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Italy is on the bucket list for many people. With ancient monuments, sweeping landscapes, and the best pasta you’ll find in the world, it’s not hard to see why it’s a favourite destination for many people. Interestingly enough, Italy is an affordable destination. According to my how much does it cost to go to Italy guide, I estimate a 12-day trip will only cost you US $2,600. 

While that price is reasonable compared to many other destinations around the world, it may be a lot for some people who are looking to stretch their travel dollars. Here’s the good news, seeing Italy on a budget is possible and you don’t really need to sacrifice too much. It just requires some smart planning and lower expectations. Here’s how to travel to Italy on a budget.

Italy on a budget transportation

Italy on a budget – Transportation

Getting to Italy is a major expense, but there’s not much you can do since airfare is a fixed price. What you could do is try and travel during less busy months such as April or October, but you may only see a minor difference in price. Once you arrive, you’ll have multiple options to get around, but only one or two methods make any sense.

Walk

Most Italian cities are quite walkable, especially the smaller ones. Once you’re in the city centre, there’s no real need to take public transportation at all. When I was in Florence and Venice, I didn’t take a single bus or train.

Buses 

Buses are kind of useless when travelling long distances, but they can be handy when you’re in specific cities. For example, bus number 64 runs from Termini station and goes to St Peter’s Square. A single ticket will cost you around $1.50 in most cities. 

Metro

If you’re visiting Milan or Rome, you may end up taking the metro which is convenient and will only cost you around US $2 per ride. There are 24/48/72 hour tickets available that give you unlimited travel, but the odds are you won’t use it enough to make it worthwhile. Just buy single tickets as needed.

Trains

Using regional trains to get from one city to another is the easiest way to get around the country. Tickets are cheap and you can purchase them the day of or the day before without any worries. All the major cities have regular service with multiple departures/arrivals a day. Some of the smaller towns have limited service so you should check the schedules in advance. Generally speaking, train passes aren’t worth it. Just buy tickets as you need them.

Italy on a budget accommodations

Italy on a budget – Accommodations

It shouldn’t be too difficult to find cheap hotels in Italy, but it may require you to stay outside of the touristy areas. As you can imagine, the cost of your stay drops the further out you stay. The type of accommodations you choose also can play a factor in the price. Here are some options if you’re trying to stay in Italy for little money.

Hostels

Hostels are available in every major city in Italy, but you won’t find many in the smaller towns. Italian hostels are clean and typically have great public areas where you can meet other travellers. Many hostels also offer private rooms which are often cheaper than budget hotels. Some cheap hostels in Italy to consider include:

Budget hotels

There are plenty of budget hotels throughout Italy. Many of these hotels are located away from the popular tourist areas but are often near metro stations which makes travelling easy. If you’re looking for a clean place to stay, budget hotels are great. Just don’t expect much else. Here are some budget hotel recommendations: 

Apartments

Renting private apartments in Italy is quite common and not nearly as expensive as you may think. They’re usually more expensive than budget hotels, but they can be convenient for people who want a little more space. Check out some of these apartments:

Italy on a budget attractions

Italy on a budget – Attractions

Here’s the thing about Italy, you could likely get by without paying to see a single attraction. Sure, you can pay to get into many of the ancient sites such as the Colosseum and Roman Forum, but you can also see them from the outside at no cost. Every city has nice piazzas and churches that are worth exploring since they’re free. Quite often, just wandering around neighbourhoods is one of the best things to do. It won’t take you long to come across something interesting.

Be sure to research each city to find out what attractions are free. For example, the Vatican museum has an admission charge, but visiting St. Peter’s Basilica is free. Over in Florecen, why pay to go up the Duomo when you can get a better view at Piazzale Michelangelo for free?

That said, it doesn’t make much sense to go all the way to Italy to cheap out on everything. Many of the museums are worth the price of admission. I recommend choosing one museum for each city as your priority. Note that many museums have a reduced rate when you purchase tickets online and there’s no need to line up when you go since you’ve already got your ticket. Note that there are still some free museum days. You just need to look it up to see when they’re available.

