Please sign in to post.

Venice, Florence and Rome

I've just booked RS tour #2 and as a first time visitor to Italy, I'm looking for suggestions from those of you who have taken this tour. Since we don't know what we don't know, what tips and suggestions can you offer? Specifically, what doesn't this tour cover that you would consider "must see" sights? This is a girls trip, and we are going to have one extra day in Venice and two extra days in Rome.
We do love Italian food so tips on fave spots to eat would certainly be welcome!

Posted by
7115 posts

Get the Italy tour book ( at least) see what there is in each location you want to see and compare it to the "Itinerary' of what the tour covers. You may want to get the city book for each which will have more detail. Given the time you have I suspect the Italy book will keep you well occupied.

Posted by
12098 posts

JKL, I haven't taken this tour but that's not a prerequisite to answering your question.

I'll skip the food part: do a forum search of restaurants in all 3 locations and you'll come up with umpty suggestions.

But as far as "must see" sights? There are NO must-sees at all unless they appeal to YOU. The best thing you can do is to spend some time with a guidebook and browse the attractions in these cities that are not included in your tour. I am an art, history and architecture geek that could care less about food so art museums, very old churches and historic excavations are high on my list. I can't see those things at home so have spent quite a lot of time exploring them in Italy. Other folks would rather spend their free time shopping or just hanging out. There's no wrong answer as long as it makes YOU happy.

So what sorts of things are you interested in seeing/doing in your free time, aside from eating?

Posted by
60 posts

I wish we received the guidebook as soon as we booked...I did use it extensively on our tour in France. The waiting is difficult lol and I'll probably be at the bookstore before much time passes :)
I think people stumble onto hidden gems on their own, (we certainly did in France) and was hoping to hear some of those great finds!
We all have different interests; I'm more of the lover of churches and art, a couple of my friends love to shop and the fourth loves to sit in a cafe and watch local life pass by. But, we each also appreciate a little bit of all of those things which is why we travel together each year and why it works for us.

Posted by
216 posts

IThe VFR tour is a great one! I enjoyed it a great deal in June 2017. We stayed in Rome for one day after the tour and saw the Borghese Gallery. It's definitely worth seeing! Advanced tickets required.

Posted by
60 posts

I'm sure to buy at least one non RS guidebook in short order!

I just checked the Borghese museum website, and while tickets are not yet on sale for the dates we will be there, it seems through a stroke of luck that we will be their on a free museum day...ah, the little things :)
Also, I've been perusing trip advisor for Venice restaurants and now I'm having a serious craving for gelato!!

Posted by
4453 posts

JKL, we always get pre-tour guidebooks at the public library. Even if they are older, they'll do until you get the tour book.

Posted by
616 posts

À thing I love doing in Florence is strolling in the oltrarno and visit some workshops and watch craftsmen work and how their instruments are made and how they use their sole hands. The other day, I had the marmista ( who works with marble) to restore my marble table) ( He really did a great job and it was a wonder to watch him working)
Also just a small advice, should you enter a workshop, don’t go in groups, just one or two persons maxi and ask if you do not bother them watching their skills, sow your interest, and please try not to be too loud!

Posted by
1684 posts

Hi!
Fellow foodie here and while I have not been to Italy in many years, I am a fan of the show Somebody Feed Phil (on Netflix and first season was called I’ll Have What Phil’s Having). He claims the best gelato in the world in Florence and there is also an episode on Venice. Watch if you can as it made me want to return to Italy sooner rather than later.

Posted by
5512 posts

Venice:
1. This may not be as interesting if cruise ships are there but I liked the Park of Remembrance to watch the sunset.

  1. Here: http://www.scuolagrandesanmarco.it

  2. Climb the Scala Contarini del Bovolo staircase.

  3. Get reservations for dinner atOsteria Anice Stellato

Florence:
1. Panificio Brunori Salvatore: yum
2. Club Culanario: yum
3. I like cemeteries and enjoyed walking around the one near Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte. Interesting crypts. BTW the view of Florence from San Miniato is well worth the climb!
4. The Bargello Museum

Rome:
Villa Alta Park lots of interesting sites
Saint Cecilia Trastevere Basilica . See the crypts.

