• Leslie

10 Day Itinerary for Italy's Classic Cities: Rome, Florence, and Venice (+ Day Trip Options!)

the iconic Trevi Fountain in Rome Italy
the iconic Trevi Fountain in Rome

Here's my comprehensive guide to visiting Italy's three must see cities in 10 days: Rome, Florence, and Venice. This Italy travel guide also takes you on some charming side trips to Italy's prettiest villages. And, if you want to stay even longer in Italy, I've got options for that too.

There's nowhere more romantic (or popular) than Italy. The word "Italy" conjures visions of crumbling Roman ruins, rolling cypress-studded landscapes, and secret canals.

Italy is rich in history, culture, and food. Italy's magnificent cities boast some of the world's best cathedrals, palaces, museums, and historic landmarks.

the Ultimate 10 Day Itinerary for Italy

Rome, Florence, and Venice are celebrated for their amazing Gothic and Renaissance art. Tuscany is even considered the birthplace of one of mankind's greatest adventures, the Italian Renaissance. In these incredible Italian cities, there are vast repositories of art work by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli.

Here's the itinerary that I recommend for the perfect 10 day road trip through Italy to see the major sites and landmarks. I also give you ideas on where to eat and how to get tickets.

This super detailed Italy itinerary is perfect for first timers and easily adjustable. You can make it shorter or longer, depending on your available vacation time.

the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, one of the best cities to visit in Italy
the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

You'll have 3 bases: Rome (4 nights), Florence (4 nights), and Venice (2 nights). I also give you loads of options for extending your Italy trip at the end, if you have extra time when you land in northern Italy. You can explore more of the Veneto area, the Lombardy region (Milan), or visit Emilia-Romagna.

Recommended 10 Day Itinerary for Seeing Italy's Major Cities and Classic Sites

Day 1: Arrive and Explore Rome

Day 2: Explore Rome

Day 3: Explore Rome

Day 4: Day Trip Options: Pompeii, Tivoli, or Orvieto

Day 5: High Speed Train To Florence

Day 6: Explore Florence

Day 7: Explore Florence & Optional Half Day Trip To Fiesole

Day 8: Day Trip To Siena or To Pisa & Lucca

Day 9: High Speed Train To Venice

Day 10: Explore Venice

Via dei Fori Imperiali in Rome
Via dei Fori Imperiali in Rome

Day 1: Rome

Founded by the twins Romulus and Remus in 753 B.C., Rome once ruled the entire known world. Rome is a breathtaking concentration of history, art, and charm — every corner could fill your eyes, your camera, and your typical American romantic comedy.

You may be tempted to rush through Rome in fewer days. But Rome has so much to offer and discover -- historic landmarks, mind blowing art, charming neighborhoods, and perfect wine bars.

You need to spend at least 3 days in Rome. If you have more time than that, Rome is overflowing with amazing hidden gems for your bucket list.

Begin with the Imperial tour of Rome, which includes the iconic Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. These sites can be visited with one ticket and are Rome's biggest draw.

ruins of the Roman Colosseum
ruins of the Roman Colosseum

1. Colosseum

The 600 foot high Flavian Amphitheatre, nicknamed the Colosseum, was inaugurated in 80 A.D. with a grand 10 day festival. Since then, it's been synonymous with gladiators, chariots, and the emperor's famous "thumbs up or thumbs down" edict. In the arena, gladiators and wild animals fought to the death.

The top level of the Colosseum was reopened in 2017. It provides sweeping views and may be the highlight of your visit.

If you're DIY-ing the Colosseum, you need to reserve your entry time online well in advance. This is true even if you have a skip-the-line Roma Pass. If you buy your ticket directly from the official website, you will specify the exact time and date. You can't visit the Colosseum without a reserved entry time!

READ: Guide to Visiting the Underground Colosseum

ruins on Rome's Palatine Hill
ruins on Rome's Palatine Hill

2. Palatine Hill

On Palatine Hill, you can see where the rich and famous of Imperial Rome lived. Built circa 81 A.D., the sprawling Domitian's Palace is the most impressive ruin.

Emperor Domitian was a member of the Falvian dynasty. Unlike his father Vespasian and his brother Titus, who were civic minded, a megalomaniacal Domitian was only interested in palatial architecture.

While you're on Palatine Hill, be sure to pop in at least briefly to the Palatine Museum. The museum contains statues and frescos from imperial Palatine. The Augustus and Nero rooms are particularly delightful. Audiovisual displays reconstruct the palaces' luxury.

