Italy is a country that has something for everyone. It has sea and mountains, countryside and city escapes. There’s art and food and architecture.

With hundreds of worthy towns and cities to explore, it can feel impossible to narrow down your options. How can you choose which destinations with so many jaw-dropping options? It’s enough to overwhelm a first-time visitor to the Bel Paese.

Our answer? Start with the absolute must-see cities. After all, the classics are classics for a reason! Deep dive into Italy’s history, architecture and art with a trip to Italy’s cultural capitals: Rome, Florence and Venice.

Between the three you’ll find the vast majority of Italy’s world famous sites. Here you can visit the country’s top museums and cathedrals and experience the best of Italian food and wine.

Most first-time visitors to Italy try to see too much in too little time but if you have at least a week, you’ve got to dedicate it to Italy’s holy trinity: Rome, Florence and Venice. An itinerary of the three gives a perfect overview of Italy’s prominent regions and historically significant sights.

Rome

The Eternal City, Caput Mundi, the City of Seven Hills – Rome is the stuff of dreams and a worthy start to any Italy trip. 

There’s the Colosseum, Appia Antica, Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. There’s the Vatican City with its incredible Vatican Museums as well as St. Peter’s Basilica. There are parks and villas, museums and churches galore. There’s 2,000 years of history to see here, but you can see the headline acts with three days to explore if you plan it well.

Our Italy for First Timers itinerary offers a half-day tour with a private local guide. You can choose from a selection of half-day touring options such as Ancient Rome, Vatican City, or a culinary walking tour.

In your free time, take a walk in the city center’s nucleus to see Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, each within easy walking distance from the other. Or stroll through the old Jewish Ghetto then sip cocktails in the hip Trastevere neighborhood. The political and cultural capital of Italy, you can’t visit Italy without seeing Rome!

What to know:

Book tickets in advance to get into the Colosseum or St. Peter’s Basilica to avoid the lines and allocate at least half a day to view the museums well.

Despite the importance of the tourism industry in Rome, not everyone speaks English. That said, everyone is quite used to dealing with people who speak different languages and almost anything can be understood with a bit of patience and miming. Also keep in mind that even more than in Florence or Venice, most shops in Rome close for lunch – usually between 12:30 or 1 until 3 or 3:30 – so be sure to do your shopping in the morning or late afternoon.

Florence

 

Here you can choose the incomparable art in the Uffizi Gallery, the majesty of the David at the Accademia or a half-day spent exploring the massive complex of the Florence Cathedral – including a trip to the top of the dome! Whichever you choose, be sure to book your tickets ahead – tickets to the Uffizi sell out before midday and the lines seem to last for hours. You can book tickets ahead of time online for individual museums and other sites that you plan on visiting at Uffizi.org.

If you have the time and energy, consider a hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo for gorgeous views over Florence and a bonus visit to the suggestive San Miniato Church.

Florence is filled to the brim with important and impressive churches to choose from: Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, Santo Spirito and more but if you’re strapped for time, we’d dedicate it to the Duomo for your first trip to the city. Then of course, it’s time to consider the food! Though you could spend days in each of these cities, now is your chance to jaunt out into the Tuscan countryside to enjoy the wine and culinary secrets of Tuscany’s most beautiful hilltop towns. Take a day or a half day to visit a winery or beautiful Tuscan towns like Siena or Chianti.

This itinerary  offers multiple walking tours of the city, as well as a half-day private guided walking tour to see Renaissance treasures such as David. On day 6 of your journey you’ll have the choice of either exploring hilltop towns and family-run wineries with a knowledgeable local driver, or learning the secrets of Tuscan cooking with a private chef in her 17th-century Chianti estate.

What to know:

Expect to walk everywhere in Florence. The entire city center is a pedestrian zone and even taxis are limited to where they can take you so wear comfortable shoes and be ready to hit the pavement.

