Every trip I go on is a little bit different. Sometimes I choose to stay in hostels, sometimes I go camping, but most of the time, I avoid hotels. For this trip, I stayed in Airbnb’s and utilized the train system throughout the country. I am a broke student-and therefore would consider myself a backpacker or budget traveler. As this trip was only a week long, there was a lot of research that went into what I absolutely wanted to see while here, while trying not to over-do it. This was a pretty packed itinerary, and I would recommend staying longer than a week in Italy, as the more I researched, the more I wanted to do, but had to cut out! For me, I of course wanted to visit Rome, and read wonderful things about Florence, so I used those two cities as home bases for accommodation. Florence was a great hub for day trips-and I absolutely wanted to see the colorful seaside towns of Cinque Terre and the canal filled city of Venice.
So, how did I spend a week in Italy?
Arrive in Italy.
We had an overnight flight from the United States, which had us land in Rome at about 9:30 in the morning. After clearing customs, we had clear instructions from our Airbnb host to take the train out to her neighborhood, the Tuscalana station. It was a 40 minute ride and cost €8 per person. We stayed a little bit outside the city, but within walking distance of a Metro station that could get us to all the tourist sites. If you are interested in booking an Airbnb, I highly recommend the one we stayed at. Our host was amazing, meeting us at the train platform to walk us to the house, providing written directions to whatever we wanted to do, and making us espresso and breakfast in the mornings. Check out the HOA Guesthouse here or use my coupon code for another one here. After getting to the house, we stashed our stuff and decided that with half a day left, it was best to tour Vatican City. So, we bought our 48 hour metro card for €12.50 a person, and took the A line to Ottaviano. If you would like a 24 hour metro card, it costs €7, and a 100 minute card costs €1.50. I recommend the length of time that you’ll be in the city for. From here, we were able to follow signs and people calling out about tours for the Vatican.
Tour Vatican City.
My friend and I hadn’t really talked about whether or not we wanted to tour the Vatican, although it was already after 1 pm, and the lines around the building could cost us hours. Therefore, we decided it would be nice to take an informative tour and cut the lines. We paid €55 per person through the company Maya tours. Our tour started within 5 minutes, and let us cut the lines for the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Through this tour group, students under 26 cost €46 and children cost €41. All children under 6 are free. The tour was supposed to take about 2 hours.
As it was Holy Week, this place was packed! We walked among statue after Roman statue, and learned that the statues originally were naked before the Pope’s began to place fig leaves over their “pepino”. (A lovely Italian word for male genitalia). We also toured the carriages, to see all the different styles of carts and cars that the popes have ridden in. As with all older European churches and museums, the detail and precision within the frescoes and statues were ornate and beautiful. As the Romans took over Northern Africa, they began to incorporate Sarcophagi into their burials, and we even saw some hieroglyphics.
One of my favorite rooms showcased paintings of Italy and all its regions of the time. The greens were so lush depicting the land, and the water was nice and wavy. The detailed name of the area was unlike any maps that I have seen. After filing through this room with hundreds of others, we made our way to Sistine Chapel. You are not allowed to take any pictures or videos within Sistine Chapel and it’s meant to be a quiet place. The frescoes by Michelangelo are beautiful, again with immaculate detail. Different biblical scenes were depicted all around the ceiling, and you had the best view by standing in the middle of the room and looking up. The famous “The Last Judgment” is here depicting the second coming of Christ and “The Creation of Adam” where the hands of God and Adam meet to portray humanity.
Next, we toured St. Peter’s Basilica which is one of the world’s largest churches with amazing statues, paintings and tombs below. I am not Catholic, but I can imagine what a holy place this would be, taking mass with the Pope. Finally we wandered outside to the Piazza San Pietro, which encompassed all the buildings within the Vatican City. There was a fountain and monument outside, along with rows and rows of columns to complete the plaza. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we were ready for some food!
