France and Italy: Best 2 to 3 week itinerary for first-time visitors

Rome ColisseumThe only country that might be more magical than France for first-time visitors is Italy, and vice-versa. Even though Europe is filled with amazing tourist destinations these two countries seem to stand above the others, with France being the most visited country in the world and Italy having the most UNESCO World Heritage sites. For my own money, these two countries contain 3 of the 5 great European cities that everyone should see first.

Fortunately, these two countries also share a border so they are extremely popular to visit as a pair. They both also get so many tourists that all the major destinations are easy enough to visit without knowing the language at all, though learning at least a few words and phrases is simple and worthwhile. For these reasons, France and Italy are perhaps the most popular first trip to the European continent. Below we’ll discuss the cities you need to include and the minimum time in each, as well as some other itinerary planning tips.

Updated in 2015: This article was written in 2013 and expanded and updated in 2015.

How many cities to visit?

Paris SquareThis is perhaps the most challenging question when planning an itinerary. Newer travelers always assume that more is better and overly-seasoned travelers always preach that virtually any city anywhere deserves at least a week. As with most things, the best answer probably lies somewhere in between. If you only have two weeks per year it would take a lifetime of trips to explore even half of Europe at the slow pace, so it makes sense for newer travelers to move at a good clip.

There are many reasons why fast travel might be your best option, but only up to a point. With only a few exceptions, 3 nights per city is a good minimum even for those wishing to see as much as possible, or 2 nights in the smaller cities.

If you are going to France and Italy for sure then start with Paris and Rome as the foundation and add cities in between to the degree you’ll have time. France is a deceptively large country so travel will eat up some time unless you are flying or taking the bullet trains.

Flying in and out

Unless you are starting from elsewhere in Europe, you’ll want to carefully choose which airport to fly into. It used to be that Paris was one of the cheapest, and it’s still competitive, but it doesn’t rank high on the list of European cities that are cheapest to fly into.

Two one-way tickets is ideal

It used to be that round-trip tickets were always much cheaper than two one-way tickets, but often that is no longer true. Sometimes the one-way flights are exactly half the round-trip fare, sometimes a bit more than half, and other times they are double. It’s hard to predict so it’s worth comparing them yourself.

The first thing to try is this:

  • (your city) to Paris one-way
  • Rome to (your city) one-way

Compare that to this:

  • (your city) to Paris round-trip
  • (your city) to Rome round-trip

If the two one-way flights are within US$150 or so of either round-trip, then they are your best option. If the round-trips are much cheaper then your best option is to buy one of those as well as a one-way flight between the cities (for around US$100) for just before you fly home. It would cost more on the train and also take 14 hours, so flying that last part is the way to go unless you are planning on using the last leg of a Eurail Pass on an overnight run.

Getting around once in Europe

Gare du Nord ParisFlying around in France and Italy doesn’t make much sense. The flights on low-cost carriers can certainly be cheap, but most major cities are only 2 to 5 hours apart by train, so riding the rails is faster, more pleasant, and far more scenic.

Even on trains, you still have three main options:

  1. Buying a France-Italy regional Eurail Pass
  2. Buying individual train tickets in advance
  3. Buying individual train tickets one at a time when you get there

If you are under 26 you can qualify for the 2nd Class Eurail Pass, which will be ideal for many people. If you are over 25 you have to buy a 1st Class Eurail Pass, and those are probably only best for those with a bit more money to spend.

Best cities in France and Italy for first-time visitors

Paris (minimum 3 nights but even that is rushing it)

Paris Notre DameObviously you’ll want to visit Paris, and it makes sense to either start or end your whole journey here. If it’s your first stop you should add at least one extra day to help deal with jetlag, but you should plan on staying as long as possible because the French capital is one of the world’s great (and most beautiful) cities by any definition.

Paris can seem very expensive at first glance, especially when you see how tiny your hotel room is once you arrive. But those on tighter budgets don’t actually have to spend a fortune to enjoy it thoroughly. If you are the sort who loves all the famous museums then a Paris Pass could be a perfect option, but even if you just drift around town admiring the scenery you are guaranteed to have a good time. Better still, there is a Metro station on every other block, so you can stay in the cheaper areas far from the center and it only adds 10 minutes or so each way.

Paris to Nice by train: About 6 hours

Nice, France (minimum 2 nights)

Nice BeachNice is the largest (and cheapest) city on the Côte d’Azur (AKA French Riviera) so it’s the perfect base to explore this stunning part of the world for a few days. It can still be quite expensive during July and August, when most French are filling their own beaches, but in other months it’s not too bad.

Nice has a famous beach (made of pebbles rather than sand), but it’s also an important cultural capital with great museums and a thriving food scene. You could easily spend 2 or 3 quick days in Nice alone, but you might also consider spending a few hours in Cannes and/or Monaco, which are both only about 30 minutes away by train in either direction. The cheaper hotels in Nice are near the train station anyway, so that’s something to consider if you want to visit all 3 places in one short trip.

Nice to Milan by train: About 5 hours
Nice to Venice by train: About 7.5 hours

Milan (1 night or just skip it)

Milan SquareMilan is famous, though that alone is not enough of a reason to stop there. If you skip it you won’t be missing much, or you might stop for one night just to break up the journey a bit. On the plus side, Milan has one of Europe’s most photogenic gothic domes at its heart, and it’s the home to Da Vinci’s Last Supper (if you make reservations well in advance).

The down side, however, is that Milan is mostly a business/financial city that isn’t as charming as the rest on this list. It’s one of Europe’s fashion capitals as well, but the casual visitor wouldn’t notice. Worst of all, accommodation in Milan can be insanely expensive if there is a trade fair or event in town. If you are coming through in between fairs and events, hotels can actually be unusually cheap, so it’s worth checking rates if you are considering stopping.

Milan to Venice by train: About 2.5 hours

Venice (1 night minimum, 2 nights maximum)

Venice CanalCertainly one of the most beautiful and unusual cities on the planet, Venice is something that everyone should see, though it can be a bit tricky. The thing is, between about 10am and 5pm every day of the year, the main walkways in Venice are a slow-moving parade of more tourists than seem possible or even safe. Many of them stay in hotels nearby on the mainland, while many others just come in for the day on part of a bus tour. The point is, Venice is very frustrating during those hours, so to appreciate the city it’s important to work around them at least a bit.

The trick is to stay at least one night, if not two, on the main island itself. Perhaps surprisingly, Venice shuts down early, with most restaurants and bars closed by around 10pm. But in those evening hours as well as the morning hours on the following day, the place can feel magical and like a fairy tale destination. Venice is also quite compact so seeing the main highlights in 24 hours isn’t difficult. Depending on your budget, spend one or two nights on the main island and you’ll be quite satisfied by the time you leave. You’ll be sick of the crowds by then anyway.

Venice to Florence by train: About 2 hours

Florence (2 nights minimum, plus side trips)

Florence RiverWith fewer than 400,000 residents, Florence feels more like a small town than the others, even though it’s much larger than Venice. As the largest and most central city in Tuscany, Florence is a cultural capital filled with famous museums, cathedrals, and other sights, but it’s also the ideal jumping off point for day or overnight trips into some of the nearby hill towns.

Whether you are coming from Venice or from Rome, this is the point on your trip that you’ll be able to catch your breath a bit. It’s also the cheapest city on this list so lingering here will be more affordable in addition to relaxing. The cuisine here is, of course, world famous, and it can get even better and cheaper if you spend a day or two in one of the many scenic villages in this part of Italy.

From Florence to Rome it’s only around 90 minutes by train, so another easy and pleasant travel day.

Pisa (a few hours on a day trip at most)

PisaFieldofMiraclesIf you are spending several weeks exploring Italy then perhaps you’d want to spend a night or even two in Pisa. But for a quick trip where you are trying to include as much as possible, Pisa is best for a day trip. It’s about an hour by train or bus from Florence, so you can literally do it in half a day there and back. And being honest, the Field of Miracles (which includes the Leaning Tower) is definitely worth a look, but the rest of Pisa doesn’t really stand out.

Regardless of your starting point, you can go to the Pisa Centrale train station and walk about 25 minutes to the Leaning Tower area, or take a train to the Pisa San Rossore train station and 7 minutes to the Field of Miracles. There are also bus tours from Florence that take you all the way there, but those come with the slowness of large-group travel.

Cinque Terre (1 night, optional)

Cinque TerreIf you were to be spending all 2 or 3 weeks in Italy and saving France for another trip, then you’d want to considering spending at least a day and perhaps a night in this stunning little group of 5 towns perched on rocky cliffs overlooking the sea. They are on the west coast a bit north of Florence, so they are a bit out of the way if you are headed to Rome. Of the 5 towns, Vernazza is probably best for a short visit and it’s definitely the most scenic.

When you see a photo of these villages it’s hard not to be drawn in so if you are in that group you could add a day or two in this area either before or after Florence. Note that the scenic footpaths connecting the towns are partly closed down at times due to instability, so a quick tour by train or even by boat might be a better option.

