With a rich history, timeless landscapes, and mouthwatering cuisine, Italy is a dream destination for many. The mere thought of cruising along the enchanting canals of Venice, feasting on the best pizza in Naples, or wandering through the historic streets of Rome can ignite the wanderlust in any adventurer’s heart.
There is a common misconception that Italy is a country exclusive to tourists with deep pockets. While the idea of exploring this breathtaking destination might sound like a costly affair, fear not; backpackers can experience the wonders of Italy without breaking the bank—they just need to know a few savvy travel hacks. Here are 10 ways to travel Italy on a backpacker's budget.
Italy is a well-connected country with a public transportation system that is not only efficient but also budget-friendly. Train travel is a scenic way to move from city to city, while local transport options, such as trams and buses, offer backpackers an affordable way to explore local neighborhoods.
Italo and Trenitalia are two major train companies in Italy, with Italo being the cheaper of the two. However, backpackers can find excellent deals by purchasing a ticket in advance. It is a good idea to check the website regularly to see if there are any special offers.
For a super affordable way to travel to a new city, book a seat on a FlixBus. These coaches operate all over Italy, and a one-way journey can cost as little as $2. Tickets can be purchased on their website, app, and at a FlixBus ticket sales point. As with train travel, backpackers can find cheaper tickets if they book way in advance.
Instead of rushing from one city to another, embrace slow travel and spend more time at each destination. This allows backpackers to immerse themselves in the local culture and savor every travel experience. Not only does this approach offer travelers a more meaningful journey, but it also allows them to save on transportation expenses and even accommodation costs.
Due to guaranteed occupancy and reduced operational costs for maintenance, many places offer discounts to long-stay guests. If there is no mention of a discount on their official website, it is worth reaching out and making an inquiry.
One of the most budget-friendly tips backpackers to Italy should take onboard is to coincide their visit with the first Sunday of the month. Many of the country's museums and monuments offer free admission during this time as part of the Domenica al Museo initiative.
Famous landmarks like the Colosseum in Rome and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence participate in this nationwide initiative. A simple online search on the attraction’s website will reveal whether they are participating.
For many travelers in Italy, the culinary journey is as important as the cultural one. The key to enjoying both without depleting travel funds is to flip the traditional dining schedule.
Rather than filling up during the evening meal, make lunch the main meal of the day instead. Many eateries offer affordable lunch menus that often include two or three courses and a beverage. Look out for the words ‘menu del giorno’ on a blackboard outside an eatery. Not only is the ‘menu of the day’ often cheaper than ordering off the a la carte menu, but it also usually comprises dishes made with fresh ingredients.
For instance, Trattoria Burla Giò is an old-world eatery with a fantastic selection of local dishes, such as risotto alla Milanese and cotoletta alla Milanese. They offer a pranzo a prezzo fisso (fixed price lunch menu) for around $19.60, which includes a first course, a second course, and a side. Considering a first-course dish costs $13 alone, their lunch menu is a steal.
Those on a budget can transform their culinary adventures in Italy by downloading the Too Good To Go app. This innovative app connects budget-conscious backpackers with local eateries looking to minimize food waste. Participating establishments offer ‘Surprise Bags’ filled with unsold goodies that would otherwise be thrown away. These ‘Surprise Bags’ vary in price but are often very good value.
Italians have perfected the art of Aperitivo – a pre-dinner drink accompanied by free snacks. Depending on the bar, the complimentary fare can vary from a hearty plate of bread, cold cuts, and cheese to an entire buffet of finger foods and snacks. Aperitivos were traditionally supposed to be enjoyed before dinner to stimulate the appetite and were often made with bitter liquors, such as Aperol and Campari.
Backpackers on a budget can take advantage of this tradition by choosing bars that offer a generous spread with their beverages, such as Bar Gelataria Piccolo Faro in La Spezia. For around $7, backpackers can sit back and relax on the picturesque promenade with an Aperol Spritz and a platter of breads, cheeses, and deli meats.
Many Italian cities have free walking tours that offer a deep dive into the local culture and history. Not only are these tours informative, but they also give budget backpackers the chance to explore the city with a knowledgeable guide without burning a hole in their pocket.
