Moon Rome, Florence & Venice
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- Flexible itineraries for 1 to 5 days in Rome, Florence, and Venice that can be combined into a longer trip
- Strategic advice for foodies, art lovers, history buffs, and more
- Must-see highlights and unique experiences: Cycle the Borghese park on a sunny day, learn classic Italian recipes in a cooking class, and admire masterworks by Bernini, Botticelli, and Caravaggio. Hike to sprawling hilltop views of Florence, meander through historic museums, or catch the Gregorian chants being sung at the Duomo on a Sunday morning. Stroll through Venice's fish markets, rent a kayak and explore the winding canals, and bask in the afternoon sun as you sip Negroni on a piazza
- The best local flavors: From pizza al taglio, fritto misto, and mouthwatering pastas to seasonal vegetables and fresh seafood delicacies, get to know each city's unique culinary scene
- Ideas for side trips, including Assisi, Siena, Pisa, and Lucca
- Expert insight from American-turned-Roman Alexei Cohen on his adopted home country
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Background information on the landscape, history, and cultural customs of each city
- Handy tools such as visa information, an Italian phrasebook, and tips for traveling with children
Exploring more of Italy? Try Moon Milan & the Italian Lakes or Moon Amalfi Coast. For more of Europe's best cities, check out Moon Prague, Vienna & Budapest.
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DISCOVER Rome, Florence & Venice
20 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
Best of Rome, Florence, and Venice
Rome, Florence, and Venice are no ordinary cities, and visiting them all is an extraordinary journey of discovery.
You may diligently start with a must-see list of museums, churches, and monuments—and the Colosseum, statue of David, and Bridge of Sighs don’t disappoint. However, you’ll soon realize there’s more to satisfy the senses than you ever imagined, from the scent of freshly baked bread to the lively sounds of children playing soccer in city squares.
Get into Italy and play a leading role in this cultural adventure. Cycle up Tuscan hillsides, browse lively leather markets, and relax at neighborhood cafés. Greet shop owners with buon giorno and order espresso confidently at bar counters. Sample traditional flavors in local trattorie, bite into tripe sandwiches, enter unexpected doorways, and ask strangers for suggestions. Every moment here is worth savoring and offers a chance to soak in the creativity of the past and energy of the present.
Italy will reward you and with a little determination, if you immerse yourself in each city, you’ll discover the characteristics and customs that make each one unique. You’ll begin to distinguish Romanesque churches from Renaissance palazzi, Florentine negroni cocktails from Venetian spritz, and great gelato from average ice cream. The experience is sure to leave an indelible mark on mind, stomach, and soul.
Enjoy the journey!
20 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Gazing up at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel—arguably the greatest fresco ever painted.
2 Taking in the thousands of golden mosaics that decorate St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice’s holiest site, where the city’s patron saint is buried.
3 Savoring local specialties. Every Italian city has its culinary specialties such as cacio e pepe pasta in Rome, pappa al pomodoro in Florence, and fritto misto in Venice.
4 Getting up close and personal with Michelangelo’s David, the world’s most famous statue.
5 Cruising Venice’s Canals, whether by gondola, vaporetto, or traghetto.
6 Exploring the Colosseum by day—then returning to see it illuminated after dark.
7 Joining the locals for aperitivo, the Italian version of happy hour. Venice has a distinct version, accompanied by snacks known as cicchetti.
8 Stepping into the center of the Roman Empire at the Roman Forum, where ancient temples, arches, shops, and monuments tell the story of a bygone era.
9 Climbing to the top of Florence’s Duomo, Brunelleschi’s iconic and innovative dome that’s become a symbol of the city.
10 Getting a different perspective on David at the Bargello National Museum, one of the least-crowded museums in Florence.
11 Seeing light stream through the dome of the Pantheon, Rome’s best-preserved ancient temple.
12 Finding your favorite flavor of gelato, one of Italy’s greatest gastronomic contributions.
13 Admiring masterworks by Bernini, Botticelli, and Caravaggio displayed in a sumptuous villa at the Borghese Gallery.
14 Cycling through (Villa Borghese, Rome’s central park, which offers panoramic views of the city.
15 Climbing the cupola, visiting the tombs of past popes, and exploring the cavernous interior of St. Peter’s Basilica, the center of the Roman Catholic faith.
