Italy’s great food, beautiful countryside, fabulous wine, and long history make it an excellent country to visit. I fall in love with it every time I go. The vineyards in Tuscany, the history of Florence, the ancient streets in Rome, the laid back nature of Southern Italy, the gorgeous Cinque Terre, and the romantic canals in Venice all make the country irresistible. Italy leaves no one underwhelmed and, with so much to do and see, it would take a lifetime to complete. Italy is best seen slowly – just like the attitude of the country – so don’t rush it in one visit and try to do too much. Relax, take in the scenery, and enjoy a latte.
Accommodation – Hostel dorms average 18-30 EUR per night while private hostels rooms range between 50-100 EUR a night for rooms. Most hostels offer free linens and WiFi. You should expect to spend around 50 EUR per night for the most basic of rooms. For something a little nice and more spacious, look closer to 70 per night. A much better alternative to hotels is Airbnb, where a shared room in someone’s house typically costs around 20 EUR a night and an entire apartment start at about 40 EUR.
Food – Italy is known for its cuisine – fresh pasta, bread, tomatoes, pizza, gelato, and wine. It’s easy to have a great (and expensive) meal anywhere in Italy, but it’s also easy to eat for less than 15 EUR a day if you make the effort. Most restaurant meals with wine will cost around 25 EUR per person. In tourist hot spots, add about 10 EUR to that. Quick eats like pizza by the slice, paninis, and light snacks will cost between 2-7 EUR. Fast food (i.e. McDonalds) will cost 9 EUR for a value meal. At most restaurants, add 3 EUR for the “coperto” (sit down fee) that covers service and the bread at the table. If you’re feeling ambitious and staying somewhere with a kitchen, consider cooking your own food for between 50-70 EUR per week. If you find a discount grocer like Eurospin, In’s Mercato, LD Market, Lidl or Penny Market, you’ll pay less.
Transportation – The best way to get around Italy is via their extensive train network. Fast trains (Eurostar) cost between 35-65 EUR per trip. The slower regional trains cost between 6-25 EUR per trip. (Take them!) For long distances when you are short on time, Ryanair and EasyJet have cheap flights throughout the country. Florence to Rome via train is 29 EUR and takes 95 minutes and by bus, it’s 17 EUR and takes nearly 4 hours. Pisa to Milan via train is 35 EUR and takes about 3.5 hours and by bus, it’s 17 EUR and takes 6.5 hours. Public transportation is reasonably priced with most buses and subways costing at most 2 EUR for a single ticket. Uber is available in six cities in Italy, including Rome, Milan, and Florence.
Activities – Most attractions and museums in Italy cost between 13-20 EUR to enter. Expect more if you’re hoping for a guide in places such as the Vatican or Colosseum. When booking guided tours, some companies will give discounts if you reserve multiple experiences with them. Also, if you are going to do lots of sightseeing, city cards will give you discounts to the top museums, tours, and attractions. They are priced to save you money when compared to buying separate tickets. Wine tours will cost between 60-75 EUR. Cooking classes can be upwards of 100-300 EUR a person depending on how many courses (and how much wine!) is included.
Suggested daily budget – 50-70 EUR / $60-80 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating and cooking, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. If you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Pass on the bread – Some restaurants will charge you extra for bread or breadsticks on the table but not tell you about it until the check comes, and you’ve polished it off. Send it back if you don’t want to be tempted.
- Drink the tap water – Ask for tap water or you will automatically get expensive bottled water included on your bill. Moreover, you can refill your bottles of water at any of the drinking fountains throughout Italy. The water is fine to drink, and you’ll feel like a local as you drink from their ancient Roman city monuments.
- Buy lots of wine – You can buy a great bottle of wine for 4 EUR. It’s a lot cheaper than drinking at the bar.
- Eat a panini – Eating out every meal in the popular cities of Italy is an expensive affair. Buy paninis and pizza by the slice for just a few dollars, and save a lot of money.
- Couchsurf – Accommodation is quite expensive in Italy, even in the hostels. Use Couchsurfing to stay with locals who have extra beds and couches for free. I use the service a lot and find it not only saves me money, but I meet great people too.
- Get a city pass – If you are going to do lots of sightseeing, these will give you discounts to the top museums, tours, and attractions. They are priced to save you money when compared to buying separate tickets.
- Go on a free walking tour – This is a great way to learn the history behind the places you are seeing and to avoid missing any must-see stops.
- Rideshare – If you’re flexible in your schedule, use the ridesharing service BlaBlaCar and catch rides with locals between cities (or countries). I used this service and, not only did I save a lot of money, but I got to meet interesting people to and learn about local culture and life. Drivers are verified and it’s perfectly safe (though sometimes rides don’t show up, which is why you need to be flexible).
Top Things to See and Do in Italy
- See the Venice Carnival – Ten days and nights of masquerade madness in February before Lent is quite the party. This tradition goes back centuries and is one of the biggest parties and festivals in Italy. If you have the funds, you can even pay to attend a traditional masquerade ball. Make plans early, though – the entire city becomes packed and very expensive, so it will definitely change your Venice experience.
