Hotel Stars in Italy: What They Mean

Room in Venice || creative commons photo by George Grinsted

Room in Venice || creative commons photo by George Grinsted

On the scale of fun things, researching and booking places to stay when you travel probably isn’t near the top no matter where you go. In Italy, add to the already not-fun task the fact that a hotel star rating system you think you know turns out to be completely different, and you’re bound to feel frustrated.

Yeah, hotel stars in Italy don’t mean what they mean in other places. It doesn’t have to be frustrating to figure out, however, and I’m here to help. Let’s dig into Italy’s hotel rating system so you’ll know what to expect when you’re planning your own Italy trip.

Read more: Places to Stay in Italy: What Those Accommodation Terms Mean

Star Ratings on Hotels in Italy

Italy’s hotels are ranked using a star system, which is something you’re probably familiar with. The range is also familiar – 1 star at the low end and 5 stars at the top.

Unlike in the United States and several other places, however, the stars given to each Italian property are regulated by the government based on certain established criteria. These include the size of the reception lobby, whether there’s an elevator in the building, and how far the reception desk is from the guest rooms. Other items have to do with the guest rooms themselves, including whether there is an en suite bathroom and even how many towels the hotel provides each guest.

What’s more, some criteria on the hotel rating list aren’t even set nationally – they’re set by each region. That means the checklist a Venetian hotel must adhere to in order to get 3 stars isn’t identical to the one a 3-star Neapolitan hotel must meet. It’s likely to be comparable, but not exactly the same.

And, of course, no star system for rating hotels would be able to include anything that’s purely subjective – the beauty of the decor or comfort of the beds.

What to Consider When Booking Hotels in Italy

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying the star rating system for Italian hotels is useless. You’re booking a more luxurious room when you choose a 4- or 5-star hotel over a 1- or 2-star hotel. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t rely solely on stars to determine how nice a hotel is. There are, for instance, plenty of 1- and 2-star hotels that you’d never guess had so few stars.

Many hotels in Italy occupy historic buildings, and therefore the sizes of things like lobbies and guest rooms can’t be changed. (Some especially small rooms were made so by the addition of an en suite bathroom, which certainly wasn’t in every room of a palazzo when it was first built.) Rooms can still be luxurious even if they’re small, but those room sizes will keep an Italian hotel from being given more stars.

Elevators, too, are a much more modern invention than many of the buildings into which they’ve been installed, so sometimes they’re small – if they exist at all. If you’re set on large American-sized rooms and modern elevators, you’ll need to look for hotels in newer buildings, probably outside the historic center of town, and likely in 4- or 5-star chains.

Room in Florence || creative commons photo by Hotel Kursaal & Ausonia

Room in Florence || creative commons photo by Hotel Kursaal & Ausonia

Here are some of the more common amenities travelers expect at hotels, and how many stars it takes to get them in Italy:

  • Heating & Air Conditioning: Hotels at all star levels require that rooms be heated (unless a hotel closes its doors during the winter). Some hotels with fewer stars may only activate heat in the evenings, assuming guests are out sightseeing during the day. Air conditioning is only a requirement of 4- and 5-star hotels.
  • Bathrooms: Hotels with 4 or 5 stars will have en suite bathrooms, as will many (though not all) 3-star hotels. In a 1-star hotel, the only requirement is that there be at least one bathroom for every three rooms or six guests.
  • Room Cleaning: Hotels at all star levels must clean rooms once per day, unless the guest requests less.
  • Changes of Sheets/Towels: Hotels at all star levels must, at a minimum, change linens and towels once every three days. Hotels with 4-5 stars will typically change daily (unless otherwise directed by guests), as will many 3-star hotels.
  • 24-Hour Reception: Hotels at all star levels must have a reception desk that is staffed and open for a minimum of 12 hours each day. There’s no requirement for 24-hour reception even with 5-star hotels, though many 4- and 5-star properties will have it.
  • Breakfast: Including breakfast is fairly typical with hotels that have 3 or more stars. It’s not a requirement for 1- or 2-star hotels, though some offer breakfast for a small additional fee.

The bottom line for me is that when I’m looking for where to stay in Italy, I pay more attention to things like the hotel’s location, the actual list of amenities offered by that specific hotel, and pictures on the hotel’s website than to how many stars it has.

My preference usually falls in the 2- or 3-star hotel range. I’m happier in a funky old building with tiny rooms and a ton of character in a great location that happens to have 2 stars than I am in a more sterile (though fancier) room outside the city center.

Your mileage may vary, of course, so now that you have more information about the hotel stars in Italy you can follow your instincts when booking your own accommodation.

One response to “Hotel Stars in Italy: What They Mean”

  1. topbest101 says:

    Thanks for explaining the star classification system in Italy.

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