Florence to Rome by train: About 90 minutes

Rome (minimum 3 nights)

Rome ParliamentAgain, it makes the most sense to start and end your visit in Paris and Rome, and if you are starting in Rome you should add an extra day just to get your footing. Similar to Paris, Rome is crammed with amazing sights too numerous to mention, but unlike Paris, Rome can be a frustrating place to visit. No one regrets their first visit to Rome, but many swear that it’ll also be their last. It’s the traffic and general sense of chaos (multiplied by the summer heat) that wear on visitors.

All of that said, Rome is absolutely a must-visit, although you won’t be blamed for hustling through the city quickly and efficiently so you can spend more time in the relative serenity of anywhere else. The Eternal City is also quite expensive, especially by Italian standards, which is another reason to save only a few days there rather than a full week.

Naples/Pompeii/Sorrento/Amalfi Coast (optional up to 4 nights)

The “big 3″ in Italy are Rome, Florence, and Venice, and if you have time for only 3 cities those are the obvious ones to choose. But if you want to dig deeper into Italy and you have enough time, your next best choice will be to base yourself in Sorrento and use it to explore Naples, the ruins of Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, and the island of Capri.

NaplesSquareNaples is a large and gritty city that has an unfortunate reputation for pickpockets and other street crime. In reality, any daytime visitor who uses the typical precautions will be fine. Naples is also famously the birthplace of pizza and home to one of the world’s best archaeology museums so it’s worth a day trip for sure. The great news is that Naples is very easy to visit from nearby Sorrento, which is a lovely and friendly place where most people know English.

Stay in Sorrento

SorrentoHarborTo reach Sorrento you’ll take a train to Naples and then change for a one-hour local train (known as the Circumvesuviana) to its final stop. Once you are checked into a hotel there, you can take the same train back to Naples, or an even faster boat. Halfway back on the Circumvesuviana you can jump off in front of the stunning Pompeii Ruins. Those in a hurry can spend half a day in Naples and a couple hours seeing Pompeii and be safely back in Sorrento for an unforgettable dinner.

Amalfi Coast and the Island of Capri

AmalfiPositanoNot only is Sorrento the perfect base for a visit to Naples and Pompeii, but it’s also the gateway to the Amalfi Coast and a short ferry ride from the touristy island of Capri. On a quick visit you can hop on the local bus in Sorrento that takes you through Positano and Amalfi to Salerno. You’ll see all the famous and amazing Amalfi Coast views, and you can return either by bus or boat for an ideal day out.

The other main nearby attraction is the famous tourist island of Capri, which is best known for its Blue Grotto attraction. The ferry from Sorrento only takes 20 minutes each way and leaves hourly most of the day. This is another easy and ideal day trip where you can have breakfast and dinner in Sorrento and a wonderful time in Capri in between.

Filling in the rest of your itinerary

If you have only two weeks total then the above minimums will also pretty much be your maximums, give or take a day. But if you have three weeks you will be adding days to these cities or adding new cities altogether. Honestly, if this is your first trip to these countries, you’ll really get the most bang for your buck by adding extra days in Paris or Florence or both.

Rushing around for two weeks can be exhilarating, but rushing around for three weeks can really start to get exhausting. It’s better to plan to go slower and if you are getting bored you can do a day or overnight trip to something nearby. But you won’t get bored, and if you do you are probably doing it wrong.

Cinque Terre photo by World Walk About on Flickr



73 Responses to “France and Italy: Best 2 to 3 week itinerary for first-time visitors”

Mark says:

Rather good itinerary for those that are time constrained. We recently travelled through most of the suggestions. For those planning a trip and intending to get around by train, seriously consider a rail pass. The fast trains in Italy are sensational and with a rail pass we were paying about 10 euro compulsory reservation for fares that cost up to 150 euro – big savings potentially.
Love the site keep up the good work.

 

    Mark, thank you for the kind words. And I agree about the benefits of a rail pass, at least for those under 26 or those who prefer to travel first class anyway. For older people who don’t mind second class, a rail pass doesn’t really save money in most cases, but it’s wonderful to have one. I didn’t realize reservations were now up to €10 in Italy, so thanks for that bit. Cheers. -Roger

     
Dan says:

Just curious – you list Cinque Terre between Florence and Rome, but does it make sense to do it in that order? Coming from Nice, wouldn’t you want to stop in Cinque Terre prior to Florence? Also, I assume you need to go through La Spezia via train to get to Cinque Terre?

Excuse me – rather, it seems it would make sense to visit Cinque Terre after Nice, following by Venice, followed by Florence, and then on to Rome. My previous comment was assuming exclusion of Venice. Curious to hear your thoughts.

 

    Dan,

    I believe Cinque Terre is most commonly visited as a side-trip from Florence, and yes you do have to change trains in La Spezia in that direction. But you can also go Nice to Genoa for a train change to Cinque Terre, and then carry on to Florence afterward if you are planning on skipping Venice. Honestly, all of these places are no more than 3 hours or so apart by train, so you can jumble the order and do it in the order that makes the most sense for your exact itinerary choices. -Roger

     
      Dan says:

      Thanks, Roger. Just curious – how would you recommend incorporating a few days in Sicily into a trip?

       

        Dan,

        I’ve not been to Sicily but I know many who have and it comes highly recommended. Most people don’t even go as far south as Naples, at least on a first trip, so I didn’t include Sicily here.

        Your choices are to fly from Rome, or to take a train, which takes about 12 hours including a portion on a ferry, of course. The most common itinerary in Sicily is to take a few days driving or taking a train around the main loop on the island, rather than just staying in Palermo. I’ll definitely spend some time in Sicily on my next trip to Italy, and I’ll write more when I do, but for now this is about all I can say. -Roger

         
          Dan says:

          Got it – thanks. Regarding side trips to Monaco/Cannes from Nice as well as Cinque Terre from Florence, do you recommend counting these potential train rides in the Eurail pass (i.e., purchase the appropriate number of rides that would include these trips)? Or is it cheap/easy enough to get the train tickets in Nice and Florence once you’re there?

           

          Dan,

          You wouldn’t want to use a rail pass travel day on any of those. The ones from Nice should be no more than €10 each way (probably less), with trains leaving once or twice an hour. So you can just breeze into the station and buy tickets for the next departure, probably with very little wait. From Florence to Cinque Terre is maybe 2 hours, with a change on the way, but still those trains are fairly cheap. It’s only if you’d be doing a round-trip from Florence to Cinque Terre and back the same day where it might even come close to being worth a travel day. -Roger

           
Dan says:

Thanks, Roger. What if I intend to stay the night in Cinque Terre, and would like to head straight to Rome afterward (through La Spezia I imagine)? I assume that is doable, and would be worth a rail pass travel day, no?

 

    Dan,

    From Cinque Terra to Rome takes between 3.5 and 5 hours by train (through La Spezia) and it will cost between €40 and about €60 depending on the speed of the train. So, it’s quite easy to do, and depending on which rail pass you are considering, it’s probably worth a travel day. But unlike many journeys, this one is kind of borderline for rail pass value, so there’s no easy answer. -Roger

     
PJ Poursha says:

Hi Roger, I’ve read your article and have taken much of your itinerary and built it into the one that I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks now. I was hoping that you would be kind enough to take a look at it and let me know what you think / suggest. Is there any way you would allow me to send it to you privately? I dont want to overwhelm your readers with a 21 day day Itinerary to Italy/France.
my email is [email protected]

thank you ,
PJ

 
TJones says:

What is your thoughts on adding on a trip to Greece? Also what would you recommend as best area to stay, to travel to, how long etc. Would it be better adding it on between Paris & Rome, at the start or the end? My daughter is really interested in Paris, Venice, Rome & Athens.
Thanks

 

    TJones,

    Greece is a wonderful country to visit, even if it is a bit out of the way when visiting France and Italy. It’s probably best to visit as a round-trip from Rome to Athens in the middle of your trip or at the end.

    However, Greece is a bit unusual on a European itinerary because it is popular for two very different things. Athens is obviously home to the Parthenon and several world-famous museums, and to be honest, most people hustle through an Athens visit because it’s a huge and crowded city (even before the austerity-fueled demonstrations and such). So many people fly into Athens for 2 or 3 days and then take a ferry or flight to one of the Greek islands for fun in the sun, which is the other thing Greece is popular for.

    There are dozens of islands to choose from, including a few that are only a short ferry ride away from the port just south of Athens. It’s hard to recommend one without knowing a lot more about you, but the good news is that all the famous ones are nice and most of them are quite cheap as well. -Roger

     
Margaret says:

Hi great suggestions! I am going to Nice for a conference and planning to spend 10 days to see a few cities. Some friends recommend Nice to Rome.

Would it be commercially viable to do 3 days in Paris after Rome?

 

    Margaret,

    Yes, if you can work both Rome and Paris into that trip, I think you’d love it. Both cities are very large and I do recommend 3 nights in each one if possible. From Nice you could take a train to Rome, or take a train to Paris, but from Rome to Paris I think you are better off flying. The flight should be cheaper than the train, and obviously much faster. Buy those train tickets and flights as early as possible for the lowest fares. -Roger

     
Tengkulinie says:

Hi Roger,

Chance upon your website and I could like to compliment how detailed it is. Anyway, I would to ask you for suggestions. I am heading to Europe in Sept this year. London (3 nights) and after that will be heading to Paris (3 nights). I have 1 week left for Italy. Which cities would you recommend. My flight back would be from Venice. I’m not sure if from Paris I should head to Florence or Rome. Which is nearer from Paris? Should I fly by Plane or take the train?

