How to plan an Italy trip
Want to know how to plan an Italy trip? You’ve come to the right place. Italy trip planning is one of our favorite things to do. So much so that we set up this website.
We wrote this article to take you step by step through planning your trip. From deciding when to go and how much it will cost to what to take and how to use your mobile phone, it’s all here to remove the overwhelm and make your trip planning easier. Even if you choose to hire a travel agent to assist with your bookings, it is a good idea to walk through these steps as it will help the agent build the best trip for you.
You can see an overview of the steps you need to follow in the article contents below. Follow our guide and you’ll be on your way to planning your own trip or choosing the right tour for you and your travel companions.
Step 1 – Decide when you want to go and your budget
When to go to Italy
There is no bad time to visit Italy but there may be one that suits you better. Depending on your interests and the places you want to see you need to be aware of seasonal differences that you need to know about:
- Summer – June to August: peak tourist season, weather is hot and prices higher. Many Italians are on vacation and the coastal areas are very busy especially in mid August
- Fall / Autumn – September to November: September remains hot and busy in most of the major tourist centers. By October the weather is cooling and ferry services on the coast and lakes stop running. At this time grape harvest is in full swing. November is generally quite wet but there is lots of sunshine between the showers.
- Winter – December to February: As the weather cools so do the crowds. Attractions are much less busy and the lead up to Christmas is magical with lights and decorations in shop windows. In January and February restaurants in many coastal areas are closed. February’s Carnevale in Venice is generally one of the most expensive times to visit the city
- Spring – March to May: In March and April wildflowers bloom and the countryside is awash with color. Easter is a popular holiday for Europeans to visit Italian cities especially Rome, Florence and Venice.
Our favorite time to visit Italy in the shoulder months. In April and May and September and October the weather is generally sunny and mild, the crowds are manageable and you can find great value deals on your flight and accommodation.
As the situation in Italy can change quickly at any time due to the ongoing pandemic, please check our article Can you travel to Italy plus current situation. We update this regularly with the latest travel news.
How much will it cost?
This will depend on your expectations, interests and travel style. You can travel very cheaply in Italy if you visit lesser known regional areas and avoid the big cities. Even in the big cities it is possible to find free attractions and budget accommodation if you know where to look.
If you want to see the main sights and enjoy experiences such as cooking classes, private boat cruises and wine tours then the sky is really the limit when it comes to cost.
Most travelers fall somewhere in the middle however and a reasonable daily budget per person for food, transport and activities is around €100 on top of flights and accommodation.
Step 2 – Do some preliminary research and preparation
Where to research your trip to Italy
From online news and magazines, blogs, Instagram, Facebook groups (check out Italy Travel Planning) and even podcasts like ours, here are thousands of resources online. I am sure you’ve already seen quite a few of them already. Sometimes endless options can be overwhelming so we recommend collecting ideas in an online folder or scrapbook and organizing them into destinations that you really want to see.
You’ll probably want to “do it all” but really have a think about your interests and what will best suit you and your travel style. Once you have some ideas, it’s best to consult a structured resource to check your assumptions and thoughts.
Traditional guidebooks definitely have their place for planning a trip to Italy. Well researched and structured, they’ll give you in depth information on destinations and sights to see as well as practical tips to help you plan. Even after 30+ trips to Italy we still consult guidebooks for new destinations we want to visit. You can find our favorite Italy guidebooks here.
Italy travel planners
We noticed that even guidebooks can provide too much information in the planning process so we created one page travel planners for the top places to visit in Italy. Our planners tell you the top sights, best viewpoints, must have experiences and our favorite places to eat (including best gelato stops) in each place.
You can print them off or keep them on your phone and there’s a link to an online map so you can map out your days. We have guides for Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast and Sorrento. Our goal is always to simplify the trip planning process and we know you will find them useful.
Group tour itineraries
Tour companies put a lot of effort into designing tours that cover the main sights and even lesser known regions. They know the times it takes to get around and how long you can stay in each place to get a taste or feel for the destination.
We often check itineraries of places we would like to visit as an input into our own planning. Here are some recommended tour companies and itineraries to investigate.
Passports and visas
At this stage of your planning it is a good idea to check the validity of your passport and if you require a visa. Citizens of the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand may 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 when you enter Italy. Go and check this now as it can take several months for new passports to be processed.
All other nationalities should check this Italian government site that will walk you through whether a visa is required for your visit.
European Union can travel with photo identification. UK citizens can travel with photo identification until 31st December 2020. We will update this article on the rules that apply once Britain completes its exit from the EU.