If you want to know more about all the sites on Palatine Hill, here's my complete guide to Palatine Hill. Some of the most interesting sites can only be accessed with the S.U.P.E.R. Pass. Here's my guide to the S.U.P.E.R. pass.

classic shot of the Roman Forum, with the ruins of the Temple of Castor and Pollux and the Temple of Saturn
classic shot of the Roman Forum, with the ruins of the Temple of Castor and Pollux and the Temple of Saturn

3. Roman Forum

After Palatine Hill, you move on to the Roman Forum. I advise having a guided tour here. There's not much signage. It will be difficult to divine what you're looking at without a guide to decipher the lovely rubble.

The forum is a rectangular valley running from Arch of Titus to the Capitoline Hill. The main road is the Via Sacre. The forum was the beating heart of Rome, the seat of power, and its central showpiece. It was a grandiose district consisting of white temples, grand basilicas, and vibrant public spaces.

Here's my complete guide to the monuments of the Roman Forum.

4. Monti Neighborhood

When you're done exploring the ruins, head to Rome's adjacent Monti neighborhood, just 5 minutes away. Monti is Rome's trendiest off the beaten path district. Formerly a slum in ancient Rome, now it's gentrified and packed with unique shops and hip eateries.

Be sure to get off the main drag and explore Monti's cute side streets. If you want to grab a quick lunch, get avocado toast or a panini at Fehu. Or pick a cute ivy covered cafe, like Aromaticus Monti or La Carbonara, to settle down and relax after your Imperial tour.

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome's Monti neighborhood
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome's Monti neighborhood

Monti has one absolute must see site -- the Santa Maria Maggiore Church. Personally, I liked it better than St. Peter's Basilica. It's much older, dating to the 5th century A.D. And it has absolutely breathtaking mosaics in the triumphal arch and nave.

READ: Guide To the Most Beautiful Churches in Italy

When you're done in Monti, head over to the the Vittorio Emanuel II monument on Capitoline Hill, also known as the "typewriter" or "wedding cake" building.

For views, hike up to the second floor. For even better views, take the elevator around the back up to the viewing terrace.

Michelangelo staircase leading to the the Piazza del Campidoglio and Rome's Capitoline Museums
Michelangelo staircase leading to the the Piazza del Campidoglio and Rome's Capitoline Museums

5. Capitoline Museums

Around the corner is Michelangelo's stairway, rising to the Piazza del Campidoglio at the top of Capitoline Hill. At the tip top is the Capitoline Museums, housed in two buildings connected by an underground passage.

Inside, are some of Rome's greatest treasures -- the statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback, the original She-Wolf of Rome that suckled Romulus and Remus, and ancient statues.

READ: Guide to the Capitoline Museums

After exiting the museum, head down the alleyway on the right side of the square under an arched building. That will take you to a viewpoint over the Roman Forum. This is the best view you'll have of the forum.

When hunger calls after this hectic day, head to the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood. It's just a stone's throw away, on the banks of the Tiber River. Try Ba Ghetto restaurant for dinner.

the beautiful Piazza Navona in Rome
the beautiful Piazza Navona with Bernini fountains

Day 2: Rome

Begin day 2 with a classic walk through Rome's historic center. Start at Campo de' Fiori and end at the Spanish Steps, visiting the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon along the way.

statue of Giordani Bruno in the Campo de'Fiori
statue of Giordani Bruno in the Campo de'Fiori

1. Campo de'Fiori

Campo de' Fiori is Rome's colorful market square. In the center is a statue of Giordano Bruno, a 16th century friar and philosopher who was imprisoned in Castle Sant'Angelo and burned at the stake for his scientific theories. Here, you'll find fresh produce and can pick up some souvenirs like olive oil, pasta, or limoncello.

Your next stop is the Piazza Navona. This famous square is a long rectangle, dotted with fountains by the foremost Baroque sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It dates back to the time of Domitian, who used it as a racetrack.

READ: The Bernini Guide to Rome

the 2,000 year old Pantheon, built by Emperor Hadrian
the 2,000 year old Pantheon, built by Emperor Hadrian

2. Pantheon

Then we're off to Rome's most famous temple, the 2,000 year old Pantheon, set in a lively piazza. Built by Emperor Hadrian, this is my favorite building in Rome. The entrance boasts massive 40 foot single piece granite columns.

Inside is a magnificent dome with a giant oculus (or eye in the sky) that inspired the domes of St. Peter's Basilica and the Duomo in Florence. If it's raining, water falls through the oculus and out the drains in the floor.