Showing up and paying for a tour to skip the lines worked out for us, as it was the fastest possibility, however, I did not particularly enjoy our tour guide. I felt that most of the tour consisted of him corralling us as sheep, and telling us to stay close. I did not learn as much as I like to learn, and felt that we blew through areas that I would’ve liked to spend more time looking at, even though our tour lasted 4 ½ hours instead of the advertised 2 hours. There are a variety of skip-the-line and tour tickets, do your research to find what best suites your needs! Ticket prices to enter the Vatican museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica cost about €52 from what I have found. A single ticket for the Vatican Museums costs €16 per person.
Eat spaghetti and gelato.
When I travel, I like to eat, a lot. The best way to find good food is to avoid tourist areas. From the Vatican, we walked down to the Trastevere neighborhood and found a little restaurant that had seating in the street so that we could people-watch. I was curious about the Roman artichokes (Carciofi alla Romano) and so we ordered that with a glass of house wine. I expected these to be fried and crunchy however they were more soft and oily. They weren’t bad, but they didn’t blow me away. This could also be the restaurant we ate at. For our main dish, both my friend and I ordered Spaghetti Bolognese. Again, this didn’t blow me away, but the noodles were clearly homemade, tasting thick and doughy, which I enjoyed. After dinner, we used the restrooms (because otherwise you have to pay) and found a nice spot to order gelato while walking home.
View the Colosseum lit up at night.
From the Trastavere neighborhood, we choose to walk to a Metro station that was closest to the Colosseum, so that we could see it lit up at night, and figure out where we wanted to go the next day. It was beautiful lit up, and after a couple of pictures, we were able to take the B line to Termini, and switch to the A line to Ponte Lungo (which is where our Airbnb was). We went to bed early, planning on getting up early!
Tour the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
Ready to stand in line when the Colosseum opened, we started breakfast at about 7. Our host made us Italian Cappuccinos and we enjoyed croissants, biscotti and nutella. We took the A line to Termini and transferred to the B line to Colosseo. We arrived outside the Colosseum at about 8:20, and it opened at 8:30. Quickly getting our tickets for €12 a person, we made our way to the center of the Colosseum, wandered about, and took lots of pictures before making our way to the second level. After walking around the second level, we utilized the restrooms (again, because here they are free) and made our way outside.
We personally enjoyed our view the best from the first level, but it’s always nice to get different perspectives. Outside the Colosseum, we passed the Arch of Constantine and made our way to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The tickets for the Colosseum , Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum are valid for 48 hours from purchase, but are easily done within a couple hours. We wandered through the Palatine Hill first, before making our way down to the Roman Forum. I loved the Roman Forum the most out of those three sights. It was amazing to me how all these ruins were right in the middle of the city, and how many of the ruins were still preserved, or had their crumbling pieces laying in the grass. Total time spent within all three sights was 3 hours, although it was not that crowded first thing in the morning.
I do not find it necessary to buy a ticket in advance, unless you are coming during June/July as that’s the busy season. We had no problem standing in line for about ten minutes when the Colosseum opened to get our tickets and did not have many people around when we took our pictures. I have also seen recommendations to buy your ticket for Palatine Hill/Roman Forum across the street by Arch of Constantine first as it’s a smaller line, and then you can enter the Colosseum after.
Wander through Rome.
As we had now hit our big sites of Rome, we just wanted to get lost and explore the city by foot. We stopped at a neighborhood restaurant, and had a caprese sandwich which was delicious before wandering about some more. We also stopped to purchase our train tickets for the rest of our week, so that they were cheaper than the day of, and so we ensured they did not sell out. The train station is located at the Termini station off the Metro. Both lines A and B will get you to Termini.
Stop at Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona and Pantheon.
Feeling energized, we wandered around the city more, with destinations in mind, but no perfect way to get there. We stumbled upon the Trevi Fountain, and all the thousands of visitors who also wanted to be there. After sneaking a quick selfie, we found our way to Piazza Navona to admire Neptune’s Fountain. This square was one of my favorites in Rome, as it was nice and open, all the houses were cute with fresh flowers on the balcony and cafes down below. We then made our way to the Pantheon, which is free to enter, and stopped at a restaurant for some caprese salad and a glass of wine. This was a wonderful square to people-watch, and after enjoying the moment, we moved on towards the Castle St-Angelo. Crossing the Pedestrian bridges, we loved looking out over the water, seeing all the statues in front of the different buildings. Finally, we decided it was time for some dinner.
