After putting together my post about a variety of one week Italy itineraries, I realized that I could also share our actual detailed itineraries, too. Most of the time, I create pretty detailed itineraries for our trips. (It’s the best use of time and money, if you’re going to do it.) I put together a 10 day Italy itinerary for a trip that we took with my mom, my sister, and my cousin. It was my cousin’s first trip to Italy, I wanted to plan a trip with a combination of some of the “must see” attractions, along with a few things that veteran Italy travelers would enjoy.
We experienced a lot of flight changes that required quite a few changes. Ultimately, we ended up with a 10 day itinerary focused on central Italy. It ended up being absolutely perfect for our group. I’m hopeful it can help other people plan a similar trip. It is easy to adapt for couples, families, and multi-generational travelers.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for tours and products I love at no additional cost to you. You can read my full disclosure policy here.
Flying into Italy
If you are spending more than a week in Italy, open jaw flights are the best way to go. This is when you fly into one city and out of another city. Open jaw tickets will save you time and prevent backtracking. I use ITA matrix to find open jaw itineraries and book directly with the airline. This proved to be really important as flights kept getting cancelled. I had to adjust our itinerary based on the airline changes.
For this particular itinerary, I would recommend flying into Bologna and out of Rome (or vis-a-versa). As a group of 5, we decided to take trains between cities, as opposed to making it a road trip. If you are traveling during peak season, I highly recommend that you book train tickets in advance. That meant that we had to cut Tuscany, as well as a few day trip ideas. As I look back, I’m really pleased with how this trip came together.
It would be really easy to substitute a few days in Tuscany or Umbria instead of Bologna, if you want to experience the Italian countryside. In that case, I would fly into Bologna, Pisa or Florence and out Rome (or vis-a-versa). Bologna and Pisa are connected to the main train stations by “people movers” and are less than an hour from Florence. You just need to plan your transportation accordingly.
10 Day Italy Itinerary Overview
This itinerary is easily reversed and/or can be adapted to spend more time in Rome or Florence. Our family really loves Florence, so we spent more time there. If you want to substitute Tuscany instead of Bologna, I recommend a trip to Cortona in between Rome and Florence. Cortona is easily accessible by train, and I think it has some of the best food in Tuscany. If you are traveling by car and want to explore Italian wineries, I would make a trip to Montepulciano or a wine resort. I like Roccafiore, the Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco or Borgo Pignano. If Tuscany or Bologna don’t appeal to you, you could end this trip in Venice for a classic Italy itinerary. And, if you want to visit the Cinque Terre, I would substitute that for Bologna and fly into / out of Pisa.
Day One – Arrive Rome
Day Two – Rome
Day Three – Rome
Day Four – Depart Rome // Arrive Florence
Day Five – Florence
Day Six – Florence
Day Seven – Florence
Day Eight – Depart Florence // Arrive Bologna
Day Nine – Bologna
Day Ten – Bologna // Depart Bologna
Three Nights in Rome
Where We Stayed in Rome on this trip: (the aptly named) Pantheon Iconic Hotel
Day One in Rome
After arriving at the train station in Rome, we made our way to the Pantheon Iconic hotel in the heart of Rome via uber. (There was a taxi strike on the day we arrived.) We used the afternoon to get settled, visit the Pantheon, and explore the sights around the hotel. This hotel is a stone’s throw away from the Pantheon, which means you can get there before the crowds at the start of the day or slip in right before it closes. I recommend downloading the Rick Steves audio guide or purchasing his book for a self-guided tour of the Pantheon.
Our first scheduled activity was to take a food tour of Trastevere. We’ve done this tour twice with Domenico, and it is one of the most delicious ways to experience Rome. I’ve talked about it before, but I regret waiting so long to take a food tour in Rome. We could have skipped a lot of bad meals. In addition to the excellent food and conversation, Trastevere is a very lively neighborhood in the evenings. While we didn’t end up staying out later due to an early morning tour, you could certainly continue your evening in the lively piazzas and bars nearby.
Day Two in Rome
Morning: We started our first full day in Rome with a private guided tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. We didn’t just do any tour though. We did an early access tour to the Sistine Chapel, which in my experience is the best way to do it. Rather than being herded along like cattle, you can experience this incredible site with a small group of people – if you’re willing to get up early for it.