16 Appreciating the art that kick-started the Renaissance at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery.
17 Partaking in the daily caffeine ritual inside Italian bars. For a true local experience, stand rather than sit.
18 Hiking to Basilica San Miniato al Monte, the highest spot in Florence, for undisturbed views of the city skyline. Take the back route up secluded paths and escape the crowds.
19 Learning the techniques of Venetian glassblowing at the active furnaces of Murano.
20 Wandering the vast complex of the Doge’s Palace to discover a darker side of Venice.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Italy’s capital and largest city is an heirloom of art, history, and culture. Its vast historic center contains some of the world’s most iconic monuments. The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are the focal points of antiquity, where ancient Romans once debated, worshipped, and played. Many sights including the Colosseum and Pantheon are remarkably intact. Across the Tiber River lies the Vatican. The world’s smallest state packs an artistic punch with the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and Basilica San Pietro, which houses Michelangelo’s Pieta and attracts thousands of visitors every day.
Rome is more than a collection of famous sights. A vibrant population proud of their past and their soccer teams animates this busy metropolis day and night. The city stays up later than either Florence or Venice, with clubs and aperitivo bars hosting the Italian version of happy hour. Wandering the medieval alleys of Trastevere, sipping espresso at outdoor cafés, or enjoying pizza al taglio are all excellent opportunities of acquainting oneself with the Eternal City.
The birthplace of the Renaissance is a grand city on a human scale. Stepping off the train in Florence feels like entering a different era, where artisans practice age-old traditions and traditional crafts are still sold by vendors along the Ponte Vecchio. Visitors flock to Florence to circle David, the world’s most famous statue; glimpse artistic masterpieces inside the Uffizi museum; and climb Brunelleschi’s Duomo, an engineering triumph that rises majestically above the terra-cotta rooftops. Experiencing the city also means sampling Tuscan food and uncorking bottles of locally produced Chianti. Outside the lively center, hillsides are dotted with sumptuous villas and gardens where travelers can escape the heat and get a unique perspective on the city.
It’s hard not to feel romantic in Venice. Founded after the fall of the Roman Empire, this island city’s glorious past is still evident within mosaic-encrusted Basilica di San Marco and inside Palazzo Ducale, where doges ruled over much of the Mediterranean. Geography forced the city to look outward and prosper by trading with the world. The result of commercial and cultural exchange is still evident in art, architecture, and cuisine.
Today, the gondolas that glide across the Grand Canal infuse the city with otherworldly charm. Flavors and smells inherited from the Orient enrich local kitchens. Venetians toast with prosecco, snack on delectable finger food known as cicchetti, and include seafood on nearly every menu. Artisans keep the traditions of glassblowing and lacemaking alive, and the city’s ferries put the lagoon islands of Murano and Burano enticingly within reach.
Know Before You Go
When to Go
Rome, Florence, and Venice are among the most visited cities in the world. Deciding when to go will have a significant impact on your experience.
Summer sees a dramatic increase in arrivals, with July and August the apex of the tourist season. Airlines and hotels take advantage of demand to raise their rates, and temperatures rise to sweltering. Avoid visiting in July and August if you can. If you can’t, book ahead and purchase sightseeing passes like the RomaPass (Rome), Firenzecard (Florence), or Venezia Unica (Venice) to speed up entry to monuments. The majority of Italians take their vacations in August, which means many small businesses close and it can feel like tourists outnumber locals.
One advantage of arriving in summer is how many events each city plans. The cultural calendar is full of outdoor concerts, festivals, and street fairs that make a visit even more animated than usual.
SPRING AND FALL
Late spring and early fall are ideal times to visit all three cities. May and September are especially pleasant. Not only are there fewer visitors but also temperatures are comfortable, daylight is long, and precipitation low. Hotels charge midseason rates and locals are engaged in their usual routines. Autumn is also harvest season, when food-related festivals are held and newly picked grapes are transformed into wine.
