2 Weeks in Southern Italy: Rome, Naples, Puglia and Sicily
Arts & Culture
Southern Italy is everything I dreamt Italy to be and more. After living in Rome, Naples, Puglia and Sicily for almost two years, I discovered what made everyone fall in love with this magical country. From the people to the food to the landscapes, Italy doesn’t skimp on providing a culturally rich and leisure-filled vacation. While there’s never enough time to visit all that Italy offers, this 2-week itinerary provides all the best things to do and see from someone who has lived there and seen it all. In just 2 weeks you’ll be able to immerse yourself in Italian culture and la dolce vita exploring the coast from Rome to Sicily and the best in between. Buon viaggio!
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Where to stay
Hotel Principe di Villafranca
Offers a blend of Sicilian elegance and modern luxury in the heart of Palermo, creating an intimate haven for discerning travelers.
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Relais Le Clarisse a Trastevere
A charming haven in the heart of Trastevere, offering a blend of historical elegance and modern comfort for an unforgettable Roman getaway.
Corte del Catapano
A hidden retreat where rustic charm meets contemporary tranquility, nestled in the heart of an Italian village.
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Day 1: Arrive in Rome
Accommodation: Stay in Trastevere at Relais Le Clarisse, a boutique hotel in a former 17th century convent with charming rooms and a peaceful interior garden.
Start your Roman holiday by taking the train from Fiumicino Airport to Termini Station. Taxi directly to your hotel in Trastevere and drop off bags. Walk to Biscottificio Artigiano Innocenti bakery for a mid-morning snack of ricotta-stuffed brioche - these are light, fluffy and oozing with creamy ricotta, a decadent way to start your trip.
Spend the afternoon wandering Trastevere's cobblestone lanes and ivy-covered buildings. Make your way over to the Il Forno bakery outpost by the river and try a slice of their crisp, thin Roman-style pizza bianca topped simply with olive oil and salt.
In the evening, join a small-group walking tour of Rome's famous piazzas and fountains at night. Marvel at the Trevi Fountain illuminated by lights and toss a coin over your shoulder to ensure you'll return to Rome again one day. End the walk at Da Enzo al 29, a warm and cozy family-run trattoria in Trastevere serving melt-in-your-mouth cacio e pepe. Be sure to order the carciofi alla romana (Roman-style braised artichokes) as well - the outer leaves get wonderfully crisp while the hearts are tender.
Day 2: Vatican Museums & St. Peter's Basilica
Fuel up with pizza bianca studded with soft potatoes and fragrant rosemary from neighborhood bakery Panificio Bonci. Then walk or take a short taxi ride to the Vatican to arrive right as the museums open at 9am, having already purchased skip-the-line tickets online. A guide will lead you through the extensive collections of Greek and Roman sculptures, Renaissance maps and sacred artwork culminating in the Raphael Rooms and Michelangelo's masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Next, head into magnificent St. Peter's Basilica, the largest church in the world. I recommend climbing the seemingly endless stairs to the top of the dome where you can experience a panoramic view of all of Rome. The climb is absolutely worth it!
For lunch, walk 10 minutes away from the crowds to casual Dar Poeta in Trastevere. Their thin-crust pizza with creative topping combinations like zucchini blossoms or spicy salami is not to be missed. Or try their signature calzone stuffed with ricotta and spinach.
Spend the afternoon wandering through Rome's beautiful piazzas like Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon. As the day cools down, stop for your gelato fix - head to Gelateria del Teatro near Piazza Navona, beloved for their incredible variety of unique flavors.
Day 3: Day trip to Tivoli
After breakfast, take the train from Tiburtina station and arrive in under an hour at Villa Adriana-Tivoli station. Here you'll explore two UNESCO World Heritage sites just outside Rome - Emperor Hadrian's sprawling 2nd century Villa and the elaborate 16th century gardens and fountains of Villa d'Este.
At Hadrian's Villa, walk through the ruins and visualize the palaces, theaters, baths, libraries and temples that once stood here in this vast countryside estate. Then make your way through the beautifully manicured grounds of Villa d'Este, which have beautiful fountains like the Organ Fountain and the Hundred Fountains.
Have lunch at Sibilla restaurant just outside the Villa. This temple of traditional Italian cuisine makes their pasta fresh daily - be sure to try it tossed with shaved truffles and drizzled with estate-grown olive oil. Finish your meal with their silky smooth panna cotta served with tart berry compote.
Back in Rome, put together a picnic dinner by picking up some pizza by the slice, farinata chickpea flatbread and whatever delicious snacks catch your eye at a neighborhood alimentari. Head to the Gianicolo or Aventine Hill to watch the sunset over the city and toast to your last evening in Rome.
