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

The 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.

How many cities to visit?

This 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.

>>>Going just to Italy: Here are the best first-time Italy itineraries for 3 days to two weeks

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

Flying 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)

Obviously 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 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 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)

Certainly 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)

With 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)

If 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)

If 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)

Again, 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.

Naples 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

To 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

Not 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

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  1. Rhonda says:

    Thank you so much for your response! I was starting to think we should skip Venice but now I really want to make sure to include it. Thanks for your other insights and suggestions too.

  2. Rhonda says:

    I am so happy to have found your website! We are planning our first trip to Europe (approx 3 weeks starting around Apr 24) and it’s a bit overwhelming. We want to see and do as much as possible, but really need some good advice. I’ve been doing some research and so many people say to only choose 2 or 3 destinations in that amount of time, but since I’ve read your comments, it seems like we just might be able to work it out with your help.
    Ten days of this trip can’t be changed as we will be travelling with 4 other people (all of us active 50-somethings) for that portion of the trip. 3 days in Paris, 2 days in Nice and 5 in Rome. My husband and I have some time off before we meet in Paris so we thought we would spend 3 days in Barcelona first. We are going to do a day trip to Florence during our time in Rome as well. I realize that’s a big rushed but we’d rather do it that way than miss it.
    The part I really need help with is what to do after Rome. We will have about a week or so. Our tentative plan was to then take the train to Venice and spend 2 nights and then fly to Santorini for 3 days. My husband really wants to go there and we also thought it might be a nice relaxing way to end our vacation. So the trip looks like this:
    Apr 25-27 – Barcelona
    Apr 28-30 – Paris
    May 1-2 – Nice
    May 3-7 – Rome
    May 8-10 – Venice
    May 11-13 – Santorini

    Santorini only works if I can find good flights out of Venice, but now I see that the best flights are out of Rome. This is where I need some help and expertise. I’ve also heard Orvieto is a nice place to visit. Just not sure how that would fit in though. After May 8, nothing is carved in stone so I’m open to any suggestions.

    Thanks so much

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Rhonda,

      I’m glad you found this website too. I get frustrated when other travel writers (who have spent years on the road) tell people they should spend a week or more in each destination. On a first trip to Europe you definitely want to see quite a few different places because it’s not like you can keep flying back and forth twice each year to see all the places on your list. As you might have seen, I highly recommend 3 nights in almost any place you go, which I think is the sweet spot between traveling quickly and staying long enough to see the highlights.

      One thing that may surprise you is that the Greek Islands including Santorini are typically pretty dead until late May or early June because they don’t really get “beach weather” until then. In fact, the islands are mostly closed from November through early April, and then the season starts slowly. So if you went to Santorini you’d be able to see the historic sights and the weather would be pleasant, but it might not be the scene you were hoping for at that time of year. And I also assumed you’d have to change planes from Venice to Santorini as well.

      I haven’t been to Orvieto, though I have heard that it’s nice, although I don’t think it has enough to see for more than a couple days. Something you could consider would be to go from Rome to Sorrento, which is a lovely town a bit south of Naples and an excellent hub for stays like that. It’s really nice on its own (and a great place to sample Limoncello), as it’s a small and pleasant city with great restaurants that is also unusual in that many locals speak some English. It’s an ideal base for day trips to Naples (great city but best as a day trip), Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, and the Isle of Capri, all of which are close by. The beaches there will be quiet in early May as well, but the weather should be nice and everything will be open.

      Venice is really amazing though and definitely something to see at least once in your life for a day or so, and two days is even better. Another option would be to visit Venice and then take a train to Milan and then catch a train through the Alps into Switzerland where you’ll want to head to the Interlaken area. There you’ll find Europe’s (and some of the world’s) best mountain scenery, and the train ride getting there is also gorgeous. As always, let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  3. Chris P says:

    Thanks for your comments once again Roger. Most helpful. I need to sit down and have a good think about whether we stick with the car for the Italy leg, but if we do I think I can really see us skipping Florence and doing Siena, plus finding some smaller towns as you suggest. We did see some amazing churches and cathedrals in 2017 in Belgium and the UK, so I don’t think we’d feel we were missing anything too much if we didn’t head to Florence.

