From the Colosseum in Rome, through the charming watery channels of Venice, to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy has some of the most iconic places for travelers to visit. However, most people believe that exploring Italy is expensive. But, the truth is that Italy offers a plethora of inexpensive cultural activities and superb public transport. These and the tips mentioned in this article will show you that exploring Italy on a budget isn’t impossible and that it’s actually much cheaper than what people generally think. Read on:
Transportation tips and tricks Italy on a budget
Let’s start with the basics: your flight. If you’re flying in from some other European country, go for a budget airline. If your flight is from another continent, consider booking your flight tickets to a hub city, like London, Berlin or Paris. Even if it’s a place that’s not on your list, you will be able to get a flight with one of the European budget airlines and save a lot.
Italy also has a decent bus network across the country and inside most big cities. Additionally, if you’re staying in a city for a short period of time, consider hopping on one of Big Bus’s tours that cover the main attractions in the city and make the most of your short stay.
As I mentioned, Italy has a superb train network. You can cover the main locations with the Trenitalia express train passing through Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples. I know that you might be used to purchasing your tickets through intermediaries that offer a better price most of the time, but that’s not the case with the Italian Railways. You’ll get the cheapest tickets by purchasing them directly from the Italian Railways. And if you book in advance, the fare will be even cheaper. Check out this useful article if you’re planning to explore Italy by train.
There are a lot of famous hotel chains in Italy that offer a lot of perks, but for an insane price. Luckily for backpackers, there are a lot of affordable pensions (family-run guesthouses) and affordable hotels. You can also consider staying in convents or other religious accommodations. These places are very comfortable, affordable and often times at a great location! For example, I stayed in the Istituto Santa Giuliana Falconieri in Rome, located right next to the Piazza Navona in the historic part of the city; one of the best neighborhoods in Rome for travelers. And the location is very important and you MUST check it before booking your accommodation. Some hostels might offer a price that’s too good to be true, but they might be located far away from all tourist attractions.
Budget activities that will help you save you a lot
- Rent a bicycle: this will cost you between 10 and 15 EUR per day, but it will allow you to see much more of the city and not to be dependent on the public transport.
- Visit cathedrals and basilicas: most of those will be free of charge. Not only that, but these breathtaking buildings will give you a glimpse of the amazing architecture and history.
- If you’re a museum fan: most of the museums in Italy have one day per week when they don’t charge an entrance fee. Make sure you find out which days those are for the museum you want to visit before you make your plans.
- Walking tours: most cities in Italy have walking tours that are free of charge! Amazing, right? These tours are designed for solo travelers or small groups. Most hostels offer these tours and the only thing you would have to pay would be a tip to the guide.
- Don’t buy water from supermarkets: that can be quite costly and the water from the public fountains is 100% drinkable.
- Ask one of the locals on the street where do they go for lunch. Their answer will not be in your tourist guidebook.
- Check out some this list of Italian festivals. Many of them will be free of charge, and you’ll get to learn a lot about Italian culture.
- Prebook your tickets: this allows you to skip the long lines and sometimes, even save money. Check out these Vatican and Colosseum skip-the-line Tickets
Dining 101: Drink coffee standing up and say hello to Aperitivo
The aperitivo hour is one of my favorite things about Italy! Most bars in Italy serve a light meal with the drink for around 10 EUR. The aperitivo hour usually happens in the evening when people are meeting friends after work. The aperitivo is a good dinner substitute and will keep you full. Plus it’s a much cheaper option than going for a full meal. If you don’t take part in aperitivo when visiting, you will be missing one of the quintessential cultural expressions of Italy as a country.
Another must tip is to have your coffee and morning pastry at the bar. Most Italian restaurants have an extra fee in a form of tax you have to pay if you sit down at a table. Since I mentioned coffee, one bonus tip is to avoid having a cappuccino after your lunch. Unless you want to get some funny looks. Italians consider this to be a morning-only drink.
Consider the off-season or the winter
You don’t have to visit Italy during late spring or summer when there are a lot of tourists there. Visit between October and June, or even in the winter. Firstly, you will avoid vacation prices and higher than average prices for the flight tickets. And secondly, you will get a more authentic picture of Italy and the everyday life of Italians when there are fewer tourists around.
What about the beaches?
We’ve all seen the beautiful pictures of endless rows of beach chairs under umbrellas. But, if you want to rent one of those prices go up to 20 EUR per day in the tourist seasons. That’s why even Italians go to the rugged, off-the-map beaches. And Italy has plenty of those, and chances are, you probably haven’t heard about most of them. Some of these are: San Fruttuoso, Marrema National Park, Sorrento, Cinque Terre and, many others.
If you’re planning a trip to Italy soon, I hope these tips will be helpful! If you have some more budget tips for exploring Italy that I missed, share those with me in the comments section below 🙂 Finally, for more information about traveling around Europe check my tips for traveling around Europe on a budget.