Italy on a budget food

Italy on a budget – Food

Food in Italy is reasonably priced, but the quality can vary quite a bit. In my experience, there are a lot of restaurants that cater to tourists and the quality is mediocre. However, there are also plenty of excellent restaurants that I can still taste. It would be wise to look up reviews before you enter any establishment.

Overall, Italian food can be reasonably priced if you’re getting takeaway. The best part is that there are so many options where you can get a meal for less than US $7. Here are some of my favourite cheap eats in Italy.

Pizza

There’s a takeout pizza place just about everywhere in Italy and it’s delicious. It’s sold by weight and shouldn’t cost you more than US $3-4 a slice. What I often do is ask for half slices of two different kinds of pizza so I get some variety. Pizza is considered fast food in many countries, but in Italy, it’s a national delicacy.

Pasta

As you can imagine, you’ll find lots of pasta in Italy. Takeout restaurants charge about US $6-7 for a portion of fresh made pasta. This is an incredible deal as the pasta is all made to order. Here’s a tip, even if you don’t like a certain type of pasta sauce back home, it’s worth trying when I was in Italy. I don’t love Carbonara sauce, but in Italy, it was a delight.

Roast pork sandwiches

One dish that’s often not talked about is roast pork sandwiches. You should have no problem finding them at butchers and markets. For US $5-6, you’ll get a generous amount of pork on a bun. They’re quite filling and a welcome change from the standard Italian food you may have been feasting on.

Arancini

If you’re unfamiliar with arancini, they’re deep fried rice balls with cheese in the middle. They sometimes have meat in them and they’re served with tomato sauce. While this is traditionally a snack, you could order 3-4 and make them a meal. They cost about $1.50-2.50 each.

Gelato

Okay, gelato isn’t a meal, but there’s no way you’re going to Italy and not having any Italian ice cream. $US 3 will get you 2 scoops and it’s worth it. Don’t stick to one flavour, be sure to try as many as you can before you leave the country.

Panini / sandwiches

Just about every bakery sells a variety of paninis and sandwiches. They’re inexpensive at around $5-6 each and they can be quite filling. If given the option to have it grilled, be sure to say yes since it’ll give the food more depth.

Final thoughts

Italy on a budget is possible and you don’t really need to give up much. You would likely have to stay outside of the main areas if you want to keep your costs down, but you can still eat authentic Italian food for cheap. While it can be a personal mission to keep costs as low as possible, I do recommend spending the money on some attractions. For more inspiration, check out my budget guides on Paris, Japan, Bali, and Dubai.

Italy on a Budget
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About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

3 Comments

  1. Avatar Emma F. on December 14, 2020 at 10:44 PM

    Er, did you forget we’re still in a global pandemic? Or is this intentionally ignoring no one can really travel right now? This would be a good article to trot out when COVID is behind us. No sooner.

    • Avatar Barry Choi on December 14, 2020 at 10:47 PM

      Emma,

      This is a general article. Nowhere in it do I suggest people travel now. It’s for people who are doing research for future travel.

  2. Avatar Rey Page on December 23, 2020 at 9:22 PM

    We spent a month in Italy several years ago, travelling as a family. For four people, apartments were the way to go. Room for kids to move around, a little more furniture to lounge on too. We were back on our own last year, and again opted for apartments a couple times even though it was just the two of us. Having a kitchen or kitchenette can save you loads on food, and the prep time is a fun way to decompress after a busy day. We enjoy being located in the city centre as opposed to somewhere in the outskirts. A little extra money to be right in the thick of things is well worth it, and it allows for more time to explore instead of spending time on the metro or a bus. This is especially true for a city like Venice, that tends to be much more relaxed in the early mornings and evenings after the day time crowd has headed back to their accommodations outside the city.
    Italy is indeed a fabulous country to visit with so much to do and see. It would be a shame for someone to avoid it thinking it was too expensive.

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