Italy, a European country with a long Mediterranean coastline, has left a powerful mark on Western culture and cuisine.
Its capital, Rome, is home to the Vatican as well as landmark art and ancient ruins. Other major cities include Florence, with Renaissance masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s "David" and Brunelleschi's Duomo; Venice, the city of canals; and Milan, Italy’s fashion capital.
4:00am-12:30pm : Rome
3:30pm-5:30pm : Colosseum
Considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering, Colosseum is the largest amphitheater in the world. This world-famous Roman landmark is one of the city's most visited attractions, so expect a long line and an even longer wait. Skip the long line for the general entry by joining a guided tour of the site or by booking your tickets online. Built of concrete and stone, the elliptical amphitheater was originally capable of seating some 50,000 spectators who came to watch animal fights and gladiatorial combats. Emperor Vespasian began the amphitheater project in 70 CE. It was completed during the reign of Titus about ten years later, measuring 48 m (157 ft) high, 188 m (617 ft) long, and 156 m (511 ft) wide.
10:00am-11:00am : Trevi Fountain
Throw a coin over your left shoulder into Trevi Fountain, the legend claims, and you are sure to eventually return to the city. Undoubtedly one of the most photographed sites in the city, the fountain was designed by architect Nicola Salvi and built in 1762. Standing at 26 m (86 ft) high and 49 m (161 ft) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city. Fans of Italian cinema easily recognize this site, which has appeared in numerous notable films, including director Federico Fellini's famed "La Dolce Vita."
11:30am-12:30pm : Pantheon
Nearly 2,000 years old, Pantheon is the only building from the Greco-Roman world that has remained substantially intact and in continuous use throughout its long history. A marvel of ancient architecture, it still boasts the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. Originally designed to be a temple to all the gods of the ancient Rome, the site has been used as a Roman Catholic church, dedicated to St. Mary, since the seventh century. The building features large, granite Corinthian columns. Don't skip this site if it's raining; seeing and hearing the rain pouring into this ancient building through the hole in the ceiling is a special experience.
1:00pm-2:00pm : St.Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica is not only among the most renowned works of Renaissance architecture, but it is also one of the largest churches in the world. Built over a period of about 120 years, this imposing structure was designed by several prominent Renaissance architects, including Michelangelo and Bernini. Tradition and strong historical evince hold that the tomb of Saint Peter, one of Jesus’s twelve apostles, is located directly below the altar of the church. Because of its location in the Vatican, the Pope presides at a number of services held here throughout the year, frequently drawing audiences of up to 80,000 people. Take the elevator up to the roof and then climb the 323 steps to the top of the dome, which offers sweeping views of the surrounding area. A strict dress code forbids shorts, bare shoulders, or miniskirts inside the site.
2:30pm-6:00pm : Vatican Museums
The easiest way to experience Vatican Museums, featuring an outstanding collection of fine art, is by joining a guided tour. These museums display works from an immense collection that the Roman Catholic church built up over several centuries. You can see some of the most renowned Classical sculptures in the world, as well as numerous Renaissance art masterpieces. Founded in the early 16th century by Pope Julius II, the museums contain 54 galleries. The last stop and a highlight of every tour is the Sistine Chapel, featuring the world-famous ceiling decorated by Michelangelo. You are not required to join a tour, but the collection is spread over an area of nearly 15 km (9 mi), so it's highly recommended. Look online beforehand to choose from many different tour options.
10:00am-11:30am : Spanish Steps
Climb Spanish Steps, the widest staircase in Europe and one of the most majestic urban monuments of the Baroque style. The 136 steps once linked the Spanish Embassy to a Franciscan church that was officially under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France. An iconic fountain created by artist Gianlorenzo Bernini and his father stands at the foot of the staircase. Designed by architects Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi, the staircase and the piazza were built between 1723 and 1725.