Is there any hotels/B&B that you are able to recommend while I’m in Italy?

Thank you in advance.

 

    Tengkulinie,

    Thank you for the kind words about the website, and I’ll be happy to try to help.

    Hopefully you are planning on buying your Eurostar train ticket from London to Paris well in advance. They get more expensive as the date nears, and they are very pricey on travel day.

    As for where to go in Italy, you can’t go wrong with the Big Three (Rome, Florence, Venice). From Paris you’ll be best off flying to Rome, and the earlier you buy that ticket the cheaper it will be. Spend 3 or 4 days in Rome, and then take a train to Florence for 2 or 3 days. From Florence you’ll take another fairly short and relatively inexpensive train ride to Venice, which you can easily visit in only one day. As mentioned in the article above, Venice is spectacular, but also crowded and expensive, so one day and one night is a great visit for those on longer trips like yours.

    I do have hotels I recommend in each many cities, and all are well located and very good value. Once you have a look at these, you’ll at least have something to compare others to.

    Recommended Rome hotels
    Recommended Venice hotels

    Have a great trip, and feel free to ask other questions if you have them. -Roger

     
Tengkulinie says:

Thank you for your very quick response!

I had booked my train from London to Paris yesterday at a good price. ;)

Will heed your advices and check out the hotels soon.

Just a quick question, I heard Italy can get pretty dangerous at night. I’m travelling with my girl-friend, any advice or places to avoid til late night?

Thank you once again! :)

 

    Tengkulinie,

    Italy is generally a very safe country, and the chance of physical harm is almost zero. But there are pickpockets in the big cities, so you have to be careful with your possessions. The men in Italy are also known for sometimes giving unwanted attention to females, but most women agree that it’s basically harmless and nothing to worry about. That said, it might be wise to ask more of an expert on the subject. If you Google something like “woman traveling alone in Italy” you’ll find many blog posts from female writers who can better describe what it’s like and how they deal with it. I know many women who’ve traveled extensively in Italy, and none has ever mentioned that it’s a problem.

    But especially late at night, it’s still better to avoid the sketchy neighborhoods. In Rome, the area directly behind the main train station is filled with cheap hotels, and it’s probably best to avoid staying there. In Florence the area around the train station is also not the best, and that’s generally true of most big cities in Europe as well. In Venice, the whole main island is quite expensive, and very safe as well. You’ll really enjoy it, I’m sure. -Roger

     
Joy says:

Roger, thank you for this itinerary. It has been very helpful to me as I start planning a trip with my brothers for this summer. We will only have about 10 days so I am curious as to what we should omit if anything. It will be a first trip for the 3 of us to France & Italy. We want to see as much as we can and plan on going pretty none stop the whole time. Also, thanks to everyone for the additional comments.

 

    Joy,

    In only 10 days my first thought is that you should probably focus on Paris for 3 or 4 days and then fly to Italy for one day in Venice, 2 days in Florence, and 3 days in Rome to finish up. If you were to take the train from Paris to Nice and then take another train from Nice to Venice, it would add two big chunks of travel time that would mean less sightseeing time in the top places. And you’d be in such a hurry that the more time you spent sightseeing in or near Nice, it would mean racing everywhere else just to fit it in.

    From Paris you should be able to get a fairly cheap flight to Venice or nearby Treviso Airport. Or you could fly into Milan and take the train to Venice, or fly into Pisa and take the train to Florence. Ten days in 4 cities is already a rush, but it will be incredibly fun in that part of the world. -Roger

     
tasdst8 says:

Hi. Thanks for the great advise on France and Italy. But could you add Spain? I am traveling to Europe in August. Flying into Frankfurt and visiting family and friends the first half of my trip (about 14 days), where we’ll all travel to Berlin, Prague, Amsterdam and London. Then I’m solo for the next half of my trip. I’d like to visit France, Spain and Italy during that time. I have about 15 days to work with, before meeting up with my family again to get a ride back to Frankfurt to fly out. What’s your idea for the best itinerary? The must see places for me are Paris, Barcelona and Venice….otherwise I’m open. Thanks!!

 

    tasdst8,

    That’s a great idea and overdue, so soon I will write a similar article about Spain and Portugal itinerary suggestions. In the meantime, I think you might be attempting too much in the second half of your trip. If you are going to Italy at all, I really wouldn’t recommend less than a week there. Even 3 nights in Rome, 2 nights in Florence, and 1 night in Venice would be a whirlwind of a trip, and that’s really the minimum to make it worthwhile. If you add at least 3 nights in Paris and possibly 2 nights in Nice or elsewhere in France, you’ve used up most of those 15 days already.

    But since you asked, Spain’s 2 biggest cities are still the main highlights, and they are quite different from one another. I recommend at least 3 nights in Barcelona, and 3 nights in Madrid. Beyond those, Seville and Granada are two interesting choices in the south. I haven’t been to Valencia, but they have been building up their visitor offerings and I’ve heard good things. Should you include Spain on this trip, those would be the highlights and best choices.

    The southern coast also gets massive tourism, but most of that is from other Europeans on sunshine holidays, and they aren’t very interesting from a cultural standpoint. Hopefully this helps, and feel free to write back if you have other questions. -Roger

     
Devaana says:

Hi Roger,

I’m from Malaysia. It’s my first time planning a holiday trip to Europe next year (May) and your website has been an invaluable resource. 3 of us will be travelling between the age group of 27-34. I hope you can guide and suggest me in our planning for 21 days trip to Italy, France & Spain. Our base for now would be Rome(round trip)

The rough idea is:

* Rome – Florence + Pisa – Cinque Terre (Monterosso only) – Venice – Milan (Lake Como) – (Nice & Cannes / Paris) – Barcelona

Need your advice, do you think this is doable? Are there any places that you consider are not worth the visit? Maybe other places you can recommend to fill in the gaps. Regarding transportation, what would you recommend? (I know I would have to decide between trains with pass, trains point to point or airlines). I plan on travelling as cheap as possible, with hostels/apt(b&b) in mind. I hope to add one more city in Spain (if possible).

Hoping to hear from you. Thank you so much!!!!!!

 

    Devaana,

    It’s always great to hear that this information is helpful to people planning trips. I am also quite a fan of Malaysia so I know how different all of this will be for you.

    I think your plan so far looks quite good and would be very doable. Most of your planned stops are great. The only one that is a bit unusual is Milan and Lake Como because Milan itself isn’t really a top tourist city for Italy (it’s more of a business/banking city), but Lake Como is lovely and many people go there as a day trip from Milan or even an overnight stay. Otherwise your plan is all highlights and no filler.

    You should have time to include Madrid after Barcelona at the end, and I’d schedule 3 nights in each one if you can. Madrid and Barcelona are both large, important, and quite different from each other. You should also be able to get a cheap flight back to Rome from Madrid to board your flight home. With the addition of Madrid, I think you’ll have a nearly perfect 3-week trip planned. I wouldn’t add anything else to it, or you’ll start to have to hurry around so much that you won’t enjoy the main places you are flying all that way to see.

    As for getting around, you’ll want to do most of it by train for sure. The trains between Italian cities are fairly inexpensive even if you buy them on travel day, so a rail pass probably wouldn’t be good value. The absolute cheapest way to do this trip would be to buy all of those train tickets online at least two months in advance. Those advanced fares can be very cheap (€19 from Rome to Florence on a high-speed train), and the prices go up as more seats are sold and the travel day approaches. Even the longer rides like Milan to Nice, Nice to Paris, Paris to Barcelona, and Barcelona to Madrid can be fairly cheap if you are able to buy them at least a month or more in advance. Here’s more information on buying advanced train tickets in Europe.

    If you REALLY wanted to just decide on your plan as each new day arises, a rail pass could save you money because those walk-up train fares can be expensive (€150 or more for longer ones). So either you sacrifice spontaneity and save money, or you pay a bit more for a Eurail Pass, which would at least be cheaper than buying as you go.

    Hopefully this helps, and feel free to follow up with more questions if you have them. -Roger

     
ML says:

Hi Roger, my fiancé and I intend to arrange a 20 day to Europe in January. Issue is that the weather may be wet and cold. It seems that the southern Europe (South Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal) may make more sense. Can you suggest an itinerary for us? I am thinking of Rome – Venice – Florence – Barcelona – Madrid – Rome – Greece – Rome (quite confused thoughts). Sincerely appreciate your advise.

 

    ML,

    I think your plan sounds pretty good, although you might get unlucky with rain even in the south. Still, I think Italy and Spain are probably your best bets in January, and they are top-notch destinations any time of the year. But I think I’d save Greece for another trip. Athens is worth 2 or 3 days, though most of the islands are pretty much shut down in winter, and it’s nicer to combine Athens with an island or two to justify going all that way.

