How to plan a trip to Italy – a step by step guide

 

Welcome! My name is Katy and ever since I first visited 20 years ago I have been plotting my next trip to Italy. From its historic cities to the mountains, lakes and coast, I fell in love with this beautiful country and want to help you do the same.

Planning a trip to Italy is one of my favorite things to do (I’ve been there more than 25 times!) so we created this guide to help you plan and book your trip with ease.

We hope you find our step by step guide on how to plan a trip to Italy useful. 

When to go to Italy

The best time to visit Italy is when it suits you and your schedule. However, you should be aware of a few seasonal variations:

  • Italy is one of the world’s most popular destinations and is very busy (and more expensive) at peak periods – from May to September
  • Summers can be very hot (especially in the south) and winters cold with ski resorts open in the northern alpine regions
  • August is the busiest month with Italians and people from all over Europe on vacation. Coastal and lake areas are very busy with visitors
  • Easter is a major holiday in Italy – expect demand for rail travel and accommodation to increase

For this reason we like to visit Italy in the shoulder months – April/May and September/October when the weather is sunny and mild, crowds are manageable and you can find great value flight and accommodation deals.

How to get there

Flying direct (or with a single stop) to Italy from most places in the world is easy. Most visitors fly into Rome Fiumicino [Leonardo da Vinci](FCO) international airport but you can also easily fly into Milan Malpensa (MXP) or Venice Marco Polo (VCE) airports from major hubs around the world.

There are many other airports throughout the country that can be accessed within Italy and Europe.

Best flight deals to Italy

We use a combination of Skyscanner, CheapoAir and Google flights to source the best flight deals for Italy.

To find the best deals, set up alerts on Skyscanner for the month you wish to travel and wait for price drops. Be prepared to be a little flexible on dates and stopovers. It is often cheaper to fly into Milan rather than Rome but that is most useful for northern Italy itineraries.

Tip – always use an incognito browser window to search for flight deals. Prices are amended up for users known to be searching for specific dates and times

Arriving by train from other cities in Europe

If you are traveling within Europe, train travel is easy with links to major Italian cities – Milan, Rome, Florence and Venice – from other capitals in Europe. Seat 61 is a great resource for planning train travel within Europe.

Bus travel to Italy

If you’re on a tight budget and traveling within Europe, then you might want to consider coming to Italy by bus. Low cost operator Flixbus covers 1,200 destinations in 26 countries.

Train and bus bookings

Omio (formerly GoEuro) is a useful site for booking a combination of train, bus and air travel within Europe

Passports and visas

Citizens of the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand can enter Italy and stay up to 90 days without a visa within an 180 day period. You must have 6 months validity on your passport.

All other nationalities should check this Italian government site that will walk you through whether a visa is required for your visit.

European Union and UK citizens can travel with photo identification.

Itineraries and planning

Where to go

Probably the hardest decision you need to make is which places you would like to visit. This is a very difficult task for many of us and it is a challenge for me to this day.

The most popular places to visit in Italy are listed below.

  • Major cities – Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan and Naples
  • Tuscany – large region known for hilltop towns, wineries and beautiful countryside
  • Cinque Terre – 5 spectacular villages that hug the sides of cliffs on the Italian Riviera
  • Amalfi Coast – picturesque coastal region near Naples – Sorrento, Positano, Capri
  • Northern Italian lakes – scenic lakes close to alpine mountain ranges

As a general rule, for a 3-5 day trip choose one destination – a city or area. If you have a week to 10 days then 1-3 places in either the north OR south of Italy. For a 2 week trip you could cover 3-4 places and see both north and south.

Try not to pack too much in. It’s easy to underestimate transit times and getting in and out of airports and train stations.

Suggested itineraries

For their first trip to Italy, many people will choose to start their journey in Rome and visit Florence and Venice. This 10 day Italy itinerary covers that route and includes detailed instructions on how to make the most of your time in Italy. 

Alternative 10 day itineraries

  • Rome + Amalfi Coast – Rome [4 nights], Amalfi Coast/Naples/Pompeii/Capri [5 nights]
  • Rome + Florence and Tuscany – Rome [4 nights], Florence [3 nights], Siena [2 nights]
  • Venice, Milan, Lake Como + Florence – Venice [3 nights], Milan [1 night], Lake Como [2 nights], Florence [2 nights]

City itineraries

Rome – a 5 day itinerary that can be adapted for more or less days – click here to read

Florence – suggestions for 1,2 and 3 days in the Renaissance city – click to read

Venice – things to do and itineraries for 1,2 or 3 days in the lagoon city – read here

Milan – explore Milan, fashion forward, fun and the most modern of all the Italian cities – click to read

More itineraries coming soon!

