With high-end shopping and upscale restaurants galore, Italy is certainly not the cheapest European country to visit. However, with some savvy travel tips and proper preparation, it is possible to have a memorable vacation in the Boot without breaking the bank. Below, check out our advice on how to travel in Italy on a budget.
Choose the best time to visit Italy.
One way to maximize your budget is to carefully choose which time of year you visit. Avoiding peak summer months not only means the main attractions will be quieter, but flights will also often be considerably cheaper, leaving you with more cash to spend on the ground. The cooler, but still very pleasurable, weather in the spring and autumn also means you will potentially spend less on delicious gelato and expensive drinks in air-conditioned bars.
Use public transportation in Italy.
The best and cheapest (read: free) way to explore a city is on foot, but if you prefer not to walk, then jump on a local bus rather than grabbing a cab. Bus tickets are cheap and can be bought in advance at newsstands or tobacco shops. Just remember to validate your ticket by punching it at the machine onboard in order to avoid facing a hefty fine. Buses are also great when traveling from town to town within the same region. However, since there is no national bus network, the train is your best bet for traveling farther.
Italy's rail network is fantastic, and traveling by train across the country can be a real pleasure -- and affordable. The shiny, new, super-fast express trains are a tad pricey, but the slower trains can be gloriously cheap (even for first-class tickets). If you buy your ticket at a desk rather than a machine, and you're not tight on time, it's worth asking which train is cheapest to your desired destination. The slow trains might be older, but they're still comfortable, clean, and often a lot nicer than other more expensive public transportation options elsewhere in Europe.
Save on accommodations in Italy.
Do your research when booking accommodations in Italy. If hotels are too pricey in popular cities, and hostels aren't your thing, consider a rental apartment, or book a budget hotel in a nearby town. For example, Venice hotels can be astronomically expensive, but nearby Padua is much more affordable. Agriturismos(working farms in the countryside) make for great budget options, offering reasonably priced rooms and the chance to get a glimpse into real-life Italy. These properties also often serve great home-cooked food made with the farm's own produce.
Drink your coffee standing up and snack for free.
Italian cafes have bars as well as proper seating, and the prices for sitting versus standing can differ quite a lot. If you have at least one cup of coffee per day, drinking it standing up could save you precious cash over the course of your trip. In-the-know travelers will eat a proper lunch (followed by a long siesta), and then head out for drinks at aperitivo hour, an early evening tradition that sees bars offering delicious snacks (think bruschetta, cheese, olives, or cold meats) with your first drink. Frequent enough bars, and drink enough drinks, and those snacks can constitute as a free meal.
Eat on the cheap in Italy.
Most restaurants offer daily set menus for a lower cost at lunchtime, so it's often best to eat your main meal in the middle of the day. For dinner, cook (if staying in accommodations with proper kitchen facilities) or fuel up on a cheap slice of pizza and some complimentary bar snacks. Staying in a rental apartment with a kitchen not only saves money on eating out, but it gives you the perfect excuse to frequent local markets and buy some fresh and affordable produce. If you want to eat out, but funds are low, avoid restaurants in the main plazas and tourist areas where prices will be higher. Instead, seek out smaller, tucked-away restaurants packed with locals.
Plan your sightseeing ahead of time.
If you plan on visiting many tourist attractions, it's easy for costs to spiral out of control. The best way to save money is to do plenty of research in advance. Look for multi-visit tourist discount passes, and check out the websites of individual attractions for deals or ways to access things for free. Most museums offer free entrance on a particular day (the Vatican Museums are free on the last Sunday of the month). Thankfully, the vast majority of churches in Italy are free to visit -- even the spectacular ones like St. Mark's Basilica in Venice and the Duomo in Florence. It's also good to remember that even if a famous landmark has an admission fee, it's free to admire the architecture from the outside.
Go off-the-beaten path in Italy.
Take some time to explore Italy away from the main tourist areas. Enjoy the lack of crowds, find hidden gems, and stay in small boutique hotels without the inflated tourist prices. Hiking in the countryside is free, plus there's nothing like wandering around a beautiful Tuscan hilltop town while admiring the views and buildings.
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