Epic 10 Day Road Trip Through Italy: Venice to Rome!

A road trip through Italy should be on everyone’s bucket list! Who doesn’t want to wander through the land of beautiful language, delicious pizza, mouth-watering pasta, and crisp, refreshing wine?  Unfortunately, many of us are limited with time off and the silly thing we call money. So here’s my 10-day road trip through Italy itinerary from Venice to Rome.

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Extend your trip: While this itinerary was fast-paced through the highlights of Italy – there are plenty of ways to extend your trip! We didn’t have the opportunity to visit the incredible city of Milan, or see some incredible small towns throughout Italy.

Read More about Italy & get your free guide!

Day 1: Arrive Rome travel to Venice

A typical busy narrow alley in Venice.
Navigating the alleys of Venice

Wait, isn’t this itinerary from Venice to Rome?? Yeah, I know, bear with me. Flights from Newark to Venice were about $400 more expensive than a flight to Rome. A train ticket from Rome to Venice was about $50. If you’ve read my guide to cheap flights, then you know flying into a nearby city is a great way to save money. (It also gave us a chance to nap on the train to combat jet lag.) However, it is important to take into consideration the time of travel between the two cities. It is very easy to get to Venice from Rome using the train system.  It’s about 3.5 hours from Termini station in Rome to Venice S. Lucia. We used this opportunity to nap and fight off the jet lag. As a non-napper, I got to finish my book and enjoy the views of the countryside.  The trains are very comfortable and spacious. You have to order tickets to Venice early so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get from the airport to Remini station, it’s better to get a later train than to possibly miss your train.  

Once you arrive in Venice, check into your hotel and enjoy your free time. Venice typically doesn’t have street names, so be sure to download google maps offline to help navigate. Check out Rialto Bridge in the evening, it’s less crowded and you’ll get an amazing view of the city lights. This is also the best time to get a gondola ride, but don’t wait too long many gondoliers finish around 8 pm for dinner.

The canals of Venice

Day 2: Free Day in Venice

St. Mark's Square in Venice is one of the best things to see on a road trip through Italy.
St. Mark’s Square with Doge’s Palace in the back.

If you have never been to Venice before, be sure to visit the big highlights- you won’t be disappointed.   St. Mark’s Square (near Rialto Bridge) is known for its festivals, shops, and of course, the pigeons.  The architecture in Venice is breathtaking.  Don’t forget to take a gondola ride – while many are expensive, its a quintessential Venetian experience. I recommend going around sunset or dinnertime. The prices go up at night.

If you have been to Venice and hit up some of the big attractions, then you can either take a water taxi or ferry to Murano, known for its blown glass, or Burano, known for its colorful houses, or take a day trip to the Dolomites.  This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I didn’t know when I would be back in Northern Italy so I wanted to experience a different part of the country. They form part of the Southern Limestone Alps and were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.  In the winter, the Dolomites are known for their amazing skiing. In the summer, hiking, cycling, and even paragliding are common hobbies. There are 13 lakes in the Dolomites to explore – making them the perfect escape from a bustling city!

The Dolomites are about two hours north of Venice.

For your last night in Venice, if you haven’t already, eat at a restaurant that overlooks the water.  I can’t gush over the sunset and night sky over Venice enough. Italians eat late and take their time eating. A waiter typically won’t check in on you during the meal or bring your check, if there is an issue or if you’re ready for the check, be sure to ask.   So feel free to have a glass (or bottle) of wine with dinner – you’re walking home anyway!

Day 3: Driving to San Marino

Pick up your rental car just outside of Venice – you don’t need it to get around Venice since you can’t drive, so save the money on the rental.  Be sure to take a video of the rental car to show the state of the car when you receive it. This is especially true if there are any scratches or dents.  You also want those documented on the rental paperwork.

I know this is supposed to be an Italian road trip, but hopping over into San Marino is totally worth leaving Italy!  San Marino is a micro-country surrounded by Italy. It is one of the smallest countries in Europe and the oldest country in the world.  There are two routes you could take, one inland through Bologna, and one down the Amalfi coast. We took the coast since it was the only time we would see it and ended up stopping in a beach town for lunch and gelato.  

Stay at the top of the mountain, Hotel Cesare, for some breathtaking views of the rolling hills and countryside.  Explore the castles and forts before dinner. If you need more reasons to visit San Marino, click here.

Extra Stop Tip: After leaving San Marino, you can visit Bologna for delicious food and less crowds!

