3 week Italy itinerary: summer of colour, culture and the coast

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If you’re planning a trip to Italy, it can be hard to know where to start. During a beautiful summer, we spent one month exploring the country got the best of a range of regions. This post includes seven destinations which are perfect for a summer spent exploring vibrant cities and alluring coastal towns.

Depending on how much time you have, we’d recommend picking a few of the destinations below. We’ve included recommendations on how to get there, how long to stay, as well as day trips around the area. The route can be easily followed by car, bus or train (for information on tickets and timetables, we’ve put together a post on transport in Italy).


BOLOGNA

/ stay for 2 - 3 days

Bologna is a great introduction to Italy located at the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region (home to a few of everyone’s favourite things, including spaghetti bolognese, parmesan cheese, and balsamic vinegar). The city has a deep history and distinct skyline, with 20 ancient towers set against red and orange hues.

We travelled to Bologna from Slovenia via Trieste and stayed for five nights (Trieste is known as little Venice, this canal city can also be visited from Bologna as a day trip). If you are planning a visit, check out our post on the best ways to spend 3 days in Bologna too.


/ 1.5 hours from Bologna to Venice


VENICE

/ stay for 1-2 nights, or take a day trip

Colourful canals of Venice with lanterns

Venice is an objectively beautiful place. Everyone spoke about Venice so highly when we were planning our trip, and we felt like it would be a mortal sin not to visit the canals. However, if we’re being honest, we were glad we didn’t stay in the city itself — it’s very obviously and unfortunately impacted by over-tourism, and food and accommodation can be expensive. If you find that’s the case, we’d recommend staying nearby in Padova (25 minutes away by train), or take a day trip from Bologna as we did (1.5 hours by train). Make sure you book tickets to the main attractions online and well in advance, as the queues are unbelievable at any time of the year. If you have time, we’d recommend allowing time to visit the colourful islands of Murano and Burano from here as well.


/ 3.5 hours from Bologna to La Spezia


CINQUE TERRE

/ stay for 3 - 4 days

Pastel houses of Manarola along the cliffs of the Cinque Terre, Italy

The Cinque Terre is an iconic stretch of the Italian Riveria, most well-known for five pastel towns perched along the cliff tops: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare, Corniglia. There are beautiful beaches in this area, with short, scenic hikes wrapping around the coast between them. To get here, we stayed in La Spezia, which is located 3.5 hours by train from Bologna, and 2.5 hours from Florence. The Gulf of La Spezia is also home to many beautiful beaches like Lavanto and Lerici, and is connected by a very short train ride to each town along the Cinque Terre (no more than 20 minutes from the furthest one). Alternatively, you can book accommodation in one of the five towns themselves.


/ 2.5 hours from La Spezia to Florence


FLORENCE

/ stay for 2 - 3 days

View of Florence and the Basilica of San Lorenzo from Piazzale Michelangelo

Visit the artsy Florence for a range of cultural things like intricate architecture, a ton of history, and lampredotto (tripe sandwich made from the fourth stomach of a cow). The city is filled with beautiful Renaissance architecture, masterpieces in painting and sculpture, and huge collections of art from the Medici period of rule. Florence gets a lot of hype, but we’d really recommend using the city as a base to explore the wider regions of Tuscany and Umbria. From here, you can visit the historic hill towns of Orvietto, Siena and San Gimignano (to get there you can drive, take public transport or do the most Italian thing imaginable and ride a scooter through the hills).


/ 3 hours from Florence to Naples


Mount Vesuvius and the city of Naples at sunset

NAPLES

/ stay for 3 - 4 days

Set against Mount Vesuvius, Naples is by far one of our favourite Italian cities. It may be a love for Elena Ferrante’s novels coming through, or it could just be the vibrancy of the streets, with lively markets and lines of laundry drawn across the narrow alleyways.

We’d recommend at least two days to explore the city itself, with the most interesting places found around its historic centre. Naples is also conveniently located within a short train ride from the ancient ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and is connected by ferry to the islands of Capri and Ischia. If you have time, we’d really recommend staying on either Capri or Ischia, or on one of the towns along the Amalfi Coast.

⌲ Read our post about visiting the beautiful, chaotic Naples here.


/ 4 hours from Naples to Bari


BARI

/ stay for 3 - 4 days

View of the cove, beach and ocean at Polignano a Mare, Pulia, Italy

At the heel of Italy’s boot, Bari is a great base to explore the stunning Basilicata and Apulia regions. If you don’t have time for the full itinerary, this area may be slightly out of the way as it will place you on the opposite coast of the country. However, it would be such a shame to miss — with not much time left we squeezed it in on our trip and are so glad we did. From here, visit the ancient city of Matera (2 hours by train), a maze of houses which form the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the world. You can also follow the coast to the spectacular Polignano a Mare, the beaches in Lecce, and the stunning Grotto della Poesia — all of which can be easily reached by a quick train ride.


/ 4 hours from Bari to Rome, or

/ 2 hours from Naples to Rome


ROME

/ stay for 3 - 4 days

Beautiful carvings and statues at the Trevi fountain, Rome Italy

Rome may be a good place to either start or end a trip to Italy, with many flights in and out of the capital. By train, Rome can be reached in 1 hour from Naples, 1.5 hours from Florence, and 4 hours from Bari. Take your time to explore its beautiful ancient history and architecture. If you can’t fit in Naples on this trip, the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum can also be reached from here.



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