Traveling to Italy in January: What You Need to Know

January in Venice || creative commons photo by Michele Ursino

January in Venice || creative commons photo by Michele Ursino

Most people, if they have their druthers, plan Italy vacations in the summer when the sun is shining and the beaches are packed. January in Italy is neither warm nor beach weather, and there are still some excellent reasons to visit Italy at the start of the year – not least the lower prices.

January in Italy is definitely the “low season” in terms of tourism. Christmas is over and the next major Italian holiday – Easter – isn’t for a few months yet. The weather can be cold and downright dreary, dashing any visions you may have had of rolling green hills or sun-dappled piazzas. January isn’t for everyone, I’ll grant you that. If you’re traveling to Italy in January, here’s what you need to know about weather and holidays.

Weather in Italy in January

As mentioned, January in Italy isn’t warm. In fact, the last days of January are said to be the coldest of the year. Some parts of Italy will get snow, while others just get socked in with fog and rain. Overall, the weather does tend to get warmer as you go south, but even Sicily‘s beaches are deserted in January.

This is the kind of inclement weather that likely keeps you indoors at home, but you don’t want to stay in your hotel room when you’re on vacation. There are lots of attractions in Italy that are indoors (museums, art galleries, churches) – but visiting outdoor ruins when it’s raining and cold isn’t much fun. (Of course, it may also be cold and clear in January – so don’t immediately rule out a trip because you assume it will rain. You can be assured it’ll be pretty cold, though.)

In the mountains, there’s snow – a lot of snow. For skiers and snowboarders, January is high season – the Italian Alps and Dolomites are busiest at this time of year, as are ski resorts through the Apennines (and don’t forget, you can even ski Mt. Etna in Sicily). Many of the ski resort towns also have thermal spas nearby, thanks to all that volcanic activity, so even if you’re not a skier you can still enjoy a spa retreat in the mountains in January (when the brisk temperatures make hot springs even more appealing).

Some average temperature ranges for different parts of Italy in January 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 January

Italy’s holiday calendar is packed from end to end, it seems, but not all holidays carry the same weight. January’s main event is Epiphany, which is on January 6th, and marks the real end of the Christmas season. Epiphany is actually the day when many Italians exchange gifts – not December 25th – it’s the last of the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and when the witch called La Befana leaves gifts in childrens’ stockings.

Learn more about La Befana and Christmas in Italy

January is also the start of one of Italy’s official sales periods (the other is in July), so if shopping is on your Italy itinerary then you’re in luck. The prices tend to get better as the sale goes on (they usually last for six weeks or so), but the selection dwindles along the way. Whenever you’re there, look for signs declaring “SALDI” in shop windows (it means “SALES”) and head inside for some treasure hunting.

Why should you go to Italy in January?

Unless you’re going for the winter sports – and a good number of people do – January doesn’t have many selling points for tourists in the weather department. It does, however, offer other perks. The weather keeps the huge summer-like crowds at bay, which in turn keeps prices low on everything from airfare to hotel rooms to guided tours.

The traditionally long lines outside the Uffizi in Florence or the Vatican Museum vanish in the dead of winter. The normally busy counters of the Rivoire cafe in Florence are blissfully spacious enough to sip your cioccolata calda in peace. And the vendors are out with their carts, roasting chestnuts.

Are Italian cities tourist-free in January? Absolutely not – they are never completely tourist-free. And you’ll still see a marked difference in January vs. July.

(Note that many attractions keep shorter winter hours, so plan your sightseeing accordingly. And all that about cheaper hotel rooms doesn’t apply if you’re headed for a ski resort at the height of ski season, naturally. But you knew that.)

The bottom line is that January in Italy isn’t for everyone, as I said at the outset. It can be the ideal time to go if you’re on the strictest of budgets and don’t mind a little rain or snow, if you’ve been to Italy before and so don’t need to spend a lot of time checking off outdoor attractions, or if you’re heading to the mountains for skiing or snowboarding.

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