The country of Italy has a mostly Mediterranean climate characterized by hot, dry summers and cold, rainy winters. But at nearly 1,200 kilometers (736 miles) in length north to south, Italy also has a variety of sub- and micro-climates where seasonal weather can differ greatly from national norms. Global climate change is affecting Italy's weather, with more extreme weather events and overall warmer temperatures year-round.
In general travelers to Italy should plan on hot, sunny summers; mildly cold winters with a lot of rain and little snowfall; and fall and spring seasons that can range from sunny and pleasant to rainy and chilly.
Weather and Climate in Italy by Region
Since most travelers will pass through Rome and Florence as part of their journeys, we'll consider central Italy—composed of the regions of Lazio (Rome), Umbria, Tuscany (Florence), Le Marche, and Abruzzo—as the closest thing to a "norm" for the country.
In the heavily touristed area of Rome north to Florence and the rest of Tuscany, you'll find four distinct seasons. Summers are dry and can be extremely hot, with daytime temperatures in the high 30s C (high 90s F) and even exceeding 40 C (104 F). It's best to do your sightseeing in the morning and late afternoon, and spend the hottest part of the day relaxing indoors (or at least in the shade). Winters in this section of Italy are generally wet and mild, with temperatures seldom dropping below 0 C (32 F). While you may get some chilly, sunny days, overcast skies are more the norm.
In the eastern, mountainous regions of Abruzzo and Le Marche, summertime temperatures may be lower, and winters more severe, with regular snowfall.
The northern Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna, Liguria, Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, and Fruili-Venezia Giulia generally have more mild summers and colder winters, with a higher possibility of snow. But even these weather trends aren't always guaranteed, as northern cities like Milan and Venice have had recent, extreme heatwaves in the summertime, with sweltering temperatures of 40 C (104 F) or more. During the winter months, in all but the highest altitudes, you'll find cold—but not frigid—temperatures, and you're more likely to need an umbrella than snow boots. Milan is famously foggy in fall and winter, and in Venice, November to February are the months when the acqua alta, or extreme high tides, are most likely to strike.
In the last several years, torrential rains in northern Italy and parts of Tuscany have caused destructive and even deadly flooding and landslides. October and November are the wettest months. It's perfectly safe, if a little soggy, to travel in these regions at any time of year, but do pay attention to weather alerts, especially in autumn and winter.
The Italian Alps
The bottom edge of the Alps, Europe's fabled mountain chain, runs through the Italian regions of Valle d'Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy, Trentino Alto Adige, and into the Veneto. The effects of climate change are being strongly felt in this region, with warmer winters and less snowfall, and longer, hotter summer seasons. Still, ski resorts at the highest altitudes can usually count on winter snow-cover. Summertime temperatures, while rising, are still significantly cooler than the rest of the country, making the Italian Alps and Lakes Region a popular destination for Italians looking to escape the hot weather.
The southern Italian regions of Campania, Molise, Puglia, Basilicata, and Calabria, as well as the island of Sicily, are known for their extremely hot, dry summers—part of the reason their beaches are packed in this period. Expect relentlessly hot, sunny days, with slightly cooler temps at night. Winters on the coastlines can be very windy, rainy, and cold, while inland snowfall is not unusual. On Sicily's Mt. Etna, a ski resort opens in winter months.
Sardinia, the island well off the coast of Lazio and Campania, has the same very hot summers and mostly mild winters.
Summer in Italy
June, and especially July and August, are hot and humid months in most of Italy, particularly in Rome and Florence. They're also the most popular months for visiting Italy, especially for families and school groups. Long days mean that it might not be dark until 9 p.m.; many museums and archaeological sites will keep longer hours, and restaurants and bars will pack every inch of available sidewalk with tables and chairs. If you can tolerate the heat and crowds, it's a lovely time to visit.
Midday temperatures can prove not just insufferable but dangerously hot. In cities across Italy, green space is scare, so spend the hottest part of the day in an air-conditioned museum, then venture out for sidewalk dining or an evening stroll. At beach areas, Mediterranean waters are at their peak warmth and perfect for swimming. You'll notice that most Italians leave the beach at 1 p.m. to go eat lunch and don't return until around 4 p.m., after the most intense heat has passed.
What to Pack: Bring T-shirts, shorts, sundresses, and sandals, and maybe a light sweater for evenings out. Remember that inside churches and even in the Vatican Museums, modest dress is required. Arms and legs (to the knee) must be covered—that goes for men, too.
Fall in Italy
Autumn in Italy can be full of surprises, both pleasant and less so. You may be rewarded with a glorious October day, with warm temperatures and an impossibly blue sky. Or you may have days on end of rain, especially in November, which is the wettest month just about everywhere in the country. September is still quite warm to hot in most parts of the country, though cooler evenings may give a hint of fall's arrival. September and October will still be busy in most parts of Italy, but November is a less-crowded month. So if you don't mind unpredictable weather, you'll find cheaper flights and hotels, and less-crowded cities. By early October, beach resorts across the peninsula are shuttered for the season, and many mountain resorts won't yet have opened.
What to Pack: Long sleeve T-shirts, cotton sweaters, and long pants will keep you covered for most of the season. Pack a T-shirt in case you come across unseasonably warm weather. Bring a heavier sweatshirt or jacket for the evenings—it's always a good idea to pack layers. Be sure to bring a water-resistant jacket and shoes, and a sturdy umbrella.
Winter in Italy
Depending on which part of the country you're visiting, winter in Italy can be a Currier and Ives wonderland: sunny and spring-like, or bitterly cold and windy. The ski resorts of the Valle d'Aosta and Trentino Alto Adige are at full throttle, while elsewhere in northern Italy, you'll likely find cold temperatures but not much snow. Central Italy can be moderately cold but very windy, especially in the countryside—not so much in cities. Coastal areas can feel quite raw, with strong winds, choppy seas, and rain. December can be cold and rainy, but cities will fill with holiday shoppers and tourists, and people will flock to the Vatican for Christmastime masses and papal audiences. The month of January and February are good times for touring Italy's cities without the crowds, and you might catch a consecutive number of clear, sunny days.
What to Pack: Bring a heavy coat, scarf, lightweight gloves, and a hat that can be tucked into coat pockets. Since temperatures can vary greatly during the winter, dressing in layers is always a good idea. Pack an umbrella, just in case. For Alpine areas like the Dolomites, pack heavier clothes, and weatherproof boots that won't be slippery on icy sidewalks.
Spring in Italy
Springtime is a beautiful season in Italy, especially in the months of April and May. In March, crowds will start to pick up, temperatures will still be cold, and springtime rains may start to fall. April can alternate between cool, rainy days and pleasant sunny ones, while May sees spectacular weather; it's sunny, warm, and great for country walks and touring cities. The secret is out, though, and while not as intense as June and July, April and May can be very busy months in Italy. When planning a springtime vacation to Italy, be sure to check on the dates for Easter, as cities across Italy—especially Rome—will be packed with tourists.
What to Pack: The later you travel in spring, the lighter-weight the packing list. Bring an umbrella and a medium-weight jacket, long- and short-sleeve shirts, medium-weight pants, and a light scarf. As with most seasons in Italy, layering is the way to go.