Do you want to tour Italy like an expert?
Why do I ask that? Couldn’t I just say ‘Do you want to tour Italy?’ Well, yes, of course, I could have. However, I particularly want you to get more from your tour by getting the planning absolutely right before you go.
To give you an idea of what you can experience let me tell you a bit about our recent tour of Italy. We travelled to Italy in November 2018 for 10 days. We took the train all the way from London and used trains to get around while we were there. Not only did we have a fabulous time but we also got great value for money. Take a look at our trip report as it will give you a good idea of what a great tour of Italy looks like.
How to use this guide to plan your tour of Italy
You can use it as a starting point for planning your own trip. For this reason, I’ve also created a day-to-day itinerary of our tour of Italy. It covers the same tour as the trip report but it gives you a clearer view of the travel schedule. Of course, you’re welcome to copy it exactly and follow in our footsteps. At the same time, I’d be very surprised if you wanted to do the exact same things we did. With this in mind, I’ve got a few tips for adapting an existing itinerary and making it your own.
Should I begin my tour of Italy with the train or fly?
Firstly, you need to consider whether you want to travel by train all the way from London or whether you prefer to fly to Italy instead. I like to mix it up a bit on our trips and so sometimes we’ll make it a no-fly trip and use trains. Other times we fly. It’s usually more time-efficient to fly especially if you live further away from your destination. You might also be reading this blog but not live in the UK. That’s ok, that’s why you need your own planning strategy.
What if you don’t live in the UK?
If you live elsewhere in Europe you can quickly adapt the tour to start from your local railway station. It’s pretty easy to get from any city in Europe to another so it’s still very much an option for you. However, if you live outside of Europe it’s going to make sense for you to fly to Italy unless you’re adding this tour to a longer itinerary in Europe.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. There’s no right or wrong way to travel. The trick is finding out what you enjoy most. Here are a few resources which I would recommend to help you plan this aspect of your tour of Italy.
Everything you need to know about train travel
To find out what train services are available from any other country in Europe to any other than I thoroughly recommend The Man in Seat61 His site is an absolute goldmine of information on train travel and he provides detailed instructions on finding and booking trains. I’ve used his advice to travel all around the world by train and he’s never let me down. Just to be clear, this is a genuine recommendation through personal use. I don’t get anything if you click on the link. After all, he’s helped me out enormously over the years so hopefully, I can give a little back if you also use his resources.
Find the best flight deals to Italy
You might already have a favourite website for comparing airfares. Even if you prefer to book through the airline website directly it’s still worth running some searches on the comparison websites first. Most of the time, I book direct with the airline myself but I have booked through 3rd party sites if the price was really attractive
So, which ones would I recommend? Again, I don’t get anything for these recommendations but I do use them myself all the time. My first search is always Kayak. It’s easy to use and usually pulls up the best deals. I particularly like it because it also shows up ‘hacker fares’. These are fares where you need to book the various legs of your journey separately to get the best deal. Not for everyone, I realise that, as it’s more fiddly than just booking a return ticket. However, it’s something I’ve done in the past and I like the option to save money by doing so. Kayak doesn’t sell flights either. you are directed to the appropriate site to buy. It’s very useful if you want to book via the airline website as it shows those prices as well as 3rd party sites.
Don’t settle for one search
After Kayak, I search on Expedia. I have purchased flights through Expedia occasionally and it’s all worked out fine. I always like to be sure I’m getting a good price. That’s why I do the second search. You never know what might turn up and I wouldn’t like to miss a deal. Usually, Kayak has it covered though. As I said earlier, I usually book direct with the airline. You get less hassle that way. It has to be a really good saving to make me go the 3rd party route. Additionally, check that you are comparing like for like. Often the cheapest fares don’t include everything you might expect. Do you get meals, baggage, seat reservations? Make sure you check these things before you buy.
Where do you want to go during your tour of Italy?
Anyway, hopefully, now you’ve decided on your means of transport to Italy so we can set about planning the rest of your tour. The next thing on your planning list should be to scrutinise the itinerary and decide if it goes where you want to go.
You’re reading this so I’m fairly confident you want to go to Italy. Even if you don’t, you can still use the tips on this page to build your own trip and travel your way. We’re working on new resources all the time though so take a look around our website. You might find exactly what you’re looking for there rather than starting from scratch.
Do you want to take the scenic route when you tour Italy?
Our itinerary focuses on Naples, Florence and Turin with a trip on the scenic Bernina Express. Just a note about the detour via Switzerland for the scenic train journey. Of course, you don’t have to do this. Even if you choose to take trains to Italy there are alternatives. You could take the train directly to Naples and be there the same day. If you do take the Bernina Express, you won’t regret it though. Certainly, it was one of the highlights of the trip for me.
