One Week in Italy – Rome and Tuscany

One week in Italy - Rome and Tuscany

Italy is on many people’s dream destination lists for good reason.  You have the charm and ambiance in the small towns dotting the countryside and the extraordinary historical sites in the bigger cities of Rome, Pompeii, and Florence.  The people are friendly, the food delicious, and the wine…what more could you ask for?!

About Italy

Italy is the boot-shaped country jutting off the southern end of the European continent into the Mediterranean Sea.  Cozy hilltowns, seaside villages, and major cities are interspersed throughout the country.  There is such variedness among regions in Italy:   the hills of Tuscany, the coasts of the Amalfi and Cinque Terre, the alpine region of the Dolomites in the north, and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.  Within the country of Italy are also two micro-countries, Vatican City and San Marino.  Italy is a nation that shares a geographical commonality although each region greatly differs from the next.  Cuisine differs from region to region as does culture and history.  No matter which region you visit, you’ll surely find Italy delightful.

On our first visit to Italy we visited Rome and Tuscany.  We based our itinerary on where we would be flying in and out of, Rome.  We knew we wanted to see the sites in Rome but also wanted to contrast this busy city with the beautiful Italian countryside.  Tuscany won us over so we settled on staying in the walled city of Lucca, located in northern Tuscany.

Rome & Tuscany, the northern region of Italy

When we visited

Early April during the kids’ spring break.  We found it to be a wonderful time to visit.  Flowers were blooming and the weather was pleasant for exploring.  

We rented a car so we would be able to drive between Rome and Tuscany and were happy with the decision to self-drive.  First of all, driving in Italy was easy with fellow drivers having good “road manners”.  Second, driving here followed the same road rules as the US. 

NOTE:  You do have to obtain an International Driving Permit to drive in Italy as well as carry your American drivers license.  Check out THIS WEBSITE for information on how to obtain an IDP). 

We also planned to do a couple of day trips while in Tuscany so the convenience of having a car won out over relying on public transportation.  On our way back to Rome, we turned our car in at the airport and then took a taxi from the airport to our hotel.  While in Rome, we walked everywhere!  We logged a lot of miles but we loved roaming Rome on foot! 

Here is our one week itinerary:

  • Day 1 – Travel to Rome from the US
  • Day 2 – Arrive in Rome, pick up rental car, head north to Lucca
  • Day 3 – Explore Lucca
  • Day 4 – Day trip to San Gusme
  • Day 5 – Day trip to Florence
  • Day 6 – Drive from Lucca to Rome, stop at Pisa on the way
  • Day 7 – Explore Rome
  • Day 8 – Explore Rome
  • Day 9 – Travel home to the US

Our driving route in Italy

Our trip to Italy began with landing in Rome, picking up our rental car from the airport, and driving north to Tuscany.  We started the trip with Tuscany was because we had wanted the trip to begin with a more relaxing agenda vs. jumping right in to the hustle and bustle of Rome.  Also, extended family was going to be in the area and we had planned to meet up.  However, we suggest doing the Rome portion at the beginning.  Driving 4 hours north in a new country after flying for 12 hours, while jet-lagged, wasn’t easy!  Looking back, we would have preferred to get to our Rome hotel and work our way through jet lag in the first few days of the trip while in Rome, but traveling is always a learning experience!

Lucca, Italy

Lucca was founded by the Estruscans and settled as a Roman colony in 180 BC.  There are still some remnants of Roman time here – Piazza San Michele stands on the old Roman Forum and the grid of the Roman street plan is preserved in the historical center.  It’s a good sized town with multiple grocery stores and even a McDonald’s, but the real treasure of Lucca lies within its walls.

Where we stayed

I found a really cool Airbnb – an old stone house with incredible views of Tuscany rolling out below.  Olive trees surrounded the property with lemon trees growing throughout the area as well. 

Our stone house in Lucca

As lovely as the house was, it was rustic!  We had a hard time figuring out how to use the stove and the kitchen felt like Snow White’s cottage.  There was a large gap under the front door and one night I saw a gecko make its way in!  Also getting here was a bit challenging in our rental van chugging up up up the high hills.  However, we appreciated the charm of the house and the beauty surrounding it.  It was an epic place to stay!

The outdoor space, with the hills of Tuscany rolling out below

Olive trees on the path to the home

Things to do in Lucca

We enjoyed walking the 16th century wall that surrounds the city of Lucca.  One can either take a leisurely stroll or rent a bicycle to completely circumvent the wall.  You’ll have wonderful views of medieval Lucca below.  There are playgrounds along the way and grassy knolls for the the kids to run around on. 

