Traveling to Italy in Winter: What You Need to Know

Winter fog in Venice || creative commons photo by Andrea Castelli

Winter fog in Venice || creative commons photo by Andrea Castelli

Unless you’re an avid skiier or snowboarder, it’s unlikely that your first inclination is to plan a winter trip to Italy. I would argue, however, that winter can be a good time to visit Italy for a number of reasons – not least is the lower cost.

Here’s what you’ll need to know about going to Italy in the winter.

Winter Weather in Italy

I’m defining winter in Italy as the months of December, January, and February. These are Italy’s coldest months, no matter what region you’re talking about. Those of you who are eyeing the ski resorts will no doubt think that’s the best thing you’ve heard all day. Anyone who dreams of meandering strolls through cobblestone streets may find that reality a bit chilling.

The temperature will vary depending on where you are in the country – regional temperature averages can be found in the individual articles on each month, linked below – but plan for it to be almost universally cold and often damp. Some areas get snow in the cities, not just the mountains, while others get rain.

Winter Holidays in Italy

Some of the biggest holidays of the year are in the winter – Christmas and Carnevale among them – and even though they occur in what is otherwise a low season as far as tourism goes, both of those holidays draw enough visitors that there’s a spike in crowds and prices. New Year’s Eve can also be busy, although it’s less of a draw for international tourists than Christmas or Carnival.

While it’s not technically a holiday, the official winter sales in Italy begin in early January and last for about six weeks. There’s a similar sales period in the summer, but the crowds are thicker then.

Pros & Cons of a Winter Trip to Italy

The perks of winter travel can be pretty alluring – especially if you’re on a budget. The cost of things like airfare, accommodation, and even tour tickets can be reduced in the winter – often by a substantial margin. Crowds aren’t as thick, and lines aren’t as long. You may still want to book things like Uffizi or Vatican Museums tickets ahead of time, but if you’re making plans as you go you won’t usually need to wait in line long for those or other top museums in Italy if you’re there in the winter.

The obvious downside to winter travel in Italy is the weather, so if your ideal trip involves beaches, sun, hiking, and the like, look to another season. Other possible drawbacks include shorter open hours (some attractions have reduced open hours in the winter) and winter closures (some hotels and restaurants, particularly in places that are big summer destinations, close up shop for winter). It’s relatively easy to plan for this by looking at winter open hours on museum websites, and double-checking a few hotel websites where you’re planning to go to see if they list any seasonal closures. Even if you don’t want to book rooms in advance, you can get an idea of whether a certain town seems to shut down at all in the winter.

As mentioned before, it’s a very good idea to find out when Carnevale and other winter holidays and festivals are before you make your plans so you can avoid anything you want to.

Further reading on winter in Italy

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