When to go to Italy
Peak Season: June to mid-SeptemberThe country is generally hot and humid. You won’t be able to move in the streets of Venice (but that is true almost any time of year) and you’ll be stuck in long lines to get into top tourist attractions in Rome and Florence. If you go in August, you won’t find many Italians in the major cities; they have all gone away on vacation, closing the best shops, bars, and restaurants behind them. Prices in many places will be higher (exception: hotels in Milan will be cheaper). You won’t have much opportunity to meet locals unless you head to a seaside destination – and then you better make your reservations well in advance.
Off Season: November to MarchAs long as you don’t mind bundling up a little, you’ll have access to museums, palaces, and top archeological sites. La Scala’s season opening in early December is an event in itself. Finding reasonable hotel rates shouldn’t be a problem, but make sure you don’t arrive in major cities (notably Milan, Rome, and Bologna) when a big trade fair is going on: Rates increase and vacancies can disappear. Those traveling by car in these months will miss seeing the suggestive Italian landscape if you run into fog, rain, or snow. December to March is high season for skiing in the Alps; prices are commensurately high. Fashion bargain hunters may time their trips to take advantage of winter sales, running from early January to late February (exact dates vary).
Sweet Spot: Mid-September to October; April to MayThe best time to go to Italy for the optimal mix of value, weather, and authentic local color. Throughout the country you’ll experience wine and food festivals in the fall (truffles in Asti, anyone?) and flower and food festivals in the spring. Cities, sites, and museums sometimes offer free entry on specific days or times of day; you need to check the websites of the cities or sites that interest you for details. Be realistic: Don’t expect freebie entry to “The Last Supper” or Pompeii.
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