On previous trips to Rome, Tom and I have booked the small group early access Vatican tour, but since we were a group of 5 on this trip, it made more sense to book a private tour through LivTours (save 10% with code DEBORAH10). Both are exceptional. With Deborah, we were able to spend more time in the Vatican Museums, and she was able to go more in depth about the pieces we were most interested in, too. I feel like I developed a greater appreciation for parts of the Vatican Museums, and in particular, the map room. Deborah also helped us navigate a shortcut to St. Peter’s Basilica, which made the trip a bit easier on my mom. While the basilica was not included on the tour, she was willing to answer questions about it on the walk over there.
After our tour of the Vatican museums, we used the Rick Steves Rome guide for a self-guided tour of St. Peter’s.
Afternoon/Evening: Our group split up for the afternoon / early evening. I believe the best way to see Rome is by night, and in the winter, Rome is mostly dark by 5:30pm. We booked a hidden gems of Rome evening walking tour ahead of our evening dinner reservation. This tour is a good mix of famous fountains and squares and smaller, off-the-beaten path sites.
Day Three in Rome
Morning: Our final full day in Rome started with a food tour of Testaccio. This was a new activity for me and Tom, and we loved. Our experiences with Eating Europe food tours have been so good that I was eager to explore a new neighborhood with them. While the Trastevere food tour is a great introduction to how to order in Roman restaurants, I feel like the Testaccio food tour really focused on the markets and street food of Rome.
The Testaccio tour does include a restaurant experience with classic Roman pastas, but I feel like we explored a lot more “quick” places where you could pick up an easy lunch. It has a very different vibe than the evening tour, and I whole heartedly recommend both. While taking two food tours in Rome did impact how many restaurants we tried, I feel like we were able to try more local specialities, which I think is perfect for a short trip.
Late Afternoon / Early Evening: We booked a night tour of the Colosseum for our last night in Rome. Tom and I have taken a half-day tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum, but we were really excited to see the underground and floor of the arena. It was pouring down rain when we visited, so we didn’t have the best experience, but our tour guide was a trooper and really tried to make the best of a tough situation. I think seeing the underground part of the Colosseum makes it easier to visualize how it was used. Ultimately, I’m really glad that we did this tour though I think the first tour we did was far more in-depth.
Rome Restaurant Recommendations
I can’t say enough good things about the food tours we’ve taken in Rome. They opened up Roman cuisine to us in so many ways, and it’s still my top recommendation for meals in Rome. I used to really struggle to find restaurants in Rome, but now I have a very long list of places I want to try. I’m not going to post everywhere we visited on the food tours, but below are a few of our most memorable meals in Rome recently. You can also check out my Rome restaurant list that I update between trips on Trip Advisor under Journey of Doing.
Restaurant Recommendations near the Pantheon Iconic Hotel: Armando al Pantheon for classic Roman pastas. You must have a reservation. Osteria Mastrociccia near the the Piazza Navona. The saltimbocca is incredible, and I love their fried olives.
Trastevere Restaurant Recommendations: Trattoria Casa Mia or Tonnarello for classic Roman pastas. Both are open late and offer great outdoor seating. (I actually preferred the outdoor seating at Casa Mia.)
Roman Pizza Recommendation: da Remo in Testaccio
Four Nights in Florence
Day Four: Rome to Florence
I highly recommend staying in the city center of Florence. Florence is so compact that you don’t want to spend time commuting from the suburbs. I love to be out in Florence at night. The Lungarno Collection hotels are absolutely perfect for first time visitors to Florence. We booked a room at the Lungarno for me and Tom, and one of the Lungarno apartments for my mom, sister, and cousin. Both are five star accommodations and experiences. The view of the Ponte Vecchio bridge from the Lungarno terrace is absolutely stunning.
Morning: The fast train between Rome in Florence only takes about 1.5 hours. (It’s truly a marvel after taking so many regional trains when I studied abroad.) I purchased our train tickets to coincide with the check out time of our Rome hotel and the check in time for our Florence hotel. This meant that we were traveling over lunch, which was more than fine with me.
We spent the afternoon getting settled and exploring Florence on foot before having a great dinner.
Day Five in Florence
Morning: Make an early morning reservation at the Uffizi Gallery. Florence is the cradle of Renaissance art, and if you really want to enjoy it, book ahead, skip the line, and go while everyone else is still sleeping! If you don’t know anything about Renaissance art, I highly recommend this guided tour of the Uffizi. You’ll see all the “big” works of art and the guide does an amazing job of moving through the museum in a way that makes it easier to see why the Renaissance artist were so impactful in their creations. You can also use the Rick Steves Pocket Guide to Florence, but I think a live guide makes this museum come alive.
