Tuscany is lovely in every season, When to go to Italy, Italy, Italy (Photo clockwise from upper left: courtesy of Massimo Telò, Visittuscany, Camerone, KoenM)
Tuscany is lovely in every season

The best time to go to Italy — Seasons, weather, and other considerations

Italy enjoys roughly the same seasonal calendar as North America, with weather similar to the American South/Mid-Atlantic (though warmer in the south—and, obviously, cooler in the Alps).

Summer is high season (nicest—or at least most consistently warm—weather, and, since school is out, families can take vacation); winter is low season (with the exception of the popular Christmas break creating a high season bubble); fall and spring are the shoulder seasons (temperate, though moody, weather and moderate crowds).

There are exceptions: Obvious seasonal destinations as seaside towns (crazy crowded in summer; dead in winter) and Alpine or Dolomite ski resorts (booming in winter, less so in summer, though hikers and other visitors keep enough local businesses open).

Know thy travel seasons

Jan 7–Mar 31

Low

Apr 1–Jun 14

Shoulder

June 15–Aug 31

High

Sep 1–Oct 31

Shoulder

Nov 1-Dec 14

Low

Dec 15–Jan 6

High

For the purposes of pricing airlines tickets (and, especially in beach or resort destinations, hotel rooms), the travel industry basically recognizes three travel seasons: high season (for Italy: June 15–Sept 2 and Dec 15–Jan 6), low season (Nov-Mar, excluding Christmas), and shoulder season (fall and spring).

Not to belabor the obvious, but high season brings the highest prices, largest crowds, least room to bargain (and hottest temperatures; global warming has led even Italy to get too hot some summers, especially as many little B&Bs had never had to install A/C, so things can get quite stuffy).

The Italians typically take a marathon vacation starting on August 15 (Ferr'agosto) that often lasts though mid-September (others just take two weeks). Big cities can seem eerily empty on those last two weeks of August—and beach towns along are suddenly intensely crowded.

On the plus side, high season is also often when you'll find the most festivals—plus, all the sights, restaurants, hotels, and other businesses of interest to tourists will be open and generally keeping their longest hours.

Low season has the lowest prices, smallest crowds, and most room to bargain. The downsides to low season are a chance for crummy weather—often wet in spring and fall and cold in winter, but not too bad, similar to the American Mid-Atlantic—and, especially in smaller towns and resort areas, the likelihood that many tourist sights and services will be shut down (a good proportion—though not all—hotels and restaurants might close).

Shoulder season, as you might imagine, falls somewhere in between—not too crowded or too empty, generally pleasant weather, most things open—making it insanely popular among savvy travelers who are able to arrange their calendars to take advantage of it.

When should I travel to Italy?

Go in the off-season.

Yeah, seems obvious, I know. But you’d be surprised how the savings and other advantages pile up.

Although work schedules—and more often the kid's school schedules (and you should bring the young-un's to Italy with you)—often do more to dictate vacation time than sheer choice, if you have the option of avoiding the busy months, you will not only save money but also avoid the crowds.

'Tis the season for the tourists

Though it varies form airline to airline, roughly speaking there are three seasons.

  • High season (and the highest prices on airline tickets) runs June 15 through Sept 1, plus (roughly) December 15 to January 6.
  • Low season is from mid- to late October through just before Easter, save during that high season Christmas/New Year's arc.
  • That leaves the "shoulder" seasons of fall and spring to fill in for Easter through mid-June and September to late October.

Funny thing is, while airline tickets follow a distinct arc of pricing that reaches its peak in those summer months, summer is not really the busiest time in Italy any more. You'll find Italy far more clogged with fellow tourists—and, hence, budget beds and other resources harder to come by—in the so-called shoulder season, from late April through mid-June and in September.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is our fault, by which I mean travel writers. For years, we have been espousing the virtues of avoiding both summer crowds and winter doldrums by traveling during the "shoulder season." Little did we realize people would actually listen to our advice, and so now the crowds surge over in springtime and autumn. Sorry about that.

The second, and far more sensible reason, is that most of Italy is at its best during those times of year. Summer can be brutal.

Summer in Italy

In summer, Italy is just too darn hot—especially in the south, when temperatures can spike well over 100 °F. Plus, many big cities virtually shut down in August as all the Italians flocks to the beach. (Seriously; every August 15 the entire Italian urban population recreates the exodus.) It is also when the tourists flock to Italy.

In summer, the Vatican Museums can seem like one giant bus tour from Topeka, the streets of Rome are swarming with school groups, every gondola in Venice is jammed with Japanese tourists, and Florence teems with more American college students than all of New England put together (they all say they're "studying abroad," but they're actually taking a six-week Italian summer vacations with a class or two thrown in; real study abroad students spend at least a semester, preferably a year).

On the plus side, summer is also the prime season for cultural and folkloric festivals: jousting tournaments in medieval hilltowns, free outdoor movies screened against the walls of Roman ruins, concerts in the ancient Greek theaters of Sicily, that sort of thing.

Spring and autumn in Italy

Balmy spring and fall end up being viewed as much more comfortable times to travel.

In spring you can hike the green meadows of the Alps as they free themselves from snow (though beware; the best Alpine access is from ski resorts, and many mountain town hotels close in May/June for renovations and owners' vacations, so finding a room can be difficult), cruise through southern Italy without fear of overheating, and enjoy.

