From Rome’s ancient relics, to the charming waterways of Venice, to the awe-inspiring art and architecture of Florence, it’s hard to choose where to go for your Italian vacation…
Planning a trip to Italy this year? If so, chances are good you’ve been told to visit the Big Three—Rome, Venice, and Florence. And with good reason, because these three cities have incomparable history, culture, cuisine, and charm. In fact, it’s impossible to choose just the “best” when each is so uniquely beautiful.
Fortunately, you don’t have to choose just one, because it’s easy to spend time in all three if you have 7 to 10 days to travel in Italy. But if you want to fine-tune your itinerary so you get to see everything that interests you in these amazing destinations, here’s a look at the features and characteristics of Italy’s Big Three to help you plan your trip.
Rome is a living museum of the history of western civilization
Mention the word “Rome,” and you immediately conjure up visions of ancient ruins that so defined the Roman empire—the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Forum Romanum, and the magnificent Piazza Navona. A guided walking tour is the best way to get a close-up look at these incredible relics and learn their significance in the history of Rome.
Rome’s Fabulous Fountains
Did you know that there are more than 2,000 fountains in Rome—more than any other city in the world? It’s true, and these fabulous feats of engineering are also some of the most beautiful sights in the city, especially those designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini.
Of course you’ll have to see the Trevi, but don’t limit yourself to the tourist favorites. Bernini’s “Four Rivers” in Piazza Navona, the Fontana del Tritone in the Piazza Barberini, the Fontana della Barcaccia by the Spanish Steps, and of course his marvelous marble creations in the Borghese Gallery (definitely take a guided tour) are all worth a visit.
Irreplaceable Artwork by the Masters
Although Florence is better known as a city for art lovers, Rome is no slouch when it comes to masterpieces. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is a must, as are his works in the Vatican Museum. His heartbreaking Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica is a sight you will never forget. The works of Michelangelo and his contemporary Raphael are some of the most significant in the Vatican.
If your tastes turn to the Baroque, you’ll love the Caravaggio portraits, still lifes, and drawings. A trip through the Borghese Gallery or the Capitoline Museum will satisfy your craving for his incredibly detailed and lifelike works. Of course, you’ll find Caravaggios in many of the city’s gorgeous old churches.
Speaking of churches…
You don’t have to be particularly religious to be awed by the incredible art and architecture of Rome’s magnificent churches. You’ll definitely want to visit Vatican City and massive St. Peter’s Basilica, but other fascinating churches, such as the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore are must-sees for those who appreciate Christian relics and iconography.
Eating Your Way through the Eternal City
If you’re a committed epicure, Rome is the place for you to tempt your tastebuds and explore the city’s incredible cuisine. Artisanal cheeses, delectable cured meats, and local pasta specialties like cacio e pepe, carbonara and amatriciana should top your list, but don’t miss out on pizza bianca, supplì, cornetti, crostate, and, of course, gelato.
For an authentic Roman dining experience, take a tour of Trastevere, the last truly Roman neighborhood, with its vibrant nightlife and charming pizzerias and osterias.
Experience the incredible art and architecture of the Renaissance in Florence
Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and no city more fully embraces its rich cultural history, perhaps, than this breathtakingly lovely Italian city. Florence is where the giants of the Renaissance left their mark—Michelangelo, Raphael, Giotto, Botticelli, and Brunelleschi all flourished under the patronage of the powerful de Medici family.
Make a Date with David
You can’t visit Florence without feasting your eyes on Michelangelo’s most famous work, David, ensconced in the place of honor at the Galleria dell’Accademia. And no art lover can possibly pass up the Uffizi, one of the most famous museums in the world. Palazzo Pitti and its incomparable Boboli Gardens are also near the top of the list for a Renaissance art lover.
When you’ve had your fill of masterpieces, take a jaunt through the Gucci Museum, dedicated to the history of Italian fashion—or explore the Museo Galileo di Galilei for a peek at the world of this 17th century astronomer and physicist.