Day 4: Travel to Bari & Polignano a Mare
After checking out, pick up your rental car and input the directions south to Puglia. The drive will take around 5 hours - stop halfway in a small town along the way to stretch your legs and grab lunch.
In the late afternoon, arrive in Bari, the capital of Puglia. Wind your way into the medieval quarter still enclosed within old city walls to find your B&B La Corte del Catapano. Settle into the charming historic building and stone-arched rooms.
As the sun sets, wander through Bari Vecchia's tight cobblestone streets and check out sites like the 12th century Basilica di San Nicola, where the relics of St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) are kept. Have dinner at cozy osteria Terranima, which puts a vegetarian-friendly spin on classics like orechiette pasta and fave bean puree. Try their homemade desserts like chocolate cake paired with orange cream.
Day 5: Beach day in Polignano a Mare
After breakfast, drive just 15 minutes south along the coast to reach the scenic cliffside village of Polignano a Mare. Arrive early to explore the town before the crowds come in. Meander through the narrow cobblestone lanes and whitewashed buildings, catching glimpses of the sea beyond arched passageways.
Make your way down the stairs to find a perfect spot to lay your towel on the rocky beach shelves or at a lounge chair rental place like Lido Cozze. Wade into the translucent blue waters for a refreshing dip. When you get hungry, have a casual seafood lunch at Al Trabucco da Mimì, a restaurant carved into the limestone cliffs overlooking the sea. Order a platter of grilled or fried fish and enjoy the views.
In the evening, find a table at a restaurant like Grotta Palazzese along the main strip for dinner. Be sure to try their fresh seafood linguine and octopus salad.
Day 6: Alberobello & Ostuni
Check out of your Bari lodging and make your way inland into the Valle d'Itria region, famous for its cone-roofed trulli dwellings scattered across rolling green hills. Your first stop is Alberobello, where over 1000 trulli with their whimsical architecture make you feel like you're in the middle of a fairy tale. Walk along the steep winding lanes of the Rione Monti district to see the clusters of trulli houses.
Continue on to the whitewashed hilltop town of Ostuni, arriving just in time for lunch. Find a table at an outdoor restaurant along the cobblestone lanes. Order the Pugliese classics of orecchiette pasta dressed simply with good olive oil or a bowl of creamy burrata cheese.
Make sure to stop at a local bakery and pick up some classics pugliese treats — almond-stuffed biscotti, maybe some chocolate tarallini crackers and of course a cup of pistachio gelato from Gelateria La Specola.
Day 7: Travel to Palermo
Check out of your Puglia hotel and begin the drive southeast across Sicily. It's around a 6 hour drive, so plan to stop midway at the Villa Romana del Casale archaeological site near Piazza Armerina to stretch your legs. This Roman villa contains the most extensive collection of late Roman mosaics in the world, with nearly 37,000 sq ft of incredibly detailed floor mosaics depicting mythology, sports and daily life in vivid color.
In the early evening, arrive in Palermo, Sicily's vibrant capital. Check into Hotel Principe di Villafranca, a regal 4-star property in the historic center near Teatro Massimo. Freshen up and then take an evening passeggiata (stroll) through the neighborhood. Walk down Via Maqueda to the bustling Ballarò street market to browse stalls of spices, cheeses and street food carts whipping up fritters and arancini.
For dinner, try a local favorite, Trattoria Ai Cascinari. Sit outside amid hanging plants and umbrellas to try Palermo specialties like caponata (sweet and sour eggplant), tender beef involtini (stuffed rolls), or pasta con le sarde, topped with sardines, fennel, raisins and toasted breadcrumbs. Complete your meal with a refreshing granita for dessert, my favorite Sicilian treat.
Day 8: Monreale & Palermo
After breakfast, take a quick 20 minute bus ride up to the hillside town of Monreale. Here you'll visit the glittering 12th century cathedral decorated in over 6,500 sq ft of magnificent Byzantine mosaics made from glass and golden tesserae. Biblical scenes like the Creation of Adam completely cover the walls and arches in shimmering detail.
Back down in Palermo, spend the afternoon seeing top attractions like the Palazzo dei Normanni, decorated with mosaics in the Arab-Norman architectural style. This palace contains the spectacular Palatine Chapel and its red-painted wooden muqarnas ceiling.
Continue your explorations into the Kalsa neighborhood for an aperitivo at cozy Bar Touring Club, a retro spot with velvet couches and chandeliers. For dinner, try Trattoria Biondo, casually elegant but fantastic for dishes like giant fried shrimp, involtini rolls and baked anelletti pasta with meat ragu. Finish your meal with a stroll down Via Maqueda for shops selling sweet ricotta-filled cannoli or gelato.