Posted by
60 posts

Ah now these are the types of things I’m looking for, thank you! Looks like tomorrow I will be checking out Netflix and the library travel section...I wonder how much gelato I can eat in 9 days?!

Posted by
743 posts

What time of year is your tour? That can affect whether you go to the Vatican/Sistine/St. Peter's in the morning or evening, which can affect your planning. We ended up not being able to use our Borghese reservation as a result.

Posted by
4532 posts

As was suggested, check out a guidebook or two from the library if you can. They may be a few years old but they can help you prioritize sightseeing. Also see "Explore Europe" on this website for the three cities. I took this tour last fall and enjoyed it very much, especially because I had several days before in Venice and after in Rome.

In Venice, visit the Frari Church and San Giorgio Maggiore the day before the tour starts, if you can. If time allows, say in the morning before the tour starts, see the Ca' Rezzonico on the Grand Canal. Also a visit to the Ghetto (where the term "ghetto" came from) is easy and interesting. The Doge's Palace is right next to San Marco, which you will be seeing on the tour, followed by free time. Get at least a 24-hour vaporetto pass and ride the length of the Grand Canal and wherever else you feel like going.

In Florence, I skipped the cooking class (forgive me) and went to the Bargello. I would have also gone to Santa Croce but the group went there as part of our introductory walk. Where the walk takes you may depend on which hotel you're in, so you may want to visit Santa Croce on your own. I also enjoyed the big food market.

In Rome, I went to the Capitoline Museum, the National Museum of Rome, and the Borghese Gallery. The Borghese would be my top choice, then Capitoline, then National Museum (the branch near Termini with statues of the emperors and such). I also had time to take the train to Ostia Antica which was fascinating and evocative but took awhile.

With luck your guide will be Stacy Gibboni, a Venice-based painter who did a wonderful job with our group. The local guides were also superb -- someone said our visit to the Accademia in Venice was like a college-level art history class. Have fun planning and feel free to PM if you want more info.

Posted by
12098 posts

We all have different interests; I'm more of the lover of churches and
art

Oh my... You'll be spoiled for choice! Yes, just check a guidebook or two out of your public library while waiting for your RS copy to arrive. The DK Eyewitness guides - with photos - are very nice for a peek at what you will see.

Rome:
Borghese: watch the website closely as tickets for free days will sell out very quickly. That's a wonderful museum that we enjoyed MUCH more than the Vatican's. My favorite "David" (Bernini's) is there.

Churches? Where do I start! Your tour covers San Clemente and the Pantheon but Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria del Popolo, Santa Sabina, just to name a few, are great too.

If you are in Rome in May - mid June, the municipal rose garden (Roseto Comunale: free) - on the way up to lovely old Santa Sabina - will be in bloom. There's an interesting look at the backside of the Palatine from there, and there's a little orange garden (Giardino degli Aranci) right beside the church with another nice viewpoint of the city

Florence:
LOL, you'd find me skipping the cooking class as well in favor of that city's wealth of art! Yes and yes to San Miniato and its cemetery.

https://www.visitflorence.com/florence-churches/san-miniato.html

San Marco is excellent: go see the Fra' Angelico's Annunciation and frescos in the former monk's cells.

https://www.visitflorence.com/florence-museums/san-marco.html

Just around the corner from S. Marco is Piazza SS. Annunziata. The entry cloister of the church of the same name has some wonderful frescoes, and you'll recognize the famous della Robbia bambini which decorate Brunelleschi's Institute degli Innocenti across the piazza.

https://www.visitflorence.com/florence-churches/santissima-annunziata.html
https://www.visitflorence.com/florence-monuments/piazza-ss-annunziata.html
https://www.visitflorence.com/florence-museums/innocenti-museum.html

Santa Trinita; go for the Sassetti Chapel: particularly interesting as the contemporaries in the frescoes were painted as they really looked. Pay special attention to the clothing and to the backgrounds!
https://www.visitflorence.com/florence-churches/santa-trinita.html

Bargello - yes to that too.

