Italy is one of Europe’s most iconic and popular destinations. Home to incredible food, fabulous wine, tons of ancient ruins, and picturesque landscapes, it should come as no surprise that this is one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the world.
I’ve been visiting for years and I fall in love with the country each and every time.
Vineyards in Tuscany, history of Florence, ancient streets in Rome, laid back nature of Southern Italy, gorgeous Cinque Terre, romantic canals in Venice.
Italy travel leaves no visitor underwhelmed.
Whether you’re a budget backpacker or a luxe honeymooner looking to splash out, you’ll be able to have an amazing experience here.
Just don’t rush.
Italy is best experienced slowly so pace yourself. Soak in the atmosphere and way of life as you explore. Relax, take in the scenery, enjoy a cappuccino or a glass of wine. The slower you go, the better you’ll be able to appreciate the charms and nuance of this iconic southern European gem.
This travel guide to Italy can help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most of your time in this dreamy destination.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Italy
1. Explore Venice
2. Wander Rome
3. Tour Pompeii
4. Hike the Cinque Terre
5. Relax on the Amalfi Coast
Other Things to See and Do in Italy
1. Party at the Venice Carnival
Ten days and nights of masquerade madness in February before Lent makes for 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.
2. Shop in Milan
Milan is the fashion capital of Italy. Spend some time taking in the glamor but don’t spend more than a day or two here unless you’re looking to splash out. While you’re here, don’t miss the beautiful Milan Cathedral and Sforzesco Castle, a 15th-century castle that houses Michelangelo’s last sculpture. There’s also Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, located inside Santa Maria delle Grazie church.
3. See the Leaning Tower in Pisa
The entire city of Pisa is focused around taking photos of the this famed 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 grab your camera, get goofy, take your photos, and then head on to your next Italian adventure. (Also, arrive early to beat the crowds!).
4. Visit Siena
Everyone who visits Siena walks away loving it — and with good reason. Located in Tuscany, 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. Spend a few days admiring this charming city and exploring one of Italy’s most popular and famous regions.
5. Wander Naples
Naples, made famous as the birthplace of pizza, is a gritty city home to a wealth of historical treasures. There’s the medieval Naples Cathedral, the 18th-century Villa Comunale park, and nearby Pompeii, among others. Naples a must-see destination for history buffs and foodies alike. It’s the gateway to the south so you’re very likely to come here if you’re crisscrossing the country. Its location near Pompeii, Capri, and Sorrento make it the perfect starting point for exploring the region. Best of all, it’s a foodie city like no other; I ate my weight in pizza during my visit!
6. Explore Florence
There’s no real need to explain why to visit Florence. Everything people say about it is true. Great food, amazing museums, ancient buildings, small streets, awesome gelato — the city has it all. While here, make sure you take a few wine tours throughout the region to get a feel for the verdant countryside.
7. Drive around “the Heel”
Few travelers ever visit the southern heel of the Italian “boot.” But if you have time, it’s worth the trip. This is where most of the fruits and vegetables in Italy come from so a trip down here will give you the best glimpse into rustic Italian life far from the maddening crowds of Rome and Italy’s other tourist hotspots.
8. Eat your way around Sicily
Sicily may be most known for its mafia connection, but there’s more to the island than mobsters. Sicily has its own unique cooking style, amazing coastal beaches, extensive wineries, and more. Be sure to spend some time in Taormina and Palermo, the capital of Sicily and home to lots of churches and other historic sites. Don’t miss Sicily if you’re a foodie!
9. Stroll through Sorrento
Sorrento is a small city in southwestern Italy surrounded by a dreamy landscape of rolling hills, deep valleys, and the Lattari Mountains. In the town itself, there isn’t a whole lot to do, but Sorrento makes an ideal starting point for numerous excursions to nearby cities and islands around the famous Amalfi Coast, like Capri and Ischia. I especially love driving along the winding coastal roads overlooking the sea. The area is the perfect place for a road trip.
10. Attend Settimana Santa (Holy Week)
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 himself. It’s an amazing time to visit, but expect crowds and for accommodation to sell out months in advance.
11. Visit Alberobello
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is an interesting and picturesque little town just south of Bari known for its unusual white cone-shaped houses (they’re super peculiar). It’s well worth a visit between the months of November and April (to avoid the flocks and gaggles of tourists) as there are a couple of museums to peruse, in addition to some great restaurants, bars, and markets.