So, where do you want to go? Are those cities good for you or do you want to visit somewhere else in Italy? You can easily add Rome, Venice, Milan or Pisa or swap them in for one or more of the cities in my schedule. To find trains between different cities in Italy I would recommend using Loco2. Again, nothing in it for me but I use them. Their website is easy to use and there’s no markup on the prices. They save all your train bookings in one place so if you lose your confirmation for any reason you can just print another. Moreover, when our TGV train to Zurich was delayed by several hours they made it very easy for me to claim the compensation I was due from France’s railway operator SNCF.
How to find the perfect hotel
Now, let’s talk about hotels. Firstly think about whether you actually want to stay in hotels. You have other options instead. For example, hostels, guest houses or B&Bs. You might prefer self-catering like an apartment for instance. I’ve stayed in all of them and they all have merits. When I’m planning I usually mix and match depending on a number of factors.
Stay close to the city centre
Firstly, location. When I travel to a city I like to stay in the main tourist or historical area. If it’s at all possible, I like to be able to walk everywhere and so the ideal accommodation for me is in a central area close to the attractions. Of course, some cities are just too big for that so you need to take public transport or a taxi. If that’s the case I still look for somewhere which is close to one tourist area and where I can easily travel to other sights. In that case, look for accommodation near the metro or subway if you use them, I do. Or on a bus route. I do take taxis but I love the value for money of using public transport and we use it whenever we can.
Or near public transport
I know some people choose to stay further out of the city and travel in each day. In that case, stay near public transport or budget for taxis. As I’m always saying, it’s your trip so totally your choice. For me, the flexibility of being able to return to the hotel and then head out again is a key reason to stay in the city centre.
Once, you have your location narrowed down you need to look at what accommodations are available. To begin with, you need to consider your budget. It’s all very well me telling you to stay in the city centre if you can’t find any accommodation in that area that you can afford.
Make the right choice for you
This is why I tend to mix and match the type of accommodation we stay in. For example, we stayed in the Sydney Central YHA when we visited Sydney on our Round the World without Flying trip. We stayed there for two main reasons.
Firstly, it was close to the station and we had an early morning train to Melbourne so the location was ideal. We could walk to Darling Harbour which is a fantastic area for walking, shopping and eating. Secondly, it fitted our budget. Hotels in central Sydney are expensive. On a shorter trip, I might well have accepted that and just budgeted in a more luxurious hotel. However, we were on a long trip and the budget really wouldn’t stretch to it. I looked at all the accommodation options within our budget and the YHA had the best reviews. It seemed to offer pretty much all we wanted. So I booked. It was great. I didn’t realise before then that hostels also offer private double rooms as well as dorms. This one even had a pool. So don’t discount a hostel if it looks like the best fit for your needs.
Read reviews carefully
Anyway, I digress. Let’s get back to planning the tour to Italy. The point I was trying to make is that I prioritise location but I still have a budget. So, I vary my accommodation to fit my budget. You’ll need to do the same. I use booking.com to search for hotels and look at reviews. I actually book quite a lot of my hotels through them. Interestingly, they also list apartments now.
The reason I like their reviews is that you can only leave a review if you’ve booked through them for that hotel. You still need to read between the lines on them though as everyone has their own standards. No hotel is ever going to get 100% positive reviews so don’t set your sights too high. One of my top tips for reading hotel reviews is to look for repeated negatives on cleanliness and customer service. If you see more than 2 or 3 people complaining about this then be very cautious. Just a quick note. Once, I find a hotel I like, I usually check the hotel website as well. If they have one and I can find it. Sometimes, they offer extra discounts, free upgrades or some other extras for booking direct. Don’t miss out by forgetting to check.
How to get around on your tour of Italy
Next, you need to consider how you’re going to get from city to city on your tour of Italy. If you read my trip report you’ll see that we loved the Italian trains. They’re clean, comfortable and usually pretty punctual. Most importantly, they take you directly from the centre of one city to the next. In short, the quickest and easiest way to get around Italy.
As always though, there are alternatives. You could hire a car and drive yourself. We love a good road trip and we’ve spent many happy weeks driving around Italy on other trips. Of course, all those things you’ve heard about Italian drivers are true. While driving on the motorways and in the countryside can be an enjoyable experience, driving in the city centre may not be so much fun. Again, this is another personal decision. I’ve driven in central London. The traffic and the standard of driving is every bit as bad as in any Italian cities. I once drove into the centre of Madrid during one of our road tours. The traffic isn’t the biggest decider for me. Without a doubt, the major factor is parking.
Driving is always an option if you can find parking
If your hotel has parking that’s a bonus but so many of them don’t. So you have to find public parking. This may or may not be close to where you’re staying. Then you have to pay city centre parking charges for days while your car sits unused. You see where I’m going with this don’t you? If you’re travelling from city to city I strongly suggest using public transport. My preference is, of course, trains.
