I LOVE Italy.
I love picturesque day trips in Italy. The small towns, the winding streets, the beautiful doorways and passageways, the quaint architecture. I love it all.
I love the touristy experiences in the bigger cities such as Rome and Venice and Florence, but the smaller, out-of-the-way places and day trips (and some not so out-of-the-way places) are just magical to me.
Much of our family’s “touristing” might be called do-it-yourself (DIY) as we often skip the guided tours and opt for leisure days roaming through Italian towns and villages.
As a photographer, I find picturesque moments around every corner on these amazing day trips. I snap pictures here and there, sometimes waiting patiently for the perfect shot. With Camera in hand, here are my recommendations for seven picturesque day trips in Italy.
Day Trips in Italy Photographers will Love
1. Varenna and Bellagio – Day Trips from Milan
The first of my day trips in Italy was spent wandering the streets of Varenna and then Bellagio, while my husband, Chris, continued on to Sondrio, Italy to conduct business meetings. Chris’ co-worker Luigi picked Chris and I up outside the Hilton Milan early in the morning and drove just over an hour to Varenna where they would meet up with another co-worker, Sebastiano.
While waiting for Sebastiano to arrive, Luigi was kind enough to help me figure out the ferry to Bellagio and then walk with me to the tourism office.
Varenna was simply amazing in its beauty. Every walkway, doorway, and passageway was a photographer’s dream. As far as day trips in Italy go, this was shaping up to be a great one.
Chris was wishing that he could spend the day sightseeing with me instead of working; Varenna drew us both in from the moment we arrived.
As Chris, Luigi, and Sebastiano continued on for work, I purchased my ticket to Bellagio, a short ferry-ride across Lake Como, with a return later in the day back to Varenna. You can’t beat day trips in Lake Como.
The sky was overcast with low hanging clouds that never really cleared throughout the day. I wore a light Fleece Jacket which was just right for this November day.
Lake Como was beautiful as were the small towns hugging the sides of the mountains surrounding the lake.
I stepped off the ferry in Bellagio, and it was just as beautiful as Varenna. Two amazing day trips in one day!
Early morning in Bellagio was not terribly crowded with tourists which was perfect as my Camera was never at rest for long.
Stopping for lunch at a small cafe, I ordered a thick minestrone soup. It was mid afternoon, and the tourists and residents had finally emerged to fill the streets. I was glad for the pictures I had been able to take in the morning. The 4:10 ferry back to Varenna allowed just enough time to capture Varenna’s beauty.
2. Siena from Florence
After spending the previous day exploring Varenna and Bellagio, Italy on my own, I was looking forward to the weekend and being able to sightsee with Chris.
We tried to rush ourselves out of the hotel for an 8:10 am bus to Siena, but we would have either had to snarf down a quick breakfast or skip it all together. We opted to slow things down and take the 9:10 am bus instead.
I asked for oatmeal, and after a long wait, was rewarded with a “Papa Bear” sized bowl. I ate only a small portion. Even the waiter walked by and said, “Oh, that’sa…biga,” in his Italian accent.
We downloaded the Rick Steves’ Siena walking tour from the Rick Steves’ Audio Europe app (a free app I might add), filled the Backpack for the day, and walked to the bus station. Thank heavens for Google Maps and my husband who is always so much better at navigating than I am. He makes day trips so much more fun.
Our bus drive from Firenze (Florence) to Siena was about one hour and 15 minutes along a beautiful route skirted with wineries dotting the mountain sides. Bellisimo.
After exiting the bus, we climbed up to the Central Square. The unusual aspect of Siena’s Central Square was that it did not house the Duomo (cathedral) as is the case with many European cities, instead it was home to the City Hall, and every year hosted the famous Palio horse race.
We started Rick Steves’ walking tour for Siena, and then also purchased the OPA SI Pass (highly recommended) which allowed us to visit all of the museums in the Cathedral Complex: the Cathedral (with art treasures by Michelangelo, Donatello, and Bernini and its amazing marble-inlay floor), the Piccolomini Library, the Baptistry of San Giovanni, the Crypt, the Museo dell’Opera, panoramic terrace of the Duomo Nuovo (unfinished facade of the cathedral), San Bernadino Oratory, and Santa Maria della Scala hospital and museum.
