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Budget Travel: Best Time to Travel to Italy
When you’re planning your trip to Italy, it’s easy to forget one of the most important factors: the best time to travel to Italy! None of Italy’s top destinations are the same year-round — and there are benefits to coming at certain times of year over others. There’s no single “best time” to travel, it will depend on what you want to see and what you want to do in Italy. If you have a little flexibility in your trip planning, here are the upsides and downsides of the different times of year to visit Italy.
High Season: June to August
The height of high season. This is when to expect three-hour lines at the Vatican and a Pompeii filled with so many tourists, the ancient site looks like it’s come back to life. This is also when the weather gets hot. Be prepared for highs in the 80s and 90s across Italy, particularly from Rome and farther south, often with a fair amount of humidity to boot. Since so much of sightseeing in Italy involves walking — and since so few restaurants, and even museums, are air-conditioned — heat is worth taking into account. That said, there are a couple of benefits to coming in the summer. One is that, at least before summer kicks off in August (more on that next) and lots of Italy’s cities throw summer events. In Rome, for example, there’s opera at the Baths of Caracalla and 2km of shops, bars and restaurants opened on the walkway down at the Tiber River. Nightlife also tends to pick up.
August, though, is a completely different beast. This is when Italy shuts down for the holiday of Ferragosto. Italians flee the cities for the shore. Dating back to ancient Roman times, Ferragosto technically begins on August 15 and ends at the start of September… but in reality, it stretches on much longer. What does Ferragosto have to do with travel to Italy? Well, with the majority of Italians leaving the cities, the majority of good (read: authentic and non-touristy) restaurants are closed, as are many wine bars, cafes, pharmacies, family-owned shops, and doctors’ offices. Rome, for example, can feel like a ghost town, one in which Romans have been replaced by big tour groups. So if you like people-watching — and having your subject be the local people — August is the time to come. If you must come to Italy in July or August, though, perhaps consider some more off-the-beaten-path sites. Rent a villa in Umbria or Le Marche, in Tuscany, find a relatively-quiet spot of shore in Puglia, or be counterintuitive and head to the typically skiing-focused towns of the Italian Alps. There are plenty of corners of Italy that remain quiet in the summer; you just have to find (and choose!) them. For an in-depth look at this crazy time of the year in Italy, read our blog on Italian holidays.
Shoulder Season: March to May and September to November
March and April are the “shoulder season,” that sweet spot when the weather’s good and the crowds haven’t yet come in droves. That said, it depends on exactly when you’re coming. It also depends on when Easter falls, as the holiday usually marks the beginning of high season. (If Easter’s especially late, though, the crowds start coming before). And anytime schools are off, you can expect more families to be traveling. Easter week itself, meanwhile, is extremely busy. Also make sure to double-check opening times of sites around Easter, and know that many shops and restaurants tend to be closed on Easter Monday, as well as on April 25 (Liberation Day). Outside of Easter, though, most destinations, especially in March, are much less crowded than they’ll be in June through September. And weather-wise, while it can still be a little rainy, there are also plenty of beautiful days — and the temperature’s very mild. In Rome and Florence, temperatures tend to be in the 50s and 60s. For all of these reasons, for most travelers, we recommend March and April, outside of Easter week, as two of the best months to visit Italy.
September’s still, undoubtedly, high season. Not only that, but in the cities, the first two weeks often still suffer from a lingering summer with many shops and restaurants remaining closed. And don’t be fooled: It’s still summer, so for many parts of Italy, September isn’t exactly crisp. (Of course, it’s not as grueling as July and August, either: With temperatures in the 70s and 80s from Naples up to Venice, temperatures are pretty much on-par with those in June). Meanwhile, although early October can still be crowded (yes, even in the Cinque Terre and Amalfi coast), it’s one of our favorite months to be in Italy. The weather is often spectacular, cooling down enough that it’s generally in the 50s and 60s. There are more rainy days than in June or July, but the sun still shines. And, by the end of October, it’s significantly quieter in Italy’s major tourist destinations. It’s fair to say that late September, through early November, is another one of those “shoulder seasons” that we love. For more information, check out our travel guides.
Low Season: December to February
Although major cities will be busy right around New Year’s, by the second week of January, few tourists remain. (It gets a bit busier right around Valentine’s Day). Flights are cheap, hotels slash their rates, and even popular tourist sites are quiet. If you’ve ever dreamed about actually having space to move around the Sistine Chapel, or being able to hear yourself think in Florence’s Duomo, now’s the time to come. It’s also the time of year for the holiday that marks the coming of Lent and falls in February or early March. Towns and cities across Italy celebrate with festivals, parades, and theater. Although it’s a festive, fun time to be here, in most cities in Italy, including Florence and Rome, you won’t find a big influx of tourists or a rise in prices in response. But if you’re going to a place where Carnival is truly famous — like Venice or Viareggio — you definitely will find crowds and higher prices. You also might need to make hotel reservations up to a year in advance, so plan ahead! Also remember that some places might be closed on January 1, or on January 6, the Epiphany (a holiday marking the official end of the Christmas season), so check museum opening times if you’re on a tight schedule. Weather-wise, it can be a crapshoot. January is often the coldest month of the year, so pack your warm clothes, particularly if you’re heading north: Venice’s average temperature in January is (brr) just 30°-42°F. Rain is also common, but there can be sparklingly clear, crisp days, too. Not to mention that there’s nothing quite as atmospheric as seeing the Venetian canals filled with fog, something you wouldn’t see if you came in the summer months! On the other hand, Venice’s canals sometimes flood in the winter; check out our Venice flooding guide for more info.
If cold isn’t your thing, the farther south you go, the milder it gets. It might be a good time to head south: Sicily’s weather remains in the 50s even in January, and in Naples, it tends to be in the 40s. At the other extreme, if you’re coming to Italy to ski, January and February are the best times to head to the Alps — but it can also be the most expensive. And if you’re heading to summer resort-style places, like Amalfi or the Cinque Terre, be aware that many tourist-centered restaurants and shops might be closed at this time of year. As far as the Cinque Terre goes, it’s also common for the famous hiking trails to close over the winter because of inclement weather. However, you can also get great deals and have these two famously crowded areas to yourself. We talk more about the pros and cons in our Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast guides.
In conclusion, the best time to travel to Italy depends on your preferences and travel plans. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds and save money, consider traveling during the low season from December to February. If you want pleasant weather and fewer tourists, the shoulder seasons of March to May and September to November are ideal. And if you don’t mind the heat and want to experience bustling summer events, high season from June to August might be the best fit for you. So, plan your trip accordingly and enjoy all that Italy has to offer!
*Disclaimer: The content provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice.