Most people have snapshot images in their mind of Rome: long, lethargic summer evenings, walking about town with a gelato in hand, eating out late in a piazza with the sun just starting to set at 9pm, girls in flowing sleeveless dresses riding on scooters, and the general beauty of Mediterranean Europe bathed in that sunny and deliciously warm glow. All of this certainly can be had in Rome in the summer months, but you definitely pay a price for it.
High season in Rome runs at least 8 months – from March through October. It starts off a bit slow, but ends with a bang in October which is now a very popular month to be in Italy. The season starts around Easter weekend which depending on the year can be in March or April and then Rome gradually starts bursting at the seams at all the popular spots from the crush of visitors. Yet come low season and in particular January and February, and sometimes you expect to see tumbleweeds blowing down the street. Not that Rome is ever empty, but there’s just more breathing room in the low season for residents and visitors alike – walking about town, on public transportation, and definitely at museums and other guidebook destinations. While anytime of year is a great time to visit Rome, there are some very compelling reasons to consider coming here during low season:
It’s difficult anymore to predict airline fares, but rates in January and February are on average $300-$500US less during these months than at other times of the year and even lower if you are internet savvy or have a great travel agent. Within Europe, low cost airlines such as RyanAir, EasyJet, AirOne, Transavia and many more are always a bargain, but even more so during low season. Many accommodations such as The Beehive have lower prices during this time of year and during particularly slow periods additional discounts are sometimes available. In the summer it can be hard to even find a place, and if you’re traveling around without firm plans, hoping to book as you go, you’ll waste a lot of time trying to find something decent at the last minute. In low season, however, there’s a lot more choice, but also – places like our Beehive which are difficult to find a spot in high season – often have space available in low season.
The Big 3 – Rome, Florence and Venice – become different cities in low season especially January and February. In a way you can even say that they seem to be returned to their residents when the insanely large crowds of visitors have all but disappeared. One of the main reasons is because of the weather. Most people equate blue skies and dazzling sunshine with Italy and they would be correct. However, while colder temperatures, rain and grey clouds don’t coincide with most people’s idea of what Italy is like – they also make for an experience of Italy that is very different and yet doesn’t lessen the experience of being here. In fact, even in winter – you can still find clear blue skies and sunny days, just colder. There is nothing quite like strolling through Venice’s narrow walkways by lamplight in the fog with only the sound of your footsteps. Walking in Rome’s center bathed in the golden glow of its street lights without being elbow to elbow with flag waving tour leaders, the smell of wood burning from fireplaces on a crispy cold night will be imprinted on your memory along with all the wonderfully moody photos you’ll take. With the lack of crowds, the sights, the smells are much easier to take in and that’s when you can truly experience the magic here.
Rome can be sensory overload – traffic, people, and so much to see. Going to the Vatican Museums when you’re already fatigued is a recipe for disaster, but fatigued you will feel after waiting in a queue in the heat of summer for over an hour. Want to visit the Borghese gallery in the summer and didn’t reserve weeks in advance? It’s not likely you’ll get a reservation at the last minute. Yet visiting when it’s less busy, you’ll not only cruise right into these places, often without reservations needed at all, but you’ll also be sharing the art and space with a lot less people. Walking straight into the Accademia, purchasing a ticket without any queues and having an unobstructed view of Michelangelos’s David will never happen in high season, but go to Florence in February and that’s what you can experience.
Our favorite time of year for food here is the winter. Artichokes, greens galore, chestnuts, cavolo nero (kale, used for ribollita soup), and don’t even get me started on the citrus – clementines, mandarins and Sicilian blood oranges called tarocchi. There’s nothing like a glass of red wine and a hearty Tuscan soup on a cold, dreary day or a cup of thick hot chocolate with panna (whipped cream) to warm you up or a cozy cocktail near the Colosseum when the rain is coming down. And gelato knows no season!
When you take all of the above together – it forces you to slow down. You don’t feel the frenetic energy of the crowds, some rain may make it so that you find yourself with a good book in a cozy cafe or with your partner or friend sharing a drink and good conversation. The shorter daylight hours make it so that you can’t help, but get a bit more sleep. While it’s great to see everything – you have to reconcile with the fact that you really won’t see and do everything – so take this time away, to disconnect, rejuvenate and truly enjoy yourself!