How to have a budget vacation in Italy

Oct 10, 2020

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While Italy is ideal for a vacation splurge, the Mediterranean country can also make for a very affordable vacation, too. Depending on where you go and what you do, you could drop some serious cash, or have a relatively budget vacation if you do your homework. From using your stash of points to picking the right destinations to visiting during a specific season, follow the below tips to have an incredible vacation in Italy without breaking the bank.

Riomaggiore village in Cinque Terre, Italy. (Photo by nycshooter/Getty)
Riomaggiore village in Cinque Terre. (Photo by nycshooter/Getty)

Use your points

Marriott has more than 60 hotel properties in Italy from Category 2 AC properties to luxurious Category 8 St Regis hotels. Hilton has around 20 hotels and Hyatt has more than 50 properties. IHG and Radisson also have a presence in the country. This gives you numerous options from budget to luxury to use your points. If you don’t have hotel points, remember, you can transfer points from programs like Amex Membership Rewards to hotel partners like Marriott, Hilton and Radisson.

Use points for a luxury hotel experience like the St. Regis Venice. (Photo by Sergey Usik for The Points Guy)
Use points for a luxury hotel experience like the St. Regis Venice. (Photo by Sergey Usik/The Points Guy)

Or book a rental

Apartments or home rentals are often a fraction of the cost of hotels. Plus, they’re ideal for families or groups traveling together. Not only can rentals cost less, but they can also save you money on dining out, assuming they come equipped with a kitchen, barbecue grill or coffeemaker. And, a trip to an Italian grocery shop is almost as exciting as a meal out. The pasta section alone is positively overwhelming and I won’t even start on the spices, cheese or gelato aisles.

Rentals often come with additional amenities like a washing machine and you may end up with hotel-like extras such as a pool or balcony, too. If you choose a rental in a more local neighborhood, even if you do eat out, you may end up spending less than you would if staying in a hotel in a more touristy area of town.

Related: 7 underrated regions in Italy with the best food and wine

Trulli huts in Alberobello, Puglia, Italy. Some can even be found on home rental sites! (Photo by Masahiro Noguchi/Getty)
Trulli huts in Alberobello, Puglia. Some can even be found on home rental sites. (Photo by Masahiro Noguchi/Getty)

Stay in local neighborhoods

If you do decide to hit a big city or popular tourist spot, consider a less touristy neighborhood. For example, Trastevere in Rome is popular among tourists and locals alike for dining but has become pricier over the years. But Testaccio, the neighborhood next door, is now up-and-coming. It was once a bit run down, but now, you can find some excellent budget cuisine options and enjoy exploring and shopping at the Mercato di Testaccio.

Likewise, in Florence, lodging on the other side of the Arno river in the Oltrano neighborhood is often significantly cheaper. As mentioned above, if you can’t find hotels in these more local areas, a home rental will save you money.

Stay in local neighbourhoods for more affordable lodging and a more local feel. (Photo by Filippo Labate/Getty)
Stay in local neighbourhoods for more affordable lodging and a more local feel. (Photo by Filippo Labate/Getty)

Visit in the shoulder or low season

Italy has three main seasons for visitors:

  • Low season: November to March (except Christmas/New Year’s);
  • Shoulder season: April to early June, mid-September to October; and
  • High Season: mid-June to mid-September.

While these dates can slightly vary by region or island, generally, winter is low season (besides Christmas) in Italy. You still might end up with plenty of sunshine and mild temperatures in November or February though, especially if you visit southern Italy.

The calculations are easy: prices are highest when destinations are at their busiest in high season. You’re likely to score better hotel prices, off-peak reward flights/flight deals in shoulder or low-season. Plus, you’ll encounter fewer tourists and fewer crowds.

Related: These are the best times to visit Italy

Florence is picturesque in winter. (Photo by Daniele Ciabatti / EyeEm / Getty)
Florence is picturesque in winter. (Photo by Daniele Ciabatti/EyeEm/Getty)

Ask for, well, everything

The Italians are warm and friendly, and it never hurts to ask. Make sure to stay reasonable and respectful while asking for whatever it is you’re hoping to get. I’ve ended up with hotel room upgrades in Milan, discounts on long-term scooter rentals and five-for-the-price-of-four used Italian books in Naples, money off city tours in Rome and two-for-one windsurf classes in Sardinia. All these things saved me money and I got them by kindly asking.

