Is Italy expensive? Yes, although the full answer is more complicated than that. (If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have to write an entire post about it.)
As a result of chronic economic woes in Italy (and in southern Europe more broadly), many travelers expect a cheaper holiday in Rome than one in Paris or London. Broadly speaking, this is a fantasy: Italy is at least as expensive as any other country in Europe.
Within this truism, however, there’s a lot of nuance. I hope you’ll keep reading so I can dissect and explain all of it!
The Harsh Truth About Italy
Whenever people ask me, in person, “is Italy expensive?”, I respond in a way that some see as harsh. “Italy is a third-world country,” I begin, noting that Italian food and drink are an exception to this characterization, “with first-world prices.” This might sound offensive and melodramatic, but with several trips to Italy (and literal years spent in developing countries) over the past two decades under my belt, I think I have the right to say it.
From crumbling hotels and train stations, to crazy traffic and public transportation delays, Italian society seems to accept a level of dysfunction and inconvenience that would be untenable in Amsterdam, Brussels or Cologne. Yet in spite of this, prices tend to be at least as high as those places, and seem relatively more expensive when compared to the quality of products and services (again, with the exception of food and drink).
Breaking Down the Cost of Travel in Italy
Food and drink
The bad news? Meals in most of Italy are pretty expensive, particularly if you have all the courses—antipasti, primi, secondi, dolci and, of course, vini. The good news? I’ve come to believe that bad food is illegal in Italy; I’ve never had a dish that was anything less than delicious. Depending on how many meals out you eat per day, and how extensive they are, you can expect to spend at least €50 per person, per day (and likely more) on food.
Is Italy expensive? Hotels and Airbnb apartments tend to be pretty expensive in Italy, almost always costing more than €75 per night, and often much more than that. With the exception of luxury boutique hotels and the best Airbnbs (which are almost always booked far in advance), the adage “you get what you pay for” is often brutally true in Italy. To avoid disappointment, plan on not spending much time in the places where you sleep.
Getting around in Italy isn’t necessarily expensive, but it can be. City buses, trams and metros are cheap, and so are regional trains and buses. Likewise, high-speed trains operated by state-owned Trenitalia and the private Italo corporation are cheaper than those found elsewhere in Europe. Renting a car in Italy, however, is very expensive, particularly if you can only drive an automatic, and if you avail the country’s excellent (but pricey) toll roads.
This is one area where it probably won’t shock you to learn that the answer to “is Italy expensive?” is a definitive “Si“! And I’m not just talking about luxe shopping excursions in the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II shopping mall of Milan, or along Rome’s Via del Corso. Shopping in Italy, particularly for Italian-made goods, is expensive. However, like food and drink, Italian retail items (particularly on the high-end) are very good value.
Activities, excursions and miscellany
Unlike certain countries in the world, Italy charges you to enter sacred places like churches and monasteries. You’ll also need to pay to access certain natural areas and beaches, and (not surprisingly) museums and cultural areas. However, given that most Italian cities are essentially open-air museums, you can enjoy a lot of Italy’s ambiance totally free of charge, particularly if you are fit enough to walk for hours on end. When you involve driving, such as on the Amalfi Coast, this is when the cost can skyrocket!
How Much Will My Trip to Italy Cost?
As a general rule, it’s very difficult for most non-backpacker travelers to spend less than €100 per person, per day in Italy. This cost entails accommodation, two meals per day (plus breakfast included in the price of the hotel, or enjoyed simply at a nearby caffe) and transportation. This doesn’t include the cost of flights to and from Italy, shopping for souvenirs or extraneous activities and excursions.
Is Italy expensive? That really depends. Minimum costs aside, I’ve found the average amount a couple usually spends on a two-trip to Italy is around €5,000. Although I can help optimize this if you hire me to plan your trip to Italy, it doesn’t change the reality. Just as Italy doesn’t do low-cal food, it’s very difficult to have a truly fulfilling trip to the country if your only goal is to scrimp and save.
Other FAQ About the Cost of Travel in Italy
How much does a meal cost in Italy?
Individual courses (antipasti, primi, secondi) in Italy tend to cost between €10-30 each, depending on which city you’re dining in, what sort of restaurant you choose and the food (i.e. meat, fish or vegetarian) you’re eating. If you enjoy a full meal with all these courses plus dolci (dessert) and wine or spirits, it’s easy for a couple to spend over €100 for lunch or dinner in Italy. Conversely, a single person can enjoy pasta and a glass of wine for around €20.
Is Italy cheap for tourists?
Italy is not cheap, no matter where in the country you travel or how you attempt to characterize expenditures in the country. You will routinely pay prices as high as in northern European countries like France and Germany, in spite of most products and services in Italy being far inferior in quality. This makes the high prices in Italy more difficult to bear. The issue of Italy’s travel cost is thus one more of value than absolute price.
How much money should I bring to Italy?
As I mentioned a couple paragraphs up, you should budget for a minimum of €100 per person, per day in Italy, not including the cost of flights to and from your home country. However, this doesn’t mean you need to bring that much cash. You can pay with credit cards almost everywhere in Italy, particularly if you have a contactless Visa or MasterCard that doesn’t charge you foreign transaction fees.
The Bottom Line
Is Italy expensive? Yes, and there’s no way to get around this fact. Moreover, while you can expect to pay similar prices to travel in Italy as you would in the countries of northern Europe, the majority of products and services on offer in Italy are of far lower quality—food and drink are the main exception to this rule. This brutal truth has led me to coin a harsh statement I only rarely say in public: “Italy is a third-world country with first-world prices.” In spite of this, I love Italy more than almost any other country in the world. One way to keep your travel costs as low as possible while not missing out on a single bit of Italian cuisine or culture is if you hire me to plan your trip to Italy.