12:00pm-1:0pm : Piazza Navona
Noisy and vibrant, Piazza Navona is the hub of artistic and commercial activity in this part of the city. Known for its Baroque architecture, alfresco restaurants, ornate fountains, and street artists, the square attracts visitors from around the world. The centerpiece is an elaborate fountain--representing the rivers Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Plate-- created by Baroque sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini. A massive, ancient obelisk tops the fountain. Artists Giacomo della Porta and Antonio della Bitta sculpted the two smaller fountains here. The plaza was built in the first century on the site of a former arena where ancient Romans came to watch various competitions.
1:30pm-3:0pm : Roman Forum
Dating to the 7th century BC when it originally developed as a marketplace, Roman Forum today presents a remarkably well-preserved picture of what became the social, political, and commercial heart of the Roman Empire. Set off along one of the paths to encounter remnants of temples, basilicas, and government buildings. Crane your neck to take in the eight soaring columns of the Temple of Saturn, marvel at the magnificent white marble Arch of Septimius Severus--a victory arch standing 23 m (75.5 ft) high, 25 m (82 ft) wide, and 11.85 m (38.9) deep--and amble past the Curia Julia to witness where the Roman Senate conducted affairs of the state. To see as much of the expansive collection of ancient artifacts and to put them in rich context, consider hiring a guide or joining a tour of the site.
3:30pm-5:30pm : Palatine Hill
Civilization was managed for centuries from Palatine Hill, the commercial, religious, and political center of ancient Rome. The city on top of this hill looks down upon the age-old forum from a height of about 40 m (131 ft). Once an inhospitable marshland, the area was gradually drained and then turned into a hub of the city's political and economic activities. You may want to visit more than once to see everything, so remember that your ticket is good for two days. You can access these sites only by foot over a bumpy path with stones from the ancient Roman period. You may want to rent an audio guide at a nearby booth.
6:30pm-9:00pm : Florence
10:00am-11:00am : The Boboli Gardens
Behind Florence's Pritti Palace sits The Boboli Gardens, an outdoor sculpture museum. Designed for the Medici grand dukes in the 16th century, this is one of the earliest examples of the Italian Garden style that later inspired the green spaces of many European courts. Choose one of the garden's many trails and discover grottoes, fountains, and statues. The sculptures date from the 16th to the 18th century, with some Roman antiquities. Walk to the top of the hill at the back of the garden for views of Florence. Guided tours are available.
11:30am-12:30pm : Pizzale Michelangelo
Piazzale Michelangelo is decorated with bronze replicas of some of Michelangelo's best-known sculptures. This famous square offers panoramic city views. Designed by architect Giuseppe Poggi and built in 1869, this plaza stands on a hill just south of the historic town center. Poggi designed this public space as a terraced observation deck, which today houses a popular restaurant. The view encompasses the heart of Florence, numerous bridges crossing the river Arno, and the hills beyond the city's skyline.
1:00pm-2:00pm : Ponte Vecchio
Walk across one of Florence's oldest and most iconic landmarks, Ponte Vecchio. Spanning the Arno river in the heart of the city, the 14th-century bridge features a wide, three-arch design supporting a series of historic shop fronts. Stroll the bridge's thoroughfare to peruse shops or see street performances. Visit the secret Vasari Corridor that stretches across the bridge to connect two Renaissance palaces. Antique jewelry enthusiasts may want to keep an eye out for the area's gold and silversmith shops.
2:30pm-3:00pm : piazzadel Duomo
To experience the city's atmosphere of culture, art, and history, drop by Piazza del Duomo, a lively square in the historic town center. One of Europe's most visited sites, this area is world-famous for offering stellar views from the main cathedral's dome, a creation of the Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi. A huge statue of the architect sits in the square, his figure looking up toward his greatest achievement. The plaza also includes a Gothic bell tower designed by the city's other celebrated architect, Giotto di Bondone. Visit the octagonal baptistery built in honor of St. John, one of the oldest structures in the city. While strolling around this public space, drop by the square's popular museum of fine art, which features masterpieces by Michelangelo and Donatello, among others.
