There's no getting around that the weather in Italy during January will be more gloomy than sunny. You can expect drizzling rains as well—Rome alone gets about four inches of rainfall during the month. And if you're planning on making Italy's capital your base of operations, expect the average temperature during this time to be around 46°F/8°C.
Regarding the various regions of the country, temperatures often range between 25-45°F/-4°-7°C in the north, 40-55°F/4-13°C in central Italy, and 50-60°F/10-15°C in the south. The good news is that in the Italian mountains where it does snow, great skiing and snowboarding is always close at hand.
Crowds & Costs
One positive benefit of traveling to Italy in January is there are fewer tourists and lower prices on flights and hotels. Hotels are often 50 and even 100% cheaper in winter than they are in the shoulder and high seasons. Note that if you're traveling on a budget, some lower-end lodgings in smaller cities and towns may close for the low season, but this, of course, isn't the case in Rome.
In fact, Italy is never really tourist-free, so don't travel under the impression that you'll have the nation's most famous sites to yourself. Still, there are refreshingly shorter lines in January for such tourist favorites as Rome's Colosseum, the Vatican Museum, the Uffizi Museum in Florence, etc.
The flip-side to this coin is that anywhere you go for winter sports in Italy, it will effectively be high season. Not only will hotels be charging peak prices, but you'll want to make lodging reservations well in advance. That's because most hotels in certain popular areas, such as the Dolomites and Alps mountain ranges in the north, will likely be fully booked.
Where to Go
Winter sports enthusiasts will want to head to any number of world-class mountains and resorts. In the Dolomites you have the queen of all mountain towns/resorts: the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cortina d’ Ampezzo (which has been a ski haven for over 160 years). There's also Madonna di Campiglio, another resort village that's comprised of four different terrain areas and popular with young snowboarders as well as fashionable Italians.
In the Alps northwest of Milan, near the border with Switzerland, lies the Val D'Aosta region and the town of Breuil-Cervinia. Here you can glide down the slopes under the looming profile of the famous peak of the Matterhorn. Another gem is the resort town of Sestriere, in the Savoy Alps west of that other popular winter-sports mainstay of Turin. To get between these locales, be sure to take the train, as it is more reliable than other forms of public transport. And don't worry about language barriers: many folks speak at least some level of English throughout the entire country these days.
What to Do
As mentioned above, the January weather might put a damper on certain outdoor excursions, like taking that canal ride in Venice or lazing on the pebble beaches of Capri. That shouldn't keep you away from these areas, though. A popular activity would be to take a road trip on the Amalfi Coast (great for couples). The temperate weather in this southwestern region of the country means you can still enjoy the coast even if swimming might not be practical. Just know that during the low season the hotels here are closed, so if you were to overnight in the region, it would likely have to be somewhere like Naples.
You could also focus your time on indoor culture by taking in as many museums as possible in any number of cities in Italy, from Florence and Milan to Rome and Venice. The fact there are lighter crowds during this time means you can enjoy the various artworks and artifacts on a more personal level. And museums in Italy are open 363 days of the year.
Also, if you're an inveterate shopaholic, you can take advantage of Italy's winter shopping seasons. January kicks off one such period, so just look for the signs in the windows of stores and boutiques that say saldi ("sales"). Rome, of course, is a great place to take advantage of these sales due to the sheer number of shopping options available. Milan is no slouch either. During this time you can also visit Italy's famous Christmas markets. These are typically held in public spaces where vendors proffer everything from handicrafts and ceramics to Christmas pastries, sweets, roasted chestnuts, and mulled wine.
Events in January
Epiphany. The Italian Christmas season is similar to that of other western nations in many ways (including celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), but one in which it different is Epiphany. La Festa dell’Epifania is held on Jan 6th and marks the end of Italy's "12 days of Christmas." Children get excited as this is when an old witch called La Befana leaves gifts in their stockings.
Traveling to Italy in January? Check out these great itineraries.
Explore Rome - 5 Days. Discover historic and modern highlights of the Eternal City in this five-day tour. Hear stories of gladiators in Rome's ancient Colosseum, tour the iconic Pantheon and visit the Vatican Museum to see the world-famous Sistine Chapel.
Food and Wine in Italy - 9 Days. Start in Bologna to see the 11th-century university and stuff yourself full of Parmeggiano cheese, prosciutto, and Ragu alla Bolognese. Continue to Florence to see Michelangelo's 'David' in the Uffizi Gallery, then spend a day drinking Chianti like the Romans do in Tuscany.