Trip Activity Advice: Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence

Hello everyone,

I am a longtime lurker, and I have seen many threads where people offer excellent trip advice, especially considering the dates a person will be in a certain place. I ask for the same. I will be taking the following trip in about 2 weeks:

Rome: June 28th-July 1st
Florence: July 1st-July 4th
Venice: July 4th-July 6th
Paris: July 6th-July 10th

I am 21, and will be going with my 21 year old girlfriend. It’s both of our first times in Europe, except for London. Though we don’t have unlimited budgets, we did save up money for the trip that we’re ok with spending.

In Paris, all we have planned so far are the Louvre and a nightime bicycle tour, in Florence, the Uffizi and Academie, and in Rome, the Vatican.

What else do you all suggest? Are we getting there during any festivals/events? I know this is a very broad question, but keep in mind that it’s our first time and we want to mix high culture (museums), and, well, the fun stuff! Any memorable activities/places you care to share? We’re open to lots of ideas. Has anyone ever done the Paris bicycle tour?

Also, how much do you all feel we should plan in advance vs. “winging” it? Should we leave a day in each place for just figuring it out as we go along? Less? We have Frommer’s and Fodor’s for all the locations, also, but don’t know where to start.

Thanks, your help is greatly appreciated. I am getting more excited about the trip each day.


Be sure to allow for travel time between cities. Will you be taking the train?
How will you be getting from Venice to Paris?
Do you have open-jaw plane tickets (into Rome, out of Paris)?
I think, to a point, winging it is not only fine, but desirable.
However, I would have a place to stay for my first couple nights overseas. Also, high season is July (and June can be awfully busy). The Tour de France begins July 1-2, but that will be in Strasbourg.
This site is good for looking up activities wherever you find yourselves.
What’s On When
Florence can be awfully hectic, but the sights you are considering are, to me, unmissable. You could possibly book them ahead of time online. Eat gelato everywhere in Italy. You’ll love it. :slight_smile:
Some people are intimidated by Rome, but I think that Rome, Venice and Paris are very walkable cities. Just amble around and soak up the neighborhood. Find a lovely piazza, park yourselves at a cafe and people watch.
Your guidebooks will tell you all the must-sees. At your age, you might also consider looking at a Let’s Go guidebook.
I know you have the Louvre planned, and I offer advice about it below, but you might also want to consider the Musee D’Orsay This museum has lovely works by Monet, Manet and so many others.
How To Visit The Louvre
*Getting in
• During busy periods, avoid the long queues at the Pyramid entrance in the main courtyard by going in through the Porte des Lions, at the far south-eastern wing of the Museum near the river. This is normally very quiet (though it is closed on Fridays). *
Day trip from Rome: Hadrian’s Villa and/or the Gardens at Villa D’Este in Tivoli.
Look them up in your guidebook.
Day trip from Paris: Fontainebleu, Versailles, or Reims/Epernay for champagne tasting
Have a great trip!

OK, well firstly Europe will be pretty expensive, which you probably know. Luckily most of those places are pretty walkable, which should save costs on transport, and to me this is is the best way to see the city.

if you are going to take public transport, both the Paris and Rome metros are easy to use and relatively cheap - I know in Paris you can also buy carnets of 10 tickets which cuts costs as well. check closing times though - I got stuck a little way from my hostel as the trains in Rome stopped running around 10:30 or so.

Most museums in Paris are free the 1st Sunday of each month, although I think you are not there for that. If you’re into museums you should go to the Musee D’Orsay (impressionists etc), the Musee Picasso and the Musee Rodin. Walking around the left bank (St Germain and Latin Quarter) is great for people watching, and the gay district of the Marais is quirky and fun too. If you want another way to see the city, they also run rollerblading tours - I didn’t get around to doing this, but would be fun!

It’s worth going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, and to the top of Montmartre. Suspect you’ll go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but the view of it’s not so good from there! Actually my favourite way to see it is by surprise through gaps in buildings, which will happen all the time, and you’ll go, ‘Hey, I’m in Paris!’. If it’s raining strolling through the Passages (near the Opera) is also charming.

My favourite place for breakfast is Le Pain Quotidien (there’s one in the Marais and one in the 8th)- communal tables, fresh bread and pastries and lots of spreads and good coffee. If you’re into food, a visit to Laduree (amazing macarons), Fauchon and Hediard (deluxe food halls) both near Place de la Madeleine, and a hot chocolate and croissant from Angelina’s (right off the Tuilleries metro along Rue de Rivoli) - basically cream with dark chocolate to make it interesting.

