Recommendations for planning a trip to Italy on a budget. Get the perfect itinerary for 3 weeks in Italy including Rome, Terracina, Ercolano, Cortona, Florence, Cinque Terre, Bologna, and Venice.
When planning a trip to Italy, the first decisions to make are which destinations to travel to and how much time to spend in each. Another critical decision is what to eat, but that comes later.
In October I traveled through Italy for three weeks. This was my third trip to this wonderful country and I was so excited to spend more time here. For the sake of budget and ease, I chose to concentrate my time mostly in the center, between Rome and Venice. The reasons were to keep my travel days short and transportation costs low.
Here are my tips for planning a trip to Italy on a budget including:
- 3 weeks in Italy budget itinerary
- How to find cheap flights to Italy
- How to find cheap transport in Italy
- How to find cheap accommodation in Italy.
3 weeks in Italy budget itinerary
If you just have three weeks in Italy, then I would recommend the following locations for a combination of historical attractions, natural beauty, and culinary delights.
- Rome (3 days)
- Terracina (3 days)
- Ercolano (4 days)
- Cortona (3 days)
- Florence and Cinque Terre (3 days)
- Bologna (3 days)
- Venice (2 days)
Rome (3 days)
You can’t visit Italy and not spend some time in one of the most famous and historically significant cities in the world. Rome has enough sites to keep you busy for a week alone, however, I think 3 days is a good amount of time for a first visit. This will give you a chance to get a taste of the city, cross off a few bucket list items, and let the Trevi Fountain decide whether you will return to the “Eternal City”.
On my recent visit to Rome, I took the Afternoon Vatican Tour including Sistine Chapel with The Roman Guy. If you prefer to go without a tour, you can buy fast track entry with an audio guide to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.
Terracina (3 days)
If a visit to the beach is vital for your vacation (I know it is for me!) then you will be excited to hear that the coastal town of Terracina is just a two-hour drive from Rome. I traveled there by train and bus, which took a little longer but was very relaxed.
Although it is possible to make it a day trip, I would recommend coming for 3 days and bringing a good book. To keep costs low, I stayed in a hotel with a free breakfast that also had a kitchenette where I could prepare my own meals. They also provided free bike rental, although I can’t say I moved very far away from my sun chair.
Ercolano (4 days)
When tourists travel south of Rome, they usually go to either Naples or Sorrento. I decided to be a bit different and stay in Ercolano, which is situated between the two. This small town is right next to Mount Vesuvius with each access to Pompeii and the Almafi Coast. Click to buy your Pompeii Fast Track Entrance Ticket.
Ercolano is a great option if you are on a budget, as accommodation and restaurant prices are generally lower than Sorrento. I am still thinking about the had amazingly cheap and delicious pizza I ate in a non-descript restaurant here.
Cortona (3 days)
Heading back up north into the famed region of Tuscany is the hill town of Cortona. I literally picked this place off a map, having no idea that it was the basis for the book and film, “Under The Tuscan Sun”. It also just happens to be picture-book perfect! Don’t forget to pack your camera.
Tuscany generally can be more expensive for accommodation, however, I managed to find a reasonably priced bed and breakfast with valley views.
Florence and Cinque Terre (3 days)
On my first visit to Florence, I was wowed by Michelangelo’s David, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, and Rialto Bridge. There are museums galore but you need to pay an entrance ticket to see incredible art and architecture – it is everywhere!
On my second visit, I was more overwhelmed by the crowds and underwhelmed by the cost of my mediocre margarita pizza. It came to a surprise to me that October is still high season in Italy (it’s that popular!). Despite that, I had a specific purpose on my second visit – to see Cinque Terre. From Florence. For the budget-conscious traveler can travel by train to the “five lands” or if you prefer to pay a little more for convenience, there are many tours available.
Luckily there are still many affordable options in Florence and I found a comfortable hostel that was walking distance from the main attractions.
Bologna (3 days)
For those who love street art and food, Bologna is a must-visit. I stopped here for two nights to reunite with old friends. We spent our time eating fine food and wandering the streets admiring the humorous, political, and eye-catching murals.
I found a great deal on a nice hotel, twenty minutes walking from the center, which I split with a friend. I also saved money with the free breakfast and by walking everywhere.
Venice (2 days)
Unpopular opinion here but I didn’t love Venice. To be fair, I visited in July so I shouldn’t have been surprised to find I was 1 of 60,000 tourists that visit the island each day of Summer.
Even with my aversion to crowds, I still think everyone should visit Venice once, preferably in the low season (from November to March). I have heard from others who visited in Winter (December to February) say that it is wonderful.
It is still possible to find budget accommodation on the island, however, if you are visiting in high season you should reserve in advance. I stayed in a hostel in a quiet location. Eating out can also be pricey, so I would recommend finding a place where you can cook your own meals.
How to find cheap flights to Italy
To make the most of my time in Italy without spending too much money, rather than buying one return ticket, I purchased two separate one-way tickets. This gave me the freedom of traveling from Rome to Bologna without having to circle back to the same destination to take my flight home. From Gran Canaria, Spain, I found a one-way ticket to Rome (with a small layover in Madrid) and then a direct flight back from Bologna.
Different airlines have better connections and prices with different airports, so it is better to use a flight search engine rather than sticking to just one airline.
How to find cheap transport in Italy
Perhaps the easiest way to move around Italy is by car, however, if you are not confident or a non-driver (like me!) – don’t worry. The Italian train system is very good and easy to navigate. Just be aware that there is more than one company, so make sure that the name on your ticket matches the one on the train. And always validate your ticket! They will seriously fine you just because you don’t have a stamp on your ticket.
It may be cheaper to travel by bus but can take much longer so best to check the times and prices (I use Rome 2 Rio or Go Euro) then decide what suits you better. There is also the option of using car-sharing sites like Bla Bla Car. Although I didn’t use this in Italy, I have had success using in Portugal and Spain. You will need to purchase an Italian sim card with data or have a phone with data that works in Italy to use car-sharing apps.
Obviously for short distances, walking and cycling (if your accommodation provides free bikes) can save you a few dollars.
How to find cheap accommodation in Italy
I found nearly all the hotels and hostels for my Italy trip using hotel comparison websites. Below is a list of places I have stayed and links to other accommodation options for each destination.
- Rome: See current accommodation prices.
- Terracina: Hotel Poseidon – see current prices or view other accommodation options.
- Ercolano: Eco Hostel Floreale – see current prices or view other accommodation options.
- Cortona: Casa Kita – see current prices or view other accommodation options.
- Florence: Wow Florence Hostel – see current prices or view other accommodation options.
- Bologna: Hotel Bologna Fiera – see current prices or view other accommodation options.
- Venice: See current accommodation prices.
To save money on your Italian trip, it would be advisable to travel in the low season (November to March). Some hotels and tour companies at off-season rates which means you can have more money to spend on pizza.
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