Please note – this information is subject to change and it is always best to check with your local foreign office for the latest advice on travel to Italy.
Step 3 – Confirm your itinerary
Itinerary planning is where many people get stuck. We understand. There are so many amazing places to see in Italy that deciding where to go and how much time to spend there can be hard. As a general rule, we like to spend a minimum of three nights in each place to minimize time spent traveling and also enjoy each place as much as possible. So if you have a 10 day trip then 3 main stops would be a good baseline to start with.
Where to go
From your research you probably have an idea of where you want to go. You may want to visit the popular cities and regions on your first trip however each city and region in Italy offers something special.
Most popular cities
Most popular regions
On our site you can also browse Italy’s lesser known cities and regions on the destinations page.
As a general rule, for a 3-5 day trip we suggest choosing one destination – a city or region. If you have a week to 10 days then you can plan 1-3 places in either the north OR south of Italy. In a two week trip you could cover 3-4 places and see both north and south.
Try not to squeeze too much in. It’s easy to underestimate transit times and getting in and out of airports and train stations. Plus you want to have plenty of time to enjoy yourself and soak up every last moment.
If it is your first trip to Italy, like many first time visitors you may choose to start your journey in Rome and visit Florence and Venice. This 10 day Italy itinerary covers that route. It includes detailed instructions on how to make the most of your time in Italy.
Alternative 10 day itinerary suggestions
Rome and 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] Sicily – Taormina Noto [3 nights
More itineraries coming soon!
Packaged group tours of Italy are a popular way to travel and avoid the stress of planning your own trip. They are also a great option if you would like some company along the way. Here is a quick summary of popular tour companies:
- Trafalgar – popular and well respected brand appealing to the 50+ age group. Travel is by coach and the focus is on culture and history. Expect group sizes of 40-45 passengers and 4 star hotels. Trafalgar also include interesting local experiences such as wine tastings and unique stays in their itineraries. Check out their popular Best of Italy tour
- Intrepid Travel – small group tours with an average of 10 travelers with plenty of free time built in for exploring. Their popular Italy Real Food Adventure is an 8 day itinerary that showcases their travel style well
- Peregrine – Intrepid’s premium brand offers some interesting hiking tours of the Italian Lakes and Amalfi Coast
- Tourradar – is a market place for group packaged tours where you can browse hundreds of package tours by different operators, and by date. You then filter by your interests and age group and read detailed reviews. You can browse fully organized tours to independent self drive or train itineraries.
Step 4 – Book your flights, inbound travel & insurance
Flights to Italy
It is easy to fly direct (or with a single stop) into Italy from most places in the world. Rome Fiumicino [Leonardo da Vinci](FCO) international airport is the main hub for air traffic 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. Pisa is useful for trips to Tuscany and the Cinque Terre and you will need to fly into both Sicily and Sardinia.
- Skyscanner – portal where you can view cheapest days and routes to fly and set alerts for price drops
- CheapoAir – uncovers the best deals on first and business class flights around the world
- Google flights – great for checking schedules and airline routes
Secure the best deals by setting up alerts on Skyscanner for the month you wish to travel and wait for price drops. It’s good to have a price that you wish to pay in mind but but be prepared to be flexible on dates and stopovers. It is often cheaper to fly into Milan rather than Rome and that city is a useful entry point for northern Italy itineraries.
Inbound rail from within Europe
Major Italian cities – Milan, Rome, Florence and Venice – have fantastic fast speed train links from other capitals and major cities in Europe. The website 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.
You can compare schedules and prices using Omio – a useful site for booking a combination of train, bus and air travel within Europe
Organize travel insurance
Once you have booked your flights or tour, we recommend organizing travel insurance straight away. The main reason you should purchase insurance is to cover health costs and emergency repatriation to your home country should you fall ill. In 2020 you will need to check whether there is cover provided for issues relating to covid19 however general health cover is recommended regardless.
Cover for cancelation, delays and loss of belongings is a bonus and again they may not apply under pandemic conditions. You need to read all the terms and conditions of your cover including any exclusions before you commit to buy.
Step 5 – Book accommodation and transport
Choosing where to stay at each stop is an important part of itinerary planning. Italy has many different options 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 agriturismo or farm stay. This is accommodation offered by Italian farmers who earn additional income by providing rooms and meals. Very popular in Italy and Europe, prices ranges from budget to luxurious. You can find agriturismi (plural) with swimming pools, hammams, restaurants and wine cellars. We always try to build them into our itinerary.
How much will accommodation cost?