One of the most popular cities in Italy, but also quite small, the crowds can dampen any trip, but there are a few things you can do to ease the discomfort of the crowds like coming in the off-season, booking your museums ahead of time or finding some open space in the beautiful Boboli Gardens. 

Most museums are closed on Mondays in Florence. The Accademia, the Uffizi, even Palazzo Pitti are all closed on Mondays but you can still see the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio as well as most of the city’s churches. 

Florence and Tuscany in general is renowned for their fine leatherwork. Now’s the time to splurge on that handmade leather jacket, purse, belt or shoes! For a real glimpse into the craft, head to the Oltrarno (the neighborhood beyond the Arno River) to peek into the studios and see the artisans at work.

Venice

Many travelers visit Venice in a short day trip, but they miss out on the water city’s evocative evening atmosphere. Allow at least one overnight to really discover the city. Only in the early morning when the cruise ships haven’t arrived yet or in the evening when the tourists have drained out of the city will you be able to enjoy Venice at its most serene.

A tangle of alleyways and bridges, here you want to explore each unique neighborhood, the San Marco Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale. Cross the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs or go for something unique at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum.

After touring the main sites, take a water bus or water taxi to neighboring Murano to see its famed blown glass craftwork and to Burano to admire the brightly colored houses. And when it’s time to eat, seek out a café or bar for Venice’s traditional cicchetti appetizers. Great for a light lunch or a pre-dinner aperitivo, cicchetti are small plates of food served with a glass of wine. You can choose from a variety of small bruschettas topped with a different patès, meats, seafood or cheeses. Less expensive and more authentic than most restaurants in Venice, cicchetti are a great way to dive into the local culture. 

Our knowledgeable local guides will lead you through the major sites such as San Marco, artisanal shops and neighborhoods, followed by a one-hour private water taxi ride through Venice’s famed canals on our Italy for First Timers trip.

What to know:

Though summer is hit by throngs of tourists, visitors during the autumn and winter months risk being there during the aqua alta, when the seawater floods the city and pedestrians can only get around on raised planks throughout the city. 

Check ahead for festivals and holidays in Venice. Beyond the world-famous carnival season, every other year there is the Biennale d’Arte event, as well as an architecture one in the off years and the Venice Film Festival as well. Though the Biennale event is up all year, the Giardini della Biennale has 30 permanent Biennale pavilions and is one of the largest garden spaces on the island. 

What to Know Before You Go

You’ve chosen your destinations and booked your flight but before you leave, there’s a few things you’ll need to prepare to help you have the best trip possible. Read our post on what to do before your trip to Italy.

The best way to get the most out of your time on a first trip is to have a rough itinerary for each day. You could spend weeks exploring Rome, so decide ahead of time what you absolutely have to see, then fill in any free time beyond that with secondary desires.

If your list is particularly long and you’re not already on our Italy for First Timers tour, consider booking a day tour or two to travel efficiently. A tour led by a local expert means that you don’t have to worry about navigating your way around a new place and that you actually get some background on what it is your seeing!

We have a whole article on how to pack for your Italian vacation, but one piece of advice is worth repeating: remember to bring clothes that cover shoulders and thighs to visit religious sites. Scarves work in a clinch for one of the two exposed areas. Also be sure to bring walking shoes. In Rome, Florence or Venice you’ll want comfortable sneakers for the cobbled streets. Plus you’ll be in good company; Italians tend to wear flats or tennis shoes year round, keeping the sandals for the beach.

Italy in summer is hot. Don’t be beat down by the sun – bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen to ensure you’re able to take advantage of all the time you have.

On your first trip to Italy you have to start somewhere so why not start with Italy’s three biggest destinations? After all, there’s a reason they’re on everyone’s list! There’s no better introduction to Italy than Rome, Florence and Venice, Italy’s “Holy Trinity” of cultural cities. Don’t worry about the destinations you didn’t get to – you’ll be back.