Renaissance Architecture at Its Best
Beginning with the impressive Duomo, Brunelleschi’s crowning achievement, and ending with the dazzling palaces—Palazzo Vecchio, the Bargello, Palazzo Strozzi, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Palazzo Corsini—Florence is awash in architectural masterpieces. Don’t forget the magnificent basilicas, such as the Medici’s Basilica of San Lorenzo and the Gothic Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and the iconic Basilica of Santa Croce.
Fabulous Florentine Fashion
Some of the most successful Italian fashion houses have their flagship boutiques in Florence—think Armani, Pucci, Prada, and Cavalli. If you love to shop, you’ll love wandering Via Tornabuoni, Florence’s most popular shopping street since the 14th century.
The Heart of Tuscany
Florence is the capital of Tuscany, one of Italy’s best known food and wine regions. If you’re a bit of an oenophile, you can’t miss a food and wine tour through the Tuscan hills to sample the incomparable Chiantis and Brunellos—especially the lush Brunello di Montalcinos the region is famous for. Be sure to indulge in a hearty bistecca alla fiorentina, Tuscany’s deliciously simple steak dish cooked the traditional way directly on fiery coals.
Forget Paris! Venice is the most romantic city in the world
Venice has many nicknames, but the Floating City is perhaps the most apt—the glorious palazzos lining the Grand Canal appear to float on the water. And though you can see it by crowded vaporetto, there’s nothing like a romantic gondola ride along the city’s main waterway (especially if you’re serenaded by a crooning gondolier). Venice is a city you’ll love getting lost in.
Admire the Architecture
Venetian architecture is a magnificent melange of Venetian Gothic and Byzantine influences, with graceful quatrefoil arches, elaborate latticework, and wild ornamentation. The intricately sculpted Doge’s Palace, designed by Bartolomeo and Giovanni Bon, is a stunning example of Venetian Gothic, and the Ca’ d’Oro, or “House of Gold” is another Bon architectural marvel.
There are over 200 churches in Venice, an astounding number given the size of the city. You can find priceless artwork by Venice’s own Tintoretto in many of them—don’t miss his Marriage Feast at Cana at the Chiesa della Salute.
St. Mark’s Basilica, which anchors St. Mark’s Square, is another gorgeous example of the Venetian aesthetic—spend an hour admiring the gorgeous landmarks and maybe even feeding the clouds of pigeons that gather here.
Cicchetti and Other Cultural Customs
Venice has its own distinct and vibrant culinary culture; one of its most famous traditions is cicchetti, a Venetian version of tapas. Stroll the baccaró along the Grand Canal and pop into a few for a taste of Venetian specialties like frito misto, baccalà mantecato, polpette, and sardelle in saor. Don’t forget to ask for a glass of ombra, house wine—it never hurts to memorize this handly Italian phrase if you’re headed to Venice: Un’ombra di vin, per favore.”
Speaking of wine, Venice is the place to sample the Valpolicella and Amarone wines the region is famous for.
You’ll Love the Lagoon Islands
Venice is actually a network of a thousand islands, but the lagoon islands of Murano and Burano should be near the top of your Venice to-do list. Take a private motor launch across the Venetian Lagoon and check out the delicate laces unique to this region. Remember to bring your camera—the brightly colored pink, blue, green, and orange houses make magical travel photos.
Then make your way to Murano and watch the artisans practice the centuries-old craft of glassblowing, creating the spectacular Murano glass masterpieces that made the island famous.
Sample Italy’s best with a tour of Rome, Florence, and Venice
If you’ve only got seven nights to spend in Italy, you can experience the essential essence of these three peerless cities. In just a week, you’ll explore Rome’s ancient ruins, tour the Vatican and its marvelous museum, nibble your way through Trastevere, feast on the Renaissance art and architecture in picturesque Florence, tour Tuscany’s renowned wineries, and lose yourself in the fairy-tale city of Venice.
Does it get any better than that?
If Italy is calling your name, get in touch today and see how easy it is to picture yourself in Rome, Florence, and Venice this year. And if you’re not quite ready to have a chat, sign up for our free email course to learn everything you ever wanted to know about planning a trip to Italy.