A stroll along the Faubourg Saint-Honor where all the money lives/shops is also a nice thing to do.

Hint for cafes here - if you eat sitting down, they will charge you more - if you just want a quick pastry and coffee you can have them ‘al banco’ (at the bar) - will can be 1/3 the price. Also note that sometimes you have to order first and pay from a cashier before ordering again from a waiter, and sometimes you order from someone and pay a central cashier. Never easy to tell which way, so watch other people to get an idea.

Hint for getting into the Colusseum a little easier - there are guides outside who will collect small groups together and take you in the group tour way - bypassing the long queues. I went with some people from work this way (a little suspiciously) but it was a great tour.

Go into the Castello D’Angelo - I did for the first time recently, and it’s a great, unusual view of Rome.

Eat gelato everywhere. Several times a day - after all there are so many flavours… The best place I found (seriously 100 flavours) was Gelateria della Palma on Via della Maddalena 20–23 just near the Pantheon (free, and lovely especially at night).

Also try melanzana parmigiana (baked eggplant with parmesan - a Roman speciality). Can you tell I travel for the food?

Florence and Venice
Haven’t been to either of these for a few years, so can’t be very specific about what to do here.

In general
Book accommodation - this is high season, and it will be hard to find places to stay on the day. In Italy, ask for a letto matrimoniale (marriage bed) - as a double may just get you 2 single beds. Caan be cheaper to get rooms with no ensuite (facilities a short walk down the hall) - if you don’t mind this you can save quite a bit.

Make sure you keep track of purchases and reciepts - as you are leaving the EU you will be able to claim the VAT back on purchases when you leave - ask about Tax Back (or look for blue signs) when making purchases.

And keep one ear out for strikes - not uncommon in France or Italy, and these can disrupt all transport for 1-2 days at a time - and there is nothing you can do about it!

Have a fabulous time, very jealous, can’t wait until I go back (next year…)

Sorry, I forgot to mention. We are doing the trains in the Italian cities (already booked), and a flight from Venice to Paris. All of our hotels are booked already, so we don’t have to worry about that.

I did hear of the Musee D’Orsay, and we will definitely make it our business to go. What’s a good amount of time to plan for the Musee D’Orsay and the Louvre? A few hours in each?


Thank you! I didn’t even think to check when public transportation would close.

I’ve heard of travellers getting ripped off in Italian cabs. Are they metered, or does the guy just tell you the fare? Is this something I should be worried about?

We still feel compelled to go to the top, even though you’re not the first person who’s mentioned disappointment at its scale.

I’ve heard this is also true at the Vatican-- that it’s a bit shady, but those “informal” tours are well worth it. Would you agree?


Another longtime lurker here. I saw this thread, and decided to sign up so that I could put in my two cents.

I can’t tell you anything about festivals/events that might be going on, but if you read Italian and/or French, there are magazines with that sort of information: Roma C’e for Rome, and Zurban for Paris.

Rome is a city of churches. They’re filled with surprises - you can walk into a a small church that looks like it’s nothing special, and stumble across works of art by Renaissance and Baroque masters. Some of my favorites:

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (near the Pantheon): Rome’s only true gothic church. Contains the Carafa Chapel, which was decorated by Filippino Lippi, and one of Michelangelo’s minor statues, (can’t remember its name off the top of my head.)

Santa Maria in Trastevere: A very old church. Simple, but beautiful. There’s also another church in the area, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, that houses the Blessed Ludovica, an amazing Bernini sculpture. Trastevere itself is worth exploring too - it’s filled with cobblestone streets and unexpected courtyards. To get there, take the #8 tram from Largo Argentina, and get off at the stop right after you cross the bridge. (Trastevere = “across the Tiber.”) There’s an amazing bakery on Via del Moro called La Rinella - the pizza and the bread are delicious and cheap. The “brutti ma buoni” cookies are also nice if you like hazelnuts. There’s a restaurant on the same street, Mario’s, that does traditional Roman cuisine and is student-friendly. You can have a two-course meal with a glass of wine for under 20 euros.