I know, I know...you can't do it ALL but just a few faves to work with. :O)

Posted by
60 posts

Oh my gosh, such great posts thank you all so much. I already feel better about thoughts of skipping the cooking class :)
Our tour is the end of September into October. We have extra time in Venice and Rome, so we don’t have to cram so much into our RS free time. In France last year, we were not able to extend our time after the tour and promised we wouldn’t do that again.
So excited, thanks again to all.

Posted by
882 posts

The Florence cooking class is SO much fun!

Posted by
1342 posts

Venice: I second the previous recommendation of the Frari church and San Giorgio Maggiore (the latter can only be reached by vaporetto, and often has a great contemporary art exhibition happening), and there are plenty of other beautiful churches to visit as well. I'm thinking particularly of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (exquisite Renaissance-style) and San Giacomo dell'Orio (very old; adjoins a campo that's particularly nice for sitting around and watching the world go by).

Florence: the Bargello (sculpture museum) has already been mentioned, and I also recommend the Museo San Marco (former monastery; Fra Angelico art works) and the Brancacci Chapel (great fresco cycle).

Posted by
408 posts

Besides the scrapbooks already mentioned you might want to look at the Rome ones and South Italy ones. They would give you insight into other fun things to see not on your tour but on other tours in the area. We really loved our cooking class. We learned a lot about cooking and the culture and background of a dish. Enjoy

Posted by
29 posts

I was on the VFR tour in October last year. If you like Art do go to the Frari (not included on the tour) If you like Architecture do take a vaporetto ride (sunset can be spectacular) If you are up early in the morning walk the "streets" and watch the city wake up, the markets getting stocked. In Rome after the tour if you like ruins consider Ostia Antica easily reached by train. If you like walking walk along the Tiber, explore a district that you have not been in, find the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi (super views of the city from the hill)

Have a super trip

Posted by
60 posts

Pat, your post gave me pause as my partners in crime already have said I'd better not skip...so I feel better knowing you enjoyed it.
I love to eat...cooking, not so much!
I'm excited to experience this trip. All your thoughtful posts have added to the joy of planning so thank you once again!

Posted by
3 posts

I'm in the same boat as JKL. We're taking the VFR tour next month right after Easter. First time in Italy. So the comments have all been helpful. One question about the Venice segment. One day is a walking tour that ends at Piazza San Marco but it's not clear whether the Basilica and Doge Palace are part of the tour, or whether we do those things on our own. Also, Rick's book mentions ability to get tickets or schedule entry times ahead of time. Any recommendations regarding this for those?

Posted by
1 posts

My mom and I went on the tour in November 2015 and had a blast. It is a very active tour and I recommend arriving a day before the tour starts to acclimate yourself. If anyone in your group loves used bookstores, then I recommend Acqua Alta in Venice. It was in the rick steve's italy 2018 book pg. 38 under bookstores. We did go there and it was an experience we've never forget. We had decided to not go on the boat ride to burano island because that day it was cold and rainy but this was also the only other opportunity to get to the bookstore since 3 days go by quickly. It's in a little alleyway so we had to ask for directions several times. We met the owner, a elderly gentleman who was very friendly and I took a few photos with him. He's bookstore has no order but carries multiple languages. The best features are he has at least 1 or 2 gondolas in his bookstore filled with books and stuff. It also has a wall made from books and a little alcove with table & chairs. The best part of the place is that in the back of the store outside, he has a staircase made out of books! You can walk up it and you have a view of whatever canal the store backs up to.

Posted by
60 posts

Chris, I hope you will post after your trip, I'd love to hear your impressions and tips!

Posted by
743 posts

Chris: We took the tour in 2017. We entered the Basilica as a group in time to see the lights come on, then we went onto the terrace overlooking San Marco. The Doges Palace was not included. We did that on our own.

Posted by
3 posts

Just returned from VFR trip. Wonderful all around. I'll try not to repeat what's in the other posts but highlight other things. Weather was cool, sometimes raining, but never sweltering hot, so I can't imagine midsummer standing in the waiting lines with no shelter. Just so you know. Please excuse my spelling of names of sites: I'm doing it from memory.

