How these Italy itineraries work

How to use the itineraries

What makes patented Perfect Itineraries different

• Foolish assumptions
• How long a week lasts
• Picking the right itinerary
• Sane vs. Insane
• Different editions
• Re: Sundays and Mondays
Most other "suggested itineraries" out there consist of little more than lists of things you conceivably could do, arranged in an order in which you could do them.

They don't tell you what you realistically can do in the time you have allotted, nor do they usually take into account, say, the four-hour train ride from town A to town B (they just cram each day full of sightseeing and seem to assume you are able to teleport instantly from Rome to Florence).

I not only figure in the time necessary for transport, I provide the actual departure times for the right trains (though these can, and will, change, so you should always double-check using the Italian rail website

Speaking of cramming in sights, most other itineraries also don't give you options for both insane, whirlwind trips where you try to see absolutely everything that is humanly possible to see, and more sane, relaxed, easy-going trips where you manage to squeeze some actual vacation in between all the the sightseeing. does.

Foolish assumptions

Every vacation is different, everybody has different needs, and nobody is starting off on the same page. That said, in order to make itineraries that will as useful to as many people as possible, I am going to have to make some (probably wildly inaccurate) assumptions that will, hopefully, fit as many standard cases as possible.

For example, I am going to assume you want to spend as much time as possible on your vacation. That means leaving for your trip after work on Friday and not coming home until the last possible moment before you have to return to work—wouldn't you rather be jet-lagged and tired at work on Monday in order to max your time in Italy? If not, carve a day out of any of these itineraries so you can return a day early to unpack and recuperate.

I'm assuming that you're flying to Italy from North America. You may very well be coming from Australia (or wherever), or already be in Europe. If so, alter things accordingly—which should be really easy, since, in most cases, you'll have a bit more at your disposal time than I'm allowing for here.

One giant assumption being made (at least in the general itineraries) is that you've never been to Italy before and what you want to see are all the major sights in the major destinations. While we have many variations on this theme (for example, some focus more time on Tuscany and the hilltowns, others on the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii), the whole point is to help you fit in as much as possible of the big-ticket items. These general itineraries will focus on the major sights—Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Colosseum and St. Peter's in Rome, the Uffizi and The David in Florence, the canals of Venice, etc.—leavened with plenty of fun of offbeat things you didn't even know existed along the way. Still, they're going to maximize the major destinations and big ticket sights.

I'm also going to assume that, when you take a week off work for vacation, you are taking of Monday to Friday. You may very well have a trip planned for Tuesday-to-Tuesday. If so, you'll have to nip and tuck these itineraries, since the Mon–Fri crowd actually manage to finagle an extra day of vacation. Which brings me to the true length of a "week."

Just how long is a week?

A less obvious question than it might sound. In terms of an Italy vacation, a week lasts nine days; two weeks last 17 days. Here's how.

The itineraries assume you're catching an overnight flight on Friday (even if you have to leave work a bit early) and are flying back on the Sunday right before you have to return to work.

This means you land in Italy on a Saturday morning, and although you'll spend much of that morning getting through customs, collecting your bags, getting downtown from the airport, and settling into your hotel, it's still the first day of your trip.

(Accordingly, these itineraries all assume your first day consists only of the afternoon—and that you'll be jet-lagged and ready to turn in early that evening.)

The following Saturday is your eighth day in Italy and the final full day of being a tourist. That last Sunday is pretty much spent just getting up, getting to the airport, and getting home. Add it that up, and you get a total of nine days.

A note about that final Sunday

In practice all flights back to North America leave Italy either in the morning or, at the latest, around 3pm.

Either way—considering you have to leave for the airport four hours early, once you figure on one hour for transit, two hours for check-in regulations, and one more hour as a cushion for unforeseen delays/long lines—you end up spending all of that final Sunday simply getting to the airport and flying home. It's still part of your trip, but doesn't really count as a day of vacation; it's sheer transportation.

An early afternoon flight merely means you don't have to leave your hotel until 10am or so—rather than at some ungodly hour in order to make a morning flight. Consider it the bonus day of your trip: at least you still get to have one last cappuccino breakfast, even if it is at the airport bar.

Picking the right itinerary for you

The most important thing is to match yourself to the perfect itinerary to suit your own needs, which is why, in addition to a variety of collections linking together destinations based on popularity, region, or theme, many of these itineraries also come in two flavors (sane and insane) and various editions.

Maintaining your sanity

You'll note that there are both "sane" and "insane" versions of many itineraries. There's a reason for this.

The insane itineraries represent the absolute maximum you could expect to squeeze into the time allotted. They're designed for folks who don't mind rushing about, skipping some secondary sights, and catching overnight trains to maximize their time.

They are for people who will cheerfully wake up at the crack of dawn each day to charge through their sightseeing checklist at lightning speed then grab a panino to go so they can hurry off to the next town during the riposo downtime around the lunch hour.

