Northern Italy comprises a diverse geographic area, from the mountains and lakes of the far north to the lagoons of Venice and the Italian Riviera around Genoa. Northern Italy experiences cool-to-cold winters and hot summers, and while it can be visited year-round, a major consideration is avoiding the heaviest crowds. Read on to find out more about the best time of year to visit Northern Italy.

Seasonal Planning for Italy Travel

The Archiginnasio in Bologna

Italy is not an exceptionally large country, but as it is long north to south, it contains many different climatic zones. Northern Italy tends to have a cooler climate than Southern Italy (everywhere south of Rome), but it still experiences hot summers in most places. There are various climatic zones even within the north, including the continental weather of the large Po Valley, the Alpine climate of the Italian Alps, Dolomites, and Appenine mountains, and the Mediterranean climate along the Tyrrhenian Sea (west) coast. Northern Italy is also much wetter than Southern Italy, especially in the cooler months.

Italy is an extremely popular travel destination, and Northern Italy contains some of the country's most popular places, including Venice, Florence, Tuscany, and the Cinque Terre. During the peak months, you should expect these places to be incredibly crowded, so much so that you may want to rethink whether you should add to the crowds or come at a different time of year. There are major benefits to visiting Northern Italy in the shoulder or off-seasons, including lower prices, still-pleasant weather, and yes, fewer visitors. 

Season Pros Cons Best For Where to Visit
Summer Long days, hot weather for beach days, great hiking in the mountains Hot weather! High prices, large crowds Chilling out at the beach, hiking in the mountains Italian Riviera (Genoa area), Tyrrhenian Sea coast, mountains
Fall Pleasant weather, shoulder-season prices, truffles Cooler temperatures and rain later in season Wine tours, city sightseeing Florence, Cinque Terre, Piedmont, Milan
Winter Few visitors, low prices Cold and wet weather, some seasonal closures Skiing in the mountains, indoor city sightseeing Dolomites, Alps, Appenines, Florence, Venice, Bologna, Milan
Spring Pleasant weather, shoulder-season prices Increasing crowds, peak season prices and crowds at Easter City sightseeing, exploring the countryside Tuscan countryside, Verona, Bologna

Summer

Florence in summer

Despite being peak season, we recommend avoiding the most popular parts of Northern Italy in summer if you can travel at another time of year. Over-tourism is a problem in many of the more famous areas of Italy, and the issue is worst in the summer. Long lines, crowded galleries and museums, uncomfortably hot weather, and high prices aren't the best combination for any kind of trip.

Summer in Italy is almost uniformly hot, although Northern Italy doesn't tend to get as hot as places further south. If you're traveling to Italy in the summer and want to escape the heat as much as possible, head to the Alps or the Dolomites in the far north, or the rolling countryside of Tuscany and Umbria (the latter of which could be considered Central Italy). However, as the summer is the low season in parts of the mountains (especially those that revolve around the winter ski season), some hotels will be closed.

Much of Europe, including Italy, takes summer holidays in August. Many Italians take two weeks off from mid-August, coinciding with the Feast of the Assumption on August 15th, and some people take off the entire month. This has two somewhat contradictory effects for tourists: the widespread holidays make some popular places, especially beaches, even busier, but at the same time, many towns and cities practically clear out. Prices on the Italian Riviera around Genoa, for example, will be very high in August, yet in other places hotels shut down as the owners also take holidays. There are both advantages and disadvantages to visiting Northern Italy in August, but if you have more flexible plans and don't have to travel at this time, it's best to avoid it.

Summer Events in Northern Italy

Vogalonga, Venice. This rowing regatta in the watery city is held in May or June each year.

Arena di Verona Festival, June-September. This summer-long opera festival has been held in the northern city of Verona since 1936.

Fall

Bologna's Cioccoshow

Early fall is one of the busier times to visit Northern Italy, as the temperatures take a dip from the highs of summer, but as the season progresses it becomes less crowded and lower airfares can be found. Cooling rains start in early September. Late in the season, though, when the weather becomes more wintry, there are considerably fewer visitors and the low tourism season starts. This is a great time to visit the popular cities in Northern Italy, as there are lots of indoor things to do when the weather isn't great, and you won't be jostling for space too much.