    Thanks for the suggestion of Rick Steves as well. I have heard of him (a number of times) but have never looked at his stuff, so it might be a good time to do that.

    Fortunately I do research things well before booking, so I usually find the options if cars aren’t easy in particular places – but it’s all a matter of having the time to look into it properly. Rick Steves might make that a bit quicker!

  4. Chris P says:

    Hi Roger,
    Thanks for your comments – much appreciated. Hmm, it sounds like we may need to revisit our plans.

    The main town I wanted to see at Cinque Terre is Manarola. Interestingly, I just checked it out on Google Maps and parking there seems a lot better than Vernazza. Yes – it’s just out of the village too, but there are a couple of small car parks along with a lot of parking along the side of the street. So it looks more possible.

    Also, when I was taking a preliminary look at accommodation around Cinque Terre I found a reasonably-price Airbnb outside of the main villages while there was nothing at all in our target price-range in the villages. It may be different if we try for a family room in a hotel though. With that said, I have certainly taken your comments on-board, and it seems we’ll really have to give this some thought.

    In terms of the car – we were aiming for a bit of a round trip back to Switzerland since returning it to Switzerland saves us paying a one-way fee of somewhere between US$500 and US$800 (depending on the hire company we settle on). That is a considerable amount of money so we are definitely looking to do that. I guess the other option would be to head straight from Nice to Lugano to return the car, then take some trains to see the things we’re keen on in Italy.

    Just a few other questions (if I may), which will give me some more to think about:
    – If we still decide to heard to Florence/Siena, what do you think of the idea of skipping Florence and doing just Siena (since you say Siena is basically a smaller version of Florence)?
    – Did you have any thoughts on taking one of the nights from Lugano and staying a night on one of the northern Italian lakes instead?
    – If we don’t make it to Cinque Terre can you recommend any other appealing villages on the northern coast of Italy (perhaps between Nice and Genoa) which we could visit instead?

    Thanks Roger.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Chris,

      Ah yes, being able to avoid a big charge on a rental car by returning it in Switzerland does sound compelling. And the Lugano return could actually work well, as that’s a lovely area itself.

      Florence is very striking, but the main sights are the museums and cathedrals and such, and I totally understand if those sound dull. Siena does look a lot like Florence except it has far fewer visitors so it’s not so overwhelming. And it’s got some historic cathedrals and whatnot as well, so you can still pop in for a quick visit. I think skipping Florence for Siena would be fine.

      I’ve only been through Lugano in transit, and I spend a few days staying in Varenna, which is one of the easier-to-reach towns on Lake Como. Again, parking won’t be easy, but there are enough similar small towns around there that you should be able to find a place with a parking spot, and you can reach all of the other towns easily and cheaply by ferry.

      I don’t know of any good Cinque Terre alternatives around there off hand, although I’m sure there are some. Mainly it’s that 3 or 4 of those 5 “lands” have incredibly photogenic harbors and colorful buildings bunched around them. They really are a sight to see, but the only other main activity is walking the trails between the villages, and those trails are usually crowded when the weather is nice, and sometimes closed after a rain storm. The problem is the towns are now so popular with tourists that it feels like being in Disneyland. Maybe you could spend half a day checking them out and then drive to some random town with better parking and fewer tourists? There is a popular American travel writer named Rick Steves and if you buy his book (or ebook) you’ll have great recommendations for all of the places you are going and probably some good alternatives for drivers. He recommends various hill towns in Italy that are long on charm and not packed with tourists, and I know some of them have decent parking options (because they are small and surrounded by farm land). I hope this helps. If you spend US$20 or even US$30 on Rick Steves Italy I think it’ll be the best money you spend to have the best trip possible. -Roger

