Italy’s dynamic and one-of-a-kind offerings make it a must-visit destination for travelers around the globe. However, high-season flight prices, over-priced meals, and steep accommodation can be limiting factors for hopeful visitors. Since no one should have to forgo the wonders of Italy just because they’re on a budget, we’ve created a helpful guide to saving some cash while visiting the Bel Paese (beautiful country).
Read more about Italy with our food guide, list of the best small towns, and even where to go on literary tours around the Elena Ferrante Naples novels!
When to Visit
While you may have Lizzie McGuire-esque ideas of how your Italian vacation will play out (it’s summer, you meet an Italian pop star, etc. etc.…), visiting during the shoulder season will help you save some cash. That may mean sacrificing a summer under the Tuscan sun, but your pockets will thank you. Plus, the country has a lot to offer during both shoulder seasons (April to mid-June and September to October) as well as the off-season (November to March). The most obvious benefit is a slash in airfare prices from the U.S., which can soar to $1,500 during high season and drop to the low hundreds during quieter months. Additionally, hotels and bed and breakfasts often lower their rates during these times to turn a profit with sparser crowds. So, consider putting off your vacation a few weeks — or even months — and you’ll see returns.
How to Eat
Because Italy is the birthplace of many of our favorite dishes (gelato and pasta and pizza, oh my!), chances are, you’re going to want to sample as much of it as possible — and that adds up fairly quickly. If you’re confident in your own culinary prowess, renting an apartment or a house with a kitchen is a great way to save cash. However, if you’re looking for a catered Italian experience, consider these tips.
Ordering a morning cappuccino is a must and truly an experience in any Italian city, so we’re not going to deprive you of that. But do take our advice and forgo sitting. It’s true: if you sip your drink while standing at the bar, you’ll save on the extra charge added for table service! It’s only a couple of euros, but if cappuccino turns into a morning ritual (and it should), that change can really add up.
Most Important Meal of the Day
Dinner in Italian cities can be a fairly pricey affair, with an entree (plus drink) costing you upwards of €15. To combat this steep check, consider making your main meal of the day lunch instead. You’ll be able to find inexpensive deals for multi-course mid-day offerings at nicer restaurants — just don’t fall into the “still or sparkling” trap. Your answer should always be “tap.” The selection will save you a handful of euros, and it’s also interesting to note that Italy is known for its incredibly fresh tap water. Don’t believe us? It’s said to be the secret behind the country’s delicious wines.
Visiting Italy with a minimal food budget just means that you have to get creative at times. Those visiting during periods of pleasant weather should employ the picnic strategy whenever possible. Seek out a local market and fill up on an assortment of Italian breads, pizzas, produce, cheese, and fruit. Grab a blanket and head to the nearest park or piazza, and there you have it: a delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner for a fraction of what you would have paid at a sit-down establishment. Plus, you’ll get some sun and an opportunity to people-watch!
Wine and Dine
It can be hard not to indulge while in Italy — after all, it is the land of wine. But instead of visiting a bar or ordering multiple glasses of this staple beverage at dinner (both practices will run your bill up considerably), try relegating your merriment to aperitivo, a pre-dinner drink served alongside munchies at most restaurants in the early evening. If you’ve followed our earlier suggestion and made lunch your primary meal, you can likely get away with aperitivo as supper, and you’ll only end up spending €8 or €10 for a cocktail plus a spread of goodies that includes sausages, cheeses, breads, fruits, and finger sandwiches.
Where to Go
Visitors short on change should flee the cities (sad, but true). While Italian centers like Milan, Rome, and Florence have higher price points and encourage increased spending, countryside towns and villages offer more budget-friendly experiences without skimping on charm, history, or culinary goodness. Visitors to Rome might escape to Castel Gandolfo, Tivoli, and Frascati; travelers in Milan should target the towns of Como, Lecco, Cremano, and Bergamo; and Florence-based budgeters can explore Lucca, Siena, and Prato. While some of these locales are more rustic than others, they’re all great options for travelers of modest budgets.
How to Travel
When sightseeing in Italy, it can be tempting to slide into the backseat of a cool cab after a long day, but instead of relying on taxis, Ubers, or other ride-sharing apps, resign yourself to the fact that public transport in Italy really is the best — and cheapest — way to go. (Rome and Milan, in particular, have incredible metro systems that are both efficient and easy to use.)
If you’re looking to travel across longer distances, you’re also in luck. Italy is known for its extensive system of trains (think TrenItalia or Italo) and buses that link major cities, smaller towns, and quiet villages across the boot, from top to toe. When traveling within the country, do your research to ensure that you’re getting the best price and decide which class ticket your budget will allow. Tip: consider a splurge in warmer months as some train cars in lower-class cabins aren’t air-conditioned.
Where to Stay
In the major centers of Italy, it’s not difficult to fall prey to overpriced hotel offers specifically catered to clueless tourists. But we know better. Airbnbs are a safer bet, but you can often find cheaper options without wading into hostel territory (pun intended). Consider a regular B&B or a pensione, which sounds very Italian because it is. A rented room in a family home or apartment, a pensione is typically a comfortable and very inexpensive option. Though these family-run accommodations are getting harder to find, if you do stumble across one, remember that they’re a great, homey alternative to an unfamiliar, run-of-the-mill hotel room. Or, for a truly unique visit, research a convent or monastery stay. That’s right — you can stay in a historic religious building for a fraction of the cost that you might pay at a fancy hotel. But before you book, be sure to educate yourself on the institution’s rules, as some impose curfews and drinking restrictions.
Regardless of how you choose to spend your Italian vacation, know that you can do it for far less than you may have initially anticipated.
Interested in visiting other destinations on a budget? Check out our advice for traveling on a shoestring!