Who hasn’t dreamed of throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain in Rome or gazing at Michelangelo’s David in Florence? Italy may be one of the world’s quintessential romantic destinations, but solo travel to Italy is just as much fun.
Is it safe to travel to Italy alone? Keep reading for everything you need to know about solo female travel to Italy.
For solo travel, Italy is an outstanding destination – relatively safe, gloriously gorgeous, and oh-so-easy to get to and get around.
What kind of woman traveler stands to enjoy an Italian holiday? There are plenty of adventurous and sporty things to do – skiing, mountains, hiking, biking – but Italy is best seen through its cities, through the art that graces every corner, the history that seeps through each cobblestoned street, the aroma of fruity Chianti and of freshly cooked sauce wafting out of the corner trattoria.
It is a country of style and fashion, and one of the few countries you’ll probably leave looking more glamorous than when you arrived.
Solo travel to Italy: Attitudes towards women
Italy may well be a modern country but sometimes it forgets it.
Gender equality is entrenched in the law and discrimination is illegal, as is any kind of violence against women. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but serious assaults aren’t common.
Low-level harassment does take place – the whistles, comments, or sounds made when an attractive woman walks by. Yes, there are occasional reports of bums being pinched and lecherous men trying their luck with foreign women or worse. Happily, these are very much the exception.
Regional differences can also be marked – in the more affluent North, you might feel you’re deep into Europe, with businesses buzzing and women filling offices and jobs (though not always in full equality with men!)
But in the South, life is much more conservative, with many women holding the traditional role of mother and homemaker, a bit like in traditional Italian movies. Still, a solo trip to Italy is nothing to shy away from.
Is Italy safe to travel alone as a woman? In general, yes. I can’t think of any particular precautions you’d take in Italy that you wouldn’t take in other European countries: be level-headed when you meet men, avoid dark places at night – the usual admonitions.
When it comes to solo female travel in Europe, Italy is relatively typical.
This makes solo female travel, Italy – a must!
However, the safety issue is genuine and not necessarily aimed only at traveling alone in Italy as a woman. Theft is hugely common – my car has been broken into every time I’ve been to Italy (once when parked right in front of a police station).
I’d also be careful of shoulder bags since men riding ‘motorini’ – scooters – can grab your purse and scoot away faster than you can yell thief! The same goes for travel handbags on the bus or even in posh neighborhoods, where the mother of a friend of mine had her purse grabbed by a man on a scooter and fell as a result.
Plain old pickpocketing is equally prevalent, especially in tourist areas. A wallet is quickly lifted out of a partially open purse or handbag. So when traveling to Italy alone, women should watch out for this.
Anywhere there are tourists, thieves will congregate, from railway stations to major attractions, and the further south you go, the more aware you should be. (An anti-theft handbag will do plenty to help.)
Watch out for groups of street beggars, especially children who look poor and unkempt. Usually, it’s a scam.
Bottom line: there’s less street crime in Italy than in many other European countries. I’ve traveled in Italy on my own at least a dozen times and while there are many tours of Italy available – great if you’re in a rush – it’s an ideal country to visit independently, taking your time.
Italy solo travel destinations
Since ancient times, Italy has been a popular travel destination, reaching its zenith during the Grand Tour era of the 17th and 18th centuries. As a result, it has had plenty of time to put its house in order when it comes to the infrastructure for tourists – making Italy solo female travel smooth and simple, with Rome solo travel a great place to start.
You could spend a year in Italy and only scratch the surface. Just remember there’s more to Italy than Rome-Milan-Florence-Venice.
Some of the best places in Italy for solo travelers aren’t necessarily the most visited; for example, Sardinia, a part of Italy few foreigners ever reach, not to mention the many other beautiful islands of Italy.
Porto Antico, Genoa
Genoa is hemmed in by the sea on one side and mountains on the other, with the city proper crawling up the hillside. It can be hellish to get around up there as avenues run into streets and streets tumble over one another into dead ends, tunnels or steps or inclines. A horrible bridge collapse in August 2018 killed more than 40 people, adding to the chaos and concern.
Whenever you’re lost in Genoa, head downhill towards the water. You might end up at Porto Antico, the OId Port.