  5. Chris P says:

    Hi there Roger. You’ve given me some good assistance previously over on your ‘Where to go in Switzerland’ page, and I’m wondering if I could now ask your opinion on the Italian leg of our journey.
    As a reminder: We’re a family of 4 (kids aged 7 and 10). We’ll be travelling in June/July 2019 (arriving in Suisse on the 14th). We expect to have a hire car for the entire trip. We are *definitely* budget travellers. The first part of our itinerary is 8 nights in Switzerland (Lucerne, Interlaken area, Gruyeres area). From there we head to Annecy in France for 3 nights, spend a couple more nights on the way as we make our way toward Nice and stay there 3 nights also (with a day-trip to Monaco). That stuff is all pretty well sorted. Then comes the Italian bit. The intention was as follows:
    Day 1: Travel to Cinque Terre arriving in the afternoon. Spend the night (Night 1)
    Day 2: Spend half the day @ Cinque Terre, then quick stop to look at the Leaning Tower and on to the Florence/Siena region that night (Night 2) maybe staying somewhere half-way between the 2.
    Days 3 & 4: This gives us 2 full days here – 1 day in Siena and 1 day in Florence and means we’re staying in the same accommodation for 3 nights which keeps it easy.
    Day 5: Travel to Venice (or somewhere nearby on the mainland), arriving in the evening and stay the night (Night 5).
    Day 6: Venice. Stay the night (Night 6).
    Day 7: Depart early to travel to Lugano, Switzerland (hopefully via Monza circuit since I’m a Formula 1 fan – though time may not permit), arriving in the evening (Night 7).
    Days 8 & 9: Lugano and surrounds.
    Day 10: Depart AM for Malpensa airport just back over the border in Italy.
    This gives us 1 night in Cinque Terre, 3 nights Florence/Siena, 2 nights Venice, 3 nights Lugano. By having multiple nights in most places it generally makes accommodation easier to book as not all hosts allow single-night stays (we usually use Airbnb) and also means less changing accommodation (changes tend to waste time since you’re looking for a new address, meeting a new host, settling in/packing up, etc).
    So, this brings me to my questions (or more correctly my concerns):
    – This itinerary makes for a fair bit of driving. It is manageable (we have done similar on an overseas trip last year) but driving obviously burns a fair bit of time and is reasonably tiring. Do you think this is a good route (it seems fairly good based on your article up above), or would there be a different route you’d recommend through northern Italy to minimise drive time (though this would likely mean we’d miss Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Siena.
    – I have seen pictures of Cinque Terre and always thought it would be great to go to.
    – I realise there’s nothing phenomenal about the Leaning Tower, but it would be easy to get to on the way to Florence and seems like the ‘done thing’!
    – Florence seems to be basically about art museums and the like. We really have no interest in this sort of stuff, though I’ve heard a lot of people say Florence is wonderful. I enjoy architecture, but have no particular inclination to go in to see any artworks. Do you think Florence is worthwhile for us? We’ll likely never be back in that part of the world, so I’m happy to go there if it’s worth seeing, but we’re not likely to enjoy going into museums, galleries, etc.
    – I’ve read that Siena is quite nice and my daughter’s name is Sienna, so there’s some appeal there.
    – We don’t love huge crowds so Venice isn’t a burning desire either, but from all reports it’s a must-see, and we’ll likely never be back.
    – I have scheduled 2 full days (3 nights) in Lugano for a bit of down-time before we fly home and of course we can take a drive into the mountains from there and it sounds like there’s a fair bit of stuff to see in the area if we wish to.
    So, the big question (as mentioned earlier) is what do you think of this itinerary? Do you see a better way to do things, or a different route that might be preferable? Or to get a taste of northern Italy is this a pretty good way to go about it?
    Specifically (if we stick with this route) I was wondering about staying 1 night on one of the Italian lakes (maybe Garda or Iseo) on the way from Venice to Lugano? This means a one-night stay, which isn’t ideal, but it breaks up the lengthy drive to Lugano. However would also mean 1 day less in Lugano (if that’s where we steal the time from). Do you think that would be preferable (when considering what we might see/do on one of those lakes), or would there be not much difference to Lugano?
    As mentioned I like to see the architecture of a region – the more magnificent, the better! Aside from that we are happy seeing the sights, particularly whatever nature has to offer (though of course we’re seeing plenty of that is France and Switzerland. Driving is a great way to see what different areas are like, though we’d mostly be on motorways in Italy.
    I know my post has been rather wordy, but hopefully it gives adequate background so that you can share your thoughts. Thanks so much for your time.

