Whether you’re planning a trip to Italy or would simply enjoy a glimpse of some of the popular sites, the following itinerary, tips, and answers to frequently asked questions may be helpful.
On a recent family trip to Italy, I shared lots of photos on my Instagram and Facebook stories. The comments from readers were so much fun – I felt like you were along for the ride. (We had loads of fun and ate well!)
Many asked questions and wanted more details. Some were planning a future trip and requested itinerary specifics.
So, I put together a list of frequently asked questions and mapped out our itinerary, in hopes that it would be an inspirational and entertaining glimpse into our travels. Perhaps it will even be a helpful resource for those who are planning a future trip.
If you have additional questions or insights based on your own travels, please comment below!
Did we use a travel agent?
We did, and I am eternally grateful. In the beginning stages of trip planning, I described generally to her the various things my family would enjoy:
- We’d love to see the important historical sites and museums.
- We’d enjoy walking around the various towns and soaking in the culture.
- A cooking class would be fun. (And P.S. we have a gluten and some seafood allergies.)
- A wine tasting would be fun too, although one person in our group doesn’t drink alcohol and I wouldn’t want him to feel left out.
- We like the beach, but knowing how much there will be to see and do, we’d rather not spend a full day on the beach.
- It would be great to see three different cities in the time we have (just over a week), but what do you recommend to avoid losing too much time in terms of additional travel hours?
- Our group likes to be active, so a bike ride or hike could be fun.
For those who may need a travel resource, Margo Bieret was our travel agent and she was fabulous. (This is in no way a paid endorsement, by the way. Margo was simply a pleasure to work with – she was responsive, made the planning process stress-free and easy, and all elements of the trip ran smoothly.)
What was your itinerary in Italy?
Note: For those who’d enjoy reading the details of what we did, the hotels we stayed in, the sites we saw, the restaurants chose, and some other interesting bits of information, I’ve included a day-by-day schedule after the frequently asked questions.
Narrowing it down: There are so many places we could have visited in Italy – you could truly spend months there and still not see it all. After talking with our travel agent, we settled on Rome, Florence, and the Amalfi Coast. She was then able to add half days in Pompeii and Tuscany, which added interest to the days we traveled from one city to the next.
How many days? We left on a Friday night, arrived in Rome on Saturday morning, and then headed home first thing the following Sunday. So, we had eight full days.
Getting there: Most of us had a direct flight flight from Philadelphia to Rome, which was eight hours long. Two in our group first flew from LA to Philadelphia, which is a five hour flight. Our trip to Rome was a night flight, which we liked. We tried to sleep/rest as much as we could on the plane, which made the time pass quicker, and then arrived first thing in the morning. By the end of the first day, we were all good and tired and slept well. The jet lag was minimal. Note: There is a six hour time difference from the east coast, nine hours from the west coast.
Is it difficult to work around food allergies in Italy?
It was shockingly easy. Many restaurants have numbered codes, where each number stands for an allergen and every menu item has the “offending” numbers beside it. Many of the lists had 14 or 15 allergens, ranging from gluten, shellfish, and flat fish to sesame, soy, and interestingly, celery. And despite the language difference, the servers all understood what gluten and all the other ingredients were in English.
Some restaurants offered gluten-free pasta and pizza (and it was good!). Others would freely admit that everything would likely be contaminated with flour. Most menus offered a variety of fare, from seafood and beef dishes to pasta and pizza, so it felt easy to work around an allergy.
Did you make dinner reservations before your trip?
We did not. Our travel agent recommended against it, noting that we would likely enjoy the flexibility of not being tied down to a specific time and that our hotels could provide good recommendations. We also got some excellent suggestions from a few of the tour guides.
Our hotels all included breakfast, which were abundant spreads (more on that below). We winged it for lunch as there was never a lack of cute cafes where you could grab something at the counter (or be seated and served if preferred). One day we made lunch out of gelato! Some restaurants were open from lunch through dinner, others opened for dinner at 7:30pm.
What was the weather like?
Hot! July in Italy tends to be hot. It was somewhat hotter than our weather in Pennsylvania but slightly less humid. Rome was the steamiest city we visited, topping out at 102℉, but there was a breeze and a good bit of shade. We all agreed that it didn’t feel 102 hot!
All our hotels were air conditioned, so it was always a delight to enter the cool rooms. (And the showers were fantastic.) Many of the sites, but not all, had AC. The old churches and ruins did not, of course, but the really thick walls and abundance of marble meant many of these sites stayed remarkably cool.
Is there a bad time to go to Italy?
