Italy is an amazing country to visit, but it can be expensive – particularly if you’re travelling around from city to city trying to take in all the sites. Planning a trip to Italy on a budget isn’t as difficult as it may seem, though, and we’ve put some of our local writers onto the task of preparing some of the best budget travel tips for Italy to help you get the most out of a trip.
So much of what’s beautiful about Italy is its people, its food, its landscape, its traditions, so you don’t necessarily have to go to the standard tourist traps of Venice, Milan, Rome, Naples and Florence to experience the magic of Italy. Get off the beaten track and explore alternatives. For example, Tuscany – flooded with tourists – has a similar landscape and tradition with the nearby regions of Umbria and the Marche, but it costs significantly more.
Another good example is Puglia – which is beautiful and has much to see. It’s main towns can be expensive – particularly in Summer. Neighbouring Basilicata or Calabria are less touristy, but offer many of the same elements of a great holiday, at a fraction of the price – beatiful towns, rugged coastline, clear blue sea etc.
Italy’s train system is good and cheap, at least compared to most Northern European countries and America. You can get a train ticket from milan to naples from as little as 42 Euro (771km). Make sure you buy your ticket well in advance to avail of special offers, and keep in mind that the high-speed and intercity trains cost more.
Italy has two main train companies – Trenitalia which is the state run company, and its rival Italo. It’s always worth checking both as there’s competition on lots of routes. Italo as a new entry to the market is still offering lots of special ticket prices so it’s worth checking out.
There’s a slew of low-cost bus companies operating as well, including flix bus, OUI Bus and Bus Center. There are various price comparison sites as well so you can find the best deal. To give you an example, you can get a bus from Milan to Napoli for as little as 23 Euros.
Ride sharing is very popular amongst Italy’s cash-strapped youth, and sites like BlaBlaCar are very popular. The idea is simple enough – you register to avail of offers. If someone is driving a specific route, say Milan to Napoli, and they have an empty car or a couple of empty places, they register the trip on the site. You can then express an interest. Prices vary, and you should check details on the site in terms of insurance and security. They also offer women-only trips which can be useful for the solo traveller.
FAI or the Fondo Ambientale Italiano is an association that defends Italy’s national treasures. That’s all well and good, but how does it help you as a budget traveller in Italy? Well, they have specific days when they open up various cultural sites for free. They also offer various discounts and special offers to help budget travellers, so it’s well worth downloading their app in advance to see what you can avail of.
Italians still largely like to travel at home, and why wouldn’t they? This means that during the summer months, in particular August, prices shoot up in the popular tourist destinations. If you wait until September, or go in late may / early june, to places like Puglia, you’ll find lots more choice and better prices to suit your budget.
Times to avoid travelling on a budget include August (in particular around the 15th or Feragosto ), Easter, Christmas and Carnival.
The tradition of the aperitivo is one of Italy’s greatest gifts to the budget traveller. Throughout the country, but particularly in the major cities, bars in the evening will offer small amounts of food with your drink. This, though, can also take the form of a free buffet in many places – to which you can discreetly return and load up your plate. The best places are bars set up to attract local students, who are probably as cash strapped as you. These places will offer less fancy buffets, but make up for it with quantity, laying out large platters of simple pasta and piza.
Italy has a great tradition of street food – and one which offers lots of regional variety. You can fill up with great local street food like Piadina or Cassoni in Romagna, Pizza in Naples (or, let’s be honest, anywhere in Italy), Arancini in Sicily, Lampredotto in Florence, or the superb Olive Ascolane in the Marche (from Ascoli Piceno). Anywhere you go you’ll find great, cheap food to fill you up. Avoid McDonalds and Burger King and revel in real authentic street food.
Italy’s department of culture has an initiative where they offer up to twenty days a year free entrance into state museums. This usually takes the form of free sundays in the off-season from October through the winter. This initiative includes famous museums like the Uffizi. You can check the initiative here (It’s called Io Vado al museo – or I go to the museum).
Also check the regional and local tourist offices to find a list of local tourist attractions that are free. Italy has so much culture and history that many sights are free of charge. If you’re on a budget it’s handy to know.
Throughout the summer Italians live outdoors as much as possible, and local piazzas are filled with free events ranging from concerts through to theatre shows and cinema. Bologna, for example, erects a huge cinema screen in its majestic Piazza Maggiore, where it hosts a free film festival with famous directors often introducing their films (Francis Ford Coppola presented Apocalypse Now in the Summer of 2019).
These events are usually accompanied by food and wine stalls as well!
Accomodation is likely to be one of your biggest costs during travel to Italy. There are a number of ways to reduce this. Obviously avoiding tourist cities will reduce the cost, but the advantage to larger cities is that they tend to have youth hostels.
Italy is, nominally, a Roman-Catholic country, and the Roman-Catholic church has a huge amount of property throughout the country ranging from the obvious churches through to the slightly less obvious hotels and boarding houses; it makes sense, though, if you think that over the centuries pilgrims throughout the Christian world have travelled to Rome. There are plenty of religious orders and institutes that provide low-cost accomodation for pilgrims – or cash-strapped tourists like yourself. Finding them can be problematic, but you can check sites like this or this to try to find more details. While most of the structures are reasonably relaxed about your religious credentials, you should obviously keep in mind the religious ethos behind the accomodations and behave in a respectful manner.
Another option which is finding a lot of traction in Italy is the couchsurfing network. This puts potential hosts in contact with travellers. Italy has a strong tradition of travelling, solidarity, and hospitality, so it has plenty of people who play a part on the network.
Hopefully this information has been useful. Let us know if you have any other tips to help budget travelling in Italy. You can share it with us in the comments.