Here is a rough guide to average prices for a double room. This will vary with prices higher in popular areas at peak times
Upscale / Luxury – €200+ [USD $230+] per night
Midrange / Boutique – €110-250 [USD $125-285] per night
Budget / B&B – €60-120 [USD $70-140] per night
Ultra budget / Hostel or shared room in AirBnB – €20-35 [USD $25-40] per night
Best accommodation sites
Our favorite sites for booking lodging are Booking.com and AirBnB because between them you’ll a huge range of options from hotels and resorts to bed and breakfast, apartments and farm stay accommodation.
AirBnB is particularly useful for longer stays in apartments and villas and if you’re traveling as a family and need some extra space. First time users can claim free credit here
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 – has some great options for long stay villas and apartments particularly on the Amalfi Coast
- Agriturismo.it – great for finding smaller farm stays but the booking engine is terrible. You can usually find the same properties on Booking.com
We talked about accommodation options and what to look for in detail on this podcast episode.
- Where to stay in Rome – a district by district guide to the best areas to stay
- Best places to stay in Florence – neighborhoods and areas best suited to your trip
Transport while in 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.
Train travel in Italy
Trains in Italy are modern and efficient. Fast speed services link the major cities and regional trains connect smaller towns and villages. Two major train networks operate throughout Italy – Italo and TrenItalia.
You should book in advance for high speed intercity services where seats are allocated. If you purchase non-flexible tickets you can make significant savings with advance bookings. They are not required on regional services.
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 for Trenitalia tickets in US dollars, Australian dollars, GB pounds or Euros. ItaliaRail accepts all international credit cards – unlike some Italian sites. To use your ItaliaRail 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.
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
Car rental in Italy
One of the best ways to see the smaller towns and countryside in Italy is to rent a car and take to the open road. Driving in Italy is quite straightforward. You just need to do some forward planning and use your common sense. Here are some tips to
- 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 or historic districts where driving is not allowed
We use both Rentalcars.com and AutoEurope to find the best car rental deals in Italy including one way options. They both search international and local providers so you get a wide variety of choice and there is 24/7 support if you need it. AutoEurope is usually your best option if you want a one way rental.
If you want to visit the islands of Sicily or Sardinia, or travel very long distances, 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.
Step 6 – Book Attractions, tours and activities
The major cities of Italy – Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan – are some of the busiest cities for tourists in the world. And most visitors want to spend time at their famous attractions
We strongly advise you to prebook advance skip the line tickets for the following attractions – the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, Uffizi Gallery and Doge’s Palace. Otherwise you could spend precious vacation hours standing in lines to enter these sites. Note – 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. Always check the terms and conditions of your purchase, particularly in relation to changes and refunds. GetYourGuide has a very easy cancelation policy which in many cases allows cancelation with refunds up to 24 hours prior to departure.
If you want to learn about the sites you are visiting then we recommend a group day tour. We prefer small group or private tours where you learn about the culture and history of the places you are visiting. It’s so much more fun than reading plaques and You are also able 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 company is Take Walks (formerly Walks of Italy) and we prefer With Locals for private tours. 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
- With Locals offer great value private tours. You choose from a series of set itineraries and guides in cities across Italy. There are tours focused on history, food, culture and other themes or they can be customized them for your group. We tried their 10 Tastes of Naples recently and it was lots of fun. They also have great options for families
- Eating Europe – food tour specialists who will ensure you discover the best local dishes
- The best tours in Rome
- Unmissable day trips from Florence
- Day trip from Rome to Pompeii
- Best tours of the Vatican
- Rome’s best food tours
Activities and experiences
Seeing the sights of Italy is always a treat but you’ll also love immersing yourself in Italian culture. These days you can choose from a wide range of experiences and activities. From food and wine tours, to football matches, concerts and exploring the countryside by vintage car, there are memorable experiences to suit you.
- Cooking class with Nonna Nerina near Rome – Grandma Nerina teaches you how to make fresh pasta and welcomes you into her home. If you can’t wait until you get to Italy to do this she also does online classes
- Capri boat trip – small group on a private boat means a slower pace and more time to see the island. You can read what to expect on this day trip here
- Sunrise photo shoot in Venice – capture your memories in this most unique and photogenic city
Our favorite companies for searching for interesting and unique things to do in Italy are:
- AirBnB experiences – a treasure trove of photo walks, pasta making classes and vintage car rides.
- Cookly – cooking class and food and wine experiences like truffle hunting from small operators across Italy
- Get Your Guide – has the biggest listing of tours and experiences
Step 7 – Get ready for departure
Organize your money and credit card
The local currency in Italy is the € Euro.
