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Itinerary for First Visit to Italy

Greetings fellow travelers! My friend and I are planning a 12-day / 11-night trip to Italy late May to early June. It'll be the first time we have each visited Italy. Trying to build in enough leisurely space during the trip to invite the magic of spontaneity while still experiencing a nice variety of Italy. Hoping to balance some of the can't miss touristy locations while still tasting the authentic flavor of Italy and seeing Italy more as a local than a tourist.

We're planning 4 nights in Rome and 3-4 nights in Florence. Just trying to figure out the remaining 3-4 nights, primarily between Amalfi Coast / Naples OR Cinque Terre / Lucca. We're planning to skip Venice and hoping we don't regret that. These are some potential itineraries and welcome ideas, thoughts, inspiration, and feedback! Thanks!

Option 1 - this is where we're leaning right now

  • 3-4 nights Florence (including a half-day or so in Bologna)
  • 3-4 nights Amalfi Coast (Naples, Capri, Positano, Pompeii)
  • 4 nights Rome

Option 2

  • 4 nights Florence (including a half-day or so in Bologna and maybe a day trip to Chianti)
  • 1 night Lucca
  • 2 nights Cinque Terre
  • 4 nights Rome

Option 3

  • 2 nights Venice
  • 3 nights Florence
  • 2 nights Cinque Terre
  • 4 nights Rome
Posted by
8798 posts

“ I’ll take door number 3 Monty!”

Venice is too unique to miss. Stay away from St Marks Square to avoid the hordes.

Posted by
7790 posts

First time in Italy must include:
Rome, Florence and Venice only option 3 does that, however it also includes Cinque Terre, which in my opinion is more of a second tier location. I liked the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento and Capri more than CT.

Suggest 5-6 nights in Rome, 4 in Florence with a day trip to Siena and 3-4 in Venice.

Posted by
27328 posts

I don't like Option 3, primarily because starting a trip (after an overnight flight) with just 2 nights in Venice is a way to dislike Venice.

On Option 2 I'm not thrilled about the 1 night in Lucca followed by 2 nights in the Cinque Terre, but I see that the train routing is fine, so if I squint and think of Lucca as if it's a stopover for convenience, it's OK. (I do like Lucca.)

Option 1 looks tight on time in Florence and/or the Amalfi area. Although Bologna doesn't have the big-name sights, it has one of Europe's largest medieval cores, the center of which is a 15-20 minute walk from the train station (though buses are available). And I bet you're planning to have lunch there, aren't you? I don't think a half day is sufficient in Bologna, so I believe you'll need 4 nights rather than 3 in Florence--and do you not intend to spend at least a day in rural Tuscany? Most folks seem to want to do that.

Still looking at Option 1: It takes quite a while to travel from Florence to the Amalfi Coast, so even 4 nights there wouldn't give you much more than 3 days. An excursion to Capri needs at least a full day. That leaves only 2 days and some odd hours on your arrival day for Naples, Positano and Pompeii. I imagine you'll want to see more of the Amalfi Coast than just Positano, so that means time on buses or ferries.

Four nights is the bare minimum for Rome, I think. It's a sight-rich city, so I don't know that you'll feel you have a lot of free time there for relaxing into the environment.

What are you doing about your flights? I hope you have multi-city options into Venice or Florence/Pisa and out of Rome.

Posted by
4535 posts

Option 1 does not give you enough time for Naples, Capri, Positano, Pompeii—you would basically need a full day for each (five nights).
It really just depends on what you want to see and do this time—you’ll be back! I would plug the travel time into each plan (use the Trenitalia) website, and see which plan loses more time in transit.

Posted by
134 posts

I would take option 3 except omitting Cinque Terre. and spending the additional nights in Venice and Rome. Remember that it is impossible to take in all of Italy in one trip. We have spent a total of 6 weeks in Rome alone. Also, do your research. There are places, such as the Borghese Villa, which require advance tickets.