Recommended group package tours in Italy

Package tours of Italy can be a fantastic way to avoid the stress of planning your own trip. They are also great if you would like some company along the way. Here is a quick summary of popular tours in Italy by well known brands. 

Trafalgar

One of the most popular tour companies on the planet, Trafalgar has a broad range of itineraries to choose from in Italy. Appealing to the 50+ age group, travel is mainly by coach and you can expect an emphasis on culture and history. Trafalgar has worked hard to include local experiences such as wine tastings and unique stays into its itineraries as well as time to discover destinations at leisure.

Tour group sizes are between 40-45 passengers and the general standard of hotels is 4 star.

Top Italy tours by  Trafalgar

We like the tours offered by Intrepid Travel because they strike the balance between showing you highlights of a destination and allowing time for exploration on your own. Their premium brand Peregrine has some interesting hiking tours of the Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast.

Group sizes average around 10 so you get personal attention when you need it. We also love that Intrepid has a commitment to responsible travel and leads the way in promoting animal welfare.

Top tours of Italy by Intrepid and Peregrine

Tourradar

Even as independent travelers we like to browse Tourradar – a market place for tours where you can browse hundreds of package tours by different operators, and by date. Then filter by your interests and age group and read detailed reviews.

There are various levels of support offered from fully organized tours to independent self drive or train itineraries.

Click here to browse all Italy tours on Tourradar

Top tours in Italy found on Tourradar

Recommended guidebooks

We plan trips using a wide variety of sources. If you can, choose a guide that is relevant for the region you are visiting as they are usually more detailed

Our favourite general guidebooks for Italy are:

Lonely Planet – Our favorite practical guide, Lonely Planet regularly updates guides for Italy | Florence and Tuscany | Venice and the Veneto | Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast | Italian Lakes | Sicily | Southern Italy

Rick Steves – America’s foremost authority on travel in Europe produces excellent practical guides and itineraries for Italy | Rome | Florence | Venice | Cinque Terre

DK Eyewitness Guides – we love the illustrations and cultural and historical insight in these guides. They are perfect for those of us who respond best to visual cues.

Travel booking timelines

When should you book your travel, accommodation and tours in Italy?

As soon as possible is the straightforward answer when it comes to popular hotels, accommodation and tours especially for peak times in July and August. If you can, try to book 6-12 months in advance for popular areas such as the Amalfi Coast in summer.

Flight bookings will depend on where you are flying from. For long haul flights the best deals are generally found 6-12 months in advance while deals pop up regularly for travel within Europe.

Rail bookings can be made up to 4 months in advance on high speed intercity and standard intercity trains.

Accommodation in Italy

Choosing where to stay is an important part of planning your itinerary. Italy is well set up for tourists and you can expect the usual range of hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation as well as apartments and villas.

If you plan to spend any time in the country, consider staying at an agriturismoor farm stay – offered by Italian farmers who earn additional income by providing rooms and meals. This accommodation is very popular in Italy and ranges from budget to luxurious.

We’ve stayed in agriturismi (plural) with swimming pools, hammams and wine cellars and always try to build them into our itinerary. An added bonus is that the food served is farm fresh and generally excellent.

Accommodation costs

Here is a rough guide to help you plan your accommodation budget. Prices are average for a double room though this will vary with prices higher in popular areas at peak times

Best accommodation sites

Our favorite site for booking lodging is Booking.com because it has a huge range of options from hotels and resorts to bed and breakfast, apartments and farm stay accommodation.

You can easily compare prices and amenities and take advantage of their generous cancelation policies to find the right accommodation for you. We’ve also found their concierge service helpful and get better deals because we use them regularly.

Other sites we use and recommend

BookingsForYou – beautiful villas and apartments in Tuscany, Italian Lakes and Puglia – 5% for readers when you mention our site or code – UntoldItaly – when booking

VRBO – the best site for long stay villas and apartments – click here to browse VRBO

AirBnB – for longer stays in apartments and villas – first time users can claim free credit here

Tripadvisor – mainly to read reviews but you can sometimes find good deals on there too

Our guides on where to stay in Italy

We created these guides with specific recommendations of where to stay in the major tourist areas in Italy in response to questions from our readers and in our Italy Travel Planning Facebook Group.

