Italy isn't typically thought of as a bargain travel destination — hotels can be pricey for much of the year, and meals will often put a bigger dent in your wallet than notoriously budget-friendly destinations like Spain and Portugal. However, knowing some tricks can help your dollar stretch further. These include opting for shoulder-season travel, staying on top of flight prices, and picking hotels that offer fewer frills. Even by cutting these corners, a week in Italy on our $1,500 budget is guaranteed to be amazing. Read on for three itineraries and our tips for seeing Italy on a budget.
What Is Best Time to Visit Italy on a Budget?
It’s no secret that traveling during the low season brings the best bargains. So, when is low season in Italy? The answer depends on where you’re heading, but the months of November through early March, with the exception of the Christmas and New Year holidays, are usually safe countrywide bets. Of course, the weather at this time of year is less hospitable than in the summer and fall months. However, much of Italy benefits from a similar Mediterranean climate as Spain, Portugal, and Greece. That means that daytime hours are generally mild enough for a light jacket with a sweater.
The situation can be a bit different depending on your Italian destination of choice. Milan and the northern cities, especially those closest to the Alps, will experience a harsher winter than Naples and Sicily. Rome falls somewhere in between — snow very rarely falls, though November in particular can be rainy. And while you might think that the Italian Alps come to life in the winter, skiing here doesn’t have quite the same draw as the Swiss and French portions of this storied mountain chain. Many hotels surrounding famous mountain lakes, like Lake Como and Lake Garda, won’t be open due to seasonality. Additionally, mountain roads will require special gear on your rental car.
If you choose to stick to the southern regions, like Puglia and Calabria, or islands like Sicily and Sardinia, be prepared for beachside tourist towns to look abandoned in low season. Coastal bucket-list destinations across Italy, like the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre, will have far less hotel inventory at this time of year. Inland towns, like Puglia, can be awesome places to explore in the winter, as temperatures are cooler and the vibe is far more local. If this is your speed, look for cheap car rentals at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and get ready for a road trip.
While there are certainly numerous ways to explore Italy on a budget, it’s best to stick to the cities if time and money are tight. You can generally get between them easily and cheaply by train, or even pack in a one-week itinerary full of sights in just one destination. These include Milan, Florence, Venice, Rome, and Naples, and all will give you that quintessential Italian experience. Keep in mind that while many websites list September and October as shoulder seasons, this is increasingly untrue (especially in Rome), and hotel rates will still be sky-high as late as mid-October.
How Can I Find Cheap Flights to Italy?
Luckily, with the arrival of Norwegian Airlines and other newer trans-Atlantic budget airlines (like XL and Air Europa), reaching Italy in the off-season can be incredibly budget-friendly. We’ve seen cheap flights to Italy priced as low as $550 round-trip from major U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago to Milan or Rome. That accounts for just around 35 percent of your total travel budget, which is great given that most travelers spend 45 to 55 percent of their trip budget on airfare alone, according to ValuePenguin.
You don’t have to stick with low-cost carriers, though. Delta, Alitalia, FinnAir, British Airways, and Iberia all fly direct or with no more than one connection to Rome and Milan for around the same price if you book well enough in advance.
Keep in mind that bargains under $550 are possible as well — NYC to Milan or Rome can often cost under $500 round-trip in months like November and February. Set flight alerts from your closest major airport now to track when these prices drop.
What Are the Best Budget-Friendly Itineraries in Italy?
Seven Days in Rome
Rome is a city that’s on pretty much every traveler’s must-see list. With that in mind, we recommend giving the Eternal City a week on its own. The reason? Rome’s major sights often demand hours at a time, and are so numerous that you could fill seven days with them alone. The city also has charms beyond the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. Roman cuisine, including carbonaras, cacio e pepe, and Roman-style pizzas, are a must-try, and the city’s lively aperitivo hour is an institution. There are also contemporary art museums like MAXXI, the stunning sculptures at Galleria Borghese, and too many churches, basilicas, and ruins to count. You’d be remiss to leave off trendy suburbs like Pigneto and San Lorenzo, where modern Rome is coming into its own with street art, cafes, and cool bars.
