Trying to make the most of our Italian vacation
February 12, 2012 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Planning a trip to Italy and Barcelona in May... tentative itinerary inside. Are we trying to see too much?

My wife and I are planning a trip to Italy and Barcelona for the last half of May. We will have 15 days of vacation not counting two days of travel to and from the U.S. We thought it would be nice to get feedback on our travel plans from people who have been to Italy before, especially about the Barcelona portion of our trip. We really want to see Barcelona and I'm not sure when we will have another chance to come back, but we feel like the extra plane flights will add a lot of stress to our vacation. Here is our current tentative itinerary:

Days 1 - 3: Rome
Day 4: Fly to Barcelona
Days 5 - 6: Barcelona
Day 7: Fly to Pisa, then take the train to Cinque Terre
Day 8: Cinque Terre
Day 9: Leave Cinque Terre in the afternoon for Florence
Days 10 - 14: Florence, with possible days trips to Bologna, Siena, Lucca, and/or Venice, depending on what we feel like doing when we are there
Day 15: Florence in morning, train to Rome in afternoon where we will stay overnight so that we can catch our flight home the next day

When we were first planning this out, we were thinking we would have four days in Barcelona, but I'm guessing the flights are going to eat up most of days four and seven. Is it silly to throw Barcelona into the mix? I would really hate to miss it though! We looked into doing a flight from the U.S. to Rome, then a return flight from Barcelona to the U.S. to cut down on travel time, and the tickets are $1600 per person compared to $900 round trip to Rome - so that's not really an option.

What would you do if you were planning our trip?
posted by relucent to Travel & Transportation around Italy (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I got bored with Rome after 2 days, even though we were running around the city the whole time. If you have things you want to see there, that's fine, otherwise cut a day and maybe do an overnight in Venice during the Florence section (although a day-trip to Venice was perfect for my trip). Skip Pisa, get to Cinque Terre quicker. I loved Cinque Terre, but we didn't have enough time to explore. It's also a very relaxing place, I'd suggest that you go there right at the end of your trip to recover from your other ventures and recharge before heading home.

Other than those (little) things, it sounds like a lovely trip!
posted by svdodge at 3:52 PM on February 12, 2012

I don't think the flights will eat up as much time as you're anticipating. If you get a nonstop, flight time from Rome to Barcelona is a little over an hour and a half. Factor in travel to the airport, wait time, and checking into your new hotel, it may eat up most of the morning. However, getting up at 7 and having lunch in a new city gives you an entire afternoon and evening to explore, which feels longer than it looks on paper.
posted by katemonster at 3:58 PM on February 12, 2012

I've been to all of these places except Cinque Terre. In two months of backpacking mostly in Spain France and Italy, Barcelona was my favourite place; I spent something like eight days there. I think it is worth a trip. Personally I found Florence overly crowded and touristy, but I spent a lot of time in Siena and found it charming and very relaxing. I would suggest you spend a night or two in a smaller town. It's nice to wake up in such a place.

Your itinerary feels do-able to me. I'd echo that Rome does not need a lot of time, but 3 days feels right to get over the jet lag and get your feet, and there are lots of major sights. Definitely spend zero time in Pisa -- you don't need to see the tower, really. Depending on how much you care about Cinque Terre, you could cut that leg of the trip and spend an extra day or two in Barcelona and fly to Florence, which would give you some room to breathe and take the rush out of your schedule a bit.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:03 PM on February 12, 2012

Barcelona is amazing, and in my opinion worthy of more than two days. I agree with PercussivePaul: skip the trip to Pisa/Cinque Terre and spend the extra time in Barcelona.
posted by grouse at 4:11 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

What's your tourist M.O.? My wife and I walk the hell out of cities, nonstop, and don't do museums, just churches. We did four days in Barcelona but with full-day trips to Girona and Montserrat, and we saw 90-something percent of what we wanted to in Barcelona. Barcelona would be worth going to even if you had only one day, for Sagrada Familia and Cinc Sentits alone. If your pace is slower, I'd try to borrow an extra day from somewhere else (not Rome, if it were me, with all the churches; more likely Florence) and do Barcelona up right. But don't skip it.
posted by troywestfield at 4:42 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreed with the above comments on Barcelona. It is well worth additional time. I would cut back elsewhere to spend more time there.
posted by FlamingBore at 5:10 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Our tourist M.O. is to get a really good feel for a place. We mostly walk around and look at things. We love architecture and gardens, and we also like to spend time getting coffee and eating. We do very little shopping, but we do enjoy the occasional museum. If it helps, our favorite places that we have visited are Reykjavik, Oxford, Oak Park (suburb of Chicago where Frank Lloyd Wright lived), and the Biltmore Estate in NC.
posted by relucent at 5:12 PM on February 12, 2012

Yeah, definitely do-able. I've done it all except Cinque Terre, so I can't comment on that.