San Giovanni in Laterno (metro stop Cavour): Pope Julius II’s tomb (Michelangelo) is located in this church. It’s an impressive work, with a fascinating history. The Captives (Dying Slave and the other one, whose name I can’t remember) that are in the Louvre were originally intended for the tomb.

Right near the Cavour metro station is “La Cigala e la Formica” (Via Leonina), a little restaurant that has what might be one of Rome’s best deals: a two-course “business lunch” for 10 euros. The menu’s only available in Italian, but the waitress does speak English. Also in the area is “La Carbonara dal 1906,” another restaurant serving traditional Roman cuisine. The specialty, as you can probably guess, is spaghetti alla carbonara. I don’t know how much English they speak, though.

I’ll second the poster who recommended eating gelato several times a day. I know the place near the Pantheon, and I agree with the recommendation, but I’ll add a few more to the list. Gelateria “Chocolat” (Via Leone IV, right near the Vatican) has flavors run to the unusual. Green tea, wasabi, and chocolate with pepperoncini (chili peppers.) Also near the Vatican is Millenium, which is unusual for its late hours (I think it’s open until 2am.) There’s also the Gelateria “Old Bridge” near Piazza Risorgimento, where the gelato is wonderfully creamy and the portions are huge. Via Ottaviano, which runs off Piazza Risorgimento, is also a good shopping street. There’s a store - I think it’s called Castroni - that deals in specialty and artisanal food products. It’s a great place for edible souvenirs - chocolate, wine, etc.

Also worth seeing in Rome are the markets. For a food market with plenty of character, go to Via Trionfale (a short walk from metro stop Cipro) anytime between 9am and 2pm, Monday through Saturday. If you feel like a picnic lunch, you can pick up all the fixings here. (You can take that picnic lunch to the Villa Borghese, the big park right by the Piazza del Popolo. Also located in the Villa Borghese is the Galleria Borghese, home to some of Bernini’s most stunning sculptures.) For bric-a-brac and antiques, there’s Porta Portese (bus or tram, your guidebook should have directions). I cannot stress this enough, however: if you go, don’t take anything of value with you. Carry cash only, and a small amount at that. The pickpockets are notorious.

Florence is an extremely compact, walkable city. I’d recommend reserving your tickets for the Uffizi online - if your time is limited, you really don’t want to be stuck in a queue for four hours. Especially not during the summer. If you don’t get enough of a Renaissance fix at the Uffizi, right near the train station is Santa Maria Novella, a church filled with Renaissance art.

Other things worth seeing include the Baptistry (the bronze doors are copies, though - I’ve forgotten which museum the originals are in), the Brancacci Chapel (check your guidebook for details), and the Duomo - I’m scared of heights, so I didn’t go up, but I’m told that the view’s amazing.

I loved Venice, but I went during the winter, and I’m told that the city has a slightly different character during the summer. First, a bit of advice for finding your way around. Figure out how to get from the place you’re staying to the train station. This is absolutely essential. Street names are pretty useless, but there are yellow signs with arrows everywhere, that point to two things: the train station and the Rialto bridge. As long as you can get to the train station, you’re fine.

The Piazza San Marco and the Basilica are both a must-see. Visit the Academia for Venetian art. Depending on how much you like Tintoretto, you may want to visit the Scuola di San Marco, which contains a room that has been described as “Tintoretto’s Sistine Chapel.” In all honesty, though, I’d just recommend wandering the streets - Venice is a fascinating city for aimless exploration. On the food front, try to avoid the places that advertise pizza in sixteen languages (easier said than done, I know) - see if you can find somewhere that does Venetian cuisine. Specialties include sarde in saour, sweet-sour sardines with pine nuts, squid cooked in its own ink, and dried cod (baccala) pureed with cream. To drink, go with prosecco (sparkling white wine). A very Venetian aperitif is the spritz, Campari with white wine.

I have suggestions for Paris, too, but I think I’d better split this into two posts.

Museums: I’ll second the Musee d’Orsay and the Musee Rodin. If you like Impressionism, especially Monet’s waterlilies, the Orangerie has just been reopened, though you might be waiting a while in line. If you like medieval art, there’s the Musee de Cluny (metro Cluny La Sorbonne), home to the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Even if you don’t go to the museum, that area is worth a wander.