3:00pm-4:00pm : Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
The symbol of the city and its main church, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is renowned for its huge dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the foremost architects of the Italian Renaissance. This Gothic structure, begun in 1296 following the design of architect Arnolfo di Cambio, was completed in 1436. The elaborate facade is a 19th-century addition that represents the Gothic Revival style prevalent across Europe at the time. The cathedral complex, which includes a baptistery and a bell tower, is part of a World Heritage site covering the historic center of the city. In the piazza in front of the cathedral, a statue of Brunelleschi looks upwards towards his dome. You can climb the 464 steps to the dome through the entrance on the side of the church, but be prepared for a long line.
4:00pm-5:30pm : Cam Panile di Giotto
Climb more than 400 steps to the top of Campanile di Giotto to enjoy views of Florence. At a height of almost 90 m (280 ft), the 14th-century tower features seven antique bells and is considered a masterpiece of Florentine Gothic architecture. Admire the ornate detail of the tower's exterior styling, which includes several reliefs, statues, and carved panels. Wear good walking shoes for the hike to the top, because the stairs are narrow and steep. Your admission ticket also provides entry to the adjoining cathedral, baptistery, and museum.
10:00am-11:00am : Basilica of Santa Maria Novella
The first great basilica in Florence, Basilica of Santa Maria Novella is a treasure house of sacred ornaments and artifacts built on top of an earlier place of worship that dates back to the ninth century. The most famous are the Gothic and Renaissance frescoes commissioned by the city's most prominent families. The interior of the basilica is a labyrinth of chapels, all decorated with Renaissance artwork commissioned by families such as the Medicis. One of these family members, Cosimo I, held chariot races in the large square at the front entrance. This tradition lasted until the 19th century. Look at the sacristy for one of Giotto's early works, "John the Evangelist."
11:30am-12:30pm : Basilica of Santa Crore
The burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, Basilica of Santa Croce holds the tombs of such luminaries as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini. The city's principal and the world's largest Franciscan church, the building was completed in 1385. The site's most notable features are its 16 chapels, many decorated with frescoes painted by Giotto and his pupils. The building's design reflects the austere approach favored by the Franciscans, with the floor plan following the figure of the Tau cross (the shape of the letter T), which was the symbol of St. Francis. The church's main cloister houses a simple, unadorned chapel designed by architect Filippo Brunelleschi. Choose from several guided tour options; advance reservations are required. General admission tickets can be purchased at the onsite ticket office, by phone, or online.
1:00pm-2:00pm : Florence Academy of Fine Arts
Pay tribute to one of Italy's most renowned artists at Florence Academy of Fine Arts. Founded in the late 18th century as an art school, the museum features an extensive collection of Renaissance paintings and sculptures, most notably Michelangelo's "David" statue. Wander to the end of the main hall to admire the 6 m (20 ft) tall marble statue, as well as several other works by Michelangelo, or admire the beautiful Madonna and Child painting by Botticelli. The museum also features a collection of antique musical instruments.
2:30pm-4:30pm : Pitti Palace
A 15th-century palace, Pitti Palace now houses several important museums of fine art and historical objects. The castle was previously a private residence of the grand dukes of Tuscany and later the king of Italy. Tour the extensive costume gallery for a look at fashion of the 18th and 19th centuries. Visit the palace apartments to imagine what the life of Florence's upper class was like. You can stroll through the Boboli Gardens, which border the palace.
5:00pm-6:00pm : The Baptistery of St. John
The Baptistery of St. John is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128. It's renowned for the three sets of bronze doors. Observe how the eight lower panels of the south doors depict the virtues of hope, faith, charity, humility, fortitude, temperance, justice, and prudence. The most famous set, the east doors, are a copy; the originals are being preserved in the Duomo's museum. You still get a sense of their importance and you can admire the depiction of "The Story of Joseph." Inside the baptistery, be sure to look up at the domed, mosaic ceiling.