Definitely go to Barcelona - I loved it because it's just very relaxed. Italy just spoils you when it comes to architecture and art, though, so while Gaudi is great it's less wowohmygod than you'll experience in Italy. Barcelona is great to walk around though - very, very comfortable place.

I loved Roma - although massively different to Barcelona - Pisa is definitely skippable, although you should day-trip to Venice just for the hell of it.
posted by mleigh at 5:30 PM on February 12, 2012

This might not be your speed, but I've been to both countries and I have to say, they are each so distinctive and so wonderful, I'd choose one and savor, I really would. But that's me, I like relaxing and meandering and wandering and discovering, really getting a feel for the national mood and mores and character at a cafe-culture pace. 2 weeks in either country would be divine.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:46 PM on February 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seconding thinkpiece. Unless you absolutely feel this will be your only chance to see these areas, all of which are crucial to you, I'd slow it waaaay down. Get an apartment in Rome (or Florence) for a week, same thing with Barcelona. Savor each city, instead of rushing about. Go to the markets and cook in a few nights. Have coffee at the same cafe each morning. Enjoy!
posted by cyndigo at 5:55 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Cinque Terre are wonderful... but since you haven't mentioned it, please be aware that they are still recovering from the devastating flooding in October 2011, especially Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza, though I would absolutely still go.

I second the recommendation that you skip Pisa. In fact, it might make more sense to fly from Barcelona straight to Florence and make it your base in Italy, as others have suggested. The Cinque Terre are ~2-3 hours by train from Florence, which aligns well with your list of optional "if you feel like it" side trips, which will likely feel much more liberating than making your itinerary fixed on so many specific stops.

In Rome, I think you will love the Villa Borghese museum and gardens.
posted by argonauta at 6:08 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Personally, I think this is way too much. I've been to all the places on this list and, if I were you, I'd go to only these three:

Rome, Barcelona, and the Cinque Terre

Two days in the Cinque Terre and then five or six each in Rome and Barcelona will give you a chance to see more than just the big touristy sights.
posted by yellowcandy at 6:27 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Looking at your itinerary, I think I'd leave Barcelona out entirely. Not to rain on the "I love Barcelona" parade, but spare yourself the time and expense of visiting Spain for such a short period of time and add more time in Cinque Terre and Florence.

While you can probably do Venice as a day trip from Florence, I think it's worth a day or two unto itself - it's about 3 hours by train one way so you won't see much in a day. But I much prefer Venice to Barcelona.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:47 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Having been to all the places you are going to - several times - I think your itinerary is fine. If you want to see Barcelona see it. We all have our preferences when we travel. We all travel differently.

I agree with the others to skip Pisa but it sounds like you are using it as a flying-in point. The Cinque Terre are tiny but they are jewels.

From Florence, I'd say the day trip should be to Siena. In many ways it is Florence's twin and rival and its really interesting to compare the two. Its also strange to see how small the Palio really is. Do not miss Florence, though.

Rome is just wonderful to walk around in. The meandering walk from the Vatican to the Coliseum via the Forum is otherworldly.

I wouldn't go to Venice unless you cut out Barcelona. At that point you are trying to do too much. And if you had to drop something it'd be either Cinque Terre or Barcelona, again as many others have said.
posted by vacapinta at 1:40 AM on February 13, 2012

I frequently fly to europe for leisurely 3 day weekends. I like 3 days for exploring rome and at least 2 for barcelona. I hate it when ppl say dont bother going somewhere unless you have a week to explore. Pffft. I see more by years end by going two weekends a month than others who wait until they have a week off. Id be happy to share my rome and bcn itineraries with you. I put a lot of time into finding the best and most authentic dining experiences.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:28 AM on February 13, 2012

I don't really understand why you are going to Barcelona. It's "near" Italy only in the most global context possible. The only reason I'd attach it to this trip is if you have someone you're visiting, or you've always dreamt of visiting Barcelona and know you'll never come back to Western Europe again. Or maybe if you could do it as a stopover or create an open-jaw thing where you fly into Barcelona and out of Rome?. It certainly makes no sense to fly into Rome, then fly to Barcelona and back, then spend the whole rest of your trip in southern/central Italy.

I've spent about 10 days in Rome cumulatively over the space of several trips to Italy, and there are still lots of things I've never seen. At this point I'm just getting to a place where I feel I really know the city. That said, yeah, you can spend 3 days and see some of the highlights and move on without feeling you didn't do it justice.