Don’t dismiss driving if it suits you better
However, if you’re visiting a city as part of a longer road itinerary that makes a difference. You have a couple of options here. You can find a hotel with parking. If you’re lucky, free parking. If I’m on a road trip I always use the ‘parking’ check when searching for hotels. Saves finding the perfect place then discovering there is nowhere to keep your car. This is often a time when staying further from the city centre makes more sense. If you can find good accommodation with parking somewhere close to the city and near a metro, tram or bus stop it can make good sense to stay there. This is what I mean by staying flexible. There isn’t a one-size fits all approach to planning. It’s about getting what you want out of your trip.
Day to day itineraries
Now, you’ve got a list of cities to visit, accommodation is chosen and ready to book. You’ve decided how you’re getting from city to city. What next? Well, for me at least, this is the really fun bit. You need to decide what you want to do while you’re in each city. Of course, you could just wait until you get there, visit the tourist information office, have a wander around and then decide what to do. We used to do it like that. Then we found that we were losing the first-day making plans we could have made before we started our trip. Or we’d end up crisscrossing the city going from one attraction to another. Or worse, missing something we’d have really loved seeing because we didn’t find out about it until we’d left.
So, now I plan what we’re going to do before we start out on our travels. Usually, I draw up a day-to-day schedule, listing what we’re going to do in each place. At this stage, I consider which sights are close to each other. Then I try to balance different types of attractions. So you follow a visit to a museum with a visit to a park or garden. You don’t have to stick to it exactly. This is your holiday, not a military exercise.
Recommended Guide Books
I have to confess that I’m a bit of a collector of travel guide books. Although I get a lot of information online via travel websites and travel blogs, I still think you can benefit from a good old-fashioned guide book. Why? Well, it’s a good compact way to carry a lot of information with you for a start. Whereas I’ll sit and browse online when I’m on transport or sitting in the hotel at night, a guide book is really handy when we’re out and about and want a quick recommendation or information. Also, we don’t always have mobile wifi when we travel outside of Europe so rather than run up a phone bill browsing online, I use a guide book.
I use a lot of different books but two brands are my personal favourites, Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. Nowadays, I tend to buy the Kindle versions but I also have a lot of paperback ones as well.
Need a Kindle?
If you don’t already have a Kindle then I really recommend you get one. Fantastic for carrying lots of guide books without any extra weight added to your luggage. Also, don’t forget you can carry masses of holiday novels as well.
Get Your Kindle Here
The key to a successful trip is suiting yourself
If you get up one morning and feel tired, have a leisurely breakfast and a late start. If your feet are done by mid-afternoon, do yourself a favour and take a break. Head back to your hotel and have a swim, a lie-down or watch some tv. Whatever, it takes to make sure you’re not just ticking off attractions but not enjoying them. Enjoying your vacation is key. Everything you do should be because you’re loving it. Not because you think you should.
Read my trip report
You can get a flavour of what we did in the trip report of our tour of Italy. You’ll also find more detailed day-to-day suggestions in our city break articles. Although Naples is not at the top of everyone’s list of cities to visit in Italy we were pleasantly surprised by how much there was to see. On our trip, we spent one-day sightseeing in Naples and another on a visit to the amazing Pompeii.
We spent 3 very enjoyable days touring Florence. We bought the Firenze Card and used it to visit many of the fabulous museums, churches and gardens in the city. Read about why I think the Firenze card is such fantastic value for money in my Florence article. This includes all the things we packed into 3 days. It was a busy few days but we loved every minute.
If you decide to spend less time in Florence or more time relaxing in your hotel you’ll find “How to make the most of Florence in one day” useful. I’ve got to tell you though, I don’t think one day in Florence is enough. You’ll definitely want to come back again if you do.
Our final city break on our trip to Italy was Turin. Here, the star attraction was the Egyptian museum. It’s one of the best museums I’ve been to anywhere in the world. Check it out and all the other great things to do in Turin here.
Now it’s your turn
Now I’ve walked you through the process of planning your own trip to Italy, it’s your turn. Start planning a tour today. I know you’ll enjoy travelling so much more once you take control of your trips back. You’ll enjoy the cost savings too. For me, that means squeezing in a few more trips. Start with our detailed day by day itinerary and build your own dream trip.
Download our FREE Tour Italy planning spreadsheet
You can download a free spreadsheet which will help you plan and budget your Italy by train itinerary. Just sign up to subscribe to our newsletter using the form below.
The planning spreadsheet includes a day-by-day itinerary. It’s laid out so you can print a page for each day if you want to carry a copy with you as you travel. I’ve also included a budget page – just pop your train and hotel costs in and it will let you know how much the trip will cost. It’s based on my own personal spreadsheet which I create when planning each of our trips.
It’s absolutely free. Just subscribe to our newsletter using the form below and I’ll email you the link straight away. Enjoy planning!