Your First Trip to Italy: A First Timer’s Guide
Many consider Italy to be the most fascinating country in Europe, and they’re probably right. It never stops charming us with its incredible food, mild climate, diverse landscape, incredible architecture and vast history. If you’ve never gone, it’s absolutely time for your first trip to Italy. Easier said than done though, right?
As your first trip to Italy, you’ll likely have many questions. Where to start? When should you go? What should your priorities be? It’s understandable. Even though it’s a small country, Italy has so much to offer that it can feel overwhelming.
Not to worry, in this easy guide for your first trip to Italy, we’ll walk you through the must-see cities for first-timers. That’s right, Rome, Florence, and Venice – AKA “The Big 3.”
We’ve planned this guide around a 10-day itinerary, but there’s still room for you to customize. Something to allow you to craft your vacation exactly the way you want.
As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither can your visit be completed in one either. The same applies to Florence and Venice, so our itinerary gives you 3 days in each city. Our suggestion is that you start from Venice and work your way down to Florence, and end in Rome.
Now that the formalities are out of the way, let’s begin!
Your First Trip to Italy: One-of-a-Kind Venice
Day 1: Relax and Familiarize Yourself
Assuming you are a long-distance traveler, you might experience some jet lag by the time you get to Venice. You can take a private boat transfer from the airport to your accommodation to get settled in. Maybe take a walk around the neighborhood to warm up for the next day. Your first trip to Italy is about to officially begin!
Day 2: Immerse yourself in the city
The time is ripe for a morning tour of Venice. For the perfect start to your first trip to Italy, head to Piazza San Marco and marvel at the Basilica and The Doge’s Palace. While roaming the city, make a point of getting lost in the many alleys and cross Venice’s numerous bridges. Be sure to check out the Ponte di Rialto, the oldest bridge that crosses the Grand Canal. If you really want to dive deeper into the city’s culture and art, you can venture inside St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. There’s no shortage of other churches and palazzi to see either. I repeat, do not be afraid to get lost! This is the best way to discover the unknown corners of the city. By the way, Venice is one of the safest cities in Italy.
Make sure you take the time to step into artisans’ souvenir stores. Catch every detail of the colorful traditional masks. If you are traveling with children, they will have a blast at one of the many mask-making workshops regularly held in Venice.
Dusk is the perfect time for a gondola tour. If you are a food and wine enthusiast, wine and cicchetti – the traditional to-die-for Venetian tapas – are the ultimate choice.
Tips for Foodies:
If you are hungry, head over to Acqua Pazza Ristorante Pizzeria, a short walk from Piazza San Marco, for a little taste of Southern Italy in the North. Their specialties are Amalfi cuisine and Neapolitan pizza. How about some gelato as well? Head to Gelatoteca Suso for the most genuine gelato experience!
If you would like to explore a neighborhood away from the crowds, the Jewish ghetto, in the sestriere (district) of Cannareggio, is definitely worth a visit. Trivia: it’s the oldest Jewish ghetto in the world. For literature enthusiasts, it’s also the setting of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.”
Day 3: Glass-making and bright colors in Murano & Burano
Another attraction that you don’t want to miss in Venice is the island of Murano. Easily reachable from the mainland, it has a long tradition of glass-making. The Glass Museum is full of beautiful, hand-crafted glass work. Plus, Murano is the best place to get a souvenir to bring back home! If interested, you can also take part in one of the glass-making school demonstrations and workshops.
Trivia: in 1291, the Republic of Venice forced the glass makers in town to move to the Island of Murano. The buildings in Venice at the time were mostly made of wood, and glass work presented a real fire hazard!
A tour of Murano typically lasts half a day. If you have a full day at your disposal, you won’t regret adding on the colorful island of Burano.
Your First Trip to Italy: Florence & Tuscany
Day 1: Florence: a compact jewel box
With an easy 2-hour transfer by high-speed train, you’ll reach the Florence Santa Maria Novella Station. Good news: the train station is in the heart of the city, so all the main attractions are within walking distance.
Take a walking tour of the city starting in the late morning or afternoon of your first day. You’ll be amazed by the incredible green and white marbled Battistero (the baptistry). Especially by the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo. You’ll understand why Florence is known as “the city of the Renaissance” after walking the Piazza della Signoria. Again, you can visit these monuments if you want to dive deeper into the history and culture of Florence. Alternatively, you can just wander around and immerse yourself in the city as a whole.