    Further to my earlier message – another thought I had was to skip the day in Florence (if it’s not a must-see), and use that for a day and night at one of the northern Italian lakes instead. Just a thought…

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Chris P,

      I’ll be happy to try to help, although this is a tough one to answer. The main challenge is the driving part through areas that are designed to be poorly suited to independent car travel. In Switzerland it’s different because most of the best places to visit are smaller towns and villages with farms and such in them so they are spread out and parking can be simple. Italy is VERY different from that and they literally try to make car travel difficult and expensive in order to nudge people onto public transportation.

      I just looked up parking in the Cinque Terre, and it’s just as I expected in that there are small parking areas that are well inland from the actual villages. Vernazza is the most charming and photogenic village and there evidently is a 50-spot lot about 1 kilometer inland from the village. The train station, on the other hand, is in the middle of the village. Again, I think driving around Switzerland can be a good idea and possibly even cheaper than trains for a family of four, but trains in Italy are surprisingly cheap so the car is almost certain to cost quite a bit more.

      Even if the cost were the same, the experience of driving compared to taking the trains will be much worse. Honestly, it’s incredibly fun to hop off a train in Italy and be surrounded by affordable hotels and restaurants and be walking distance from nearly every major sight. For Florence or Siena you’d have to pay a fortune to park near the center so you’d probably end up staying at the edge of town, meaning that you’d have to spend 30 to 60 minutes on a bus to get into the tourist zone in each direction, or drive and pay €20 per hour to park near the attractions. The trains literally go everywhere that you want to go. So at the risk of being annoying, I urge you to consider dropping the car when you get into Italy and changing to trains.

      As for the places you mentioned, Florence really is a great place with gorgeous architecture, but most of the attractions are museums and palaces and churches and such. The food there is also excellent since it’s the capital of Tuscany. The Leaning Tower is pretty amazing to see in person so I think that’s a worthwhile stop (by car or train), but the rest of Pisa is kind of a dud. Siena is kind of a smaller Florence, and the most famous thing is the stone town square where they have horse races twice a year. The food there is similar and it’s less crowded and touristy than Florence.

      In general I think it’s best to ask yourself why you want to visit a destination and what you hope to see there. If you don’t have good answers for those questions it might be better to go elsewhere. I’m not a big museum fan myself and I’ve been inside literally about 100 famous cathedrals all over Europe, so I’m not rushing to see other ones that aren’t very notable. The lakes and beach areas and other small random towns might be more interesting, especially if you are driving.

      Speaking of that, the Cinque Terre villages are really lovely, but in summer they are also so crowded these days that the local officials are talking about limiting the number of guests each day. The same is true of Venice. If you go by train it’s still enjoyable, but if you are driving I’d probably look for nearby places that aren’t so crowded and car-unfriendly. Venice, however, is amazing and there is nothing else like it so I’d go for at least a day even if you drive.

