I'll show you how to experience the best of Italy in just two weeks with our suggested independent travel itinerary. You'll experience the grandeur of Rome, the romance of Venice, and the simple pleasures of Italy's heartland.
On my proposed itinerary, you'll spend a few days in Rome, use a one-week house rental to visit the Tuscan or Umbrian hill towns and countryside, and end with a romantic stay in Venice.
RomeRome is a good starting point. You can fly there easily from the United States and you won't need (or want) a car. Plan to spend at least three or four days in Rome. Choose a hotel that's near public transportation. If this is your first visit, you might want to choose a small hotel or bed and breakfast inn offering personalized service. My favorite is the Daphne Inn, especially good for your first visit to Rome. The helpful, English-speaking staff will map out your days, make restaurant recommendations, and even give you a cell phone so you can call them if you get lost or need advice. (See Places to Stay in Rome for more recommendations from budget through luxury)
On your first day, take some time to just wander around and get used to Rome (and get over your jet lag!). Choose an area near your hotel and just wander--don't worry about seeing all the tourist sites. For an overview of Rome, you can hop aboard bus number 110 (the touristic circuit) at Termini Station.
Plan to spend one day touring Ancient Rome archaeological sites. Another day can be spent seeing the Piazza Navona, Campo de Fiori, Pantheon, Trevi fountain, and Spanish steps (all free!) and visiting museums. My favorite districts? Trestevere, the Jewish quarter, and the up and coming Testaccio, where you can dine on real Roman food--the parts of the animals usually ignored by consumers. Here's my Recommended 3-day Itinerary for Rome.
You'll also need a day if you want to visit Vatican City including the Vatican Museums, St. Peter's Basilica, Sistine Chapel, and Castel Saint Angelo. Tip: If you want to see the Pope, go on Wednesday and get tickets far in advance. See How to Request an Audience with the Pope from Europe for Visitors
Page 2: A week in Tuscany or Umbria
Page 3: A romantic stay in Venice