Travel Around Italy On A Budget

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Would you love to visit the beautiful boot-shaped country of Italy but think it’s too expensive? It doesn’t have to be if you plan ahead and choose money-saving options wherever possible. No one should miss out on visiting Italy, at least once in their lives.

Many low to mid-range budget options exist for accommodation, transport, food and visiting attractions in Italy.  Here you will find out how to save on expenses by making some wise decisions along the way and not break the bank, whilst still enjoying an amazing Italian vacation and making wonderful memories.

Read the following tips on how to travel around Italy on a budget, with these money-saving hacks and budget-friendly travel ideas.

Italy is brimming with cultural and historic sites to visit, so wherever you choose to go, north or south, will be absolutely amazing.

Italy on a budget
Santa Margherita Ligure in Winter

Visit North or South Italy

Both North and South have much to offer tourists, but which part is most expensive? In general, travel in Northern Italy is more expensive than in Southern Italy. You may choose to travel places that are south of Rome, to stretch your money further, especially on accommodation and food. 

Travel Italy off peak season

One of the most important decisions in the planning stage of your trip to Italy on a budget is what time of the year you should go.

Peak season is the Summer period in Italy – mid June, July, August and mid September. This is generally a very busy and an expensive time to visit Italy’s major cities and tourist attractions.

Shoulder season is a month or two before and after the peak season.

Off-season is roughly November to March.

Having said that, beach/coastal resorts such as Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast are very quiet during Winter and some accommodation places and restaurants close down.

However, ski resorts in the mountains during Winter are busy, as its their peak season.

One of the best ways to visit Italy on a budget is to travel in the off-season, or the shoulder season. All the famous landmarks will still be there, trust me, as will museums, cathedrals, castles and palaces. And they’ll be far less crowded, have less queues and be cheaper to visit.

Accommodation in the off-peak is far more affordable, with hotels offering much lower rates.

Dining and entertainment is also less expensive during the quieter periods of the year, especially in Winter.

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Lake Como in July

Choose budget-friendly Accommodation in Italy

The main cost item on your Italy budget travel list is accommodation. Save money by booking your stay well in advance. Don’t go for big Hotel chains, which are generally quite pricey. Even though they have great amenities, pools, gyms, views etc, it is not always necessary to have those extras and you can definitely find adequately comfortable places to stay elsewhere that won’t cost an arm and a leg.

Here are various economical accommodation options for you to look at:

1. Choose a small independent HotelAlbergo, or family-run guesthousePensione, instead. These are more reasonably priced. They will often be smaller rooms, older buildings and may not have wifi, but still be comfortable. You may have to share a bathroom. The owners are locals, so they will have heaps of information to offer about where to go.

2. There is another option called a Locanda, an Inn, which is also a family-run, older establishment, with very basic accommodation in an even smaller room, where you will be sharing a bathroom with other guests, but it’s very economical.

3. Another idea worthy of your consideration is to find accommodation a few blocks away from the popular tourist sites, because you are paying for the close proximity. You will obtain much cheaper lodging just outside the city centre.

4. You may wish to consider not staying in the big cities like Venice, Florence, Milan and Rome, at all. Try staying in smaller or less touristy cities where accommodation is usually cheaper, like Bergamo, Parma, Padova, Frascati, Caserta, Salerno, Bari, just to name a few.

5. For families or groups, an Apartment is often a better and cheaper alternative, as most hotels only fit a maximum of 3 people per room. Also, you can cook meals in an apartment to help save costs.

6. Alternatively, try staying at an Agriturismo, a bed and breakfast Farm-Stay in a quiet rural location hosted by local farmers. This ever-growing trend is a nice way to experience a different Italian holiday. Most include one meal per day. You are not expected to work on the farm, but you will need a car to get to most of these places as they are further out.

7. Did you know you can even stay at a Convent or Monastery as another bargain alternative? Nowadays many are run like small hotels. But there are some rules and curfews, so it’s not for everyone (males and females may have to reside in separate rooms). 

8. Of course there are Hostels (Ostelli) as well to consider which are now open to all ages, not just youth. They are cheap, very basic and you will be sharing a room with others.

Use public transport in Italy

Public transport is in Italy is quite extensive, especially in the north, and is the most economical way to travel within Italy, as well as a great way to experience Italy like a local. You have to carry your luggage on and off, so try to travel reasonably light. I recommend a couple of bags rather than a big suitcase.

  • For transport within the cities, consider purchasing passes for a few days to make travel cheaper.
  • Best way to get from one city to another in Italy is with high speed trains like Frecciarossa or Italotreno as you will save time, particularly for long distances.
  • Always try to book your ticket directly with the Italian railways, not through an agent. Book online, and in advance for cheaper tickets. 
  • Use TreniItalia for travel within cities. Alternatively, some cities have underground metro.
  • A few cities in Italy also have trams, like Milan, Rome, Florence, Naples, Genoa.
  • Use buses for shorter trips around a city.
  • Think about purchasing a Hop-on/Hop-off or Big Bus tour in a city which stops at major landmarks and tourist sites. These are worthwhile for sightseeing all the popular attractions, and you can travel the loop as much as you wish.
Italy on a budget

Eat like a local in Italy

Food in Italy is one of the biggest pleasures but also one of the biggest expenses. However,  with a few sensible choices the budget-conscious can still enjoy delicious Italian food.