Food: The Restaurant Cremerie-Polidor (Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, near the metro stop Odeon) was a haunt of many turn-of-the-century artists and writers. You sit elbow-to-elbow with strangers at long tables, which is loud but fun. The restaurant serves traditional French bistro food, and there’s a 12 euro lunch menu. Beware, though - it has a fixed main course, which varies by day. Don’t go on Thursdays unless you like kidneys!

There’s a bakery on the corner of Rue de Rennes and Rue… Raffet, I think (near the metro stop St-Sulpice) that has delicious pastries. Try the palmiers, or the almond croissants. Also in the area is Cafe Constant (Rue d’Assas), the restaurant of chocolatier Christian Constant. I’m told the desserts there are delicious.

Other things: Although Notre Dame and the Sacre Coeur are worth seeing, I would strongly recommend going to Sainte-Chapelle on a sunny afternoon. It’s a gothic chapel that is basically a cage of stained glass. Utterly breathtaking.

I studied in Rome and Paris, so if you have any general questions about getting around, I can probably answer them.

If you do, make it very early in the day. I was there about 9:00 a.m., took the elevator to the second level and had to wait about 10 minutes to catch the other elevator to the top. When I came down about 45 minutes later, the second level was packed with people waiting and I think they’d stopped selling tickets to the top. And that was way off-season.

I second Sainte-Chapelle … that was my favorite part of our trip to Paris. Breathtaking is an understatement :slight_smile:

Are you planning on taking the Metro out to Versailles? We went in the winter, so we didn’t get to see the gardens in bloom. It was a pleasant way to spend the day, though.

We also took a day trip to Epernay (to the Moet winery), although it is a full day and not necessarily a cheap one.

There is also the dining trip up the Seine. It sounds pretty cheesy, but the food was surprisingly good (and they don’t spare the wine). It’s not inexpensive, but we got to relax for a few hours, have tasty food, and get a little tipsy to boot. The company name was “Bateaux Parisiens”.

They do have sightseeing tours too for 10 euros, if you didn’t want to eat (although that was what made the tour special). The lunch cruise ranges from 50 to 70 euro.

One last bit of info that came to mind. You can certainly get by with English in Paris (actually, my partner did better with English than I did with French - I’d get a look of “don’t slaughter my language, you pig” and they’d answer in English :D). Outside the city, it’s not a guarantee. No one we encountered in Epernay except the tour guides spoke English - but they understood my bad-accent French well enough.

I found Venice to be an open sewer. Florence, otoh, has the most beautiful women in the world. Climb to the top of the Duomo. Rent a scooter and live in sheer terror in Itialian scooter traffic for a while. Oggle the amazingly stunningly georgeous women.

I didn’t take cabs that much - if you are flying into either airport in Rome there is a train that you can take either to the central station from where you can jump on the metro (from Fuimicino) or to a metro line (from Ciampino) for around 10 euros - but otherwise would expect cabs to be around 40-50 euros, more at night. They should have a schedule of fares in the car. You may think the convenience of this is worth it.

As a rule of thumb, chances are you will get ripped off at least once on your trip - but don’t ruin your trip by expecting this of everyone (just keep aware, e.g. most guidebooks will give you a rough estimation of fare costs etc), and if you don’t think what someone wants to charge you it worth it, feel free to say no. And the people who are friendly and generous will far outweigh those that aren’t. Re pickpockets, be aware of your body space - keep an eye out for people getting too close or bothering you about mundane things, they will be trying to distract you. Just be aware and they will find a less obvious target. Bear in mind I’m a single female and I travelled around Rome and Paris by myself at all times of the day and never felt threatened or at risk, other than from all the male attention - warn your partner that if you’re not around she may get some comments! (all in good fun).

I reckon you need a good 2-3 hours for the D’Orsay (beautiful views of the river and Tuileries etc), any more and you get brain freeze.

There are long queues for the Vatican - but never seen the same sort of tour touts there that I have elsewhere. Note the queue for St Peter’s (the cathedral) is separate from the tour for the apartments/Sistine Chapel - so you have to queue twice, nice… Having never done a tour of St Peters can’t say if this is worth it - but I think you might want one for the rest of the Vatican as there is so much to see.

Second the vote for Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, it’s all blue inside and different from all the other churches in Rome. Also if Nero’s Domus Aurea is open (last I heard closed due to floods) apparently worth it.