November and December are relatively mild in Rome, but they are the rainiest months and can be very cold in both Florence and Venice. Christmas and New Year festivities attract a wave of visitors over the holidays, as does Carnevale, which each city celebrates in its own way. Apart from during the holiday season, accommodations and airfare are more affordable in winter and accessing the Vatican or Uffizi in January can take minutes rather than hours.
Passports and Visas
E.U. citizens can travel visa-free to Italy. Travelers from the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand do not need a visa for visits of less than 90 days, but a passport is required. For travelers from South Africa, a visa is required. There is a fee, and the application process takes two weeks.
Within Europe, all three cities are easily reached by quick flights. Travelers outside Europe will likely arrive at Rome’s Aeroporto di Roma-Fiumicino (FCO, Via dell’Aeroporto 320, tel. 06/65951, www.adr.it), an international hub. Venice’s Aeroporto di Venezia (VCE, Via Galileo Galilei 30, tel. 041/260-6111, www.veniceairport.it) also receives some flights from outside Europe, including North America. Florence’s airport, Aeroporto di Firenze-Peretola (FLR, Via del Termine 11, tel. 055/30615, www.aeroporto.firenze.it), is the smallest of the three, with no direct flights from anywhere outside Europe.
Traveling between Rome, Florence, and Venice by train is fast, easy, and convenient. Buses are a cheap alternative, with a half-dozen companies operating between Rome, Florence, and Venice. Travel time, however, is longer than by train and offers less flexibility than a car. If you prefer to drive, reserve a car before departure and specify automatic transmission if you’re unfamiliar with manual. Get the maximum insurance as driving in Italy has its risks and few cars avoid dents for very long. An international license is not required, but can resolve confusion if you are pulled over.
Many museums and monuments can be reserved in advance and some, like Galleria Borghese, must be. Booking tickets online to the Colosseum and the Uffizi in Florence before arriving in Italy saves time unless you plan on purchasing a City Card, which allows direct entry and is available in all three cities.
Last entry to Italian museums is 30-45 minutes before closing, and audio guides (which are a good investment) require leaving ID. Although most Italian businesses accept credit and debit cards, some restaurants are cash only. Tax is already included in prices and you should keep receipts on major purchases if you plan on VAT reimbursement. Tipping is never required. Monuments in all three cities offer discounts for those under 18 and over 65. Transportation is free for kids 6 and under and many museums are free for kids under 12.
Best of Rome, Florence, and Venice
Rome is a convenient starting point for a three-city tour of Italy. Most transatlantic flights land directly in the Italian capital and tickets are less expensive than to Florence or Venice, which may require connecting flights. The 327 miles (526 kilometers) that separate the cities are covered by high-speed trains, which are the quickest and easiest way of getting between destinations. A Rome-to-Florence-to-Venice itinerary also allows you to travel from most populated to least populated and from oldest to newest, which can facilitate appreciation and understanding of the cities.
Seeing everything is impossible, and visiting one museum after another will leave you exhausted and unable to absorb anything. You’re better off taking it slow and balancing your days with a mix of sights and everyday activities, like lingering in piazze, searching for the best gelato, and partaking in aperitivo time (happy hour). Using local travel cards like RomaPass, Firenzecard, and Venezia Unica help get the most out of your journey without wasting precious hours in line.
Walking is the best cure for jet lag, so after you settle into your room, head out for lunch and a stroll. The pizza al taglio parlors in the center provide a good introduction to Roman pizza. Point to the variety you want and have it wrapped up for takeaway. Wander through Campo de’ Fiori and observe the comings and goings in this busy square. At the first sign of a yawn enter a bar and order an espresso. Although most Romans drink at the counter, outdoor table seating is common. Afterward ride the number 23, 44, or 280 bus or 8 tram to Aventino and Testaccio. If it’s close to aperitivo (happy hour) order a cocktail at Porto Fluviale and enjoy the buffet that doubles as dinner. The longer you resist sleep the easier it will be to adapt to Italian time.
