Cities to Visit in Italy: Travel Northern Italy in 4 Days

From art history buffs who dig museums and churches to shopping gurus who browse through designer stores and markets,  northern Italy is the place to go. These four main cities are easily connected via train so if you’re stuck in a time crunch and want to see it all, here’s the snapshot four-day guide to northern Italy.

Things to Do in Siena: Day 1

Piazza del Campo—Located in the heart of Siena, you can find this huge square where the annual horse race (Il Palio) is held in the summertime. Several tasty gelaterias and cafes line the outside and you can catch some rays, browse the t-shirt stands or watch street performers. My friends saw Michael Caine relaxing here with his family a few weeks ago…it’s a favorite for Hollywood stars. If you go inside the main governmental building you can buy a ticket to the museum for less than five euros and see frescos dating all the way back to the 1300’s.

Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo—Here you can see Duccio’s famous gold Maesta painting of the Madonna and Child surrounded by the heavenly court of saints and angels. If you continue through the museum you come to a narrow spiral turret (about 100 steps up) that you can climb to get a breathtaking view of Siena’s red rooftops and lush green countryside. Totally worth the huffing and puffing to the top.
The Streets of Siena—If you don’t have a lot of time, just grab a gelato and walk around the streets of Siena. There are medieval flags hanging from windows, the buildings are closely packed together and lean inwards sheltering you from the sun, cute botiques and touristy shops are around every corner, and the town center is so small that you can scope it out in an hour or so.
San Domenico and the head of St. Catherine of Siena—Whether you’re religious or not, definitely go into the church of San Domenico to view the head of Siena’s patron saint. You can actually see her real head in a glass box inside a chapel in the church, and tests have been done to prove its legitimacy. St. Catherine was a catholic holy woman whose letters are considered some of the greatest of early Tuscan literature.

Things to Do in Florence: Day Two

Duomo—Definitely start your day in Florence here, and start it early. Arrive to beat the tourist line before 9 o’clock a.m. otherwise you’ll wait 2 hours or more in line! The duomo is the Florence Cathedral and was one of the first dome structures ever built dating back to the early 1400’s. You can climb the duomo to get a soaring view from the top of the dome into the church itself bringing you inches from the fresco paintings on the ceiling. Climb further and you’ll be the tallest point in the heart of the city. No worries for you who are claustrophobic or afraid of heights…I’m both and I survived just fine.

Piazza Michelangelo—This piazza is across the river Arno and is a huge tourist destination. You can walk if you’re up for a hike, otherwise regular buses run up the mountain where you get a remarkable view of the Florence valley and bridges over the Arno. Grab a sandwich at the Café Michelangelo for lunch and enjoy the view!
Ponte Vecchio—When you get off the bus at the base of Piazza Michelangelo walk towards the Ponte Vecchio (literally meaning “old bridge” in Italian). You can’t miss it, it’s the only pedestrian bridge with quaint, colorful shops built right on it. If you’re willing to spend a little jing, you can find very nice gold and silver jewelry (I mostly just window shop) but it’s a great place for a photo op. by the water.
San Lorenzo—If your budget is a little tighter and you’re a savvy bargainer, head to San Lorenzo market where you can find everything from Italian leather goods to t-shirts to pashminas and jewelry. Only pay half the asking price and don’t be afraid to push them for the best deal here!
Galleria dell’Accademia—You cannot leave without seeing Michelangelo’s David. Call ahead or go online to spend an extra 4 euro to make appointments in advance for reserved tickets to avoid the long summer lines. Once you grab your ticket you essentially skip all the agitated tourists and walk right in to see this monumental, world-famous sculpture.

Things to do in Milan: Day Three

Last Supper—If know you’ll be in Milan four months or more from your travel date, try to make an appointment to see Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper located in the Church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie. Because of its deteriorating quality, they only let 25 people into the pressure and temperature controlled chamber for 15 minutes at a time, so getting in literally feels like winning the lottery. It is so worth it.

Designer Shopping—As the fashion capital of the world, EVERYBODY looks amazing in Milan so save your best outfits for this city. Home to the famous Fashion Week, it’s the center for designers like Prada, Gucci, and Valentino among others. The cheapest store I found here was United Colors of Benetton so if you’re down with designer, shop in Milan.
Duomo di Milano—This huge church is located conveniently next to a stretch of designer shops so if you have time, pop in for free and take a look around. It is HUGE. Its Italian gothic architecture is unmistakable, and from the outside, its white stone, tall pointed turrets and statues relay its monumental size mirrored inside.

Things to do in Venice: Day Four

Glass blowing—Go to the famous Venetian glass blowing museum near Piazza San Marco for a tour and glass blowing demonstration. It only takes a half hour and they have glass tradesmen on staff who are complete masters at forming and pounding the molten glass into beautiful vases, necklaces, chandeliers etc. Don’t buy anything at the gift shop though, its very overpriced. There are shops all over every island that sell Venetian glass for much less.

Piazza San Marco/ Rent a Gondola—This famous piazza is right on the water on the main island. You can find cheap tourist stands here, check out the church or grab a Gondola ride. If you have a big group it’s more economical because a ride can cost anywhere from 70-100 euros so splitting between six to eight people takes the edge off. The streets are water so you can take boats for transportation from island to island. Hold on to your hat, the city is ocean-side and gets quite windy!

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