Yes, You Can Actually Enjoy Italy Without the Crowds. Here’s How.

Enlist the help of local outfitters, stay at boutique hotels, and plan your trip in the off season.

Umbrellas at Al Mure, Abruzzo, Italy

Regions like Abruzzo, which is home to the Adriatic Coast and multiple national parks, are far less busy than the likes of Tuscany.

Photo by Laura Itzkowitz

Italy is one of the world’s most visited countries, bringing in 54.7 million international tourists in 2023, so it can feel impossible to escape the crowds, especially in major cities and popular seaside locales. Take it from me—I’ve been living in Rome for almost five years now and have traveled all over the country, from the Dolomites in the north to Sicily in the south. If you’re a bit strategic, though, you can find ways to forge your own path—and have a magical experience in il bel paese. You could venture to under-the-radar regions, immerse yourself in village life, and seek alternatives to the bucket-list sites that everyone flocks to. Here are a few ideas that will help you connect with local communities and have a richer and more memorable trip.

Explore under-the-radar destinations

Hand crafted pitches and a cathedral in Orvieto, Italy.

In Orvieto, Italy, you’ll find small shops selling hand crafted pitchers and an impressive cathedral, Duomo di Orvieto.

Photos by Laura Itzkowitz

Italy is made up of 20 regions, some of which have remained blissfully less popular. Instead of going to Tuscany to find rolling hills and medieval villages, consider Umbria or Abruzzo, for example. Located in central Italy, Umbria is considered Italy’s green heart. Here, you’ll find charming hill towns like Orvieto, Perugia, and Assisi and rural landscapes where olive trees and fields of sunflowers or poppies blanket the hills and valleys.

Abruzzo stretches from the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic Coast and a third of it consists of national parks, including Gran Sasso and Parco Nazionale della Maiella, so it’s a great place for hikers, cyclists, and nature lovers, who can hike up to the atmospheric Abbey of Santo Spirito, established in the 13th century by Benedictine monks, cycle the Via Verde bike path along the Trabocchi Coast, and spend a night in a little wooden cabin at Dimore Montane inside the Parco Nazionale della Maiella. Aside from fewer crowds, these places also tend to be less expensive than touristy places.

Even within more famous regions like Campania—home to the Amalfi Coast and Capri—you can find less popular places that have retained their local character. “You can still find really original restaurants, bars, and shops and it’s not gentrified,” says Marie-Louise Sciò, CEO of Pellicano Hotels, which has three boutique hotels in under-the-radar seaside destinations. In the town of Santa Severa, near her hotel La Posta Vecchia, Sciò likes L’Isola del Pescatore, a little beachfront restaurant that she says “serves the best fish soup.” Ischia, where Pellicano Hotels runs Mezzatorre, is a fine alternative to Capri, with wonderful beaches, thermal hot springs, vineyards such as Casa d’Ambra, and family-run restaurants like Umberto a Mare, which Sciò recommends for “romantic seaside dining.”

Go beyond the big cities

The Osteria al Forno di Agnese restaurant and a bridge in the village of Civita di Bagnoregio in Italy.

The hilltop village of Civita di Bagnoregio in central Italy has been voted one of the country’s most beautiful.

Photo by Laura Itzkowitz

According to travel writer Elizabeth Heath, who has lived in a little Umbrian village called Allerona for 15 years, visiting small towns is the best way to see a more genuine side of Italy. “The word authenticity gets tossed around so much in traveling lingo that I think it’s lost its meaning, but I feel like here we really have that,” she says. “If people want to get a clearer look at how everyday Italians in these small towns live, how they’re connected to the land, how they harvest, that’s the kind of experience they can have here that even a medium-sized town like Orvieto can’t offer because it’s got 10,000 people instead of 200.”

Because Italians are passionate advocates of their heritage, there’s an association in charge of protecting and promoting Italy’s small towns and their artistic and cultural heritage. It’s called Borghi più belli d’Italia and it has recognized 313 villages with the official distinction of being named Italy’s most beautiful villages. A favorite of Heath and Sciò is Civita di Bagnoregio, known as the “Dying Town” because the tuff hill on which it stands is slowly eroding, making it look like an island rising out of the valley. Personally, I love Tropea, an enchanting clifftop village overlooking the sea on the Coast of the Gods in Calabria, which was founded by Hercules, according to legend.

Seek alternatives to famous attractions

A view of the Hall of Mirrors inside Italy's Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

The Hall of Mirrors inside Italy’s Palazzo Doria Pamphilj dates back to the early eighteenth century. The palace also contains an impressive collection of Renaissance art.