From above, Genoa’s history as a port city is evident, old enough to date back to the Etruscans more than 2500 years ago. At war during most of its history, the city found some semblance of stability around the 16th century, when it began attracting wealth and artists – but then half its inhabitants were killed by the plague. The city continued its erratic trajectory but today it is one of Italy’s economic engines, its shipbuilding and high-tech industries performing well and helping support a country often in crisis.
I still don’t know what to make of the Old Port of Genoa. The seashore was thoroughly restored a few years ago, both for the 500th anniversary of the ‘discovery of America by Christopher Columbus’ (Columbus was born in what was then the Republic of Genoa) and because it was named the European City of Culture in 2004.
By the water, there’s a modern aquarium, a scrumptious Eataly, and restored buildings… but inside the old quarter, the brush-up is far less visible.
For a bird’s eye view of it all, take Il Bigo, the elevator crane.
Across the street from the port, in the old quarter, things probably haven’t changed in centuries. Part of me dislikes the seediness and the dark alleys, and the underlying sense of unease they create.
Another part of me likes the city for precisely the same reasons, with curves and corners far more authentic than the massively modern port development.
At night, a slight breeze lightens the air and brings out the cooking smells, mixing them with salt, fish, and diesel. The busy horns echo across the bay, competing with the soft sounds of wavelets against moorings and cables clinking along ships’ masts. If you ignore the gentrification, the slight disrepute and edginess of the Porto Antico give Genoa considerable charm and energy, raising it high on my list of ‘must-visits’ when in Italy.
Solo travel in Italy female once-in-a-lifetime experiences
- Tuscany solo tours: Go on an Art tour in Florence.
- You should do it at least once – a gondola ride in Venice
A bit about Italian culture and life
Italy is about style, more about the form than the substance (not to say there isn’t substance – it’s just all dressed up in the latest fashion). The saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover” simply doesn’t apply in Italy because here, you can, and you most certainly will. How you dress and behave are all indicators of your background, class, and education, and you’ll be treated accordingly.
This is only a tiny glimpse of famous world designers who happen to be from Italy: Armani, Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, Ferragamo, Fendi, Gucci, Missoni, Prada, Versace… and that’s just in fashion.
For automobile, design thinks Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo – and to this mix, you can add Bulgari (jewelry), Bialetti (industrial design – you know, the little stovetop espresso machine?), and Sottsass (furniture).
Multiply by ten and you’re starting to scratch the surface of Italian style. And this is part of why appearances are so important.
The moment you meet an Italian, you’ll get the once-over, partly because they’re trying to see where you ‘fit in’ in their world. Your clothes matter, as do your posture, travel accessories, makeup, and table manners.
They’re seeing if you cut a Bella figura – a beautiful appearance, or look, that is so Italian.
Italians are warm and friendly, with hugs, kisses, and arms flying in all directions and constant invasion of your private space. If this irritates you, beware – Italians aren’t going to change anytime soon. Normally, when you meet for the first time a handshake will be enough. Say ciao (pronounced chow) when you arrive or leave and you can’t go wrong.
One thing that stands out about Italy – and several other European countries – is the general courtesy with which people treat one another. Elders are respected, children help where they can, and – you may not embrace this as a good habit – men open doors for women. Women often concede opinions and desires if they are contrary to those voiced by accompanying males.
This is quite subtle and sometimes you won’t catch it but there is still an ingrained belief that men are somehow superior or more knowledgeable than women.
And I’ll leave it at that: just something to be aware of when it comes to solo travel in Italy.
Assisi has always been in fashion, but as a place of pilgrimage, you might expect it to be, well, sober in appearance.
Instead, I found the colors of Assisi vibrant, almost exploding as the rain fell and continued to cling.
It was wet and thundery, with that special light unstable weather brought with it.
Assisi is best known as the birthplace of Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, the future St Francis of Assisi, who was born into a wealthy family in 1182 but, after a spiritual awakening, left it all for a lifetime of poverty. He was believed to communicate with animals and felt deeply about the natural world around him.
Earlier in life, he was a poor student, a womanizer, a soldier, and a former prisoner of war, when he fell quite ill with tuberculosis and malaria.