As for the Florence/Tuscany part of the trip, I think this only makes a lot of sense if you're planning to rent a car. Otherwise it's going to be 15 days of looking at timetables and figuring out how to buy bus tickets. I spent two weeks in Italy and Slovenia and didn't travel around nearly as much as you're planning to, and I still felt a little shell shocked at the end.
posted by Sara C. at 6:59 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

My 2 cents:

I would consider not including Barcelona on this trip, but if that's a must, I wouldn't worry too much about the flights between. I did a vacation like you're describing once and it worked out fine. My wife and I tend to walk around like crazy on trips like this, so having a little flight to sit, rest, read, worked as a nice break for our poor feet. You guys sound like us in your approach to this!

And we took a trip to Italy just a few years ago, and here's what I'd recommend to another traveler:

* Like you, we booked an extended stay in Florence, because we thought it would be wonderful. It actually wasn't -- it's kind of a dirty, somewhat ugly little city, on the ground level. You see these marvelous pictures of Florence, and those glorious red-tiled roofs, and you start to daydream about lovely sunny afternoons. But those pictures are from above. On the street, it's noisy (lots of motorcycles and cars), dirty (lots of exhaust from same), and somewhat nasty (a shocking amount of graffiti everywhere).

* You should go to Florence -- but my point is that you shouldn't stay there for days like you're planning. Stay somewhere lovely in Tuscany, and just drive to Florence for a day to check out their museums. My recommendation:

* Stay a few days in Siena. Unbelievable place. Like a fairy tale come to life or something. You can walk forever there, and it's an easy drive to other medieval hill towns. I also loved Montepulciano (don't know if I'm spelling it right) which is smaller than Siena but beautiful.

* I liked Rome pretty well, actually, but I don't know that it's worth more than two full days.

* Venice might be my favorite place in the world. It's just unique. I think of it as a leisure stop, as there isn't that much to actually do there, but it's a wonderful "walking around" kind of place.

* We didn't get to the Cinque Terre and I totally regret it, as pictures of it look stunning. At it might be a good place to plan to be in the middle of your trip, to give your feet a bit of rest. Seems like a place where you'd do a lot of sitting and picnic-ing.

I think the buses and trains in between cities in Italy are great. I would also consider renting a car for your Tuscany adventure. There are hassles involved with this, but I think without it you'll find yourself a bit stuck.
posted by Philemon at 7:54 AM on February 13, 2012

I did Rome and Florence last year, and I think your itinerary - while doable - is a bit too heavy on Florence and a bit too light on Rome (and Barcelona, too, I hear wonderful things though I've never been). I, too, like to base my travel largely on wandering around and seeing things and, let me tell you, Rome is great for this, and much better than Florence. Florence is great for museums and art history buffs, and it's certainly a nice town to wander around in, but Rome is bigger, has more sights, and more interesting, diverse architecture. Plus, it's easier to escape the tourist crowds in Rome - both have plenty of tourists, but as Florence is a much smaller city, it feels more overwhelmed by them.

I'd probably do four full days each in Barcelona and Rome, and three in Florence (with at least one of those being a side trip to Siena, or somewhere else in Tuscany). Bear in mind that if you time your flights right, you don't have to spend entire days traveling, and that the train from Rome to Florence is only an hour and a half and runs quite frequently.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:49 PM on February 13, 2012

Apparently I travel differently from most people, but your itinerary sounds too cramped. I've spent 4-8 days in each of the places you list and could easily have spent an extra week in any of them. Venice is the only one where I was satisfied with 2-3 days, because there wasn't much culture beyond the touristy sights.

Are you traveling to "see" these great places, or actually experience them? Personally I think you might enjoy your vacation more if you slow down and simplify the itinerary.
posted by Chris4d at 1:48 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think your itinerary is a bit cramped as well.

I would skip Pisa. There is nothing to do there except see the tower. You'll be disappointed.

I would spend more time Rome if I were you. It's a great city and there's so much to see.

I would cut down time in Florence unless you're really keen on going to all the museums. In that case, I would spend more than 4 days there because the lineups are horrendous.

I would skip Cinque Terre unless you want to go hiking. If you want to hike, I would spend more time there. It's beautiful and super relaxing.

I would do more time in Barcelona as well. It's a great city with lots to do.

Overall, I think your trip is really cramped. If you want to see Barcelona, why don't you do Rome, Florence, Barcelona? You can add a few day trips from there, like going to Ostia Antica from Rome, Lucca from Florence and so on, if you really want to add a few more cities in there.
posted by cyml at 2:27 PM on February 14, 2012

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