“I love Italy in the off season because I can take advantage of the incredible Italian hospitality without competing with crowds and encountering overworked staff members. Your dollar will also go further as well!” says renowned luxury travel advisor Chad Clark, principal of Phoenix, Arizona-based Chad Clark Travel Ventures.
He’s not kidding. Airfares to Italy in winter drop by almost half, and in many cases hotel rooms plummet by much more than that. Top luxury properties often drop room rates by 75-85% – or more.
Virtuoso, the global consortium of luxury travel advisors (agents) has a tool called WanderList that lets customers shape future travel plans by entering their desired dream vacations and Bucket List aspirations on the platform. When they crunched the numbers this year – like always – Italy was the number one place on earth people wanted to go.
In Italy, Venice was the most desired location and has been for years, leading to inclusion on just about every list of the most over-touristed spots in the world. This led the city to ban cruise ships altogether and announce a new tourism tax on day visitors (hotel guest are exempt) beginning in January 2023. A New York Times headline last fall read, “Venice Overwhelmed by Tourists,” and Yahoo News reported that even “before the pandemic, the lagoon city had been struggling with unsustainable tourist numbers. In peak season, as many as 110,000 tourists visited the city in a single day, far outnumbering the resident population, which currently stands at around 50,000”
The key here is “in peak season.”
The savings in Italy in the winter months are staggering, and not just for low-budget travels. According to monthly stats tracked by Cheapflights.com, July is the most expensive month to fly from the U.S. to Italy and February is the cheapest. In 2022 the prices were $1,155 and $621 respectively. That’s almost a “two for the price of one” savings. The finest luxury hotels here – which include some of the finest luxury hotels in the world – are so deeply discounted you can enjoy a 5-night stay for less than a single night when it’s busy. I’m going to Venice this winter and can stay at a top tier luxury hotel for less than I pay to sleep at a non-descript chain hotel at the Hartford, CT airport the night before an early flight.
Last month I quickly scanned rates on Hotels.com for a mid-October weekend in Venice, bearing in mind that while fall is a popular vacation time, it is no longer peak season, which is summer. Nonetheless, prices at top hotels were shocking: Hilton Molino Stucky from $884 a night; Metropole from $1,1919; Ca’ di Dio from $1,372; Cipriani from $1,817; Bauer Palazzo from $2,038; Gritti Palace from $2,352; Baglioni Hotel Luna from $3,680. Those rates are per night for the least expensive room available.
In January, just three months later? The $884 Stucky is $157. The $1,372 Ca’ di Dio is $330. The $3,680 Baglioni Luna is $550.
You are not going to waterski in the lagoon in winter, but you are not going to freeze either, as the weather is typically better than places like New York, and from January to March, the average daytime high is 45-55°. But in addition to dramatic savings on hotels, the highlight is the absence of crowds – a luxury money cannot buy.
For the last “normal” year before pandemic, 2019, Venice’s official tourism statistics recorded a high of 1,447,038 visitors in August, and almost as many in July. By January that dropped by nearly two thirds, to 585,168. A woman I know who is from the Veneto region told me, “That is when the Italians go to Venice, and there is nothing like standing in an empty St. Mark’s Square.” In summer it’s shoulder to shoulder. Everything from the best tour guides to the best dinner reservations are easier to get in the off-season.
“I am happy to confirm that much of Venice, including bars and restaurants, remains open for the entire year,” sadi Marni Richards of IC Bellagio, the leading in-country Italian travel experts. IC Bellagio is a company many U.S. travel agents use to book their clients, everything from hotels to tour guides to restaurant advice and reservations to drivers/transportation, but you can also book with them directly and they have deep expertise and connections all over Italy.
“Traveling in low season means exploring more at one’s own pace and discovering the highlights as well as the hidden gems with less tourists, and it also allows travelers to have better availability at their preferred properties,” added Richards. “The best way to experience Venice is from the lagoon itself. Navigating through the quietest canals and exploring its hidden gems and the peaceful atmosphere of this area will allow you to live the real magic of Venice. This is also the perfect time of the year to enjoy one of the numerous musical concerts in one of the palaces on Canal Grande, at La Fenice Theatre or at one of the small churches in town. Head to one of the numerous small cicchetterie and have an aperitivo like Venetians do – you will most likely be able to find a table during the winter in one of this cozy places.”
But it’s not just Venice. The same less tourist, less money advantages can be enjoyed in most of Italy. In Florence, the 5-Star Westin Excelsior gets $411 for a mid-February weekend and more than double that, $969, in July. I recently stayed at Rome’s newest luxury hotel, the Anantara Palazzo Naiadi, and loved it (more to come). It is a 5-Star property with incredible spa, lavish rooms and multiple restaurants, and has a great location on the Piazza Repubblica. In summer, rates start at around $800 a night, but in winter they are consistently well under $500, and winter in Rome is pretty mild. But top highlights like the Sistine Chapel, Pantheon, Colosseum and others are far more accessible.
Bargains abound all throughout the country in off season, and Clark suggests, “Look to Sicily, Sardinia, Puglia, Piemonte and the Dolomites, for some incredible experiences – and food and wine to die for.” Even though the Dolomites are world-class ski destination with some of the most reliable snow in Europe, the world’s largest interconnected network of trails and lifts, and are hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics, it still offers bargains for skiers and snowboarders compared to top U.S. resorts (see my travel feature on skiing in the Dolomites here at Forbes).
Richards from IC Bellagio recommends Bologna as a wintertime hidden gem. “Bologna is known for its rich gastronomic tradition, forward thinking and strong university culture. The historic city center of Bologna is a handsome ensemble of brick buildings and charming porticoed streets. The real charm of Bologna lies in the simple act of walking under the rows of porticos and just observing the flow of everyday life – and the low season is perfect for this. Bologna offers 25 miles of protected porticos – the perfect solution for shopping on a rainy day! Stroll along Via Castiglione to the classic gelato shop where there is always a busy hive of locals tucking into some of their mouth-watering flavors. Twist your way back to the ‘high street’ of Bologna – Via Indipendenza, where you can indulge in a spot of window shopping. Just off Piazza Maggiore is the city’s produce market – a warren of colorful shops selling pasta, meats, hams, fruits, vegetables, etc… It is such a delight to explore the maze of alleys lined with goodies, and rest assured the market area will not be too crowded during the low season months.”
“And besides all that the city has to offer, it represents the perfect base to explore Emilia Romagna’s countryside. The ‘Food Valley,’ the fertile plains along the Po Valley, is famous for being the ‘protected origin’ (DOP) of Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and Aceto Balsamico. Italy’s Motor Valley is just a stone throw from Bologna – the top names in motoring are found between Bologna and Modena, from the Enzo Ferrari Museum and the Ferruccio Lamborghini Museum to the amazing collection of Maseratis at Panini and Ducati’s museum.”
Every region in Italy has distinctive charms, and just about all of them are easier to visit and less expensive in winter.