This guest post is by Louisa Loring, an Italy-based writer.
Imagine a place where you have crystal-clear turquoise water, sandy beaches, seemingly endless mountain ranges, unbeatable art, and some of the most historically important cities, all the while you have a glass of wine in one hand and a cone of gelato in the other. Any guesses? You are in Italy!
Italy is one of Europe’s best destinations for a solo female traveler because of how densely packed it is with culture and activities, making it easy to fill your days with adventure, no matter your preferences or time of year!
After living and traveling throughout the entire country for over 15 years now, I am confident sharing all my best tips on solo female traveling in Italy.
Why Visit Italy as a Solo Female Traveler
It’s Relatively Inexpensive
Compared to other European countries, Italy is generally relatively inexpensive if you plan ahead and don’t visit during peak tourism (June–August). Food and drink are very cheap, and there is a wide variety of accommodations for any budget. Most outdoor activities, like skiing, cost a fraction of what they would set you back in the US.
Tip: The best cell phone service providers (Tim, Vodafone, Tre, and Wind) have amazing monthly deals with unlimited gigs (or at least 100 Gb) for about €10-15 per month, without a minimum monthly contract. If you have the possibility to change your SIM card, getting an Italian one with these companies will save you loads of money!
It’s Easy to Navigate
Italy has a great public transport system. Whether you are taking a ferry, bus, or train, you can rely on timetables, online booking, and efficient problem-solving should unexpected events happen. My whole Italian family relies on the railway to get us anywhere in Italy (and also to other European countries), and if for some reason the route is changed or there are delays, we are always notified and updated.
Download the app: Be sure to download the Trenitalia app for easy booking; sign up at no additional cost for all its promotions and for better customer care.
You Can Get By on English
Even in the most rural areas, you can manage to get by and communicate well. I was once lost in the middle of Emilia-Romagna, on the hunt to discover how authentic Italian balsamic vinegar from Modena was made, and despite finding myself with a cornfield on my right and a sunflower patch on my left, I managed to communicate with a very kind Italian and find my way.
It’s Generally Safe
Italy is a safe country for solo female travelers. There is a low crime rate and next to no gun violence. After living in Florence for over 10 years, the most I have seen go down is a fistfight on the street, and I have not once felt threatened or in danger.
The most off-putting thing that might happen to you as a solo female traveler is the famous Italian “cat call,” or ciao bella. In metropolitan areas, you really don’t hear this anymore though. I am happy to say that even in Italy, the term “harassment” has made headlines, and it’s not as common as it used to be. If you do hear a man noting your beauty, just ignore him and keep walking.
READ NEXT: 41 Solo Female Travel Safety Tips
There’s a So Much to See!
The Italian peninsula is relatively small. Despite this, all 20 regions have a beautiful coastline, boasting some of the best beaches in Southern Europe, while Northern Italy is chock-full of some of the most famous mountain ranges.
The country is home to 58 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the birthplace of some of the most important historical achievements, art moments, and architectural monuments. No matter your fancy as a solo female traveler, you are bound to get your fill.
It’s got a great health care system.
Italy has a fantastic public healthcare system that is dedicated to treating you, no matter your unexpected accidents or preexisting conditions. Should you run into any problems and need a doctor, you can count on the hospitals and clinics to be professional, well equipped, and fully trained to solve even the most complicated issues.
It’s important to note, however, that the Italian public healthcare system is free for Italian residents only. While you won’t be asked to pay before being treated, you may be billed later, so be sure to have reliable travel health insurance prior to coming to Italy.
When to Visit Italy as a Solo Female Traveler
You absolutely want to come to Italy in the spring or fall. The summer heat is unbearable, and many rural areas or budget-friendly accommodations do not have air-conditioning.
Avoid June through August, when prices are through the roof. December and January can be dreary, with shorter days, so I always preferred to come anywhere from March to early May and late September to mid-November.
How to Stay Safe in Italy
As noted, Italy is a very safe country, but I do have some tips:
- Avoid train stations: If you can, don’t book any kind of lodging, dinner reservations, or other after-dinner events near the train station. They are generally bad areas.
- Keep your belongings safe: Petty crime does still happen, the most common being theft. Always travel with a bag with a zipper, and never wear a backpack. Keep copies of your documents in another location just in case.