    So I’d recommend at least 3 nights in Rome, at least 2 nights in Florence (add another night if you want to do a day-trip to Pisa, and then 1 or 2 nights in Venice. Be aware that Venice is partly flooded during parts of winter, though usually only for a few hours at a time so you can still see the sights and get around. Take trains between the cities in Italy, and then fly from Venice (or nearby Treviso) to Barcelona or Madrid. Those cities in Spain are good for at least 3 nights each, and you can go between them by high-speed train (much cheaper if you book well in advance). You could still have time to add another Spanish city or two, and Seville and Granada could be good choices. Or you could visit Lisbon, which has the best weather in Europe in winter, and perhaps Porto as well. In twenty days I think I’d visit no more than 6 or maybe 7 cities in total. Otherwise, you’ll visit a lot of places but spend nearly half your time on trains or in train stations.

    If you need to fly out of Rome then book a flight back there. There are several low-cost carriers on those routes, and the fares are cheapest the earlier you book. Let me know if you have other questions I might help with. -Roger

     
S.A. says:

Hi Roger,

My husband and I will be going to Europe for the first time this May. I came across your website while researching how to come up with an itinerary and it is been the most helpful resource by far!! It’s refreshing that you acknowledge that while it’s not ideal to jam pack too many destinations in one trip, that some do want to see as much as they can, because they don’t know when they can go back to Europe again (as it is in my case). I am trying to obtain that balance: go to as many destinations as possible, but spending enough time in each place. We are in our mid 30’s, so we can handle a little “craziness”. We have 21 days to travel, do you think this would be a realistic itinerary:

London – Paris – Rome – Florence – Cinque Terre – Venice – Barcelona – Madrid

If not, what would you personally take out? How many days would you recommend in each? Anything you can suggest would be so appreciated!!

 

    S.A.,

    I always enjoy hearing that this information and advice is useful, and I’m also disappointed by so many other writers who chastise trip-planners for wanting to cover a lot.

    Your itinerary would make a very busy 3 weeks, but it could be done and you’d definitely enjoy it a lot. I’ll start with my recommended minimum stays in each city, and you’ll see that you are right at the edge…

    London 3, Paris 3, Rome 3, Florence 2, Cinque Terre 1, Venice 1, Barcelona 3, Madrid 3.

    That adds up to 19 nights, and if you did it you’d be pretty worn out by the end. Also, keep in mind that for most of your journeys you’d spend about 5 hours in the middle of the day for the travel part. The Italian towns are closer together, but the rest would require a train ride or flight that will use most of the sightseeing time for that day. Also, doing it this way you’d definitely want to fly from Paris to Rome and from Venice to Barcelona in order to pull it off at all.

    If I were you I’d consider perhaps skipping the Cinque Terre on this trip, or saving Spain for a future trip altogether. If you did either of these things you’d have time for a trip that brings you to many great places without racing around. And you’d have more time for side-trips or other nearby stops. In my opinion, the Cinque Terre isn’t all that special and would be better appreciated on a future Italy trip where you are digging deeper. Those cities in Spain are both fantastic and worthwhile, so the issue is that they are quite remote from your others and it would be more efficient to substitute in some places that are easier to reach.

    For example if you saved Spain for later you could spend a couple days in Nice, France, to also visit Cannes and Monaco on short day trips. Or you could spend more time in Italy (including Cinque Terre), and perhaps add Sorrento for a few unforgettable days (day-trip to Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Island of Capri).

    So those are some ideas, and I think any of these possibilities, including your original plan, should work well. Have a great trip, and feel free to follow up if you have further questions. -Roger

     
Jora says:

Hi Roger,

I’ve been to Europe in 2011, I’ve been to Frankfurt, Paris, Belgium and Amsterdam. If lucky enough, I’ll be able to go back this March. As much as possible, I would want to cover the other cities as it is a rare chance to be in Europe (too expensive for a Filipino like me).

I would like to visit the following cities: other German cities like Munich or Berlin, Italy and Switzerland. I’m quite puzzled which cities to prioritize and how to cover each city.

Frankfurt should be the jump-off and end point of the travel (I’ll be attending a fair in Frankfurt). Travel dates are from 12th to 21st March (10 days only).

Can you suggest which cities should I prioritize? Would it be wise to book for a Eurail pass to cover the cities I’m interested in?

Would appreciate your kind reply! Thanks!

 

    Jora,

    Ten days is not a long time to cover 3 countries, but I can give you some ideas. First of all, Frankfurt is kind of a dud of a city for tourists, which you probably know, so the other places you go should be far more interesting.

    In Germany, Berlin is probably the most fascinating place, and it’s relatively cheap as well, but it’s quite a long way from the other places on your list. Munich is much closer, and it’s also worth at least two days if you can spare them. And on the article above you’ll see Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which can be enjoyed in one day and is a major highlight for many tourists.

    In Switzerland, there are two great options for visitors. One is Interlaken, which is a town at the base of the Alps. It’s really better to stay in one of the small villages just above Interlaken, specifically Gimmelwald or Murren. This is where you go to see the most amazing views of the Alps with plenty of great walks and things to do. The other possibility is Lucerne, which is a gorgeous town on a lake. There are many things to see and do in that area, and it’s quite beautiful, but if you want to see the Alps then Interlaken is better.

    In Italy you should consider the “Big 3″ which are Venice, Florence, and Rome. You can get a great look at Venice is a stay of only one night. For Florence you’d want at least two nights, and in Rome it would be a shame to spend less than 3 nights. One great thing is that those 3 cities are about 2 hours apart by train, and the trains are cheap if you buy in advance.

    As mentioned up top, it would be tough to see ALL of those in a 10-day trip, but if you moved quickly you could see most of them. Once you do a bit more research you can decide which ones are most appealing to you.

    For transport, and especially since this is a short trip, you should go by rail and buy your tickets online at least a month or more in advance. The tickets will be quite cheap if you buy early, or somewhat expensive if you buy as you go.

     
Beverly Rosas says:

Dear Roger,
I really hope you could help me. My husband and I, with our 3 girls, (21,17 and 13) will be going to London on May 24, arriving at 10 pm., then heading back home from Paris, on June 12. That gives us 18 days to go around. I feel that we could add one more country, and was thinking of Scotland, since the visa to London is quite expensive, so we would like to maximize our visit to UK, and I heard Scotland is a beautiful place to visit! I am overwhelmed planning the itinerary. I would like to spend a weekend in London for their markets, before going to Paris. Is it possible upon arrival in London at 10pm, we take a train to Scotland to spend the first few days there? How many days would you suggest.. and is it best to stay in Edinburgh? In London, kids of course want to see Harry Potter aside from the usual sites. How many days do we stay in London? Then we go to Paris. We plan to do side trips if possible.. like Nice, or Lourdes? I am open to suggestions really. Or do we just spend a whole week in Paris? What kind of train tickets do I get? Is there a multiple pass for this kind of itinerary? I would appreciate your reply as soon as possible so I can look for our place to stay next.

 

    Beverly,

    You’ve got quite a few questions here and I’ll try to answer as many as I can in the order they came up…

    Scotland is definitely a good choice, especially in summer, but it will remind you a lot of England so you won’t be getting too much contrast.

    I don’t believe there are overnight trains between London and Edinburgh, so you’d want to leave for Scotland in the morning.

    I’d say it would be worth at least 4 days in Scotland to make it worthwhile. Edinburgh is gorgeous and interesting so you’ll want a minimum of two nights there. And the second best place would be Inverness, which is the gateway to the Scottish Highlands. Spend at least two nights there, and think about a bus trip during the day taking you to the island of Skye and elsewhere in the Highlands. But my advice is to skip anything having to do with the Loch Ness Monster. The lake itself is a big disappointment, and the Loch Ness museum attractions are terrible.

    In London I’d plan on at least 4 nights. You won’t get bored no matter how long you stay, but London is crowded and expensive so 4 or 5 nights should be plenty. I don’t know much about the Harry Potter sights except for that train platform.

    Paris is similar to London in that it’s huge and fascinating, but after 4 nights it’s probably to go elsewhere to mix things up. Versailles is a popular day trip. For an overnight trip then Nice is great, and Lourdes would be as well. There are dozens of great possibilities so it’s tough to say one is best for you.

    You’ll want to take trains between all of these cities. From London to Paris you’ll have to take the Eurostar train. Within the UK there are many train companies but you can search and book them all in advance from any of the websites, including this one, which is my favorite. Here is an article that talks about buying European train tickets early to save money. In all cases, the earlier you buy the train tickets, the cheaper they will be. There are no good rail passes for what you have in mind, so just buy early. -Roger

     
Kat says:

Hi Roger,

What a blessing to chance upon this website which has very useful insights for those people traveling to Europe.

This will be my first time to travel in Schengen countries. I am from Manila, Philippines. Kindly help to suggest a good itinerary. Will be flying to from Feb23-Mar7 Manila-Paris-Manila.

I will be traveling with my husband and would like to visit Italy too via domestic flight from Paris and vise versa. Can you help us build our itinerary on which places in Italy to visit. Appreciate much if you could also provide website where can we book our airfare ticket as well as train ticket and hotel.

Thank you and looking forward for your reply. Thank you very much.

 

    Kat,

    I appreciate the nice words and I’m happy to try to answer questions that people have about planning a Europe itinerary, but I hesitate to actually start from scratch on the planning part.

