By far most of the Italy itineraries we create for clients are for summer trips and the months between May and September are perennially the most popular to explore Il Bel Paese. That said, we’ve also seen an uptick in “off-season” travel between November and February as increasing numbers of travelers look to avoid the high-season crowds, flight chaos, and searing heat of summer and instead enjoy the quieter, cooler, and less expensive winter months.
If you’ve decided to try a winter Italian adventure, you’ll need to take into account a few important factors when making your packing list. The weather, of course, but also your itinerary (Are you visiting the Dolomites or Sicily? Will you be spending most of your time inside museums or churches or plan on strolling the city streets or hiking country trails?) Here are some packing suggestions that work for most Italy trips to get you started:
What to Wear in Italy in Winter
With a few notable exceptions, winter weather in Italy is marked by cold temperatures and lots of precipitation so your list of what to pack for Italy in winter should focus on clothing that will keep you warm and dry. That said, most of Italy has a temperate Mediterranean climate and chilly, blustery days are often interspersed with sun and balmy temperatures, so dressing in layers is often the best strategy.
Since winter clothing is generally much bulkier than summer clothing, you may want to invest in a few pieces made of high-tech fabrics that protect you from freezing temperatures and rain but are also very lightweight and packable. Just keep in mind that Italians tend to dress more formally in everyday life, so if you go full-out hiking gear (especially in the major cities), you will definitely stick out as a tourist. An easy compromise is to slip on inconspicuous high-tech thermal underwear (long-sleeved undershirts and long johns) under your normal clothing for a look that is comfortable and less “outdoorsy”.
Here are a few items that should make it in your suitcase no matter where you are headed in Italy:
A Warm, Water-Resistant Coat: Even if you’re not headed to the mountains, you’ll need a coat that is thermal enough to keep you warm and impervious enough to withstand a short shower. Coats with a removable lining and/or removable hood are a great option for taking on seasonal swings in temperature from day to day.
Waterproof Shoes: Once your shoes get soaked in a winter rainstorm, it can take days to dry them out (not to mention the discomfort of spending a day touring around with wet feet). When you pack for Italy in winter, choose shoes that are water-resistant enough to stay dry inside and out on wet winter days and avoid canvas or fabric athletic shoes that will get soaked the moment you walk out the door.
Scarf or Shawl: In addition to being a layering essential when the wind picks up (or when the sun comes out and you start sweating under your coat), a pashmina-like wrap is ideal for chilly indoor spaces like restaurants, churches, and museums. It can also double as a blanket for long flights.
Hat and Gloves: Italians are generally chic accessorizers, so pack those beautiful leather gloves you got last Christmas and that stylish wool beret or fedora and you’ll both fit in and avoid catching a head cold while on the move.
Umbrella: Most of Italy gets its seasonal precipitation more in the form of rain than snow, and a collapsible travel umbrella will quickly become your best friend. Don’t bring an expensive, full-sized umbrella, as they are banned in most major museums and will likely get lost or left behind within your first few days of leaving it at restaurant umbrella stands.
Warm sleepwear and slippers: Energy costs are quite high in Italy (and Europe in general), so most Italian hotels, B&Bs, and other accommodations maintain lower internal temperatures than you may be used to and turn down the heat during the nighttime hours. Make sure you pack snug sleepwear (or loungewear to relax in your hotel room after a day out and about) and a pair of toasty slippers.
Sunblock and Sunglasses: It may be winter, but it’s still a Mediterranean country so those sunny days will call for a bit of protection. Bring a light sunscreen for your face and a pair of shades.
Optional Winter Wear for Italy
Depending on where you are headed, you may need these specialty items (but probably not):
Polar-Grade Winter Coat: Unless your entire trip will be spent in the Dolomites (or famously blustery northern cities like Trieste), you will not need a neck-to-knees goose-down coat when you pack for Italy in winter as the overall temperatures are generally relatively mild. You are more likely to run into rain than snow, so focus on a jacket that more suitable for chilly and wet than polar and snowy.
Snow Boots: If you are planning a ski trip, you’ll want a pair of boots to wear when you’re done taking on the runs for the day and are ready to dive into the apres-ski scene. For the rest of Italy, you won’t need snow boots. That said, Italians love chic footwear and stylish leather riding boots or ankle boots are always a fashionable way to stay warm and dry.
Mittens, Earmuffs, and Other Winter Accessories: Again, Italy is chilly in the winter months but temperatures rarely dip below freezing so you won’t need heavy-duty seasonal gear.