2 weeks in Italy: A guide to seeing Northern & Central Italy
Have 2 weeks in Italy and not sure where to travel aside from Rome and Florence?
Here is my itinerary in full from my recent trip to Northern & Central Italy. It includes some handy information, advice on how many days to spend in each place, how to get to and from places, where to stay in cities and also links to reviews of accommodation and tours.
The Aussie/Italian connection – The history nerd in me had to go there!
Read on if history is not your thing.
Italy has always held a great interest to me as a traveller. I mean come on, all that food, that wine, all that history and culture! What’s not to love about Italy? For Australians, the Italian connection is huge and it is never more apparent than in Melbourne (where I live).
After World War 2 ended the suffering caused by war and the widening economic gulf between the classes provided a need for many Italians to seek a better life elsewhere. The Italian government of the 1950s and 1960s, struggling to feed, house and find employment for its citizens, actively promoted migration to Australia (and other countries). At the same time, Australia was embarking on an industrialisation and population program which would open the door to mass migration.
In the 1950s Italian migration to Australia was at its peak. Between July 1947 and 1950 over 33,000 Italians migrated to Australia. The following decade saw the arrival of over 170,000 Italians with the majority of migrants settling in the inner suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney.
From Italian migration, Melbourne grew its reputation of being one of the most respected foodie towns in the world. With Carlton’s Lygon Street being one of the most famous Italian streets outside of Italy. People come from all over to have a taste of our mixed heritage twist on Nona’s famous recipes. But It wasn’t just food that the Italian’s brought with them. There was the coffee, wine, culture, art and history. Something that Melbourne and Australia is undoubtedly indebted to.
It also gave us all new friends. New families. New ways of living.
So, it was inevitable that someday, I was getting on a plane to visit the original home of so many Australians.
My Itinerary at a glance
|Cinque Terre||2 days|
This included travel to and from places (all up about a day of travelling via train)
My Itinerary in depth
I started my 2 weeks in Italy in Venice after catching the train from Salzburg, Austria. Weirdly, you really do get a sense of being in another country as soon as you cross the border into Italy. Gone is the order and beauty of Austria, in its place is what feels like a sense of franticness, things are just a little more chaotic and messier. It’s not a bad thing, in fact therein lies a beauty in what appears chaotic. Its charming, it is quaint, often loud and proud yet it is a reflection upon the people of Italy. Kind of reminded me of a few of my Italian/Australian friends back home
Instantly upon arrival in Venice I was in love. And lost. You step out of the train station to a crowd of people, mostly tourists, some local. That is Venice in the warmer months, busy! And then there is working out where the hell you are. I used Google Maps all the time and it worked ok but still I managed to get lost. I stayed in the Cannaregio area of Venice for two nights.
At the time, while I absolutely loved the first day and really did appreciate Venice’s charm, by day two I was ready to move on. Unfortunately, I was there on Italy’s Liberation Day which coincidently had also fallen on the same day as Venice’s saint day, St Marks Day. In Hindsight now that I am home, I wish I had of stayed longer. But more on that later.
You can read more about my Venice experience here:
From Venice I ventured on to Bologna via train. My apartment was 10 minutes by foot in the university district; a 5-minute walk to Centro Storico. You don’t hear much about Bologna in Australia. That is until you start researching. As soon as you google ‘food’ and ‘Italy’ Bologna is the common denominator. Bologna for me would be all about food. Well pasta. In particular ‘Ragu Tagliatelle’ or as Aussies like to call it ‘Spag Bol’. I ate it, a lot.
I really liked Bologna. Tourists were outweighed by locals by a long mile, and that was a much-needed change after being in Venice. The food was outstanding, the locals were super friendly and the Centro Storico was truly beautiful.
You can find out more of my foodie experience in Bologna here:
From Bologna I was off to the Cinque Terre. Getting there took 3 train trips over the space of quite a few hours (including train delays). The train takes you from Bologna to Florence to Pisa to La Spezia to the Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre is 5 (Cinque) towns (Terre = lands in Italian) on the west coast of Italy. Not too far from Florence, if you have a car. Close to Pisa if you want to see the leaning tower. The 5 towns are cut into the cliff face and are just exquisite. They’re small, quaint and colourful.
The first night I stayed in Monterosso, which is the flattest of the 5 towns. Located at the northern end of the Cinque Terre, it is the only one of the 5 towns to have a beach. The second night I stayed in Riomaggiore, which is the southern end of the Cinque Terre, or the closest to Pisa. Both towns were equally as beautiful as the other. While I was in the Cinque Terre, I also travelled through the other towns Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola, albeit briefly as I only had 2 days there.