Eat pizza and suppli.
Wandering away from the river, we made our way back to eat some pizza and try some suppli. Suppli is a deep fried risotto ball with cheese, and is delicious! We ate at Opazzariello, which we weren’t sure how touristy it was, but regardless, we really enjoyed the food! The suppli were cheesy and delicious and we craved more all week. We also shared a Margarita pizza which had great crust on it. Oh, and we just happened to share ½ L of wine as well, because “When in Rome”.
Sit on the Spanish Steps.
At this point we wanted to make our way to the Spanish Steps, and decided they would be less busy at night. They were still busy, but we actually had room to walk around, and basically just jumped around taking selfies. It was at this point we felt like we could see everything we had seen that day, but now lit up at night. After visiting the Vatican, we realized this was a mistake, and decided it was time to go home. Let’s just say we got a little lost, but were finally able to find a Metro station, at the last available time the Metro was running. We got on the Metro Wednesday night at 11:20 pm-really cutting it close!
For future reference, the Metro in Rome runs Sunday-Thursday from 5:30 am to 11:30 pm. The Metro runs Friday and Saturday from 5:30 am to 1:30 am.
Basilica de San Giovanni.
We woke up for breakfast at 8, and had our host not only make us Italian Cappuccinos but shots of Espresso as well. After eating, we then took a little nap, letting the last few days catch up to us. We only had a half day left in Rome before taking our train to Florence, but weren’t sure what else was necessary to see, and were too exhausted to aimlessly walk around. Our host recommended seeing Basilica de San Giovanni. We took the A line to San Giovanni and walked around to the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano. The Palazzo Laterano was the official residence of the Popes until 1870 and the Basilica de San Giovanni is adorn with life-size statues of the apostles. Walking through the park, we then made our way back for our things to catch our train. This area also holds a flea market.
Train to Florence.
Our tickets to Florence were from the Roma Termini station to the Firenze Santa Maria Novella station. Our train left at 1:20 pm, and we arrived at the station about 12:45 pm. It’s always a good idea to leave early, as public transportation can get messy or you could get lost. A one way ticket cost us €47 each, and my research showed that tickets to Florence would be about €30-45. The train time was about 1 ½ hours from Rome to Florence, and we arrived in Florence at 2:51 pm. Once at the train station, we stopped and purchased our
Again, we had very detailed instructions from our Airbnb host, and were able to walk the 20 minutes from the train station to the Airbnb. Once we checked into our Airbnb we were ready to explore.
Ponte Vecchio is a beautiful pedestrian bridge that is covered with houses and shops. It looks beautiful with all the different colors as they reflect over the water. Of course we had to stop and take some pictures here. The city of Florence is so beautiful and quaint compared to the busy and historical city of Rome.
Eat gnocchi and drink wine.
Ready to eat, we visited Osterio Santo Spirito per our host’s recommendations. We were able to get a seat outside in the plaza, but the hostess wasn’t pleased with people who did not have a reservation. We were served bread with a truffle sauce, which was amazing and a glass of wine. I ate the cheesy gnocchi (Gnocchi gratinata al formaggi morbidi al profumo di tartufo) which was so cheesy and delicious. This is a meal that I will forever look back on, craving indefinitely. What was nice about this restaurant is it offered half plates, and full plates, and the half plate was all that I needed.
Watch the sunset from Piazzele de Michaelangelo.
We then wanted to work off our dinner by wandering past the Pitti Palace and stopping for gelato at Gelateria de Passera. The pistachio was delicious! To finish up the day, we hiked all the way up to Piazzele de Michelangelo to watch the sunset, among hundreds of others. We thought this was a best-kept secret of Florence, but it was packed. However, you had an entire view of the city, including the Duomo, the river, the bridges, all the neighborhoods, and trees. It was beautiful! Many groups and couples came prepared with picnics or bottles of wine. We then made our way back to our house, so that we could get up early for Venice.