In Venice, the "Secret Itineraries tour" sponsored by the city were sold out BUT I found on Trip Advisor the same thing, but at about twice the cost (just for Doge "Secret Itineraties", not those including St. Mark's). We got a first-in-morning tour with a competent guide, had nearly no line, and saw all of the behind the scenes locations in Doge Palace, which were frankly more interesting because it had more to do with the political structure and management of the region, and then when you're done, you just go right into the Palace and spend as much time as you want. I considered this a worth while investment.

The boat tour on the lagoon to the island of Burrano -- nothing special here. The best part was the return to the public docks and seeing an Italian argument concerning one boat cutting the line in front of us, the five other boats in line, and the dock manager. The island is cute, but I wasn't convinced the time there could not have been better spent elsewhere. Though famous for lace, the real stuff is $$$$ so we didn't do much shopping. Seemed like it was an excursion site for Italians, who were also on vacation that week.

Florence: we did the Piti Palace and just a touch of the gardens. In retrospect, coming back and seeing the Bargello (which we missed) would have been a better choice. If you love (not just like) Renaissance art, then go. If not, go elsewhere.

Rome: St. Peter's church. The tour went at a time when we would not get in soon enough to be able to enjoy time in church before the Vatican museums. We were staying an extra day so we went early early and waited for only 30 minutes. Midday, the wait was 2 hours. Don't miss going down into crypt where all the dead popes are. The Vatican museums: packed with people but unbelievably packed with history and art, then ending in the Sistine Chapel. All of this is on the tour. Rick's audio walk in Trastevare was worth it. Got you away from Big City Rome.

Climbing things: I recommend not climbing St. Mark's dome in Venice, nor the Duomo in Florence, nor the Dome in St. Peter's. If you want good views, we were extremely happy with the Campanille tower in Venice (100% elevator and short line at sunset, perfect views), do the tower in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, and do either the Victor Emmanuel monument in Rome (good steps and elevator) or St. Angelo fortress (all on foot, but very gradual). The others have long lines, all steps, not for the claustrophobic.

Tourist-free viewing: Get up at sunrise. No one on the Rialto bridge. No one on the Ponte Vecchio or in the piazza. A handful of people at Trevi fountain. And you can see how dedicated the folks in Venice and Florence are about cleaning up after all the tourists.

Use your hotel clerk/concierge for restaurant leads for dinner for your nights not with the tour group. Their recommendations were always spot on.

Loved the tour, loved Italy. We'd go back. Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
60 posts

Chris, thank you so much for coming back and sharing such great info; sounds like you had a wonderful time and we will benefit from your “intel”!
Can I ask what hotels you were in, and some of those restaurant suggestions?
What was your “Wow moment”?

Posted by
2637 posts

we enjoyed a food tour in Paris and now I hope to do one in Italy at some point. Our tour was with secret food tours. And I am a huge fan of the San Marco Museum-you get to see the paintings in the space for which they were intended.

Posted by
1 posts

So glad I came across this post since husband and I are taking this tour later this year. Also had the same question as this is our first RS tour and first Italy trip. Thanks for all of the suggestions!

Posted by
3 posts

We were in Venice the day before our tour and went to Murano for lunch and to look around and we just wandered around Venice and took in the atmosphere. We found some artists selling watercolors and they are some of my favorite souvenirs. In Venice we went to the open farmers/fish market which was also a great thing to see with all the colors and variety and people shopping. We went to the Doge's palace in the late afternoon after the cruise ship people went back to their ships and there were only about 10 people in there, it was wonderful.
In Florence we spent some time at the Galileo museum which was worth the time.
At the end of our Rome portion of the trip we went to the Museo Nazionale Romano- Palazzo Massimo alle Terme which had a huge coin collection as well as mosaics that have been excavated from under buildings in Rome.
We also went to the Capuchin Crypt which isn't for everyone, it has bones of Capuchin Monks that have been displayed in really unique and interesting ways - a bit weird, but also fascinating.
We took the train to Trastevere which was one of our favorite things to see, it was far less touristy and the chapel we went into was beautiful.
The tour really covers the highlights well and personally I loved Burano and Torcello as they were a little different than Venice.
We were on our tour in the summer and while it was quite warm there, it wasn't unbearable. I suggest a folding fan if you will be there in the summer.