Although city walking tours are advertised as free, tipping is encouraged after the tour ends—especially if the tour is particularly interesting and the guide is outstanding. Walking tours are also a great way for backpackers to meet other travelers. Free Walking Tour Italia is an extensive Italian network for tours and experiences in Italy. They offer free and paid walking tours, as well as authentic food experiences in a variety of Italian cities.
Exploring new places and taking in the wonderful sights of Italy can take a lot out of a person. A quick stop at a café for an energizing cup of coffee will perk up any backpacker. For a cheap pick-me-up, order a coffee at the counter and sip it while standing. This is the Italian way to enjoy a quick espresso, and it is often cheaper than table service.
Italy is a culinary paradise, and experiencing authentic Italian food is one of the top things to do when visiting Italy. Moreover, backpackers can save money by indulging in regional dishes at local restaurants, as they are often more affordable than the options offered in tourist-centric hotspots.
Visit famous Italian cities like Milan and Florence, and backpackers will encounter tourist menus geared towards foreign tastes—but that doesn’t mean one can’t sample authentic cuisine. By getting off the beaten path and avoiding restaurants with multilingual menus, backpackers can venture beyond the generic pizza and pasta dishes to discover mouthwatering food from an authentic Italian kitchen.
Adventurous foodies may appreciate the mixed Florentine crostini tagliere at La Prosciutteria Firenze. This diverse cutting board features four crostinis, each with a sumptuous topping: tripe, lampredotto, francesina, and liver. Those who are squeamish about offal are spoilt for choice and can choose from a huge selection of local cold cuts, cheeses, fruits, and hot dishes. Backpackers can even pick up an artisan Tuscan flatbread filled with delicious porchetta from Chianti for $6.50 to devour on the go.
Travelers who are new to the sights of Italy will probably have iconic cities like Rome and Venice in mind when visiting. Although they are a must-see for those new to Italy (and there are certainly a few free things to do in Venice), don’t overlook the charm of smaller, lesser-known places.
For instance, Umbria is Tuscany’s less famous neighbor, but it is no less lovely, and there are many amazing things to see in this green region. Those seeking the serene landscape of Lake Como but don’t have the cash to splash will appreciate the natural beauty of Lake Iseo. This stunning lake is also situated in the Lombardo region, but it attracts far fewer tourists. Not to mention, there are many beautiful coastal destinations to visit that aren't along the Amalfi Coast.
If possible, travel during off-peak seasons. Italy can get incredibly crowded during the summer months. For fewer crowds, reduced prices on accommodation, and pleasant, mild weather, try to visit during the shoulder seasons.
Italy is full of restaurants with appetizing menus and delicious scents that tempt tourists through the doors. Unfortunately, dining out for every meal can eat away at a backpacker’s travel budget. Luckily, Italy is also home to delectable homemade breads, deli meats, aged cheeses, fresh fruit, and a large selection of excellent wine—all of which can be relished during a picnic.
Backpackers can find tasty delicacies and fresh produce at local markets and grocery stores. Once picnic items have been purchased, simply find a comfy spot with a superb view, like the picnic place overlooking the awe-inspiring Manarola or even on the large rocks at the charming Riomaggiore harbor in Cinque Terre.
Tap water is considered safe to drink in Italy, so pack a reusable water bottle and top up as and when required. There are plenty of public fountains with potable water in Italy. In fact, there is even an app, Waidy WOW, that helps travelers stay hydrated by directing them to the nearest water fountain.
For many budget travelers seeking genuine cultural experiences and budget accommodation, Couchsurfing is a game-changer. This hospitality exchange service connects locals with a spare room, or ‘couch,’ with travelers who are in need of a place to stay.
Couchsurfing not only gives backpackers the chance to stay in Italy for free, but it also gives them the chance to forge meaningful connections with local hosts. Staying with a local can enrich a traveler’s backpacking experience and expose them to the authentic pulse of Italian life, lesser-known spots, and unique cultural encounters that no guidebook can offer.