Italy is on the top of so many travelers’ bucket lists, and between its ancient history, famous art, and great food, it’s easy to see why. And while Italy is not the most expensive vacation, the cost of accommodations, food, transportation, and activities can definitely add up if you’re not careful.
If you think that dream trip to Italy is out of your budget, these ideas will help you save money while still having the trip you always imagined. In this article you’ll find all the tips you need to plan an amazing trip to Italy on a budget.
I’ve asked my friend and fellow Italy lover Vanessa to share her best tips for traveling to Italy cheaply. These are the tricks she used to backpack around Italy with her four kids for an entire month without breaking the budget – though that wasn’t her first visit and certainly won’t be her last. Vanessa will cover budget-friendly transportation options to and around Italy, how to save money on Italy trip accommodations, how to find cheap eats in Italy and more.
Want her expert guidance in planning your trip to Italy? You can get it all right here in her awesome 10-day Italy itinerary! She gives you the skinny on the tours you need to take, the places you need to stay and (of course) the gelato you need to eat. Grab your copy here.
How to find cheap flights to Italy
One of the biggest ways to save on your trip to Italy is to get a good deal on flights. Flights will generally be cheaper during the off-season, like fall and spring, and flying in mid-week, rather than the weekend, can also save you a lot of money. It’s always good to be flexible with your dates if possible – sometimes incredible sales pop up!
Look at all the major airports in Italy rather than restricting yourself solely to the city you want to visit. Many cities are just an inexpensive train ride away from each other, so flying into Milan and then taking the train to Venice, for example, may be much more cost-effective, and if you can fit that into your schedule, it’s a great way to see more of the country.
I recommend checking Skyscanner for ticket prices. I love that you can search by entire months to find the cheapest dates. You can set your destination to the entire country of Italy to see where the most economical routes are from your home airport. Click here to try it out – in my experience the web browser interface works better than the app.
Award travel is also an amazing way to get to Italy cheaply. Depending on the exact route you’re looking for, you can snag an award ticket to Italy for as little as 44,000. Check out this great tool to help you figure out which airlines require the fewest miles for your route, and be sure to balance that against which credit cards will help you rack up miles the fastest.
How to get around Italy on a budget
You can save a lot of money in Italy by being smart with your transportation options. The good news is that train travel in Italy is excellent and affordable. You can get almost anywhere by train quickly and efficiently. See all the schedules and prices here.
Many people will tell you to buy a rail pass to save you the hassle of booking separate train tickets, but if you know where you’re going ahead of time, purchasing individual tickets is easy, and can actually save you a lot of money if you’re willing to do the cost comparison ahead of time. Another great way to save on the Italian trains is by using the regional trains vs. the high-speed trains.
Your experience traveling Italy by train will be much more pleasant if you minimize your luggage. Hopping on and off the train with a 50lb suitcase will make you crazy! Be sure to read this packing list to make sure you bring what you need without overdoing it.
If you’re traveling with a family or want flexibility to travel beyond the train routes, renting a car doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s often ideal to just rent a car for several days at a time rather than for your entire trip to Italy. For instance, you could rent a car when you’re leaving Florence and drop it off in Rome after a few days of exploring the Tuscan countryside. Click here to check prices for your dates.
Driving in Italy can be expensive in some important ways. The most significant unbudgeted expense for many visitors is traffic tickets! Many Italian cities and towns don’t allow visitors to drive in the ZTL – Zona Traffico Limitato. Every time you cross the line, you’re subject to a fine (often automatically photo-enforced). By avoiding city driving and being extremely careful at times when you don’t have an option, you can keep your “ZTL budget” in check.
Some premium travel-focused credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve also include primary rental car insurance as long as you reject all coverage offered by the car rental company. If you have a different credit card, be sure to check the rules – many specifically exclude Italy. More basic credit cards offer rental car coverage that is secondary, meaning your normal auto insurance provides the first line of coverage; be mindful of filing claims that can increase your auto insurance premium in the long run (especially if you have it bundled with your home owners insurance).
