With 2 weeks in Italy you’ll have enough time to cover the highlights – art, culture, history, food and shopping, but you’ll need to make a choice – north or south? There’s so much to see and do in Italy, any travel plans you make will be full of compromises. As I’ve covered more of Italy’s north, this itinerary focuses on this area and will take you through Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice in just 2 weeks in Italy.
Day 1-3 | Rome: Ancient ruins and artwork
Spend your first few days of your 2 weeks in Italy soaking up the architecture and history of Rome. 3 days in Rome is just enough to see most of the most popular attractions, but don’t wear yourself out trying to see everything, because you won’t have time. Instead, make a list of the top few buildings and artworks you want to visit, and keep the others for another trip. At a minimum, visit the Forum, the Colosseum and the Pantheon, which are the top three sites for ancient Rome, then check out the Vatican Museum (you can skip the line if you buy a tour and tickets in advance) and the Sistine Chapel for Michelangelo’s artwork. In between, wander through Rome’s glorious piazzas, order espressos at the bars, eat at al fresco trattorias, and if you’re up for it, check out some of Rome’s secret sights.
For the easiest access to all of Rome’s sights, stay in Rome’s historic centre. Rome’s accommodation options suit any type and budget – you just have to pick the right area to base yourself in. There are plenty of options, ranging from the boutique Casa de Coronari to the mod lux Palazzo de Navona Hotel.
For something a little more midrange, try the Raffaello Hotel, which is located a little further away from Rome’s sights, but still within walking distance. If you prefer a more independent approach, perhaps book at stay at one of Rome’s AirBnBs.
Eat & Drink
There’s so much good food to eat in Italy, and Rome is no exception. The top things to eat in Rome include carbonara – authentic carbonara is cooked with eggs, not cream – and caccio e pepe, which is pasta with grated pecorino cheese and pepper. If you’re really up for it, head out to Testaccio, where most of Rome’s nightlife is located, and start your night off with some classic Roman offal dishes at Agustarello.
Most of the really good stuff is outside of Rome’s tourist trail, but a couple, like Da Tonino, is located right in the heart of Piazza Navona. For cheap and quick eats, look out for Pane e Salame, a panini shop near the Trevi Fountain; while here, grab a gelato from San Crispino too. Lastly, for pizza by weight (just indicate how much you want cut for you), you can’t go past Pizza Florida, a tiny little hole in the wall pizzeria near the Largo di Torre Argentina.
Day 4-6 | Florence: The Cradle of the Renaissance
After you’ve had your fill of ancient Roman architecture and art, catch a train to Florence, the heart of Tuscany. The ride will only take about 1.5 hours on the high speed train. You can book tickets online from Trenitalia, or just rock up at Termini, Rome’s train station and buy them a day beforehand.
Spend at least one day in Florence soaking up the art at the Uffizi, which boasts the world’s greatest collection of Renaissance art, with everything from Botticelli to da Vinci to Raphael hanging on its walls. If you’re looking for a greater understanding and appreciation of the artwork, book a tour, or if you want to go independently, ensure you book entry tickets in advance to skip the lines. After you’ve spent some time in the Uffizi, pay homage to the perfect man, Michelangelo’s David, housed in the Galleria del Accademia.
On your second day in Florence, check out the gorgeous Tuscan countryside. Florence is a great base to embark on a food and wine tour to explore the great produce available from the farms and vineyards dotting the area. If the weather doesn’t lend itself to the outdoors, or you prefer to stay in, sign yourself up for a market tour and cooking class instead.
On your last day in Florence, visit Santa Croce church, resting place of many of the artists you discovered yesterday, and explore the jewelry shops lining the medieval Ponte Vecchio and the quaint streets of the artisan’s quarter, known as the Oltrarno. From here, make your way to the grand Pitti Palace, a Medici residence filled with artwork. If you’ve had your fill of art and the day is nice, get lost amongst the mazes of the Boboli Gardens, the palace’s grounds.
Part of a modern European chain, the Room Mate Isabella Hotel in Florence is great value for money, with an unbeatable location. Looking for something a little more upscale? Try the Hotel Grand Minerva, with free breakfast and a rooftop pool.
Eat & Drink
Florence is known for its bistecca alla florentina – T-bone steak. Order with caution and make sure you have enough people to share it with. The food in Florence, like much of Italy, is amazing, so don’t hesitate to explore and experiment. That being said, some of the more reliable places include Trattoria Giovanni, located in the Oltrarno area at Via Sant’Agostino, which offers prix fixe 3 course lunch menus. Another good spot in Oltrarno is Il Carduccio, near the Palazzo Pittim which offers healthy salads and cold pressed juices, if you’re in need of a break from the carb-rich pastas and pizzas.
For something with a little more of a local flair, head to Mercato Centrale, Florence’s market in the San Lorenzo area, and sample a little bit of everything on offer. For a more filling lunch (get here before noon or the line starts getting insane!) find your way to Trattoria Mario, where the menu changes regularly. Try the daily specials.
Lastly, Il Latini, a Florentine institute. There are two seatings, one at 7:30pm and a later one at 9:30pm. Make sure you book ahead! There is a set menu which changes regularly, but you can be sure that you’ll leave full. This is the fully fledged Italian meal, done right, with primi, zuppa, secondi, and dolci – the works! Wash down with copious amounts of Chianti.
Day 7-9 | Cinque Terre: The Five Villages
After the history, art and food of Rome and Florence, it’s time to decompress. From Florence, catch a train to Pisa, stopping by for a quick snap of the Leaning Tower, then onwards to La Spezia, where you’ll have to get off the train to purchase a 3-day pass to the Cinque Terre, the Five Villages. The best way to get to and around Cinque Terre is by rail, as cars are not permitted in the villages.