Sorry, forgot to say they are metred. Also, if you want to take buses etc you normally have to buy tickets before you board and validate once on - you have to buy these from newsagents (called Tabaccherias)

I also recommend Rough Guide guidebooks - they do small ones called Directions for each of the cities, but the big ones for France and Italy will give you a good background to general useful information, worth a browse in a bookstore.

Just a few personal opinions.


The Colliseum is mindblowing in its scale, but right next to it is the Forum, which is even more impressive, in a historical context, as it’s a sizeable chunk of the actual ancient city. Get a guidebook to interpret what you’re seeing, though.

I second the Pantheon too: the roof is still intact, there’s even a corporate logo on the front (“AGRIPPA”) and there are lots of lovely cafes to eat at in the square it’s in.

Piazza Navona: it’s beautiful at night, but don’t even think about eating there; the cafes and restaurants charge up to twice as much as places just round the corner.


Pere LaChaise cemetary is one of the best sightseeing things I’ve been to in Paris, and there’s a hell of a lot of good stuff to see. Sounds morbid, but it’s fascinating, full of famous dead people, peaceful and beautiful.

Oh, and I recommend Lonely Planet guides over Rough, having used both. From where you’re going, I’d say get the Italy one, as the country editions are still pretty comprehensive about the big places, but just the Paris one. IMO they’re more detailed - and entertaining - than Rough Guides.

Get the Rick Steves travel books – they’re very helpful, because they don’t just list every attraction in town. He gives his opinion, and tells you that if you only have one day here, you MUST see this. If you have 2 days, add this, etc. He really helps cut through the massive amounts of things to see and do while travelling.

I second (or third or whatever) both the Musee d’Orsay (we liked it better than the Louvre – easier to see more of the collection, less crowded) and Sainte-Chappelle. We went to England and Paris when we were 20, and one of the best things about Paris was that our hotel was near one of the market streets. We would go there for a croissant and coffee in the morning, and pick up a baguette, some cheese, and some fruit for lunch, and then eat out for dinner. It was neat to see the Parisians doing their daily shopping, too, dickering with the vendors, etc.

If you have time, take a day trip (via train) out to Chartres and see the cathedral there. It’s beautiful, and the town is nice, too. It was good to see a part of France other than Paris (even though it’s not that far outside the city).

We found the people in Paris very friendly, contrary to stereotype. We were careful not to impose on anyone, and at least begin the conversation in French – they usually stopped us and continued in English, but they seemed to appreciate our effort.

Have fun!

In Paris, if you’re going to do more museums than just the Louvre, get the Museum/Monument card. It’s not so much the price discount as you get to skip the lines. (I went for the first time last winter - and it was lightly snowing from time to time, and cold always, and it was wonderful to not have to wait outside, but march to the window, show the card, and go straight in. It covered almost everything but the Eiffel Tower.)

I wish I had discovered gelato in Rome upon arrival rather than halfway through my stay. It was everything people claimed it was. If you’re interested in historical sites, you can buy a combination Forum/Colosseum ticket at the Forum (where there is nearly no line) and then bypass the ticket buying line at the Colosseum and go straight to the tour entrance and skip the tour (the one I took was not very insightful and didn’t say anything a good guide book didn’t - and I had the combo ticket (which made the tour an especially bad decision), so I really didn’t need the tour).
I loved Rome -

I walked much more than I had expected to in both cities, and quickly found that only one pair of shoes that I had brought was going to make it. Take good shoes. And I had no problem getting around on public transportation, (it’s way better than what I’ve got here).

The Dali Museum, on Montmarte in Paris, is a museum I’d recommend - very quirky and a refreshing change from all those big, grand buildings. That and D’Orsay were my favorite museums in Paris. The Louvre is just too big and too full of people.

In the above paragraph - I mean Palatine Hill, not Forum.

Hi everyone,

Thanks for all your help so far…your posts have been much more helpful than most of the guidebooks I’ve read, in that unlike the books you aren’t competing with each other solely in volume of information.

I actually didn’t realize how beautiful/notable the Sainte-Chappelle was. I’ve looked at some pictures, and after all of your recommendations, I’ll definitely add it to the list. I also appreciate the restaurant and general travel advice.

A few of you have mentioned day trips, especially from Rome and Paris. We’ll be in Rome for 3 days and Paris for 4. It’s our first time in both, so I thought a day trip may be a waste of time that could be better spent in the city. Am I underestimating how nice they are?

Thanks for your continued advice,

My wife, in Rome, agreeing with you.