish, and it was his desire to be buried inside, but because he wasn't Christian, he's buried under the porch. There's a very prominent Star of David over the entrance.

Definitely see the Santa Maria Trastevere - as the main altar is the oldest in Rome. Had that argument with a good friend, and I was correct.

Posted by
104 posts

Thanks Priscilla for the links. They were helpful, even if they might have been geared towards someone in a wheelchair.

TMJ- My mom might not see all of the smaller churches with me. When we were in Paris, she did rest in the room a bit when she was tired while my son and I went out for a bit. She is pretty steady on her feet, but she found walking on the cobblestones especially tiring.

Once I decide for sure on the number of nights in each location, I was going to contact the hotels I'm considering to see if certain room types might tend to be on lower floors or if there is anything else they could do to avoid several flights of stairs to our room.

Good suggestions Donna. I was looking at both Santa Croce in Florence and Santa Maria in Trastevere. I think my church list may be longer than what I can accomplish on this trip so I may just have to plan a 2nd trip at some point.

Posted by
11613 posts

When you plan your next trip, I know this church in Orvieto...

Posted by
2881 posts

The Scrovegni Chapel in Padova is a must see; but be sure to see the romanesque Baptistry, next to the Duomo, as well. It was built in the late 14th c., and is completely frescoed.

Posted by
14003 posts

Padua is a good choice. The sights are not far apart and the city's flat. I like the idea of seeing Ravenna, especially with your interest in early Christian churches, but it's a long way to get there. I would steal a night from Rome to spend a night in Ravenna. Go after Venice and before Florence. You could even leave Venice early, check your bags at the Padua train station, sightsee for a few hours, then take a late afternoon train to Ravenna. Stay 2 nights to have one full day there, then take the train to Florence. It's about 2.5 hours by train to and from Ravenna, with a train change in Bologna or Ferrara. But you can relax on the train. Just something to consider.

Posted by
1994 posts

As you tour with your mother, be sure to ask about elevators. Many public buildings and museums have an elevator available for use by patrons; you just need to ask, since they're often hidden away and not necessarily shown on floor plans

Posted by
11613 posts

Sherry is right, in some places you need a staff member to unlock the elevator.

Posted by
463 posts

Early Florence churches underwent some reconstruction at some time and are no more in their original state, the most ancient being Badia Fiorentina (since 1001 every year on Dec. 21st a Mass is celebrated in front of the tomb of Ugo di Toscana, one of its first patrons); S. Ambrogio (again, built in 10th century); and S. Lorenzo, originally built in the 4th century and consecrated by St. Ambrose (but no trace of the original building is left).

Probably the most ancient church in Florence left in its original building is S. Miniato (11th century).

Posted by
71 posts

My recommendation would be to shorten your stay in Venice and Rome by one night each, and add a two night visit to Cinque Terre in between Florence and Rome. We did this on our trip last year, and if anything wish we would have had MORE time in Cinque Terre. It is beautiful, and has a slower pace, so is a nice respite in between busy sight seeing in Florence & Rome. We loved Venice, but felt two nights was sufficient to see everything we wanted to see. The train from Florence to Cinque Terre is approximately two hours, with a change in either Pisa or La Spezia depending on your route. Train from Cinque Terre to Rome is approximately 4.5-5 hours, again with a change at another station. There were several lovely Gothic style churches in Monterosso.