Last month Marco and I had a lovely weekend trip planned to the vineyards of Piedmont. Three days of touring small country towns, enjoying the local food and sipping wine in our rented apartment while Adeline rests. Mid-October, it was the perfect time to go to Piedmont: the height of the harvest season with truffles, wine and mushrooms on every menu, a festival taking the crowds away from the Langhe into Alba and perfect October weather, not too hot and not too cold.
But then, it rained.
It rained non-stop the week before and the forecast wasn’t much better. It’s one thing if you run from wine-tasting to car to restaurant to museum and back to the hotel. It’s another if you have a toddler with you. And so in the end we canceled the trip. It just wasn’t worth it.
Venice has been hit with its worse acqua alta in more than a decade and Naples ports are “at risk of drowning” and even beyond these two extraordinary events, in autumn in Italy (especially northern Italy) you can definitely expect rain.
We were lucky that we could cancel our trip to Piedmont. But when rain hits unexpectedly on a trip abroad there’s not much you can do except make the most of it.
The rain might dampen your trip but it doesn’t have to ruin it!
How to survive the rain in Italy
The best way to survive the rain in Italy is to just deal with it
Italy is a small country best visited outside and on foot, and Italian residents know this. The city centers are full of people year round no matter the weather. Even in winter you shouldn’t expect to find empty streets and full locales – the people bundle up and get outside – and the same is true when it rains. It’s not uncommon to see cyclists using one hand to hold the umbrella and another to steer their bike. I did that every rainy morning for years when I lived in Monza – a bicycle in the rain keeps your feet dry!
There’s no bad weather, just bad clothes.
A huge part of surviving the rain in Italy, or anywhere for that matter, is dressing the part. In autumn, you’ll want multiple layers, along with leather or waterproof boots, a scarf and a waterproof coat with a hood. You’ll also need an umbrella. If you didn’t bring one, you can usually find vendors on the street in any major Italian city or else hop into a chain store and get one – this is not the time to brave the rain but to try to keep yourself as absolutely dry as possible. Get used to carrying it around even when you don’t need it too. Just consider it a cost of travel.
Change your plans
Maybe you can’t cancel your trip because of the rain, but the more flexibility you have the more likely you’re able to work around the rain. Look at the forecast and reschedule that city walking tour for another day. Or, escape the rain for an entirely new destinations. Maybe you wanted to bike through the Tuscan countryside. Cancel and head to a place that’s not raining.
Take the subway or tram
Not all Italian cities have these options and others barely even have taxis like Florence or Venice. (The first is almost entirely pedestrian and even taxi drivers have limits and the latter is built on water.) But others, like Milan, have great public transportation so you can hop to and fro without getting wet. No need to walk across the city to get to your next destination on a rainy day, just take the metro. Milan’s tram and metro system is extensive, inexpensive and easy to use, and in this case will keep you free from the rain! Though Milan’s metro system is by far the most extensive, Rome, Naples, Torino, Genova, Brescia and Catania all have options as well.
Bring extra socks in your purse
This is my number 1 rainy day rule. It seems that everyone else in the world has got it all figured out and finally found that one pair of shoes that is truly waterproof but I certainly haven’t. Sure, I have some trusty pairs, but sooner or later the water is going to get in, and there’s nothing worse than having damp, cold feet halfway through your sightseeing day. Never fear, just change your socks! It might not be perfect, but it will buy you that extra time to enjoy the day with a bit more comfort, even in the rain.
Enjoy the atmosphere
I can’t hide it: I hate the rain. Buuuut even I think there’s something atmospheric about cobblestone streets awash in rain. Think a yellow lamp light over a trattoria in Rome, Venice’s canals sprinkling with rain or the whitewashed cities in Puglia simmering dry after a rainstorm. Because there is that touch of romance, of nostalgia, in the rain.
What to Do When it Rains in Italy
Visit the museums and churches
Of course you want to see the magnificent Gothic facade of the Duomo di Milano, but then, hop inside. Churches and museums are always indoor treats, so when the rain is getting you down, take your sightseeing inside. With more than 900 churches in Rome alone, you’d need a month of rain to even scratch the surface. Take the extra hour in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Vatican Museums, the archeology museum in Naples or the Egyptian Museum in Turin. When the weather outside is crappy, you’ve got the time to stay indoors.
Walk under the porticos
Many towns in Italy were built with a strict architecture of long and connecting porticoes, especially in Northern Italy. Bolzano, Milan, Torino, Ferrara and Padova all have porticoes of various lengths (also known as arcades) but none as much as Bologna. Bologna’s porticoes are so famous, in fact, that they’re a UNESCO World Heritage Site! With nearly 24 miles of porticoes, you can see almost all of the city without ever getting wet.
Go to the spa
Since Roman baths and even before, Italy has a great spa culture and there’s no better time to enjoy it than a rainy day. Here you can find a classic spa or thermal baths which are usually located in a spa but with hot mineral water pools and water treatments both indoors and out.
Though free, outdoor hot springs like Saturnia in Tuscany are popular, for this type of weather you want one that has indoor options as well. Head to Bormio’s Bagni Vecchi for mountainous views or down south to Ischia or Vulcano, two islands with a long history of therapeutic waters and mud baths. Whatever your Italian destination, there’s likely a spa nearby.
Go to a coffeehouse or bakery
Take a break from the rain with a nice warm break in one of those lovely, enticing coffeehouses you’ve admired so often on your Italy sightseeing. Kids and adults alike can appreciate a delicious and beautiful pasticceria. With small, delicate desserts, you can take your pick, get a coffee and indulge guilt free! Or, seek out some of Italy’s most historic coffeehouses. Veritable institutions like Caffe Florian in Venice, founded in 1720 or Caffe Fiorio in Turin, founded in 1780 or the Gran Caffe Gambrinus in Naples, founded in 1860.
Though they’re sure to be damp, you can still do some “outdoor” sightseeing even with the rain…just go underground. Explore the Frasassi Caves in Le Marche. A cave system so large that one of its rooms is large and deep enough to fit the Duomo of Milan inside. Or else take a tour of the true Orvieto: a winding underground city of caverns, corridors and cantinas, not to mention the Etruscan well, pozzo della cava and St. Patrick’s Well, an extremely deep well with a unique double helix staircase.
When you’re in ancient towns like Rome and Naples, think underground. In both cities you have plenty of catacombs to explore, but tours of Naples underground show the place where the original city was born. Follow the city’s path from 2,400 years ago underground with examples of the Greek-Roman Aqueduct, WWII air-raid shelters and more. Italy is an ancient country and most of modern day Italy has been built atop much older foundations.
Go to the theater
Large opera houses like La Scala in Milan, La Fenice in Venice or Teatro Massimo in Palermo offer tours of the theater or theater museum visits throughout the day. Or see a show! Now’s the chance to treat yourself to a night out in one of Italy’s famous theater houses. Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, San Carlo Theatre in Naples or the Teatro Regio in Torino are great options, but really any medium or big city will have at least one theater, if not more – look online to see what music, shows or events they have on your rainy day.
Get a Drink
When all else fails, find a pub. If it’s too late for coffee but too early for dinner, join in on Italy’s aperitivo culture for an easy happy hour drink, usually served with food as well. Not only will you be able to relax and escape the rain, but you’re taking part in the local culture! And on a rainy day in Italy, you certainly won’t be there alone.
It’s been raining non-stop this month…a pretty common occurrence in November in northern Italy and a part of the reason why I argue that November is the worst month to travel to Italy. But then I came across this comment in an Italy forum on Fodors.com and thought, yes, exactly that:
I’d rather be in Italy in the pouring rain any day than be at my house dry.”