Day 4: Cross-Country Road Trip

That’s right, today you really get to see the Italian countryside! Driving from San Marino to Cinque Terre is literally across the country! From the Adriatic Sea to the Mediterranean, enjoy the windy country roads. About an hour into the drive, you enter the iconic Tuscany region of Italy.  Enjoy the views, but the best part of this drive is finding somewhere local to eat. Unless you decide to stop in Bologna, there aren’t any “tourist traps” on this drive, so you know you’re going to get some amazing food (did I mention I love pasta?) We enjoyed stopping at a street stand to get some fresh fruit to snack on.  There are so many farms and wineries along this route, that you won’t have trouble finding somewhere to stop.

Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy
The colorful houses of Cinque Terre

It’s about a 4-hour drive to Cinque Terre (or 5 towns), depending on which one you decide to stay in.   We decided on Manarola and stayed in an Air BnB. Manarola is the second smallest town of Cinque Terre and is known for its seafood and wine.  There are some beautiful hikes and you can even walk to Riomaggiore, another one of the five towns.  Unfortunately for us, it was raining most of the time we were there. Never let rain get in the way, though, put on a raincoat, and go explore this small town.  The colorful houses were still beautiful, and once the rain stopped, the views of the coast were spectacular. There are plenty of things to do in Manarola – rain or shine!

Cinque Terre, Italy
View of Cinque Terre

Dinner (and breakfast) were at Aristide, which was phenomenal.  I usually don’t go to the same restaurant twice, but this was so worth it! Cinque Terre has become very popular over the past few years, especially in summer, so be sure to have reservations anywhere you want to go.  Enjoy some wine and take in the sunset views of the Mediterranean.

Travel Tip: If you have the time, you can spend 24 hours in Bologna and enjoy the Italian capital of food!

Day 5: Pisa & Florence

I promised this blog was going to give you the good, the bad, and the ugly.  However, I’m also going to be nice (as I can). Pisa was not worth it at all.  All I wanted was to eat pizza at the tower of Pisa. However, everything, even the tower, was covered in tourists and peddlers selling trinkets (including bottled water) aggressively.  I really wish the mistakes I’ve made in my life were as celebrated as this tower. Being transparent here didn’t know why the tower was a “thing” until we got there, and it was as disappointing as it sounds.  On one side of the tower, there is soft ground, so the building tilts. That’s it. There are two other buildings nearby in the grass, but they’re straight, so no one really cares about them that much. However, when in Italy, we did decide to make a pit stop on our way to Florence.   My favorite part was taking a step back and watching my husband and friend make weird poses to “hold up” or “hug” the tower. Which, when in Pisa, everyone does.

Taking a video of what it looks like taking those silly photos!

After about 90 minutes, we left Pisa and continued to Florence.  Florence blew me out of the water. Personally, I wasn’t looking forward to Florence.  It’s typically thought of as a religious and artistic place, of which, I am neither. We stayed at Hotel Bigallo, which overlooked the Duomo and had the perfect location.  However, do NOT follow Google maps to this hotel. It will bring you onto pedestrian streets and you will end up with an expensive traffic ticket (just trust me on this one). Follow the instructions on their website.

If you are into art and museums, then I highly recommend visiting the Galleria Accademia , Galleria Uffizi  and Florence Cathedral complex.  All of which you need to purchase admission in advance – they will sell out.  

The first night in Florence, go explore the city, enjoy some gelato and wine and relax.  Get up early tomorrow to enjoy a full day in Florence. We enjoyed a food and walking tour through Viator.

Day 6: Florence

Depending on the type of traveler you are, you have a few options today.  I personally separated from the group to explore on my own. To be honest, I am not a museum person.   If someone in my group is really looking forward to a museum or a piece of art, then I really shouldn’t be there.  Everyone has their “wow” moment for traveling, and you should never ruin someone’s “wow” moment. For me, museums are not my wow moment, and I don’t want to ruin it for someone else.  So I broke off from my group and got wonderfully lost in Florence. Check out my guide to the best things to do in Florence.

Option 1: Duomo, Accademia, Uffizi Gallery

Start your day early by going to the Duomo before the crowds arrive.  Enjoy the majestic views before breakfast. The Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile are part of the Piazza del Duomo and all part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.   The Duomo was started in 1296 and finished in 1436. Until modern architecture, the Dome was the largest in the world. It is still the largest brick dome ever created.  

Enjoy breakfast at one of the many cafes in the piazza and watch the city wake up around you. Italy is known for its coffee, so savor the taste!

