Some Advice for Traveling in Italy in July & August
Google ‘the best and worst times to visit Italy’ and just about every source you find will tell you that the best months to visit Italy are April through June and September through October and that the worst times to visit are July and August, when the weather gets uncomfortably hot and high season brings high prices and crowds. But what if summer is the only time you’re available?
That’s exactly the conundrum a couple of readers have approached me about. One reader emailed, “Many articles comment on how horribly hot and crowded July and August are in Rome and, in Italy in general, but alas, that's when the kids are off of school for longer travels to Europe. So, what advice would you give American families looking to travel to Rome in July or August?”
Another reader messaged me on Instagram, saying, “I am wanting to visit Italy again in July. This is the only month I can go this year. I’m wanting to do Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, etc. Is July a good time or what cities would be best to visit at that time?”
Having spent many summers in Italy—both in Rome and traveling around the country—I can assure you that if you can only come in the summer, all is not lost. You’ll just have to plan your trip strategically if you want to avoid the crowds and the heat. Here are my personal tips, as well as tips from a couple of experts based in Rome and Amalfi.
Adjust Your Hours
If you’ve ever wondered why many shops in Rome and throughout Italy close for a few hours in the afternoon (usually from 1 p.m. to 3 or 4 p.m.), the summer heat is one of the reasons why. Fodor’s Rome guidebook, which I updated last year and this year, says, “Summers are often sweltering so come in July and August if you like, but we advise doing as the Romans do—get up and out early, seek refuge from the afternoon heat, resume activities in the early evening, and stay up late to enjoy the nighttime breeze.”
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the summer evenings in Italy. Some attractions, like the Colosseum, offer evening tours and many museums and monuments stay open late on certain days of the week. From May 5 to October 28, the Vatican Museums stay open until 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and until 8 p.m. on Saturdays (the last entry is at 8:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., respectively).
Last year, when a friend was visiting in June, we did an evening tour of the Colosseum and were able to enjoy the monument without sweltering under the heat of the sun. This year, from May to September, that tour will be offered Tuesday through Saturday, from 8 p.m. until midnight (last entry at 10:30 p.m.). During our honeymoon in Sicily, Marco and I did an evening tour of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. Aside from just avoiding the heat, seeing these monuments illuminated at night is pretty spectacular.
It’s always worth checking to see if evening hours and tours are available or booking the last possible entry slot in the late afternoon. Otherwise, consider doing your sightseeing as early as possible in the morning, especially if you plan to visit archeological sites, which often have limited shade and places to sit. Last summer, I toured the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and Colosseum with Elisa Valeria Bove, an archeologist and CEO of Roma Experience. We started around 9 a.m. and finished around lunchtime. It got pretty hot as the day wore on, but it was definitely doable.
I asked Amalfi-based journalist, who writes the Substack and worked on the guidebook Moon Amalfi Coast with Capri, Naples & Pompeii, for her advice for traveling to the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii in July. She suggests visiting Pompeii later in the day. “The archaeological site is open until 7 p.m. (last entrance 5:30 p.m.) and the afternoon and early evening is a good time to avoid groups that usually arrive in two waves, one in the morning and one in the early afternoon.”
All of the tour operators I spoke to have said that demand is especially high this season, so if you want to travel in Italy this summer, planning ahead is crucial. Tickets for the major attractions like the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums are selling out instantly, with tickets swept up by scalpers who then resell them at a premium. If you think you’re likely to come back at a less busy time of year, I would suggest skipping the busiest attractions and visiting more under-the-radar museums instead.
With the exception of small museums, which don’t usually get crowded, you should be booking everything you can as far in advance as possible. Annie Ojile, founder of Scooteroma and Personalized Italy, emphasizes that you should book your tours as soon as you’ve booked your flights. Scooteroma still has availability in July, but if you wait until the last minute it’s extremely likely that the tours will book up.
