Traveling to Italy in the summer scares the crap out of me. Images of a massive hoard of sweaty, smelly adults and screaming kids packed shoulder to shoulder in a museum, of pushing through crowds on the street as my gelato melts all over my hand and of waiting in line after line in the summer heat have kept me State-side for too many years. After extensive fall, winter and spring traveling and having read up on all of my possible options, I think I’m finally ready to brave an Italian summer.
If you’ve been longing to travel during high tourist season but these same images have been haunting your dreams, maybe these ten tips and tricks will give you the confidence to book your Italian summer vacation. But hurry! Summer will be over before you know it!
1. Quality over quantity. This is my first rule of travel, always (not just in the summer). Nothing makes a vacation worse than feeling like you have to snap a quick picture of St. Peter’s Square before rushing over to snap a photo of the Coliseum and hurry through the Roman Forum without even really knowing what you’re looking at. And in the summer crowds the frustration of slow moving will mount up to absolutely ruin your trip. Instead, pick the things that are most important to you and space them out, take your time, really enjoy the journey as well as the destination. If you start to pull your hair out, have a cold glass of wine or coffee at a bar, take a deep breath and continue when you’re ready to appreciate where you are. Which leads me to…
2. Take a break. Breaks are essential, particularly in the heat. In the hottest hours of the afternoon, sit back in a piazza and people-watch, plan a museum visit or take a quick jaunt back to the hotel to cool off and get your bearings. No one says you have to push through the day like a tank – this is vacation! Take a load off.
3. Cool off with a treat. Italy in the summer comes stocked with all sorts of delights to imbibe and cool down your system (just don’t get a brain freeze!). From gelato to granita (ice, sugar and water frozen and shaved to be like an ice-crystal gelato) to caffé shakerato (espresso, sugar and ice shaken vigorously and splashed into a martini glass), you can slurp something refreshing while sampling something purely Italian!
4. Stay hydrated. Don’t forget about all those public water fountains in Italy’s major cities! They’re all over Rome, Milan has over 400 of them – strategically positioned in piazzas and on street corners and waiting for you to splash water on your face or fill up your water bottle.
5. Splurge on AC. Most Americans are used to having AC in the summer (growing up in Florida, I know I couldn’t live without it!) so don’t try to save a few bucks by booking a hotel without it. A lot of Italy’s older buildings may not have been retrofitted with central air, which is fine in the off-months, but in the peak of summer won’t be comfortable for anyone (even the Italians). Pay a little more and do yourself a favor: create your own, private, air-conditioned respite from the heat by renting a hotel room with AC. You won’t regret it.
6. Book some things in advance. A lot of lines can be avoided by either buying a City or Museum Pass for the cities you’re planning to visit or by booking entrances in advance. Many of Italy’s most popular museums let you go online before your trip and pick a half-hour window in which to enter through a separate entrance (think Disney’s Fast-Pass). Strapping yourself down to a schedule might not sound appealing, but it might be better than standing outside in the heat for two hours waiting to get into the Vatican Museums or Uffizi Gallery.
7. Eat a heavier lunch and sleep better at night. Studies say that if you eat a lighter dinner you’ll sleep better on a hot night, which agrees with the pocketbook, too (lunches in a sit-down restaurant are generally less expensive than dinners).
8. Plan a church day & bring layers. You can’t enter churches in Italy with your knees or shoulders showing, so forget popping into St. Peter’s or St. Mark’s in your summer shorts and tank top. Bring a pair of capris or a breezy skirt that covers your knees to enter churches, and carry a lightweight cardigan or summer scarf to wrap around your shoulders if you’re wearing a tank top. If you’re a planner, you can also plan one day on which to wear your “church attire” and visit all those beautiful buildings then.
9. Come prepared. Sunscreen, sunglasses and mosquito repellant are musts for visiting Italy in the summer. Don’t take them for granted – use them and reapply!
10. Small tours and private guides. If you’re wanting to splurge a bit (other than on AC), consider booking some small tours or private guides during your vacation. These can cut down considerably on the chaos of summer crowds and provide a lot of interesting information and unique experiences, too!