We were recommended to not go in August, as many Italians take their vacations and various restaurants and sites are often closed. As mentioned, we were there in July, which tends to be the hottest month. It was hot, but we were prepared for it (light clothing, sun hat or baseball caps, plenty of sunscreen.
In the past 20 years, November has been the rainiest month while July has been the driest. Rain is also likely during September, October, and December, although the sun still shines quite often, especially in the south. Winters are generally moderately cold, but this varies based on region.
What kind of clothes/shoes to pack?
Aside from seasonally appropriate clothing, comfortable walking shoes are a must! As the weather was hot when we were there, my daily uniform was a light sundress and sneakers. Prioritize comfort over fashion!
What are some of the essential items I should pack? Anything you bought especially for the trip?
- At the suggestion of a friend, I thought to bring a travel clothesline. Thanks to the warm weather (and the fact that there are runners in our group), everyone washed out some clothes along the way.
- Converters: We purchased the adapters needed for whatever you need to plug in (i.e., phone chargers and hair dryers – all of our hotels did supply hair dryers, however) at our local AAA, although they are readily available through Amazon. Plan on one per person (more if you have a lot of things to charge).
- Euros: While you can use a credit card almost everywhere, there were a few places for which we needed cash. Cash is also the tender of choice for tipping, and we tipped our tour guides, the person in the hotel who delivered our luggage to our rooms, and our drivers. Tipping at restaurants is not standard in Italy, but the servers sometimes mention it as an option as they know Americans tip!
- Lululemon purse: My regular purse is a vat into which I could lose not only my keys, but a water bottle and who knows what else. I didn’t want to lug that around, so I used this compact, functional Crossbody Camera Bag, which retails for $78, for the essentials. I wore it as a crossover bag, and I hardly noticed it – yet everything was handy. On the day we biked, I shortened the strap so the purse didn’t bump anything. Black is a great basic, but multiple other colors are available.
- As mentioned, comfortable shoes for walking.
Did you rent a car?
We did not. We were advised that a driver would be far easier and not that much more expensive than a rental car. We had transfers from various places planned before we left and they all worked seamlessly.
On our last full day, as we were leaving our hike along the Path of the Gods for Rome and eventual return to the States, one of my sons realized he left his backpack in the hotel lobby – and his passport was in it!
We had checked out of the hotel and returning would have added several hours onto the three and a half hour drive to Rome. Our driver contacted another driver, who was heading from Sorrento, near the hotel, to Naples, which was along our path. He retrieved the backpack and delivered it to us at a central meeting spot. The whole ordeal added about 15 minutes to the trip, and the driver never showed a trace of irritation. And we all reveled in his amazing problem-solving abilities!
Plane ride essentials?
Socks are great for a night flight, something you may not otherwise be wearing in the warmer months. Snacks are helpful too, as the plane food may be lacking or otherwise insufficient. I also like to put a few herbal tea bags in my purse – you can get hot water on the plane and it’s a great way to stay hydrated with something other than water but not carbonated or caffeinated. And planes can be cold, so a cup of hot tea often hits the spot!
Because luggage sometimes doesn’t make it (more on that to come), keeping your phone charger, international adaptor, and anything else that is essential (medications, contacts, etc.) in your carry on may turn out to be quite helpful.
🇮🇹 Our Italy Itinerary:
First leg of the trip: Florence. A driver was waiting for us at the Rome airport and drove us immediately to Florence. Everyone’s luggage arrived by the way, except mine. Despite the direct flight, my suitcase went to London!
The hotel: The drive was a little over three hours. We checked into our hotel, a charming, clean, bright spot called the Gallery Hotel Art. It was conveniently situated a block away from the Ponte Vecchio, which translates to “Old Bridge” and is the famed and picturesque bridge along the Arno River. It also happens to be a quick walk from the center of town and all the important museums, making for easy walking wherever we went and further need of a car unnecessary.
Day 1: Because I needed a few essentials, the guys wandered through the Gucci Garden, which is the Gucci museum that we literally stumbled upon. They said it was really fun, and I managed to round up some underwear, a couple of t-shirts, a pair of shorts, and some good walking sneakers.
As a side note, my luggage arrived just before we left Florence, which meant I was without it for the first leg of the trip. I was just relieved the bag came before we left for Rome, however, as I knew it was already en route to Florence, and I envisioned it chasing me around Italy throughout our trip and never actually catching up!
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the city center and ate dinner at a lovely spot, called Osteria Belguardo, a delightful trattoria just off the Arno River.