Discover the many sculptures and fountains of the Boboli Gardens. For a romantic stroll, you can head over to Ponte Vecchio. It’s also a great spot for luxury window shopping!
If you can’t do without a shopping tour, head to Via De’ Tornabuoni, a 7 minute walk from the Cathedral. Florence is well-known for leather manufacturing, so if you feel like you need a leather jacket or bag (and who doesn’t?), this is the best place to buy it. After all, you’re on vacation! Treat yourself!
Day 2: Uffizi & Accademia Galleries
The best way to start off your second day in Florence is with a visit to the Uffizi and Accademia galleries. You really don’t want to miss the Uffizi’s collection of Italian Renaissance art. Every bit as breathtaking is Michelangelo’s David, awaiting you right down the entrance hallway of the Accademia Gallery.
You can choose to do it all on your own or have a guided tour, which is the best option if you’re an art lover. A local guide will make sure your tour is exactly aligned to your interests!
Tips for Foodies:
Has all the museum-walking made you hungry? It is time to unwind and enjoy some good food! Another highlight of your first trip to Italy!
If you can’t contemplate a meat-free diet, you absolutely must try a fiorentina, the traditional Tuscan steak. Osteria Santo Spirito is only a 10 minute walk from the Accademia Gallery. The perfect place to savor your steak in a welcoming and laid back environment. If you’re looking for a high-end experience and are a veggie lover, then you will love Buca Lapi. Dating back to 1880, it’s the oldest restaurant in town.
Day 3: The one and only Tuscan hills
You can devote your third and final day in Tuscany to taking a tour of the surrounding hilltop towns. Montepulciano, Pienza, San Gimignano, and Siena will definitely welcome you with their peaceful and picturesque medieval scenery. Pienza was rebuilt during the Renaissance with the intention of being the leading example of humanistic urban planning. San Gimignano will enchant you with its medieval towers, and Siena is literally a giant open-air Gothic museum. You really can’t go wrong here.
Tips For Foodies:
Pamper your taste buds with Pienza’s Pecorino. If you’re a wine enthusiast, try a glass of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Montepulciano’s local red wine. Of course, great food and amazing local wine is a recurring theme in Tuscany!
Your First Trip to Italy: When in Rome…
Day 1: Dive into the Eternal City
No first trip to Italy is complete without a visit to the Eternal City of Rome. Again, traveling via high-speed train is your easiest solution. Rome is only a 1.5 hour ride from Florence.
After dropping off your things, you can start your tour of the Italian capital. With everything in walking distance, you can cover a lot of ground. Marvel at the Pantheon and climb up the Spanish Steps (daily workout: check!). Toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain to ensure your return to Rome in the future!
From there you can easily head to Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori (meaning “field of flowers,” because that is what the square used to be). If you’re looking for a bite to eat, Salumeria Roscioli, right in Campo de’ Fiori, won’t let you down.
Day 2: Travel back 2000 years to ancient Rome
Devote your second day in Rome to exploring the iconic Colosseum, Via dei Fori Imperiali, The Palatine, and the Roman Forum. It will really feel like traveling back in time to the heart of the ancient empire.
Remarkable fact: the oldest monuments in the Roman Forum date back to the 6th century BC.
Day 3: Explore the smallest country in the World
On your third day in the Capital, head over to Vatican City. Take in the spiritual atmosphere in and around Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican Museums boast remarkable collections of the Catholic art as well as masterpieces by Raphael, Da Vinci, and Caravaggio. We’d be remiss not to mention Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It’s an absolute must for your first trip to Italy.
If you can’t get enough of museums, then you won’t regret checking the Borghese Gallery off your bucket list. The surrounding gardens are also worth a visit. For those traveling with children, and/or needing some time to relax and recharge in the city, head over to Villa Borghese.
If you want to add some off-the-beaten-path options for Rome, we’ve got you covered. Check out the Roman Ghetto, the second most ancient Jewish ghetto in the country. If you like artichokes, the Jewish Ghetto has some of the best, made according to the traditional Roman recipe.
Another less touristy destination is the Trastevere neighborhood. Here, you can treat yourself to a wonderful meal at one of the numerous trattorie, local restaurants that serve traditional Roman dishes. Trattoria da Enzo al 29 is definitely a good one, among the many.
As you can see, in 10 days you can totally immerse yourself in the culture and history of Italy, with time to yourself included. Not too shabby for your first trip to Italy!