While hotels near the biggest attractions are rarely inexpensive, you can still find good value properties in Rome. Simple spots like Hotel Italia usually don’t cost more than $7o a night (more details below). That puts you just under $500 for lodging, leaving you with around $400 for food and sights. Thankfully, a vast majority of those sights are free — including the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and the countless ruins that spring up throughout the city. However, you’ll need to reserve a ticket in advance for the Galleria Borghese, Colosseum and Imperial Forum interiors, and the Vatican Museums (which includes the Sistine Chapel). These likely won’t cost you more than $15. That’s generally true for any ticketed museum or historic attraction in Rome, and even if you load up your itinerary with paid-admission destinations — say, hitting one per day — you’ll still have just over $300 for food and transport over seven days.
To keep your meals on the cheap side, steer clear of the cafes and restaurants that line the streets around the Trevi Fountain, west of the Pantheon, south of the Colosseum, and ringing Campo de’ Fiori. To be fair, Rome’s entire city center — from Trastevere to Termini Station — isn’t exactly a bargain-hunter’s delight when it comes to meals. However, you’ll do well by eating like the locals, especially for breakfast. The neighborhood bars — the ones that are loud and packed with Italians (not tourists) — should be your go-to spot for breakfast. Do as the Romans do and opt for an espresso, juice, and pastry to start the day on a dime.
A budget-friendly lunch in Rome is possible by sticking to panini shops, including one of our favorites, 200 Gradi in Prati (expect to pay around $7). For dinner, visit a simple trattoria for homemade pastas or go to town in a classic pizzeria like La Montecarlo, just west of Piazza Navona, or Pizzeria Giacomelli in Prati. Most pizzas should cost around $15. If you have a little extra room in your food budget, aperitivo hour can bring drink specials and low-priced antipasti if you find the right spot.
Keep in mind that public transit in Rome isn’t the best, so you’ll likely rely on your own two feet to get around. However, you’ll want to set aside $30 for the round-trip ticket from Fiumicino Airport to Termini Station.
This simple budget hotel has a prime location for tourists wanting to see all of Rome’s top sights. It’s situated just north of the trendy and charming Monti district and within a 15- to 20-minute walk of major attractions like the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and Villa Borghese. Rooms can be a mixed bag, so be sure to ask for a renovated one. A simple continental breakfast is free, helping to offset any food costs as well. Even so, there’s a great bakery around the corner that you should hit up at least once during your stay.
The Northern Italy Circuit — Venice, Florence, and Milan
Getting between the three most famous cities in northern Italy is quick and relatively cheap, meaning that the ambitious traveler can see all three in a whirlwind week. Fly into Milan to keep your airfare costs low. You’ll need to put aside around $135 for one-way train tickets between Milan, Venice, and Florence. Each trip falls between two and three hours — just beware of any transit strikes that may arise (common in Italy). This gives you about two days per city, which is the bare minimum to see the major sights in each.
Unfortunately, you’re going to have to deal with less-than-fancy hotels if you’re on a budget. Even in low season, Venice and Florence are tourist magnets, and Milan is a major European business hub that’s always busy. That being said, you’re unlikely to be in your room frequently with a packed itinerary like this. For shockingly low rates, Hotel Anastasia (more details below) is a perfectly comfortable, central option in Venice, within a five-minute walk of St. Mark’s. The Smart Hotel Milano Centrale is a reasonably priced and cheerful option that’s near trains and the city center. In Florence, you’ll score a great value at the Florence Dome Hotel, which is only a four-minute walk from the Duomo.
After costs for hotels, airfare, and trains are taken into account, you’ll need to get by on $55 a day. This will take some creative meal planning, though like all Italian cities, breakfast, lunch, and even dinner can be had for relatively reasonable prices. Find a hotel that includes a free continental breakfast, or opt for a light Italian breakfast in a non-touristy cafe. Stick to paninis for lunch and, if you need, dinner (the fillings are adaptable, meaning you can vary up your flavor profile to keep from getting bored). Pizza al taglio and personal pizzas are more wallet-friendly options for dinner as well.
Milan, a hub for all things fashionable, is the most urban of Italy’s major cities. Nightlife is big here, and the city also has Italy’s largest and most visible gay scene. When it comes to landmarks and attractions, you’ll find plenty of free things to see and do. The Piazza del Duomo and Milan Cathedral facades are at the top of that list. Other major destinations include the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the oldest and most ornate shopping malls in the world.
