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.