Summer in Italy is beautiful, but can be warm. The most popular sights are especially crowded. Instead of planning your next Italian vacation in June, July or August, we recommend considering an Italian experience during the off-season? You won't have to fight with tourists to see some of the country's top destinations, and you'll see a more authentic side of Italy that summer travelers often miss. In addition to the must-visit iconic destinations we highlight below, be sure to download our short eBook at the end of this post that features our top restaurant picks for each of these remarkable off-season destinations.
Torino, also known as Turin, is home to a rich culture with architecture that spans centuries and a wealth of museums, art galleries and theaters. From its spot on the Po River in northern Italy -- almost on the border with France -- Torino is home to universities, royal houses, the best museum of Egyptian art and artifacts outside of Cairo. The city even hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics, which isn't surprising considering that its winter temperatures can dip down but average days of rainfall in winter are even less than in the summer.
When in Torino, you'll want to include a tour of the ornate Palazzo Reale, or Royal Palace, on your itinerary. Resplendent with a full armory, beautiful gardens and works of art, the palace will amaze you, but as it is not air conditioned, the off-season is a great time to visit.
The Museo Egizio's (which translates to Egyptian Museum) superb collection of over 30,000 artifacts includes statues of pharaohs and mummies and entire frescoes taken from royal tombs—all in all, it's one of the world's finest and largest museums of its kind. The Museo Egizio is the only museum other than the Cairo Museum that is dedicated solely to Egyptian art and culture.
Turin International Contemporary Art Festival
The November festival showcases works from emerging artists around the world in The Oval, a contemporary glass pavilion originally erected for the Olympics. You'll be able to see offerings from more than 200 galleries, from the more established to the newcomers on the art scene. Torino's two modern art museums also host events.
Near the Bay of Naples, the Mediterranean Sea and the still-active volcano Mount Vesuvius, the city of Naples is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe. Pizza was first created in Naples and you'll find a wide range of establishments, from sit-down restaurants to sidewalk cafés, where you can sample a slice.
Start at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples to learn the history of Pompeii and why the artifacts found there give us such great insight into another time. The nearby ruins of the ancient Roman city are a hot excursion during the summer months, but in the off-season, you'll be able to examine the well-preserved areas of Pompeii.
Feast Day of Saint Martin
Neopolitans celebrate their main patron saint, San Gennaro, in September, but the city also pays homage to San Martino in mid-November. Residents look for the "Estate di San Martino" -- a short period of moderate temperatures and sunny skies that often mimic early fall. This is traditionally the time to open barrels and taste the new wine; you, too, may be able to partake. Be sure to tour the San Martino Museum and Monastery to see art, sculptures and carvings dating back to the 1300s as well as a collection of nativity scenes, or presepi, that's one of the largest in the world.
As the capital of Sicily, Palermo is a popular destination for its architecture and its culinary delights. Dozens of churches, including the Palermo Cathedral with its Norman and Gothic influences and the Cappella Palatina with its famed mosaics, offer seekers of beautiful art and architecture enough to keep them busy for a long stay.
This famed street market offers something for everyone -- even in the off- season. Buy the fixings for lunch from one of the vendors or just wander and watch the locals barter for their fresh food.
Associazione Liberi Artigiani-Artisti Balarm (ALAB Network)
A collective of craftspeople and artisans open their workshops and galleries to casual tours throughout the year. Depending on your interests, you can talk directly to the creators about their pieces, learn about the shop's history and their techniques and buy whatever strikes your fancy. Pick up a map in the historical center of Palermo; it will take roughly 3 hours to walk around and longer if you linger.
Some of the world's most amazing chefs reside in Sicily, and some are willing to teach you their secrets. The best classes begin with a lesson on shopping and selecting the freshest ingredients, then go long into the night as you learn to cook and then eat some of Italy's most traditional dishes.
Italy's capital is chock-full of monuments, museums and historical sites -- enough to fill several guidebooks. The holidays can be an amazing time to schedule a trip to the seat of Christianity, but there's a lot to see and do throughout the off-season.
The 12th day of Christmas, January 6, is celebrated as a holiday in Italy, where children wait for gifts from the good witch La Befana and people of all ages wear medieval costumes and parade to the Vatican for morning mass with the Pope at St. Peter's Basilica.
Roma Europa Festival
Events marking this extensive art festival run during most of November and incorporate modern music, dance, theater and performance art. The fledgling International Rome Film Festival at the Auditorium Parco della Musica is a part of the larger event and attracts more movie buffs each year.
Christmas in Rome
You'll start to see Christmas decorations and crafts show up in early December in Rome's markets, but things really start to kick off at the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. The Pope travels from his home in Vatican City to the Trinita dei Monti Church, where he lays a wreath to honor the Virgin Mary. On Christmas Eve, St. Peter's Square hosts a life-size nativity, and midnightmass takes place at the Basilica.
Ah, Venice, the city of canals and romance. Besides spending time in St. Mark's Square, exploring the adjacent Basilica, riding the gondolas and visiting the numerous museums, you can celebrate with the locals at various off-season events.
This world-renowned celebration leading up to Lent includes music, dancing and huge parades. Many of the celebrants don elaborate costumes and masks, and you can join in by purchasing your own mask from the many Ventian vendors who set up shop for the event. You may also be able to score tickets to a fancy gala or concert held to coincide with Carnivale. Most of the fun happens on the weekends in late February.
Festa della Salute
In November, Venetians celebrate the end of the plague that wiped out much of the population in the 1600s. The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, a rotunda that borrows from the Byzantine as a monument to God's mercy in sparing at least some of the city from the Black Death, opens up so people can light candles and socialize. Then the real festivities begin, with sweets, pastries and toys in abundance sold at market stalls around the church.