My husband and I, big fans of all things Italian, just had an amazing 12-day trip through the heart of Italy. We went from ancient sites in Rome to sunny beaches on the Amalfi Coast, saw amazing art in Florence, and even rode gondolas in Venice! In this blog post we will take you through some of the highlights of our trip and share our 12-day Italy itinerary for first time visitors, in case you’re planning your own Italian trip. Get ready to feel the sun on your skin, the aroma of fresh pasta in your nose, and the echoes of “ciao bella” bouncing off your ears!
Days 1-3: Roman Rhapsody
Rome, baby, Rome! Our Italian love affair started with a bang in the Eternal City. Imagine walking into the colosseum, feeling the ghosts of gladiators in your sandals, the roar of the crowd echoing in your ears. We tossed a coin (of course!) in the Trevi Fountain, whispering our wildest wishes into its sparkling embrace. Each day was a sensory feast – the aroma of freshly baked bread from cozy panetteria mingling with the melodic symphony of Italian chatter.
Since this was our first visit to Italy, we did all the touristy sightseeing at Rome and boy, was it worth it!
We started early in the morning and headed straight to the Colosseum, the city’s iconic symbol and a testament to the grandeur of the Roman Empire. Imagine this: you walk into this giant stone beast, sunlight filtering through ancient arches, and suddenly you’re transported back 2,000 years – gladiators clashing, crowds roaring, all that blood and sand drama—you can practically smell it! We even peeked into the gladiatorial school (turns out, sword practice was mandatory—no excuses!).
After exploring the Colosseum, we headed to the Roman Forum, just a short walk away and strolled through this vast archaeological site where political, social and religious activity flourished centuries ago. We wandered amongst the ruins of temples, basilicas and arches to immerse ourselves in the history of the past.
Tip: We booked our tickets 2 months in advance to dodge the queues through Getyourguide. The skip-the-line passes to Colosseum and Roman forum get booked really fast, so we highly recommend to book this much in advance to avoid wasting time in long queues.
After soaking up the vibes of the Forum, we hiked up Palatine Hill. The view from the top was like a living postcard of Rome. It was hard to believe that the emperors once strolled these very grounds. We found a tranquil oasis of gardens and ancient palaces, with breathtaking views of the Forum and Circus Maximus.
Later, we stumbled upon this tiny cafe near the Roman Forum, tucked away like a secret. The carbonara, oh the carbonara! Creamy heaven mixed with black pepper and crispy pancetta, each bite a symphony of deliciousness.
Next morning we found ourselves in the smallest country in the world – Vatican City. We visited the Vatican Museums which were a treasure trove of art. The Raphael Rooms and the Map Room were jaw-dropping. And, of course, the Sistine Chapel – Michelangelo’s masterpiece. The ceiling frescoes, are not just paintings, they’re swirling angels and divine light, enough to make you question your earthly existence.
If you plan to visit the Vatican museums, please pre-book a tour in advance. I recommend taking a guided tour of the Vatican with fast-track access to learn about the history and opulence of Vatican.
After visiting the museums, we took a break for lunch in the nearby Prati neighbourhood, known for its delicious trattorias and local cuisine. We also enjoyed a lemon sorbet at Gelateria del Monte, for which my taste buds are still singing odes of joy!
In the afternoon, we visited Castel Sant’Angelo, a stunning cylindrical fortress originally built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian, and then headed to the legendary Bridge of Angels (Ponte Sant’Angelo) to enjoy a truly enchanting moment of sunset. This ancient bridge connects the city centre to Castel Sant’Angelo, creating a breathtaking crossing over the Tiber River.
Day 3 was all about soaking up the Roman vibes. We chilled at the Pantheon, a temple to ancient gods, then wandered through the Campo de’ Fiori market, a riot of colorful flowers and fresh produce.
Moving ahead to the Piazza Navona, a beautiful Baroque square decorated with stunning fountains, street performers and artists. We enjoyed the lively atmosphere and soaked up the energy of the city. From there, we headed to the famous Trevi Fountain, one of Rome’s most iconic landmarks. Legend has it that throwing a coin into the fountain guarantees your return to Rome.
