March is a month when many of us in the northern hemisphere are beginning to shed our winter layers, at least for a few days, and dreaming of sunny days to come. Italy is no different. And although Italy is a popular enough place that it’s never fully devoid of visitors, March is one of those so-called “shoulder season” months when tourism numbers aren’t nearly as high as they can get.
In other words, it just might be one of the best times to visit Italy.
Sure, the weather can be chilly and damp in some places, particularly early in the month, but if you’re willing to deal with a chance of inclement weather, you could save money and avoid crowds with a March trip. So if you’re headed to Italy in March, here’s what you need to know about weather and holidays.
Early March is often much like February – cold and wet. By the end of the month, however, it’s not unheard of for the weather to be downright balmy. March is a transition month – the “in like a lion, out like a lamb” isn’t famous for nothing – and the weather is, therefore, somewhat capricious.
As a visitor, you’re just as likely to need an umbrella and water-resistant shoes as you are sunglasses in March, but don’t try to take your wardrobe cues from the Italians. They wear what the calendar says they should, not what the actual weather conditions dictate. What this means is you’ll still see Italian women decked out in full-length fur coats even if it’s a dry and sunny day in March, because to them, March still means a chilly spring day (nevermind the temperature outside).
Some average temperature ranges for different parts of Italy in March are:
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.
The biggest holidays in March aren’t always in March – Carnival and Easter. Both are moving targets with dates that follow the liturgical calendar, but sometimes each one falls in March. Carnival (Carnevale in Italian) sometimes begins in February and stretches into March, while Easter is sometimes in late March. Check my calendar of Italian festivals and holidays to see if either one is in March this year. Both Carnevale and Easter represent mini-high season spikes in tourism for Italy, so keep that in mind if you’re planning a March trip.
Other festivals that take place in March include International Women’s Day (Festa della Donna) on March 8, for which people give sprays of yellow mimosa flowers to the women in their lives; and Saint Joseph’s Day (Festa di San Giuseppe) on March 19, which is also the Italian Father’s Day.
The Open Monuments Weekend – when monuments, palaces, and gardens that are typically closed to the public open their doors (many with free entry) for one weekend – takes place in March, though the actual weekend varies each year. Verona plays host to the annual VinItaly wine conference in March, and Rome holds its annual marathon in March.
As mentioned earlier, the weather can best be described as unpredictable – which doesn’t necessarily sound like a selling point. If your idea of a dream trip to Italy includes lying on the beach or hiking a sunny Cinque Terre trail, March probably isn’t the best time to go. If your itinerary includes primarily indoor attractions – museums, churches, galleries, shopping – and you’re on a tighter budget, March could be perfect.
Because most of the month isn’t in Italy’s traditional high season, prices on everything from airfare to accommodation are typically lower in March. Crowds are more sparse, too, which is almost always a blessing when traveling. As I said before, however, holidays like Carnival and Easter are high season times no matter what the weather is like, so if your visit to Venice coincides with Carnival or you’re planning to be in Italy over Easter weekend, be prepared for not only higher prices but also fewer available hotel rooms, larger crowds than you might even see in summer, and some transportation operating on holiday schedules.
I think March can be the ideal compromise point for travelers who want to save money and still not be in Italy in the dead of winter – especially if you visit later in the month. It can also be a great choice for people who have been to Italy before and don’t need to see or do everything regardless of the weather.