- Try and fit in: The best way to keep a low profile and not stick out as a solo female traveler is to physically fit in. This means no flip-flops, no sweatpants in public, and absolutely no leggings! As a general rule of thumb, look presentable, just as Italians always do!
- Drink moderately: Alcohol lowers our inhibition and judgment, so keep your drinking to a minimum. As tempting as it is to have five spritzes with the locals, just have a couple and call it a night.
- Ignore the Roma (or Romani) population (sometimes called gypsies, called zingari in Italian): There are quite a few of them begging throughout Italy, but just ignore them.
Tip: Many travelers feel threatened by the large number of people begging for money or trying to sell items on the street. Generally speaking, they are nothing to worry about, so don’t let their presence scare you. Just kindly say hello and refuse their sales if you don’t need anything. This being said, if you need a pack of Kleenex or an umbrella, it’s nice to support them.
Long-Term Travel and Work in Italy
As an American, Canadian, Australian tourist (or many other nationalities), you are allowed to fly into the EU and stay for 90 days with the Schengen visa (you do not need to pre-apply for this, as it’s just assigned to use when you arrive). These 90 days count for any time within the EU, not just within Italy. Keep this in mind if you plan on traveling to other EU countries and hope to also stay 90 days in Italy.
If you wish to work in Italy, this is certainly possible, but I have applied for three different visas over the course of 12 years, and each one was extremely complicated. Italian bureaucracy is a nightmare and oftentimes impossible if you don’t get help from a native Italian.
If you are interested in working as a digital nomad here, note that there is a visa specifically for this, but the law has not been enacted quite yet. It’s known that when it does go into effect, you will need to prove a minimum income and have had the same steady job for quite some time in order to apply.
How to Meet People in Italy
The best way to meet people as a solo female traveler will depend on who you want to meet: are you looking for Italians or other foreign travelers?
How to Meet Foreign Travelers
From my experience, I always met the most expats or foreign travelers when I went to niche cafés and bars (places that cater to foreigners and expat communities).
I also found that joining Facebook groups such as Americans in Italy was helpful when I was an au pair. Check out other female solo travel groups, expat communities, and digital nomad groups to get updated information on meet-ups and activities.
Also, make sure to frequent cities and districts full of tourists and students. For example, Florence is home to 10,000 American students a year; Bologna is one of the smaller cities with a large student population, making it easy to seek them out.
How to meet locals
Do what Italians do. And you cannot be shy here! This means:
- Having your breakfast standing at the bar with other Italians during rush hour between 7:45 and 8:45 a.m.
- Getting lost in the aperitivo culture, sitting down in a piazza (square) with a spritz before dinner with other Italians.
- Dining at communal tables for lunch or dining solo — sometimes, others will invite you to join them if they see you eating your meal without company.
- Trying to speak Italian.
- Offering conversation exchange with locals (you can hang flyers — word of mouth works very well still!)
How to Get Around in Italy
Public transportation is reliable — and also inexpensive when compared to renting or owning a car. Gas prices are through the roof, so stick to the trains!
Once you have arrived in a large city (Rome, Milan, Naples, Catania, Turin, Genoa, Bari, Palermo), you can move either by metro, by foot, by bike, or by taxi. Uber isn’t reliable everywhere yet, because of the large taxi lobby, so the wait can be long.
In large cities, you can rent bikes (normal or electric) and scooters, which are super fun ways to see a city and explore in less time. I bought a bike for €50 in 2009, when I was in Florence for three months solo, and it was the best money I ever spent!
Where to Stay in Italy
As a solo female traveler, I always stayed at hostels with 4- to 6-bed female shared rooms. I never liked to stay in rooms with 12 people or more, because I found it hard to connect with others, and I have always needed some kind of privacy.
If hostels aren’t for you, there are plenty of other options. Look for a bedroom within an apartment, or book ahead for better prices. I suggest staying in neighborhoods where the locals live (more on this below!).
If you are on a budget, consider one of the following:
- Au pair: Work as an au pair in exchange for a small amount of money and room and board. You can find part-time gigs, which allow plenty of time for exploration! I did this in 2012, and I still stay in touch with the family today.
- Work exchange: Use a website such as HelpX to find jobs in exchange for room and board. There is a wide variety of requests, so it’s easy to find a good fit.