Florence – district and accommodation guide > click here

Milan – district and accommodation guide > click here

Amalfi Coast – towns and accommodation guide > click here

Rome – accommodation near the Pantheon > click here; near the Colosseum > click here and in Trastevere > click here

Venice – coming soon

We also created a guide on how to find the right accommodation for your trip that includes a printable checklist > click here to access the article.

How to get around Italy

As a general rule, if you are traveling between cities and major towns then the best way to travel around Italy is by train. If you want to explore the countryside and small villages you will need to rent a car.

When you are mapping out distances to travel between destinations use Google maps or Rome2Rio is another useful site.

Train travel in Italy

The train system in Italy is modern and efficient with fast speed services linking the major cities and regional trains connecting smaller towns and villages. Two major train networks operate throughout Italy – Italo and TrenItalia.

Advance bookings are advised for high speed intercity services where seats are allocated. You can save money booking in advance if you purchase non-flexible tickets.

Recommended train booking sites – Omio and ItaliaRail

You can book directly with these operators or an easier way is with:

Omio – compare train times and prices across both Trenitalia and Italo schedules and keep your ticket details on their handy app

ItaliaRail – a dedicated English language site where you can book and pay in US dollars, Australian dollars, GB pounds or Euros. ItaliaRail accepts all international credit cards – unlike some Italian sites.

To use your tickets you will need to quote your booking reference on board the train or collect them from the self-service machines found at all main stations in Italy.

Click here to search for rail tickets on Omio

High speed train intercity travel times on popular routes

Rome to Florence – 1 hour 30 minutes

Rome to Naples – 1 hour 15 minutes

Rome to Milan – 3 hours

Rome to Venice – 4 hours

Florence to Venice – 2 hours

Florence to Milan – 2 hours

Driving in Italy

With a bit of forward planning and common sense, renting a car and exploring the back roads of Italy is easy. We wrote a full guide to driving in Italy but here are our top tips

  • You are required to carry an International Drivers Permit – these can be arranged in your home country at minimal cost
  • Standard transmission on cars is manual or stick shift. If you want to rent an automatic car expect to pay extra, if you can find one available
  • Rent the smallest car you can to fit you and your luggage – roads are often narrow and you don’t want to get stuck!
  • Heavy fines apply if you enter ZTL zones – historic districts where driving is not allowed

We use Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals in Italy including one way options. They search both international and local providers so you get a wide variety of choice and there is 24/7 support if you need it.

Click here to search for car rentals in Italy with Rentalcars.com

Internal flights

If you want to travel very long distances or to visit the islands of Sicily or Sardinia, flying makes the most sense.

Check on Skyscanner or Google Flights for routes and prices. Remember to set alerts for those routes you want to fly and book early for flights in the summer months.

Tickets, tours and attractions

We source and book tickets and tours via GetYourGuide and Viator. They are tour and ticket aggregators so there is lots to choose from. I like the fact you can read reviews, book everything in the one place and keep your tickets and vouchers on their apps too. You can also pay in your own currency and with international credit cards which can be a challenge when using Italian websites.

We prefer GetYourGuide – you can read our review of GetYourGuide to find out why here

Tickets for major attractions

Rome, Florence and Venice are some of the busiest cities for tourists in the world thanks to their famous attractions – the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, Uffizi Gallery and Doge’s Palace.

Unless you want to spend precious vacation time standing in lines to enter these sites we strongly advise you to prebook advance skip the line tickets for the following attractions. [In winter months booking in advance is not as necessary]

We have given you the official booking sites and an alternative for approved ticket partners should you have trouble using the official site – unfortunately that happens a lot! The direct sites are usually cheaper but the partner sites are generally more user friendly.

Day tours in Italy

We love doing guided tours. Not those huge group ones where you follow the flag waving guide around in a herd trying to keep up. No, we especially like small group and food tours where you learn and discover all about the culture and history of the places we visit. Plus it’s so much more fun than reading plaques and you get to ask questions.

So make sure to build in a couple of tours when you are planning a trip to Italy.

Our favorite small group tour companies are Take Walks (formerly Walks of Italy) and The Tour Guy (formerly the Roman Guy). Both offer very well designed and engaging tours of the major sights in Italy as well as interesting food and cultural tours.

  • Take Walks have a longstanding reputation for excellent service, groups under 20 people and guaranteed departures. So if you are the only person booked on a tour it will still go ahead. We recently enjoyed our Colosseum at night tour and day trip to Tuscany with them 

Recommended day tours by destination

 

Recommended experiences in Italy

Sightseeing, soaking up the atmosphere and visiting major monuments (plus eating!) will take up most of your time on your trip to Italy. However, if you have a little more time, we recommend seeking out unique Italian experiences that are sure to be the highlight of your trip.