Posted by
703 posts

I’ll get busted for this, but I would skip Rome this trip and divide the time between Venice, Florence and perhaps more time for Tuscany villages. CT is great, but your time would be better spent day tripping from Florence. I suggest this from your desire to have some spontaneity time in the trip and none of your options give you much.

Of your options, #3, excluding CT and adding nights to Venice and Rome seems like a good start.
Wherever you end up, yo can’t help but fall in love with Italy!

Posted by
6400 posts

11 nights
3 locations

Venice 3
Florence 4 with 1 day trip ( Lucca or Siena)
Rome 4

Save CT, Amalfi and Bologna for your 2nd trip

Posted by
129 posts

I like what geovagriffith recommended. Cinque Terre looks beautiful but for a first trip I'd prefer spending more nights in the other three places. (It can be tiring jumping from city to city as well, although that could be a symptom of my age.) There is soooooo much to see in Rome and Florence, and Venice is different than anywhere else in the world. For me, devoting a little more time to those three places allows you to get more out of each city, and you spend a little less time traveling from place to place.

This is my third time to Italy. We're spending 8 nights in Rome and 7 nights in Florence, with daytrips to Pompeii and Tuscany embedded in Rome and Florence. I could spend a month just in Rome. There is so much to see there.

5-6 nights in Rome, 4 in Florence with a day trip to Siena and 3-4 in Venice. If you're younger and want to inject more Italy into the trip, maybe a day trip from Rome to Pompeii? Maybe add 1 day in Florence, but stick an overnight trip to CT in the middle of your Florence time? In Venice, a trip out to Murano and Burano adds a whole different feel to the Venice experience.

That's just my opinion and it is almost certainly influenced by my 60+ age status.

Posted by
15967 posts

Hi and a warm welcome to the forum!
First off, the itinerary I'd choose would be the one with the most attractions/activities of interest to the two of you. Very gently, I'd put the idea of 'seeing Italy more as a local than a tourist' out of your head as practically ALL the destinations you've listed are 'touristy' locations....meaning many thousands of tourists visit them every year. That said, they're certainly not lacking in authenticity, such as a Disney park or other attraction built recently (in the big picture ) and/or specifically for tourism. Tourists flock to them because they are interesting, beautiful, have rare, very old treasures to marvel over, or all three.

Even Italians play tourist in their own country; visiting cities, museums, country and seasides that offer something different from their places of residence. So, there's not a thing wrong with being a tourist 'cause that's what we all are when we're traveling away from home for pleasure. :O)

Just a couple of comments off top of my head:
The CT will be slammed with visitors and I'd personally drop this one unless you are going there to hike some of the less traveled trails.

If keeping itinerary #2, I'd do Lucca as a day trip from Florence. Also, I dearly loved Florence but it is very heavy on Renaissance art, architecture and museums; things I enjoy very much but you might not so something to consider? It does make a very good base for a number of day trips but, well, to keep it or not depends on your interests.

Positano is expensive and frankly not very interesting other than for some snapshots - - we were done in 1/2 a day - so if you kept #3, I'd choose a different base. Sorrento, while next to but not ON the Amalfi Coast, is a good one for day trips to that one, Pompeii and Capri. Naples is fine for day-tripping Pompeii and Herculaneum and holds onto a gritty authenticity which visitors seem to love or hate. It has a highly regarded archeological museum and some other fine attractions but it's inconvenient for Positano and some other locations.

Rome has so much to offer that you'll just scratch the surface in 3.5 days, unless most of those things are not your cuppa tea.

All said and done, I'd probably go with the "Holy Trinity":
Venice - 3 nights/2.5 days
Florence - 4 nights/3.5 days. 1 day trip IF you need time to enjoy what Florence has to offer; 2 day trips if not.
Rome - 4 nights/3.5 days

Venice is not Florence, is not Rome. All three are very different cities with unique backgrounds so it's not as if you've seen one, you've seen Italy. Anything less, time-wise, will cut into unplanned wandering adventures you plan to do. Understand that the most visited of the museums, archeological sites, etc. will involve advance, timed-entry tickets so that's going to affect a certain amount of spontaneous sightseeing.