Venice is also a show in its own right, and the great pleasures here include exploring the tiny canals and alleyways that make the city’s historic core. Thankfully, all of that atmosphere comes at no cost. In fact, aside from shelling out for vaporetto rides along the Grand Canal and a few museums that charge admission fees (like the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the campanile of Piazza San Marco), the majority of Venice’s sights are free.
Florence, of course, needs no introduction. By visiting in the off-season, you’ll be avoiding the crushing hordes of tourists that flock here during the warmer months. That’s worth it, if you ask us, even if the weather is chilly. This makes visiting iconic attractions like the Duomo, Accademia Gallery, and the Uffizi Gallery that much more pleasant. While your view of Michelangelo’s “David” or the Baptistery at the Duomo won’t be entirely free of your fellow travelers, getting that perfect picture will be easier. You should definitely book your Accademia Gallery tickets and your entry to the Uffizi Gallery in advance online — budget around $35 for these.
Hotel Anastasia is a 17-room budget property that’s somewhat astonishingly located only a five-minute walk from Piazza San Marco and the Grand Canal. Yes, rooms are on the small side — as you’ll often find in Venice — but they’re spotless. Standard features include air-conditioning, flat-screen TVs, and private bathrooms, and there’s a free well-liked breakfast buffet around the corner at a sister property. For rates this low, the lack of features is no surprise, but you’re here to explore Venice, after all, not to sit in your hotel.
Four Days in Rome and Three Days in Naples
We understand that not everyone will share the same sentiment of needing a full week for Rome alone. Luckily, Italy’s rail network puts other cool destinations within an easy trip of Rome. Rapidly climbing the list of up-and-coming cities in Italy is Naples. Yes, Naples is a bit scruffy and has its reputation, but it’s also one of the beating hearts of Italian cuisine and culture. These days, it happens to be home to a burgeoning art scene, new foodie ventures, and cool boutiques. Plus, amazing historic and natural sights await outside of town, including the ruins of Pompeii and still-active Mount Vesuvius (both are an easy day trip).
We recommend devoting four days to Rome and three to Naples , budgeting 90 minutes to two-and-a-half hours for the train trip between the two cities. In Rome, four days is enough to tick off major free attractions like the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon. You’ll also be able to see the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Galleria Borghese, and Colosseum. The latter activities will cost around $50 altogether. Again, aim for $70 or less for your hotels in Rome.
The cost of the train ride shouldn’t be more than $100 round-trip, and can be cheaper depending on the time of day you’re hoping to travel. Faster trains are generally pricier. Even so, hotel rates in Naples are lower than those in Rome — and that’s especially true in the low season. You can easily find something cute in the city center for $50 or less, like the quirky Hotel Europeo & Flowers, which is right in Naples’ historic district and has incredibly reasonable rates (more details below).
While the colder weather takes the seasonal Amalfi Coast off your Naples-area must-see list, there are still cool day trips nearby. Atop that list are the views of Mount Vesuvius from outside of town and the famous ruins of Pompeii. Circumvesuviana trains to Pompeii run from Piazza Nolana in Naples every 30 minutes, and cost around $4. Entrance to Pompeii itself costs about $15. Access to the trail at the top of Mount Vesuvius is granted by the same Circumvesuviana train (a different stop) followed by a bus. However, check the weather ahead of time, as it can be bad in low season. Budget around $20 round-trip for this.
After you’ve secured cheap hotels in Naples and Rome, shelled out for major sights, and paid for on-the-ground transportation, you’ll still have around $300 for food for seven days (or just over $40 a day). By sticking to typical Italian breakfasts (opt for a sfogliatella pastry in Naples) and simple paninis for lunch, plus holding off until dinner to sample pizza Napoletana and the region’s delicious pasta and seafood dishes, you’ll be more than capable of staying on budget.
Hotel Europeo & Flowers is situated right in the heart of Naples’ historic district, making it a great home base for exploring the city. Private rooms feature air-conditioning, flat-screen TVs, whimsical artwork, and en-suite bathrooms. Vintage furniture and bright murals throughout the property add charm and a quirky atmosphere, even if it’s not the most contemporary option. Still, for prices like these, there’s little to fault here.
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