 After breakfast, visit the Accademia. The Accademia is well known because of Michelangelo’s Statue of David.  Whenever you’re visiting something like this, please be courteous and take a few photos, take it in, then move along.  Don’t stand there for 20 minutes, there are people all around you that want similar pictures. Then explore the San Lorenzo market. Exploring street markets in the morning gives you the widest array of selections and gives you time to think about things throughout the day if you’re not sure you want to buy. Be sure to bring cash as the vendors typically do not take a credit card.  You can also do some haggling here. After some shopping, take a quick walk to the Uffizi Gallery.

Try to spend the hottest part of the day in the Gallery if you can.  The size of Uffizi is intimidating, there are tours available and maps at the front desk.  

Now that the sun is cooling down, use the afternoon to explore the city and enjoy the gelato.  The best gelato we had was in Florence, hands down.

Wine, Florence, Italy
That is a lot of wine to transport.

Option 2: Ponte Vecchio, Via de Belvedere

I left the hotel at the same time as the group and just walked.   Florence is a very walkable city, but if you’re going this route, be sure to wear comfortable sneakers.  The small alleyways, open piazzas, and dodging tourist groups make for a very high step count day!

Gelato, Florence, Italy
Not real gelato!

There is literally gelato on every corner – do NOT go for the gelato that is a huge pile – that’s not really authentic and is just for show.  While the others got into their statutes and art, I enjoyed mid-morning gelato, pizza lunch, and mid-afternoon gelato all with locals who befriended me because I was sitting alone. My goal for the day was to hike up to Piazzale Michaelangelo.  Typically, it’s about a 30-minute walk from the Duomo. Once I started heading to the Piazzale, it took me about 2 hours due to getting lost.

During the walk, I got to cross Ponte Vecchio or “Old Bridge” which is one of the few bridges that survived World War 2.  It’s now lined with jewelry shops and has some street artists on it as well. It also gives you great views of the city. You can walk the river towards Piazzale Michaelangelo, or walk more inland, either way, it’s an uphill walk.  Walk by Galileo Galili’s house (which is unmarked except one small white sign). You can walk through or near the Giardino Bardini and up to the Forte di Belvedere. Then head up the Via de Belvedere to the Piazza. The Piazza offers you panoramic views of the city.  If you didn’t pack water for this walk, there are food trucks that have some.

Panoramic views of Florence from Piazza Michelangelo – worth EVERY step!

Since you’re in the Tuscany region of Italy, have wine with dinner – it’s fresh, local, and refreshing.  Don’t forget the gelato for dessert! We did a tasting walking tour with Viator. We got to learn about olives and olive oil, prosciutto, truffles, and of course wine! The link to the tour is at the bottom of the post along with all of the tours we did.

Day 7: Florence to Rome

This day is a LOT of driving, so be prepared to spend a lot of time in the car. It’s about a 6-hour drive between the two cities, and that’s without stops. There are a number of places that you can stop on this drive – wineries, and restaurants right off the road. You can make a pit stop in Siena or Orvieto to experience some small towns with a lot of history.  We decided to stop at the Cascate di Mulino in Saturnia to experience some of the natural hot springs of Italy. The pictures are amazing it looks so serene.

Unfortunately, this was not the case when we arrived. Since it was a beautiful summer day (and hot!), apparently EVERYONE IN TUSCANY had the same idea as us and was at the pools.  It was still very cool to see (who knew Italy had any hot springs) but we didn’t actually go in the pools.

Days 8-10: Rome & Vatican City

We stayed at the Vatican Relais Rome, which is actually walking distance to the Vatican, and a short subway ride to Termini station in downtown Rome.   The first day in Rome, return the rental car. Rome is packed and it’s a lot easier to get around via the subway. Bonus: you’ll save money on the car rental.  Be sure to take a video of the car like you did when you picked up the car to show that when you returned it there still isn’t any damage.

So, no one believed me when I said it, but you can do Rome in one day. You won’t get the local feel and you definitely won’t see everything Rome has to offer – but you’ll check a lot of the tourist places off. If you’re a history buff, then this definitely isn’t enough time. We decided on three days for Rome and the Vatican.

Travel Tip: Check out the 5 things I wish I knew before visiting Rome!

The first thing you should do in Rome is buying your tickets to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.  If you want you can do a skip-the-line tour, but our experience with the headphones wasn’t the best (we used them in Pompeii- stay tuned).  You’re also in a group of like 20-30 people, so good luck trying to get a good photo or ask a question. Across the street from the Colosseum is where you can buy tickets – and try to get there early, they aren’t the fastest moving lines. We got the 24-hour pass and you can go in each one once in 24 hours. We downloaded the Rick Steves’ app and he gave us a private tour throughout the Colosseum!

You aren’t allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, but there are plenty of ceilings that are also breathtaking.