    Since you have 12 or 13 days, however, you don’t have too many options to get really creative, so I will provide a basic suggestion.

    Fly into Paris and spend 4 nights there. This is plenty of time to see the main and famous sights, and also spend half a day at the Palace of Versailles.

    Then fly from Paris to Rome (which is still an international flight, by the way).

    Spend 3 or 4 nights in Rome. In 3 days you can see the main sights, and in a 4th day you could even visit Naples and/or Pompeii on a day trip. Then take a train to Florence and spend 3 nights there.

    Florence is in the heart of Tuscany and is one of Europe’s best tourist towns. In three days you even have time for a day trip to nearby Pisa to see the Tower and Cathedral. Then take a train to Venice.

    Spend 2 nights in Venice, which is plenty of time to see everything there. From Venice (or nearby Treviso) you can fly back to Paris for your flight back to Manila.

    That itinerary hits all the best highlights of France and Italy, or at least those that you can see in 13 days. It would even leave an extra day or so to go somewhere else or take more day trips. Without knowing your interests and budget, this is about all I can suggest.

    There are booking tools on this website that will give you the best airfares and prices on hotels. There are even recommended hotels for Paris and Rome if you look in the middle column of those pages, which also provide other useful information.

    For train tickets you’ll want to book in advance with the Italy rail official website. The earlier you book, the cheaper the fares will be.

    This should at least get you started with a plan of your own. Let me know if you have specific questions as you plan. -Roger

     
Shawn says:

Hi Roger! Great great site and very helpful information. I’m so glad I found your site before my trip to Europe. I’m planning a trip with my husband and my in-laws in mid-April to early May. (Total of 14 night and 15 days) THIS WILL BE OUR FIRST TRIP TO EUROPE! We are flying into Paris and out of Rome. Here are my initial itinerary and would love to hear your feedback on this.

1. First go to Paris – 4 nights/ 5days (my flight lands in Paris around 11 AM)
I saw your Paris pass page and modified my detailed trip according to that. I’ll leave my questions on that page. :)

2. Switzerland – 3 nights/4 days
3. Venice – 2 nights
4. Florence – 2 nights
5. Rome – 3 nights

My questions:
1. Do you think this is too much for a first timers? Is there anything that we should modify?

2. I’m planning to use my credit card there with SMART Chip embedded,(since i’m gonna use card with no foreign transaction fee) but I read somewhere that using cash (according to this person, just withdraw cash from ATM when needed) is better. Do you agree with that statement?

3. I’m not planning to rent a car at all, but do you think we should? If so, in which city?

Any suggestion is welcome as I have no idea!

Thanks in advance for your help!

Shawn

 

    Shawn,

    Thanks for the kind words, and I’m sorry you had to type the comment twice. This site, like millions of others, holds comments from new users in moderation until I approve them, to keep spam comments from getting published. Anyhoo…

    1. Your plan looks fantastic, and it looks exactly right for a first-time visitor who wants to see as much as possible in two weeks, without going overboard.

    2. If you have a credit card with a chip AND no foreign transaction fee, then I’d use that for pretty much everything. Generally, the farther north you go in Europe, the more ubiquitous credit card use is, and the farther south you go the more likely you’ll find places that don’t accept them. In other words, in Paris and Switzerland, pretty much every business will take credit cards, except of course for street vendors and such. Once you get to Italy you’ll be able to use credit cards at all hotels, but there will be plenty of restaurants and cafes (in Italy, cafes are called “bars”, weirdly enough) that insist on cash.

    In Switzerland they use the Franc, but in France and Italy they use the Euro, and ATMs are everywhere you’ll go, including at airports. So mostly use credit cards, but obviously you’ll want some cash for smaller purchases.

    3. No, definitely don’t rent a car. Europe purposely makes driving expensive and frustrating with high fuel prices and expensive parking. The trains between the places you’ll go are ideal, and reasonably cheap as well.

    From your other comment, yes, I think a 2-day Paris Pass is a great tool for first-time visitors who are planning on seeing the main sights in a short time. And the included bus tour and Seine River cruise are quite nice ways to get oriented on your first day in Paris.

    In Switzerland, you have two wonderful options, and you can probably hit both of them, although 3 nights is tough. One of them is Interlaken, or more specifically, the villages just above Interlaken in the Alps, called Gimmelwald and/or Murren. This area is among the most beautiful in the world for mountain views and activities. I get this question a lot so I’m soon going to write a long article that explains exactly where to go and what to do. If you check the homepage of Priceoftravel.com in the coming two weeks or so, you’ll see it and it will make planning MUCH easier. The other place to go is Lucerne, which is on a gorgeous lake and has plenty of worthwhile things to see and do as well.

    I’d recommend a train from Paris to Interlaken for two nights in Gimmelwald (you have to take a lift to get there, but it’s cheap and easy), then take a train to Lucerne for one night, and then onto Venice. Actually, Venice is quite compact and pretty easy to see in one day and one night, so you might even consider two nights in Lucerne and one night in Venice.

    Please let me know if you have any other questions along the way. It looks like you have a really thoughtful itinerary already, so well done. -Roger

     
      shawn says:

      Ah.. thank you Roger for your prompt and detailed response. (ah.. i now understand why my post disappeared.)

      I will def. take our suggestion into consideration and modify my itinerary and I can’t wait for your new post on Switzerland!

      My friend just told me that there are a lot to see in Rome so staying 3 nights seems too short. Is there a MUST see place in Rome in three days?

      I didn’t put my bus tour and the cruise on my first day because my flight gets in around 11 AM and by the time I get to my place, which is located near Montmarte, i’ll lose whole day. So thought it will be better to use it on 2nd and the 3rd day.

      Again, thank you Roger for your help! I’ll probably come here very often!

      Shawn

       

        Shawn,

        Personally, I think 3 days and nights is the perfect amount of time for a first visit to Rome. It’s loaded with world-class attractions, but it’s also chaotic and a bit frustrating at times. The most famous attractions all live up to the hype, so as long as you hit those you’ll have a great visit. Specifically we are talking about the Colosseum, Ancient Rome, the Pantheon, the Vatican Museum (including the Sistine Chapel) and St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Trevi Fountain. Just those are about two days, so you still have a day to wander around and enjoy all the rest.

        Yes, for the Paris Pass and bus tour and cruise, I recommend starting it on your first full day rather than the day you arrive. You’ve got the right idea. -Roger

         
Sumit says:

Hi Roger, my wife & I are planning a 2 week vacation in Italy in May. This will be our first trip to Europe. We are planning to include either Nice & Cannes or Barcelona & Madrid in our itinerary along with Italy. We liked your itinerary and are planning to do something like ; Fly into Rome from Bangalore and fly out depending on whether we should do Spain or Nice area in France. We are interested in seeing the cities and the countryside of Italy. Please do recommend if you think we should combine 2 countries or just do 1 in our first trip. Thanks for your help & the great blog !

 

    Sumit,

    I’m a bit confused by the question, but I’ll try to answer anyway. Two weeks is long enough to enjoy much of Italy and still see something else, and the Nice-Cannes-Monaco area is faster and easier to reach from Italy. My recommendation would be to save Spain for another trip because you’d really need 3 days in Madrid and 3 days in Barcelona in order to appreciate them without rushing. Adding 3 days or so in Nice would be easier and you can easily get there by train.

    By the way, I’m going to update the article above soon, but for now I’ll also recommend Sorrento as another recommended stop in Italy. It’s a wonderful town where most people speak English, and it’s perfect for day trips to Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, and the island of Capri. So from Rome you could pop down to Sorrento for 3 days or so and you’d be able to see a lot in a short time. Have a great trip. -Roger

     
Steve says:

Roger, this is a great site. My wife and I are planning a 15 day trip to Italy in mid September. We fly into Milan and out of Rome. I am trying to decide if a trip to the South of France would make sense? We have never been to Italy or France so we are deciding between the South of France at the beginning of the trip or Naples at the end before Rome.

Milan – 2 nights
Venice – 2 nights
Cinque Terre – 2 nights
Florence – 2 nights
Naples – 2 nights
Rome – 4 nights

Milan – 1 night
S of France – 3 nights
Venice – 2 nights
Cinque Terre – 2 nights
Florence – 2 nights
Rome – 4 nights

Any suggestions or modifications you would recommend. We are very open to input and just starting the planning. If the S of France where do you recommend?

Thanks,

Steve

 

    Steve,

    Thanks. If you were to visit the south of France, the obvious choice is to base yourself in Nice, which is described a bit in the article above. For one thing, it has by far the most accommodation choices in the area, and it’s also very close to both Cannes and Monaco, both of which are worthwhile day trips (you can actually visit both in the same day).

    My main thought on this is that if you think you’ll do a proper visit to France on an upcoming trip (within the next few years), then probably save the south of France for that trip. But if you think that this will be your only visit to the area for the foreseeable future, then it’s probably worth going to Nice on this trip. Nice actually used to be part of Italy so the architecture and such will be pretty similar, but otherwise the food and culture are quite different and experiencing France should be eye-opening.