Day 9: Cefalù day trip
Venture just an hour east along the coast for a day trip to the scenic village of Cefalù. Its medieval core centered around Piazza del Duomo feels a world away from busy Palermo.
Make your way to the pedestrian boardwalk area and find a restaurant like La Brace for a laid-back lunch featuring the fresh catch of the day. Grilled dorado or spaghetti with sea urchin and shrimp are fantastic options.
Spend the afternoon lounging on the long, sandy beach near the town center or exploring the nooks and crannies of Cefalù's winding public squares. Take in one last beautiful sunset in Sicily before heading to the Amalfi Coast next.
Day 10: Travel to Sorrento
Check out of your Palermo hotel and drive 4-5 hours northwest along the coast until you reach charming Sorrento around midday. Upon arrival, check into Villa Oriana Relais, a boutique hotel located on a residential street in central Sorrento just a block from busy Piazza Tasso. Unpack and enjoy their small pool surrounded by greenery.
In the evening, stroll Sorrento's main street Corso Italia to Piazza Tasso, filled with buzzing restaurants and gelaterias. Sit outside under lemon trees at L'Antica Trattoria for an al fresco dinner featuring their excellent rendition of gnocchi alla sorrentina - pillowy potato dumplings baked in tomato sauce with mozzarella.
Day 11: Capri Island & Grotta Azzurra
From Marina Piccola's harbor, take the hydrofoil across the bay to arrive on the insanely beautiful island of Capri after a scenic 30 minute ride. Upon docking, find the ticket booth to book a small boat to tour the island's dramatic coastline. Pass by natural arches and soaring cliffs before arriving at the Blue Grotto, a sea cave illuminated by an indescribably blue glow. Swimming inside is an ethereal experience.
Spend the rest of your day exploring Capri Town with its exclusive boutiques and buzzing main square. Have lunch at Bagni Tiberio beach club where you can sunbathe before or after your meal of linguine alle vongole (pasta with clams). In the late afternoon, return to Sorrento to relax.
Day 12: Drive Amalfi Coast to Naples
After checking out of your Sorrento hotel, begin the unforgettable drive along the Amalfi Coast. The road clings dramatically to the cliffs with nearly nonstop vistas of pastel-hued villages against the sparkling sea. This drive epitomizes what dreams are made of.
Stop first in Positano, the Coast's most photogenic village cascading down to the sea. Have lunch at beachfront restaurant La Conchiglia, feasting on pasta alle vongole veraci (pasta with locally-caught clams) inches from the water.
Continue to Amalfi town to see the imposing Duomo di Sant'Andrea cathedral and have a gelato among the bustle of tourists and shops on via dei Mercanti.
End your coastal drive in refined Ravello, a peaceful cliffside town. Meander through Villa Rufolo's romantic tiered gardens and take in the breathtaking views.
In the afternoon, drive 1.5 hours north to Naples. Check into the Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo in the city center. Unwind before an early dinner - Sorbillo Pizzeria is known for being the best pizza in the world. A perfect first meal in Naples.
Day 13: Naples City exploration
Start your day underground, exploring Naples' vast Greco-Roman catacombs. Learn about the fascinating history of this burial site as you walk through the eerie passages lined with early Christian frescoes and tombs.
Wander through the immense Mercato di Porta Nolana, densely packed with wriggling seafood, knobbly root vegetables and fresh mozzarella. Snack on salt-crusted tarallini bread rings or farinata chickpea flatbread as you explore.
End your evening sampling fried street food like pizza fritta and zeppole doughnuts in the buzzing Spanish Quarter before returning to your hotel.
Day 14: Pompeii & Mt. Vesuvius
On your last day, take the Circumvesuviana train 30 minutes south of Naples to reach the ruins of ancient Pompeii. Spend several hours here wandering the incredibly well-preserved site - see ruins of temples, homes, baths, gardens and the grand amphitheater. Don't miss seeing the plaster body casts of victims in their dying poses.
In the afternoon, ride a bus up the steep, winding road to reach the crater at the summit of still-active Mt. Vesuvius. Hike the gravelly half-mile trail along the rim and peer down into the unnerving gray void. The panoramic views over the Bay of Naples are spectacular as well. Descend and head back to the city.
For your last day in la bella Italia, relax and enjoy the dolce vita. Take in all the views, sounds, and aromas of this magical country and make sure to have one last authentic pizza at Da Michele and the best gelato at Mennella. You will for sure be satisfied knowing you had the most full and authentic Italian experience on your trip!
Need to Know
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, The Hidden Gem of Italy: Lake Maggiore.
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