TPG U.K. Travel Editor Hayley Coyle was able to BYOB onto an expensive beach club in Sicily just by asking while on her honeymoon to avoid purchasing overpriced wine. So if you want something that will save you money, just ask for it and hope for the best. Just stay honest with your asks (don’t get crazy) and make sure to smile.

Barter and ask away. You never know, you may just get it. (Photo by LeoPatrizi / Getty)
Barter and ask away. You never know, you may just get it. (Photo by LeoPatrizi/Getty)

Get off-the-beaten-path

Get a taste of a more local and authentic culture by visiting some destinations that are lesser-known. This will also save you money and help you avoid tourist traps and price gouging. Obviously, we would never discourage you from visiting epic spots such as Rome, Florence or Capri, but below are some alternatives to popular spots that are less busy. While you can find budget and splurge options (and everything in between in any city) consider these alternatives if you’re traveling on a budget:

  • Turin instead of Florence for wine and cuisine;
  • Naples instead of Rome for a more local cityscape;
  • Cinque Terre instead of Amalfi for fewer crowds but just-as-epic cliffside sea views (Cinque Terre is still busy, but slightly less so than Amalfi);
  • Southern Italy versus northern Italy for more authentic Italian vibes and cheaper prices;
  • Lake Iseo instead of Lake Como for more locals and lower prices;
  • Herculaneum instead of Pompeii for less crowded ancient ruins;
  • Ischia instead of Capri (this island is where Italians vacation); or
  • Milan instead of Venice — did you know Milan’s Navigli district also has canals?

And don’t forget, there are plenty of gorgeous Italian villages, stunning islands or one of these hidden gems for a vacation, too.

Related: Vacation on one of Italy’s many gorgeous islands

Consider vacationing in a spot more affordable like Ischia. (Photo by GoneWithTheWindStock/Getty)
Consider holidaying in a spot more affordable like Ischia. (Photo by GoneWithTheWindStock/Getty)

Use these dining tricks

  • Don’t dine in the most famous square of the city. You’ll be overcharged and the food won’t be tasty either.
  • Take your coffee at the bar. This is the cheapest place to throw back your espresso shot. You’ll be charged more to sit down indoors and even more to sip it on the terrace outside.
  • Take advantage of aperitivo hour. This is usually a specific two-hour time period between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. where you pay to order a drink (like an Aperol Spritz or Campari) and are allowed to take snacks from a buffet of Italian delights. As most Italians don’t eat dinner until 9 p.m., this is a way to fill restaurants and bars earlier on — a sort of Italian-style happy hour. If you play your cards right you may just be full from the snacks and not need to order much (read: spend a lot) for dinner. The aperitivo is most common in northern Italy (especially Milan) but it’s worth asking around for aperitivo spots anywhere in Italy.

Related: 7 beautiful destinations in Italy to visit in autumn

Drink your coffee at the bar -- it's cheaper! (Photo by Kathrin Ziegler / Getty)
Drink your coffee at the bar — it’s cheaper. (Photo by Kathrin Ziegler/Getty)

Take advantage of sharing

If you’re worried your broken Italian will ensure you end up overcharged by a scamming taxi driver, there are always rideshare apps like Uber available in certain parts of Italy. Or, using an app like eCooltra, you can ride an electric motorbike through the streets of Rome or Milan. Catch a ride from someone driving a Vespa in Rome or Florence using the Scooterino app if you’d prefer to simply ride and not drive. There are also many apps, such as Lime, which allow you to rent electric scooters in cities like Rome or Turin.

Electric bike-sharing is also an option in many spots. It’s really never been cheaper or easier to get around with so many different options. Just be careful if you plan to operate a motorcycle, scooter, bike or any other moving vehicle in Italy. The rules of the road are different, so stay as alert as possible and wear a helmet when necessary.

A couple uses electric scooters to see the sights. (Photo by ViewApart /Getty)
Use shared electric scooters to see the sights. (Photo by ViewApart /Getty)

Bottom line

Italy is the perfect vacation destination for anyone, whether you’re a luxury traveler, budget backpacker or anything in between. With easy hacks like visiting during low season, considering a more local neighborhood for your accommodation and taking advantage of scooter sharing and aperitivo hour, you can have that dream trip in Italy without overspending.

Featured photo by Photo by DaniloAndjus/Getty

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