If You Have a Day in Italy
One day in Italy isn't much time at all, but it's certainly better than no days in Italy! If you have just twenty-four hours to explore, then your best bet is to head for a major city. That way, you can check out a few key museums and historic sites, and you can sample the region's cuisine in one of the countless restaurants that each major city offers.
Three good choices for single-day tours are Rome, Florence, and Venice. Each of these cities is beautiful in its own right, will give you at least one “major” sightseeing memory, and offers the “flavor” of its general region within the country.
The big question to ask yourself during a single day in Rome is: Would you rather beat the crowds at the Colosseum or the Sistine Chapel?
The line to get into the Sistine Chapel is typically at least an hour long, even during the off-season winter months. If this is one of your must-see sights during a day in Rome, then arrive first thing in the morning to ensure that you will get inside. Often, visitors who arrive after lunchtime are turned away because no more tours are being accepted.
These are two of the biggest sightseeing draws in Rome and Vatican City. You will likely want to visit them both during a single day in Rome, and you should go first to the one where you think you will want to spend the most time. If you plan to take the full-on tour of the Colosseum, learning about its history and architecture for an hour or two, then consider being on line first thing in the morning. That's especially true during the summer months, when the open-air structure can feel stiflingly hot with all the tourists lingering under the midday sun.
Even a full-length tour of the Colosseum will still leave you plenty of time to grab a cab (or walk, if you're in good shape) over to Vatican City, where you can get on line to view the Sistine Chapel. Be sure not to dilly-dally, though, as the chapel typically closes early in the afternoon, and you will want to be in line to get inside by about noontime. Save St. Peter's Basilica for after the Sistine Chapel. It's just a few steps away, and it stays open later.
If you have time for only one real meal in Florence, look for a ristorante with a good local wine list. You can often find Brunello di Montalcino vintages here at far lower prices than the popular wines command in the United States, and you will absolutely see labels from producers who are better known locally than they are internationally.
A morning of touring the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel should help you work up a pretty good appetite. After you finish your look around Vatican City, meander over to the Spanish Steps, which are about a half-hour walk away. You'll get a great feel for the architecture of the city, and you'll bump into countless trattoria signs offering pretty much every kind of Italian cuisine you might want.
It would be downright criminal to spend a day in Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance, without taking some time to appreciate all the magnificent artwork in the city. Allow at least a few hours in your schedule for a visit to the Uffizi Gallery, where you can view pieces by the Italian masters Botticelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Arriving first thing in the morning is key; it allows you to get the first tickets of the day. Otherwise, you may have to wait in the entrance line for as long as five hours — obviously not an ideal way to spend so many of your precious twenty-four hours in Italy.
From the museum, make your way over to Florence Cathedral. Even if you have no interest in religious history, the architecture of this building is extraordinary. This is a 500-foot-long cathedral, one unlike anything else you are likely to see in a lifetime. You can also get a good look at the dozens of stained-glass windows for which the cathedral is renowned.
Check the weather forecast before walking over to St. Mark's Square. It's the lowest point in Venice and floods regularly during heavy rains. Waters rose as high as five feet during December 2008 rainstorms. As a general rule, there is at least minor flooding in Venice some 200 days each year.
End your day in Florence with a walk over the Ponte Vecchio, one of the oldest bridges in Europe. This shop-lined tourist hotspot is a good place to pick up souvenirs for anyone back home, and the neighborhood also offers plenty of places to enjoy some local Tuscan cuisine.
The two must-see stops during a single day in Venice are the Grand Canal and St. Mark's Square. You can tour the Grand Canal for far fewer euro if you choose a ferry-style boat instead of a gondola. The ferry boats often offer guided tours in English for longer amounts of time than the gondolas, and at lower prices. You'll get more for your money that way and will still have plenty of time to see more of Venice afterward.
Head from the canal over to St. Mark's Square, which is famous in its own right but is also the gateway for you to see St. Mark's Basilica, Palazzo Ducale, and Campanile. That's a full afternoon's worth of sightseeing, after which you can step into a nearby trattoria or ristorante to try the regional specialty: risotto. Consider a seafood- or fish-based risotto, which will also give you a good excuse to enjoy a bottle of local Pinot Grigio white wine.