6:30pm-9:30pm : Venice
10:00am-12:00pm : Doge's Palace
Take a behind-the-scenes look at how Venice used to be run at Doge's Palace, which once served as the residence of the doges, the city's chief magistrates. Regarded as a masterpiece of Venetian Gothic architecture, the palace is now a popular museum, attracting more than 1 million visitors each year. Works by such artists as Titian, Veronese, Tiepolo, and Tintoretto fill the interior. You can explore the monumental council chambers and richly decorated residential suites where major decisions affecting the city's fate were once made. Look in on the grim prison cells where the doges' political opponents were often locked away. A ticket for the nearby museums also grants access to this palace. Explore your ticket options online, and book well in advance to avoid standing in long lines.
12:00pm-1:30pm : Piazza San Marco
Venice's principal public space, Piazza San Marco has served as the city's social, religious, and political center for centuries. In fact, Napoleon called the square "the drawing room of Europe." It's the largest square in the city and the only one given the designation of "piazza" (the others are all called "campi"). Originally constructed in the ninth century as a small public space dotted with trees, the square was substantially enlarged in the 12th century and was paved with bricks in the 13th. Several major architectural sites surround the area. The most notable is an imposing church dedicated to St. Mark. Don't feed the pigeons--city law forbids feeding the birds in the square.
2:00pm-3:30pm : Basilica Disan Marco
Renowned worldwide for its priceless treasures, Basilica di San Marco is one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture in Italy. Originally a private chapel for the doges, the city's chief magistrates, this building has been a cathedral only since 1807. Because of its opulent design, gold dome mosaics, and its status as a symbol of the city's wealth and power, the cathedral has been nicknamed the Church of Gold since the 11th century. The interior is based on a Greek cross, with iconic Byzantine onion-bulb domes and Egyptian marble walls. Behind the main altar, containing the sarcophagus of St. Mark, an altarpiece is adorned with hundreds of emeralds, sapphires, rubies, pearls, and amethysts. The front of the building is rippled with five niched portals, each capped with more elaborate mosaics and stone arches. The church also contains a museum, displaying bronze horses brought here in 1204 as part of the loot from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. You can enter the church for free, but the museum has an admission fee.
4:00pm-6:00pm : Canal Grande
Ride a gondola or water bus down Canal Grande. A major water-traffic corridor, it winds through the city's central districts. Along its banks, you can see more than 170 buildings, including several palaces. Most of the buildings were erected between the 13th and 18th centuries, reflecting the prosperity and art of the once-powerful Republic of Venice. Forming a kind of reverse S-shape, the canal probably follows the course of an ancient river, eventually emptying its waters into a lagoon. The canal is 3.8 km (2.4 mi) long and 30 to 90 m (98 to 295 ft) wide. Centuries-old traditions, such as a historical regatta, are held every year along this ancient canal.
6:30pm-9:30pm : Milan
10:00am-10:30am : Basilica di San't Ambrogio
St. Ambrose built Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio from 379 to 386 CE, making it one of the most ancient churches in the city. However, the majority of what you see today is from 12th-century restorations, hence its Romanesque style. Admire the mosaics in the apse, one of which depicts the life of St. Ambrose, Milan's patron saint. Look for the many faded frescoes in various nooks and crannies of the church. Visit the crypt under the high altar. It contains the remains of three saints: Ambrose, Gervasus, and Protasus.
11:00am-1:00pm : Duomo di Milana
The fifth-largest cathedral in the world, Duomo di Milano is a marvel of Gothic architecture. Climb up to the roof and enjoy arguably the most spectacular views of the city, visible between the cathedral's Gothic spires. Constructed between 1386 and 1965, this massive church is known for its white marble, hundreds of spires, thousands of statues on its exterior, and a buttressed facade. You can take photos inside the cathedral if you buy a special wristband at the entrance. You can reach the roof, which is open during daylight hours, via elevator or 250 stairs. Make advance reservations if you'd like a guided sunset tour of the spires.