What to Expect When You Visit Italy in the Winter

There's a lot to do on a winter vacation in Italy

Lone climber on a mountain top
••• Buena Vista Images / Getty Images

For people who don't mind the cold, winter can be a great time to travel to Italy. Most of Italy sees fewer tourists in winter, meaning less crowded museums and shorter or non-existent lines. During the winter opera, symphony, and theater seasons are in full swing. For winter sports enthusiasts, Italy's mountains offer lots of opportunities.

If you do make a visit during the winter months, take a sweater, a heavy rain or snow jacket, sturdy shoes (or boots) that can be worn in rain or snow, gloves, a scarf, winter hat and a good umbrella (there's a fair amount of rain in some of the southern areas).

Why Travel to Italy in Winter?

Here are just a few of the reasons it's worth making the trip during what is traditionally the tourist off-season in Italy. First, it will be much less crowded at some of the popular and historic spots than it is during the summer months. 

Other than the Christmas and New Year's holidays, you'll find bargain prices on airfares to almost all Italian airports.

And Italy has many places for winter sports and skiing, including the Piedmont venues used in the 2006 Winter Olympics, the Alps and Dolomites, and Mt. Etna in Sicily.

Winter Weather and Climate in Italy

Winter weather in Italy ranges from relatively mild along the coasts of Sardinia, Sicily, and the southern mainland to very cold and snowy inland, especially in the northern mountains. Even popular tourist destinations like Venice, Florence, and the hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria can get a dusting of snow in winter.

For most of Italy, the highest rainfall occurs during November and December so winter may not be as rainy as fall. Although you'll probably encounter some rain or snow you may also be rewarded with crisp, clear days.

Winter Festivals and Holidays in Italy

The highlights of winter in Italy are, of course, the Christmas season, New Years, and Carnevale season.

Italian National holidays during winter include Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Epiphany on January 6 (when La Befana brings gifts to the kids). On these days, most shops, tourist sites, and services will be closed. Carnevale, the Italian mardi gras, is celebrated throughout Italy (starting ten days to two weeks before the actual date, 40 days before Easter). The most popular Carnevale celebration is in Venice.

Many saints days are celebrated during winter. Read about the top festivals that take place in Italy during DecemberJanuaryFebruary, and March.

Visiting Italy's Cities in Winter

Early winter sunsets mean more time to enjoy cities after dark. Many cities light their historic monuments at night so strolling through a city after dark can be beautiful and romantic. Winter is a good time for cultural events and performances in Italy's elegant historic theaters.

Rome and Naples have the mildest winter climates of Italy's major cities. Naples is one of the top cities for Christmas nativities and many people visit Rome for the popular midnight mass on Christmas Eve in Vatican City. While you'll find smaller crowds and lower hotel prices during most of the winter, Christmas and New Year's may be considered the high season in many cities.

Carnevale in Venice is also a huge tourist draw.

Italy Tourist Attractions in Winter

Many museums and attractions have earlier closing times during winter. Outside the cities, museums and other sites are often only open on weekends or may be closed for part of the winter. Hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and some restaurants may close for all or part of winter in seaside resort towns and popular summer countryside destinations. But a lot of hotels that are open will offer winter discounts (except in ski resorts).