When people think of Italy, they think of beaches with bright blue water, or eating gelato on a hot sunny afternoon. While Italy is one of the top destinations for summer travel, not many people know that one of the best times to visit Italy is during the winter months. From November to March, tourists enjoy cheaper prices and smaller crowds. But if it’s too cold to sunbathe or swim in the Mediterranean, then what can you do in Italy during the winter?
Thanks to Italy’s unique and varied geography, the country enjoys a wealth of thermal baths and natural hot springs all over. Tourists can enjoy both a break from the cold and a few hours of relaxation at the famous Saturnia baths in the Tuscan hills, the volcanic springs on Sicily’s Aeolian Islands, or at the Terme di Papi outside of Rome.
With chains of the Swiss Alps to the north and the Apennines running down the middle, Italy is one of the best countries in Europe for winter sports. You can ski down Mont Blanc in Courmayeur, near the French border, as well as down Mount Etna, Sicily’s most famous volcano. The snow-capped mountains in Tuscany are also excellent for snowboarding. If you’re looking for something more off-the-beaten-path, the Val d’Aosta is a little-known gem straddling the Swiss-Italian border that is known as the country’s winter sports capital. Go alpine skiing or Nordic waking in Gran Paradiso, Italy’s oldest national park, before warming up in a Swiss-style chalet with Aosta’s famous cheese fondue.
The soccer season is in full swing by November; so one of the most fun activities you can do on your winter vacation is catch a game of Italy’s favorite pastime. Even if you’re not a fan of "calico", the energy and spirit of all the local fans around you is infectious, making it a wonderful experience. Keep warm in the arena with a cup of "cioccolata calda" and a blanket of the city’s soccer team—it’ll also make a wonderful souvenir!
Much like apple picking in the northern United States during the fall, hunting for truffles is a popular agricultural tradition for Italians during the colder monhs Before attending November’s White Truffle Sagre in the Tuscan town of San Miniato, explore hilltop towns and scenic forests all throughout the region’s countryside while searching for wild truffles, or taste testing different treats with truffles in them. Although Tuscany is the most famous region for truffle hunting, Le Marche and Piedmont also offer a range of forests, farms, and shops for truffles.
If you visit Italy during February, then this is a must. Carnevale, similsr to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, is a pre-Lenten festival that is so deeply rooted in Italian tradition and culture that every major city in the country has its own, unique version. From staged battles in Ivrea, to hilarious and elaborate floats in Viareggio, and finally the ornate masks and spellbinding spectacles of Venice, the most famous of them all, attending Carnevale will surely be an unforgettable experience.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Italy in December, then you can’t miss strolling through one of the many Christmas markets that pop up in all the towns and major cities. Get some Christmas shopping out of the way before you return home for the holidays, and explore piazzas full of festive vendors selling everything from traditional chocolate cakes to handcrafted figurines.
A "sagra" is a local or regional festival dedicated to a certain type of food. These are usually followed up with historical pageants, or sporting events like jousts and horse races, which are also known as "palios". Sagres typically take place between October and January. The more popular sagres include the White and Black Truffle Festival in Tuscany, the Chestnut Festival in Piedmont, and the Grape Festival outside of Rome.
One of the biggest perks of visiting Italy in the winter is enjoying the country’s top monuments and museums without the hassle of huge crowds or long queues. This makes it easier to experience Italy’s rich, world-famous artistic heritage and cultural legacy. November through January is the best time of the year to see Renaissance masterpieces at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, or ancient Greco-Roman works of art at the Vatican Museums in Rome.
If it’s too cold or rainy outside to hop between museums or stroll through markets, then why not take a cooking class? This is a fun and simple indoors activity, offered by local chefs in their kitchens or cooking schools. Typical cooking classes range from making wood-burned pizza, fresh pasta, or even gelato. Spend a few hours learning how to make traditional and delicious Italian recipes to bring back home with you before having the chance to enjoy what you just cooked.
Another way to keep out of the cold while still enjoying a rich part of Italian culture is to spend an evening at the theater. Like soccer, opera, drama, and orchestra seasons are in the middle of their seasons during the wintertime. Purchase tickets at your city’s theater house or a tour agency, and revel in one of Italy’s classic operas or symphony performances (while also taking in the theater’s gorgeous, opulent interior).
You might be thinking, it’s too cold for the beach! Although it’s obviously too cold for swimming, a long stroll on the beach is a lovely way to pass an afternoon on a sunny day. Beaches will be empty of the large crowds of summer tourism, meaning you can enjoy the peaceful sounds of the waves crashing, and the natural beauty of Italian beaches, all to yourself. A great beach for relaxing winter walks is Lido Beach outside Venice.