Summer in Italy boasts the perfect weather to enjoy gelato and a glass of wine. Unfortunately, Italian summers aren’t the best-kept vacation secret. Their perfection isn’t a secret at all.
June, July, and August are Italy’s busiest months for tourism: 48.3 million tourists arrived for fun in the sun during the summer of 2017.
So, while many tourists dream of walking the ancient, cobblestone streets with a sense of wonder and a scoop of ice cream, the reality is that Italy’s hotspots are hot, crowded, and expensive.
Don’t let that ruin your dream of summering here. Your season in Italy can be as perfect as you imagine – and you don’t need to borrow George Clooney’s villa on Lake Como to do it.
Want to know the secret to a spectacular summer? We’ll share our five favorite tips for spending summer in Italy.
How to Happily Spend Summer in Italy
Italy in the summer is a (humid) paradise on earth. Unfortunately, almost everyone agrees. People from the continent and all around the world flock to the coasts and cities of southern Europe during the summer. But the crowds aren’t a reason to stay away.
Rather, it’s cause to get creative. We’ll help you on your way with these five tips for spending summer in Italy.
Choose Your Destination with Care
Booking accommodation in Italy is precarious in the summer. Positano, Venice, and Florence are all booked up by North American tourists – and inflated prices are married with subpar standards in the housing that is left.
But summer is also the time when Italians take their holidays. Whole villages empty out as Italians close their businesses, lock up their homes, and hit the beach themselves.
The trick is to find a place that’s off the tourist grid but not so far removed that you’re stranded in a town with a single pizzeria.
We recommend following the locals and fleeing the mainland for one of Italy’s spectacular islands.
Ischia is a favorite place to be for Italians and trendy Europeans. It’s only an hour by boat from Naples and offers the holy trinity: food, beaches, and culture. Bari is another off-the-radar hotspot. Beloved by Italians and mostly ignored by visitors, it’s an easy place to catch a break.
- Cefalu (Sicily)
- Costa Smeralda (Sardinia)
Each of these offers stunning locales, fine epicurean traditions, and a distinctly lower number of tourists than big Italian cities.
Don’t worry if you want to take in the big sites. Book a day or two in a big city before and after your flight to enjoy your must-see places before heading away from the crowds. Remember, Italy is well-connected by rail: there’s nothing stopping you from making day trips into city centers before retreating to paradise.
Pack for Comfort
Italians are fabulously stylish even in the hottest of days. The image is reinforced by films, Italian Vogue and just a general acceptance of the fact an Italian looks more put together on their worst day than an Anglo tourist does on their best.
It’s tempting to pull out all the stops if not to fit in then for the ‘Gram. We can get behind this idea in April or October. But in August? Don’t even think about it.
Italian summers are hot on their own. Add in 50 million visitors and their rental cars, and you’ll leave wondering whether it’s possible to melt. It isn’t, but Italian summers make you wonder.
If you want to know how to dress in Italy in the summer, there’s only one rule: comfortable elegance.
Comfort doesn’t mean negating style. A beautiful cotton dress or skirt or a smart pair of shorts do the trick. Choose neutral colors to blend in but avoid whites because your gelato will melt faster than you can eat it every single time.
Once you’ve mastered the idea of comfortable elegance, packing for Italy in summer is fairly straightforward when choosing clothes: shoes are the problem. How do you pack shoes that are breathable, supportive, and still stylish? Good looking trainers like Vans, Converse, Keds, or the like, are your answer. They’re stylish enough among young crowds to help you blend in while still keeping your feet safe and comfortable.
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Visit Smaller Attractions and Book Popular Visitor Experiences in Advance
With the crowds come the queues and unless you want to spend your entire summer waiting in line to see artwork through a tourist’s iPad, then you need to book in advance.
Museums in Italy typically don’t require tickets. Though some do and you need to book months in advance to get in. Milan’s Santa Maria Della Grazie church, which houses DaVinci’s Last Supper, caps the number of daily visitors and days sell out months in advances during peak season.
