I get a version of this question often.
It’s usually a rambling, excited facebook message, chaotic, happy and a little bit naive, like a puppy greeting you at the door.
“So, me and [insert friend, lover, brother, family, stranger here] are heading to Italy this summer for 7 days and I wanted to ask you for some advice,” the message usually says. “We want to see Rome, Naples Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence and maybe Milan. I’d love to see the cities but it would be nice to have a day at the beach and maybe even a day hiking. I’d also love to go to the Dolomites and I heard the south of Italy is just gorgeous.
What do you think?”
I think that it’s not easy to plan a trip to Italy, ironically because Italy has so much to offer. There are incredible cities, museums, beaches, mountains, countryside, the list goes on.
The real problem with this question is my response. If I want to actually help, I have to play the bad guy. My first sentence usually is, “I suggest you DON’T do all those things on your list.”
I don’t say this as some grizzled traveler who likes to spout stories about traveling slow, living in a no-name town for three months, walking the same three streets every day until every crack in the sidewalk is memorized. (Even though it wouldn’t be so bad.) I say it out of experience.
I’ve dragged my mother and grandmother on a five-city trip across Italy, running up and down the bridges of Venice to try to see everything on our day-and-a-half stop before we left for the next city. I’ve dragged my mother and father up and down the coast, trying to show them everything of the amazing country I now call my home. I’ve fought and cried and passed out at night in hotel beds because the travel days were too long, too filled and too stressful.
I’ll always recommend slow travel to anyone who has the possibility. That is, staying in one place rather than jumping from town to town. Slow travel is about seeing one destination by actually living it, not simply seeing the sights and ticking it off your list. But the truth is, not everyone has that possibility. Most travelers have a lot they want to see and not so many chances to travel. They don’t know when they’ll be able to return, and don’t want to miss out on their one big trip. I also know, however, that once someone comes to Italy, it’s difficult to keep them away. Travelers almost always make their way back to the boot. It might be decades later, but the country has a siren call.
It is possible to see multiple cities in two weeks, but in my opinion you’ll end up spending a lot and not seeing much, and definitely not getting to know the area or the culture better than a Discovery Channel commercial.
So how do you choose? The decision of which cities to see and which to save for another time is highly personal and based on a million different factors: money, time, personal interests, recommendations, dreams, goals, energy levels. I believe there are two basic options: hit the major cities, or deep dive in a specific region/area of Italy. In any case, the two are mutually exclusive – unless you have at least a month in the country, you won’t be able to travel slow in one region and see all the major cities, there’s just not enough time.
You can visit Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan in two weeks, easily traveling from each city by high speed train. With roughly 4 days per city, you’d get a decent taste of each and a general overview of the major points in Italy. This is best for those who just can’t give up the thought of leaving Italy without seeing certain cities, or those who don’t know much about “second-city” Italy. It’s a good first trip to Italy and will help you target an area of the country you’d like to explore further when you return. (I’m telling you, you’ll return!) It’s also convenient and has less of a language barrier than small-town Italy will have.
The second option is to choose a region. For example, choose Florence as your base city, then take multiple day trips or overnight trips throughout Tuscany during your stay. You’ll get a more in-depth look at an area, not have to move your suitcases so much and will feel like you’re “coming back home” to Florence each time the train rolls back into Santa Maria Stazione. Highly connected, it’s easy and inexpensive to visit Pisa, Siena, Lucca and the dozens of other beautiful Tuscan towns by train.
I hate responding negatively to the excited puppy emails, but when I get an email with a must-see list longer than my grocery list I can only say that if you cut your list in half, your wallet, energy levels and travel companions will thank you for it. Less than four days in Rome is only a stress. Less than five days in the Dolomites is borderline impossible counting travel time. Less than a weekend in Forence is just a sin.
So choose your top three, marry your itinerary and throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain – you’ll likely make it back before you know it!
Have you ever jam-packed too much into one trip? What happened? What do you consider a decent two-week travel itinerary?