On the wall that surrounds Lucca

Lucca is also known as the “City of 100 Churches”, so there are many churches to explore.  We especially enjoyed exploring San Michele in Foro, right in the city center.

The kids hanging out at San Michele in Foro

Famous opera composer, Giacomo Puccini is a native to Lucca and the home he was born in is now a museum sharing many of his personal items.  Lucca loves its Puccini and even hosts an annual music festival, the Festival Puccini.  Many famous composers have their roots in Lucca, but Puccini is the most famous.

The Guinigi Tower is a walled tower with a bit of fluff on the top – trees growing out of the top!  It makes a peculiar sight but also a great site to visit.  The tower is part of Case de Guinigi which belongs to two medieval mansions.  One of these mansions now houses the National Museum.  

Lucca makes a great homebase for exploring Tuscany.  It’s about 30 minutes from Pisa, 1 hour from Florence, 1 hour 40 minutes from Cinque Terre, and 2 hours to Siena.  While staying in Lucca we day tripped to nearby towns as well.

Lovely Lucca

Day Trip to San Gusme

San Gusme was our Tuscan dream come true!  This tiny medieval town captured our hearts.  San Gusme is about a 2 hour drive from Lucca and oh so lovely.  Much of the little town is all connected to one another, all the same stonework, residences as well as the few businesses here.  This is a place we visited without an agenda, rather just to absorb the charm.   

Sweet little San Gusme

We strolled around leisurely, walking the little lanes and taking photos as everything was so picturesque. 

And then we had our extraordinary lunch.  The owner of the restaurant was very happy to have us!  He first set up a long table right outside on the cobblestone lane with enough seating for all of us – party of 12!  He excused himself for a few minutes while he disappeared around the corner and we got settled in.  After a short bit, he came back with a couple of bags, complete with fresh baguettes sticking out.  Within the bag were the ingredients for our lunch!  We sat back with the freshly sliced bread and drinks while the chef created our meal.  Lunch on this quiet cobblestone lane of this delightful little town was magical.  We spent a few hours eating and drinking and enjoying this most lovely meal, imagining what life was like in this dreamy place. 

Our day trip here was magical, laid-back, and the epitome of a relaxing day under the Tuscan sun.

Tuscan dreams come true – The Chianti region, where San Gusme is located

Day Trip to Florence

We visited Florence as a day trip from Lucca.  We were looking forward to a day immersed in the city that is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance.  But for us, Florence is a city I think we need to revisit because we didn’t have the best experience, but that may just be circumstantial.  

For starters, we were caught in rush hour traffic on our way in.  Even though Florence is a large city, its beauty is what is touted.  The fact that we were in bumper to bumper traffic that moved quickly was not what we pictured when we imagined Florence!  I feverishly skimmed my guidebook as to where to park and we could not figure it out.  We circled and circled until we finally found the parking garage we were looking for. 

Then we had to catch the ATAF bus into the city center.  Again, we could not figure out how to buy tickets ahead of time so we jumped on board and tried to ask the driver if we could buy tickets from him.  He refused to talk to us so we just got on and searched how to do so on our smart phones during the ride.  During our searching, Mike found out that if you do not purchase tickets ahead of time and an inspector comes on board to check tickets and each person can be subjected to a huge fine.  Gulp!  We sweated it out until we finally got to our stop and we could not get off the bus fast enough!

NOTE:  The ATAF system is now no longer and is replaced by Autolinee Toscane.  Tickets can be purchased from ticket offices and official retailers displaying the “Autolinee Toscane” sticker.  One can also use the Tabnet app.  Check the website for up-to-date information.

We arrived at our first stop of the day, The Uffizi Gallery, a tad after our timed ticket due to the issue with finding parking earlier.  Thankfully they allowed us in.  Now for the amazing art!

The Uffizi Gallery’s collection spans the middle ages through modern times.  Some of the famous pieces are The Birth of Venus, Medusa, and Madonna with the Long Neck among many more.  Much of the artwork was recognizable and we took our time walking through the galleries. 

The incredible Uffizi Gallery

As is typical with kids, they had their fill within a couple of hours so we headed out to find lunch.

We had a lovely outdoor lunch on the square in front of the beautiful church, Santa Croce.  This square was a great spot to sit back and take in the beauty of Florence while dining. 

