I’ve argued on behalf of winter trips to Italy before, and I’ve had great winter visits myself. I also know it’s not for everyone. But what if you don’t relish the idea of a trip during the overcrowded and hot summer any more than you do the cold winter? Then that’s where the shoulder seasons come in – in this case, spring.
Here’s what you’ll need to know about going to Italy in the spring.
I’m defining spring as the months of March, April, and May in Italy, but because of Italy’s Mediterranean climate (and, probably, climate change in general), May can be as hot as June or July these days. March, by contrast, can be as chilly and damp as February. Spring is, after all, a transition season – so unpredictable weather really is an appropriate hallmark.
Spring temperatures will vary quite a bit depending on what month you’re there and what part of the country you visit, so it’s a good idea to check not only the regional temperature averages (these are listed in the individual articles on each month, listed below) but also the actual forecast when you’re starting to think about packing. In general, though, don’t be surprised if you need to prepare for a little bit of everything – this is a sunglasses and umbrellas season.
There are some major Italian holidays in the spring, including Carnevale (sometimes, depending on the year, Easter, and Liberation Day. May is also when Italy’s annual Grand Tour bicycle race – the Giro d’Italia – is held. Carnevale and Easter in particular are big enough holidays that they draw huge numbers of tourists no matter what the weather is like, and spikes in prices go along with that.
March and April are both what I consider “shoulder seasons” in the tourism sense of the phrase – a time when crowds are a bit thinner than in summer, though not quite as sparse as winter, and when things like flights and hotel rooms can be grabbed at decent prices. May, on the other hand, is now part of the high summer season, as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure it’s partly because of the consistently warmer weather in May, and also because Italy is just such a popular destination, but the bottom line is that the shoulder season window for bargains is shorter than it once was.
Shoulder seasons offer just about the best combination of decent weather and reasonable prices, and that’s particularly true of March and April. Crowds increase in the spring as compared to the winter, but they’re generally not as dense as they can be in the summer. I’m enough of a planner that I’d still book tickets to popular museums ahead of time in the spring, but seat-of-the-pants travelers can certainly get away with not booking in advance, too. I’d still treat May like the high season, though, and book ahead accordingly.
The other shoulder season, autumn, seems to be getting increasingly popular, so if there’s a hierarchy of shoulder seasons in terms of prices and crowds, spring is nosing ahead in that race. As to why, my guess is that autumn’s combination of summer-like weather and food festivals are making it something of a secondary high season in Italy.
The weather in spring can be glorious, but it’s unpredictable enough that you can’t exactly rely on sunny weather for your beach-going days or feel 100% confident it won’t rain the day you’re exploring Pompeii. That’s problematic at times – like when you’re trying to pack for two different seasons’ worth of weather in one carry-on bag. It’s not an insurmountable weather hurdle, of course, but it presents its own challenges.
Also remember to check the calendar for the dates of holidays like Carnevale and Easter, as well as any other major holidays, so you can make or change plans accordingly.