Train to Venice.
Our tickets to Venice left at 7:30 in the morning as the ride was about 2 ½ hours and we wanted most of our day to enjoy the canals. The cost of our tickets from Firenze Santa Maria Novella to Venezia St. Lucia was €39.50 each. We took a train to Bologna Centrale and then made a connection to Venezia St. Lucia. We arrived at about 10 am and immediately started walking, knowing that we had a few hours to get lost and enjoy the city. Venice consists of 118 small islands that are connected by bridges. Every alley you turn, is either a small port for a boat, or runs into a bridge taking you somewhere else. It was like a dream!
Eat seafood and drink spritz.
Of course, first on our list was lunch. Venice is known for seafood, and I choose to be daring, eating the spaghetti with cuttlefish ink (spaghetti al nero di seppia) and some calamari. The restaurant we ate at had lovely staff, who were very friendly. However, the meal just seemed ok. Again, I have never had cuttlefish ink spaghetti, so I do not know how this compared to other restaurants. But I likely wouldn’t try it again-although I am glad I tried it. Spritz is an orange aperitif found in Venice and Northern Italy. After watching many order this drink, we decided we had to try it out as well. It consists of prosecco, carbonated water, and aperol garnished with a slice of orange.
Admire Piazza de San Marco.
We continued to walk, passing Basilica di Santa Maria and it’s ornate carvings. We then wound our way to Piazza de San Marco, with Basilica de San Marco and Palazzo Ducale. These churches are huge and ornate, they blew me away. I have seen many beautiful and intricate churches throughout Europe, but the ones in Italy are unlike anything I have ever seen.
Stroll through Ponte Rialto over the Grand Canale.
Stopping for gelato, we made our way over to Ponte Rialto and the Grand Canale. Everything in this city is picturesque and I couldn’t help but to fall in love with each tiny alleyway which occasionally hid family run restaurants or gelaterias. Ponte Rialto is ginormous, having two different pedestrian sides of the bridge across the enormous grand canale. I loved looking out over the bridge to admire gondola after gondola in their black and white striped shirts.
Return to Florence.
After a full day of meandering about, we were headed back to Florence. Our train tickets were one-way this time from Venezia St. Lucia to Firenze Santa Maria Novella. They cost €50 per person and left at 5:25 pm, arriving in Florence at 7:30. Once back, we wandered the streets of Florence, finding an alley with some restaurants outside. Picking a table we stopped to eat at Trattoria La Madia where we started with a cheese plate and a glass of wine. For dinner, I had pasta with mushrooms (penne alla boscaiola) and the mushrooms were the best I have ever had. They melted in my mouth, they were so tender. Feeling content, we made our way back to our place to sleep.
Tour the Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace.
Letting our week catch up to us, we slept in until about 9:30 am. Finally getting up, I attempted to make espresso at home before making a slight mess on the stove. We stopped at a café for a cappuccino, croissant, and mini connoli (bignolini) as the espresso just wasn’t enough. It is cheaper to stand up at the counter in a café to drink your coffee and eat your breakfast, than it is to sit down outside. Most Italians stand up while eating breakfast. This is where we choose to do that, before making our way to Boboli Gardens.
There was an option to purchase a skip-the-line pass for Boboli but it cost almost €10 more in service fees. When we arrived around noon, there was a small line outside and our tickets cost €7 per person. The entrance tickets for the Boboli Gardens also include entrance to the Museo degli Argenti, Galleria del Costume, and Museo delle Porcellane. The Galleria del Costume was within part of the Pitti Palace, and it was interesting to see some of the history of Italian fashion. After this, we wandered the gardens, admiring the statues and views of the city before stopping in to see the Porcelein museum (Museo delle Porcellane) which had many pieces from Vienna.
