Italian Holiday: First Rate Without the Luxury Price Tag

Ah, Bella Italia. Conjures up images of designer boutiques, smart pavement cafes with eye-wateringly expensive menus, and beautifully dressed people sipping frothy cappuccinos in the sunshine, doesn’t it? Or perhaps Italy means flying down snow-packed pistes with the wind whipping your cheeks, or maybe it even touring the lakes, vineyards and rolling hills of rural Italy. My mother grew up telling us about Italy, of the fabric shops and the endless amount of gelato, despite not having an ounce of mediterranean blood in us.

Italy was the second foreign country I visited, and it was hot, sticky and crowded. After Nancy touted it as her favorite place in the world, I was disappointed with Rome and Naples, but loved Sorrento’s sea views. As it turns out, there is a seemingly endless list of different holiday experiences on offer in this glorious part of the world, and we went during the height of tourist season. What they often have in common is a certain luxury factor that many might associate with top of the range holidays and a price to match, though you might be surprised to learn that a trip to Italy doesn’t have to cost una pasta (haha, get it?).

Take my solo trip to Pisa. I flew on a budget airline, stayed with local hosts on couchsurfing and searched out the cheap eats, spending a mere 120€ between the flight, food and transportation . In trips to Rome, Sorrento, Capri, Florence, Pisa and Bologna, I’ve picked up a few tips for keeping costs down in the Boot.

Teaming a low-cost flight with your own choice of hotel is often a great way to enjoy a city break or a stay in one of Italy’s famous locations. Book your flight as early as possible, as scheduled flights rarely stay cheap for long – particularly over weekends or public holidays. Look for hotels with good reviews and try to find those that are close to public transport networks, or be prepared to walk a little distance to get to the main sights. Unless you hit on a great deal, those hotels within the city centre or close to the major sights are typically more expensive. Do your best to shop around – you’ll often find great deals where you least expect them.

Check out local markets for a quick lunch, and never eat at a place right near the sites. Take a look around, and you’ll see that there are zero locals around, and this for a reason! In Florence a few years back, I caved and devoured a plate of tagliatelle near the Medici Palace, and 250g costs me nearly 10€! When I travel, I often tweet locals or ask friends for recommendations.

If you’re after a package break, you’ll find plenty of Italy holiday deals through tour operators like Thomas Cook. The best discounts are often advertised on last-minute holidays, but you’ll frequently find some great deals on next year’s or next season’s breaks too.

And splurge when it’s necessary! I took a boat ride in Capri to the Blue Grotto and the Novio and I stuffed ourselves at a dinner theatre in Bologna. Italy doesn’t have to be expensive, but when in Rome…

Have you been to Rome? What are your top destinations and top tips for saving money while on a city break?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. I am shocked to see how everything got so expensive – prezzi saltati in pochi anni. You would think the financial crisis would make things more affordable but it does not seem that way.
    I know that I will be looking at affittacamere places for a cheaper option to hotels. Your tip on local markets is great – don’t forget a pocket knife with a corkscrew for that wine bottle. Also consider Pizza and Salumeria shops instead of restaurants. At night the ambience will be just as fantastic sitting at a bench in a Piazza as sitting at that expensive restaurant’s outdoor table. Don’t forget the Gelato.
    Compare bus and train fare – sometimes buses will be cheaper and get you closer to town. Check Trenitalia fares for second class or slower regional trains – for shorter distances I don’t mind an extra thirty minutes if I save 50%.
    Eduardo@Andaremos recently posted..Venice, Italy – La Serenissima Repubblica di VeneziaMy Profile

  2. We loved Rome! But, then we’ve loved every city we’ve been to in Italy :-) One of our favorite cost savers, since we always get rooms in hotels in the center or near the train station (which can be above average in cost), is to shop for meals at grocery stores with the locals. Some offer great no-cook options (breads, cheese, deli items…) Though, typically in Italy, we want to enjoy the local cuisine and splurge on restaurant meals quite a bit 😉
    Gayla recently posted..Monterosso al Mare – your base in the Cinque TerreMy Profile

  3. Italy is definitely on my list of places I’d like to visit in the near future! It’s pretty awesome how cheap transportation is in Europe, especially compared to North America~
    D recently posted..London: Day ThreeMy Profile

  4. The larger, tourist packed Italian cities I don’t find SO cheap but Sicily was really a treat in the price department and I imagine most of the smaller cities are!
    Alex @ ifs ands & butts recently posted..the (24th) birthday.My Profile


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