- Explore Venice – Besides Carnival, Venice is just a great place to visit. While not the cheapest destination in Italy, Venice is great to see canals, experience a gondola ride, and have an amazing romantic candlelight dinner. Head to the old Jewish Ghetto for hip bars and cheap drinks.
- Shop in Milan – Everyone knows the fashion capital of Italy. Take in the glamor of Milan, but the city itself doesn’t have many sights, so don’t spend more than a day or two here.
- Wander through Pompeii – Pompeii is the ancient city that was destroyed by a volcano but preserved by a blanket of ash. Walk around the city as it stood the day the volcano exploded, moving in and out of homes and businesses where pots and vases still lay. Most of the beautiful frescoes are still there with their beautiful colors. It’s a full-day activity.
- Discover Rome – The city of Rome is a wonderful place of small streets and history. The city has so much to see and do, you’ll need to make several trips to even scratch the surface. Make sure you explore the Trastevere student neighborhood west of the river. It’s my favorite place in Rome, and it offers cheap food, great little bars, and tiny winding streets few tourists venture to.
- Take a photo in Pisa – The entire town of Pisa is focused around taking a photo casually leaning on the leaning tower. Souvenir shops have taken advantage of the tourist crown and line the street up and down the path to the tower. My advice is to put your head down, get goofy, take your photo, and head onto your next Italian adventure.
- Visit Siena – Everyone always says “I looooove Siena” and with good reason. It’s one of the best preserved medieval cities in Italy and has a labyrinth of lanes gathered around the arena of Piazza del Campo (where, during the summer, they have horses racing).
- Hike the Cinque Terre – This region consists of five dramatically located villages on the west coast of Italy, backed by steep vineyards and mountains. It’s heaven here. I ended up staying a week because it was so beautiful. There are great hikes that range in difficulty, incredible fresh pesto and seafood, and great local wine. Each city has its own unique personality, so visit all five. This beautiful area lives up to all the hype.
- Explore the Amalfi Coast – The southern cousin to the Cinque Terre, the Amalfi coast is much less visited but equally as beautiful (some say more). You’ll find great hillside towns, beautiful beaches, and azure blue water in which to cool off.
- Naples – Watch your pockets in Naples while you feast on their famous pizza!
- Relax on the lakes – The beautiful lakes up north, such as Lake Como, are the summer playground for Italians, the rich, and George Clooney. Come up here, play in the lakes, see beautiful villas, and hike in the countryside.
- Explore Florence – It’s Florence. There’s no real need to explain why to go here. Everything people say about it is true. Great food, amazing museums, ancient buildings, small streets, and awesome gelato. While here, make sure you take a few wine tours throughout the Tuscan region to get a feel for the countryside.
- Drive around “the Heel” – No one ever goes to the southern heel of the Italian boot. But if you have time, make it down here. This is where most of the fruits and vegetables in Italy come from. A trip down here will give you the best glimpse into rustic Italian life.
- Eat in Sicily – Sicily is famous for its mafia, but there’s more to the island than mobsters. It has its own unique cooking style, amazing coastal beaches that stay warm in the summer months, friendly little Italian grandmas, and extensive wineries.
- Stroll through Sorrento – If you’re looking for an off the beaten path location, Sorrento is the perfect, quiet town filled with mountains and valleys in the South of Italy. It also makes a great home base to jump between islands in the Amalfi Coast.
- Attend Settimana Santa – This is the last week of lent known as Holy Week. During this time, there are several processions throughout Italy, drawing crowds of thousands. Throughout the week, there are various gatherings in Puglia, Abruzzo, and Sicily but the major event occurs on Easter Sunday, and is led by the pope.
- Visit Alberobello – A Unesco World Heritage Site, this is an interesting and picturesque little town, which is well worth a visit between the months of November and April (to avoid the flocks and gaggles of tourists). There are a couple of museums to peruse through, in addition to some great restaurants, bars, and markets.
- Admire the Vatican Museums – If you have the patience to wait through the lines, this is one of the most grandeur collections to see while in Rome. Founded in the early 16th century, it is a complex of museums on over five hectares of land. There are so many priceless highlights, you could spend hours just looking at them and glazing over the thousands of other pieces. Consider getting a guide to make the museum come to life. Admission is 16 EUR.
- Enter Chiesa di Sant’Efisio – When you find yourself in Cagliari, you should probably wander over to the Stampace quarter to see this church. Dedicated to the patron Saint Ephisius, this is the most important church in the city and it was actually built over the saint’s prison site.
- Take a cooking lesson – If tasting local food isn’t enough for you and you’d like to bring a like bit of Italian cuisine home with you, then consider enrolling yourself in cooking lessons. Prices vary, but most cost between 75-300 EUR for a 1-day class.
- Day trip to Lucca – Just outside of Florence, this is a great city to explore on a bicycle. There are fewer tourists here, so it’s a great escape if you happen to be visiting during the touristy summer months.
- Take a professional tour – Context Travel and Walks of Italy offer incredible tours around the country. They are relatively inexpensive, but you will get your money’s worth. If you are big into history, culture, or architecture these tours are for you. You’ll walk away with a much richer understanding of the country.
- Explore Emilio-Romagna – Located in the northeast, this picturesque region of the country of is worth a visit. It’s one of the richest regions in all of the EU, and it’s home to the oldest university in the world (the University of Bologna).