Planning a trip to Italy this year and looking for ways to save? While traveling in Italy is usually more affordable than in other countries (we’re looking at you Sweden, Denmark, and Switzerland!), trip expenses can add up quickly.
This is especially true if you’re planning to visit the most popular destinations, like Rome, Venice, Florence, and Milan during the peak tourist season.
Happily, we’re here with some advice on how to save while planning your trip to Italy and once you’re on the ground. Here are 11 budget tips to help you live la dolce vita without breaking the bank.
1. Book early and consider shoulder seasons
It’s no surprise that summer is the busiest tourist season in Italy. If you want to book one of our favorite cheapo hotels, make sure to book as early as possible. For even better rates (and fewer crowds!), visit in the spring or fall. For the absolute best deals, take your Italian holiday in winter. Christmas in Italy is a treat, and Rome is especially beautiful this time of year and never gets too cold.
On the other hand, there are a few advantages to going to Italy’s big cities in the heat of August. Throngs of Italians go on vacation, so even though there may be still plenty of tourists in Rome, Florence, and Venice, the crowds can be a little thinner and the hotel rates take a tumble. Here are some tips on going to Florence in August.
Related: If you’re a US traveler heading to Europe, check in with our trip planners on this month’s EuroCheapo package deals. We can book flights, hotels, and car for you all at once, and pass on big discounts.
2. Sleep small and central
Large chain hotels are among the most expensive accommodation options in Italy. These familiar brands usually come with lots of perks — and a very high price. Luckily for budget travelers, Italy is full of affordable hotels and pensions (family-run guesthouses) that not only offer low rates but also plenty of charm and character. Take advantage of these boutique hotels, family-run pensions, and even religious accommodations like convents to get the best deals.
Also, make sure to double check the location of the hotel before you book. You may find a hotel or bed and breakfast that offers a great rate, but if it is so far away from the sites, you might end up spending all of that money you saved on extra taxis at night.
Want some small and budget-friendly hotel recommendations? Check out our favorites in Florence, Milan, Rome, and Venice, or click to search more than 80,000 hotels in Italy.
Related: Best budget hotels in Rome
3. Get out of town!
Visiting Italy is about more than just the big cities. Think outside the Venice – Florence – Rome tourist corridor and try visiting smaller towns and villages, where everything, from hotels to restaurants, is far less expensive. Consider heading down south to the affordable Calabria region, the central Umbria region, or doing a an “agriturismo” farm stay.
If you’re still searching for affordable options in the big cities, look for more affordable neighboring towns where you can find a cheaper hotel. After breakfast, hop on a cheap commuter train to get into the big city (and feel smart). For example, rather than staying in Florence, try booking in Pisa. Rather than Venice, try booking in Mestre or (much more picturesque) Padova. You might find that you prefer smaller towns!
4. Book your train tickets yourself… now!
Planning to take the high-speed Trenitalia train between Milan – Venice – Florence – Rome – Naples? Book those train tickets now, without an external train agency, and reap the savings. Just like the locals, you can simply book your own seats (in English) on the Trenitalia website.
Important: The earlier you book, the cheaper the seats! By booking directly with the railroad, you can also take advantage of special promotions that you wouldn’t find by going through a middleman, like the “Venice 2 for 1” train ticket sale (pictured above). Remember to print out your ticket before you leave.
Related: Book a rental car in Italy
5. Expensive direct flights? Try flying into a cheaper “hub” city
Having a hard time finding a reasonably-priced flight to Italy? Unsurprisingly, prices do spike during the peak summer travel months. However, you can often score something cheaper by flying from the US into a cheaper European destination (such as Dublin, Amsterdam, Berlin or London), and then booking a budget flight on one of Europe’s discount airlines to your Italian destination.
Sure, it might take longer, but the savings can be worth it. Check out cheap flights into Italy on easyJet, Ryanair and other budget airlines.