Food festivals are so much fun. We stumbled on a sagra (food festival) near Lake Como and had a great time tasting all the local dishes. On another trip we managed to be in Florence during the finale of the Gelato Festival (how did that happen I wonder?) and were able to taste some incredible flavours.

You can check this site for information on food festival dates in Italy.

Wine tastings and tours are popular activities in Tuscany and there is a great selection to choose from on Viator – click here to view 

If you want to recreate the delicious dishes you tasted on your trip, why not take a cooking class. We learned so much from our class and market tour in Florence and enjoy making fresh pasta at home. 

>> Click the links to browse cooking classes in Rome, Florence and Amalfi Coast

For those who love football or soccer there could be no greater thrill than watching a football match in an Italian stadium. You’ll need to book tickets well in advance and we found the best site to do just that – click here to book Italian Serie A tickets.

Airport and ground transfers

No matter where you fly into Italy you will need to transfer from the airport to your accommodation and vice versa. Most of the airports are a fair way out from the city center – and in the case of Venice, in the middle of a lagoon! So preplanning your arrival is advised.

You can compare different transfer services on Suntransfers – a company that specializes in transfer options from major airports. They have options to suit all budgets and prices for coach, mini bus, private car and limo services. 

If you know you want to book a chauffeur car service we use and recommend Blacklane transfers.

Sometimes you want to travel between two places and not have to worry about your luggage, driving or parking. In these cases, Day Trip is a very useful service that provides transfers with stop offs along the way – for example Sorrento to Naples with a stop at Pompeii, or Florence to the Cinque Terre with a stop in Pisa

Rome – transfers from Fiumicino airport

Taxis are fine, there is a set rate into Rome of €48 and the ride takes around 45 minutes. Or, if you’re like me, and need some comfort when you arrive you can pre-book a transfer on Suntransfers or Blacklane

This would also be the best option if you are traveling with more than 2 people and have several items of luggage.

A popular way to get into Rome is the Leonardo Express train – a non-stop service between Fiumicino and Rome Termini (the main station). Trains depart every half hour from 6:23 to 23:23, and the trip takes 32 minutes. The cost is €11. Unless you are saying close by you will then need to get a taxi to your accommodation.

The cheapest transfer option – this bus goes direct from the airport to Termini – €6 one way 

Venice transfers

The water bus company Alilaguna runs regular shuttles (every 15 -30 minutes in peak season) to and from the islands on the lagoon and the airport stopping at San Marco and Rialto (main stops). The fare is €8 one way €15 return and the journey takes 1½ hours – you can book online here 

For a glamorous arrival hire a private boat transfer or shared transfer in a water taxi – journey times and prices increase depending on number of people and exclusivity. A direct private transfer to the airport takes around 45 minutes.

You can also take a taxi or express airport bus to Piazzale Roma and then take a vaporetto (ferry) or walk your hotel/accommodation. A one way trip on the ferry costs €7 per person and is valid for 60 minutes.

The taxi will cost around €25 and the bus will cost around €8 and take around half an hour – for advance bus bookings (recommended in summer) go here 

Florence transfers from Florence airport

Florence airport is very close to the city center and a 15 minute taxi ride away. There is also an airport bus that takes around 20 minutes – more information

Florence transfers from Pisa airport

Many people fly to Pisa to reach Florence as it is a larger airport. If you arrive during the day take the PisaMover train to Pisa Centrale train station – journey time 5 minutes. Then take a train to Florence. The last train departs at 21.30

On our last visit we arranged a transfer with Blacklane as we arrived too late for the last train. There is also a coach transfer option.

Amalfi Coast transfers from Naples airport or train station

We recommend hiring a driver. The train, ferry and bus via Sorrento can take 4 hours while a car service is around 1.5 hours. You can compare different services on Suntransfers – a site specializing in ground transportation or we use and recommend Blacklane transfers.

You may find sites or groups where specific drivers are recommended. I do NOT recommend booking a driver this way for safety reasons – how do you know that the person recommending the driver is reputable, let alone the driver? And also for practical reasons – small operators may not have capacity or availability.

Money and budget

The local currency in Italy is the € Euro.

There is no need to carry too much cash when you are in Italy. Credit and debit cards VISA and Mastercard are widely accepted while American Express is not as popular.