Top Tip: The Trevi Fountain is always swarming with tourists during the day. Come back early in the morning, at sunrise, for a completely different atmosphere. You’ll be able to enjoy this place in peace and quiet, and take photos without other people in them. Also, avoid the tourist traps directly outside the Trevi Fountain. Instead, walk 5 mins to the locals-approved Ristorante Sora Lucia and enjoy their delicious carbonara. Trust me, you’ll find the best meals off the beaten path!
Days 4-5: Amalfi Coast Serenade
We boarded a slow train from Rome and went straight up till Salerno. Trading city vibes for coastal bliss, we arrived in Salerno, the gateway to the Amalfi Coast. This pastel paradise stole our hearts with its turquoise waters lapping at the shore, boats bobbing like colorful toys, and houses cascading down cliffs like a watercolor painting.
A lot of travelers usually stay at Sorrento, but I would recommend visiting Salerno instead, as it is less crowded and the accommodations are a lot more affordable compared to the popular villages of the Amalfi coast.
We checked-in to our hotel and then went straight up to the Salerno port to board a ferry up till Amalfi. You can easily book the ferry tickets at the port, but we recommend booking it online through the Travelmar’s website. The ferry takes only 30 minutes to reach Amalfi from Salerno and is a lot more convenient than taking a local bus.
Reaching Amalfi was like stepping into a dream. Narrow streets snaked between colorful houses, adorned with overflowing bougainvillea- their sweet scent weaving through the air. We got lost in a lemon grove, the citrusy aroma so intense it felt like we were swimming in sunshine. Imagine biting into a sun-warmed lemon, tartness dancing on your tongue, and that’s Amalfi – fresh, vibrant, and bursting with life.
Travel Tip: Ditch the suitcase and pack light! Navigating those Amalfi steps is easier with less baggage (and you’ll have more room for gelato!).
The next day, we again boarded a ferry from Salerno, but this time up till Positano. This vertical village clinging to the cliffs is basically Instagram IRL. Houses in shades of peach, ochre, and lemon tumbled down towards the turquoise water. We wandered through boutique-filled lanes, each corner unfolding a postcard-perfect vista.
Photo Op Alert: Grab your widest lens and head to the Spiaggia Grande beach. Capture the iconic view of colorful houses cascading down to the shore, the boats bobbing like lazy toys, and the sun painting the sky in fiery hues. Trust me, your phone storage will thank you!
As we sailed back to Salerno, the setting sun painted the sky in a thousand shades of orange and pink. A group of teenagers on another boat started belting out Italian pop music, their voices echoing across the water. We all spontaneously joined in, clapping and laughing, strangers united by the magic of the Amalfi Coast. Remember, sometimes the best moments are unexpected, serendipitous bursts of joy.
Days 6-8: Tuscan Tranquility
Day 6: With hearts full of coastal bliss, we took a fast train to Florence – the cradle of the Renaissance, and reached the Santa Maria Novella station. From the station, we went straight up to the Accademia Gallery, which is about a 15-minute walk. This is a very popular site, as it is home to Michelangelo’s David. During the high season, it gets extremely crowded, so we recommend reserving tickets online ahead of time to ensure entry and the cheapest price.
From the Accademia Gallery we walked up to the the Florence Cathedral aka the Duomo. It is part of the monumental complex of Santa Maria del Fiore. This “complex” includes not only the cathedral, but also a museum, the bell tower, the dome, the baptistery, and Santa Reparata. One of the best things to do in Florence is to climb the steps to the top of the dome. Not only did we see the inside of the cathedral, but we also witnessed the views of the frescoes on the inside of the dome, plus the 360 degree views over Florence.
We then took a stroll around the streets of Florence and watched the sunset at Ponte Vecchio. The city lit up at night and we enjoyed a glass of Aperol Spritz at one of those small bars across the other side of the river.
Overall, we spent our time ‘enjoying the vibe’ of the city rather than trying to ‘do everything’ and exhaust ourselves during our short stay, and that’s what I would recommend if you’re planning a one or two day trip to Florence.