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

France and Italy make for a perfect first visit to Europe, but there are so many potential places to visit that planning well is extremely important. Of the two, Italy is a bit more straightforward because it has a “Big 3” of tourist cities consisting of Rome, Florence, and Venice. France, on the other hand, has Paris, but beyond the capital it can be hard to know where you should go.

These two countries contain several of what I consider to be the best cities in Europe to visit for anyone, so it’s just a matter of narrowing down where to go and how much time to spend in each place. In the article below you’ll see the best option to string together a tour of these countries in two or three weeks. There will be options and decisions you’ll have to make based on your own tastes, but no matter how you do it this should be an unforgettable trip.

This article was most recently updated in August, 2022.

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 jet lag, 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.

It’s true that you can’t just all of France by just visiting Paris on your first trip, but it’s still not a bad idea because this city is the center of almost everything and even the areas surrounding it are filled with great sights, amazing histories, and plenty of things to do. It’s almost impossible to get a bad meal in the city and most of the food is reasonably priced considering the quality. Be prepared for a small hotel room, even if you pay a lot, so it’s more about paying for the location rather than for a luxurious and large place to sleep.

The sights in Paris are almost all worthwhile, but don’t think you have to spend an entire day in the Louvre in order to enjoy it. In fact, I highly recommend taking the 3-hour double-decker sightseeing tour (run by several companies) on your first day in order to see at least the exteriors of all of the famous landmarks. If you want to go inside at least a few of the big attractions you might consider getting a Paris Pass, which also covers the bus tour and a cruise on the Seine.

Spend at least three nights in Paris itself and if you have extra days you might do a day trip (tour buses are a great choice) of the nearby Loire Valley. It’s filled with famous castles and palaces where the rich used to live outside of the city, and many are available for tours.

Paris to Nice by train: About 6 hours

Provence region (optional 2 or 3 nights)

Probably the most efficient first trip to France along with Italy is to spend a few days in Paris and then head to Nice (see below) to explore the French Riviera, but if the beach scene doesn’t interest you, or if you are coming in the cool months (the beach areas are pretty dead from November through March) you might instead stop in the Provence region. This area is famously where Van Gogh was based and got his inspiration, and also home to a Papal Palace where 7 popes lived during the 1300s.

The main city is Arles and that is probably the best base, although Avignon (where the Popes lived) is also very tourist friendly and could be a good choice. In fact, Avignon is the beginning of the famous Côtes du Rhone wine road, which connects a series of hill towns with amazing scenery and of course wine tasting. Something like this might be better for a second or third trip to France unless you’ve got weeks to spend here. Provence is also known for its cuisine, as it stands out even within a country where the food is amazing virtually everywhere you go.

Paris to Avignon by train: About 3.5 hours
Avignon to Nice by train: About 3 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. Generally speaking, I recommend skipping Milan at least on your first trip.

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. 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.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      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

      1. 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.

  2. 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 🙂

    1. Roger Wade says:

      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

      1. 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 🙂

  3. 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

    1. Roger Wade says:

      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

      1. 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

        1. Roger Wade says:

          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

  4. 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

    1. Roger Wade says:

      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

      1. 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.

  5. 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

    1. Roger Wade says:

      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

  6. 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.

    1. Roger Wade says:

      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

      1. 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

        1. Roger Wade says:

          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

  7. 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

    1. Roger Wade says:

      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

      1. 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?

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

    1. Roger Wade says:

      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

  10. 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!

    1. Roger Wade says:

      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