    By the way, I’m going to add this to the article above very soon (maybe by the time you read this reply), but instead of Naples you’ll probably want to stay in Sorrento, which is a bit to the south. Sorrento is about an hour south of Naples by train, and it’s a wonderful town that is safe and friendly. Naples is interesting but it’s also gritty and a bit stressful, so doing it as a day trip from Sorrento is highly recommended. Sorrento is also the gateway to the Amalfi Coast, and it’s close to Pompeii for a day trip. There’s also the island of Capri with its Blue Grotto, not to mention that Sorrento is a really lovely place where most people speak English. One problem with going to Sorrento is that you’ll want to spend 4 nights there just to see all the great things nearby, and you probably won’t have time for that.

    Also, if you do your Italy itinerary, you might want to land in Milan and then take a train straight from the airport to Venice. After that you can come back to Milan for two nights and then take the train to Cinque Terre with less backtracking. Once you’ve seen the main cathedral and the square around it, Milan is the least interesting city on your list, so you might even just do one night there or skip it. If you want to see the Last Supper you’ll have to make reservations in advance, and that can be worthwhile.

    Have a great trip and let me know if you have other questions I can help with. -Roger

     
Neeti says:

Hi, this article is very informative. My husband and I are planning a trip to Europe in the second half of June 2015. We are both first time visitors. We plan to fly into Amsterdam/Belgium and fly out of Italy. Here is a rough plan:

Amsterdam : Two nights

Belgium: Bruges – Two nights

Frace: Paris – four nights (Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, a day trip to Burgundy for the vineyards) and Nice – Two nights

Switzerland – Geneva – One night, Interlaken – Two nights and Lucerne – Two nights

Italy: Venice- Two nights, Florence – Two nights, Rome – Two nights

We plan to travel by train internally and will be flying out from India. We are not totally into history and art but do not mind visiting a few museums. What interests us is scenic beauty and nightlife. Please let me know if this plan sounds do-able. Thanks!

 

    Neeti,

    Your plan looks really good and I only have a couple of small suggestions for you.

    For one thing, Paris and Rome are both huge compared to all of the other cities on your list, and I recommend a minimum of 3 nights in each if possible. With the other cities on your list you can cover most of the top sights on a 2-night visit, but in Paris and Rome you’d have to cut out some things and rush around in two nights. On the other hand, Venice is small enough (and quite expensive) that you can see most everything that you’d want in a visit of around 24 hours. Also, Venice is unbelievably crowded (it might remind you of cities in India) during the middle of every day with people on bus tours coming in for the day, so it’s best to focus some of your time in the morning and evening, when it’s mostly empty.

    In Switzerland I’d highly recommend 2 nights in Interlaken (actually in Gimmelwald or Murren, just above Interlaken) and 2 nights in Lucerne. Geneva has a famous name but it’s actually a dud for tourists with every little to see. If you have something specific to see or do in Geneva, then go, but if you just want to see the best of Switzerland then focus on Interlaken and Lucerne. If you want to see a city in Switzerland then Bern is probably the best choice.

    Aside from those possible changes, I think your plan looks very solid and is doable. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

     
Ramy says:

Hi Rogers! I am currently planning my trip for June-July 2015 My boyfriend and I will be going to Italy for about 30 days (28 nights) We are in our 20s (under 26) ready to explore italy. After reading a lot of articles I am now convinced that adding Nice,Monaco,Cannes into this trip will be more than possible since we will be in Europe for 4 weeks. We will be flying in and out from Rome. We were thinking of going straight to Naples as a base to all the surroundings (Almalfi, Capri etc..) Would you really recommend staying in Sorrento instead? ( I assume you do ) WE would then go south to Sicily more specifically Trapani for another 4 nights( I dont want to skip Sicilly at all) What would be your suggestion to get there from Naples?? if thats even possible I was told it is.
After that, we would have 17 – 18 days remaining. We would definitely need to spend at leaf 3 or 4 nights in Rome but at the end of our trip since we want to already be in Rome for our flight back home. So for the days in between we would want to add Florence, Nices, Monaco, Cannes. Is it only possible to get there from Milano or Venice? What about from Rome? ( I would try to get a flight or train from Sicily to Rome and then round trip Nice Rome? Or Nice Florence? What would be the best suggestion? (ps : Originally Calabria was in our plan but i figured out it would be better to chose between Nice and Calabria, what do you think?

Also, for trains, im a bit confused wether its better to buy tickets one or two months before or to buy them as we go day by day (Ive been told its better to buy them on the spot since they’re not more or less expensive)

Additional information is welcome
Thank you it is really appreciated and By the way your website is amazing!

 

    Ramy,

    Thank you for the kind words. I’ll try to answer your questions in the order they come up.

    Yes, I’d definitely recommend Sorrento as a base to explore everywhere from Naples to the Amalfi Coast. Naples is fascinating, of course, but it’s also somewhat dysfunctional and not terribly pleasant. For example, there are almost no green areas or open areas in the city center, so it really feels like a concrete jungle. And it’s considered to be generally safe for tourists, especially during the day, but EVERYONE warns you to watch out for pickpockets and that sort of thing. When I was there for a day recently I kept one hand on my iPhone and another on my small camera the whole time, which gets a bit exhausting. Tourists really stand out as tourists there. Sorrento, on the other hand, is small, tourist friendly, totally safe, and actually closer to Pompeii, Amalfi, and Capri. You would be fine staying a night or two in Naples while you were exploring Naples, but once you are done with that, I’d go to Sorrento.

    From the Naples area to Sicily most people take the train. The trains in southern Italy run quite slow and it takes some time to load the carriages onto the ferry for that portion, but at least they are fairly cheap. It will take most of a day to get down there though, so factor that in. The cities from Naples to the north are all connected by short high-speed train rides.

    I’ve yet to make it to Calabria or Sicily myself so I can’t really judge, but I can say that Nice is really wonderful for visitors.

    To visit Monaco and Cannes, you’ll definitely want to stay in Nice. Monaco and Cannes are each only about 20 minutes away by train (in opposite directions) so if you stay near the Nice train station, you can easily visit all of these places in the same day. You can take trains to Nice from Milan or Genoa, and trains in Italy tend to be cheaper than flights, although it’s worth checking both. From wherever you are in Italy, you can take a train to Nice, though you will probably have to switch in Milan.

    The long-distance and high-speed trains in Italy are all cheaper the earlier you buy, and they can be really cheap compared to anywhere else in Europe, like €19 from Florence to Rome compared to €49 if you buy on travel day. However, the local trains, such as the ones that stop in the Cinque Terre cities, have fixed (and cheap) prices. In other words, buy your long train tickets as far in advance as possible, but don’t buy the short rides into the suburbs until you get there.

    Hopefully that helps, and feel free to follow up if you have other questions I might answer. -Roger

     
MJ says:

I am so impressed with the wealth of information on this page. My husband and I are traveling to Europe for the first time this October. We have 13 days to site see (with an additional 2 days) of travel time and being around and 30 and active we can travel at a fairly fast pace. Originally, we planned to spend all our time in Italy, a lifelong dream of mine. But, my husband and I compromised and realizing we may never make it back to Europe we are trying to figure out if we can squeeze Paris and Versailles into the mix. Can you give me your opinion on our itinerary?
Leave the U.S. Saturday.
Days 1-3: arrive in Naples on Sunday around noon (day 1), transfer to sorento. Stay 3 nights to allow for day trips along Amalfi coast, Pompeii, and Capri.
Wednesday/day 4- Friday day 6: transfer via train to Rome. Spend 3 nights. Should we have stayed an extra night in Sorrento to allow for jet lag recovery?
Saturday/day 7-Monday day 9: We are choosing to skip Florence and going straight to Venice for 2 nights (I missed an opportunity to study abroad here while in college so I want to give Venice a little extra time).
Either Monday night or Tuesday we fly to Paris for the remainder of our trip. We plan to do a day trip to Versailles.
We fly back to the U.S. on Saturday.
What do you think of this itinerary for our first trip to Europe? I hope I’m allocating enough time to the various cities. We are ok with missing Florence to allow extra time in Venice and Paris. Your expertise and insight is very appreciated!

 

    MJ,

    That’s very nice of you to say and I’ll be happy to try to help you plan.

    Your itinerary looks excellent and very well thought out. As for possible jet lag, it’s a personal thing. I’ve done dozens of flights from the US to Europe, and even though I can barely sleep on a plane, I’m always so excited when I touch down that I find it pretty easy to push through most of that first day. When I wake up on my first real morning there, I tend to be nearly adjusted already. I struggle much more with jet lag after returning home, although not everyone does. I think if you are willing to push yourself a bit and avoid sleeping more than 30 minutes once you check into your hotel, you’ll probably be fine and still able to do a bit of sightseeing on the day you land.

    It sounds like you’ve researched Florence quite a bit before deciding to skip it, and I think your decision makes sense. The “big 3″ of Italy are Rome, Venice, and Florence, but Florence is definitely the least dramatic of those three, and Paris is spectacular so I think it’s a good trade. Three nights in Paris is good, but four nights is better, especially if you are doing the Versailles side trip in there.

