Italy in Winter

While most North Americans head out on their Cuban vacations, an alternative to consider may be to see Italy in winter.
Italy in the summer can be a crowded, extremely hot and more expensive. Having to wait in line, shoulder to shoulder with other sweaty people, in the blazing sun to get a glimpse of the inside of the Vatican, can really lessen the experience. Trying to get that perfect picture without a kid hanging off something or a bus load of people obstructing your view can be challenging during peak times and has turned us off more than once.

Tim with the angel Gabriel

Alone in some hot attractions

Italy in winter is a different story. Imagine finding yourself alone in Orvieto’s magnificent Duomo. This happened to us a few weeks ago, something you can’t do during the summer rush. Composing the ultimate pictures in the Capella di San Brizio, free of unwanted characters who always stand in exactly the wrong spot, was a dream.

Capella di San Brizio

In summer time the chapel has a limit of fifteen minutes per visit so the next crowd can push in and mill through. With fewer to no people in some museums during the week it also allows you to truly appreciate artwork with no distractions or noise, taking in all the details without tourists who ignore signs asking for silence.

Civita di Bagnoregio

We’ve also had the pleasure of walking through a whole town and seeing more cats than tourists. Civita di Bagnoregio greeted us like something out of a fairy tale. Most businesses were open and eager for our patronage. That said make sure to support local small businesses and spend your money where it can make a difference.

January is Italy’s national sale month at most retail stores so if shopping is your bag, deals abound, but beware, the crowds will be big and the shopping competitive, to say the least.

Larger cities still see their share of tourists in the winter but nothing as compared to summer when you have to beat your way into most attractions and cueing up becomes a major part of your day.

Truffles, black and white

For us, the food in winter time is the most exciting, think truffles, black and white, that appear on winter menus all over Italy. Dishes that include chestnuts and porcini mushrooms, walnuts and cavolo nero dominate kitchens. There are also winter specific baked goods such as the horse shoe shaped rocciata and Christmas pandoro and panettone. In late fall the olive and grape harvest flood the markets with their riches.

White truffles!

Another perk is the possibility of cheaper flights and accommodations. Since it’s low season it’s easier to get good deals on flights and many hotels will lower their rates during the winter months. If you are looking at a longer stay don’t be afraid to ask for a better price because most businesses would rather have something than possibly nothing.

Orvieto’s Duomo

A few tips for enjoying Italy in winter

Head out early: this tip is good summer or winter. Most businesses close for riposo, the midday break. There’s nothing more frustrating than arriving at your destination to find everything closed for the next three hours.

Call ahead: checking hours of operation on a website isn’t always enough. Call and make sure the business or tourist attraction you want to visit is open.

Bring warm clothing: depending on where you are headed you may experience some frost or even snow. So far we have been lucky, we’ve had mostly sunny skies and temperatures ranging from 7C to 16C with an occasional overnight low of 0. Still, heating is scarce in most attractions so bring your woollies.

City passes: buying a city pass to places like Orvieto can save you a few bucks and motivate you to see things you may have passed by otherwise.

Find more tips for enjoying Italy here.

If Italy has been on your to do list, there’s no time like the present to check it off. Take advantage of the low season and get yourself over here.


Originally published at on January 16, 2015.

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