- WWOOF: Work on an organic farm in exchange for room and board. I did this as a solo female traveler at three farms in 2009, and this is the experience that sparked my love for Italy.
- Agriturismo: Book a farm stay in the countryside, and use that as your travel base. Many places might be open to a work exchange as well. Note that in this case you may need a rental car.
Where to Eat in Italy
Where shouldn’t you eat in Italy is really the question! And even if you are a solo female traveler with allergies or special diets such as celiac disease, fear not!
Italy has invested a lot in alternative restaurants and food options in the last five years, so you can find plenty of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. Much of Italian cooking is also based on la cucina povera or “poor man’s cooking” and is vegetarian and vegan by nature.
- Markets: Markets are the best budget-friendly and authentic way to enjoy true Italian flavors. You will find everything you need to cook at home and even premade items such as sandwiches, fish salads, local specialties, cured meats, and regional cheeses. Visit the Sant’Ambrogio market in Florence, the Rialto market in Venice, the Campo dei Fiori market in Rome, and the San Salvario in Turin.
- Street food: Italian street food is my favorite way to try regional specialities without a huge price tag. Look for small kiosks, immobile food trucks, and market vendors with a line (where you know it will be good!).
- Pizzerias: Although they specialize in pizza with a wood-burning brick oven, pizzerias also serve many other Italian dishes, such as pasta, risotto, and many appetizers.
- Restaurants and trattorias: Restaurants are the most expensive option, while trattorias (trattorie) are a step below, generally family run and very authentic.
- Enoteche: Wine bars (enoteche, singular enoteca) are great places to hang out and meet locals while trying various wines and nibbling on charcuterie and cheese boards. Grabbing a snack with your glass is a great way to eat a light dinner without committing to a restaurant.
- Bar: More like cafés, the Italian bar is one of the best inventions ever, especially for solo travelers! You can pick up cheap fare, either sit or stand, and eat literally anytime of the day! Note that this is not true in most other eateries in Italy. For a light dinner, head here for an aperitivo and fill up on small bites served with your drink.
- Supermercati: Never overlook an Italian grocery store, also sometimes called an alimentare. They have all you need to make the absolute best on-the-go lunches and snacks to keep in your bag.
- Forno: The Italian bakery is the spot to try the regional bread and get pizza by the slice (or rather, square), snacks, and breakfast items.
- Gelateria: Look for words like artigianale and fatto in casa for the best gelato. It should be served in small aluminum tubs or shallow containers. Stay clear of mounds of gelato.
Tip: Stay off main roads to find authentic eats. Look for words like da, trattoria, and osteria — all signs of good home cooking.
Many solo travelers don’t like to dine out, because of the stigma associated with it. In reality, Italians eat out all the time by themselves, because they value a good meal and a solid break from work. If you are worried about eating solo, don’t be! You won’t be the only one!
Best Places to Visit in Italy
As a solo female traveler, I found that I was happiest in metropolitan areas. Even when I wasn’t even in search of meeting people, I never felt alone. The hustle and bustle of the Italian way of life beats through the streets, keeping you company at all hours of the day.
- Milan (Milano): Navigli is the neighborhood to either book your accommodations in or spend your evenings in. Get away from the tourists and settle down with good coffee, drinks, and Milanese fare here.
- Florence (Firenze): Santo Spirito is where the locals live and home to the best small shops, restaurants, bakeries, and gelaterias. Head here for the best nightlife and aperitivo hour.
- Rome (Roma): Trastevere is Rome’s most unique quarter. This is where you want to be for food, drink, and nightlife, and the chance to meet locals.
- Turin (Torino): This is Italy’s most “European” city. It is not only culturally rich but full of life, hip joints, and novelty (not a given in Italy, as tradition dies hard here). I recommend hanging out in San Salvario.
Note: The reason I don’t recommend Venice for longer stays is because the actual Venetian population is so small. The city is so flooded with quick-turnaround tourism. It’s a great place to see but not to spend much time in.
For smaller cities, I recommend Bologna, Verona, Padua, Pisa, Lucca, and Trieste. They feel like cities but are more intimate, making it easier to find your place without feeling overwhelmed.
Places to Avoid as a Solo Female Traveler
As a very general statement, south of Rome, including Sicily, things can get dodgy. This is where you find the Mafia, more poverty, less infrastructure, worse public transportation, and higher crime rates.
