Traveling to Italy in February: What You Need to Know

Carnevale di Venezia || creative commons photo by Callejero Errante

Carnevale di Venezia || creative commons photo by Callejero Errante

As a general rule, February has a bad rap as far as months go. In the northern hemisphere, it can be – well, dreary sometimes feels like an understatement. In Italy, however, February can be lively.

In most of the country, February is considered part of Italy’s “low season” for tourists – with one major exception, which I’ll explain below. The good news for budget-conscious travelers is that February travel in Italy is usually relatively inexpensive, and you won’t be fighting crowds everywhere you go. The weather is the main reason most people steer clear of February when planning an Italy trip, though, and it’s definitely something to take into consideration.

If you’re traveling to Italy in February, here’s what you need to know about weather and holidays.

Weather in Italy in February

February’s weather is cold and often damp almost everywhere in Italy. That dampness manifests itself as snow in the mountains, and snow can get down into the lower elevations, too – overall, you should plan on getting rained on or dealing with slushy puddles as you walk from attraction to attraction. You’re likely to be spending most of your time indoors in museums, churches, and shops, but when you’ve got outdoor sights like Pompeii on your Italy itinerary February’s chill can be a bit off-putting.

Skiers and snowboarders will still be heading for the mountain ski resorts in droves, from the northern peaks of the Alps and Dolomites to the Apennine spine that runs down the middle of the country, and even to the volcanic (and quite ski-able) tip of Mt. Etna in Sicily. February is still part of Italy’s high season when it comes to ski destinations.

Later in the month, it’s not out of the question that you’ll also experience a few days that seem like harbingers of spring – cold and clear, when it’s cold in the shade and warm in the sun, but not so warm you want to shed your winter coat. You may just want to don sunglasses now and then.

Some average temperature ranges for different parts of Italy in February are:

  • Northern Italy: 25-45°F (-4-5°C)
  • Central Italy: 40-55°F (5-13°C)
  • Southern Italy: 50-60°F (10-16°C)

And, as always, check the current extended forecast for where you’re actually going just before you leave – when you’re packing is the perfect time – so you can find out in advance if it’s unseasonably cold or warm.

Holidays & Festivals in Italy in February

Of the Italian holidays that stick to the same dates every year, February offers slim pickings. Valentine’s Day isn’t much of a big deal in Italy, although you’ll see some recognition of it in shop windows, and younger generations are apt to give one another flowers and chocolates.

One of the biggest festivals in Italy often occurs in February, however, and that’s the Venice Carnival. Carnevale, as it’s called in Italian, moves every year according to the liturgical calendar, with dates ranging from late January through early April. There’s a very good chance that some of the Carnival celebrations in Venice will fall in February, which is the exception to the “low season” I mentioned earlier.

Another famous Carnival festival is held in the Piedmontese town of Ivrea each year – the Carnevale d’Ivrea is also commonly known as the “Battle of the Oranges.” Revelers dress in medieval garb and (as the nickname suggests) pelt each other with oranges. Viareggio in Tuscany also has a well-known Carnival, with huge marionette figures paraded through the streets.

The Ligurian town of Sanremo hosts an annual song competition (the winner goes on to represent Italy at the Eurovision Song Contest), which is sometimes held in February. It’s a chance to see some of the country’s most popular musicians perform. In Sicily, the week-long Almond Blossom Festival in Agrigento (Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore) is in early February.

Italy’s official winter sales period typically runs through mid-February (it begins in early January), so you can also get your shopaholic game face on and scoop up the last of the clearance deals before retailers restock for the spring season.

Why should you go to Italy in February?

Skiers and snowboarders are the only people I know who go to Italy in February specifically because of the weather. Otherwise, it’s the main drawback for visiting at this time of year. The main benefits, though, include smaller crowds and lower prices – which are both pretty sweet perks.

As I said, if the Venice Carnival is going on in February, Venice is the exception to the “smaller crowds and lower prices” rule. During Carnevale, Venice is mobbed by partygoers from all over the world. Hotel rates spike, and rooms are booked up months in advance. It’s one helluva spectacle, so if it’s on your wish list just make sure you plan ahead accordingly.

For the rest of the country, February can be a tough sell. Anyone who has been prevented from visiting Italy primarily because of budget reasons will find February refreshingly affordable. Travelers who simply can’t stand to be crammed like sardines into the Vatican Museum’s Sistine Chapel will be enchanted by February’s comparative emptiness. But those of you who dream of going to Italy because you’ve seen pictures of rolling green hills, or because you want to lounge on those famous beaches – February is not for you.

Overall, I’d say that February can be ideal if you’ve been to Italy before and don’t need to speed your way from one major sight to the next no matter the weather; if you’re on a seriously strict budget; or if you’re planning to spend most of your time playing in the mountain snow.

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