      I don’t think I got to all of your questions, but hopefully this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  6. Sherene Newby says:

    Hi there, not sure if this thread is still active? I’m visiting Europe for the first time! I am lucky that it is with work so I’ve got the option of arriving 2 days early and doing Florence on my own then heading to Reggio Emilia for a 7 night conference. Hubby will join me and we’ve got 15 nights. I’m thinking 2 nights Venice, one night in florence together then Rome for 3 nights. That leaves 9 nights. I’d love to do Paris for 4 nights and London for 4? Can I squeeze in Barcelona for the architecture or should we try Monaco/Cannes instead then head to Paris? or is it best to fly from Rome to Paris and just enjoy the city of love? Is 4 nights in London a good amount of time? Thanks so much.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Sherene,

      Every comment section on this website is still active and I’ll be happy to try to help. Being able to add time to a conference like that sounds fantastic.

      Venice is really amazing and two nights there will be great, but you could see enough in 24 hours if you were in a hurry because it’s pretty small and also so crowded that it’s easy to get your fill. One night in Florence for your husband won’t be enough time to see much of anything, but since it’s a short train ride between Venice and Rome it could still be worthwhile. You can find a hotel fairly close to the train station and you’ll at least be able to see the cathedral and have a couple nice meals. Rome in 3 nights is ideal, in my opinion.

      From Rome it would take most of a day on the train to reach Nice/Monaco/Cannes because the trains that run along the southern coast and into Italy are pretty slow. Starting from Milan it’s not too bad, but starting in Rome would take about 9.5 hours. You could fly nonstop on Alitalia and then take a train to Paris, but you could do the same thing to Barcelona and I think I’d vote for Barcelona of the two choices. However, my standard recommendation is to spend 3 nights in any (larger) city that you visit, so you could fly from Rome to Barcelona for three nights and then a train to Paris for 3 nights and then the Eurostar train to London for 3 nights. On the other hand, London and Paris are among the largest and most interesting and four nights in each is better than three nights in each. So it all comes down to priorities and how you want to divide your trip. Two nights in Barcelona would at least give you time for the biggest highlights, and you could still do 4 nights in London or Paris. I’m happy to try to help more so let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  7. Michal says:

    Hi Roger,

    Two couples traveling from Atlanta to Paris for 10 days. We wanted to do a few days in Paris, then fly to Nice and charter a yacht for a day. We also have the desire to hit Cinque Terre. What would you suggest in terms of time to spend in each city?

    Thinking Paris: Sept 3-6
    Flight to Nice Sept 7 for 1 night
    Italy 8-10th
    Back to Paris the evening of Sept 10th
    Champagne for day trip-11th
    We depart for US on a 4a departure Sept 13th.

    Any help greatly appreciated.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Michal,

      Three or four days in Paris is perfect for a first visit. A train from Paris to Nice takes about 5.5 hours, which is about the same amount of time it would take to fly when you factor in the airport transportation and waiting and such, and the train is FAR more pleasant and obviously scenic. Either way, one night seems kind of rushed even if you are just going to rent a boat for the day. I suppose if you got a very early flight that got in before 11am you could get a half-day rental in starting close to 1pm. It would be much better if you could stay two nights and spend the first partial day looking around because Nice is a really lovely city and area, and you could even pop over to Monaco for a few hours since it’s only about 20 minutes away by train. Then you could do the boat thing the whole next day and leave for Italy the following morning.

      The Cinque Terre have become insanely crowded in the last few years, but in September the crowds shouldn’t be too bad so it could work. Still, they are five small villages and there isn’t much to do there aside from do the cliff-side hike between them and check out the views. One of the towns has a beach, and it would probably be pretty nice in September. I think two nights should be enough, but three would be enjoyable as long as you know what you are there to see and do.