Now, that being said, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go there. You can, but be aware that many rural areas are struck with poverty, and the outskirts of city centers can be dangerous (in Palermo and Naples, for example). Stick to populated areas, and don’t walk around at night alone.
Best Things to Do in Italy
- Take a cooking class: No matter the region you are in, the food is going to be different and the local fare will change drastically. If you don’t like cooking, consider a food tour instead. I signed up for the Italian Days Parmesan, Prosciutto, and Balsamic Vinegar food tour, and it’s one of the best things I did.
- Mosaics in Ravenna: These are some of the most beautiful Italian mosaics you can find without going to Sicily, more than 1,500 years old and still shining as if they were done yesterday. It’s an unforgettable experience. Note that some of the buildings require timed entry, so plan ahead!
- Hike the Dolomites: Italy’s most beautiful mountain range is home to some of the best hiking. If you like biking or skiing, you are in luck too. And if you like nothing more than enjoying a nice hot espresso or hot chocolate overlooking the mountains, then book the cable car and ride your way to the top!
- Visit the Uffizi: The most important art museum in Italy is located in Florence, and there is no better place to pass time than in front of its collection! I used to spend afternoons there as an au pair when I had nothing better to do, and they are still to this day some of my fondest memories from those months. I highly recommend booking ahead.
- Eat as much gelato as possible: Research the best gelaterias before choosing, and enjoy one cone after the next. There is no wrong time to eat gelato in Italy!
- Wine tasting in Piedmont (Piemonte): Some of Italy’s best wine, such as Barbaresco and Barolo, comes from this northern region. These types of activities (prosecco tasting, biking, cooking classes) are best booked with a tour company in a group, which is a great way to meet new friends and not worry about renting a car in order to get off the beaten path.
- Walking around Rome: Don’t bother with the metro. Some of the best of Rome can only be discovered by accident. Get lost in side streets and narrow alleys, and you are sure to discover some of the city’s best gems.
- Indulge in aperitivo: Get in the habit of having an aperitivo before dinner (6:30-8:30 p.m.) in a popular piazza, and make it one of your daily routines. There is no better way to soak in Italian culture and improve your vocab!
Tips for Solo Female Travelers in Italy
- Learn the basics: Unlike in other EU countries, locals actually love and appreciate it when you try to speak Italian. I guarantee you that if you try, you are on the right way to making a new friend with your waiter or barista!
- Go with the flow: This point is contrary to my next tip, but when visiting Italy, do as the Italians do and indulge in la dolce vita or the sweet life. Try not to overplan and book your entire trip, so you have wiggle room for unexpected experiences and opportunities — which crop up quite often as a solo traveler in Italy. Just plan the main things you want to do, and let the rest fall into place.
- Book ahead: Because Italy is flooded with tourists, not only does lodging fill up quickly but so do activities. Tickets for museums, tours, and events need to be booked ahead of time (anywhere from one month to one week in advance). There are also no real deals for last-minute booking in Italy.
- Avoid summer travel: Not only is the heat uncomfortable but it’s hard to actually enjoy the slow pace of Italian life and culture when you are shoulder-to-shoulder with a tour group. If you have no option than to visit in the summer, then try to stay outside of cities or off the beaten track, such as places like Verona or Padua. Consider a region that is less popular, like Le Marche or Piedmont.
- English publications: Many of the larger cities have English magazines and online publications, making it easy to connect with other solo travelers. The Florentine in Florence is the most famous and well-established (read online or look for print copies scattered throughout town).
Visiting Italy as a solo female traveler is very easy, safe and fun. There are plenty of opportunities to meet new people, it’s easy to navigate, and it has everything you ever wanted to do and see.
The best way to avoid overly touristy areas and get off the beaten track is to stick to smaller side roads off the main drag. Here you will find the best food, shopping, cafés, bars, and plazas.
If you are considering Italy as your next destination as a solo female traveler, plan ahead, travel in the off season, and keep in mind all my tips for the absolute best experience possible!
About the author: Louisa has been traveling in Italy first as a solo female traveler and then as a student and university graduate. Her years of Italian solo travel brought her her current husband; they currently reside in Florence, working for her online publication, EatingAroundItaly.com.