If you’re going to come to Italy in the winter, I strongly suggest making it at Christmastime.
But it’s certainly not the only time. January and February isn’t as carefree as a gorgeous spring vacay, but let’s remember:
Any time you can come to Italy is the right time to come.
While August tends to be boiling and crowded and Autumn a rainy mess, Italian winters often hit that sweet spot of a dry cold, little snow and if you’re really lucky no rain at all. Days tend to be clear and the sky a sweet winter blue. So make a plan, book a flight and bundle up. Here’s how to do Italy in winter RIGHT.
How to Plan The Best Winter in Italy Trip:
The number one thing to remember when planning your winter trip is that time is slim.
Daylight and opening hours are reduced in winter and when everything closes by 5 pm, what felt like a long trip can quickly feel like not enough time. Not only do things close early, but they often open late. So sleep in, relax, have a leisurely breakfast and then get to your site a bit before opening time to get tickets before a line forms. In Ravenna this November ticket offices didn’t open until 10 and everything was closed by 5, but by getting there at 9:45 we beat the crowds and started our day as soon as possible. If you’re really an early-bird, go shopping. Shops will open before most museums and archeological sites, so have a coffee and walk the streets.
With just 8 hours to tour in the winter, I suggest either adding a day or two to big destinations (Rome, regions etc) or skipping lunch, though you might need it just to warm up!
There’s one traveler maxim that is so simple, and yet so rarely followed: wear layers.
It took me a long time to realize that heat in Italy is not used as liberally as heat in the United States. You can’t get away with wearing short sleeves year round or flimsy cover ups well into the winter. Turtlenecks are still a thing here. Italians know that to stay warm you need clothes tight against your body and a lot of them. Start with an undershirt (girls might have a camisole or tank top) then a long sleeved top or turtleneck, then a sweater or other bulky cover up. And don’t forget the scarf! When outside they’ll have a puffy winter coat, boots, a hat and gloves. Duh
Plan for festivities
It might seem like December is the only festive time during winter, but the festivities don’t end there. First, Christmastime in Italy extends until the Epiphany on January 6th, so you’ll still see lights and decorations up until at least then. After, look out for Carnevale. Though every year it falls at a slightly different time depending on when Easter is, the big Carnevale festivals in Venice, Ivrea and Arcireale celebrate it for at least four different weekends and all the small ones celebrate on Fat Tuesday.
Choose your weather
Average temperatures in January in Italy are approximately:
Northern Italy: 37°F
Central Italy: 46°F
Southern Italy: 51°F
So while it’s definitely milder than most of Europe, you’ll still need to prepare for cold weather, about 6 hours of sunlight and rain. Technically, it rains more in Rome in January than it does in London, but it tends to come in short bursts and rarely ever in a continuous drizzle.
Still, there’s quite a range. While Alpine towns are enjoying fresh snow and après-ski cocktails, Sicilians may be dipping their toes in the water. Take your pick!
Avoid seasonal towns.
While the sunny coastlines and islands can sometimes completely shut down during the off-season, the mountains and hiking spots boom with the start of the ski season.
It was October 30 when we went to Camogli, the tiny seaside town in Liguria, and the vendors and restaurants were boarding up shop. By November 1st they’d be closed for the season. Not for the weekend, not for holidays or a family emergency, but closed for the entire winter season. Like most seasonal towns (think small mountain towns, islands and coastal areas) there are still people who live there and still public services, but the vast majority of the restaurants and shops that serve the seasonal tourists won’t be available to you in the winter.
Should you still go? That’s up to you! Some travelers are terrified that the entire town will be closed. While that’s not true, you can expect it to feel a bit abandoned.