The Colosseum cannot be missed. Walk to the ancient stadium, or ride Metro B to the Circo Massimo subway station and approach from the south. Skip the lines with your preordered tickets or RomaPass and spend an hour exploring the interior with the audio guide. Then head next door to the Roman Forum, where you can wander through ruins and get a feel for ancient Rome. To see more artifacts, climb the nearby Capitoline Hill and visit the Musei Capitolini. Michelangelo designed the square outside and there’s a great view of the city from the adjacent Vittoriano monument.
Walk down to the Jewish Ghetto for a taste of deep-fried artichokes prepared the Jewish way at Nonna Betta or any of the kosher restaurants lining Via del Portico D’Ottavia. Alternatively, ride the number 8 tram to Piramide and swap ancient ruins for 19th-century history. Pay your respects to Keats in the Protestant Cemetery before heading to the covered Testaccio Market. Pick a stand and create an improvised picnic with a beef sandwich, cheese, and bread, washed down with local wine served in plastic cups. On the way back, explore the residential streets of Aventino and the shaded Giardini degli Aranci (Orange Garden) with a view of the Vatican. Return at night to Monte Testaccio via Metro B for dancing and Roman nightlife, or dine al fresco at one of the informal kiosks along the Tiber River and let your feet have the night off.
Zigzag along pedestrian streets toward Campo De’ Fiori. Search the market for household souvenirs and order pizza bianca from Il Forno on the northwestern corner of the square. There’s a constant flow of tourists on their way to Piazza Navona, but plenty of scenic side streets leading to the oblong square. Once you arrive admire the fountains and street painters with the help of a gelato from Frigidarium. Musicians play near the fountains and there are many canvases on display. Avoid cafés where waitstaff bait passing tourists, and order your espresso at an authentic neighborhood bar.
The Pantheon is less than 10 minutes away and still free to enter. After a visit, browse the boutiques along Via del Corso as you head toward the freshly scrubbed Spanish Steps, which lead to Villa Borghese. Escape the summer heat by cycling or strolling through the city’s largest park and visit the Borghese Gallery (reservations required). Afterward, walk down to Piazza del Popolo and follow Via Ripetta to the Ara Pacis museum, then dine at Gusto. End the day sitting in front of the Trevi Fountain. The later you arrive, the more likely you’ll score a travertine seat and get a clear shot of the fountain.
Ride Metro A to Ottaviano or walk and follow the pilgrims to Vatican City. Remember to dress appropriately, and arrive early to the Vatican Museums or make reservations to beat the masses. Inside you can choose from several itineraries and could easily spend an entire day here. Most visitors beeline to the Sistine Chapel, but there are plenty of less-crowded parts of the museum such as the first-floor antiquities collection near the entrance. Once you’ve gotten your fill, take the guided bus tour of the Vatican gardens or enjoy a drink outside at the museum café before entering St. Peter’s Basilica. Light a candle and descend into the crypt to pay homage to past popes, then climb your way to the top of Michelangelo’s cupola. The elevator only goes so far and you’ll need stamina to reach the highest point in the city. If you arrive on Sunday morning you can join the faithful in the square below and receive the pope’s blessing.
The nearby streets of Borgo Pio and Borgo Vittorio have catered to pilgrims since the Middle Ages and are lined with eateries and souvenir shops. Follow either of these parallel roads to Castel Sant’Angelo. There’s a good view from atop the ancient mausoleum and a convenient rooftop bar. Walk or catch a bus to Trastevere and mingle with the evening revelers in Piazza Trilussa. Order cacao pepe pasta at Da Giovanni or any Roman trattoria and explore the streets of this lively neighborhood packed with bars and clubs.
WITH MORE TIME
Catch the Freccia del Mare commuter train from Ostiense station to Ostia Antica and wander among the well-preserved ruins of an ancient Roman city. Explore baths, temples, shops, and villas to understand how everyday life was two thousand years ago. Afterward have lunch in the small medieval village
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- Aug 3, 2021
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