View from our lunch spot

Post-lunch handstands by Ava, in front of Basilica of Santa Croce

After lunch, we had one more museum to see while here, The Accademia Gallery.  

The Accademia is a perfect museum to visit with the kids!  It is small and has one major, very recognizable piece of art, Michelangelo’s David

The star of the Accademia, David

We learned that Michelangelo did not simply chisel his statues from the stone, rather he believed the statue was in there, he was just just chiseling it out. 

David commands the crowds

The gallery also features other pieces by Michelangelo as well other Renaissance artists.  A new addition is the Museum of Musical Instruments, which features one-of-a-kind instruments from famous instrument inventors.

The kids checking out The David, a recognizable piece for kids

After our visit to The Accademia, we ready to head back to Lucca.  On our way out of Florence, we dodged peddlers at every turn and watch where we stepped on the sidewalks and streets as a lot of art was just placed right in the middle of the walkways.  Florence is a lot busier and hectic than we expected so we were ready to get back to peaceful Lucca!

Goodbye, Florence!

Quick Stop in Pisa

Pisa gets mixed reviews but we are glad we stopped to see its famous sites.  We only spent about an hour here, checking out Campo dei Miracoli, the location of the Leaning Tower of Pisa as well as three other buildings:  the Cathedral, Baptistry, and monumental graveyard.

Campo dei Miracoli

Pisa first became a Roman colony in 180 BC.  It survived the collapse of the Roman Empire and remained an important port due to its prime location on the Arno River and proximity to the Tyhhrenian Sea.  Today, Pisa is most well-known for its intriguing leaning tower, which brings the tourists in droves.  

Family photo!

We enjoyed grabbing our touristy photos and seeing that lean for ourselves.  We were on our way from Lucca back to Rome so this was just a quick stop for us.  In our opinion,  Pisa is definitely worth a stop.

 Rome Sweet Rome

Rome absolutely captivated us!  We loved the energy and vibrancy in this city.  The history is unmatched and we could have spent much longer here.  We had just a few days and were able to see the top sites.

After our tour of Tuscany, we turned our car in at the airport in Rome and then took a taxi from the airport to our hotel.  While in Rome, we walked everywhere.  We logged a lot of miles but we loved roaming Rome on foot! 

Where we stayed

We stayed at Hotel Santa Maria and to this day it remains one of our favorite hotels.  Sitting behind an iron gate, you walk past multiple orange trees to get to your room. 

Upon entering the iron gates, this is your view!

Our room, with orange trees right outside the front door

We had plenty of room to spread out for the six of us (my mom joined us on this trip).  Every morning, a delicious buffet breakfast was set up with made-to-order drinks such as lattes or cappuccinos.  We also relaxed on the rooftop deck with a glass of wine after a day of busy sightseeing in Rome.

Lovely seating for relaxing; Ava on the roof deck

The Trastevere Neighborhood

I am including this as something to see while in Rome because it is full of ambiance.  Our hotel, The Santa Maria, is located here and we were so happy with the location.  The streets are so picturesque with piazzas all over, where locals lounge at the end of the day.  We just couldn’t get enough of roaming around here, especially as the light changed to golden hour and soon to cozy evening.  We ate here every night because we couldn’t get enough of the charm at every turn.

Evening ambiance in Trastevere

The Colosseum

The Colosseum is to Rome what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.  It’s the city’s most famous landmark and is a must see in Rome.

Rome’s icon, The Colosseum

The Colosseum dates back to 70 AD with an infamous past.  It is known for its gladiator battles:  human vs. human, animal vs. animal, and even human vs. animal.  Its official name is the Flavian Amphitheater, although it’s better known by its nickname, the Colosseum, which referred to its “colossal size”.  

We spent about an hour here on a self-guided tour, exploring the nooks and crannies and peering into the stadium.  Tours are available to view the gladiator floor and arena up close.  Our kids were young so we decided to self-tour, which was still amazing.  This iconic structure holds so much history that we were in awe.

The inside of the Colosseum

The gated areas are where spectators used to sit watching battles

More of the interior of the Colosseum

An incredible site to see

The Roman Forum

When purchasing your tickets to visit the Colosseum you also have access to The Roman Forum, located nearby, as well as the Palatine.

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum is like walking back in time to Roman Days, entering homes, living rooms, libraries, and public spaces.  Interestingly, back then people mostly ate out in restaurants instead of cooking at home.  

