If you are planning an Italy vacation, this itinerary, which includes Milan, Florence, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, Venice and the Alps is a perfect guide for a week in the country.
For our 15th-anniversary trip to Italy, we flew into Milan and spent one week in the country. I found it incredibly helpful to read other blog posts about vacations to Italy, so thought it might be useful to provide overview of our trip. I hope you enjoy reading this – even if you aren't planning a trip to Italy soon.
After much consideration, we decided it would be best to do five nights in Florence and two nights in Milan. This allowed for us to have a home base, which greatly reduced the stress of going to new cities AND dealing with luggage. Though we each only had a carry-on bag and a backpack for our Italy vacation, it still was a lot to shlep around. (I highly recommend packing cubes if you are planning a long-trip and just want to have a carry-on. Read more here.)
Having a home base was a terrific decision, and one I would recommend to others considering how to plan an Italy vacation. Thanks to the trains and tours, day trips are very easy to plan.
Day 1: Arrive in Milan and travel to Florence
We flew into Milan, arriving at 6:30 in the morning. After going through customs, we immediately bought train tickets to go to Florence. Though tired from traveling, taking the train allowed us to maximize time at that early hour in a way that made a lot of sense. Trains are quick, affordable, and easy in Italy. I would not recommend renting a car unless you are wanting to go to a lot of less touristy places.
Since we planned to stay in Florence for five-days, we booked an AirBNB. The pricing was comparable to a hotel, but we had a lot more space and comfort in a Florence apartment. It also had a washing machine, which greatly reduced what we needed to pack! If you don't have an AirBNB account, use my referral link to get $40 off your first booking when you sign up. For other Italian AirBNB recommendations, check out this post by Stephanie Howell, who lived in Italy for two years with her family.
We arranged with our AirBNB host to drop off our luggage, though we weren’t able to check in until the afternoon.
One of my only regrets of our Italy vacation was not booking something for us to do that first afternoon, such as a guided tour of Florence or visiting one of the museums. I kept the day open, not knowing how we would be feeling, if we would have a major delay, etc. While this makes sense, I wish I would have booked something once we got to Florence. Because everything ran on time, we could have done a tour that first day, which I think would have helped us acclimate to the city and break up some of our later days. Keep this in mind when booking your own trip!
Because we had the day open, we explored Mercato Centrale, an outdoor market in Florence, saw the outside of the Duomo and appreciated all the fountains and statues in the city. While we booked our May trip in January, I did most of the planning for it just a few weeks before we left. Had I planned further out, I could have probably gotten us tickets to go to the top of the Duomo, which is supposed to be spectacular. We did really enjoy just walking around the outside of it though. Pictures don't do it justice.
We also visited the Museo delle Cappelle Medicee, which was so beautiful I cried.
Florence is incredibly walkable and simply wonderful to explore.
Day 2: Day in Tuscany
A friend recommended a 700-year-old farm in Tuscany that she had taken Accidental Tourist's pasta making class. We were so glad we booked the experience. Accidental Tourist is one of the oldest pasta making classes in Tuscany and it was fantastic. We learned how to make pasta, and then had a wonderful multi-course Italian lunch that included the pasta we had made. They offer both lunch and dinner classes. The lunch classes were a bit cheaper, which is why we did it, and it was the perfect way to start our day.
After the morning class, we were picked up by Marco from WithLocals. This was one of our favorite experiences in Italy. One of the reasons it was so special was that it was so NOT touristy. We were with Marco for four hours and during that time we visited a monastery built in 890 (Il Monasteri di S. Michele A Passignano), the town of Greve and Buscola, a farm that grows olives and makes incredible olive oil.
Read more about WithLocals and get $15 off your first tour here.
Day 3: Day in Florence
If you go to Florence, both of these are hands down, MUST DOs. The Uffizi art gallery is incredible. Definitely book a guided tour for this museum – do not go by yourself. I know it is an expense, but I truly believe you will miss SO much doing it on your own. You will not be able to appreciate the history, detail, and richness of the art. We booked a tour with Art Viva and had an incredible experience.
We also booked a tour to see The David and I do not think this was necessary. You will still appreciate the incredible wonder of David without a guide. That said, having a guide got us into see the David much more quickly.
Day 4: Day in Cinque Terre
A day trip to Cinque Terre should be on your must-do list for an Italy vacation if you are going to be in Northern or Central Italy. We booked a 12-hour tour, which included all five cities (Cinque Terre means five lands) and it was worth the long-day and sore leg muscles (we walked 26,000 steps). I cannot do the views, the architecture, the water and the magic of it justice. It simply must be experienced. If the weather is warm, be sure to bring a swimsuit to take a dip in the water! I booked a tour with Viator and had a very positive experience.
Day 5: Day in Venice
Originally, we were going to do a day in a small city in Tuscany, like Siena, Lucca or San Gimignano, which many people raved about. Pisa was also nearby, but many told me that literally the only thing to do in Pisa is take a picture with the leaning tower. Thanks to our WithLocals tour with Marco, we decided that we had gotten a feel for those types of cities, so we decided last-minute to take a train to Venice for a day trip. This choice was one of the best decisions of our trip. In fact, if I were to do a do over, I think I would stay overnight in Venice because I loved it so, so much. In a word, Venice is magic. It is iconic Italy, full of romance, art, and boats.
We started out day in Venice with a three-hour walking tour with a WithLocals guide. We enjoyed WithLocals so much on day 3 that we knew it would make our limited time in Venice the best it could be. It was definitely the right decision. One of our favorite experiences of the trip was visiting a mask shop, owned by one of the most respected mask makers in all of Venice.
Of course, riding a gondola on the canals was also a must. A 25-30 minute ride during the day is 80 euros. In the evening, the same ride is 120 euros.
We also took a boat to the famous Murano, known for its blown glass. We also wanted to visit Burano, but it would have cut it too close with our train schedule.
Day 6: Day in Milan
Honestly, Milan was a bust, though we couldn’t have necessarily planned for this in advance of our Italy vacation. I had read that there wasn’t much to see in Milan, skip Milan, etc. etc. We figured since we were flying in and out of Milan, we should do a day of sightseeing there. Well, the day we scheduled to do that there was a huge military event in town. Streets were blocked, and we literally couldn’t get in to see anything. We spent a large part of the day trying to get places and not being able to. The good thing was that we had been go-go-go so much of the trip, that we were able to fit in some much needed relaxation.
Day 7: Day in the Alps
Anyone who is going visit Northern Italy must add a day-long train trip into the Alps. I have written a full-post about this experience here. This was our last day of our vacation and was really the best end to it! Not only was it one of our favorite experiences, but it was low energy, which meant we were not exhausted before traveling home the next morning.
I’ll admit, I was a bit paralyzed when I started planning our Italy vacation. It was my first time visiting the country and I wanted to not make any “mistakes.” The truth is, the country is gorgeous and the people are kind, so you can’t go wrong. I hope though that this overview of the schedule we put together might help as you put together your own trip.