    Honestly, there is nothing about your plan that I would change, and I am sure you’ll have an excellent time. Bon voyage, and feel free to ask more questions if you have them. -Roger

     
Julia says:

Timely post as, despite having visited almost all of the places mentioned, we will have in-laws coming to stay with us this year who have never been to Europe before. I’m glad to see Amalfi and Sorrento on your “to do” list, as these are two regions I’ve yet to explore and am beginning to tire of the overly-crowded Big Three.

 
jocelyn says:

Hoping you can help me. We are planning on spending 3 weeks travelling in Mid May. The places we would like to cover are – Tuscany, Switzerland, Germany and Paris. Can you suggest on how many days we should stay at each place and any suggested names of towns to stay at.We will have to start our trip from Rome and catch a train to florence and would then like to continue on to tuscany and then from there we are open to suggestions to cover the other places I have mentioned.Thanks

 

    Jocelyn,

    Landing in Rome with 3 weeks to spend, you obviously have many choices. Here’s my article about where to go in Germany in 1 to 3 weeks, which should help. Here’s one way to do it that would be enjoyable and efficient:

    Rome for 3 or 4 nights then take a train to Florence.

    Florence for 3 or 4 nights. Florence is in the heart of Tuscany and you can do day trips to visit some nearby hill towns for a classic Tuscany experience. Pisa and Siena are each about an hour away by train, so if you base yourself in Florence you’ll have many choices for day trips.

    Take a train to Venice and stay 1 or 2 nights. Venice will be crowded but it’s an unforgettable place that will be a highlight of your trip.

    Take a train from Venice to Munich, or you could take a train from Venice to Salzburg and stop there for 2 days on your way to Munich.

    See the article mentioned above to choose a few stops in Germany, with Munich being your launching point. You can easily spend a day in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and also Neuschwanstein Castle. After about 4 or 5 days in Germany, take a train to Lucerne, Switzerland.

    Spend 2 days in Lucerne and then take a short train ride to Interlaken and then another short train and then a cable car up to either the village of Gimmelwald or Murren and spend 2 days there. Interlaken is the place to get the most amazing mountain views in all of Europe.

    After Interlaken, take a train to Paris and stay there at least 3 nights. If you do an itinerary that is something along these lines, you’ll be hitting nearly all the highlights of these areas. Let me know if you have other questions. -Roger

     
      jocelyn says:

      Thank you so much for your help. Is it worthwhile catching the Bernina Express Train from Milan to Zurich as I have heard the scenery is fantastic? Also what if we want to include London at the end of the trip. We have travelled overseas before and have seen a lot of Rome and Florence, Pisa and Venice but as we are meeting up with our daughter who is in florence at the moment we were then hoping to visit Tuscany as on our last trip we didnt get to see a lot due to time limits so would love to see other popular signts in that area, then go from there to visit Switzerland, Germany and Paris as we have never been there before however now my husband has suggested to end in London and then travel home to Australia. What are your thoughts and any suggestions as per the Bernina Express train idea?

       
Susan says:

Hi Roger

Chanced upon your website and the information has been so informative and helpful. Thank you. I have never done this before so I hope I am responding in the right format/way.

My daughter is travelling to Europe for 3 months and we are going to travel Italy together for 20 days, Aug 21 to 10 Sept. Im so excited as a visit to Italy has been on my dream list for a long time and the pleasure of experiencing it with my daughter is priceless.

After reading all the comments/feedback I am beginning to feel overwhelmed as to where to go and not go. This is my plan at this stage.

Flying into and out of Milan (flights are booked) as it works in with my daughter’s plans.

lake como, Turin, Genoa, cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Siena, Perugia Rome, Sorrento …….Venice Milan.

I night Venice but not sure where to put that in. We could go from Sorrento across to the east coast and up to Venice and back into Milan.

I read that Milan is worth missing so might head straight to Lake Como on arrival and spend last night in Milan before flying out next day to Melbourne.

Days in each place are not sent in stone as we don’t want to feel pressured to be a certain place on a certain day. Thinking Florence will be 3/4 night and Rome 3 night and Sorrento 3 nights. At that time of year should we be trying to book accomm in advance.

From Sorrento we are not sure where to go and are we trying to do/see too much in 20 days.

If you had 20 days in Italy as a first timer and was not set on seeing every tourist attraction what would your itinerary look like ?

We will be travelling by train/bus (booked in advance as far as is possible when you want a little flexability)

Thank you for your advice and help.

 

    Susan,

    Yes, the format of your question is perfect. I’ll answer the questions in the order they appear…

    Milan is okay to skip on a shorter trip, but I think it’s worth at least one night on yours. But you can probably skip Turin and Genoa and spend a bit more time everywhere else. Those two towns might be the 8th and 9th most interesting in Italy, so they are probably better for a future trip.

    Land in Milan and hop on the train to Lake Como. Stay in Varenna or Bellagio for two or three nights. They are both very small and you can see the interesting parts of the mid-lake area in one day by taking the ferries. Then take the train back to Milan and hop on a train from there to Cinque Terre. Vernazza is the classic town in Cinque Terre, but if you want to spend time on the beach then you could base yourself in one of the others. Stay 2 or 3 nights.

    Take the train from Cinque Terre to Florence. If you pack light you can hop off the train for a couple hours in Pisa on your way to Florence. Otherwise, just base yourself in Florence for 4 or 5 days and see Pisa and Siena as day trips (they are only about an hour away by train). You can also visit one or more of the famous Tuscan hill towns from Florence in part of a day.

    From Florence take the train to Rome and spend 3 nights there. Rome is huge and packed with important sights, but it’s also expensive and kind of frustrating (crossing streets takes daring and concentration, for example). So you can appreciate the main sights in 3 nights or maybe 4, but I wouldn’t stay longer.

    From Rome you will take the train down to Naples and then change to the Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento. As mentioned in the article above, you can spend up to 4 wonderful days in Sorrento and do something very different every day. You’ll want to spend part of a day in Naples, part of a day seeing the Pompeii ruins, at least part of a day doing the bus and/or ferry along the Amalfi Coast, and possibly part of a day on the Isle of Capri just a short ferry ride away. You can spend your evenings in charming Sorrento.

    After 3 to 5 nights, take an early train back to Naples and then the high-speed train to Venice for 1 or maybe 2 nights. Venice is amazing but it’s also small and very crowded so staying about 24 hours is enough.

    From Venice you’ll take the train back to Milan, and stay your last night there. The Milan cathedral and the area around it are really worth at least half a day, but the rest of Milan will feel a bit generic compared to the other places you’ve been. This itinerary gives you some flexibility and plenty of contrasts. In 20 days I think you’ll have enough time to take it slowly so you don’t feel like you are racing around.

    Have a great trip and feel free to follow up if you have other questions I might help with. -Roger

     
      Susan says:

      Thanks so much Roger for the prompt and detailed response.

      We are looking at staying with air bnb in Trastevere Rome. It looks really interesting.What are your thoughts and is it a good base camp location,I think it will only take about 10 mins of walking to get into the Center of town.

      Do you have suggestions of areas in Florence to base ourselves.

      Thanks

      Susan

       

        Susan,

        I don’t believe that I’ve spent any time in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome. On the map it looks a bit remote, and perhaps more than 10 minutes away from the tourist centers on the other side of the river. On the other hand, a hotel within walking distance of Ancient Rome and that area would be small and very expensive. You usually get what you pay for, and in your case you’d probably be getting a nice apartment that isn’t close to any main attractions, at a good price. If you prefer an apartment to a hotel, then it’s probably a good deal.

        As for Florence, all of the main sights are within a fairly short walk of the main cathedral, which is basically the center of the city. As long as you are a decent walking distance from the cathedral, you’ll be in a convenient area. I don’t think I’d want to stay out in a residential suburb that I had to take a bus to get into town. Have a great trip. -Roger

         
Ash says:

Hi Roger,

My husband and I are looking for a cheap and cheerful trip to Italy over easter – we have 10-12 nights to spare, flying from London. Current thought is Rome, 4 nights ; Florence – 2 nights including pisa and then to sicily.. any other places / things to see you would put on the must do list? want to end it in a relaxed beach ideally. Also best modes of transport and starting points?
Thanks
Ash

 

    Ash,

    I’ve yet to visit Sicily and it gets mixed reviews. I think if you’ve visited the other main destinations in Italy then exploring Sicily would probably be fulfilling, but I don’t think I’d recommend it for someone who is fairly new to Italy. Also, in early April it really won’t be sunbathing weather anywhere in Italy, although you’ll obviously have your best chance at that way down south. If being as warm as possible is important, then Sicily is probably wise, or considering somewhere else like the Canaries.

    Assuming you have locked in on Italy, then the two main “beach” options that are fairly easy for non-Italian speakers are the Cinque Terre and the Sorrento/Amalfi Coast area. My understanding is that there are other beach areas where it’s almost all Italian people, although again, no sunbathing weather in early April.

    The Cinque Terre and Sorrento/Amalfi area are both lovely and relaxed, especially outside of the sunbathing season. There’s WAY more to do in Sorrento, with Naples, Pompeii, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast itself all short day trips away. The Cinque Terre feels more like a time capsule of how Italy was 50 years ago, but there isn’t much to do there aside from hiking town to town. All of this is covered in a bit more depth in the article above.

