Staying on a budget in Italy can be daunting, and it can feel impossible to take a budget trip to Italy. It’s an incredible country with so much to see and do, and all of it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But, it’s possible to adhere to your budget and see some of the most amazing things in the world. (Not to mention eating some of the best food in the world!)
1. Do Extensive Research
Yes, it’s an old tip but it’s a good one. Make sure that your research includes as much as it can about where you’re going. Be prepared for the costs you’re likely to encounter. For instance, if you’re exploring churches, it’s frequently one price to enter, another to go up to the top, and still more for exploring various reaches of the church. Don’t assume that as soon as you see the price to enter, you’re going to have an idea of the total cost to visit the church.
2. Limit the Number of Cities You Visit
Yes, when you head to Italy you frequently want to visit every city you possibly can. But the costs of the train or airplane transportation can add up quickly, and so can some unexpected costs when you’re switching cities. If you rely on AirBnBs, the “cleaning fee” will generally be the same if you stay 1 night or 7. So if you go to three cities instead of home-basing in one, you’ll pay 3x as much in cleaning fees.
Consider staying in Florence and day-tripping to Rome, Siena, Venice, Pisa, Milan and more. All of those are completely do-able in day trips (though it can be long days), and Florence itself has loads to discover. Then you can more easily establish yourself in one place, save a good amount of money, but still thoroughly explore.
3. Explore the Grocery Store
Even if where you’re staying doesn’t have a kitchen, there are many meals and things that can be purchased quite cheaply at the grocery store. If you even have a mini-fridge in your room, you’re in luck. You can make an amazing lunch or dinner out of prosciutto, veggies, and cheese for far less than you’d pay going out. If your accommodations don’t provide breakfast, then the grocery store can be a great place to save money on breakfast foods.
I also highly recommend getting a few bottles of wine to take to your accommodations. (Don’t forget a bottle opener, or to check if your place already has one!) Some of the wine in Italy can be bought for a euro or two per bottle, which is a great deal. (And is surprisingly good wine!)
4. Plan a Few “Splurge” Things that You Know Will Be Memorable
You are in Italy, so you’ll want to have memories! Plan carefully which things you want to bring you the best memories for years to come, and splurge there. If you’re a foodie, skip the ticket to climb to the top of the Duomo and spend it on food. If you’re about adventure, splurge on a boat trip around Capri and have a few meals from the grocery store. Try not to be equally cheap on everything on your vacation. By splurging on 1 – 3 key memories from the trip, you’ll be able to have cherished memories of the right things!
5. Skip the Guided Tours
Guided tours in Italy seem like they’re the right thing to do. It’s easier to see more and do more when you’re with a group (be it for a day or a week), but it’s going to cost you somewhat more in the long run. You’ll have to balance out the cost/benefits for yourself, but don’t forget that the guide expects a tip on top of the cost of the tour.
You can find a group tour that’s a budget trip to Italy, but be careful to check what is and isn’t included. Typically, those groups will include the accommodations and transportation between cities but won’t include any actual museums or attractions.
6. Stay Close to Public Transit and the City Center
You can find cheaper accommodations the farther outside the city center you go. However, it comes at a cost of the time to get to the main things you want to see, and the cost of public transit or renting a car. When you’re looking at where to stay, consider which attractions you most want to see and make sure you stay close to those. Ideally, you can walk to most things you need (which has the added benefit of burning calories from all the incredible Italian food!).
7. Use Trains and Public Transit
It can seem overwhelming, but the public transit it Italy is very good and useable. The trains in Italy are clean, fast, and go virtually everywhere you want to go. The subways and busses are the perfect complement. Expect to walk a lot when you’re there! Cabs are incredibly expensive, and can easily bust a budget!
8. Plan to Explore Museums the First Sunday of the Month
When you’re on a budget trip to Italy, museum admission fees can eat into the cost quickly. Throughout Italy, most of the absolutely incredible state museums offer free admission to everyone on the first Sunday of the month. If you can plan to be at a place with a number of museums to see (Naples or Florence?) on the first Sunday, you stand to save quite a lot in museum entrance fees! (And as a quick reminder – the Vatican and Vatican Museums are not part of the Italian State Museums.)
9. Download City Tour Apps to Your Phone
If you want the historical background while you’re exploring, there are loads of great apps for iPhone and Android that allow you to download tours and then experience them on your time.
10. Do the Math for Whether a “City Pass” Makes Sense for You
Most cities in Italy offer some sort of city pass so you can see attractions for a lower price. Generally speaking, the passes that are offered by the city councils are a good deal. They’ll typically include museum entrances and public transit. Depending on how much time you have in a city will also tell you whether or not the card is a worthwhile purchase.
Naples Campania ArteCard Pass
Rome City Pass
Venice Unica City Pass
11. Choose the Cities You Visit Very Carefully
This is similar to limiting the number of cities you visit, but it’s a bit different. On a budget trip to Italy, there are some cities that frankly won’t bend to a budget. Most of the big cities have budget options – Florence, Milan, Rome, and Naples all can be done slightly cheaper.
But, when you’re on a budget, think twice about visiting or staying on the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre. Both of those can be done as day trips for fairly little, but the accommodations are virtually never budget. Venice is another budget-buster – consider staying across the water in Mestre for significantly cheaper rooming options.
12. Go A Bit Off the Beaten Track
There are the Italian cities you always hear about, but when you’re on a budget trip to Italy, consider some you haven’t heard of. Bari is on the Adriatic Coast, and is an easy train ride from Rome or Naples. It’s a gorgeous, coastal city that’s not got crazy crowds like many others. If you want to go to Lake Como, consider Lecco over Como, Bellagio, or Varenna. You can still get to the main places to see quite easily, but you’ll save a bundle in hotels. Food is also cheaper when the restaurants are catering more for locals than tourists. Siena is the absolute heart of Tuscany, and is a much cheaper place to be than Florence.