In other words: they are for insane people like me. They are decidedly not for people who want to take the time to stop and smell the cappuccino.

The sane itineraries are slightly trimmed-down versions of the same general battle plans that sacrifice a destination or two so you can spend more time in each destination that remains.

Though you'll still be hopping from town to town, you won't need to rush around nearly as much, and you can get to know each town better and perhaps do some extra sightseeing while the insane people are on a train to somewhere else.

In most cases, it merely means visiting one Tuscan hilltown instead of three, or deciding against carving a day off your time in Rome just so you can nip down to see Pompeii.

These saner blueprints designed for folks who want to see and do as much as is reasonably possible, but balance that with the leisure to while away the occasional afternoon at a caffè on the piazza, or spend the riposo doing what most Italians do: enjoying a leisurely lunch followed by a nap.

In other words: enjoying your vacation.

Selecting the right edition

You'll notice that there are often several "editions" of a tour: say, the "Two-Week Whirlwind, Lakes Edition" versus the "Two-Week Whirlwind, Amalfi Coast Edition."

This is fairly self-explanatory. They are both two-week trips designed to do as much of the A-list stuff as possible (Rome, Florence, Venice, Pompeii, a few Tuscan hilltowns, hiking the Cinque Terre—the sane versions might knock off the Cinque Terre and limit you to a single hilltown). However, they also leave aside roughly two days in which you can fit in whatever B-list Italian region excites you the most: the Amalfi Coast, Italian lakes, more Tuscany, whatever.

Adjusting the fit (a.k.a. What to do with Mondays)

Not all vacation days are created equal. Leaving aside the fact that you may happen upon some national holiday when everything in town is closed—or some wonderful festival that totally throws of your sightseeing plans but turns into the highlight of your trip—even during a humdrum, plain vanilla week you'll have to adjust these itineraries to fit the days you happen to hit town. If the thing you came to town to see happens to be closed on Wednesdays, and you're in town on a Wednesday, you'll have to carve time out of Thursday morning for it. Actually, I don't know why I picked on Wednesday, since by far Sundays and Mondays are the trickiest.

This is covered in more detail on the open hours page, but in brief:

On Sundays, most shops are closed, as are many restaurants (though some will open for lunch).

Some museums are closed Sundays, and many others have curtailed hours (usually open mornings only, or closing early in the afternoon).

Most churches will be closed to tourists in the morning since, though they are often among the biggest tourist sights in town, their primary purpose is as houses of worship. (You're welcome to attend the services, of course; just don't be a tourist about it: sit politely in a pew, don't wander about gawking at frescoes and altarpieces, and for goodness sake don't take photographs.)

Mondays are worse. You're usually fine on churches and shops, but most museums and restaurants are closed entirely.

There are some other fiddly rules and habits (like the fact that most grocers in Rome close Thursday afternoons), but nothing that will impact your trip enough to worry about.

For more good tips about the ins and out of a typical day in Italy—typical open hours, what the riposo means, etc.—see the "Open Hours" page.

There's also a separate page for more on drawing up your own daily itinerary: How to get the most out of each day.

Tips & links

Don't overplan

I will freely admit to being as guilty as anyone of this, but: Please try not to overplan your trip to Italy. That's a two-fold plea:

  1. Plan everything, but don't feel compelled to stick to the plan. I think it's a fine idea to work out all the details of what you plan to do—if nor no other reason than it will help you get a handle of what you are able to get done, and start making the hard choices of what you have time for and what you should leave for the next trip to Italy. (Always assume you will retrun!)

    But then do not book absolutely every second in advance (that leaves no room to adjust things as you go to accommodate changing interests, sudden festivals, or unexpected invitations), and please do not attempt to stick to the schedule if it turns out to be overly ambitious and startrs making you miserable.

    Rememeber Clark W. Griswold, the Chevy Chase dad in the Vacation movies, always bound and detemrined to get to WallyWorld come hell or dead aunties? Yeah, don't be that guy. No one in that family was having any fun.
  2. Don't try to pack too much in. A vacation is not meant to be all about checking sights off a list or dashing from place to place to fit in as much as humanly possible. It's about enjoying yourself.

    So do that. Enjoy yourself. Take a hint from the Italian concept of la bel far' niente—the beauty of doing nothing—and take a break from the sightseeing every once in a while.

    Leave some time to stop and sip the cappuccino.
Useful links
Consider a tour

I'm all for planning your own trip‚ and this website is set up to help you do just that—but some people might just as well prefer to leave all the planning, logistics, transportation, lodging, and gathering of information to the professionals and simply sign up with a guided tour.

Nothing wrong with that. Just take my advice and choose a tour that emphasizes small groups over large crowds, local transport over big tour buses, and fun cultural experiences over sightseeing checklists. You'll have a better time, and probably spend less for it. Here are a few of my favorite tour companies who emphasize just that.

1-5 days

1-2 weeks

Share this page

Intrepid Travel 25% off