A trip to Italy is delightful in summer, when you can make the most of the warm evenings, enjoying dinner and a glass of wine on any restaurant terrace. However, this year I’ll be back in Europe over the winter, and I’m already planning where to go. Italy is always high on my European bucket list, so here are my picks for the best places in Italy in winter.
Where to Go in Italy in Winter: Venice
While Venice is beautiful any time of year, the sky-high prices and huge crowds in summer can be horrendous. Any Venice city guide will tell you that a gondola ride is an essential part of your trip, but these cost a lot of money, especially in the summer. Fewer tourists descend on Venice in winter, which means you can take advantage of discounted prices on everything from gondola rides to hotel rooms.
Furthermore, the unpleasant smell that can rise off the stagnant water in the canals is much more manageable without the hot summer sun, making visiting Venice in the winter much more enjoyable. You can wander the streets and take a gondola ride accompanied by a romantic mist instead of a nasty smell. Watch out for Carnavale, two weeks before the start of Lent. This festival draws huge crowds but provides a magnificent spectacle and vibrant party atmosphere, which certainly makes Venice one of the best places to travel in Italy in winter!
Where to Go in Italy in Winter: The Dolomites
Ski resorts in Italy are arguably the best in Europe, and those in the Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are in an exceptionally beautiful location. With options for beginners and families to enjoy, as well as intermediate and experienced skiers, destinations such as Passo Tonale, Alta Badia, and Sauze d’Oulx offer a variety of ski runs. There are plenty of off-piste activities too.
All of this is set against the backdrop of the stunning scenery in the Dolomite mountain range. What better way to warm up at night after a day skiing in Italy than indulging in delicious Italian pasta and a glass of red? I can’t think of a better way to spend a winter in Italy!
Where to Go in Italy in Winter: Turin
There are fabulous Christmas markets all over Italy, but Turin holds the top spot due to the impressive Christmas lights on display around the city. In Piazza Borga Dora, a giant Christmas tree towers over the market stalls that sell food, gifts, and decorations. You can hop on the free shuttle bus from Piazza Castello to save your feet after a day of sightseeing.
Turin is also famous for its daily market at Porta Palatina, where you can find sumptuous displays of cheeses, cured meats, and truffles. Furthermore, Turin is perfectly positioned for skiing in the Alps if you’ve had your fill of markets, something to bear in mind perhaps if Italy win their bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics!
Where to Go in Italy in Winter: Rome
For Catholics, there are few experiences more special than hearing the Pope give mass in Rome on Christmas Eve. Watching the mass is free, but tickets for Christmas mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica are difficult to get hold of. They usually sell out months in advance. Without tickets, you can still watch the mass on giant screens in St. Peter’s Square just outside the basilica.
For museums and other tourist attractions such as the Colosseum, the Forum, and Borghese Gallery, you can expect shorter queues as fewer visitors come to Rome in the winter. Check the opening times, as they may vary in winter. These attractions usually close on Christmas and New Year’s Day, but Christmas in Rome is still very special.
Where to Go in Italy in Winter: Sicily
Italy isn’t the first destination that springs to mind for winter sun, but Sicily enjoys pleasant temperatures during the winter. The island also receives relatively little rainfall compared with the rest of Italy. Again, you’ll find fewer tourists in the winter than during the summer. That means you can enjoy Palermo and Syracuse without the throngs of people while still sampling the best of Southern Italy’s hospitality.
Offering a change from Roman history, Sicily has some fine Greek archaeological sites to explore, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site Valle dei Templi in Agrigento. You can explore it in peace during the winter months, albeit with shorter opening hours.
Where to Avoid in Italy in Winter
There are some areas of Italy where most hotels and resorts close down for the winter, so save destinations like the Riviera beach towns and Tuscany for summertime vacations. Similarly, poor weather and rough seas mean islands other than Sicily tend to close outside of peak season, so it’s best to avoid these when planning your Italy in winter itinerary.
Italy Winter Weather
As you’ve seen above, different regions of Italy experience a range of different temperatures during the winter. Mountain regions in the north of Italy will get snow and freezing temperatures, while southern Italy enjoy a much warmer climate. In more central areas you can expect a range of between 2-3 degrees Centigrade up to around 10 degrees, perhaps even warmer. Bring a jacket and layers with you to cover all bases, and an umbrella is a good idea too, especially the further north you go.
Aside from a few exceptions, most destinations in Italy retain their charm throughout the year, so there’s no need to worry about choosing where to go. The most important thing to remember about travelling to Italy in the winter is to enjoy it!
Where would you go? Let me know in the comments below!
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Tales of a Backpacker is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I only recommend goods and services I believe are useful and reliable.Last updated: October 7, 2018