Want to experience the best of Italian food and wine, art and antiquities without the stress of planning? Let Ciao Andiamo help! Ask us about our Italy for First Timers Private Trip.

Similar stories

A Guide to Piedmont: What to Do, See and Eat in One of Italy’s Top Culinary Regions

What to Do Before Your Trip to Italy

The Best Beaches of Puglia

Shaped like a long, willowy “Y” in the north of Lombardy, Lake Como is ringed by colorful fishing towns and magnificent villas.

Surrounded by the foothills of the Alps, the lake has been a playground for the wealthy since the time of dukes and kings and it’s easy to see why. The lake has all the beauty and benefits of the outdoors with all the comforts of high-class Italy. There’s no lack of cafés, bars and fancy restaurants to frequent along the lake not to mention sublime views and plenty of shopping!

Even today the area is still ritzy enough to sparkle like the lake’s water, only now it’s open to all.


Spring is by far the best time to visit the lake. The area begins to awaken from its slow-season hibernation just as the flowers start to bloom. In fact, those flowers are a huge part of Lake Como’s beauty!

The lake’s unique microclimate helps to grow magnificent gardens and the aristocrats and celebrities who live there help cultivate them. That combined with its charming villages and unique geography making it one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

Of course Lake Como is known for its namesake town, but there’s so much more to explore beyond Como. Though many visitors take a quick day trip from Milan up to the lake, we suggest giving yourself at least a night or two to drink, shop, eat, and explore all the lake has to offer!

Where to Go

Here it’s all about enjoying beauty for beauty’s sake. Whether you’re strolling the promenade, eyeing the expansive mountains from the water or surrounded by the lush gardens of the elegant villas, beauty is the theme. These are some of our favorite beautiful towns along the lake and the most beautiful gardens, villas and sights to see in each one.

Bellagio

Known as the pearl of Lake Como, Bellagio sits like a tiny pearl on the tip of a peninsula separating the two branches of the lakes. A resort town since the ancient Romans, Bellagio is still one of the most popular towns on the lake today and can easily be packed during summertime. Come around 5 pm when visitors are starting to trickle away. Walk the steep stony streets and narrow alleyways and browse the artisan shops and jewelers. After, choose the best table you can find along the water and get a spritz for a nice lakefront aperitivo or drink with snacks. You’re on vacation so allow yourself to lounge like the ancient Romans once did!

Como

A close-up of intricate silk scarves from Lake Como
Photo by Iain Cameron

The lake’s namesake town, Como is one of the few towns with something to see beyond a villa or beautiful view (though it has those also). The ritzy town lends itself to fine dining and fancy boat rides, but stroll the streets to get to know it a bit. Como was the birthplace of ancient Roman poets Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger as well as Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the battery, who has a museum dedicated to him there. Make a visit to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta with its magnificent Gothic façade and even if you don’t have the time to visit the silk museum you might just find the time to shop for a silk scarf or tie! All the area is famous for its silk weaving industries.

After, you can take the funicular from the center of Como to Brunate, a small village on the mountain above Como, for spectacular views.

Lenno

Just north of Como, Lenno is a sleepy town filled with beauty. Though it’s a perfect escape from the crowds, it’s also home to the sumptuous Villa del Balbianello, a yellow villa on the south of town that juts out into Como’s waters. The Villa is famous (as always) for its gardens but especially for being the setting of the Star War’s Episode II Attack of the Clones. Beyond that, Lenno also has a charming town square and one of our favorite lakefront promenades, tucked in a tiny inlet on the lake.

Menaggio

A veritable resort town, Menaggio is a popular base on the western side of the lake for international and Italian tourists. Just 8 miles from Lugano, Switzerland – a favorite for its shopping – it’s also well connected to the rest of the lake. Menaggio offers more in amenities and entertainment than other Lake Como towns including restaurants, hotels, a youth hostel, live entertainment and even a mini-golf course.

