Italy is a dream destination for many, but it’s an expensive one as well! With the Euro being strong against the US dollar, and many things being generally expensive, planning a budget trip to Italy can be a challenge.
While it’s a challenge, it’s totally do-able!
Finding Cheap Flights to Italy
Especially for Americans, flights are one of the most expensive parts of the trip. It can be hard to find good budget flights, but one of the keys is to be open to where you arrive and depart from.
Check Different Airports
There are times it can be cheaper to fly into Naples than into Rome, and Naples is an easy hour train ride away from the eternal city. Because of the amount of business, Milan is also a hub for cheaper flights into Italy. Don’t be hung up on only flying into Venice or Rome – look around at all of your options to find the best flights.
Try Different Combinations of Round-Trip or One-Way Flights
It can sometimes be far cheaper to book two one-way flights than a round-trip package. The other thing is to reconsider which airport you’re leaving from. The cheapest flights to Italy are frequently found out of LA, New York City, Miami, Chicago and Dallas. It can sometimes be a good idea to book the flights out of one of those cities, and then simply add on the round trip flights to your home.
When you start mixing and matching plane tickets, you do increase your risks of missing a flight. Make sure you book good layover windows, and you should be good to go. You’ll also want to make sure you pack with just carry-on luggage, as when you’re connecting on two different tickets, there will be no one to transfer your checked luggage for you. You can transfer your own luggage by claiming and then re-checking it, but that opens up a different section of concerns. You have to make sure not just that you have the time to do it, but that you’ve got the visas to enter the country where you’re connecting.
Finding a Cheap Place to Stay in Italy
After flights, accommodations are easily one of the biggest drains on your budget. Hotels in Italy are expensive – no two ways about it! Your best options for finding a cheap place to stay are either finding an AirBnB you can split with friends, or getting creative. Consider looking at hostels – most hostels offer a free breakfast as well! And most hostels offer private rooms, so you get the benefits of both a hostel and a hotel.
Check your expectations for the accommodation as well. You won’t be getting five-star luxury on a budget. Cheaper hotels in Italy are frequently less nice than similarly cheap hotels in the US. Be prepared for thin walls, and be prepared for there to be no elevator.
For AirBnBs, if you can find one place to stay for your whole trip, you might be able to find significant savings. AirBnB offers the hosts the ability to discount the property if someone stays a whole week or more. These can frequently be significant. Also, on AirBnBs, the cleaning fee is typically the same regardless of how long you stay – so switching to three different AirBnBs could really add up!
Staying at an Agroturismo in Italy
Italy has a type of accommodation that’s called an “Agroturismo” which means it promotes agro-tourism. You’ll find them throughout the country, but you’ll find many in Tuscany. To be an Agroturismo, the inn or hotel must get a significant percentage of the revenues from agriculture and not from tourism. These are small, family-run properties that give an incredible sense of everyday life in Italy.
While these are frequently much cheaper than hotels, be aware of a few things that can make them more expensive. Most are in rural areas, so you’ll need a rental car or very expensive taxi to reach them. You’ll likely be buying food on property, because there’s not much close. This is one area where you might get an incredible meal, but it can be very expensive. An Agroturismo is an experience unlike any other – just prepare for all of the costs involved!
Finding Cheap Food in Italy
Luckily, the food is amazing all over Italy. Even the cheap eats are absolutely fantastic! I am a big believer in saving money on food by focusing on having two meals a day, and then interspersing those with snacks. And, because eating takes time, I’ve found that plan to free up more time for sightseeing!
I focus on having a big breakfast. I generally try to find a hotel or hostel with a free breakfast, or I get breakfast foods from a nearby grocery store. Midday, when I’m getting hungry, I’ll find some pastries, gelato, or other snacks to tide me over. (In fact, the snacks can frequently be the best part!)
One thing to note is that if you want coffee in Italy, you can order it “al banco” for the cheapest rate. You’ll find that cafes have standing bars where Italians will drink their coffee standing. It’s cheaper than sitting down for your coffee!
At the evening meal, be aware that you’ll typically get charged a setup fee for the table and bread – when that’s on your receipt, you aren’t getting scammed. You will have to pay for a drink; water is not free and is typically bottled.
In the North of Italy, you’ll find the wonderful “appertivo” where you typically get free snacks to munch on with your drinks in the very early evening.
Don’t be afraid to try the street food. The street food in Italy is excellent, and is prepared to high standards. In Naples, there are fantastic fried, folded pizzas (and so much more!). Try it all, and stay away from the touristy places. Anywhere with pictures of the food on the menu is going to be expensive for what it’s serving.
Saving Money on Italy Tours
When you visit the different landmarks around Italy, it can be tempting to get a guided tour, either for a day or the whole trip. Guided tours will generally be more expensive than if you did the tour yourself, but they do have the ease of you not having to coordinate everything!
Dig around for some of the cheaper, but absolutely amazing tours in Italy. The Vatican Scavi Tour takes you all the way under St. Peter’s Cathedral to see the bones of St. Peter himself. And all for just 15 Euro! But, it’s an exclusive tour you have to book early, so be prepared!
Rather than hiring a guide for Herculaneum and Pompeii, get a recorded tour on your phone. These are available through a number of different apps, and for sites all over Italy. They can be a great way to get the background a tour guide would give you for much cheaper. The other bonus is that you can go at your own pace!
On the first Sunday of every month, the state museums in Italy are free and open to the public. If you can plan your trip around this, this is a great way to save a ton on museum admission costs. (But be prepared for crowds! Below is a picture of the crowds at the David statue in Florence on the first Sunday)
Are City Passes a Good Deal in Italy?
This depends on which city pass you’re looking at, and how much you’re going to use it. The Naples city pass includes the city’s public transit, two entrance fees, and then half off every other entrance fee. If you’re going to see Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Archaeological Museum, it’s absolutely a good deal! Most of the city passes are like this, but do the research ahead of time to figure out if you’re going to get your money’s worth out of them (and how to get the best value for it!).
Saving Money on Italy Souvenirs
Before you go, decide what kind of souvenir you want. Maybe it’s incredible olive oil from Tuscany. Or a leather bag from Florence. Or an intricate mask from Venice. Maybe you’ll want a glass vase from Murano. Whatever it is, decide ahead of time what you’re looking for, and research the best way to buy it. The biggest Italian souvenirs all have knock-offs and scams, so you’ll want to know ahead of time how to research those. You’ll also want to research general prices for things, so you know whether or not the shop is a good deal.
Saving Money on Transportation in Italy
The best plan for saving money on transportation in Italy is to use as much public transit as possible. Taxis and private cars are extraordinarily expensive. The cost of a rental is also high, and frequently you’ll have to pay high prices for parking.
The trains in Italy are fantastic, fast, and can be cheap. The earlier you book your ticket, the better of a discount you can get. If you travel on the weekends, you can generally find 2 for 1 TrenItalia fares as well.
Make sure to plan how to get from the airport to where you’re staying. Cabs from the airport can be one of the biggest places you’ll spend money that’s avoidable. If you need a cab to your hotel, it can be cheaper to take public transit from the airport to the city center, and then hail a cab on from there.
A Budget Trip to Italy
A budget trip to Italy can still be an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Prepare for it carefully, and you’ll get the most out of it!