The pleasant weather and beautiful colors make fall a great time to visit Northern Italy's wine-producing areas, such as Piedmont, Tuscany, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna. However, keep in mind that in early fall (September), the harvesting of grapes means that many wineries will be closed to visitors. These places are also famous for their truffles, which can be found at this time of year.

Fall Events in Northern Italy

Venice Film Festival, August-September. This long-running film festival is one of the most prestigious (and glamorous) in the world.

Festa della Rificolona, Florence, September 7. This festival celebrates the birth of the Madonna by filling the town (and sky) with paper lanterns.

Cioccoshow Bologna, November. Travelers with a sweet tooth shouldn't miss Bologna's chocolate festival.

Winter

Venice in winter

While the coldest part of the winter is December to February, outside of the mountains temperatures mostly stay above freezing. Many visitors to Italy head south in the winter, but if you don't mind colder weather, winter is actually a good time to head north. Outside of holidays, hotel prices tend to be much lower than the rest of the year, and you are likely to find good airfare deals as well.

Popular cities like Florence and Venice have a steady stream of visitors throughout the year, but far less in this season than other times, and other places are practically deserted in winter. Lake Como, Lake Garda, and Lake Maggiore are great in the winter, as you can take ferries and sightseeing cruises with nary another tourist in sight, and the landscape looks lovely with a sprinkling of snow on the surrounding peaks.

Many hotels in popular summer destinations close for the winter, but there are many cities across Northern Italy that offer a range of accommodation and transportation options. Even if you struggle to find somewhere suitable to stay at Lake Como itself, for example, you can always stay in Milan and take day trips around the area.

Many major sights and attractions operate shorter wintertime business hours, so plan ahead if you want to fit a lot of sightseeing into your days.

The exception to the 'winter is off-season' rule are the mountainous areas, where skiing enthusiasts flock. The mountains get a lot of snow, and resort towns are at their busiest and most expensive in winter. But, if you want to ski in Northern Italy, this is the time to go. The best snowfall is in February and March.

Christmas and the New Year's are major events throughout Italy, and the period around Christmas sees a temporary influx of visitors to many northern destinations. Christmas markets in the lead-up to the holiday are nice to browse, and the ones in Florence, Verona, and Milan are particularly attractive. Look out for Christmas Eve services in grand cathedrals if you're interested in experiencing this part of Italian culture as well. Along with Christmas, Italians also celebrate a number of other religious holidays during this period, including the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, Santa Lucia Day, Saint Stephen's Day, Epiphany, and other saints' days.

Winter Events in Northern Italy

Oh bej! Oh bej!, Milan, December 7. Milan's Christmas market also celebrates the city's patron saint, St. Ambrose, and has been running since the early 16th century.

Christmas, December 25. While Christmas tends to be a family affair in Italy, travelers can attend Christmas Mass at many churches and cathedrals around the country.

Epiphany, January 6. As well as Christmas, Italians celebrate Epiphany in early January, which commemorates the arrival of the Three Kings after baby Jesus' birth. This was traditionally when Italian children received their Christmas presents.

Carnevale, February. The date of this religious-based festival varies depending on the date of Easter. While Carnevale celebrations are held in many places throughout Italy, Venice's version is especially famous and popular, with masked parades through the streets.  

Spring

Mountain biking in the Dolomites

The weather is generally quite unpredictable in Northern Italy in early spring, with rain common. Fortunately, there are many indoor attractions across the region, including fabulous art galleries, museums, and churches. If you're interested in experiencing the best of Italian history and arts, there's no reason to avoid early spring. Later in the season, the temperatures warm up and are better for spending days outside.

As a predominantly Catholic country, Easter is a big deal in Italy. Rome sees the largest influx of visitors at this time because of the presence of Vatican City, but Northern Italy also sees an increase in visitors in this period. Most towns, large and small, have their own special Easter events, so this can be a fun time to visit if you don't mind the crowds.

Spring is shoulder season in Northern Italy, with the exception of Easter. While tourists increase compared to the winter, they're not as bad as in the summer. Prices are generally lower than in the summer, too. Plus, the weather is pleasant. Spring is a great time to visit Northern Italy.

Spring Events in Northern Italy

Salone del Mobile/Milan Furniture Fair, April. This huge design fair is held every year in one of Italy's most fashionable cities (and that's saying something!)

Further Reading for Planning Your Northern Italy Travel