Posted by
365 posts

Rule #1: there is NO such thing as a must see site or town. Everyone’s experiences and enjoyment vary and anyone who claims something is a “must” for all is wrong. We are all different and that’s a good thing!

You mention wanting spontaneous time and soaking in the Italian good life. I’d stick with option 1 personally for food, culture, eye candy scenery and ease of travel days with a sprinkling of sites. But I’d also give 4nts to Florence and Amalfi and 3 to Rome.

Posted by
6 posts

We went to Italy for the first time last June and already booked a return in 2024!
My suggestion would be to reduce your time in Rome. Everyone I know gave me that suggestion and they were right! We skipped Venice due to time but may go next trip.

We got great tips from friends and coworkers and had the following itinerary:
Day one: Flew into Rome, picked up by our *host and taken to the Villa at Lake Trasimeno, our base for the first week. After a welcome of wine and huge charcuterie offerings we went to the town of Passignano sul Trasimeno to tour and have our first gelato!
Day Two: Florence - walked the whole city!
Day Three: Deruta (newer and old part of town) for ceramics and then to Perticaia winery for tour and tasting
Day Four: Orvieto then to Fattorio Madonna della Macchie Winery and Oil Mill tour and tasting
Day Five: Siena and Cortona - Cortona was one of our favorite hill towns!
Day Six: Assisi (our absolute favorite) and then a cooking class with our host (chef)
Day Seven: Montalcino then to Palazzo Winery for amazing Brunellos!! Then went to the town of Pienza.
Day Eight: to Rome and said goodbye to our host from week one. On our own, we walked all over crowded Rome and saw the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Campo di Fiori, Trastevere and more. Rome is a very walkable city and the ancient sites are close enough together we saw them at day and night.
Day Nine: Had a breakfast/Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel tour (before it’s open to the public). Then walked around to St. Peter’s Basilica (one of the highlights of the trip). Afternoon, we went to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum.
Day Ten: took a high speed train from Termini Station in Rome down to Salerno. Had a driver arranged to pick us up and take us to a villa in Minori on the Amalfi Coast with the best views I’ve ever seen!
- it was recommended to end our vacation in Amalfi since we were touring so much in the beginning of the trip. We couldn’t be happier with that choice!
Day 11: breakfast on the veranda overlooking bougainvillea and the sea. Walk down (100 steps to swim platform) swam all day. Dinner in town. Dessert at Sal de Rio
Day 12: Swam in the morning then went to Ravello for views and walk around, then to Scala (above Ravello) for dinner.
Day 13: After morning swim, went to Maori (wouldn’t go again) via the Path of Lemons, friends went to Amalfi Town (they found it “okay” and just as crowded as Rome). We met back in the little town of Minori (which we loved) for our second dinner at Guarino’s
Day 14: Driver picked us up to take us to Naples airport to fly home.

I hope you have the best trip like we did!

*Our host for the first week was Carmelo. He is a chef and sommelier and, with his wife (pastry chef), run a villa that included breakfast, day trips (just our group of four but they will host up to 12), and three course dinner with wine. It came highly recommended and they exceeded every expectation. We are counting down to our next visit with them!

Posted by
107 posts

I see that someone suggested skipping Rome. Growing up I learned about Rome and its history all throughout elementary and Jr High. I suspect you did too. I have spent a week in Rome and would go again. I think it is a must see for a first time Italy vacation. Florence is a must see too. Both are crowded with tourists so plan well in advance. My favorite sight though is Lake Como. More peaceful and relaxing in my opinion. We are soon going on the RS Village of Italy tour to see Italy as a local instead of tourist—-we hope. See what you dreamed of seeing over the years and you wont go wrong….Italy is very distinct even within its borders.