  • Choose restaurants that aren’t near tourist attractions, where locals frequent, and you’ll find reasonably priced establishments and more authentic cuisine. Remember Spaghetti Bolognese isn’t a real Italian dish, neither is pasta with meatballs, or pizza with pineapple or pepperoni.
  • Lunch menus are often cheaper than dinner menus. Dinner at a restaurant is an event in Italy.
  • Enjoy an aperitivo at a Bar in the evening, before dinner time, between 6 and 8pm, where the price of a drink includes savoury nibbles. If you’ve had a big lunch you might find this is sufficient in the evening.
  • Try a Trattoria for a more homely restaurant.
  • At restaurants, if bread is brought to the table, you will be charged for it, so you can decline to have it. Garlic bread is not real Italian.
  • Water is offered at restaurants, but you will pay for it unless you ask for tap water, but it’s considered a bit rude.
  • House wine is often cheaper than soft drinks when dining out.
  • Tipping is not expected in Italy other than giving some change or rounding off the bill, unless you really want to.
  • Shop for some of your meals at the fresh food markets where locals shop and enjoy the best local products.
  • Visit delis and bakeries for salami, prosciutto, formaggio, olives, and grab a ciabatta, focaccia, or broiche for some of your meals.
  • And, take some fresh produce and have a picnic in a piazza or giardino, for much less than dining at a restaurant.
  • In Italy you can find vino sfuso, a good cheap wine on tap where you bring your own bottle and fill it up directly from the barrel for a mere couple of euros, and you can taste it before buying. Find these little wine shops in Venice, Florence and Rome, as well as other places, I’m sure.
Italy on a budget
Coffee and cake shop in Naples

Find free and budget-friendly attractions in Italy

Don’t feel you have to do all the touristy things, like taking a ride in a gondola in Venice, a photo with a Gladiator at the Colosseum. Instead, look for things that are budget-friendly or free.

Some museums and galleries have free entry on certain days. Check their websites for details or visit this site for information on museums, so you can plan your itinerary accordingly.

Some castles are free to visit at certain times and they are dotted all throughout Italy. Check the local websites for details.

Many cathedrals have free entry or only cost a few euros to admire the architecture and artwork.

Many famous landmarks are free to see without a ticket, such as:

  • Rome’s Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and the Colosseum outside are all free to see.
  • Venice’s Piazza San Marco, Ponte Rialto, and Campanile di San Marco you can admire for free.
  • Seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Piazza dei Miracoli is free.

In fact, Italy has incredible landmarks everywhere that are free for the public to enjoy – historic ruins, piazzas, fountains, statues, street art, bridges, arches, towers, canals, lakes, parks and gardens, hilltop views, islands, and beaches. So make the most of these things that don’t require tickets to visit them, other than transport to get there and ferries to the islands.

Enjoy visiting markets (mercati) and carnivals (sagre / carnevali) throughout Italy for free, where something is always being celebrated – food harvests, patron saints, historic events, change of seasons. The festivities include music, entertainment, dancing, competitions, parades, and local food specialties to sample.

Italy on a budget
Venice Carnival procession

Buy A City Pass in Italy

For entry to art galleries, museums and historic places you don’t want to miss, you should consider purchasing a tourist pass for the city you’re visiting, which is more cost-effective than paying full price for individual tickets for everything. It gives you discounted entry to main attractions, no queues, and transport as well. These passes are usually valid for several days. 

The Rome PassMilan Pass, Florence Pass and Venice Pass are well worth the expense for culture junkies. Many other cities have passes too. 

Walk in Italy

Walking is not only cheaper than taking transport or taxis, but you will also see a lot more and discover hidden gems that will probably become some of the favourite aspects of your trip, that you would otherwise miss.

Most cities have free walking tours with locals, knowledgeable of the area. Just ask your hotel or accommodation host.

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Cinque Terre

Go off-the-beaten-path in Italy

One of the best ideas for travelling Italy on a budget is by visiting off-the-beaten-path villages and towns that tourists don’t normally go to. There are many hidden gems just a short train or bus ride out of the main cities. When you venture out to lesser-known places, the town-folk will be delighted to see you and be very welcoming. These places are less crowded and easier to get around. Restaurants, shopping and accommodation is considerably less expensive as well.

Some of the charming and underrated places you may wish to visit are:

  • Instead of Lake Como, go to the beautiful Lake Orta near the Swiss border.
  • Near Venice and close to the Slovenia border is the gorgeous city of Trieste.
  • Close to the border with France, you can visit the coastal town of Sanremo, part of the Italian Riviera.
  • Between Florence and Rome you will find the historic city of Perugia.
  • In place of Amalfi, you could go to nearby Atrani, also on the coast.
  • Rather than Sorrento, see it’s less expensive neighbour, Salerno.
  • Cefalù is a small beach town not far from Sicily’s busy capital of Palermo.

Inspiring photos of hidden gems in Italy

Save on coffees in Italy

If you’re a coffee drinker, be aware in Italy you will pay much less if you drink your coffee standing up, rather than sitting down at a table in the coffee shop. The same applies with drinking in a bar.

Read more about coffee in Italy.

Shop savvy for souvenirs in Italy

We all like to take home a few souvenirs for ourselves or loved ones. When shopping for souvenirs, don’t buy near tourist hotspots as they will be more expensive than at shops a few streets away.

Budget-friendly words in Italy

Some useful vocabulary to know for the thrifty traveller in Italy:

gratis – free

gratuito – for free

ingresso libero – free entry

sconto – discount

ridotto/ridotta – reduced

prezzo basso – low price

saldi/vendita – on sale

a buon mercato – cheap

per meno – for less

That’s it for Italy on a budget. I hope some of these tips will be beneficial on your travels in Italy.

Be sure to read more on Italy below.

Buone vacanze.

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5 thoughts on “Travel Around Italy On A Budget

  1. Ana says:

    Love traveling on a budget, especially if its just me. I always make a game out of seeing how little I can spend on a trip. That doesn’t mean I deprive myself from doing fun stuff that require payment. Planning on going to Italy in a couple months, and maybe hop around some other countries. Great guide!

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