Eat pasta and drink wine.
Ready for lunch, we made our way to Piazza Santo Spirito hoping to have some more wonderful pasta. We started with a glass of wine and after watching everyone around us getting their meals and leaving, finally spoke up about our meals. There was a problem in the kitchen, and the waiter offered us free bruschetta. This caught us by surprise as the wait staff is very different in Europe versus the State’s and often doesn’t work for tips or to please their customers. With another glass of wine, I finally was able to enjoy my lunch, papperdelle with boar. Papperdelle is thick cut noodles and was clearly home-made and tasty.
Gaze at the statues of Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria.
Walking past the beautiful Ponte Vecchio, we made our way to admire some of the statues and art that was available at Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria. There is a replica statue of Michelangelo’s David statue outside of Palazzo Vecchio and we felt that it was not necessary to purchase tickets to the Accademia to see the real thing. I really liked the Piazza della Signoria, which was an open aired collection of statues next to Palazzo Vecchio. After walking around and taking some pictures, we decided it was time for some more gelato, but paid €6 for a cone. Way overpriced, don’t purchase gelato in this square!
Admire the Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore.
Continuing our self-guided walking tour of Florence, we made our way to Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore or the Duomo. This church is huge and unlike any style that I have seen before with panels of green and pink marble on the outside. This is one of Italy’s largest churches with one of the largest brick domes ever built. We so badly wanted to enter, but due to Holy Week, were unable to enter to see the frescoes and marble. Therefore we made our way around town seeking out the Medici Chapels. Afterwards, we stopped at a grocery store and stocked up on some Tuscany wine, prosciutto, cheese, and bread for dinner before another big day in the morning.
Train to Pisa.
For this day we chose to purchase a tour that gave us a day trip to Pisa and Cinque Terre. The total cost of the tour was €107 per person through Viator and the tour company was Italy on a Budget. We met at Firenze S.M.N train station at 7:00 am and departed for Pisa about 7:20 am. Once we arrived at the Pisa station, we took a bus to take us to the central part of the city.
Perform classic tourist pictures.
Within the Piazza dei Miracoli is the Duomo, Baptistry, Cemetery and of course, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Everything is stark white to signify purity. The tower leans more to the side in real life, than it does in pictures, and it threw us off like it was an optical illusion. But of course we had to pose like we were pushing it over. Walking through the square and taking these pictures took 30 minutes, but we had an hour and a half to spare. So we stopped and bought some pastries and enjoyed the sunshine. Taking pictures and walking in the square is free, although if you want to climb the tour, the cost is €18 per person, with a large line already at 8:30 am. The cemetery cost €5 per person, which our tour guide recommended doing.
I would not stay in Pisa longer than half a day as there is not much to do here.
Train to Cinque Terre.
After visiting Pisa, we then made our way to La Spezia Station. La Spezia is the only train station that will take you to Cinque Terre. You cannot drive through Cinque Terre, and the five towns are only accessible by train or by hiking trails. To hike the trails of Cinque Terre, it cost €7.50 for a trekking card, as it is considered a National Park. Otherwise, the towns are accessible by train, which is €2 per person, per train, or €12 for a multi-service train pass. To get a pass which includes both trains and the National Park Pass costs €23 per person and is valid for two days. As we were part of a tour, our guide just took us wherever.
Drink white wine and eat pesto.
Our first stop was the town of Riomaggiore, where we were able to view the colorful houses and the ocean. We found a restaurant that over-looked the ocean and had some gorgeous views of the town. Cinque Terre is known for its white wine, focaccia, pesto, and seafood. At this restaurant, we had a glass of white wine, and some focaccia with pesto. Feeling relaxed, we were so excited about the rest of the towns.
Take beautiful pictures in Riomaggiore, Vernazza and Manarola.
Our next stop was Vernazza. This town was crazy busy and it was so hard to be able to find a place to eat or even take good pictures. However we did find a cave, that if you walked through it, took you to a hidden beach. Finally we made our way to the platform to the next town, but unfortunately our guide left us. This is another story for another post, but we made our way to Monterossa before stopping at Manarola which offers beautiful views of the cities and their houses. Finally we made our way back to La Spezia to purchase new tickets back to Florence.
