It’s a question we’re often asked but for which there is no simple answer, because – when it comes down to it – it depends on where you want to go, what you want to do and how long you have to be there.
Italy is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world – every year around 60 million people travel there. And, while July to September remain the busiest months, the reality is that some places (think Vatican City, parts of Venice) can be busy almost all year long. It’s the northern summer and many people in that hemisphere need to take their summer vacation then. Add to that, that many from the southern hemisphere flee from the winter chill and seek warmer climes, and you have a lot of people visiting at the same time.
Now if you have no choice, you will go when you can, but if you are fortunate enough to be able to pick and choose your travel times, then there are a number of things to consider.
Its popularity is one of its worst features. Italy’s high season - in general - is summer. This is particularly true of the towns along its coast where both international tourists and Italians flee to escape the heat. This can, conversely, mean that some cities are less busy at that time of the year, because many locals head for the beaches.
Certain locations, however, become popular at different times throughout the year. Booking a hotel room in Milan during fashion week can be almost impossible, but a few weeks either side and it’s a different story.
According to tourist data, Italy receives triple the volume of tourists in the busiest months (July and August) than in the quietest (November to January).
So if you are simply looking to go when things are likely to be less busy, there’s your answer.
Along with popularity comes price (and if you think like me then now I’ve got your attention…).
Everything from airfares to hotel rooms tends to align to demand. When we book hotel rooms for our tours of Italy, the summer months on the Amalfi Coast can be triple or more than what we might pay in April. For airfares we’ve found July, in particular, to be expensive.
Italy truly gets i quattro stagioni – the four seasons. In summer it can be stiflingly hot (which is why beaches get very popular). In winter, it can be freezing. I remember walking down the Via del Corso in Rome one December morning fresh off the plane from an Australian summer as a cold wind blew from the snow-capped mountains in the distance…. I have never been as cold.
So if it’s milder weather you’re interested in, then Spring and Autumn will suit you. Mind you, from September there tends to be higher levels of precipitation which continue till the days warm again, so there is a trade-off.
Now most tourists visit Italy to see the main cities and sights, so if you have some flexibility then – as suggested – Spring and Autumn have milder weather and tend to be less busy. But what if there is something specific you want to do? Well, then your choices become limited.
If you want to ski, for example, the season is from late December through to March, and conversely if you want to swim in that glorious blue Mediterranean (without turning blue yourself), then June to September are the best times to go.
Italy loves the chance to have a party and nearly every town and city has at least one sagra or festival each year. Many have heard of Carnevale in Venice – the event in February when the city comes alive with street fairs, boat parades on the canals, masquerade balls and costume contests.
If you have an interest in Italian wines, whilst you can enjoy them all year long, many wineries close for the winter, so be aware of that. Autumn is certainly an appealing time to go because it’s harvest time and many locales have festivals to celebrate once it is completed. This is a great time of year to visit popular wine regions like Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto. Some wineries might even let you try your hand at harvesting grapes.
Along with wine, there are many festivals focussed on food. Two well-known food events held in Piedmont are the Salone del Gusto (organized by Slow Food International and held in September), and the Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba (also known as the Alba White Truffle Fair which runs from October to November).
And there are many more festivals all around Italy and throughout the year.
So, as you see, in many ways there is no simple answer to the question: When is the best time to visit Italy? Although for me the answer is simple: anytime!
Why not join us on one of our small group tours of Italy and make up your own mind?