I loved the Cinque Terre. For a place that is touristy, it is also very lovely. Once the day tourists leave, the 5 town’s charm really comes to life. I did a fair bit of shopping, eating and drinking. The locals are next level lovely and welcoming making for an all-round great experience.
You can learn more about my Cinque Terre experience here:
I have ALWAYS wanted to visit Florence. It for me was like Paris, a city of immense history, brilliant art and amazing culture. SO MUCH MEDICI!!! Rather than stay for a couple of days, I chose to stay for a week. Taking up home in an apartment for 4 nights on one side of the River Arno and 2 nights in the more touristy area. I wanted a base to call home for a while, to wash clothes, cook food and immerse myself in day to day life.
Again, I ate & drank to excess but shopped as much as I ate. Florence is after all known worldwide for its fashion and notably its leather, of which I was a few hundred euro less for! Florence’s beauty lies in Florence itself. The majesty of it all, the buildings, the art that lines the streets, the river Arno, the hills and mountains surrounding the city, and the famed Tuscan wineries only a short distance away. Literally everywhere I turned, I was in travel love all over again! Florence really had everything to offer and let me tell you, it sure did on so many levels.
You can read more about my Florence experience here:
It was hard to leave Florence, but Rome was looming like this beating heart that would not quieten down. Part of me was scared of Rome and the other part was probably too excited. So yes, I was anxious. I arrived in Rome only to find that my apartment was literally a 10-minute walk from the Colosseum. Winning!
Rome = history. And that is what I got a huge dose of in the 4 days that I was there. 4 days was not nearly enough but knowing I had the southern parts of Italy to explore I knew that I’d eventually be back to explore more.
For a huge city, I loved Rome! It literally blew my mind. The Colosseum, the Forum, Palatine Hill, Pantheon, and the Vatican. And getting lost. So amazingly lost, but what an experience it was to be able to ‘roam’ around Rome (yes ok!! Total Dad joke). There is so much more that I didn’t get to see and at times Rome was so overwhelming just because there is so much, but I will definitely go back. After all, I do want to see the Colosseum again.
Read more about my amazing Rome experiences by following these two stories: ‘An overview of getting lost amongst ancient history’ and ‘4 days in Rome: challenge accepted’
My advice – what I’d do differently
Honestly, unless you are going to stay in just 2-3 cities with a few day trips 2 weeks in Italy does not give you a lot of time to explore and I only did Northern & Central Italy. And that was not enough
But if you are short on time, here is my advice:
Venice – Instead of 2 days, make it at least 3 and travel out to the islands of Burano and Murano. Something I wish I had the time to do but didn’t. And maybe don’t go when there is a public holiday and saint day all in one. Venice is busy enough.
Bologna – I was happy with my 2 days in Bologna; however, I could have allocated more time to Venice and Cinque Terre. So, with that in mind a good idea would be to base yourself in Florence and do day trips if you are short on time, but don’t not go. It is a fabulous city.
Cinque Terre – I could have stayed here a week. It was that relaxing, beautiful and just downright lovely. It is expensive though so if you are on a budget, I would recommend 3 – 4 days in the Cinque Terre. Pick one of the towns to stay in and move around the 5 towns by train. They run quite frequently.
Florence – This is personal choice. While I did 6 days in Florence you can afford to do 3 – 5 days and still see a lot. There really is so much to see and do in Florence. Remember if you are into wine, the Tuscany tours generally take up a day.
Rome – How long is a piece of string? I mean you could spend 4 days like I did and still enjoy yourself and see a lot of historical sites. But it is nowhere near enough time to immerse yourself into all that is Rome. It is a hectic city and that may not float your boat. I would recommend 4 – 6 days. And, whatever you missed out on or want to see again, simply go back some other time.
My conclusion on 2 weeks in Italy
While Italy is a path well-worn Italy certainly is never boring!
And the food and wine is BEYOND exceptional.
There is just so much to experience so chances are your experience will be different to the next persons. It is not just all that fabulous food and wine, history, art and architecture that set’s Italy apart, I think their way of life is something that the rest of us could (and should) get accustomed to. Also, Italian’s have this unique way of making your stay special thanks to their sense of hospitality. Adopt an Italian friend on your stay and you’ll be so well looked after. And fed.