Train to Florence.
At La Spezia, we purchased train tickets to Florence which cost €21.50 per person with a transfer at Pisa. The tour was supposed to provide us all our tickets and get us back to Florence by 8:00 pm, but we were not able to get back until 10:30 pm.
For us, the whole point of the tour was to avoid stress, but it caused so much more stress. Our guide knew it was busy and knew we were in line to get to the terminal on time, but left us behind. We did not enjoy our afternoon as we had to purchase extra tickets and spent hours looking for our group. At this point in time, I would not recommend the Italy on a Budget tour. It is very possible to find the train stations and do the trip yourself, and I wish we would have done this. It is also cheaper to do it yourself and you can spend time in the towns you like, and as much time as you would like.
Eat steak Florentine.
Anxious that all the kitchens would be closed, we stopped at Trattoria La Madia which we had already eaten at. They were willing to keep the kitchen open late as long as we immediately ordered. Starving (as we only had the foccacia and pesto) we ordered steak Florentine to share, with pesto gnocchi, potatoes, spinach, and of course wine. The food did not disappoint. Additionally, staff were so friendly, even when we stated we’d finish our meals quickly, they told us not to rush and even asked if we’d like dessert or coffee. I cannot comment this restaurant enough, because of the friendliness of staff and the quality and taste of the food. Finally, after midnight, we were able to go back home and pack up for Rome.
Tour Uffizi Museum.
Starting our last day off early, we stopped at a café for a cappuccino to go and a croissant. Eating while walking, we stopped at the reservations line as we had purchased our tickets in advance. Tickets to the Uffizi cost €17 per person in advance, but would cost €13 if you wait in line and buy the day of. The Uffizi Gallery is one of the largest and best known art museums in the world, established in 1581. This houses many pieces from the Italian Renaissance and showcases works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Parmigianino and Caravaggio. The art itself was beautiful, but also, the views from inside the building out onto the river and Ponte Vecchio. We spent a total of 2 hours here. After the Uffizi, we walked around the neighborhoods some more, before stopping at a café to eat a sandwich and grabbing our bags to head to the train station.
Train to Rome.
Our train from Florence to Rome left at 1:00 pm and arrived in Rome at 2:40 pm. Again, the station was Firenze S.M.N. to Roma Termini. The cost was €47 per person and once arriving at Termini, we were able to purchase a metro card to our stop Ponte Lungo. We were staying at the same Airbnb from our first couple days in Rome which made it easy to navigate. We chose to buy the 100 minute metro card for €1.50 not expecting to wander Rome much.
Eat pizza, suppli, gelato and drink wine.
Once back in Rome, we talked with our host, and then went out for gelato and dinner before calling it an easy night. The gelato was from Gelateria Petrini and was right next to our host. She told us it is one of the city’s oldest gelateria’s and it was so delicious! I had pistachio and nutella gelato, and there were chunks of pistachio and chunks of nutella in the gelato. Afterwards, we went to a local pizzeria for pizza, suppli, and wine. Here, the suppli was a lot more tomato-y than our previous cheesy suppli and we did not like it as much. The pizza was ok, but the crust was burnt. After our half liter of wine, we showered and went to bed!
Fly back home!
This was easy. Again, we took the train for €8 from our neighborhood stop to the airport, which took 40 minutes and ran every 13 minutes. It was also possible to take the A line to Termini and take a train to the airport, or take the metro, I believe to the airport, but there are many more people and stops this way.
I hope you found this itinerary helpful! Please stay posted as I will start creating more detailed guides on each city, talk about our host leaving us in Cinque Terre, and put together a how-to take the trains and interpret your train ticket guide. Once those are complete, I will link them!
What was something I missed out on? What do you feel that you missed out on? What did I do that gets you excited for your trip? Let me know in the comments below!