Then stroll to the Piazza Colonna. This square features the massive Column of Marcus Aurelius carved from Carrara marble. Reliefs wrap around the column telling stories of Marcus Aurelius' war exploits. It was a piece of propaganda. Rome had already begun losing skirmishes with the barbarians.

the iconic Trevi Fountain
the iconic Trevi Fountain

3. Trevi Fountain & Spanish Steps

Further on is the famous Trevi Fountain, an imposing Baroque monument designed by architect Nicola Salvi. The fountain is 85 feet high and 65 feet wide, making it Rome's largest fountain. In the center is the figure "Ocean." Water pours from 24 spouts. If you're superstitious, toss a coin over your shoulder to ensure your return to Rome.

For lunch options, there's a cute little hole in the wall restaurant nearby, Ristorante Sora Lucia, which serves up delicious gnocchi for locals. Piccolo Buco is also a tiny and delicious pizzeria only one minute from the Trevi Fountain. And La Prosciutteria serves up killer porchetta sandwiches.

After lunch, head down Via Sistina to the Spanish Steps. I think they're a bit overrated, but the staircase is one of Rome's iconic sites. At the foot of the steps is another famous Bernini fountain, the Sinking Boat Fountain.

READ: The Bernini Trail in Rome

Bernini, The Rape of Prosperina, 1622
Bernini, The Rape of Prosperina, 1622

4. Borghese Gallery

After lunch, take in one of my favorite art museums in the world -- The Borghese Gallery. You may think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not.

Incredible masterpieces are set in a stunning villa filled with frescos and marble. It houses an impressive collection of Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art, with stunning pieces by Bernini, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Canova.

The Borghese has three of Bernini's best works, including the Rape of Prosperina shown above. It has six rare Caravaggio paintings, a tenth of the total Caravaggio ouevre in existence. And you could spend hours admiring the magnificent Venetian Room.

READ: The Caravaggio Guide to Rome

You've got to make a reservation online well in advance to visit the Borghese Gallery. Only a set number of people are allowed in every two hours. Unless it's low season, you must leave after your time slot expires.

READ: Complete Guide to the Borghese Gallery

Piazza del Popolo in Rome
Piazza del Popolo

5. Piazza del Popolo

When you're done admiring the art, I recommend heading over to the west side of the Borghese Gardens, towards the Piazza del Popolo. Pop into the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo to see two beautiful Caravaggio paintings for free. The view from the terrace overlooking the Piazza del Popolo is quite beautiful, particularly at sunset.

There are some good restaurants near the Borghese Gallery, if you want to stay in the area for dinner. For gourmet food, try Oliver Glowig (Michelin-starred) or Sapori del Lord Byron. For a cozy informal setting, try Girarrosto Toscano.

view of St. Peter's Square, designed by Bernini
view of St. Peter's Square, designed by Bernini

Day 3: Rome

1. Vatican Museums

Start off day 3 in Rome with a bang by visiting Vatican City. Unless you arrive on a weekend. You don't want to go on a weekend, ever. It's too crowded. So if your time in Rome falls on a Saturday or Sunday, flip flop the days of my sample itinerary around and push the Vatican to a weekday.

Unless you're there in winter, it's essential to have skip the line tickets or you'll wait for hours. You can book a guided tour or do a DIY through the Vatican Museums with an audio guide.

The Vatican holds one of the world's greatest art collections. Some of the most famous art works on the planet are there. If you're an art or history lover, the Vatican is a must see site in Rome.

The highlight of the Vatican is the Sistine Chapel, adorned with Michelangelo frescos. But you also have to visit the Pinacoteca (painting gallery), the Raphael Rooms, the Pio-Clementine Museum (sculptures), and the Borgia Apartments.

Here are my guides to visiting Vatican City, if you want more information:

Masterpieces of the Vatican

Guide to the Vatican Pinacoteca

Guide to the Vatican's Raphael Rooms

Guide to the Sistine Chapel

Underpants in the Sistine Chapel

St. Peter's Basilica and the Bridge of Angels
St. Peter's Basilica and the Bridge of Angels

2. St. Peter's Basilica

When you're done admiring the Vatican treasures, head to St. Peter's Basilica. This is the most famous church in Christendom. Designed by Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo, it’s a true Renaissance masterpiece.

The dome of St. Peters, ala Michelangelo, is the tallest in the world. The basilica is the burial place of St. Peter and past popes. It houses the famous Bernini Baldachine altar and Michelangelo's tragically beautiful Pieta.

St. Peter's is free to enter. You can pick up an audio guide inside. Climb up a narrow flight of stairs to inspect the dome at close range. Continue higher to stand on the outside of the dome. This is where you have the iconic view of the Bernini-designed St. Peter's Square and a panoramic view of Rome.