Posted by
286 posts

We took the RS VFR tour last year during the last week of September and first week of October. We added several days at the start in Padua in order to study the Scrovegni Chapel. We arranged extended visits two successive evenings (I'm an artist/art history grad). We added several days in Venice as well. I particularly enjoyed climbing to the top of the Bovolo del Palazzo Contarini and it was quite fun trying to find it too. Try to see the Interpreti Veneziani concert at the San Vidal church. We enjoyed the picture perfect Burano excursion. Try to see the Bargello museum in Florence for great sculpture. We also extended our time in Rome in order to visit Ostia Antica and we also added a Coopculture tour of the Colosseum - we were able to secure tickets to see the 5th level. We spent a lot of time at the Capitolene Museum. It was quite warm and sunny nearly every day we were in Italy. Very little rain but mosquitoes were really aggressive all the way from Padua down to Ostia Anticia. I was glad we brought several 3-oz bottles of DEET repellent with us. We were sitting ducks waiting for our entry outside the Scrovegni Chapel at 6:45 pm. I was glad I had good sunscreen too, especially at Ostia Antica!

Posted by
189 posts

The Rick Steves audio guides are invaluable. I especially loved the Grand Canal one — take the vaperetto to the BUS station. That’s the first stop for the vaperetto so you can wait around until you are first in line to get on the boat to San Marco and sit in the front. The Trastevere walk is a great way to discover Rome away from the crowds as well.

Posted by
2 posts

I took this tour -- it was great. Near Venice, I do recommend planning to spend an extra day or two and make a trip out to Murano to see the glass. Our trip went to Burano to see lace making. But I really wanted to go see the glass in Murano and didn't realize it until I returned home without doing so. I wish we'd have returned to Venice and gone there.

Something else you won't know but will have time to try: go to a restaurant in the modern Jewish section of Venice and eat a fried artichoke. Delicious!!

Posted by
2 posts

Oh! And in Venice, near our hotel, we got there early and my husband took a nap. I wandered around the neighborhood. A couple of blocks away, I found a place that offered fishy pedicures. I watched in the window to see how it was done. Very clean and sanitary. You wash your feet first over in the corner, then sit on a high bench and let fish nibble the dead skin off your feet. It tickled very slightly. The women at the desk speak English. You can pay for 15 minutes or 30 - they have timers set. It's not something that's done in the US and it's a unique experience I highly recommend.

Posted by
3 posts

Following up on questions posed by JKL in earlier post. Wow moments. Venice: just Venice – unique in the world, but particularly liked concerts on Piazza San Marco; Florence: the David in the Accademia Gallery – it was an unassuming chunk of marble, now it’s history. Rome: Basilica San Clemente – Renaissance church over a 4th century church over a Roman home, and you can visit it all. Not busy, near the Colliseum. Stunning historical perspective. AND the Vatican Museum – the Popes were really really good at collecting things.
Restaurants: Venice: Carpaccio (go for the risotto) at south end of Grand Canal along the boat slips. Vini da Pinto near fish market. Looks like nothing during the day, but cute at night with great staff: loved the Branzino cooked embedded in salt cake. Rome: Ristorante La Pentolaccia, Termini Station area: quality place seemingly appealing to neighborhood clientele.

Hotels we were in: Pensione Guerrato in Venice, Hotel Loggiato Dei Serviti in Florence, Hotel Quirinale in Rome (near Termini station). The latter is more “typical” upscale hotel, but very nice and in historic building attached to the opera house. The first two are cozy and historic, well positioned for the tours. We stayed extra days in Guerrato on front end of tour and Quirinale afterwards. We were well taken care of in all locations.

Posted by
60 posts

Thanks to the recent posters! Chris, our tour is late September and we are in different hotels than you were, but always fun to see the types of places RS chooses so I may look for yours if possible. Thank you for the recs on sights and restaurants, and for describing your tour as you did. We are really looking forward to the trip, just hoping elderly mom's declining health doesn't mean we have to cancel...fingers crossed.

Posted by
6 posts

JKL - When are you going? My wife and I are going the first two weeks in October.

Posted by
60 posts

Our tour begins at the end of September, so probably just before yours.