In Fall, you've got a plethora of food festivals as the hunting and gathering seasons (think: wild boar with truffles) get into full swing and harvests of grapes (October) and olives (November) produce the fruitiest oils and bottles of "New Wine" (vino novello; think: Beaujolais Nouveau), which in Italy is released on November 6.

Winter in Italy

If Italy can get too hot in winter, to a lesser extent it can also get a bit too cold for comfort in winter—not quite New England or Upper Midwest cold, but certainly mid-Atlantic cold.

Winter temperatures in the major cities of Italy dip down into the low 40s and high 30s—and that's just the cities, which tend to be at lower (and hence warmer) elevations and retain heat. Once you get into the hilly countryside, it can drop down into the 20s at night, and snow is not uncommon from Tuscany on north (and, at least in the mountains, even in the south—after all, it was the Sicilians who evolved gelato from icees made from lemon juice and snow from Mt. Etna).

(Ironically, it is in the otherwise somewhat warmer south and Sicily that you feel the cold most intensely, since they get true cold snaps so rarely and, therefore, inexpensive hotels tend not to be as equipped to deal with them with adequate heating, etc.).

Plus, in winter, many smaller towns and resort destinations (except, of course, the ski resorts) along Italy's long shoreline and northern lake district shut down in mid-winter. Most if not all hotels, the majority of restaurants, and even the sights shutter their doors from mid-October through to just before Easter.

Still, you can have a fantastic time in the dead of winter: ice skating on the main piazza of Lecce, skiing in the Italian Alps, Christmas shopping in the San Lorenzo leather market of Florence or on Piazza Navona in Rome, enjoying opera at La Scala in Milan, and just generally avoiding the crowds.

For these reasons, I actually prefer winter to summer—just be prepared for the cold, and for smaller towns to be running their tourism infrastructure on a skeleton crew. And if you didn't pack warmly enough you can always buy a leather jacket at the market in Florence or a discounted designer wool coat in the stock shops of Milan or Rome!

A recap

It might seem I've picked no season and yet approved them all, so here's a recap.

  • Summer is expensive (plane tickets and hotels), hot, full of guided tours and school groups, and generally not recommended except for its festivals.
  • Winter is, indeed, chilly, and parts of the tourist side of Italy (hotels, sights) will be closed or on curtailed hours; however, the prices are lowest (on airfares and hotels) and the often virtually deserted sights can feel like your personal playground.
  • Spring is lovely, but often intensely crowded; the prices are decent, but the plane's cheap seats sell out quickly and budget hotels can book up fast, so be prepared.
  • Fall can be rainy, and you never know when that first cold snap will descend, but other than that the weather is fine, the crowds rather thinner on the ground than in spring or summer, and the prices about on a par with springtime (though hotels not as booked). Plus, the harvest seasons eases Italy into some of its more ancient and enjoyable rhythms, which can enrich your experience immensely.

Weather in Italy

Here are charts of the average monthly temperatures and rainfall for Italy's major cities.

Keep in mind the temperatures in the countryside and smaller (non-coastal) towns will likely be a good 10ªF to 20ªF cooler—a boon in summertime, not so much in winter.

Rome

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

Temperature (°F)

49

52

57

62

72

82

87

86

73

65

56

47

Temperature (°C)

9

11

14

17

22

28

31

30

23

18

13

8

Rainfall (inches)

2.3

1.5

2.9

3.0

2.8

2.9

1.5

1.9

2.8

2.6

3.0

2.1

Rainfall (cm) 5.8 3.8 7.4 7.6 7.1 7.4 3.8 4.8 7.1 6.6 7.6 5.3

Florence

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

Temperature (°F)

45

47

50

60

67

76

77

70

64

63

55

46

Temperature (°C)

7

8

10

16

19

24

25

21

18

17

13

8

Rainfall (inches)

3.0

3.3

3.7

2.7

2.2

1.4

1.4

2.7

3.2

4.9

3.8

2.9

Rainfall (cm) 7.6 8.4 9.4 6.8 5.6 3.6 3.6 6.8 8.1 12.4 9.7 7.4

Venice

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

Temperature (°F)

38

41

48

56

64

71

74

74

70

58

48

42

Temperature (°C) 3 5 9 13 18 22 23 23 21 14 9 5.6

Rainfall (inches)

1.8

1.8

2.0

1.6

3.2

2.6

2.8

1.7

2.4

3.4

3.1

2.4

Rainfall (cm) 4.6 4.6 5.1 4.1 8.1 6.6 7.1 4.3 6.1 8.6 7.9 6.1

Milan

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

Temperature (°F)

35

39

47

56

63

72

77

75

69

57

47

37

Temperature (°C) 2 4 8 13 17 22 25 24 21 14 8 3

Rainfall (inches)

0.7

1.2

4.2

0.8

3.3

0.9

3.6

2.8

3.9

7.7

5.6

4.0

Rainfall (cm) 1.8 3.0 10.7 2.0 8.4 2.3 9.1 7.1 9.9 20.0 14.2 10.2

Naples

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

Temperature (°F)

50

54

58

63

70

78

83

85

75

66

60

52

Temperature (°C)

10

12

14

17

21

26

28

29

24

19

16

11

Rainfall (inches)

4.7

4.0

3.0

3.8

2.4

.08

0.8

2.6

3.5

5.8

5.1

3.7

Rainfall (cm) 12.0 10.2 7.6 9.7 6.1 2.0 2.0 6.6 8.9 14.7 13.0 9.4
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