Day 2 (Florence): Our tour guide, Leonardo, met us in our hotel lobby and we walked the short trip to see the two most important museums of Renaissance art: the Uffizi and the Accademia. The Ufiizi is one of the oldest art galleries in the world (dating to 1560) and houses hundreds of awe-inspiring masterpieces, including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Da Vinci’s Annunciation, and the Tondo Doni by Michelangelo to name a few.
From there we went to the Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s David. Having a tour guide who could synthesize the vast amount of information and explain the most important details and tell the stories behind the art made these museums especially captivating.
A note on the tour guides: Leonardo was the first of what would prove to be a string of fabulous tour guides. They were all extremely knowledgable, personable, spoke very good English, and were just fun to spend time with.
Breakfast detail: All our hotels included breakfast, and the spreads were ample, fresh, and utterly delicious – think smoked salmon, meats, eggs, assorted fresh and dried fruits, nuts, European yogurts, cheeses, fresh baked goods, and various jams, honeys, Nutella, and more. All had plenty of gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan options.
Evening of day 2: At 4:00, chef Claudio met us in our hotel lobby and we walked 10 minutes to his flat (which happened to be in an old palace that was converted into apartments) for a cooking class! We prepared homemade ravioli, meatballs, and tiramisu, and Claudio had wine, Prosecco, and Limoncello on hand. It was loads of fun and the meal was outstanding. The meal was planned to be gluten-free, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the GF ravioli dough rolled out and cooked up. Plus, the taste was virtually indistinguishable from its glutenous counterpart.
For those who may be interested in recipes, Claudio let us know that they are available through giallozafferano.com.
Day 3 (Florence to Rome via Val di Chiana): We were once again met in our hotel lobby, where we set off for a farm in Val di Chiana, a small, picturesque village in Tuscany, where we enjoyed a cheese and wine tasting. One person in our group doesn’t drink, so I had told Margo we would love to do a wine tasting if there was something in it for that person too. The tasting was geared more heavily toward the cheese than the wine, which everyone loved, and included bread, fruit compotes, honey, and more. Mariela, who worked at the farm, led us through the tasting, explaining both the cheeses and the production process.
When finished, our driver took us the rest of the way to Rome, where we stayed at the Hotel Chapter. Like our hotel in Florence, it was an easy walk to lots of important sites, restaurants, shopping, etc. The first afternoon we stumbled upon the Trevi Fountain before having dinner at Roscioli, a restaurant that had been recommended by a friend of my son’s, and it was terrific. We ate most of our meals throughout the trip al fresco, although indoor seating was often available.
A note on gelato: Gelatarias are everywhere and we didn’t miss a day. On occasion, we got a recommendation from someone local as to their favorite shop, but I can safely say we never had a bad scoop!
Drivers versus renting a car: All our drivers were planned before our trip (thanks to our travel agent Margo) and were prompt, reliable, and personable. They were often different people, but we did have some overlap. Based on our hotel locations, we never felt like we needed a car. While in Italy, our tour guides and various locals confirmed that drivers are the way to go, as they often end up costing less money than renting a car and eliminate the need for you to navigate unfamiliar (and often very windy and narrow) roads.
Day 4 (Rome): A bike ride on The Appian Way! The road was originally constructed to facilitate army movements towards the south of the peninsula and served as a vital connection between the city and various ports for commerce with the Middle East and Greece. We rode with Daniel, our guide, who stopped along the way to walk us through various ruins. It was a beautiful route and not difficult, although the bikes were e-bikes, so an assist was available if needed.
That afternoon was free, and it was hot, so the boys did some digging and found a nearby/walkable hotel that offered day passes to their rooftop pool. (The hotel name was Anantara Rome and they also offered massages, for those who may be interested.) Meanwhile, my husband, Jack, and I discovered a new area of the city with narrow alleyways and medieval houses and lots of neat restaurants.
We later ate at Enoteca Trastevere (enoteca translates to “wine bar” and Trastevere is the neighborhood), which served pizza, seafood, and updated Roman cuisine. After dinner, our delightful server even brought us a round of Limoncellos on the house!
Day 5 (Rome): This was our day to take in all the major sites, from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum (once the center of ancient public life) to the Vatican and the Spanish Steps. The Vatican included St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, where the Sistine chapel is located. Our tour guide was Federica, who was fabulous – incredibly knowledgeable and an ace at getting us everywhere she thought we should go, including a pizza lunch at Roscioli Caffe. (There is a lunch version of the place we happened to go for dinner on our first night just down the block, and everyone dubbed their thick focaccia pizza with a variety of unique toppings a highlight.)