Be aware of foreign currency charges and ATM withdrawal fees applied to your account when you are abroad. You may want to review the cards you are taking with you prior to your trip. We always take two – one as a back up for emergencies. 

Expected costs

Apart from major transport, accommodation and activity costs (eg custom tours and experiences) expect to spend around €30 – 50 per person per day on food and snacks. We allocate another €50 per adult for tours, tickets, day travel and other items. This is a generous budget and it is possible to travel much more cheaply in Italy.

Note – a tourist tax is collected at hotels and accommodation throughout Italy. The rate depends on the city, class of hotel and number of nights you are staying.

Internet access

Have a good think about how much internet access you will need on your trip. Some people are happy to disconnect and use paper or offline maps while others need that online connection.

Italy has high speed internet and there are many options to stay connected depending on your needs. If you use minimal data and are happy using offline maps and guides then you should be able to get by using wifi at your accommodation. It would be unusual to find accommodation that did not offer wifi. You still need to check though.

Do not expect wifi connections to be available in restaurants and cafes – in Italy restaurants are for eating.

Make sure to turn off international data roaming before your trip to avoid unpleasant bill surprises

Local SIM

If you have an unlocked phone you can purchase a tourist SIM before your depart or when you arrive that has enough data for map navigation and research – will not extend to streaming movies or any other heavy upload or download activity. I haven’t used it myself but this local SIM from Italian provider TIM comes highly recommended. 

READ: our full guide to getting online in Italy (SIMs, wifi and more)

Portable wifi device

If, like me, you need to be online and connected throughout the day, you should consider renting or buying a portable wifi device like this one from Skyroam. It connects to the local network in Italy and many countries around the world. You then buy day passes for $US 9 per day that give you unlimited data.

I’ve been testing out Skyroam and it offers fast speeds – at least 4G. You can connect up to 5 devices and it also acts as a battery charger. The battery itself lasts a day.

You just need to set it up before you depart on your trip and learn how to use it as it is not as straightforward as I would like. Even so, I like having my usual SIM in my phone and the data running separately.

Click here to learn more about Skyroam plus get 10% off with my code – UNTOLDM

Travel Insurance

Yes you need travel insurance for Italy. Even if your home country has a health care agreement in place with the Italian government. These agreements do not cover emergency repatriation or trip cancelation so make sure you are covered well before you depart. 

We use World Nomads insurance because it is quick and easy to buy a policy and claim online. You can get a quick no obligation quote from them here.

Click here for more information about travel insurance for your trip to Italy

Packing for your trip

What to pack will depend on the season and places you visit in Italy. We created a full packing guide with printable checklist that you can access on this page. It covers everything from seasonal capsule outfits to tech items and beauty need.

 

 

Travel with kids in Italy

We think Italy is one of the best places in the world to travel with kids. Children are welcomed and enjoyed wherever you go. There are not too many challenges that you would not experience at home.

Probably the hardest thing we find is that we fend off many kind offers of sweets and treats on a daily basis from well meaning grandmas/nonnas on our trips. There is a limit to how much chocolate a 4 year old can eat!

Restaurants will feed your kids first so you can enjoy your meal later. It’s such a brilliant move, I have no idea why this doesn’t happen in most countries. At any venue you can always order a plain pasta with red sauce beloved by children world wide.

Kids travel at greatly reduced prices on Italian trains. Children under 4 ride free, no ticket required. Those under 15 can travel on the child rate on national trains and the child fare applies to children under 12 on regional trains.

If you are visiting museums and attractions such as the Vatican Museums and Uffizi Gallery we recommend hiring a guide that specializes in bringing these places alive for kids.

Our twins have been all over Italy with us. Their favorite city to visit is Venice – you can read our popular guide to Venice with kids here.

Italy trip planning done!

We hope you now feel confident to plan your Italy trip and are counting down the days until you leave. If you haven’t already done so we’d love you to join our Italy Travel Planning Facebook group where you can ask lots of questions and get advice on your planned itinerary.

We also have a regular newsletter with inspiration, tips and deals for your trip to Italy. You can sign up here and we’ll send you our FREE Italy travel tips ebook.

Disclaimer – Untold Morsels assists our readers with carefully chosen product and services recommendations that help make travel easier and more fun. If you click through and make a purchase on many of these items we may earn a commission. All opinions are our own – please read our disclosure page for more information.

The creator, writer and photographer behind Untold Morsels, Katy has been travelling and tasting the world since she was a teenager.

Now the proud mum of twins, she hopes they grow up to share her passions of great food, wine and travel. Favourite destination: Italy