STEAL MY VACATION: An 8-day Classic Northern Italy Itinerary
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
Italy is at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists—and with good reason. If you are an art aficionado or history buff, you will find plenty to keep you occupied. And if you are a foodie (or just a lover of food, like me), then you can eat carbs for days.
While Italy is a (relatively) small country, it offers a ton of variety—and you won’t be able to see everything in a week trip. But that was the amount of time my mom and I had, so we put our collective planning noggins together to make sure we hit all the highlights without succumbing to an Italy vacation cliché.
This itinerary is perfect if you:
-Are traveling to Italy for your first time
-Have a limited number of days to experience all Italy has to offer
-Are an “adventure traveler,” aka don’t love walking around museums for hours
-Like a mix of classic tourist attractions and “off the beaten path” experiences
-Want to fit in as much as possible (even if it means waking up early to do it)
I recognize that you may have different tastes or pace, and we didn’t get to do everything we wanted, so where possible I have added alternate suggestions.
AN IMPORTANT WORD (or few) ON TRAVEL STYLE
You are all unique, individual snowflakes, so your travel style might be different from mine. Take this into consideration when reading my reviews and suggestions since they are, by their nature, subjective.
My typical travel MO generally includes active excursions in exotic locations—so a classic European vacation was a change of pace.
I am an active traveler. I prefer to “go and do” more than “go and see”, so you won’t see many museum visits in my itinerary.
I am also independent, so I avoid most guided tours like the plague. However, small group tours are necessary from time to time, especially in a “go and see” kind of place like Italy.
This itinerary includes more guided tours than most of my vacations (since wandering around historic cities aimlessly for a week didn’t sound too appealing to me). As a rule, I do not go on guided group tours unless they offer expert knowledge or exclusivity, so I made sure to select tours that were unique.
While I do enjoy a luxury resort (who doesn’t?), it is not always in my budget. But since I am experience-oriented (and usually pretty busy on my trips), I am comfortable with moderate or even budget accommodations. I am always very open about the quality of lodgings in my official TripAdvisor reviews.
My husband and fellow adventure partner is almost my opposite—he hates to wake up early and prefers to relax on vacation. But, I left him at home for this one and swapped him out with my mom, who has a “go go go” mentality similar to mine.
With only eight days to see three cities, we maximized our time. There is scheduled down time on this itinerary, but you might not return home feeling relaxed. This is more about getting the most out of your week.
DISCLAIMER: Remember, everything here is a suggestion. There are thousands of hotels or attractions to choose from, and just because I list it does not mean it is the best option for you. My TripAdvisor reviews will provide additional details that will hopefully help you determine whether the activity, restaurant, or hotel is right for you.
My biggest tips for Italy:
-Avoid the summer months if possible
-Book tours in advance to get special access to the main attractions (otherwise prepare to wait in Disney-length lines)
-Get up early before the crowds and take a mid-day siesta (this saved us from the hottest, most crowded parts of the day)
-Walk just a couple streets over from the main attractions for better food at better prices
-Eat gelato every day. Twice a day.
-Drink lots of wine.
Ok, now on to our 8-day northern Italy itinerary!
Ah, Rome. The seat of civilization. Or something like that. To be honest, I’m not much of a history buff, but if you are, then you will LOVE Rome! Marble statues of historical figures adorn opulent churches on just about every corner. Oh yeah, architects will love this place as well. Surprisingly, I enjoyed Rome very much. It is a beautiful and impressive city—city planners turn up ancient ruins on the daily (which is why there isn’t much of a subway system). Prepare to walk a ton or bust out your wallet for taxi rides.
Arrive in Rome and check into the Hotel Caprice.
(See my Hotel Caprice TripAdvisor review here).
The hotel is clean and comfortable. It is located in an upscale (and not-too-touristy) neighborhood, but still within walking distance to Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. I would classify it as a moderate hotel—good for sleeping after a long day in the city, but nothing fancy. Breakfast isn’t a big “thing” in Italy, so save the euro on the included buffet (which didn’t look great), and find a place to grab a panini and coffee to go.
We arrived on a Saturday, and a lot of places are closed on Sundays, so we planned a tour for our first day (though I typically like to wander and discover on the first day). We booked a small group Vatican tour through Walks of Italy…which we then slept through (thanks, jet lag).
Seriously, since it was so hot and so crowded, we found it best to take a break midday. It allowed us to recharge when most people were out and then we could do evening tours—which were much less crowded.
Restaurant Tip: Unless you have a good recommendation, do not eat at any of the restaurants easily accessible from any major tourist attraction. If you literally go one or two streets over, you will find better food and prices.
I recommend you visit Trastevere. It’s a small neighborhood across the river that sees a nice mix of locals and tourists. We ate at Trattoria Ponentino and loved the experience! Plus, getting wine, an appetizer, and two entrees for just 35 Euros isn’t a bad deal! I imagine just about any restaurant in this lovely neighborhood would be delicious.
Also, get gelato. Always get gelato.
Visit the Coppede neighborhood between Piazza Buenos Aires and Via Tagliamento for bars, restaurants, and nightlife. You can take Tram 3 or 9 to get there.
Since we missed our Vatican and Sistine Chapel tour, we took a nighttime Roman Forum tour.
(TripAdvisor only lets you review one tour per company within a three month window, so you can see my Walks of Italy Roman Forum tour review below).
As you already know, I am not big into history or guided tours. This tour primarily focused on historical information and walking through the city for most of the time. The guide was engaging and very knowledgeable, but I tend to get a little bored when I'm led by the hand. We primarily signed up for this tour because we slept through our Vatican tour and needed to apply a credit elsewhere. However, the main selling point was a walk through the ruins of the Roman Forum (exclusivity and unique-itivity, check).
The Forum has been newly renovated to include a multi-media component. As you listen to your headphones and walk through the ruins, projections bring the forum to life--displaying how it may have appeared years ago. It was described to be "similar to the castle projection show at Disney World". Well, y'all know I worked at Disney World for seven years, and I can tell you that it does not quite come to the same level of showmanship (plus, there aren't any fireworks, duh).
The Forum portion of the tour was definitely the highlight. It did transport you, and it was cool to see everything from ground level with a relatively small group (although there were three tours going on simultaneously). Overall, the start of the tour didn't do much for me (but take that with a grain of salt) and the forum portion was moderately cool. I probably wouldn't have paid for the tour if I hadn't had to transfer our funds from our missed tour.
Wake up early!
We woke up early and walked to some of the sites before the crowds arrived. It was a wonderful way to take photos without anyone in them and just enjoy the sites peacefully without the crush of people.
Visit the Vatican
Since it was so early (and we had slept through our tour the previous day), we walked all the way to the Vatican. While the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican museum are closed on Sundays, the Vatican itself is open. Usually, there are winding lines for hours to get in. But when you get up early, you are privy to the beauty of the church almost to yourself! We had originally purchased the tour to skip the lines, but there isn’t an entry fee to get in. If you don’t want to wait in line or spend any money, arriving early allows you the chance to wander unaccompanied. You can even attend mass! Just be sure to cover your shoulders and knees—they were very strict.
Check out the Campo de-Fiori market. Buy some bread and sample olive oils and vinegars.