12. Tour 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 spanning over 12 acres. There are so many priceless highlights, including Michelangelo’s works in the Sistine Chapel. You could easily spend hours here. Consider getting a guide to make the museum come to life. Admission is 17 EUR.
13. See Chiesa di Sant’Efisio
When you find yourself in Cagliari on Sardinia, wander over to the Stampace quarter to see this church. Dedicated to the patron Saint Ephesus, this is the most important church in the city and it was actually built over the saint’s prison site. The original building dates to the 13th century, though it was rebuilt and expanded in the 16th century and then again in the 18th century, this time in the Baroque style. Admission is free.
14. Take a cooking class
Italy is a dream destination for foodies and the best way to learn about this amazing cuisine is to take a cooking class. You’ll get to visit a local market, learn about the history of some of the country’s best dishes, and then learn how to make them yourself so you can impress friends and family back home. Prices vary, but most cost at least 80 EUR and last a few hours.
15. 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 the perfect escape if you happen to be visiting during the hectic summer months. Don’t miss the city’s intact Renaissance-era city walls (which span 4km and are walkable) and the 14th-century cathedral.
16. Take a walking tour
Take Walks offers incredible, detailed tours all around the country. They are relatively inexpensive and you definitely 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. (If you’re on a budget, most cities have free walking tours that cover the basics).
Be sure to visit our city travel guides for more detailed information about what to see and do in each place:
For more information on specific destinations in Italy, check out these guides:
Italy Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Hostel dorms average 15-30 EUR per night for rooms with 6-8 beds. Private rooms cost 50-100 EUR per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and many hostels also have self-catering facilities.
Budget hotel prices – A night in a two-star budget hotel in Italy ranges from 60-120 EUR per night. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi, TV, AC, and occasionally free breakfast.
On Airbnb, private rooms range from 40-90 EUR, while an entire apartment usually costs at least 100-120 EUR.
Food – Italian cuisine is beloved around the world, though every region in Italy offers its own distinct flavor. Tomatoes, pasta, olives, and olive oil form the backbone of most dishes, with meat and fish and various cheeses rounding out the menu. Gelato and pizza, of course, are also super popular.
A casual restaurant meal of pizza or pasta usually costs 10-15 EUR. In tourist hot spots, add upwards of 10 EUR to that.
Quick eats like pizza by the slice, paninis, and light snacks cost between 2-8 EUR. Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 8 EUR for a combo meal.
If you want to splash out, a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant with a drink costs around 30 EUR.
Beer is around 5 EUR while a latte/cappuccino is just 1.50 EUR. Bottled water is less than 1 EUR.
If you plan on cooking your own groceries, expect to spend 45-60 EUR per week. This gets you basic staples like pasta, rice, seasonal produce, and some meat or fish.
Activities – Most attractions and museums in Italy cost 10-20 EUR. The Colosseum and the Forum in Rome, for example, are 12 EUR each. Admission to Pompeii is 16 EUR while a guided tour is closer to 35 EUR. The ruins at Herculaneum are 11 EUR. Food tours or cooking classes cost around 80-100 EUR.
Backpacking Italy Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Italy, my suggested budget is 50 EUR per day. This assumes you’re staying in a hostel, cooking all your meals, limiting your drinking, taking public transportation to get around, and sticking to mostly free activities like hiking, free walking tours, and the beaches. If you plan on drinking, add 5-10 EUR to your daily budget.
On a mid-range budget of 140 EUR per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, eat out for a couple of meals, enjoy a few drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do more paid activities like touring the Colosseum or exploring Pompeii.
On a “luxury” budget of 255 EUR or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, drink as much as you want, rent a car, and do whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in EUR.
Italy Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
It’s very easy to break the bank in Italy, owing to all the historic sites, expensive accommodation, and the delicious food. Italy isn’t a cheap place to visit as it’s one of the most expensive Eurozone countries. But there are lots of ways to save. Here are some tips to help you avoid breaking the bank:
- Skip the bread – Many restaurants offer you bread when you sit down — but they don’t mention that it’s not free. If you’re on a budget, decline the bread.
- Picnic – Head to the store and grab food for a picnic. It’s cheaper than eating out and you can lounge in one of the many parks to watch the day go by.