    You’ll definitely want to get around by train. Italy heavily subsidizes train fares, so they are quite cheap, even as travel day approaches. They are very cheap if you book more than a month in advance, but if you want some flexibility that savings might not be worth it.

    By the way, one of the challenges with Sicily is that the trains south of Naples are very slow, so it takes most of a day to get down to Sicily, including the train carriages going onto the ferry. Flying is obviously faster, but more expensive, and its own kind of hassle.

    Hopefully this helps at least a bit. Have a great trip. -Roger

     
Erica says:

Hi Roger ,

My husband and i are going for our honeymoon this coming june , thanks you for your itinerary , it really helps me a lot on my planning… just wonder does it smooth enough ? We have total of 18 nights… we will reach the rome airport then transfer to the santorini and when we back we starts from the rome.

Santorini – 4nights
Rome -3nights
Pisa & Florence – 2nights
Venice – 1night
Milan – 1night
Switzerland – 4nights
France – 3 nights

if i would like to take away milan from my list which city are recommended?

Thanks
Erica

 

    Erica,

    I think your plan looks pretty much perfect. The only tricky part, as you mentioned, would be doing back-to-back 1-night visits to Venice and Milan. Changing hotels and cities every day can start to make it feel like a job, so I think I would recommend saving Milan for a future trip.

    The two best places to add in that extra day would be in Florence or Paris. When visiting Tuscany you’ll want to stay in Florence and you can visit the Leaning Tower in Pisa on a day trip in only a few hours. If you stay fairly close to the train station in Florence, it will be easier, and you can take a train directly to the stop closer to the Field of Miracles (where the tower and cathedral are located), which will also save you time. Having 3 nights in Florence will mean that you’ll have enough time to see the major sights there AND half a day for Pisa.

    As mentioned, the other good option would be to add another day in Paris. It’s an amazing city with endless things to see and do, and unlike Rome, it’s actually pleasant for a longer stay. In Rome, by the way, 3 nights is perfect because it’s a pretty intense place and it can wear on visitors after a day or two. Have a great trip. -Roger

     
      Erica says:

      Thank you so much for the detailed response… If i would like to add one more day on paris which part of paris is a must in my list ? Or is it possible to add on germany to my trip ? as i discover there’s train from geramny to switzerland and i cant find any from milan to switzerland…

      For ur suggestion is it the best to get a eurail pass or buy the train pass individually ? Which train is more recommended ?

      Thank you for your help Roger.

       
Moh says:

Hi Roger
My wife and I want to visit France, Italy and Switzerland over about 12 days in late September. This will be our first such trip. Would you advise us to take an organized trip with a travel company (which I am guessing would involve lot of bus travel) or would it be better to organise our own itenary which could include a mixture of train, bus and air travel. The main places we like to visit are Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice. Nice and Lucerne are optional.
Thank you
Moh

 

    Moh,

    I will highly recommend doing this trip independently rather than with a tour. Not only is it generally cheaper to plan it and do it yourself, but you’ll also obviously be able to do everything on your own schedule. Those bus trips are good for some people, but they also mean spending the entire trip with 45 other people and always moving as slowly as the slowest person who is always late getting back to the bus.

    In 12 days I’d recommend visiting 4 or 5 cities at the most, and taking trains between them all. If you can fly into one city (like Paris) and back out of another city (like Rome), it would be best. But it might be cheaper to fly in and out of the same city and then book a cheap flight from your last stop back to the departure airport.

    Not only are all of the cities on your list very tourist friendly, they are also filled with tourism employees who speak fine English. It never hurts to learn how to say hello and thank you in the language of the country you are visiting, but really it’s easy to do it only speaking English the whole time, even in Paris. All of the transportation signs and most menus that you encounter will also have English translations included, so it should all be quite easy.

    One way to do it would be to fly into Paris and spend 3 or 4 nights, then take the train to Nice for 2 nights. Then take a train to Venice for 1 night (you’d want to leave early and get to Venice as early as possible). Then to Florence for 2 nights and finally Rome for 3 nights. That would be a fast trip, which might be too fast for some people. If you want to slow down a bit you could spend 4 nights in Paris and then fly to Venice (or nearby Treviso), and then to Florence and Rome.

    Let me know if you have more questions and I’ll be happy to try to help. -Roger

     
      Moh says:

      Dear Roger

      Thank you very much for your reply. As you have suggested we will do this trip independently. Based on your comments am thinking of the following:

      Eurostar or fly to Paris from London
      3 nights in Paris,
      Fly to Venice, 2 nights
      Train to Florence, 2 nights
      Train to Rome , 3 nights
      Fly back to Paris or London.

      Since I have a couple of more spare days where should I spend that time? Sorrento?

      I am guessing that with this schedule I wouldn’t get to see much of the country side.

      Your suggestions are very much appreciated.

      Thank you

      Moh

       

        Moh,

        You’ll be seeing quite a bit of the Italian countryside on the trains from Venice to Florence and to Rome. But if you spent 2 or 3 days in Sorrento you’d also be able to see a bit of the Amalfi Coast as well as Pompeii and Naples. Another option between Florence and Rome would be to go to Cinque Terre for a couple days. Those 5 towns are all small and very scenic, so it would show you a different side of Italy. Either one of those would be great choices, and I can help you sort out the details when you’ve made a decision. -Roger

         
Amardeep says:

As all the other comments have indicated-thank you! The information provided above has been helpful in planning my upcoming trip.

Would love to get your feedback on the below please:

– 25-28 June (4 days) in Rome
– 29-1 July (3 days) Amalfi Coast
– 2-4 July (3 days) Florence including day trip to Sienna)
– 5-6 July (2 days) Cinue Terra
– 7 July head to Venice
– 8-9 July (2 days) Venice
– 10-14 (5 days) Paris

This is my first trip to Europe and the above also includes travel time in the allocated days in each city. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated :)

 

    Amardeep,

    It’s always nice to hear that this advice is helpful, so thanks for taking the time to mention it.

    Your itinerary looks fantastic and I don’t think I’d change anything. I do have a few comments though.

    To visit the Amalfi Coast you could go directly to Positano or Amalfi, but I highly recommend staying in nearby Sorrento instead. From there you can jump on the public bus, which plies that scenic route every hour or less, and hop off in each of those towns as you go. Sorrento is also a bit more affordable and there are far more things to see and do there, including visiting nearby Pompeii or Naples or Capri.

    Florence has plenty to see itself, and Pisa is another worthwhile short day trip in addition to Siena. The only blockbuster sight in Siena is the dramatic town square, and the Leaning Tower might actually be more memorable. Otherwise, Siena is nicer than Pisa, so either one will be good.

    Venice to Paris is about 11 hours by train, and even though it’s quite scenic, that is a LONG time to spend on trains. You might find that flying from Venice (or nearby Treviso) to Paris is a good option since it might even be cheaper and it’ll obviously be much faster.

    Aside from those little points, I think this trip will work wonderfully just as you’ve planned it. Bon voyage and feel free to follow up if you have other questions. -Roger

     
      Amardeep says:

      Thanks Roger

      Not yet decided whether Amalfi Coast will be visited via hire car or public transport. I definitely want to visit Pompeii so will keep in mind your Sorrento tip.(plan to get the train from Naples to Florence)

      Yes, plan to fly to Paris from Venice. May spend the first night in the region in Verona so I can watch an opera at the amphitheatre there (not too interested in spending more than an evening in Verona) and then head to Venice first thing the next morning to spend 2 whole days and 2 nights there.

      Just two other quick questions please- wondering if I am rushing Florence and Amalfi Coast and whether I would be better off cutting a day in Paris and adding it to either of those cities instead? I am sure this will definitely not be my only trip to France!

      Also, what route would you recommend traveling from cinque Terra to Venice/Verona? I understand it will be a 6-7 hr journey and the optios are to go via Milan or Bologna. I am leaning towards Bologna so I can stop and wander around for an hour or so on the way and maybe have lunch there.

      Many, many thanks! Appreciate your time and effort greatly :)

       
Anne says:

My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy and France for our 50th anniversary in 2016 probably May. We plan to spend a month, use trains between larger cities and car to drive locally. We’ve been to Tuscany and Rome but want to go to Venice Florence again and then down to Amalfi coast. In france (which I’ve never been to) we want to see Paris and area and then spend at least a week in Provence. Will renting a home or apartment for a week and then traveling around be feasible. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

 

    Anne,

    If the question is, is renting a home or apartment in Provence for a week or so, and driving a rented car around to see the sights a good idea, I think it definitely is. I don’t personally have experience with this sort of visit, but most travel pros seem to think this is the ideal way to see more rural parts of France as well as Italy.

    Generally speaking, I don’t recommend renting cars to go between European cities because parking is almost always a big issue. But for basing yourself in a spread-out area like Provence, I think it’s ideal. And there are loads of international websites that offer these sorts of rentals, including homeaway.com and airbnb.com, but some say that you can often get a better deal in person just by going there and asking around once you arrive. Have a great trip. -Roger

     
      Anne says:

      Thanks Roger for your help. We’ve driven ourselves in other countries but have never rented a home there before. In Italy we’ve stayed in agritourismos and we may do that in Italy again. I’m finding your site really good. It offers a lot of good information.

       

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