Photo by Laura Itzkowitz

If you break free of the bucket-list mentality, you’ll find that there are incredible sights all over Italy that barely get any visitors. “I went to Ostia Antica the other day, which is one of the most incredible Roman sights still standing. It was empty,” says Sciò, who’s based in Rome. About 40 minutes outside of Rome, Ostia Antica was a thriving port city during the Roman Empire, and the ruins you can see there are just as incredible, if not more so, than what you see at the Roman Forum. Note especially the black-and-white mosaics, some of which depict gods and sea creatures, while others were installed by shop owners to advertise their goods and services.

Another pick? Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, which Sciò says has “one of the most beautiful private collections of Renaissance and Roman art.” Located right on Rome’s bustling Via del Corso, this palace owned by the noble Pamphilj family contains works by Raphael and Caravaggio, plus a hall of mirrors inspired by the one at Versailles. And that’s only one example of an ornate palazzo filled with art.

All over Italy, there are lavish villas and private palaces that have been opened up to the public and they give you a glimpse into many different historical periods. Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone on the Amalfi Coast, for example, date back to the 13th and the 11th century, respectively, but were later renovated. In Milan, the Villa Necchi Campiglio is one of the country’s greatest examples of 1930s art deco architecture. Many of these places are preserved and managed by the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI), a nonprofit organization modeled on the National Trust in the United Kingdom.

Book a tour with a local outfitter

Heath and her husband, Paolo Marchetti, launched Villaggio Tours in 2023 to give travelers an immersive experience in their village of Allerona, which is designated one of the Borghi più belli d’Italia, and give the town a bit of an economic boost too. Over the course of a week, a small group of travelers might go foraging for mushrooms or partake in the olive harvest, take a pottery class in Orvieto, do a cooking class with Marchetti’s mother, and take a day trip to Civita di Bagnoregio, the aforementioned Dying Town. “We hope that this is going to breathe some new life into this community and help people appreciate the small villages that are as diametrically opposed as you can get to someplace like Venice or Rome or Florence,” says Heath.

Stellavision Travel, meanwhile, was founded by Rome-based Canadian Zoe Shapiro with a mission of showing travelers the real Italy beyond the stereotypes. Stellavision’s small group trips focus on hard-to-reach places like Puglia and the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily. The boutique feminist travel company also centers the voices of marginalized groups by organizing size-inclusive trips to southern Italy and offering unique experiences like a walking tour focused on women in ancient Rome.

“We’ll find you a great guide, but Stellavision is never gonna offer a tour of the Colosseum. There are people here that have been doing that since before I arrived, better than I ever will, and that’s their strength,” says Shapiro. “Where Stellavision excels is taking solo travelers, female travelers, niche travelers to experience a behind-the-scenes Italy that is typically inaccessible or just unknowable to your average tourist.”

The interior and the winder garden terrace at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria

The opulent Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento has been run by the same family for almost 200 years.

Photo by Laura Itzkowitz

Look for boutique accommodations

Italy has plenty of luxurious hotels by big-name brands, but there are also lots of incredible family-run boutique hotels all over the country. At these places, you’re likely to meet the owners and get their personal recommendations and insider tips. Take the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento, for example. Opened in 1834, it’s been continuously run by the Fiorentino family for 190 years. On a recent trip there, I took the recommendation of fifth-generation owner Guido Fiorentino and bought a beautiful inlaid wood box from his favorite artisan.

Sciò has two picks: Hotel La Perla in the Dolomites, an intimate mountain chalet founded by Annie and Ernesto Costa in the 1950s that’s now run by their sons, and Corte della Maesta in Civita di Bagnoregio. “There’s so much personality,” she says, referring to La Perla. “There’s a vision, there’s a point of view, and the location is absolutely amazing.”

Go in the off season

In popular cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice, the low season seems to be getting ever shorter, but if you really want to avoid the crowds, consider sacrificing some sun and go in the winter instead. From November through March—and especially January and February—you’ll find fewer crowds, lower rates at hotels, and more available last-minute restaurant reservations too. I love January in Rome, when there are lots of crisp, clear days and fewer crowds.

“I love Rome and Venice too, so I don’t want to knock those places at all. I just don’t think high season is the time to visit them anymore,” says Heath. “I was in Venice in January and it was wonderful.”

Shoulder season (that is, spring and fall) is a good compromise if you want nice, sunny weather and relatively fewer crowds than in the summer. “Personally, I love September, October, and May to travel in Italy,” says Sciò. Those months are especially good times to visit coastal destinations like the Amalfi Coast, the Italian Riviera, Puglia, and Sicily, since Italians tend to flock to seaside destinations in July and August.

Laura Itzkowitz is a freelance journalist based in Rome with a passion for covering travel, arts and culture, lifestyle, design, food, and wine.
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