Italy is a must-see destination for a lot of people but because there are so many amazing places and sites to see, it can feel a bit intimidating. I know that when I was planning my trip there was a lot of pressure to “not miss anything.” For some this may be possible, but for those of us with limited time or budgets, I think it’s important to set realistic goals and expectations as soon as possible. Hopefully this post will help you do that.
In this post I want to share my most recent trip’s schedule, costs, hostels, etc. But since I’d already seen some of the must-see places before this trip, I wanted, additionally, to put together an itinerary for those starting with a clean slate. I took 10 days for my trip which I felt was about right for where I went. I could have done it in 8 if I wanted to completely exhaust myself or could have added another location but I’ll get to all that later.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with, nor do I receive any form of compensation for any link provided or specific business mentioned in this post.
- Florence: 3 days including 1 for Pisa & Lucca & 0.5 for Siena on the way to Rome
- Rome: 3 days including 1 rest day and 1 day in the Vatican City
- Naples: 3 days including one day for Pompeii & the beach + 1 rest day
I had the goal of spending less than €500 on this trip which, considering how expensive Italy is, is pretty unrealistic. However, I think I did pretty good coming it at just over €700 (€710 to be exact). That number includes some prepurchased bus tickets for all of your benefit which I personally wouldn’t consider in my own accounting (I originally bought them for anther trip and they were use it or lose it) which means I only went €100 over budget which I’m pretty proud of. That puts me at between €60-70 per day including accommodations and transportation or around €40 per day if you exclude those things.
- Food: €180
- Activities: €120
- Souvenirs: €25
- Intracity Transportation: €75
- Intercity Transportation: €120
- Accommodation: €190
I liked all of the hostels I stayed at, some of course, more than others. They were all the cheapest hostel that was located relatively centrally and with at least mostest rating and so I don’t think you could really find anything much cheeper unless you were already planning to rent a car (which I don’t recommend) since transportation into the city every day is likely to negate any of your initial savings.
- Florence: Hostel Santa Monaca (around €20 a night for a 22 bed mixed dorm)
- Rome: Hostel Beautiful (around €22 a night for an 8 bed mixed dorm)
- Portici (“suburb” of Naples): Fabric Hostel (€17 a night for a 9 bed mixed dorm)
The only hostel I wasn’t in love with on this list was the one in Rome. It’s right by the train station so it’s very convenient but it’s very much a renovated hotel and although it looks pretty, it’s not quite up to the other two in terms of cleanliness, amenities and atmosphere.
I used Flixbus for the majority of the trip because, back when I was in Berlin, I thought I would do some traveling in Eastern Europe on my way home to Milan which didn’t happen. I got their Interflix ticket which is a set of 5 tickets for €99 which is a pretty great value especially if you use them for last minute or longer trips. I think it’s a great option for most situations except for the super planners because Flixbus tickets are almost always cheeper than your per-ticket price from the combo (basically €20 a ticket) if you can buy them at least a couple week in advance.
I didn’t exclusively rely on Flixbus though; some legs of my journey were by regional train and I opted to take a Ryaniar flight home because I knew I’d be in a time crunch after my trip because of uni.
- Milan ➔ Florence: Flixbus
- Florence ➔ Pisa ➔ Lucca ➔ Siena: Trenitalia (regional trains)
- Siena ➔ Rome: Flixbus
- Rome ➔ Naples: Flixbus
- Naples ➔ Sorrento ➔ Pompeii ➔ Portici: Circumvesuviana (regional train)
I know activities and museums are a very personal thing but I wanted to let you’ll know what I ended up doing and paying since I really only ended up seeing the most important stuff anyways. Odds are that you will be wanting to see them too. As a category, my activity expenses are almost sure to be under representative compared to the average person because I consciously skipped a lot of the must-see things to save money.
One thing that was new to me in Italy was the prevalence of prebooking tickets. All of the major attractions face a tradeoff between tying yourself down to a set schedule or waiting in line for hours and hours (not joking, the line for the Vatican Museums was reported at 5 hours long and I breezed though in 10 minutes with a prebooked tour).
Another thing to note is that I still qualify for reduced tickets in Italy which require you, at minimum, to be 18-24 years old and sometimes also a student in Italy or the EU. Depending on each business’s requirements, sometimes I got it and sometimes I didn’t. For example, one museum accepted my German ID as being enough of an EU citizen for the discount whereas Pompeii wouldn’t. I couldn’t even begin to tell you who applied what discount and since the prices are likely to change the second this is posted, I’ll just tell you the prices for a point of reference and you will have to double check them for yourself when you book them.
- Museum Combo Ticket: €21(good for Uffizi Museum, Pitti Palace & Boboli Gardens)
- Florence Academy of Art Gallery: €12
- Pisa Wall: €3
- Botanical Garden: €3
- Torre Guinigi: €3
- Duomo Combo Ticket: €13 (includes cathedral, baptistry, library, museum, crypt, & panoramic viewpoint)
- Roman Forum & Colosseaum: Free! (first Sunday of every month)
- Vatican City Garden Tour: €29 (included regular entry to museum)
- National Museum of Archeology: €6
- Pompeii: €15
- Beach Lounger: €5
As for food, I almost never ate in the tourist areas and if I did, I made sure to just get something small and cheep to hold me over until I could eat for less. I made several meals in my hostel to save money and in general, was very conscious of it. I had one splurge meal in each location where I allowed myself to spend a bit more to sample the full extent of the local cuisine but my idea of a splurge is probably more in line with the average tourist’s idea of average. Overall, I think my food expense category is also going to be an underestimate for the average person and so if you are not prepared to be super frugal, budget more than I spent.
The “Perfect” Itinerary
Of course every itinerary has it’s flaws and there will never be such thing as a perfect itinerary. As it was, I think that my original schedule did a really good job at crossing off all of the places people would judge you for not seeing. If you had a bit more time or were starting from scratch and traveled as fast as I do, the following schedule is what I would recommend.
- Fly into Milan: 1.5 days
- Venice: 2 days
- Bologna: 2 days
- Florence: 2 days + 1 day for Pisa and Lucca
- Siena or another southern Tuscany town on the way to Rome
- Rome: 3 days
- Naples: 1 day + 1 day for Pompeii + 1 day for Sorrento & Almafi
- Lecce: 2 days
Not on this list are Sicily and Sardinia because I have absolutely no experience with them. They fit nicely at the end of this route though because you could just circle your way back to Milan and fly out from there. You could also do what I did and leave Lecce and Sicily (and Malta maybe) for another trip thus ending your trip and flying home out of Naples.
Another honorable mention is Cinque Terre which is supposed to be amazing (and is on my list to see before moving away from Milan) but it’s a bit out of the way. If you wanted to spend a couple of days there then you could do that either from Milan, Bologna, Florence, or what probably makes the most sense, Pisa (but then you’d be out of the day-trip area and would have to get different accommodation, etc which is why I left it off the list).
Of course there are so many amazing places in Italy and you could never get them all onto a list and so I think that my original itinerary does a good job of crossing the must-see’s off the list while this “perfect” one gets a few more places that are right on the cusp of “must-see.” At the end of the day, it’s up to you to do your research to decide what exactly you want to see and how long you want to see it. I hope that my post was able to help with that research, especially if you are a fast-moving, budget backpacker like me.
If you’ve been to Italy, please let me know your thoughts on my itinerary in the comment section and if you are in the planning stage, feel free to ask me any questions you might have.