Posted by
330 posts

I don’t think skipping Venice is a mistake, especially if you have some what limited time. On my first trip to Italy, we did Rome, Florence, and Milan with some time at Lake Como. That was about two weeks (14 full days in the ground). Just plan to go back for Venice (which I’ve also done).

Posted by
4968 posts

I join those saying don't skip Venice. It's a magical city and unlike any other, IMHO. However, do skip the CT: so crowded and not sure you will be getting an "authentic experience of Italy" there.
Is there any way you can go before June? June brings increased crowds and heat. If not, do make sure you have hotels with air conditioning.
I'd also suggest flying open jaw- into one city, and out of another, so you aren't backtracking.
Have a great trip!

Posted by
21 posts

Wow, thank you for all of this helpful insight and perspective! It's so kind of each of you to share your thoughts and experiences. I wish that we had a whole month to travel around and see more, but I realize we'll just have to plan another visit sometime. For this first visit, the most time we can spend is 12 nights.

Talking through it more with my friend I'll be traveling with, hearing advice from other friends, and reading through the comments here, we've decided to skip Cinque Terre for this visit. It seems beautiful, but that'll be for another trip. My friend and I both want some time on the coast and want to include Rome, Florence, and Amalfi Coast, so we will likely go with one of these two options:

Option 1 - Florence, Amalfi Coast, Rome

  • 3-4 nights Florence
  • 3-4 nights Amalfi Coast
  • 4 nights Rome
  • For this plan, we would fly in/out of Rome

Option 2 - Venice, Florence, Amalfi Coast, Rome

  • 2 nights Venice
  • 3 nights Florence
  • 3 nights Amalfi Coast
  • 4 nights Rome
  • For this plan, we would likely fly into Venice and out of Rome
Posted by
4419 posts

I'm an outlier. We went to Venice on our first trip(tour) to Europe. Like Brussels, it is on my list of "I wouldn't have missed anything important if I'd never been there". We went to Venice on our first trip(tour) to Europe. We've been to Florence and Rome threes more times since then and have no intention of ever returning to Venice. When we were there(August)- it was dirty and smelly and although I was careful about what I put in my mouth, I had serious stomach problems. For comparison, I've been to Guatemala 3 times and never got sick.

Posted by
703 posts

I’m the one that suggested skipping Rome on THIS trip. Selfishly, I feel Rome just has to have more than 3-4 nights, but certainly if it feels right, then do it!

With your second round of two options, I would say option #1 and leave Venice for more time. If you really want to see the trinity then definitely go for option #2 and you’ll be happy no matter because it’s Italy and you just can’t miss.

Posted by
15967 posts

Jay, if the Amalfi Coast is high on your list, then I'd go for #1 but with this itinerary:

4 nights Florence; as you would be arriving in Rome and need to go directly to Florence by train, you'd have 3 FULL days and some odd hours for this one. No more than 1 day trip unless cutting Florence itself short.

4 nights/3.5 days or less for the Amalfi Coast. It's a haul from Florence, depending on where you want to base.

4 nights/3.5 days Rome.

Posted by
21 posts

Thanks again for all of the helpful feedback and ideas! I thought I'd share an update on where we landed. We decided to combine Options 1 and 2 and extend our trip a night. Thank you to everyone on this thread who encouraged us to include Venice. We added it to our trip, and I'm glad we'll have an opportunity to see it. Here's our plan:

  • 2 nights Venice
  • 4 nights Florence
  • 3 nights Amalfi Coast
  • 4 nights Rome

We're flying into Venice and out of Rome. Excited to see Italy for our first time!

Posted by
4968 posts

It's fun watching a traveler's ' itinerary develop. Now onto nailing down lodging. I'd suggest looking at a site like booking.com for an overview of what's available, then booking directly with the hotel. This usually results in a discount. And , many of the hotels that RS recommends offer discounts if you mention his name.
Happy planning!