Other attractions you’ll want and need tickets to include:
- The Uffizi (Florence)
- Medici Chapel (Florence)
- Roman Colosseum (Rome)
- Vatican Museums (Vatican City)
- Borghese Gallery (Rome)
- Doge’s Palace (Venice)
- Leaning Tower of Pisa (Pisa)
- Gate of Heaven (Siena)
- Giotto Frescoes (Padua)
These attractions draw tourists from all over the world, and many are willing to brave the crowds for a chance to glimpse some of the most famous paintings in the flesh.
But even if you get tickets and best skip the line, you’ll still find yourself jostling with all the tourists when you get inside.
Want to enjoy the best of what Italy has to offer without the crowds? Stick to the lesser known museums. You’ll see the art, history, and culture for yourself and you’ll find a more personalized experience with small group tours.
Plus, you’ll save some serious cash on admission fees, leaving you more money for gelato and wine.
Some of the best and most underrated Italian attractions include:
- Museo D’Arte Sacra (Asciano)
- Museo di San Marco (Florence)
- Museo Stefano Bardini (Florence)
- Museo Diocesano del Capitolo (Cortona)
- Museo Cappella Sansevero (Naples)
- Palazzo Del Bo’ (Padua)
- Galleria Doria Pamphilj (Rome)
- Villa Farnesina (Rome)
- Casa-Museo de Chirico (Rome)
- Emilio Vedova Foundation (Venice)
- Museo Storicoavale (Venice)
- Galleria Querini Stampalia (Venice)
Don’t forget to turn down a few dark alleyways and wander through small villages. You never know what hidden treasures you might find.
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Take to the Rooftops and Balconies
While the rest of the tourists congregate in the piazzas on the street-side cafes, we suggest taking to the sky. Hotels, restaurants, and apartments with balconies and rooftop seating allow you to escape the crowds, enjoy the breeze, and get an unbelievable view of the city.
Finding a rooftop experience available to the public is a challenge, and it requires some research. But the result is worth it because you’ll find the perfect retreat within the heart of the city.
If you’re in Florence, head over to Ristorante il Coccodrillo or Ristorante Borgo San Jacopo for classic food and unbeatable views. If you’re not ready for heavy food, visit Grand Hotel Baglioni in Piazza Unita Italiana for lighter fare.
Don’t forget to think outside the box. La Rinascente, a Florentine department store, offers a cafe on its fifth floor with a 360 view and the opportunity to enjoy only a coffee.
When in Rome, visit a hotel, even if you’re not checking in. Rooftop bars are all the rage in the capital. Don’t be afraid to climb the stairs but do bring your credit card. Some of the most picturesque views come with a steep price – $22 for a mimosa anyone?
If you find yourself in the capital, visit Hotel Raphael (Piazza Navona), the First Luxury Art Hotel (Piazza di Spagna), Hotel Forum (Roman Forum), Hotel Minerva, Circus (Circus Maximus).
Don’t spend your summer in Italy rushing from place to place on a tight schedule. Do as the Italians do and go with the flow because plans are made to be broken. More importantly, don’t be afraid to take breaks to cool down.
Take short jaunts out from your room to leave your backpack behind. You’ll be cooler, lighter, and you won’t be searched in museums.
Enjoy breaks for water, ice cream, or a cold beer. You need to stay hydrated, which means getting salt as well as water. Don’t be afraid to drink from the tap. Bring your reusable water bottle from home and fill it up from the taps located throughout the cities.
Seek refuge for lunch inside cool, dark restaurants and skip those alluring misters on the streets. The water feels good on the outside of the restaurant, but it makes little difference once you sit down. Plus, proprietors that use these tactics usually do so because their food doesn’t bring in the crowds. Make of that what you will.
Visit Italy All Year
If you’re one of the brave tourists willing to visit Italy in July, don’t fret. You can plan the vacation of your dreams if you’re willing to put the work in and get creative. Rather than fighting the crowds, you’ll need to embrace the fact that you’ll be hot, tired, and there will be queues. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be prepared to find the creative workarounds required to truly enjoy even the busiest summer months.
Are you already packed for your next vacation but aren’t sure about summer in Italy? Check out the rest of our travel resources here.