If you plan to enlist the help of a tour operator or travel advisor like Annie, Fulvio De Bonis of Imago Artis Travel, Zoe Stella Shapiro of Stellavision Travel, or Elisa Valeria Bove of Roma Experience, contact them as soon as you know your dates (or possibly even before!). They all organize bespoke, private tours and Stellavision also organizes all-inclusive group tours. There are still some spots available on Stellavision’s Secret Southern Italy tour (July 29 - August 5), Rome Relax Remix tour (August 7 - 11 or September 4 - 8), and A Cheeky Sicilian Sailing trip (September 23 - 30).
The same goes for booking your accommodations and even restaurants. Needless to say, as the dates of your trip approach, the price of hotels and Airbnbs will increase as rooms and apartments get booked up. Restaurants too, will book up in advance, especially the most in demand ones. A casual search shows me that Salumeria Roscioli (voted one of the 10 best international restaurants in Food & Wine’s inaugural Global Tastemakers Awards) is almost completely booked up for the next six weeks, so if you want to eat there in July, you need to book a table now. For restaurants that are popular but not quite as hard to get into, you should still book at least a week or two in advance.
Stay in Off-the-Beaten Path Neighborhoods or Towns
In July and August, Rome and other major cities tend to empty out as locals head off on vacation. I actually like being in Rome during this time because there’s less traffic and the streets are a bit calmer, especially in the weeks right before and after Ferragosto (the national holiday celebrated on August 15). That said, July and August are still fairly popular times for tourists to visit Rome, so if you find limited availability in the centro storico, consider staying in other neighborhoods, like Monti, Ostiense, Testaccio, or Pigneto. You’ll likely find you can get around with relatively little traffic.
“July is a busy time to visit the Amalfi Coast, but it is also exceptionally beautiful. While there isn't a way to avoid crowds, especially if you're visiting the coastline's top three towns—Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello—there are some ways you can make the time more enjoyable,” says Laura Thayer.
“The first is to get around as much as possible by ferry rather than public buses. Consider spending time in smaller towns, such as Minori or Cetara, both lovely and both easily reached by ferry,” she continues. “If you're going to be traveling around a lot (planning many day trips), choose a town on the Amalfi Coast with direct access to ferries as your base rather than Ravello, Praiano, Conca dei Marini, etc. where you'd need to take a bus to reach the port. Some hotels and accommodations offer shuttle service—and this is a huge perk!”
Annie Ojile, who lives in Rome but has a deep love for Naples and Ischia, suggests a great hack of staying in Ischia and doing the Amalfi Coast in reverse. “One of the three islands in the Bay of Naples, Ischia often flies under the radar with American tourists. It is easily accessible from Naples, Sorrento, and Capri with one hour ferry rides to all three ports,” she says. “From Sorrento, you can hop on the little train to Pompeii or hire a driver to tour you down the coastline. Visit the Amalfi Coast during the day and then head back to Ischia in the evening and enjoy its thermal waters, amazing food and affordable yet chic hotels.”
Personally, I’m a big advocate of exploring under-the-radar regions, like Sardinia, Puglia, Umbria, and Piedmont. Stellavision’s group tours focus on hard-to-reach areas, like Puglia, Basilicata, the Maremma, and the Aeolian islands off the coast of Sicily. And as Fulvio and I discussed in issue #30, he’s trying to encourage visitors to explore places like Sardinia and Abruzzo.
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In 2019, I wrote about the best times to visit Italy for The Points Guy. The data is likely outdated, but many of the general tips still hold true.
Read more about Annie and Scooteroma in my interview with her, published as issue #3 of this newsletter.
Paid subscribers get a 10% discount on Scooteroma tours. Here’s the discount code.
Annie also shared some of her tips for traveling around Ischia and Naples in issue #4.
Want to avoid the crowds at Rome’s top attractions? Check out my list of 10 underrated museums in issue #32.
This Travel + Leisure article written by Molly McArdle and updated by yours truly has more suggestions for underrated things to do in Rome.
Be sure to subscribe to Laura Thayer’s Substackfor her local tips and check out her guidebook, Moon Amalfi Coast with Capri, Naples & Pompeii.
You’ll find even more inspiration in my list of 23 places in Italy to inspire your 2023 travels.