- Drink the tap water – When out at a restaurant, ask for tap water or you will automatically get expensive bottled water included on your bill.
- Bring a water bottle – Since the tap water is safe to drink, bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
- Buy wine at the store – You can buy a great bottle of wine for 6-10 EUR at the store. It’s a lot cheaper than drinking at the bar.
- Take the bus – Budget bus companies like Flixbus can take you across the country for cheap. It isn’t glamorous, but with tickets starting at 6 EUR you really can’t complain!
- Take a free walking tour – Most cities offer free walking tours that cover all the main highlights. It’s the best budget-friendly way to explore. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end!
- Stay with a local – Accommodation is expensive in Italy, even in the hostels. Use Couchsurfing to stay with locals who have extra beds or couches for free. It’s the best way to save money and meet people!
- Get a city tourist card – Many tourism offices offer tourist cards that provide free or discounted entry to the main attractions. Some even include restaurant discounts and free transportation. If you plan on seeing a lot, these cards can cut your costs drastically.
- Rideshare – If you’re flexible in your schedule, use the ridesharing service BlaBlaCar to catch rides with locals between cities. I used this service and, not only did I save money, but I got to meet interesting people to and learn more about life in Italy.
Where to Stay in Italy
Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Italy:
How to Get Around Italy
Trains – The best way to get around Italy is via their extensive train network. Fast trains (Eurostar) cost 25-65 EUR per trip. The slower regional trains cost between 10-20 EUR per trip.
Italo and Trenitalia are the two main rail systems. Keep in mind that tickets on Trenitalia are often a standard price, while Italo’s ticket prices fluctuate more widely. It’s worth it to check both.
A great resource to use when planning your trip via train is ItaliaRail.
Bus – The bus is slower than the train but cheaper, with prices on FlixBus starting as low as 6 EUR. This isn’t the most convenient or fastest way to travel, but the buses are comfortable and good for short and medium journeys. Most buses come with outlets and free Wi-Fi too.
The 4-hour trip from Rome to Florence is around 10-15 EUR, while a longer trip like Venice to Naples takes 10 hours and costs around 35 EUR.
Budget Airlines – If you’re pressed for time and are looking to jump from one city to the next, a budget airline might be the way to go. You can often find tickets for just 15 EUR! EasyJet and Ryanair are two budget airlines in the area, but book in advance to keep costs down. For example, a flight from Rome to Milan costs as much as 115 EUR if booked last-minute.
However, keep in mind that you’ll have to pay to check your baggage on these cheap flights and you usually need to print your boarding pass out too (or pay a fee). Also, once you factor in getting to and from the airport, flights might not actually even save you any time.
Ferry – If you want to visit some of Italy’s amazing islands, you’ll have to book a ferry. Ferries are frequent and you don’t need to book too far in advance, but during peak season it’s a good idea to book at least a few weeks ahead.
You can use FerryHopper to find routes and prices. The popular one-hour ferry from Naples to Capri starts from 25 EUR.
Car Rental – Car rentals are generally quite affordable here, usually costing around 20-30 EUR per day for a multi-day rental. Just make sure you have an International Driving Permit (IDP) as it’s required before you rent a car. Also, keep in mind that Italian drivers can be on the aggressive side so drive cautiously.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Italy is very safe, but it’s not for everyone. It can be a little time consuming so you’ll need to be flexible. HitchWiki is the best website for hitchhiking info and tips.
When to Go to Italy
There’s no wrong time to visit Italy! Peak season is July and August, but June is also busy. Temperatures can soar as high as 36°C (98°F) during this time, and popular cities like Rome and Florence experience a huge influx of visitors. Prices increase during this time as well but the overall atmosphere is great so it’s still worth visiting during peak season.
Personally, I think the best time to visit Italy is during the shoulder season (March-May and September-October). It’s still warm but there aren’t as many crowds and prices are lower. This is a particularly great time to hang out on the Mediterranean.
Winter is from November to February. It gets cold, and tourist crowds thin out considerably. Temperatures vary quite a bit from north to south, with it sometimes dropping to 2°C (36°F) in Milan and 4°C (39°F) in Rome. On the other hand, November to December is fantastic – you’ll find Christmas markets and festivals galore!
