Friend, I love trip planning. Planning a trip filled with must-sees, off the beaten path destinations and value activities is my jam.
But when it came to Italy I was a little stuck. I, the self-professed queen of trip planning, didn’t know where to start.
I only had 3 weeks, so where should I go? Did I plan a highlights tour hitting Venice, Florence, Rome and Positano? Did I focus on the less explored South, venturing to Sicily, the Amalfi Coast and down to Matera? Or did I plan a trip through northern Italy with stops in Varenna, Bologna, Venice and Florence?
After scouring blog posts, reading guides, and stressing over it more than I probably should have, I think I cracked it.
The ultimate 3-week Italy itinerary.
An itinerary perfect for first time visitors or those looking for a more in-depth trip through the north. An adventure that would see me heading to Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence and Rome, but also exploring (slightly) less visited destinations like Verona and Bologna. A trip filled with art, architecture, two gelatos a day and fresh pasta.
Excited? Me too. Italy is one of the most amazing countries I’ve been to and if you’re planning a trip this ultimate 3-week Italy itinerary is the perfect place to start.
WHEN TO GO TO ITALY
Italy is the postcard-perfect European summer destination. Because of that, June-August sees hiked prices and large crowds. For fewer crowds, lower prices and moderate temperatures aim to visit in the shoulder seasons of April-June or September-October.
ITALY ON A BUDGET
We stayed in private rooms in hotels, guesthouses and Airbnb’s and spent a total of €2104.30 for 20 nights. This works out at €105.21 per night or €52.60 each. You could do it cheaper if you plan on staying in hostel dorms.
Transport was moderately expensive. We used trains exclusively for 3 weeks and spent €148.35 each (not including regional trains in Cinque Terre).
Food was one of our biggest expenses. We frequently spent €60-€70 on meals and even had the occasional €100+ meal (ouch). If you’re a budget-savvy traveller paninis and pizza slices are your friends. Not only are they delicious and filling, you’ll end up getting a decent-sized meal for around €5.
Your daily budget will vary depending on your travel style but a suggested daily budget for Italy is €70-€100 per day.
ITALY QUICK TIPS
Currency: The currency in Italy is the Euro (EUR). 1 EUR is equivalent to roughly 1.11 USD.
Language: Italian is the official language in Italy. English is widely spoken across Italy, especially in more touristy areas, but it always pays to learn a few key phrases in the local language.
Credit Cards & ATM’s: Finding an ATM is as easy in Italy as it is at home, with most credit cards widely accepted. It’s worth carrying a small amount of cash on you to pay for smaller purchases and tips.
Plugs: In Italy the power plugs and sockets are type F and L. (This is the standard European power plug with two round prongs). The standard voltage in Italy is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
Safety: Theft, petty crime and pickpocketing can occur in larger cities and crowded tourist areas. Be sensible and take the same precautions you normally would while travelling and you should be fine. I always check my local travel advisory before I travel, and you should too.
The Ultimate 3-Week Italy Itinerary: From Venice to Rome
- Venice: 3 Nights
- Verona: 2 Nights
- Varenna (Lake Como): 3 Nights
- Bologna: 2 Nights
- Cinque Terre: 2 Nights
- Florence: 4 Nights
- Rome: 3 Nights
Venice: 3 Nights
First up on your 3-week Italy itinerary we have the city of canals, romance and over-tourism: Venice. I didn’t think I’d love Venice as much as I did, but it quickly became one of my favourite destinations of the trip.
While in Venice make sure to check St Mark’s Basilica, a cathedral that was established in the 9th century to house the corpse of St Mark. The long lines outside may deter you but this cathedral is worth a visit. It’s STUNNING. Plus, it’s free. Next to the Basilica is Doge’s Palace, a landmark attraction in Venice and home to a fascinating museum collection.
One of the top things to do in Venice is to take a day trip to the neighbouring islands of Murano and Burano. Murano is famous for its glass-blowing and while pretty it’s not overly interesting (unless you’re into glass-blowing). Slightly further afield Burano is the rainbow-hued Italian island of your dreams. I didn’t want to leave.
Verona: 2 Nights
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.
Yes, Verona is the home of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet, but there’s a lot more to the city than that. Escape the hustle and bustle of Venice and spend a day or two exploring picturesque Verona.
While we’re on the subject, Shakespeare fans should make sure to check out Juliet’s House and balcony. Feeling a little unlucky in love? Touching Juliet’s right breast (the statue, you dirty perv) is said to bring visitors luck in love. After your visit make sure to peruse the letters to Juliet pasted with gum, plasters and sanitary pads on the walls outside. Entrance to Juliet’s House is €6.
For a glimpse into Verona’s ancient history pay a visit to Verona Arena. The Roman Amphitheatre is older than the Colosseum (!!) and is still used today for opera performances.
If this kind of thing is your kind of thing you should also check out the Roman Theatre. The ruins have almost been destroyed but the museum houses a great collection of ancient Roman sculptures and artefacts.
Eat: We ate one of the best meals of our trip at La Griglia, a steakhouse with fresh pasta and delicious local red wines. For an aperitif with a view head to Terrazza Bar Al Ponte. The spot is popular with locals and is a great place to grab an Aperol Spritz.
Varenna: 3 Nights
We’ve done Venice, we’ve done Verona. Next up on your 3-week Italy itinerary? Lake Como.
Famous for its holiday villas and George Clooney, Lake Como is undoubtedly one of the prettiest spots in Northern Italy. There’s numerous small towns dotted around the lake and you could easily spend a few days here checking them out.
We stayed in Varenna. With its pastel-hued houses, clock tower and scenic position on the lake Varenna was my favourite of the towns we visited in Lake Como. Make sure to check out Menaggio and Belaggio as well. They’re also beautiful towns, if not quite as charming.
One of the top things to see in Varenna is Villa Monastero. The stately gardens span the lake and make for a lovely walk (and great photo opportunities). Tickets to the villa are €12.
Bologna: 2 Nights
Bologna is affectionately nicknamed three things by locals. La Dotta (the learned), La Rossa (the red), and La Grassa (the fat). Arguably the foodie capital of Italy, any city that is nicknamed ‘the fat’ is a big yes from me.
If you’re going to do a food tour anywhere in Italy (which hello, you should) do it in Bologna, and do it with Taste Bologna. Our guide Elena was excellent and the visits to markets, osterias, and a pasta shop gave us a great insight into Italian food and culture. We did the Classic Bologna tour and it cost €85 per person.
Aside from food, which you should definitely indulge in while in ‘La Grassa’, Bologna is light on the ground on must-see tourist attractions. (Which actually, is kind of nice). You could head to Piazza Maggiore to see the Basilica di San Petronio and the Fountain of Neptune, or work off that food baby and climb 498 stairs up Asinelli Tower.
Eat: Whatever you do don’t eat Spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna. Instead, head to Annamaria for Southern comfort food; their ravioli cooked in sage and butter is incredible. For something a little cheaper head to Osteria dell’Orsa. Make sure to get there early as this local joint is extremely busy, but it’s worth it, the food is amazing.
Read More: One Day in Bologna
Cinque Terre: 2 Nights
The Cinque Terre is one of Italy’s top tourist destinations. (Although let’s be honest, the country is full of top tourist destinations.)
A lot of people visit the Cinque Terre as a day trip from Florence but if you can you should stay a few days. The towns, though crowded, are beautiful and are worth spending 2-3 days exploring.
We stayed in Manarola, one of the smaller towns of the Cinque Terre (and the prettiest), and I’d argue it’s the best place to base yourself to explore the area.
While in Manarola you should go for an aperitivo at Nessum Dorma. Time your visit with sunset; the view of Manarola as the sun sets is spectacular and one of the most iconic sights in the Cinque Terre. After the sun goes down head to Tratoria Billy’s for a delicious dinner. Make sure to book ahead; Billy’s is one of the most popular restaurants in town.
Getting Around the Cinque Terre
The easiest way to get around the Cinque Terre is by train. Trains are frequent (although unreliable) and as you can’t drive in the towns, catching the train is your only option. Unless you want to hike, that is.
If you’re planning on hiking between the Cinque Terre towns check the website before you set off as there are often slips that close the tracks. Get up early to start your hike as temperatures spike and paths get crowded during the summer. The entrance fee for the hiking trail is €7.50.
Florence: 4 Nights
Ah, Florence. This lovely city is one of the most enchanting places in Italy and is sure to be a highlight of your 3-week Italy itinerary.
Into art? Florence is for you. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence houses works by Botticelli, Da Vinci, Giotto and Michelangelo and a visit here is sure to fill you with awe. Equally as impressive is Michelangelo’s David. Housed in the Galleria dell’Accademia, Michelangelo’s masterpiece dominates the room. It really is an amazing sculpture (with a nice bum, too).
Short on time (and money) but keen to get out and explore the Tuscan countryside? A fun and cheap way to do it is the Grape Escape Winery Tour with Italy on a Budget. For €65 per person you’ll join a tour that will take you to two vineyards and have you tasting 8 wines. After, the tour bus will drop you in San Gimignano, a lovely Medieval town home to ‘the best gelato in the world’.
Honestly, there’s just too much to write about Florence for this blog post. Highlights include the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, catching the sunset at Plaza di Michelangelo and grabbing some tasty food at Mercato Centrale Firenze. But seriously, that’s just scratching the surface.
Want more on Florence? Check out this post!
Eat: The best pizza I ate in Italy was at Mangia Pizza Firenze, a cosy restaurant with delicious pizzas. Head to the famous Osteria All’antico Vinaio for one of Florence’s best sandwiches. The lines will be spilling out the door but it does move quickly, and trust me, it’s worth the wait.
Rome: 3 Nights
Thank God I threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain. Rome is one city I’d never get sick of visiting.
The birthplace of one of the world’s greatest civilisations, Rome is chaotic, filled with ancient wonders and oozing gritty charm and elegance. Everywhere you go you’ll spot magnificent ruins, and the foodie scene in Rome is one of the best in Italy. What’s not to love?
The Colosseum is no doubt high on your Rome bucket list. This impressive amphitheatre was built over 2000 years ago and at the time was the largest ever built. Pre-purchase a skip the line ticket and check out the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill while in the area. Colosseum skip the line tickets start from €19.50 and you should book ahead to reserve your time slot.
Aside from the Colosseum the sites you should make a point of seeing are the Baths of Caracalla, the Pantheon, Castel Sant’Angelo and Piazza Navona. Throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure your return to the Eternal City, and wander the iconic Spanish Steps.
There’s nothing quite like Rome, and this city needs to be on your 3-week Italy itinerary.
Eat: For an authentic Roman trattoria without the price tag head to Da Lucia in the trendy Trastevere neighbourhood. The restaurant is popular and it’s worth booking ahead – it was one of the best meals we ate in Rome.
Read More: 2 Days in Rome: An Epic Rome Itinerary
Ok friend, I know you don’t need convincing. Isn’t Italy on everyone’s bucket list?
And it should be. The art, architecture, ancient ruins, gelato and fresh pasta… It really is one of the most incredible countries in the world. Hopefully I’ve taken some of the stress out of your planning (just me?) and you’re on your way to enjoying your perfect 3-week Italy adventure.