When Should I Travel to Italy?

In the shoulder season, even Pompeii is uncrowded

These Pompeii streets are packed in summer -- but they're empty in early April!

When you’re planning your trip to Italy, it’s easy to forget one of the most important factors: when you’re going to come! None of Italy’s top destinations are the same year-round — and there are significant benefits to coming at certain times of year over others.

Little Umbrian towns are quiet year-round

Head to a town like this one (Umbria's Narni), and you'll find it's tranquil year-round

So, 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. (As an aside: We know many parents don’t want to visit Italy outside of their childrens’ school vacations because they don’t want them to miss any school! Not only does this limit them to some of the most crowded and expensive times to visit Italy, but at least for our part, we can’t think of a better education for a child than learning about ancient Rome, or Renaissance art, by actually experiencing the sites. What better classroom could there be?).

Note: Remember that, in general, when we talk about a month being “crowded” or not, we’re talking about the big destinations, including Florence, Venice, Rome, Pompeii, the Amalfi coast, Cinque Terre, and major towns in Tuscany. We’re also talking in relative terms. Year-round, there’s always a line at the Colosseum and always a crowd at the Trevi Fountain. But some times of the year, the line into the Vatican museums takes 3 hours; other times, it’s 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, it’s important to remember that other places, like, say, many small towns in Umbria, or off-the-beaten-path coastline in Puglia, are almost always uncrowded… which is why we love ‘em!

Italy in January and February

Visit Venice in February for a different feel

Venice in February: chilly, foggy, and beautiful

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.

Venice's Carnevale is fantastic -- but also means high prices and crowds

It’s also the time of year for Carnevale, 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 rise in prices in response. But if you’re going to a place where Carnevale 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’s luck of the draw. 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, flooding’s quite common in Venice in the winter, so bring your rain boots!).

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 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.

Italy in March and April

The shoulder season is the best time to visit the Cinque Terre

In late March, the hiking paths in the Cinque Terre are still nearly empty

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).

March and early April are shoulder season on the Amalfi coast

Come to the Amalfi coast in early April, and you just might get the front seat of the SITA bus. We did!

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.

Italy in May and June

The spring is a good time to visit Rome!

The Spanish Steps in Rome in May: definitely not empty, but, believe it or not, not as shoulder-to-shoulder packed as they get in July and August!

Coming in June? Head to a coastal resort

Even by mid-June, few tourists have made it to the town beach of Polignano a Mare, Puglia

Make no mistake: These months now put you in the high season, with June, of course, being busier and more expensive than May.

Still, there are some clear benefits to these months. The weather tends to be beautiful and warm, with highs of 75°-80°F in June in not only Rome and Florence, but Venice and Milan, too. There’s little rain, and often not a cloud in the sky. In many regions, it’s also warm enough to go to the beach. If, before mid-June, you go to the kinds of areas that get really popular in the height of summer — like, say, the beaches of Sardinia, or little resort towns in Puglia — you just might find that you’re the only non-local there.

Just remember that May 1 is Italy’s Labor Day, a national holiday, so many shops, restaurants and a few sites will be closed. Double-check opening times before you go.

Italy in July and 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 around — and since so few restaurants, and even museums, are air-conditioned — this is something worth taking into account.

Some Italian cities have great events in July and August

Another event that's only in the summer in Rome: jazz at Celimontana park

That said, there are a couple of benefits to coming in the summer. One is that, at least before ferragosto kicks up in August (more on that next), 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 there’s something called ferragosto, the holiday when Italians flee the cities for the shore. Dating back to ancient Roman times, ferragosto technically begins on August 15 and ends come September… but in reality, it stretches on much longer. What does ferragosto have to do with your 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. (Big museums and tourist sites remain open).

If you're coming to Italy in August, be prepared to see lots of these!

If you're coming to Italy in August, be prepared to see lots of these!

Perhaps as importantly, ferragosto also makes for an odd atmosphere in Italy’s cities. 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 not 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, stay at an agriturismo 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.

Italy in September and October

Yes, Virginia, Italy has fall colors, too! Rome's Villa Borghese in October

While we tend to think of both September and October as “fall” back in the States, when it comes to visiting Italy, they’re actually pretty different months. September’s still, undoubtedly, high season. Not only that, but in the cities, the first two weeks often still suffer from a lingering ferragosto, 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).

Colosseum in October

Crowds around the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine? What crowds? Ah, yes, it's late October!

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.

Italy in November and December

Low season at one of Rome's most popular sites

It might be a little wet in Rome in November and December -- but look, ma, the Forum's almost empty!

November marks the real start of the off-season, and except for the week around Christmas, there are relatively few tourists through December. Holidays include not only Christmas, but December 8 (Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception) and December 26 (Santo Stefano), so make sure to check opening times of museums and sites (particularly at the Vatican). November 1 is also All Saints’ Day, which can come with some closures.

Visiting Italy in December has its perks -- including Christmas markets!

Depending on where you are, the weather can seem quite mild, but wet: For many Italian cities, November  happens to be the rainiest month. Rome, Florence, and Milan all get 4-5 inches of rain in November — an amount that’s comparable to New York City, but, believe it or not, twice as much as the average for London. Still, the temperature still tends to be fairly mild (in Rome, for example, it hovers in the 40s and 50s), and even if skies are gray, the relative emptiness of the Vatican museums or Florence Duomo can more than make up for it.

What do you think? When would you want to come to Italy, and when have you visited in the past? Let us know in the comments!

You might also like:

Venice: Six Tips to Know Before You Go

The Ten Top Towns of Tuscany

When Is the Best Time to Come to Italy… For My Tastebuds?

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4 Responses to When Should I Travel to Italy?

  1. Anne Golembeski July 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    Great advice on your page! In Friuli I always felt the best time of year was the last week of April – first week of May. Everything blooming, Cuckoos in woods, and mild temps. However, it can also rain a lot!

    Still, I’ve had some of my best trips around Italy in bad weather. It’s a way to see a different Italy. And in my humble opinion, there is never a bad time to see Italy!!!

    Just go and enjoy!

  2. Tess Elliott August 8, 2011 at 6:09 am #

    I have had the best Italian trips in late March. One time, it coincided with Easter in Rome which was quite fascinating–choirs singing in every church most of the day. The season starts officially in April, so all the prices everywhere go up after March, and I found the weather quite comfortable that time of year. In November, the high water starts up in Venice, but I was there in March and September–both times the water levels were normal.

  3. SoloMate Travel April 10, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

    Although Italy is wonderful during any time of year, my favorite time to travel there is in May because the weather is nice (not too hot) and it isn’t as crowded as in June or July. Great advice and I love the pictures you included in the blog. Makes me want to visit Italy again very soon!

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