Italy is consistently one of the top destinations for travelers around the world as travelers chase the history of the Renaissance and Ancient Rome, delicious food, and gorgeous beaches. The country is unique, in that it has something to offer wealthy travelers looking to blow a fortune and budget travelers who are curious about how to visit Italy on a budget. Whether you have $200,000 to spend on your 2 week holiday or you need to stick to a budget of $2,000, you can have an incredible experience in Italy filled with history, the best meals of your life, and a bit of the dolce vita.
It’s currently a great time for budget travelers to visit Italy (and other parts of Europe) for Americans and Britts. The Euro is currently trading at $1.12 USD, a significant decrease from 2008 when it traded at $1.58 USD. Over the last decade, it has fluctuated quite a bit and we have traveled to Italy during times it was in the $1.40 range, as well as when there was almost price parity in 2017. Considering sales tax is included in advertised prices in Italy, $1.12 may as well be price parity for those of us from California where sales tax adds $0.10 per dollar.
October is the start of autumn in the northern hemisphere so tourists have vacated Italy and the children are all back in school. The weather typically gets a bit chilly in October, but it is still mild and temperate. The trade-off is up to 50% cheaper flights, accommodation, and other miscellaneous expenses. The same is true of March when the weather is still a bit chillier and the spring rain is prevalent. Regardless, these are some of the best times to visit. You might not be able to visit the beach or take a boat tour in Positano, but then again, you might get lucky with the weather. We have been to Cinque Terre in October and the weather was fine enough to hike without a shirt and swim.
The fast trains in Italy (Le Frecce, Frecciarossa, etc.) are typically how we travel so that we can save time. However, the regional trains (Regionale) in Italy can literally save you 50-80% on your domestic travel. Are you in a rush, or are you ok enjoying a €5 bottle of wine on a slow train as you roll through the Tuscan countryside? Does it matter if you get from Florence to Rome in 1.5 hours or 3? If you’re not in a rush, DEFINITELY take the regional trains.
Italy has heaps of affordable accommodation from hostels to Airbnb and even camping. Try to stay outside of the city center in local neighborhoods so you can experience the culture of the locals and save a ton of money on your apartment.
Italy’s cities all have awesome central markets where you can buy affordable, local food! Grab some local meat, fresh fish, and organic produce and cook meals at your Airbnb. You will also love that most of Italy has very lax open container and public drinking laws. Grab a bottle of wine, some bread, cheese, prosciutto, fruit, and veggies, from the central market and have a picnic in one of the major piazzas.
Visit less popular coastal regions and avoid the “Instagram destinations.” You can certainly visit the Amalfi Coast on a budget but your € will go much farther in Sicily. Visit regions like Sicilia that are less frequented by tourists and you’ll find that accommodation, food, and the overall cost of living is significantly lower than that of the major cities of Venice, Milan, Florence, and Rome.
In our humble opinion, the streets of Italy are the best museum the country has to offer. The Academia, the Uffizi, the Vatican Museum, and many others are all mind-blowing and certainly warrant visits, but you can definitely do without visiting them if you’re on a serious budget. Rather, walk through Florence’s Piazza del Duomo and marvel at the architecture of Brunelleschi. Visit Rome’s Trevi Fountain – a free historical landmark that is open to the public. Explore the streets and see all of the frescos, murals, statues, monuments to saints, and other beautiful works of art that cover each city.
Without paying entrance fees you can see the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Duomo in Florence, Duomo in Milan, etc. etc. etc.
If you want more art than the streets have to offer, take advantage of free museum days. This year Italy did away with Free Museum Sunday (a program that provided free entry to museums throughout the country on particular Sundays). However, they did increase the number of free museum days from 12 to 20 this year. This means travelers can see David at the Academia, Last Supper at the Santa Maria delle Grazie, and Da Vinci’s Adoration of Magi at the Uffizi for free. These days do get CROWDED, but let’s be real…they’re usually super crowded during high season anyway.
If you’re traveling to Italy on a budget trip, you might find that it is best to plant your roots in one area and avoid extraneous travel costs. You can book an awesome Airbnb in Florence and take a Cinque Terre day trip by regional train. The train is only about €20 and you’ll save hundreds on potential accommodation in Cinque Terre.
Italian food is inherently cheap. Yes, the Michelin Star restaurants and the spots you find in the main piazza will be overpriced, but pizza, pasta, fruit, vegetables, and other Italian favorites are cheap. Start your day with a caffe and a croissant for €2, enjoy a delicious panino or pizza at lunch for €4-5, and indulge in a plate of pasta with a bottle of chianti at a hole-in-the-wall enoteca for €10-12. Top all that off with the best gelato you’ve ever had in your life for €2-6 and you’ll have eaten like a king for no more than €25.
Even in cities like Rome and Florence, you can find incredible food at the following prices:
Typically our budget travel advice immediately suggests cutting out alcohol to save money. Perhaps in Italy, it is best to cut out water and just drink wine. Wine in Italy is virtually the cheapest liquid to drink and you can literally get a great bottle of Chianti for €5. Ok, of course, we aren’t actually advocating you only drink wine, but it could be funny. There are loads of small wine stores in Italy that sell 3 or 4 bottles of wine for €10, so you and your friends can walk around enjoying wine on a serious budget.
If you sit down at a caffe or a restaurant to dine, you will likely pay a coperta (an Italian cover charge); typically about €2 – 3 per person. Order your espresso at the bar and drink it standing so your €1 caffe doesn’t turn into a €3 or 4 drink. Restaurants usually advertise their coperta on their menus.
Aperitivo is one of the best ways for budget travelers to eat and drink in Italy. Many bars in Italy and some restaurants offer aperitivo where customers usually pay for 1 drink (€10 or so) and get to indulge in prosciutto, cheese, bruschetta, and other snacks.
Italy has some of the freshest and best tap water in the world. You can refill your Yeti or Nalgene bottles at any of the water fountains around the country.