In our third post on how to travel in Italy on a budget, we give you some of the best insiders’ tips.
To save money—and discover your “own” Italy—get off the beaten track
Italy’s cities and popular tourist destinations are more expensive than its more local, off-the-beaten-track towns and sites. The cool part? Those “hidden gems” are often just as rewarding, if not even more so, than what you’ve heard about. Instead of spending five days in Florence, consider spending two days in Florence and three in Tuscan towns like Lucca and Pienza. Or head to a region that’s not even as familiar as Tuscany, like Umbria or Le Marche. Everything, from accommodation to food to museums, will be cheaper. As a bonus, you’ll also feel like you discovered the “real” Italy more than if you spend the majority of your time among crowds at the Duomo and the Uffizi.
Remember that Italy’s churches are as filled with masterpieces as the museums
Not all, but many, of Italy’s churches are free. (A small donation is, of course, always appreciated). And that’s a real coup for the budget-conscious traveler, since each church is way more than a religious space: It’s a treasure trove of painting and sculpture. In Rome, for example, the churches of Santa Maria del Popolo and San Luigi dei Francesi have some of the best Caravaggio paintings you’ll ever see, the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria holds one of Bernini’s most stunning sculptures, the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva has a Michelangelo, beautiful Filippino Lippi frescoes, and the body of Saint Catherine of Siena… and that’s just to start.
Carry your I.D. with you to museums and sites
There’s no standard discount across Italian museums and sights. At most places, though, including the Colosseum and Uffizi, if you’re an E.U. citizen, you can get a discount if you’re over 65 years old or under 25 or 26, and children under 18 are free. Always make sure you have your E.U. identity card or passport with you to prove your eligibility.
But even if you’re not European, you still might be eligible for a discount. Do you teach, or study, architecture, conservation, literature, or art history? It varies from place to place, but many sites in Italy, including Florence’s Uffizi and Accademia, allow you free entrance. Generally you need a “certificate of enrollment for the current academic year,” in English, to prove your status. (A letter also seems to work fine).
You’re a student, but not in those fields, and not European? Bring your university I.D. with you anyway. The Vatican museums give you a discount, from €15 down to €8, with a student I.D. And other sites and museums might give you the student discount (even one that’s sometimes officially only for E.U. citizens) if you have an ISIC card with you.
Walk and take public transportation—smartly
As in any city, cabs in Italy can be expensive. Whenever you can, walk. Italy’s cities are incredibly walkable, and often, the only way you can get to a particular site is on foot, anyway! But don’t be afraid of public transportation, either. It’s a cheap way to go: In Rome, for example, you can ride various buses around and get one metro ride for 75 minutes for just €1.
There often are also “tourist cards” you can get for public transport in Italy’s big cities. In Rome, you can get an unlimited metro, bus and tram card for €4 for 24 hours or €11 for three days. In Venice, there are a number of options; the prices depend on the season. In the “middle/high season,” for example, a 72-hour pass for unlimited water buses (usually €6.50 a pop) costs €33. Check out the site Venice Connected at least a week before you go, and you can get further discounts on those cards.
Again, just remember to think it through: To make that 72-hour Venice pass, for example, “worth it,” you’d have to take the €6.50 boats five times or more to merit getting it. And in all Italian cities, you might end up walking more, and taking transport less, than you’d think, so always weigh your options.
Consider discount cards, but always do the math
Rome, Venice, and Florence each have a version of cards that allow you free or reduced-price entrance into a number of museums and sights. But whether they’re worth it depends on what you plan to do. A quick rundown:
The Roma Pass costs €25 and is good for 72 hours. It includes all bus, tram and metro transportation, gives you a free entrance to the first two sites you visit, and offers discounts on the others. It also allows you to “skip the line” at sights like the Colosseum. Since they’re not technically in Rome, the Vatican museums are not included. Sites that are include the Colosseum/forum/Palatine (all one archaeological site, normally €12), the Capitoline museums, Castel Sant’Angelo, and the Galleria Borghese (here, though, you still have to book in advance). Discounts generally aren’t huge, but a euro or two per ticket, so do the math before you jump on the Roma Pass.
The Firenze Card costs €50 and is good for 72 hours. It includes all bus and tram transportation, plus entrance to most of Florence’s major museums, including the Accademia, Uffizi, Bargello, Boboli Gardens, nd Palazzo Vecchio. As with the Roma Pass, it allows you to skip any line without worrying about booking in advance—a good option if you haven’t booked for the Accademia and Uffizi.
The Venice Card costs €29.90 for youths aged 6-29 and €39.90 for adults over 30. It’s good for seven days. The card includes free entrance to the Doge’s Palace and to 10 other civic Venice museums; free entrance to 16 different churches; two free uses of city toilets (normally €1.50); and discounts around the city. Many of the sites included for free entrance aren’t ones that most tourists would visit, so look carefully before purchasing.
Again, also check out Venice Connected for various discount options. Prices change according to whether it’s high/low season, so you have to choose your date in the calendar first. Once you do that, under “Culture,” you’ll find two options; read this description of the differences between the two museum passes to see which one might be best for you.
Finally, if anyone in your group is aged 14-29, consider the Rolling Venice Card. It costs €4, and with that card, the 3-day transport pass above is €18 instead of €33. It also gives discounts to various sites around the city.
Do you have any tips for how to save while sightseeing in Italy? Share them in the comments!
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