READ: Guide to St. Peter's Basilica

Castle Sant'Angelo & the Bridge of Angels in Rome
Castle Sant'Angelo and the Bridge of Angels

3. Castle Sant'Angelo & the Bridge of Angels

When you're done Vatican-ing, head to the nearby Castle Sant'Angelo. The castle is a cylindrical beauty at the end of the Sant’Angelo Bridge. It was once Hadrian's Masoleum. It then served as a fortress, castle, papal residence, and (now) museum.

It's worth going inside, if you're a real history buff and have time. The Terrace of the Angel on top serves up stunning views of St. Peter's Basilica and the surrounding area.

From here, unless you want to burn off some pasta, I recommend taking a taxi to Rome's atmospheric Trastevere neighborhood for the rest of your day.

READ: Complete Guide to Castle Sant'Angelo

pretty lane in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood
pretty lane in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood

4. Trastevere Neighborhood

Trastevere is a village within a city, with the laidback vibes of small town Italy. Its lovely cobbled and cafe-lined streets are vastly quieter than the cacophony of central Rome. If you haven't yet had lunch, grab a delicious panini at La Proscuitteria.

Then head to Villa Farnesina, an underrated small museum in a beautiful setting. It's only open weekdays until 2:00 pm. This sumptuously decorated villa was built in the early 1500s for one of Europe's richest Renaissance men, Agostino Chigi. The villa has some magnificent Raphael frescos.

READ: Complete Guide to Villa Farnesina

Then stroll to the lively Piazza di Santa Maria, which is the heart of Trastevere. Head into Santa Maria Basilica, the oldest church dedicated to Mary in Rome.

It's time for happy hour. Settle in for some wine at Enoteca Ferrara, which has a huge wine list. You can eat here too. I had a divine puttanesca.

Otherwise, try Ombre Rosse or La Sora Lella on Isola Tiberna. The latter is one of Rome's oldest restaurants, serving up classic rustic food in a casual setting. You've got to make reservations for both places.

ruins of Pompeii
ruins of Pompeii

Day 4: Day Trip Options: Pompeii, Tivoli, or Orvieto

Now it's time for a day trip from Rome. There are so many options. But my three favorite are: (1) Pompeii; (2) Tivoli; or (3) Orvieto. You can pick one based on your individual preference and how much time you want to spend traveling.

1. Pompeii

Pompeii is a hike from Rome, 2 hours on the high speed train. But Pompeii is Italy's most famous archaeological site, a living museum. In 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the city in 60 feet of ash. The city was entombed and preserved for many centuries. Beginning in 1748, archaeologists began painstakingly excavating the ruins.

The ruins are a remarkable evocation of everyday Roman life. You can get a vicarious thrill sharing living space with ancient Romans.

In the complex, you'll find roman baths, a roman forum, brothels, basilicas, a grand theater, and the oldest Roman amphitheater in the world.

When you're done exploring the ruins, head to a vineyard or restaurant on the nearby Mount Vesuvius.

the canopus in Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli
the canopus in Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli

2. Tivoli: UNESCO Sites

Tivoli is a much easier day trip, just 30 minutes from Rome. Tivoli is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the sprawling ancient Hadrian's Villa and the comely 16th century Villa d'Este, a Renaissance retreat. You might want to book a tour, just to make it easier to visit both sites and get the full historical backdrop.

If you're fond of ancient history or are ruin luster like me, you'll be fascinated and thrilled by the evocative ruins of Hadrian's Villa. Hadrian's Villa is an important archeological complex. It's the largest and most spectacular villa of ancient Rome, three times the size of Pompeii.

Fountain of the Ovato at Villa d'Este
Fountain of the Ovato at Villa d'Este

If you have ruin fatigue, Villa d'Este is a playground of whimsy, topped with a frescoed villa. The gardens are to die for -- filled with sparkling fountains, moss draped grottos, and ponds filled with water lilies.

READ: Complete Guide to Villa d'Este

If you opt for Tivoli, you'll get back early enough to take a last evening stroll through Rome's centro historic. If you want to really splash out on your final dinner, try La Pergola, with three Michelin stars, at the Rome Cavalieri Hotel. The hotel itself also has a superb art collection.

the beautiful town of Orvieto in Umbria
the beautiful town of Orvieto in Umbria

3. Orvieto

Your third option is to take the high speed train to Orvieto, a striking hill town in Umbria. There are three reasons to day trip to the capitol of Umbria -- its beautiful cathedral with one of Italy's most exciting facades, chianti, and ceramics.

Orvieto's piece de resistance is Orvieto Cathedral. It's one of the most beautiful and ancient churches in Italy.