Using our Airpods, we listened to the Duomo portion of the walking tour, learning about the beautiful floor tiles, murals, the choir, the library and more. Chris and I appreciated Rick’s information from the walking tour and the greater understanding of the different parts of the cathedral.
The most amazing part of the day was being able to climb up to the unfinished facade of the church, navigating narrowing circular stairs until the breathtaking view of Siena in 360 degrees of glory unfolded around us.
The queue to visit the panoramic terrace was long, but the view at the top was totally worth the wait.
Chris and I stopped to enjoy lunch at a small café, Osteria Bonelli, at the base of Saint Catherine’s steps leading up to the Duomo.
The last site to visit on our OPA SI Pass was the old hospital. Its lower levels were a maze of walkways and alcoved rooms. Honestly, I would not have wanted to be sick at this time in history. But it was a progressive hospital and inspired advancements in health care and emergency rooms.
It also served as an orphanage, taking in children whose parents couldn’t care for them.
We had a great day in Siena wandering the streets, being immersed in the history, and taking pictures. I think Siena would be one of your favorite day trips if you visited.
Do you have a photobomber in your family? I happily take him along on my day trips!
3. Murano and Burano – Day Trips from Venice
It’s a short day trip to Murano and Burano from Venice, but two picturesque day trips in Italy nevertheless.
We purchased passes for 20 euro each that allowed unlimited bus and vaporetto (boat) rides for 24-hours to visit the islands of Murano and Burano—islands found in the Venetian Lagoon about a mile from Venice. Murano is made up of seven islands linked by bridges; Burano is just one island.
Murano, famous for its blown glass and colorful homes, was our first stop for the day. Though our group of four were squished on the vaporetto with many other tourists on our way to the island, the tourists all fanned out once leaving the boat, and we were able to enjoy a less crowded day on the islands perusing the shops for mementos.
We love day trips that aren’t so crowded with tourists.
We spent the morning being tourists in Murano before waiting in line for the our next boat to Burano, the second of our day trips. It seemed as though our original “friends” from the vaporetto crowded onto the boat once more.
Burano is famous for its lace work as well as brightly-colored homes. Our first encounter on the island, however was with a filming crew. We watched for a bit but nothing exciting was happening.
Our girls were hungry so we stopped at Devil Pizza at 2:30 pm. Chris ordered one medium pizza for 6€ and we made quick work of it. So we ordered another. It was just what we needed.
We had fun checking out the brightly-colored homes, taking pictures, watching the ladies make lace, and shopping before returning to Venice.
4. Pompeii from Sorrento
Pompeii has been on my bucket list before I even knew there were such things as bucket lists. I remember a teacher in the 3rd or 4th grade talking about Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius when I was a young girl; I was enthralled by it.
When looking at day trips in Italy, I highly recommend a visit to Pompeii.
We debated up to the last minute between Pompeii and Ercalano (Herculaneum), but finally opted for Pompeii since it was on my bucket list. We thought we were set for the day as we hopped off the train only to find out that the site was closed until 2:30 pm. There was nothing online to let us know that the site closed for a couple of hours around lunch; we had no choice but to just wait.
We had read that we would have to check our Backpacks, but we wore them in and were not asked to check them. Because it was the first Sunday of the month, the entrance fees for most museums in Europe are waived on the first Sunday of the month. We still had to stand in line for tickets. Chris stood in line while Misha, Kristen and I moved off to the side to stay out of the mix.
And then we walked in to Pompeii and it was awesome.
Even Chris, who was a little skeptical and came because I wanted to, was impressed. The site was crowded but not so much that a little patience garnered some fantastic shots without tourists. Since it was Sunday, there were a few tour groups in Pompeii but no school groups.
One of my favorite day trips ever!
Chris and the girls stopped for ice cream at the cafe, we filled up water bottles at spigots throughout Pompeii, and stopped a time or two for bathroom stops.
We toured the men’s and women’s ancient baths, the basilica, homes, the colosseum, and the theater, the forum, public toilets, restaurants, bars, and inns.