You do not need to carry too much cash when you are there. Credit and debit cards VISA and Mastercard are widely accepted while American Express and Diners Club are not as popular. You may want to consider a foreign currency card like the Transferwise Mastercard where you can transfer Euros from your US dollar, Australian dollar or Canadian dollar accounts (plus many other currencies)
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 recommend that you take two – one as a back up for emergencies. And inform your bank before you go. Sometimes they can be overzealous and place a block on your card if they see unusual activity.
Book airport transfers
Planning your arrival in Italy is recommended. 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!
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.
Rome – transfers from Fiumicino airport
Taxis are fine to take in Rome. There is a set rate into the center of €48 and the ride takes around 45 minutes. Or, if you would prefer to be met at the airport you can pre-book a transfer on Suntransfers. A transfer is the best option if you are traveling with more than 2 people and have several items of luggage.
Another popular way to transfer into Rome is to take the Leonardo Express train. This non-stop service between Fiumicino and Rome Termini (the main station) takes 32 minutes. Trains depart every half hour from 6:23 to 23:23, and the cost is €11. You can purchase tickets at the station on the day. Unless you are saying close to Termini 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
The water bus company Alilaguna runs shuttles every 15 -30 minutes in peak season to and from the airport and the islands on the lagoon. This bus stops at San Marco and Rialto as well as some other secondary stops. The fare is €8 one way €15 return and the journey takes 1½ hours – you can book online here
A private boat transfer or shared transfer in a water taxi is the fastest (and most glamorous) way to transfer to your accommodation in Venice. Journey times and prices depend on the number of people in your party and exclusivity. A direct private transfer to the airport takes around 45 minutes.
- Private transfer – around €200 for 6 people – book here
- Shared water taxi transfer – around €30 per person – book here
You can also take a taxi (cost €25) or express airport bus to Piazzale Roma (cost €8) and then take a vaporetto (water bus) or walk your hotel/accommodation. A one way trip on the ferry costs €7 per person and is valid for 60 minutes.
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. A 20 minute tram ride takes you to the main Santa Maria Novella train station and costs €2.
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 Suntransfers as we arrived too late for the last train. There is also a coach transfer option.
Amalfi Coast or Sorrento transfers from Naples airport or train station
We recommend organizing a private transfer for this journey. 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.
You may find sites or groups where specific drivers are recommended. We 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.
Plan how to access the internet
Consider how you will access the internet on your trip. You may be happy to disconnect and use paper or offline maps however many of us need internet access.
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 to use offline maps and guides then you should be able to get by using wifi at your hotel or accommodation. Do not expect wifi to be available in restaurants and cafes because in Italy restaurants are for eating.
If you plan to use wifi make sure to turn off international data roaming before your trip to avoid unpleasant bill surprises.
Paid internet options
- Use your provider’s roaming plan – usually very expensive and slow speeds if coming from outside Europe
- Local SIM – purchase a tourist SIM before your depart or when you arrive that has enough data for map navigation and research. Italian provider TIM comes highly recommended and there are outlets at the airports and train stations
- Portable wifi device – connect multiple devices to high speed internet for reasonable prices. We use and recommend Skyroam (Get 10% off with our code – UNTOLDM)
Packing for your Italy trip
The key to packing for Italy is to pack the minimum that you need. Many people like to take carry-on luggage only for their trips. This is a great way to travel as you will find it much easier managing trains, cobblestones and stairs that are a feature of travel in Italy.
But, most of us find that a challenge, so try to stick to a medium bag per person plus one carry on item. Large suitcases are not a good idea. You will also thank yourself if you consider your footwear carefully. Three comfortable pairs will see you through most trips.
Note – We have a complete packing guide coming soon.
Must have items for your trip
- Untold Italy travel planners – one page checklists of the must see sights, restaurants and gelato bars in Italy’s most popular places
- Collapsible water bottle – stay hydrated and fill up at free water fountains all over Italy
- Camera – for your vacation snaps. We recommend lightweight mirrorless models like these ones
- Packing cubes – these make packing, organizing your luggage and unpacking so easy. We love them!
- Power cube – don’t bring lots of bulky converters. This one has 3 USB ports
- Battery pack – keep all your devices charged
- Plug adapter – you will need one!
- Face masks – for your safety and you may be required to wear one indoors
- Hand sanitizer wipes – to keep germs at bay
Get started and plan an Italy trip now!
We hope you now have more confidence to start planning your trip to Italy. This will no doubt be a trip that you’ll remember and cherish for years to come. And, like many of us, you may find it sparks a passion to return to bella Italia again and again.