With more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country and a sense of fashion that extends to the shape of its land mass, Italy struts onto the stage without apology. Here's my ideal itinerary for 10 days in Italy, as well as another six itineraries for exploring this fascinating country.
They're based on decades of travel (and a smidge too much gelato.)
So, whether you're a first timer, looking for a long weekend break, a 7 or 10 day Italy itinerary or even planning to spend a full three weeks or more living La Dolce Vita, here's your starting point.
1 - 3 Days - Rome, Florence, Venice, Verona, Naples, Milan for an individual city break
4-5 Days - Combine two well connected cities: Rome & Florence, Milan and Verona, Rome and Naples, Rome and Milan. Or take day trips from one city base.
6 - Days - Rome, Florence, Venice
7 Days - Rome, Naples and the Amalfi Coast
10 Days - Fly into Milan, then Venice, Verona, Florence, Rome, Naples and back to Rome to fly out
Two weeks - Add in a few days in the countryside of Tuscany or Umbria
Three weeks - Add in all the above, plus the Dolomites. And pace yourself.
Less than that? Read on to discover more itineraries for Italy.
Obviously, everyone is different and likes to travel at a different pace. Most of these itineraries are pacy and assume that this may be your one and only chance to travel to Italy. If at all possible, slow down.
When it comes to Italy, only the mopeds go fast.
Europeans tend to visit Italy for long weekends or region by region, week at a time. But if you're travelling from the US or Australia, you may not have that luxury. That's where the action packed Italy itineraries come in.
Inside the Travel Lab covers authentic, unusual and in depth travel all over the world. So I've sprinkled through some suggestions that you won't find on other itineraries through Italy.
Italy truly is beautiful all year round. She offers skiing and stylish chalets in winter and bright sandy beaches in summer.
However, if you have cafe life and alfresco dining in mind, then spring and autumn are best. Be wary of travelling in August when the temperatures in the city can feel suffocating and the queues are immense. Also, as is traditional in many parts of Europe, many people close up for the summer and head to the beach, making it harder for independent travel.
Could there be anywhere else to start your Italian itinerary? Rome is famous worldwide, and not just because of Russell Crowe. The achievements and legacy of ancient Rome seem staggering in proportion to most of the rest of the world and what makes the history all the more exciting is that you can see, smell and touch so much of it today.
And you can slice and dice Rome so many different ways. Art, history, architecture, dressing up in loincloths and pretending to be a gladiator. Really, the chances to see the sights and to get off the beaten track in Rome never end.
Ideally, you'd spend a week in Rome. But three days are enough to hit the high notes before it's time to move on.
The centre of Florence may be compact but it's hard to imagine a place that packs a harder historical and artistic punch. After over one thousand years in the intellectual wilderness, Europe rediscovered things we now take for granted during the period called the Renaissance. And a key part of that, if not the key part of that, took place in Florence.
Like Rome, it's astonishing that so much tangible history remains. The eye-boggling brilliance of the David. The "hey, don't I know you from somewhere?" Venus in the clam shell.
Florence is a place where it pays to be meticulous and organised about museum admissions. Book early, go early, get out.
Pisa, on the other hand, is much more forgiving. Her leaning tower requires a queue to climb, but otherwise you are free to wander around and soak up her beauties. If you have time, head into the Tuscan countryside. But if connections are tight, see the tower, indulge in a gelato and move on.
Ah, Venice. Could there be a more beautiful place on earth? Don't believe the naysayers, Venice remains so beautiful, so stunning, so Venice that almost every travel writing piece refers back to it. The Venice of the East, the Venice of the North, etc etc.
But the truth is, as we all know, there is only one Venice. And it is here, in Italy, waiting to be explored.
Forget the naysayers and visit this incredibly beautiful city (I think I should have said something more profound there. In fact, I'm sure I should have.)
How much time do you need in Venice? If you're focused, not long. A day in Venice is enough to hit the Bridge of Sighs, the Doge's Palace and St Mark's Square. Make sure to take a ride on the public transport vaporetto. and look out for the Venetian masks and stained glass that are some of the best Italian souvenirs. Find a guide to getting off the beaten track (or path) in Venice here.
