Written by Jessica Spiegel -
A brief overview of what travel in Italy is like throughout the year.
Anyone who’s visited Italy during the busy summer season might have assumed that everyone else on the planet had decided to take an Italy vacation at the same time. But Italy is a tourist hotspot year-round, and those so-called “high season” crowds don’t restrict themselves to only a few months.
Of course, the top reason for avoiding the high season isn’t the crowds – it’s the cost. Nearly every destination is cheaper when visited outside its peak season, and budget-conscious travelers factor that in when planning their trips. But if the cost of a trip isn’t your primary concern, or it’s at least not the determining factor when you travel, then you have other things to consider when planning the timing of a visit Italy.
Here’s a brief overview of what travel in Italy is like throughout the year.
To many, Italy is at its most picturesque when the sun is shining – and it’s hard to argue with the merits of a summertime trip to il bel paese. As mentioned, however, this is also the time of year when most people travel to Italy – which means lines for the big sights are longer, crowds in front of the famous paintings are thicker, and even private tour guides can be harder to come by.
Even if cost isn’t your main consideration, vacancies might be – the busy summer season means that hotels in Italy fill up more quickly, meaning you need to book in advance to make sure you get the hotel you want (this takes some of the fun out of things for travelers who like to go without a set itinerary).
Weather-wise, summer in Italy can be glorious – and it can also be brutal. In the past several years, much of Europe has experienced an unseasonal heat wave each summer, making the usual tourist traipsing more of a slog. For anyone who’s prone to heat exhaustion, July and August in particular can be uncomfortable, especially as you move further south. This is when Italians get out of the cities and head for the beaches and the mountains to escape the heat.
There are some festivals that take place during the summer that can be fun, including the Festa della Repubblica and Ferragosto (the Italians do love their fireworks), and it’s always a good idea to check in with the tourist information office to find out if there’s anything going on while you’re in town.
The word “vacation” conjures up images of warm weather for most people, so the idea of a wintertime visit to Italy may raise some eyebrows. Budget travelers love winter trips to Italy because the cost is significantly reduced, and they’re willing to put up with a bit of cold weather. But does that mean anyone who isn’t singularly focused on their budget should skip Italy in the winter? Not exactly.
Even if the lower prices don’t entice you into considering a winter visit to Italy, the smaller crowds should. Lines to get into even the top attractions in the country are short (or nonexistent), and you aren’t forced to stare at the back of other peoples’ heads when you’re trying to get a look at Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” Hotels have plenty of rooms available, and anyone who works in the tourist industry is not only more readily available – they’re happy to see you.
The weather in Italy during the winter months can be cold, wet, and snowy (depending on where you go), so be prepared to bring warm and water-resistent clothing. Along the coast the weather is likely to be more temperate, although anywhere that’s close to mountains (as much of Italy is) will be colder.
One exception to the otherwise much quieter winter tourist season is the time around the holidays. Christmas and New Year’s can be a bit busier throughout the country, and Carnevale in Venice draws thousands each year. Prices will go up accordingly around these holidays, too.
Spring & Fall
After the two extremes of summer and winter, we’ve finally arrived at what many people know collectively as the “shoulder seasons” – spring and autumn. These seasons offer the best combination of good weather and reasonable prices, and they’re when many travelers with more flexible schedules plan their trips.
The specific months that make up Italy’s shoulder seasons used to be more clear, but as the country’s high season has started to bleed over into the old shoulder seasons, today’s shoulder seasons aren’t as long as they used to be. These days, the best deals and smaller crowds are found in early spring and late fall, while May and September have more or less been usurped by the summer high season.
What makes the shoulder seasons most appealing is that the weather tends to be more temperate (although you could end up with a rogue heat wave or rain spell), and while there are more tourists around than in the winter the crowds are still decidedly smaller than in the summer. It’s often the ideal balance of the biggest factors that go into picking a vacation month.
As it happens, the shoulder seasons are often when some of Italy’s best festivals happen, too. Easter is one of the country’s biggest national holidays, and although traveling on Easter Sunday or Monday can be problematic it’s fun to see how the Italians celebrate so long as you don’t have anywhere to go on those days. The fall is an ideal time for traveling foodies, as it’s full of food- and wine-related events, including festivals dedicated to truffles, prosciutto, and chocolate.
About the Author:
Jessica Spiegel is the Italophile at BootsnAll Travel Network, the RTW travel resource, and she’s the author of BootsnAll’s Italy travel guide, WhyGo Italy. She’s based in Portland, Oregon, and you can find her on Twitter as @italylogue and on WhyGo Italy’s Facebook page.