Italy in the Off-Season – A Guide to Winter in Italy

Or you can sunbathe while you ski! Photo by Gina Mussio

Winter in Italy is wonderful! While some might shun the sunny peninsula during the winter, we believe that Italy is a great destination year round, even after temperatures drop. With festive holidays, fewer tourists, and more Italians, there’s plenty to experience in Italy in winter!

Planning a trip this winter? Here’s what to wear, do and expect in Italy’s off-season:

Winter Weather

Venice is gorgeous year round, but heavy rains in the winter can be a pain for travelers. Illuminated Rialto Bridge

Venice is gorgeous year round, but heavy rains in the winter can be a pain for travelers.
Illuminated Rialto Bridge

Winter weather in Italy ranges from cold and wet in the north to relatively mild in the south. Rome and Naples are Italy’s two major cities that enjoy the mildest winter climates. Head to Rome to see Christmas celebrations in the Vatican City or Naples to shop for artisanal Christmas nativity scenes (and see live ones throughout the city!). 

If you’re planing on visiting Rome in the winter Read more about Rome in the off-season. 

Even though air temperatures can be mild, December, January, and February are still the coldest months of the year fin Italy so plan for a bit of chill and damp. Up in the mountains you can enjoy the snow, while in other regions you might get rain instead – though usually not enough to ruin a trip, provided you have a raincoat and/or umbrella. The one exception to this is Venice, which can experience its notorious acqua alta  during the winter. This is when a combination of wind and tides push so much water into the Venetian lagoon that the streets of La Serenissima actually flood. It might be an inch or two or water, or it might be a foot. In these cases – which are blessedly rare – the only thing to do is strap on a good pair of boots and get wading. Check out our blog for more on how to survive flooding in Venice with dry feet

What to Wear

Dress warm! Italians don’t let the cold stop them from strolling the streets, chatting at outdoor tables and enjoying their favorite outdoor sports year round. Their secret? Layers! This means a thick cotton or wool undershirt or tank top, then your long sleeve shirt, sweater, huge winter jacket, chic boots and of course scarf, hat and gloves. This doesn’t mean you have to feel puffy under all those layers though. Choose your fabrics wisely and dress for your body shape and you’ll look as chic as a born Milanese.

Want to be sure you look as chic as an Italian? Check out How to Dress like an Italian: Fall and Winter Edition. 

Winter is also a great time for shoppers. Winter sales begin post-Christmas throughout Italy and last the entire month. Of course Italy has summer sales as well, but in winter you won’t have to fight the crowds.

Things to love

There are a ton of benefits to traveling in Italy during the off-season, here’s some of our favorite things about winter in Italy:

Bargain prices and fewer crowds

Winter brings a chance to see the Galleria without the usual crowds. Photo by Gabriele Barni

Winter brings a chance to see the Galleria without the usual crowds. | Photo by Gabriele Barni

Though we love winter, it’s considered the off-season in Italian tourism. This is good news for those visiting Italy in the winter, as prices will be significantly lower and you’ll be able to see the sights with far fewer crowds. From mid-November until about Easter time, excluding a rush near Christmas, you’ll be able to escape the cold, whiling away the hours in your favorite Italian museums and churches without the usual line push or time rush caused by the huge summer crowds. Unlike some other European countries, Italy’s major attractions don’t close during the winter excluding a few days around Christmas, so you’ll still have your pick of the best. The high accommodation prices encountered during the high season will calm down and the often expensive peninsula will feel like your own budget destination.

Skiing and Sunbathing

Or you can sunbathe while you ski! Photo by Gina Mussio

Or you can sunbathe while you ski! Photo by Gina Mussio

Italy’s unique geography means that after you’re done skiing in the Alps, you can head down the coast to the still relatively warm south to find heat even in the middle of winter – especially in sunny Sicily. Sicily’s day-time high throughout January and February is around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Though it is colder in the morning and night, it’s still plenty warm when compared to North American or Northern European temperatures. If it’s more wintry weather you’re looking for, it’s worth looking into the Dolomites, Turin, or the Valle d’Osta – all three are winter wonderlands. 

Plenty of inside activities

Italy has spectacular scenery, but when the weather outside is more frightful than delightful, it’s easy to turn indoors. Besides the long meals mentioned above, you can explore some of Italy’s more than 25,000 churches, catch an opera at Milan’s La Scala or Rome’s Teatro Olimpico, finally give the museums the time they deserve or, you could even try a cooking class. If that’s not enough, head inside and underground, exploring the crypts and underground cities throughout Italy.

Festivals galore! (Christmas, New Years, Epiphany and Carnevale)

Christmas tree at the Colosseum

Christmas tree at the Colosseum

Of course, Christmastime isn’t necessarily the off-season, especially in the big cities, but it is a great time to visit Italy. Check out the different Christmas markets such as the Obej Obej market in Milan, the Market in Santa Croce in Florence or the seasonal stalls in Rome’s Piazza Navona; enjoy the town decorations, attend a mass or two, and watch the parades held throughout Italy during the Christmas season.

After Christmas you can also look forward to the Epiphany. Celebrated on January 6 as the day the three wise men finally reached baby Jesus, its more secular side is known as La Befana after the “Old Witch” who comes to bring children candies and gifts on that day. The week from New Years to La Befana is noted as the biggest winter vacation week in Italy. Italians often go skiing and the atmosphere all over the country is very festive. Late February and early March bring carnival celebrations, check out our list of the top celebrations throughout Italy. Winter is filled with festivals to celebrate local foods and public and religious holidays, perfect for a traveler to soak up the culture and join in the festivities!

Winter comfort food

A plate of steaming risotto is the ultimate winter comfort food. Photo by Blue moon in her eyes (Flickr)

A plate of steaming risotto is the ultimate winter comfort food. Photo by Blue moon in her eyes (Flickr)

We love Italian food, but there’s nothing quite like Italy’s hearty winter comfort foods to warm a winter day. After a day of sightseeing, spend your evenings indoors lingering over a long dinner of hearty pastas, soups and meat dishes with a great glass of wine and some friends. With rich sauces in the south and meat and polenta in the north, each part of Italy has it’s own unique winter dishes. Perhaps the most coveted comes into season in October and runs through the end of November – we’re speaking, of course, about truffles – those rare fungi that are, by weight, some of the most expensive foods in the world. Eat them in a risotto, as in the picture above, or simply shave them over pasta to get a taste of why they’re so expensive. 

Know Before You Go

Remember that, barring Christmas, winter is considered Italy’s low season. Many museums and sites have different/reduced hours during winter. In small towns, museums and sites might only be open on weekends or may be closed for part of the winter. You can easily plan around this by checking winter opening and closing times online or asking at hotels before heading out into the cold!

Visiting Italy in the off-season might be the best decision you ever make. Here's why...

 

2 Comments

  • Jotham says:

    Hi Gina! Loving this insightful article on Italy in the off-season! Never knew that the major attractions are still open during the winter season! Great & useful info for me as I will be heading to Italy pretty soon! Gonna follow your site closely!

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