Thankful we can still see this today

We found it intriguing, imaging Romans living life here centuries ago.  The pinnacle of the visit was the mount of dirt in The Temple of Caesar, where Julius Caesar’s body was burned.  To this day, fresh flowers are still brought to honor the slain emperor.

The kids checking out where Julius Caesar’s body was burned – flowers are still brought to this day

TIP:  I highly recommend getting a guide to explore the Roman Forum.  For the most part, you’re looking at crumbling archeological ruins.  Although there is signage and we had a book we referenced when visiting, a guide would have definitely brought the forum to life even more.

The kids loved the Roman Forum!

The Vatican & St. Peter’s Basilica

When visiting Vatican City, you can check another country off your list!  As the world’s smallest country, it also remains the capital of Catholicism, with the Pope residing here and carrying out papal duties.  

I knew we had to add visiting The Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica to our itinerary while in Rome, although our visit here blew away any expectations we had – it’s that incredible.  We purchased our tickets ahead of time on the website which allowed us to skip past the line that wrapped around the building, saving us hours!

Skipping the line with our pre-purchased tickets!

First, we visited the Vatican Museum.  Artifacts collected by the Catholic Church spans centuries and includes some of the world’s greatest pieces.  We opted for the audioguide, which was great to have to guide us through.

Pillaged artifacts, a mummy, and Ava with the statue of the Greek god, Hephaestus, who she had a school project on at the time!

My favorite area of the museum was the Gallery of Maps, of which the ceiling is a work of art alone.  Along the walls are hand painted maps from centuries ago.  

The gorgeous ceiling in the Gallery of Maps

Hand painted maps on the walls lined the Gallery of Maps

We then visited St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest Catholic Church in the world.  The beauty that lies within this church is astounding.  Soaring domed ceilings allow natural light in to make them appear to have a heavenly glow. 

The astounding St. Peter’s Basilica

The altar

Michelangelo’s Pieta is here and St. Peter is buried here under the altar.  St. Peter’s Basilica evoked emotions out of all of us! 

Michelangelo’s Pieta

After visiting the Basilica, we made our way to the Sistine Chapel.  The Sistine Chapel is known for its ceiling painted by Michelangelo in the 16th century.  One can sit on benches and simply look up, taking it all in.  It is beyond comprehension as to how he painted this all on the ceiling.  Michelangelo actually did not want to paint this, but was forced into it!  Hundreds of years later, we all still marvel at his work, hopefully he would be proud 🙂

NOTE:  No photography is allowed in the Sistine Chapel.  Guards are everywhere keeping order and making sure everyone is following the rules.

The stairs in the Vatican are a work of art themselves

A colorful Swiss Guard guarding the Vatican

Toss a Coin into the Trevi Fountain

It’s very American to visit Trevi Fountain and throw a coin over your left shoulder to ensure a return visit to Rome – so of course that’s what we did!  The fountain is one of the world’s most famous fountains, with crowds here proving that to be true.  We didn’t have trouble getting up close and sitting on the edge for our touristy “coin toss” but it was just a quick stop for us.

The massive and beautiful Trevi Fountain

Italy is one of the most amazing countries in the world!  It exceeded any expectations we had.  It is such a beautiful country with intriguing history, friendly people, and delicious food, gelato, and wine.  With visiting both Rome and Tuscany we had a fantastic first visit to Italy. 

Read More!

We share a great itinerary for two days in Rome with our guide, Roman Holiday:  A Great Itinerary for Two Days in Rome.

Dietary Notes

As always, everyone’s needs are different.  At press time, my husband is grain-free and two of our kids are allergic to nuts and eggs.  Although we encompass a fair amount of dietary restrictions, we can only offer advice as to what pertains to our own family, as that is where our expertise lies!

While in Tuscany, we visited a grocery store, which was a trip in itself!  Trying to decipher Italian while reading ingredients was tricky!  We used Google Translate, but that didn’t work 100%.  We were still able to stock up on produce and easily found bread as well as other items we needed to cook up a couple of meals.

Dining out in Italy was no trouble.  We never once had issues with nuts or eggs in the food.  In fact, a waiter once asked us incredulously, why would there be those ingredients in the meal?  I agreed, but food in America typically has a lot of filler ingredients which unfortunately means a lot of food is out that shouldn’t be.  Because Italy kept their ingredients in meals real and simple, it made dining out safe and easy.  Grazie, Italia!

For more on traveling with dietary restrictions, be sure to check out our guide:  On the Go with Allergies.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Mike

    Awesome post!

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