Late Afternoon / Early Evening: La Bussola offers free walking tours of Florence almost every morning and every afternoon. Each time slot focuses on a different part of Florence. We’ve taken both tours multiple times and the guides are always very high quality and we learn something new every time, even if the route is similar. Since we wanted everyone to get a feel for the Renaissance and what to expect in Florence, we scheduled the afternoon tour which includes the piazzas around the Duomo and Santa Croce.
Day Six in Florence
Morning: We booked a tour of the Mercato Centrale and a fresh pasta cooking class that me, Tom, and my mom had taken previously. This was my mom’s favorite things we did on our Thanksgiving trip in 2019, and she was eager to share it with my cousin. This is another activity that is perfect fora first-time visitor or someone who wants to learn more about Italian cuisine. The market tour introduced us to a lot of tasty vendors that we’ve returned to purchase from on subsequent trips, and the recipes we learned during the cooking class are a regular part of my repertoire.
You’ll learn to make tagliatelle and ravioli by hand – no pasta attachments required! The recipes tend to be traditional and seasonal, so you’ll find something for everyone!
Late Afternoon / Early Evening: If you are visiting in November / December, this is the perfect time to hit up the Santa Croce Christmas market, as well as the basilica. It’s my favorite church in Florence. If you want to visit the Duomo, the late afternoon is the perfect time to miss the lines. If that’s not your thing, I love watching the sunset from the Piazza Michelangelo or Sesto (the Westin hotel rooftop bar) before heading to dinner.
Day Seven in Florence
Morning: On your last full day in Florence, I recommend starting with an early reservation and/or tour of Accademia Museum. The draw is Michelangelo’s David, a sculpture whose beauty was beyond my comprehension until I saw it for myself. There are some beautiful Renaissance paintings to see, but I spend more of my time in the sculpture gallery. I don’t think a live guide is absolutely essential in the Accademia, but a skip the line ticket absolutely is – unless you enjoy spending your vacation in line.
Afternoon: We utilized most of our last afternoon in Florence for some last minute shopping and sightseeing. I highly recommend scheduling a wine tasting at Obsequium for apertivo. They have a couple of different options, ranging from Chianti Classico tastings to high end Tuscan and Italian wines. I can also recommend a variety of Florence food and wine tours, cooking classes, or other walking tours.
Florence Restaurant Recommendations
My Florence restaurant recommendations are extensive. (My list of restaurants I want to try is also extensive!) One thing to know about restaurants in Florence is that YOU NEED RESERVATIONS. Most of them don’t take reservations via email or online, so you’ll need to call during open hours. It can be complicated, but it’s absolutely worth it. Here are a few of my current favorite restaurants in Florence:
Three Nights in Bologna
Day Eight: Florence to Bologna
Where We Stayed in Bologna on every trip: 051 Rooms and Suites (I don’t think the location and staff can be beat. I don’t think I’ll ever stay anywhere else.)
Florence to Bologna is only 40 minutes by high speed train. I think Bologna is the best place to end your Italy itinerary, especially as a first timer, because you’ve gotten used to Italian food and are feeling more adventurous (hopefully)! It’s also a smaller city, so it is easier to slow down and start to wind down your vacation.
Early Evening: Take a food tour on your first night in Bologna. This is the fastest way to try a lot of culinary delights and plan the rest of your meals. There are SO many delicious foods in Bologna that it is a shame not to try as much as you can. If you can’t fit in a food tour, I recommend an apertivo at a salumeria (I love Simoni) and having dinner at a restaurant that has some of the tris plates so you can try different regional specialties.
Day Nine in Bologna
Morning: Start your morning with a cooking class. We took a fresh pasta class at Delicious Bologna. The class takes place at one of the pasta factories in Bologna, and when I say pasta factory, it’s a small laboratory where pasta is made by hand. We made tortellini, tagliatelle, and tortelloni. The tortellini was used for the famous tortellini in brodo (the best way to warm up in winter and a Bolognese Christmas tradition). The tortelloni was served with a simple tomato and butter sauce (delicious), and the tagliatelle was served with Bolognese sauce. They gave us copies of all the recipes.