If you stay in town, you can get up early and beat the crowds, walking between the main sights and enjoying rather than enduring it. Venice's train station is right in the centre of the action, so getting in and out is easy.
Verona slides into this 10 day Italian itinerary with a sense of shyness. It's not on everyone's list, but it is on mine.
It's most famous for being the (fictional) home of Romeo and Juliet - and you can visit "Juliet's" balcony and leave a padlock of love.
But it's also a fascinating medieval city in its own right, with a Roman amphitheatre and city walls that reinvent themselves for festivals and theatre performances.
Milan is gorgeous. But (shh) if you find yourself forced into a 7 day Italy itinerary, then she's the city to go.
With room for a 10 day Italy itinerary? Milan's your girl. Or guy. The love for fashion here is entirely gender neutral.
Milan likes to think of itself as Italy's powerhouse, a driving force for fashion and finance and for finally getting something done (there's quite a north-south rivalry.) Her Duomo is brilliant and beautiful and definitely worth a queue to climb to the rooftop. The extravagant covered walkways razzle-mc-dazzle people all year round.
What's more? Well, ahem. Milan is one of Italy's busier airports. So, when putting together a 10 day Italy itinerary, it kinda works better if you fly into Rome and out of Milan to maximise your time. But don't let Milan hear I said that.
Rolling hills populated with poplars, aristocratic mansions and monasteries falling into fashionable disrepair. Even the home of the Vespa. Tuscany is possibly the most famous of Italy's regions but it's still pretty easy to hire a car and get off the beaten track.
The home of limoncello and the path of the gods, the twisty, winding, lemony coastline of the Amalfi area earns every inch of its fame. From Mt Vesuvius to the Sirens, the landscape of this beautiful coastline reached far into the textbooks of history and legends.
The Dannii to Tuscany's Kylie Minogue, Umbria has beauty, rolling hills and frescoes, it's just that fewer people know about it. Home to Assisi, saint of the animals, as well as home Italy's Slow Food movement, a week in Umbria allows for good food, great architecture and plentiful culture.
Lavender-grey and spiky, the Dolomites take the very idea of a mountain landscape and make it more beautiful than really seems fair. It's a chic retreat, with five star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants snuggling between adventure sports and wild landscapes.
With steep cliffs, pastel-palette houses and UNESCO World Heritage Site status, Cinque Terre remains popular for many reasons. A visit here requires more planning than most because of said popularity but the views alone make it worthwhile.
Would it be too obnoxious to say a lifetime? Yes, it probably would. Italy is a rich country with many different characters, landscapes and flavours. That said, even with a 10 day Italy itinerary, you can feel as though you've made a good start.
If you only have a weekend, you're better suited to a city break and even with 7 days, accept you can't see it all.
Check the ultimate travel checklist here and then factor in the following for Italy.
Most international flights to Italy travel to Rome but it's possible to fly direct to Naples, Milan, Venice, Barri in Puglio and more. Check the fine print carefully when it comes to airports, particularly with the European budget airlines. Many claim to take you to Venice, for example, but it turns out that you're 40 km away.
You know those beautiful ancient streets and medieval cobbled courtyards? They come with hotels that have had to adapt. Expect smaller rooms than in the States or Australia and be ready to carry your luggage through narrow cobbled lanes that taxis (or indeed any car) can't manage. Don't particularly expect air conditioning and definitely don't expect easy parking. That said, it's worth it.
Italian roads are in good condition, although the pace of driving, parking and overtaking is racier than many Anglophone countries. Parking in Italian cities carries Rubik's cube complexity with designer fashion price tags so for city to city trips, it's just easier to take the train.
Trains are clean and comfortable but it is annoying that you have to pre-reserve your seat on many intercity services.
Road trips are the way forward on the regional itineraries through Italy where parking is less of a problem. Having your own wheels allows you to get off the beaten track more easily and discover those rare but gorgeous spots.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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