6. Take advantage of free museum days
Most of the larger tourist attractions and museums in Italy offer free entrance days throughout the week or at least once a month. Do some research ahead of time and maybe you can synch up your trip to a few of the free days. With prices soaring towards €20 for some museums now, a few free days can really help out.
Also, hit up attractions that are always free. Check out this list of free things to do in Rome, free things in Florence and free activities in Venice.
7. Pack a comfy pair of walking shoes and save
You’re going to be walking… a lot. That’s a great thing, as most of Italy’s finest treasures are located along the cobblestone streets of its historic city centers. You’ll get there by hoofing it. And it’s not just the famous sights — your favorite and most romantic spots will probably be those that you’ve stumbled upon down some alleyway or back street (quite possibly when you’re lost). All of it, when you’re walking.
Walking will save you money in transportation costs, and, let’s face it, it will help you work off all those plates of pasta. Wander through side streets, head to local, non-touristy, shops off the main drag, and find some wonderful (and most likely cheaper) discoveries.
Related: Packing advice for a trip to Europe
8. Eat big lunches and save on dinner
Want to know a tasty little secret about saving in Italy? Eat your bigger meals early in the day. Most Italian restaurants serve dinner-size portions at lunchtime for far cheaper than you’ll pay for the same thing in the evening. And then you can lighten up for dinner, going with a picnic (see #9 below) or just grabbing a tasty panini.
But not matter what time of day you decide to eat, know that affordable options are always out there waiting for you. Just choose wisely, and, if possible, get outside the main tourist zone where unscrupulous restauranteurs will happily charge you double the price for a warmed up plate of microwaved pasta. Look for the locals and try to sniff out the gems, like these affordable eateries near the Spanish Steps.
Read about more cheap dining options for Rome, regional dishes to try in Florence, Milan’s best aperitivo bars, and locals’ favorite dining spots in Venice.
9. Learn a few Italian phrases and get a guidebook
Knowing even just a few phrases of the local language goes a long way, no matter where you travel in Europe. Italian is a fun language to speak (and you get to throw in all those hand gestures!), so don’t be shy when you hit the streets. Learn some basics, and then just go for it!
And speaking of streets, bringing along a guidebook is a smart idea as well. Why not just use your phone? You can’t always rely on accessing Wi-Fi when you’re trying to track down that ancient ruin (and you’re not going to turn on your data!), and batteries die. Having an old-fashioned paper map and a few recommendations in your backpack will come in handy, trust us.
10. Shop the markets for fresh (and super cheap) food
Italy is famous for its outdoor and indoor markets full of incredibly fresh produce, aged cheeses, handcrafted salami, homemade bread… hungry yet? It’s a rite of passage in Rome to shop at these mercato all’aperti (open-air markets), and we’ve compiled some food shopping tips to help you get the tastiest deal.
Rather than always dining out, save money on meals by shopping local and then throwing a picnic. Supermarkets, bakeries, and delis make excellent culinary destinations for your wallet. This will also require you to make a stop at the wine shop (of course!) where you can pick out your favorite bottle or even fill up your own with tap wine (like they do in Florence).
Related: The best supermarkets, bakeries, and delis in Venice
11. Don’t fall for every tourist activity
Some things that seem “quintessentially Italian” can also be a “quintessential tourist rip-off”. These come in all shapes and sizes. Some favorites:
• A big meal at one of the restaurants lining Rome’s Piazza Navona? Hmmm — better pick wisely, as most will overcharge you for the view.
• A Roman walking tour with someone dressed as a gladiator? It might be a funny and kitschy experience, but the tour will probably be better with a regular guide.
• Being shuttled down Venice’s Grand Canal in a gondola by a singing gondolier? That’ll be at least $100 for a 40-minute ride. Take a water bus (vaporetto) instead, and save heaps of money. Venice is beautiful from any kind of boat.
Having said that, if you want to dine on the Piazza, pose with a gladiator, or shell out serious cash for a gondola ride, go for it, and have fun! Just know that there are cheaper options that can be just as much fun.
Your budget tips?
Have some budget tips for Italy to add to our list? Share with us in the comments section below!