Tremezzo

a fountain in Villa Carlotta encircled by decorative hedges overlooking Lake Como
Photo by David Spender

Visit Tremezzo to see Villa Carlotta, a 17th-century mansion-turned-museum, and its impressive Italian garden. It’s one of the most beautiful gardens in all of Italy! The garden covers nearly 20 acres of land in color with azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas, ferns and citrus trees. Different paths lead you to different parts of the garden depending on how much time you have. The town itself is essentially squashed against the lake in a long line of houses, but there is an area off a public park with steps into the water where you can swim. There it is clean but quite deep. Children will want to access the water near the shallow pebble beach nearby.

Lecco

On the eastern side of the lake’s two branches (or legs, as some see it) sits Lecco. Famous as the setting of The Betrothed, a historical Italian novel by Italy’s esteemed author Alessandro Manzoni, today it’s an industrial town and one of the biggest on this side of the lake. Its city center is nevertheless clean, well-organized and filled with life. It’s a perfect place to stretch your legs, get a focaccia or ice cream then grab a seat along the lake and enjoy the via vai of people and boats and swans that pass the harbor.

Varenna

Founded in 769 by fishermen, today Varenna is a vibrant town popular for its pathway lungolago.

The waterfront path is as long as the entire village and makes for a lovely stroll day or night. Restaurants, artisan shops and ice cream shops dot the pathway. Continue your stroll through the town and on to the Villa Monastero, most impressive for its gardens stretching out along two kilometers of prime lakefront real estate. The garden is decorated with sculptures, reliefs, fountains and a small Doric temple but all pale in comparison to the palm trees, agave plants, cacti and succulents and entire walls of roses that fill the historical garden.

Bellano 

Far less visited than Varenna, Bellano is just as charming and likely to be more budget friendly. Here you could actually imagine getting a room with a lakefront view. A quiet escape, there’s also a natural, plunging ravine called Orrido di Torrente Pioverna. Roughly 15-million years old, it’s well worth a walk along its steel pathways.

How to get there

Como is easy to get to from Bergamo or Milan airports. The Lake is large, so driving times will vary by town, but Milan to Como by car takes roughly an hour as does Milan to Lecco. If you are self-driving, you’ll exit the highway and follow the Strada Statale 340 for the western shore or the SS 36 for the eastern shore, but your best bet is to get a car with a navigator.

Trains go from Milan to Como on the western shore and Lecco, Abbadia Lariana, Varenna, Colico and a few others on the eastern shore. Check the TrenItalia website for timetables, prices and destinations available.

How to get around

You can see Lake Como by car, boat or public ferry.

If you take private car service or rent a car to explore the area, you’ll join a long parade of Ferrari’s, Lambourghini’s and Porche’s zipping around the winding lake roads. You can stop wherever you want and have no time restrictions, but parking can be problematic and most towns are pedestrian-only zones.

If you’d like to stick to public transportation you can catch a bus to most towns along the lake.

Otherwise, you can tour around by water.

A passenger ferry crossing lake como
Passenger ferries are a popular way to get around the lake. Inexpensive, fast and easy to use, it’s by far the most scenic transportation as well! Photo by Jaan Toots

The public ferries are run by Navigazione Lago di Como. The ferry and car service only runs between the most popular of Lake Como’s towns: Menaggio, Bellagio, Varenna and Cadenabbia (Tremezzo) but you can take private boat service to nearly all of the towns along the lake.

The only option if you want to crisscross the lake, it’s also by far the most scenic way to travel Lake Como. All those fancy villas? They were built to be seen from the water!

Ready to visit Lake Como? Indulge yourself with a private boat tour exploring some of our favorite Lake Como sights. After the luxury of Lake Como you’ll enjoy the lush countryside among Piedmont’s vineyards and relax in the idyllic Italian Riviera on our Northern Italy Indulgence trip!

Similar stories

How To Stay Healthy While Traveling

What to Do Before Your Trip to Italy

A Guide to The Holiday Season in Italy