Afternoon / Early Evening: Visit the Seven Churches and Basilica of San Stefano. The first time we visited Bologna, the staff at 051 Suites told us we needed to visit the 7 churches. I thought they meant there were seven churches in Bologna. I had no idea they were in the same footprint. It’s a journey through time, and one of the most interesting places I’ve been. There are a lot of churches and basilicas to visit in Bologna, but this is my favorite.
Day Ten in Bologna
One of the best things about departing Italy from Bologna is that the airport is relatively small and very close to the city. This means that you can wrap up your Italy trip by finishing up your souvenir shopping (vacuum-sealed cheese and Balsamic vinegar make great souvenirs) or by finishing up any sight-seeing you want to do. (I probably wouldn’t try to make the portico walk up to San Luca on the last day – it’s pretty intense.)
If you visit Bologna in November and December, there are Christmas markets throughout the city. My favorite Christmas market in Bologna was the French market in Piazza Minghetti. The Fiera di Santa Lucia has some beautiful ornaments (and other Christmas gifts and tasty souvenirs) as well.
Bologna Restaurant Recommendations
We’ve made three trips to Bologna in about a year, and I feel like we’re still scratching the surface on Bologna’s delicious food scene. It’s hard because we want to go back to so many of the same places, even though we know there are more delicious restaurants to try. (I feel like there are never enough days for Bologna and all of its delicious food.)
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a great meal in Bologna. Some of my favorite fresh pasta has been at the Mercado di Mezzo. The portions at Salumeria Simoni are extremely filling, too. If you need a sweet treat, my favorite gelato is at Cremeria la Vecchia Stalla in the heart of Bologna. I’ve rounded up some of my other favorites in my Bologna mini travel guide, but there is still so much to explore. I’ve added almost all of these to my list of restaurants to try in Bologna.
Italy Travel Tips
I usually like to try and close my posts with some practical advice for traveling.
- Don’t think you can see everything. 10 days in Italy is a lot, but it is also not a lot, if you are trying to do too much. This is particularly true when you look at tours that promise seeing all of Tuscany in one day. The beauty of Italy is being able to slow down a bit and enjoy good food and wine. That is not going to happen if you’re trying to see Montalcino, Pienza, and Montepulciano in a single day, or Siena, San Gimignano and Volterra in 8 hours, or even Cinque Terre from Florence in 12 hours. All of those places are worth visiting, but you need to put together an itinerary that make sense. Think thoughtfully about what matters most to you and craft an itinerary around those things. It’s possible to see a lot without having it all blur together in a single bus or van trip.
- Eat and drink seasonally and locally. One of the things that I’ve really come to love about eating in Italy is appreciating each region for what it is known for. Amatriciana in Rome. Bistecca and wild boar in Florence and Tuscany. White truffle in winter. Amarone in the Veneto and Lake Garda region. Parmesean cheese in Parma. Mortadella in Bologna. Grimagna in Bologna! Orecchiette in Puglia. Select Spritz in Venice. Brunello in Montalcino. Just because you go to Italy doesn’t mean that you should have ALL Italian food everywhere. Find out what a region is known for and try it. (That’s the beauty of food tours, really.)
- Stretch beyond your comfort zone. If you’re not an art person, do it anyway. If you’re not religious, step into every church you find just to see what is behind the facade. If you’re not a tour person, take one anyway. Some of my richest travel memories have been when I’ve pushed myself outside my comfort zone to engage in something that my husband loves (Romans. Always Romans.) OR when I’ve let someone teach me about something they are fiercely passionate about, whether that’s art, food, wine, or something totally different. (I love all of our tour guides so much.) If you’re going to do the same things that you do at home, why travel?
- Buy a comprehensive Italy travel guide. Since 2004, I’ve always used a book to make a list of places I want to go. Whether you use DK, Frommers, Rick Steves, or Lonely Planet, I recommend buying one and reading it cover to cover to figure out where you want to go. (I also recommend trying more than one to find your travel style.) Some destinations aren’t well-covered in books, so you’ll have to do more research and just take a leap of faith.
I hope this post gives you some ideas to create your perfect 10 day Italian itinerary. If you replicated this itinerary exactly as it is, I know you’ll have a great trip. Our family raved about this trip, which ended up being absolutely perfect for a winter Italy itinerary. The key is to make it perfect for you – and that’s just not something I can decide for you. You can, however, check out my extensive post on ideas for one week in Italy. Happy planning!