The streets were a marvel as stepping stones were conveniently placed to allow crossing from one side of the street to the other to keep feet clean. Anciently, the streets were regularly flooded to wash away all of the garbage and ruts were often carved in the roads to help wagons and chariots more easily navigate the “paved” roads.
We spent four hours wandering through the streets of Pompeii and loved every minute of our exploration.
5. Isle of Capri from Sorrento
If you are looking for cool day trips in Italy, look no further than a jaunt to the Isle of Capri. We caught the ferry from Sorrento to Capri. Chris had started suggesting that we take the 10:15 ferry, then the 10:45, then the 11:15, and finally we walked on to the 11:45 ferry, sitting on the left side of the ferry for the best view.
Somedays it is good to just give yourself time to relax.
Wouldn’t you know it though, as soon as we arrived on the island, our girls were hungry. Food and day trips. They go hand in hand.
After riding the funicular from the port in Marina Grande up to the Piazzetta in Capri, Chris found a cool takeaway spot for lunch from TripAdvisor.com. The girls picked up some more food from a little bodega down the block, and with a little more searching, we found a little piazza not too far away with a low ledge perfect for us to sit and enjoy our lunch.
A couple from Canada who had already spent hours trying to find their hotel while dragging their luggage behind them passed by our little piazza after stopping to catch their breath. Google maps had a hard time homing in on a location in the narrow, winding streets. And then we saw them again, still lost. The husband seemed determined to find the hotel on his own. He should have asked for directions.
We wandered around the island, stopping to tour a once private rose garden–Giardini di Augusto. It was small but the views were stunning. Seriously, the water was magnificent and clear.
The amount of tourists enjoying their day trips was overwhelming, so be prepared for that. For a little bit of quiet, we opted to catch a bus to Anacapri on the other side of the island. It was definitely less crowded with a more laid back feeling. Kristen found a cute hat to buy. And of course, there was gelato.
Once back to Capri, we climbed up to the Belvedere Cannon, a point where a defensive cannon was placed to defend the island. The view of the Faraglioni rocks, the Sirens’ Rock, the Carthusian Monastery, and the Gardens of Augustus was simply stunning.
Our return ferry to Sorrento was scheduled for 6:30 pm. To get to the ferry earlier in the morning we had to climb down a huge staircase built into the side of the hill, and in the evening we arrived back in Sorrento and that darn staircase was still there. The girls were not thrilled as I took off to climb them. Apparently I walk too fast. And climb too fast. Especially up stairs. 130 steps.
6. Positano from Sorrento
We were still waiting for the bus to pick us up at the hotel a half an hour after arriving. They said they might be a little late. Just as Chris called to inquire, the bus pulled up.
Our driver took off driving through the back streets of Sant’Agnello, dropping us off at the head of an alley. From there we were handed off to another worker (and Chris joked that we were part of some elaborate kidnapping scheme). That worker sent us down an elevator (yay for no stairs) that was built in to the side of the cliff.
Upon exiting the elevator we were met by another employee of the tour company, and after walking a short distance ended up at the boat tour offices to sign waivers and to be assigned to a boat and skipper. We were in group #3 with eight others.
The waters in the Sorrento peninsula were very choppy. I don’t usually get motion sickness, but I had to change places with Misha in order to get some fresh air on my face. Chris and Kristen sat on the front of the boat.
Our driver, Flavio, did his best to navigate the waters so that we were experiencing the least amount of rocking. One of his coworkers purposely drove close to our boat creating a lot more choppiness with his wake. Flavio scoffed, “He isa stupida skipper.”
After we reached the end of the peninsula and turned toward the Amalfi Coast, Flavio pulled the boat into a quiet cove and announced it was time to swim. He brought out pool noodles, snorkels, and chips. He also offered a variety of drinks and snacks throughout the day.
Kristen was the first to jump in the water followed by Chris.
Even Misha jumped in. The water wasn’t terrifically warm, but Kristen had been looking forward to swimming for days. Flavio threw small bits of biscuits in the water and blue fish swarmed. Lots of smiles.
Our next stop was Amalfi for about 60 minutes. We didn’t have a lot of time and needed to find some lunch. We enjoyed takeaway from a small place called Fior di Pizza.