How to Stay Safe in Italy
Italy is a very safe country as violent crime is rare. However, scams and pickpocketing are common around high-traffic areas like the Colosseum and other popular tourist sites. Always keep your valuable secure and out of sight on public transportation and when out and about.
As in any country, always keep an eye on your drink when out at the bar. Also, never walk home alone if you’ve been drinking.
Be wary of people selling discounted tickets on the street. Chances are they are fake so always buy tickets from reputable sellers only.
If you take a taxi somewhere, make sure the driver uses the meter so you don’t get ripped off.
You can read about other common travel scams to avoid right here.
If you experience an emergency, dial 113 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. You have every right to remove yourself from the situation. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Italy!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Italy Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- HostelPass – This new card gives you up to 20% off hostels throughout Europe. It’s a great way to save money. They’re constantly adding new hostels too. I’ve always wanted something like this and glad it finallt exists.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- Eurail – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low 5 EUR! Their buses include WiFi, electrical outlets, a free checked bag.
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
- ItaliaRail – A great resource to use when planning your trip via train around Italy as you can compare prices, routes, and schedules and save up to 60% on your tickets.
- Take Walks – This walking tour company provides inside access to attractions and places you can’t get elsewhere. Their guides rock and they have some of the best and most insightful tours in all of Italy.
- Fat Tire Tours – For bike tours, use this company. They have fun, interactive tours led by expert local guides. You’ll get to see all the main sights without breaking the bank!
- BlaBlaCar – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way to travel than by bus or train!
Italy Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Italy Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Inferno, by Dante Alighieri
Inferno is the first part of Italian writer Dante’s 14th-century epic poem, The Divine Comedy. It tells the story of Dante’s journey through Hell, guided by the ancient poet Virgil. Here, Hell is depicted as nine circles of torment located within Earth. It’s a dense read, but it’s also incredible. This version is a beautiful translation of Dante’s masterpiece. You can also get your hands on the full volume with all three epic poems. It’s been inspiring people for 700 years!
City Of Fortune: How Venice Ruled The Seas, by Roger Crowley
Crowley explores Venice’s fascinating 500-year-old journey to become a city unrivaled for drama and majesty. City of Fortune traces the Venetian imperial saga, from the Fourth Crusade to the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1499-1503, which eventually led the Ottoman Turks to become the preeminent naval power in the Mediterranean. You’ll also learn how a small city of “lagoon dwellers” became the richest place on the planet. This isn’t a boring history book — it’s a vivid, detailed account of Venice and its people through the ages.
Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown
Robert Langdon is summoned to an assignment at a Swiss research facility to analyze a symbol seared into the chest of a murdered physicist…and discovers the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati. Then the brotherhood announces they’ve left a time bomb inside Vatican City, and Langdon must take off to Rome to find it. Even if Dan Brown (who wrote The Da Vinci Code) isn’t your thing, this book will get you pumped to go sightseeing in Rome.
Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
Have you ever dreamt of buying up a crumbling villa in Italy and restoring it to its former glory? That’s exactly what Frances Mayes did 20 years ago with an abandoned property named Bramsole in the Tuscan countryside. This story recounts her restoration journey, along with what it’s like adjusting to life in rural Tuscany. Mayes is a poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer; you will literally be drooling over her prose and evocative language. Mayes paints the dreamiest picture of life in Italy. You have to read this book before visiting Italy.
La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind, by Beppe Severgnini
Written about Italians by an Italian, Beppe Severgnini wants you to forget all the romantic notions of Italy and its people. This laugh-out-loud book takes you beyond the historical attractions and scenic areas, and into places where Italians are at their best and worst: including the highway, the airport, and the small town. Severgnini describes the chaos of the roads and the “theatrical spirit of the hypermarkets” in a way that will give you some deep insight into the Italian psyche.
A Room With a View, by E.M. Forster
This is a funny, satirical read that takes the English notion of respectability and turns it on its head. Well-bred Lucy Honeychurch sets out on an adventure touring Italy with her overbearing cousin and soon falls in love with the handsome (but entirely unsuitable) George Emerson. Yet somehow, she becomes engaged to Mr. Cecil Vyse. Lucy is easily lured away from the upper-middle-class Edwardian society by her longing for the man she left behind, creating a good amount of chaos in the process. This is Forster’s most beloved book!
Italy Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Italy and continue planning your trip: