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How to survive a summer in Italy

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
How to survive a summer in Italy
Keeping cool in Milan. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

What could be better than a summer spent in Italy? Not much, to be honest, but there are some survival tips you need to know about.


Long-term foreign residents in Italy or regular visitors will know better.

Summer in Italy brings its own set of challenges, from weather to crowds to certain regulations that only come into force during tourist season.

So whether you live in Italy or are heading there on holiday, here are the survival tips you need to survive the summer months.

1. Brace yourself for summer closures

Desperate to visit that restaurant you've been recommended? Hoping to check out the bar that all your favourite travel bloggers rave about? Don't count on it. Many shops and eateries, particularly smaller or family-run ones, shut up shop over the summer, so you may head to the spots on your itinerary only to be greeted by a cheerful 'back in six weeks!' sign.

Photo: pitrs10/Depositphotos

The worst time for closures is around Ferragosto, the Italian holiday period between August 15th and September 1st, but some places shut down for all of August and even July too.

This also causes problems for locals and expats who aren't treating themselves to similarly luxurious breaks. Businesses of all kinds may be affected, which can make usually simple tasks more time-consuming. The solution is flexibility: try not to pin all your holiday hopes on one amazing restaurant, and take the opportunity to discover new gems.

2. Dress appropriately

Shorts and flip flops should only be worn in Italy if you're not concerned about being instantly recognizable as a tourist. And when it comes to the flip flops in particular, bear in mind that many Italian towns are covered in cobblestones, which are not kind to feet. So if you're going to do a lot of walking - and you should, both because it's a great way to explore and because Italian public transport is not always as efficient as you'd hope - sturdy shoes are your friend.

File Photo: oneinchpunch/Depositphotos

Otherwise, it's a balancing act between preparing for heat and humidity and covering up enough to avoid causing offence. Churches and religious sites often require shoulders and thighs to be covered up, so bring a scarf or sarong if your outfit doesn't do this.

3. Seek out smaller museums

It's always advisable to stray off the beaten track at least a little bit on a visit to Italy, but over the summer it's even more important as the major sites - the Vatican, Milan Duomo, and Uffizi gallery, for example - see huge numbers of tourists.

Do some research beforehand to find some less well-known museums that pique your interest in order to avoid the stuffy experience of being crammed into one of the larger ones with hundreds of other visitors. But if you do brave one of the major sites, try to book tickets beforehand and don't be taken in by the touts who target tourists on the way to the entrance, usually claiming there's a two-hour wait to get in, unless you buy their (pricy) tour package.

Another thing to consider is that air conditioning is not a guarantee in Italy. That goes for hotels, restaurants, and museums, so try to find out in advance whether it's offered at the places you're heading to.

Crowds at the Vatican. Photo: yuriy61/Depositphotos

4. Pay extra attention to your valuables

An increase in tourists sadly means an increase in opportunistic thefts. Make sure you keep any valuable items close to your body in a zipped pocket or bag, and be wary of anyone asking for assistance or directions - some thieves play the confused tourist as a cover-up for sneakily stealing your belongings.

READ ALSO: Five typical pickpocketing scams revealed

The other thing to watch out for is the unscrupulous vendors who hike up their prices over the summer months in a bid to catch out tourists. Some gelaterias have a small size of cup or cone kept out of sight, while anyone not speaking Italian is only offered the larger - and more expensive - sizes. And restaurant owners often add on extra charges for sitting outside. Read the small print on menus and try to avoid anywhere directly opposite an iconic landmark, as this is where many tourist traps are located.

5. Figure out the fountains

Italy's fountains aren't just pretty to look at; they're also extremely useful in the summer. Look out for the cylindrical nasoni drinking fountains dotted around many Italian towns, where you can fill your water bottle, take a drink, or splash cool water over your face and hands. 

Rome turns off its public drinking fountains to cope with droughtPhoto: mary_smn/Depositphotos

But make sure you know the rules. At many of the historic fountains, it's forbidden to bathe in the water or sit on the sculptures, and unsuspecting tourists have received hefty fines for taking a dip or washing their feet. Have a look for nearby signage and use some common sense: if it looks like a monument, treat it like one.

6. Head for high altitude - or underground

If you get the chance, make like the locals and head for the mountains, where the summer is usually pleasantly warm and perfect for long walks and relaxing by the lakes. And if that's not an option, fake it by finding a rooftop bar or restaurant - here are some of our favourites in the capital - where you should get some shade along with a beautiful view.

Photo: Andrey Belenko/Flickr

Alternatively, going underground can be just as good a method of keeping cool during the hottest part of the day. Try a tour of the catacombs in Naples, Rome, or Palermo, or see if there are any caves close to where you're staying, such as the incredible Sassi di Matera or the Frasassi Grottos in the Marche region.

7. Pig out on summer treats

You might not be in the mood for large plates of pizza and pasta, but Italy has plenty of culinary delights to get you through the summer season. Look for stalls selling watermelon or bars serving the caffe shakerato, a sugary iced coffee treat. In Sicily, the summer specialty is a granita - a more sophisticated and delicious version of a slushie - while in Rome you can try to track down the traditional grattachecca dessert, a cup of shaved ice flavoured with fruity syrups. And of course, there's always gelato.

READ MORE: How to spot good quality gelato in Italy - and how to suss out the fakes

Sicilian granita. Photo: Alt Altendorf/Flickr

8. Get to know beach etiquette

Heading to the beach in Italy can require military levels of planning, not least because you're likely to find everyone else has had the same idea. Italy's beaches are divided into public and private - both will be crowded, but at private beaches you'll be expected to pay for the privilege of using a deckchair or parasol, plus a changing cabin if you're feeling fancy.

Just make sure you're speaking to a legitimate member of staff before you hand over your cash, or you may end up paying twice. And find out if there are any rules specific to that beach: for example, whether ball games or pets are allowed, and whether there are any other activities included in the price, which might range from a kids' club to free dance lessons.

NOW READ: Ten essential free phone apps for a visit to Rome

Article first published in July 2017 and updated in July 2019



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