From Amalfi we headed to Positano where we had a little more time. Definitely a picturesque day among all of the day trips from Italy. Kristen swam while Chris soaked up some rays whilst keeping an eye on her. Misha and I explored and finally found a cute dress that Kristen had been searching for. And there were lots of opportunities for picture taking. I loved it.
We followed the coastline back to Sorrento with one more stop to swim. Kristen and one other guy from our tour were the only ones to get in the water.
We arrived back in Sant’Agnello around 7:15 pm after a lovely day.
7. Orvieto from Rome
Getting to Orvieto was an hour train ride outside the city and another early start to our day. This was one of the day trips in Italy that I was eagerly anticipating.
We had maybe five minutes to snarf down our breakfast and then run to the bus stop. And then we waited. You just never know if the buses and trams for your day trips in Italy will be on time or not. We decided to hop on a tram since our bus wasn’t appearing and as soon as we got on, our bus rumbled around the corner. We rode the tram for one stop. Got off, hopped on the bus, took it to the subway station, ran down the stairs to just catch our subway, train.
Once we got to the train station it was an all out run to the furthest possible loading dock in the station. Now, I have endurance to run distances, but I am not a good sprinter. And for my short legs to keep up with my long-legged family was near to impossible. Chris got to the train and kept running and running past the train carriages (apparently he was tall enough to see the full seats inside), but I just kept yelling in my head, “Stop running past all the train carriages and get on the train! Seriously. Get. On.The. Train!” I was dying.
We gratefully slouched into our train seats with two minutes to spare.
It took me probably twenty minutes just to cool down enough to stop fanning myself. Sweat was dripping, and I am sure it was not a pretty sight. All throughout Europe I had kept a folded pamphlet in my backpack specifically for the purpose of fanning myself through hot flashes. If you are traveling with hot flashes, I highly recommend keeping a fan with you at all times on your day trips!
People had to move their bags from their seats to give us room to sit close together and weren’t exactly happy for the inconvenience. Oh well. The train was full.
But we made it and we had a delightful day ahead of us. Orvieto had been recommended to us by a few individuals, so we were excited to explore.
Orvieto sat atop a very steep cliff—a rupe—visible for miles before you even arrived. The easiest way up the side of the cliff was to catch the funicular after you left the train station.
Did you know that you can often buy funicular tickets for your day trips at a magazine stand if one is close by? Chris did.
Chris stopped just as we got off the train and bought tickets. We walked on to the funicular while every one else stood in line at the funicular office to get tickets.
We stopped first at a bakery for bread as we walked toward the Duomo and you’d think my girls hadn’t had carbs in weeks.
Check out the striped Duomo.
Chris disappeared to buy tickets for an Underground Cave Tour. Most of the homes in Orvieto have caves dug out underneath (following strict specifications). Today they are used for storage and wine cellars, but years ago they were used for olive oil production with olive presses, cold storage, and pigeon nests.
They ate the pigeons.
We enjoyed an informative tour with Rosita, our guide, who was animated and engaging. If your day trips ever take you to Orvieto, I highly recommend the Underground Cave Tour.
An olive press.
We lunched at Il Dialogo on their patio, and apparently, I was not the first to inquire about purchasing one of their water bottles. The manager said I could buy one if I wanted to pay 20 euro. When they first started using the bottles they ordered about 200. People, such as myself, had wanted to buy them, and they were now down to 20 bottles. I declined.
We walked along parts of the city wall. The views were amazing and just how you might imagine an Italian countryside would look.
Pictures just don’t do the panorama and variations of green any justice. Our afternoon was spent wandering the city, eating gelato, and enjoying Orvieto and fewer tourists before descending to the train station via the funicular and heading back to Rome. Orvieto was another one of favorite day trips.
Final Thoughts on The Best Day Trips in Italy for Photographers
If Italy is your destination of choice, you will find a myriad of small villages and town to visit along with major tourist sites. Brush up on your photography skills to be ready for the amazing vistas and views awaiting you.
Discover more day trips ideas in Charming European Towns outside of Italy. Or perhaps you have 5 Delightful Days to Spend in Switzerland. Either way, you’ll be sure to enjoy all of the day trips you plan and the pictures you take along the way.