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Cheapest places to stay in Italy
Staying at the most popular locations in Italy like Rome, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, and the Amalfi Coast, are not going to be cheap. Don’t be afraid to explore other, lesser-known parts of the country.
Italy offers a huge range of accommodation styles – you can choose from hotels, vacation rentals and even agritourismos. To maximize your budget while also having a unique visit, I recommend mixing a few different types of stays into your itinerary.
As you plan your itinerary, just be sure to factor in transportation costs. Staying in a place that’s off the train routes will force you into renting a car, which may wind up costing more in the long run.
Read more: Where to go in Italy with kids
How to save on accommodations
If you’re on a tight budget, accommodation is probably where you’ll need your biggest savings. The price difference between a luxury hotel and a small vacation rental can be in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
My best tip is to stay outside the city center. The closer you get to the more touristy part of the cities, the more expensive hotels and vacation rentals will be. It may be a hassle to trek into the city each day, but you’ll also get a more authentic experience during your stay. Having more locals and fewer tourists near your accommodations may also mean better, and more authentic food.
Be sure to factor in the cost of local transportation. That includes transportation from the train station (with all your baggage in tow) in addition to daily transportation to tourist sites. If you’ll be arriving or departing by plane in a given city, be sure to check out the cost of ground transportation to the airport. Many airports in Italy are quite far from the city center, and if your accommodation is far away in the opposite direction you might obliterate your savings completely if you need to take a taxi because you have a lot of luggage.
Where to find cheap food in Italy
One of the biggest draws of Italy for many people is the food! From pasta to panini to pesto to Pannacotta to pizza, Italian food is incredible, and there are so many great places to eat in Italy without blowing your budget. You’d be surprised and what amazing food you can even discover at the grocery store.
The best way to avoid overpaying for food is to get away from the highly trafficked tourist areas. A restaurant with a view of the Colosseum in Rome is going to cost a lot more than one several blocks away. Watch out for a coperto charge, which is an extra cost for sitting in the restaurant to eat. It’s usually only a few Euros per person, but it can really add up, especially if you have a big group. The coperto charge will usually be listed on a menu, but be sure to ask if you’re not sure.
You can always pop into a forno, or bakery, for pastries or a slice of focaccia or pizza for only a few Euros. If you’re traveling with kids, this will be the easiest and most budget-friendly way to feed the littles.
Another way to save money while dining out in Italy is to drink tap water. As a tourist, you will generally automatically be given bottles of drinking water, but if you’re comfortable with tap water, then go for it.
How to save on activities in Italy
There are a lot of tour options in Italy that can be a great way to see the country, but they do come at a cost, especially if you do several. It’s easy to explore Italy on your own without a tour guide. And even if you do want a tour guide, many cities in Italy offer free walking tours.
There are also a lot of great free and cheap online museum guides that will walk you through Italy’s most famous museum and offer descriptions of many works of art.
A great new option for activities is GetYourGuide Originals. These are much more intimate experiences with local guides, either private or small group. They’ll take you to the favorite off-the-beaten path spots, invite you into their own kitchens or teach you their favorite local past time. There’s a huge range of offerings throughout Italy – see them all here and be sure to look for the orange “G Originals” logo.
Italy travel insurance
Especially in this day and age, travel insurance is extremely important. No matter how diligent you’ve been in planning a budget-friendly trip to Italy, it would be terrible to lose the money you’ve laid out for advance bookings and deposits!
World Nomads is providing one of the most generous and lenient travel insurance policies in 2021. They’ve been a trusted partner for long-term travelers and vacationers for many years and have earned that loyalty. Check out their site for full information on coverage for 2021.
Planning your budget trip to Italy
I recommend writing up your budget before planning your trip to Italy. Knowing exactly what you have available to spend will help you as you book your transportation, accommodations, activities, and even thinking about where and what you plan to eat. The great thing about Italy is that you don’t need to have a luxury trip to experience a beautiful, authentic Italy.
Vanessa Hunt is the voice behind Wanderlust Crew and I Heart Italy. She has spent months at a time backpacking around Europe with her four kids and currently calls California her home (again).