Five Ways to Avoid the Crowds During Your Italian Vacation

Paul De Tourreil | 05/12/2018
Rialto Bridge, Venice. Crowds shopping on the Rialto Bridge, Venice, Italy.
Rialto Bridge, Venice

Probably the best Italy travel advice out there is simply that you must experience Italy once in your life. With a glorious history stretching back thousands of years, and a multi-dimensional culture famous for everything from fine art to fashion to cuisine, it’s no wonder that planning a trip to Italy is on everybody’s bucket list.

With over fifty UNESCO world heritage sites (more than any other country), it’s no wonder that more than 50 million tourists flood the boot-shaped peninsula each year. The numbers show no signs of dropping, and the high season for holidays in Italy runs from March all the way until November. 

Seasonal Statistics reveal a well-kept secret: Spring and Fall are your friends

Most of us take our vacations in the summer, and for those with school-age children or fixed work schedules, this might be the only option. But in many ways, summer is not the best time to travel to Italy. If you’ve got a bit of wiggle room in your travel planning and you’re looking to beat the crowds, you’re not consigned to the cold, grey, and often wet Italian winter. (Although it must be said that winter time in the snowy Italian Alps is quite beautiful, and can be considerably milder than northern European or North American winters.) 

Sure, tourists flood Italy in June, July, and August. But the number of travelers in March, April and October drop to around seven million — less than half of the more than 15 million during the summer months. What’s more, Italy’s weather in the fall and spring is delightfully pleasant, with average highs of 15-20 degrees C (60-70 F), as opposed to the often scorching heat  (25-30+ degrees C/77-85 F)  of the summer months, especially in the south. Better weather and smaller crowds make spring and fall the best times to visit Italy.

Get outta town

Italy declared 2017 as the “Year of the Village” in an effort to relieve beleaguered urban attractions (hello, Venice) and instead shine a light on its comparatively untouched villages. The culture, cuisine, architecture, and natural splendour of Italy is freely available in every corner of the nation, without wading through the stifling crowds of the big city. 

Tuscany, for instance, has much more to offer outside of its capital city Florence. The Tuscan countryside is justly famous, but the nearby island of Elba has remained virtually unnoticed by tourists from the rest of Europe or North America. But with its beaches, picturesque mountains, rustic villages and an array of wonderful cuisine to discover, it’s been a favourite “at-home” destination for Italians for decades. Why not do as the Italians do?

Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre

The popularity of Cinque Terre has forced local officials to consider limiting the number of visitors each year. A rural area with only 4,000 residents, it receives more than two million visitors per year, mostly concentrated on the five major villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. The picturesque farmer’s paths-turned-hiking trails that connect the villages are in danger of crumbling under the feet of millions of day trippers. Why not head to nearby towns like Lerici or Levanto, and explore the Cinque Terre region from a far less crowded, less expensive home base?

The early bird gets the worm

Get up early. The most obvious of Italy travel tips does require a little bit of self-discipline, but many will find it well worth it. Even the most popular sights are typically much quieter in the early morning, especially on weekdays. If you can haul yourself out of bed by 7 a.m., you’ll get a jump on the teeming hordes. This will allow you a few moments to yourself at a public attraction like the Trevi fountain, or a chance to admire a famous painting without being elbowed on all sides by your fellow art-lovers. Waking up early while on holiday isn’t much of a chore in the country that literally invented the espresso. Bonus: Italian architecture is even more beautiful at sunrise!

Save time and skip the line

No matter how large the crowds, or how long the line-ups, certain attractions have a “can’t miss” status: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, as well as the Uffizi Gallery In Florence, the Roman Colosseum, St-Peter’s Basilica… or the entire city of Venice. Forward-thinking tour operators (such as ItaliaDeals) now offer a handy Skip-the-Line feature on the most popular tours and sites in Italy. You can buy your ticket ahead of time, meet your expert guide at your chosen attraction, and stroll right in! There are even Show & Go options that don’t require advance reservation. A few extra euros is a small price to pay to avoid wasting several hours of sightseeing time each day.

When in Rome… 

The old saying about doing as the locals do still applies. Make a point of walking beyond the standard tourist spots, maybe even getting lost. Seek out the places where the locals eat, drink, shop and relax. Facing down a little temporary uncertainty will not only get you away from the crowds, you’ll most likely make some delightful discoveries, bring back some unique stories and souvenirs,  and probably save some money as well!