By dinnertime, we were hungry again! Everyone enjoyed the energy of the Trastevere area, where there was also live music by one of the squares every night. We stumbled on a restaurant called La Canonica, where we enjoyed yet another meal al fresco…and gelato afterwards!
Day 6 (Rome to Sorrento via Pompeii): The drive from Rome to Sorrento (which is on the Amalfi Coast) takes about 3 hours and 15 minutes, and we broke it up with a tour of Pompeii. Pompeii felt like a must-see to me, and it did not disappoint. Walking through a centuries-old Roman village, which was buried in ash in 79 AD and uncovered in the 1700s, was truly awe-inspiring.
The ash preserved houses, complete with paintings on the wall, mosaic floors, and second stories with staircases. There were even lead pipes that delivered water to the houses. Throughout our trip, we constantly marveled at the advanced structures and systems the Romans built without any of the modern equipment that would seem critical today (and for the Roman era, we’re talking a timeframe of 100 BC to 100 AD).
After Pompeii, we drove on to the Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento, which is situated on the Mediterranean Sea a short walk (15 minutes) from downtown Sorrento. Constanza, our Pompeii tour guide, had recommended Pizzeria Aurora, which is situated in the main square of Piazza Tasso. It was a perfect spot to enjoy good food and take in the people and later walk through the back alleys of the town.
Day 7 (Sorrento): We discovered the beauty of the Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri from the water, as we set off on a a full-day boat excursion. We saw several ancient sea caves, including the “Blue Grotto,” a cave famous for its brilliant blue and emerald light. We even got to swim in the Blue Grotto and enjoyed a delightful lunch stop right on the water.
That evening, we decided to eat at the restaurant in the hotel, which overlooks the water and offered the ideal vantage point for an exquisite sunset. The meal was one of our favorites, and we capped it off with a walk into town for gelato.
Day 8 (Sorrento and back to Rome): On our last full day, we checked out of our hotel early and were picked up at 7:30 for a drive to the Path of the Gods. Located high above the coastal towns of Positano and Praiano, Path of the Gods (also known as Sentiero degli Dei) is one of the most beautiful walks in Italy – the views were truly jaw-dropping.
Our guide, Luca, knew everything there was to know about the region and provided fascinating insight into the growing methods common along the steep cliffs, which involved terraced steps cut into the cliffs, which were supported by beautiful, dry-laid stone walls. We stopped to pick wild mulberries (delicious!), smell the many wild herbs, and even saw goats along the way.
Interesting fact: The soil for miles surrounding Mt. Vesuvius contains a lot of pumice, which looks like gravel mixed in with the soil and is far lighter than an ordinary stone. Because pumice is porous, it acts like a sponge and retains water. This, in turns, allows the crops to continue to flourish even in the dry seasons.
We began and ended the hike at a small cafe, where we refueled on fresh lemon slushies and “caffe crema.” The former was made with just-picked Amalfi lemons from the owner’s yard, the latter is like the best tasting version of a coffee Frosty. We saw the crema often on our trip, but this was the first place that offered a mascarpone flavor in addition to the traditional coffee. If you are in Italy and you see this, try it!
🍋 Have you heard of this? When I commented on the beautiful lemons in a bowl in the cafe, mentioning that some of them are the size of the grapefruit we enjoy in the States, the cafe owner (pictured above) picked one up and cut it in half. He explained that it was a little overripe, and that he likes to make “lemon bread” when that happens. He continued to cut a slice, sprinkle it with coarse sugar, and then told me to eat the whole thing, including the rind. Skeptical but willing, I took a bite and it was absolutely delicious. Soon, we were all eating lemon bread…for sure the first time any of us ate the whole lemon and thoroughly enjoyed it!
From there we drove back to Rome where we enjoyed a final dinner at Enoteca (a repeat because it was easy and we liked the food and our server so much), one last gelato, and a walk along the Tiber River before boarding a plane home the following morning.
🇮🇹 Final thoughts:
When asked, everyone was hard pressed to choose a favorite moment from the trip. There were so many great moments. Seeing the various sites with a guide absolutely enhanced what we learned from the visits and made navigating far easier. It was hot, but the heat didn’t put a damper on the trip. Our hotels had air conditioning and many (although not all) of the sites did too.
If I had to choose, my favorite part of the vacation was doing it all with my family and taking in the true appreciation expressed by my kids. Spending all day, every day, with your grown kids doesn’t happen often, and it was a treat I will long savor.