I’ve just spent ten days exploring nine destinations across Italy! It sounds like a lot but I promise it was easier than you think. 😉 Last year we had a blast visiting Italy’s Amalfi Coast and this time around I was determined to cross Cinque Terre off my list. My family also wanted to see famous attractions like the Statue of David and the Last Supper. So my challenge was to plan an itinerary that included all of these destinations while giving us sufficient time to enjoy each one (I don’t know about you but I hate feeling rushed).
I decided to plan a trip where all our destinations were conveniently connected by public transport. We started off in Milan for a few days followed by an overnight stay in Verona. Then we headed south to Portovenere by way of La Spezia and spent a few days exploring the coastal towns of Cinque Terre. For the last leg of the trip we headed to Florence and stopped in Pisa along the way.
Over the years I’ve visited Milan (with friends) and Florence + Pisa (with Javi)…but I’d made the mistake of not booking things in advance so this was the perfect opportunity to see the attractions I’d missed before. After spending ten days traveling across Italy here’s what I loved and what I’d do differently next time…
- You can take public transport for this trip: Milan, Verona, La Spezia, Pisa and Florence are all connected by trains. When you reach La Spezia you can easily take a taxi or bus to Portovenere.
- I booked our trains from Milan to Verona and Verona to La Spezia in advance on the ItaliaRail website. I recommend you do the same. Verona was crazy-busy and the train station was a madhouse. In my experience you’ll get a better deal on the longer journeys (ex. Milan to Florence or La Spezia if you book ahead of time).
- We spent one night in Verona but I would have done a day trip there instead.
- When visiting Cinque Terre you should stay in Portovenere and use the ferry to visit the coastal towns. It was the perfect base for exploring this part of Italy.
- You’ll need to buy tickets for Last Supper several months in advance and it’s nearly impossible to get ‘cheap tickets’ (learn more below).
- Also try to book Brunelleschi’s Dome and the Statue of David as far in advance as possible because there are only certain time slots available and they tend to sell out beforehand (just like the Alhambra).
- Always get the fast-pass or ‘skip the line’ option in Milan and Florence…don’t risk wasting hours in lines to see attractions.
Milan + Verona (3 nights)
I landed in MXP and took the Malpensa Express to the city center. You can get your tickets from the machines as soon as you arrive at the airport. We stayed at an Airbnb rental near the Repubblica metro stop (get $35 off your first stay). It was conveniently connected to the rest of the city and this was a good area to stay in. You can buy a multi-day metro pass at the little tabaccherie shops/kiosks in the metro station and use it to travel around the city—we got a 48-hour pass for just €8.25.
You can get super cheap tickets to the Last Supper from the official Cenacolo Vinciano website. Note the tickets are released for purchase around two months ahead of time, but all the tour companies snap them up so they can resell them for a higher price. I tried to purchase our tickets the same day they were released but they sold out within a few hours. We ended up booking a Best of Milan Tour which included the Last Supper. The tour was fantastic (Serena is a great guide) and I would highly recommend it. You can learn more about the different ways to get Last Supper tickets here.
After the tour we used our fast pass ticket to check out the rooftop of the Duomo. Definitely get the ticket that includes the elevator…it’s worth it. 😉
We had the best meal of Milan at Osteria dei Vecchi Sapori—I’d eaten here in 2016 and this place is always packed! You’ll need to make a reservation in advance or show up at opening to get a table. I’ve got a list of other favorite restaurants from my last trip to Milan here.
The next day we headed to Verona for shopping, a glimpse of Juliet’s balcony and more fantastic Italian food. Then we headed south towards Cinque Terre for some quality R&R on the Italian coast.
Portovenere + Cinque Terre (3 nights)
Portovenere is the perfect base for exploring Cinque Terre. This medieval village has great hiking trails, islands you can explore, and it’s uncrowded once all the tourists leave in the evening. We took the train from Verona, passed through Milan, and then headed down to La Spezia (the closest city I could find near Portovenere with a train station). Once we reached La Spezia we took a bus to Portovenere for €2.50 (you can get tickets at the tabaccherie shops located near the bus stops). You can also take a taxi from the train station to Portovenere for around €20. We stayed at the coolest Airbnb in Portovenere with fantastic views of the water (get $35 off your first Airbnb stay)—it was one of the highlights of the trip.
The 5 Terre ferry runs daily along the coast and stops at the Cinque Terre towns. Tickets are €27 for a full-day pass. The ferry stops at La Spezia, Portovenere, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso, and Levanto. The schedule changes from winter to summer so you can reference the ferry schedule beforehand to plan your visit.
Florence + Pisa (3 nights)
Before arriving in Florence we stopped for a few hours in Pisa. We left our luggage at the luggage storage center at the Pisa Centrale station. Note there’s another luggage storage spot nearby that is slightly cheaper.
I know everyone goes to Pisa for the leaning tower but you shouldn’t skip out on the cathedral—it’s amazing! Once you reach the Square of Miracles you can get free entrances to see Pisa’s cathedral at the tourist center (you just have to wait for an available time slot) or you can buy tickets to see the cathedral, baptistry, crypt, etc. at any time. Note you’ll need to buy tickets to climb the tower of Pisa in advance.
After exploring for a few hours we walked back to the train station and jumped on the next train to Florence. Keep in mind both Brunelleschi’s Dome and Machaelangelo’s Statue of David sell out several days in advance. You can get tickets to see David directly from the Accademia Gallery website. When it comes to Florence’s Duomo, I’d recommend buying the cumulative ticket which includes entrances for:
- Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral Museum)
- Brunelleschi’s Dome (Cupola)
- Giotto’s Bell Tower
- Baptistery of San Giovanni
- Archaeological site of Santa Reparata.
Something I wish we had done in Florence was hire a gondola to take us along the river under Ponte Vecchio. You’ve got to reserve this excursion ahead of time so we missed out. 🙁 The people who had reserved a boat brought proper picnic baskets, wine, etc. and looked like they were having a great time. Here’s a link to the rental company we saw, but it seems there are different tour packages you can choose from if you search online.
While in Florence you should definitely take a bottle of champagne to the Piazzale Michelangelo and watch the sun set over the city. You can sit on the steps of the square and enjoy the gorgeous scenery with locals and tourists alike. Don’t worry about drinking in public, you won’t be the only one!
My favorite restaurant in Florence was Restaurante Il Profeta…you’ve got to order the John Travolta. The restaurant was packed every night so you’ll likely need to reserve a table.
When it’s time to head home you can take the Volainbus to the airport. Show up at the the bus station and pay €6 to driver for your ticket. If you’ve got 3 people you might as well take a taxi because it costs about the same (€20).