There are five villages to choose to base yourself – Monterosso and Riomaggiore are one of the largest, with plenty of hotels and restaurants to choose from. Lush little Corniglia is located atop a hill and suits those looking for peace and quiet – it’s away from the water, so sunseekers need not apply. Both Vernazza and Manarola are gorgeous and quaint, though the former is far more popular (and therefore busier)
While there are not many sights to see in Cinque Terre, its charms are in the postage stamp sized piazzas, the coastal vistas of sea and rock along the Blue Trail, which connects all five villages (you can also catch the train), and the simple joy of getting lost in the tiny streets.
You’ll find more options in Monterosso or Riomaggiore, but if you’re looking for a B&B, go no further than the charming Arpaiu, a lovely little boutique B&B with amazing views perched on a cliff in Manarola. Breakfast is served on the terrace, overlooking the sea.
Cinque Terre is located on the Ligurian coast, which is famous for its trofie, or twisted short pasta and the local pesto. There’s plenty to try here, from sundried tomatoes to the locally produced limoncello. Where you eat will be influenced by which village you stay at – I was based in Manarola, which is just a 20 minute walk away from Riomaggiore, with its selection of restaurants. La Lampara, in Riomaggiore, was a cosy trattoria with excellent pasta. Another recommendation is Marina Piccola, in Manarola, which serves amazing seafood with a view.
The Cinque Terre is really best experienced during the summer months – if you are travelling in the off-season, or if the weather is forecast to be inclement, spend just one night in Cinque Terre and more time in either Florence or Milan, instead. During winter storms, the trails between the villages can be closed or under maintenance, and in the off-season many restaurants and shops are closed down.
Day 10-11 | Milan: Sophistication and glamour
From Monterosso, take another train to Milan via Genoa. The capital of Italian fashion, Milan is fabulous and sophisticated. 2 days in Milan is enough to tick off a visit to the Duomo, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world, window shop at the majestic and glamourous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and visit the Piazza della Scala, where you’ll find one of the world’s oldest opera houses.
While Milan has her fair share of art, history and culture, many visitors come here for just two things – fashion, and shopping. The city’s Golden Triangle, which is bounded by Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, and Via Manzoni or Via Sant’Andrea boasts some of the best designer brands, including Prada, Versace and Cavalli. For unique boutiques, art galleries and a bohemian vibe, head to the Brera district, where there’s also a market on Via San Marco on Monday and Thursday mornings.
Lastly, put aside a day to visit one of Milan’s factory outlets, where designer goods come with a 30%-70% discount. You can catch public transport to these outlets, though the easiest thing is to book a tour, which will sort out your transportation, leaving you with nothing to worry about but the shopping!
Day 12-14 | Venice: Queen of the Adriatic
La Serenissima is nothing like the rest of Italy. More water than land, Venice is made up of secrets and reflections. The last few days of your 2 weeks in Italy will be spent exploring the canals and bridges of this city known as the Queen of the Adriatic – Venice is made for wandering and discovering.
There are a few must-sees of course – the Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge and the Doge’s Palace are all stunning in their own right, and of course you can’t go past a gondola ride, but the real seduction of Venice is in her twisting, narrow alley ways, the surprising glimpses of the turquoise waters of the Grand Canal, the soft, flaky buttery bites into a warm apricot cornetto and sunrise from the Molo, dusting the dome of San Maggiore and gilding the gondolas with gold. Find a traditional mask shop – these are made with papier mache, not plastic, or explore the gondola yards in Dorsudoro, where the shipwrights still carve these sleek black vessels by hand.
On your second or third day in Venice, go a little further afield, and venture out to Murano and Burano, the islands just off the Grand Canal, where the local artisans have been blowing glass and making lace for centuries. A boat tour to Murano and Burano will give you a wonderful view of Venice from the water. Lastly, head down to the Lido for some beach time, as thousands of tourists have done, since the days of the Grand Tour.
Generally speaking, the closer you are to St Mark’s Square, the more expensive the accommodation. For something luxurious and quintessentially Venice, book into the Westin Europa & Regina. You can arrive by vaporetto, directly to the hotel’s canal front. Looking for a midrange hotel? Try to Novecentro Boutique Hotel, located just 10 minutes walk from St Marks Square. Lastly, if none of these options appeal and you’re looking for a more local feel, check if one of the rooms at Corte 1321 are available.
Eat & Drink
Venice is known for its seafood, served in tapa-sized serves known as cichetti in the local establishments known as bacari. You can sample this on a cichetti and wine tour. Or go on your own to Do Mori and Alla Testieri, two of Venice’s most famous bacari. For something a little on the tourist track, have a coffee in Café Florian, St Mark’s Square, and people watch. The café was built in the 17th century and is touted to be the oldest in the world.
After something more filling than cichetti or coffee? Head to Trattoria Casa Mia in the Cannaregio district for deep fried white bait and pasta in squid ink. The trattoria is usually busy with locals and their families, so reserving in advance is recommended.
Antiche Carampane is another stalwart family run restaurant, serving up Venetian seafood cuisine to those who can find it. The restaurant is hidden away in the streets between the Rialto and the train station, in the Campo San Polo. It’s not as cheap as Trattoria Casa Mia, but it is a few notches above in terms of class and quality. Bookings are essential if you have a group of four or more.
2 weeks in Italy may not seem like a long time – it is barely enough to touch on the highlights of Italy’s greatest cities, like Rome, Florence and Venice. This itinerary takes you through the best and brightest of these cities, with side tracks to Milan and Cinque Terre, and is best followed by rail. You can tweak this travel itinerary accordingly, spending more or less time in the locations that interest you the most.