      Paris to Champagne takes about two hours each way whether by car or train, so it is a pretty good day trip if you have the whole day. So I think your plan looks pretty good although you might consider slight changes. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger

  8. AK says:

    Hi Roger

    Thanks for putting up such a nice page on France and Italy tour. Me and my friends are planning to Travel France and Italy for 7 days .We are 4 people, and would like to cover Paris, Venice and Amalfi as main destinations . Could you help us to put up a rough itinerary to cover these destinations ?It would be helpful as we are first time travellers to Europe.
    Thanks in advance
    Cheers
    AK

    1. Roger Wade says:

      AK,

      That sounds very nice. Your challenge will be that 7 days is quite a short time for those three places, and they are all spread out a bit. You’ll want to fly into Paris for 3 nights and then fly to Venice for 1 night. The Amalfi Coast is south of Naples and from Venice it would take you at least 6 or 7 hours by train and bus or taxi to get there, by taking trains from Venice to Naples and then the local train from Naples to Sorrento and then a bus or taxi to Amalfi. Honestly, that is a long way to go for a place like that and I’d recommend considering a different second stop in Italy. Florence and Rome are the other major tourist cities are both are amazing. The Cinque Terre are overcrowded and a bit overrated, but at least they are much closer and easier to reach compared to Amalfi.

      So my best advice is to do Paris and then choose one or two other places to spend your other four days that are hopefully easy to reach from each other. If you are only there for 7 total days it’s a shame to spend a whole day in transit from one place to another. I’m happy to help with more advice if you need it. -Roger

  9. Rekha says:

    Hi Roger,
    I am planning a trip to Paris and Italy and I have query with regards to the visa requirements.
    I am planning 3days in paris and 8 days in Italy or a 10day trip to Italy, the issue is there are no visa appointments available for Italy from Mumbai at VFS.
    I wanted to know, in that case, if i take paris schengen visa and my entry to Europe through Paris, will that work? considering the largest stay will be Italy. (Meanwhile, I am tracking Italy visa appointment schedule).

    Thank you for your inputs. Sorry if this is not the right forum to discuss this.

    Best regards
    Rekha

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Rekha,

      Once you are in a Schengen country there are no borders or checkpoints so I assume you could get a visa for either country. But I’m not sure if there is some technical reason why you can’t and maybe they will ask you for your itinerary upon entry. So I can’t really help. I think you’ll find this answer elsewhere though. -Roger

  10. Marianne says:

    I hear you. What about Avignon as a base and we could rent a car and take day trips? When you mentioned a wine region, do you mean Bordeaux or others? Would further west in France also be super crowded? In Italy, I’m looking at Sorrento–looks lovely and seems to be swimming there or near enough. And maybe that will be less crowded and less of a hassle than Positano (wold waste a large part of a day to get there, no?) or cove beaches on the Amalfi coast–pricey, I would think. Another thought is an Agriturismo in Tuscany with a pool! So, Paris-Avignon (with car)- train to Italy, somewhere in north if we have time, Venice, (Florence I’m not sure, maybe the Agriturismo instead)-Sorrento-Rome? That’s 6 places in 3 weeks.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      Marianne,

      Avignon could be a good base as long as you can find a hotel or rental with available parking, which I think could be a challenge in the historic center. I think there might be other good options in that area as well, but I haven’t spent much time there in quite a while so it’s hard for me to confidently recommend something. Bordeaux is the largest of the wine regions, but there are many others all over France. They mostly consist of small towns and villages so they don’t get too crowded because there isn’t much accommodation in the centers of them. You can get better information for those places if you Google the one that interests you.

      As for Sorrento, the main part of the town is on top of sort of a tall cliff, although I do remember seeing a few small beaches in that area as well. I don’t think they have any wide, sandy beaches there though, so most people use it as a base to stay and then head to the Amalfi towns for some beach time during the days. The problem is that large and sandy beaches are rare in Italy so the few that are there are packed or hard to reach for the public. The agriturismo in Tuscany idea sounds fantastic and I’d think you could find something really nice and with a pool. Six places in three weeks sounds ideal. Again, it’s hard to know exactly where you can find reasonable hotel deals that time of year without going through the listings for specific dates, but I do think you are on the right track and should be able to find a very nice combination of things. -Roger