Our first full day in Rome, we went to Vatican City.  We did a breakfast tour of the Vatican (also through Viator) which was perfect.  This is where we did the tour of 20+ people with portable headsets that didn’t always work. But we got to tour the Vatican before all the crowds (I mean 6 am, who really wants to be awake?) and had breakfast in the Belvedere Courtyard (or Pine Cone Courtyard as some call it).  We got a guided tour through the Vatican including the Sistine Chapel. The way the tour was done, the Sistine Chapel was the last “big” thing on it, which is probably not the best way to go. There were so many amazing ceilings in the Vatican, that the Sistine was just another beautiful ceiling. Don’t get me wrong, when you think about the hours that went into it, and the meaning behind it, it’s still incredible. I just didn’t get the “wow” feeling after spending an hour going through other painted ceilings.

After a lunch of, you guessed it, pizza and gelato, we headed over to the main attractions of Rome.  We had to navigate the subway system (which isn’t air-conditioned so be prepared for some serious sweat), taking in the feel of the city, and getting used to being around crowds again.

In the afternoon we did a great walking tour and pasta making class.  This was booked through Viator. This tour started at the Spanish steps, through the Piazza Novana, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. While I’m no history buff, the Pantheon was really cool. It was a Roman temple, now it’s a church. It was completed by the emperor Hadrian and dedicated around 126 AD. It’s important to remember all the history that surrounds you in Italy.

Rome, Italy, Cooking Class
Our small group cooking class with our three pasta dishes!

After the tour, we got to visit a local restaurant, Orgiano, and learn to cook a real Italian meal by a chef who only spoke Italian! (Our guide translated for us.)  We made fresh bruschetta (fantastic!) and handmade pasta with three different sauces. We then got to eat our creations family style and had tiramisu for dessert. The tour ended around 8 and with recommendations from our tour guide we walked around Rome for a few hours.

The Viators which we did during our road trip! I highly recommend these tours for an inside look at Rome, Florence, and the Vatican!

Our second day in Rome was spent on an air-conditioned bus with 48 other people.  Not my favorite way of traveling, but after 9 days of driving everywhere, it was nice to just relax.   We took a group tour (again through Viator) to Naples and Pompeii. Whenever you book something, you run a risk of it being great or a dud.  For example, learning to make pasta – awesome, this tour- not so much. You never got off the bus in Naples, so enjoy the views from a bus. The lunch in Pompeii was also disappointing and the headphones for the trip weren’t working.  All I’m going to say is I’m so grateful I live in a world where Rick Steves exists. His app is what saved Pompeii for us. The app is free and available on iPhones and Androids. There is a map of Pompeii and he walks you through it at your own pace (and you can hear everything!).  I highly recommend doing a tour of Pompeii – just maybe not the one we did.

Day 3 in Rome, the last full day in the Eternal City.  The Colosseum and Roman Forum were on the itinerary today. On the way, we were surprised by the Giro d’Italia cycling event taking place.  This race started in early May and went from Jerusalem to Rome – we got to see the bikers! Walking up to the Colosseum was as impressive as I imagined until I looked around at the people.  I felt like I had been transported INTO Instagram. Once I got over that shock, I basked in the size and architecture of it.

Giro d’Italia Cycling event which ends in Rome, Italy.
The Colosseum, Rome, Italy

There are many skip-the-line tours for the Colosseum, but they aren’t necessary – the line is typically quick-moving and we spent 10 minutes in line. Hang out with Rick Steves again for a free tour! I really enjoyed the app because as a non-history person I got to skip through what I didn’t want to spend time on, and get to more interesting items – like the real Colosseum is smaller than the Colosseum in Gladiator (which makes sense, but still).  He guided us through the Roman Forum as well, which was much cooler than I expected. Rick Steves has a wealth of knowledge for all of Italy, not just Rome.

To celebrate a wonderful trip to Italy, we decided to eat at a rooftop restaurant with views of the Vatican.  There are a lot of options, but we decided on i Sofa.  Food, drinks, and service were PHE-NOM-E-NAL.  Be sure to check when sunset is so you can make your reservation accordingly.  We reflected on our trip and walked back to the hotel to prepare for our flight home the next day.  

One of our appetizers at I Sofa rooftop restaurant

Final Thoughts:

There’s not much I would change on our Italy Road Trip, but no trip is perfect. I would have done Rome first. Spend the first few days of the trip in the city before heading to Venice. It was difficult to transition from being in a countryside with space and freedom to being in a tourist-infested city. If we did it at the beginning, we would have felt freer throughout the trip.

Read More about Italy

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Italy, Vacation

Have you been to Italy? What are your must-sees? Comment Below!

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