The cathedral is a riveting ensemble of spires, spikes, golden mosaics, statuary, stained glass, and black and white striped marble. And that's just the facade. Inside, the Chapel of San Brizio has one of the Renaissance's greatest fresco cycles, by Luca Signorelli.

If you opted for Orvieto, have apertivo and dinner there. For inventive cuisine, try I Sette Consoli. If you want to eat in the remains of an Etruscan tomb, reserve at Al Pozzo Etrusco.

Brunelleschi's dome  on Florence Cathedral
Brunelleschi's dome on Florence Cathedral

Day 5: Florence

On day 5, take the high speed train to Florence. It takes 1:30. If you leave early, you'll have a full day in Florence.

Florence is an overwhelmingly beautiful city, the "Cradle of the Renaissance." With the best Medieval and Renaissance art in Europe, Florence is a veritable art lovers paradise. Florence's entire historic center is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. You'll need to buy your tickets for major attractions and must see sites well in advance.

1. Florence Cathedral Complex

On day 1, head to the historic complex of Florence Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, nicknamed the Duomo. I recommend purchasing a 72 hour combination pass that allows you to see all sites within the Duomo complex -- the Duomo, the Baptistry, the Giotto Bell Tower, and the Duomo Museum. They're all eminently worth seeing.

You should start with the stunning Duomo Museum to get the historical backdrop for all these structures. The museum is housed in the Piazza del Duomo at the back of Giotto's Bell Tower, behind the Duomo apse. The museum space is a fabulous treasure box of sculpture. Its rooftop terrace also offers a mesmerizing view of Brunelleschi's dome.

READ: Visitor's Guide to Florence's Duomo Museum

view of Florence from Brunelleschi's Dome
view of Florence from Brunelleschi's Dome

Then, head to Florence Cathedral -- the most prominent, and popular, landmark in Florence. It was built over 172 years, beginning in 1296. Florence Cathedral is made of brown sandstone and beautifully faced or "frosted" with pink, green, and white marble.

Filippo Brunelleschi's magnificent terra cotta colored dome, built from 1420-36, is the highlight. The burnt orange cupola is the very symbol of Florence. It’s decorated with frescos by Giorgio Vasari, a Florentine artist and the world’s first art historian. For panoramic views, climb up the cupola.

READ: How To Visit the Duomo and Climb Brunelleschi's Dome

Next, stroll to the Baptistery, in front of the main facade of the Duomo. Dating from 1059, it's over a thousand years old. The Baptistery sports three magnificent sets of bronze doors. designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti and Nicola Pisano. Inside, is a stunning golden Byzantine style ceiling mosaic telling the story of the Last Judgement.

the iconic Ponte Vecchio in Florence
the iconic Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Break for lunch and a wander, enjoying the joys of a traffic free Florence. Try Casa del Vino, where you can get sandwiches, crostini, or charcuterie plates with a delicious glass of wine. All'Antico Vinaio is also a must try, just minutes away from Piazza della Signoria.

2. Ponte Vecchio

Then, take the classic stroll across Florence's storybook bridge, the Ponte Vecchio. It looks like cobbled together houses suspended over the Arno River.

The bridge has three arches topped with a jumble of charming shops. Nowadays, you can buy expensive jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio.

the Uffizi Gallery on the Arno River in Florence
the Uffizi Gallery on the Arno River in Florence

3. Uffizi Gallery

In the afternoon, head to the Uffizi Gallery, Florence's #1 sight. It houses the world's best and most abundant collection of Italian medieval and Renaissance art. The museum is a crowd pleaser, the third most visited site in Italy. The Uffizi deserves its accolades.

The Uffizi boasts seminal works from the 13th to 18th centuries. Here's where you'll find one of the world's most iconic paintings, Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus.

If your time is limited, you should focus your efforts. The must see halls include the Hall 2 (Giotto), Hall 8 (Lippi), Halls 10-14 (Botticelli), Hall 15 (Leonardo), Hall 41 (Raphael and Michelangelo), Hall 83 (Titian), and Hall 90 (Caravaggio).

READ: Guide To the Botticelli Trail in Florence

Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1486 -- in the Uffizi
Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1486 -- in the Uffizi

READ: Complete Guide to the Uffizi Gallery & Tips For Visiting the Uffizi

At night, get an apertivo at the atmospheric Osteria dell'Enoteca. For dinner, indulge at Trattoria da Tito, not far from the Accademia, or Bobo's Trattoria.

Alternatively, take a guided food tour for the total Florence food experience. If you need more art, the Palazzo Strozzi is often open at night with beautiful temporary exhibitions. Otherwise, you can just take a moonlit stroll through the beautiful historic center.