There are even stories he was in love – with Clare, who would join him in poverty and go on to found the women’s monastic order called the Poor Clares. That, however, was nearly a thousand years ago, and the truth today is a bit hazy.
St Francis died young by modern standards, at 45, his body a mass of illness.
Assisi is a place of pilgrimage, and the sight of monks and pilgrims strolling through the steep streets contrasts with casually dressed day trippers.
The town’s centerpiece is the Basilica, a slightly daunting visit when you consider the building was hit by a major earthquake and severely damaged in 1997. The vault collapsed, frescoes were destroyed, and several people died, a grim memory in this otherwise peaceful place.
While the hilltop is where everyone rushes, there’s an unusual church on the plain at the bottom of town. The imposing Santa Maria Degli Angeli was built to protect a tiny chapel called the Porziuncola, which was in disrepair until St Francis renovated it. The Porziuncola is where he made his vow of poverty, and it is the Franciscans’ most sacred site.
Back on the hillside, I return to Assisi. The rain-washed pavements smell clean and metallic, and a breeze pushes its way up the narrow streets. The cobblestones are shiny, and umbrellas are out, but that can’t dampen the colors, which seem even more vivid after they’ve been scrubbed by the weather.
There’s something about the atmosphere here that keeps people – including me – coming back.
Planning a trip to Italy: Sightseeing
You’ll find all the basic things to do in any good Italy travel guide book but let me point out a few things I’ve particularly enjoyed.
In Italy, food seems to lie at the center of everything. Taking classes in Italy is definitely one of the best cooking vacations you’ll experience. I tried a cooking course in Tuscany, and it’s something I absolutely loved. So much in Italy revolves around food that learning to prepare it almost seems like a rite of passage. If you can’t take a culinary vacation, at least, take a food tour – Italy is absolutely full of them.
Another wonderful way to come into contact with Italian food is by visiting some of the many markets you’ll find across the country. Or you could stay on a farm for a weekend – agriturismo is a fun Italian experience that brings you close to both the land and its culture.
While food may be central during your Italy travel, there’s more to the country, and some things are just a little surprising.
If you love speed, why not visit the Ferrari museum, take a Ferrari tour, or, even more exciting, rent one for yourself?
If you’re really daring, consider a Vespa tour in Rome and pretend you’re Audrey Hepburn for a day. You may have to intermittently close your eyes as you come into very close contact with other vehicles – but it’s still worth it and very fun.
Italy is so famous for its art that if you are so inclined, there are few better places to feed your inner artist. You can learn painting and drawing, of course, but also mosaics, sculpture, jewelry design, leatherwork, stained glass, and art history.
While we’re on the topic of learning, there’s always the language itself, or archaeology, or, if you happen to be a writer like me, a retreat to work on your art. If words are your domain, why not follow in the footsteps of Shakespeare’s plays, as itemized in the book: The Shakespeare Guide to Italy?
Italian cities, for me, are all about walking. When traveling solo in Italy, I’ve spent hours discovering the trodden paths of major cities and hidden villages but also unusual neighborhoods not many people visit. For example, in Rome, you could explore Eur (the modern quarter designed along fascist architectural lines) or San Lorenzo, the lefty student quarter.
Go off the beaten path! Even a day trip from Rome will do plenty to change your environment.
What to wear in Italy
Despite what I said above, you can dress casually in Italy. You can easily wear jeans – but dress them up with a cool top or some scarves and those great Italian leather shoes you just picked up in Florence.
Take advantage of being in Italy to dress a bit stylishly (you don’t have to, but it’s fun!)
Just one thing. Italy is an old country and in Europe, old equals cobblestones. Leave your high heels in your room and wear those comfortable walking shoes for your sightseeing day. And don’t forget your umbrella anywhere north of Rome.
If you travel to Italy in winter, don’t be so sure you’ll be basking in the sunshine. It rains, it pours even − of course you know this if you’ve ever been to Milan. , And yes, it snows, in the North, and further down sometimes, though not often). Temperatures can drop to below acceptable and you’ll need your warm coats and hats. Pack accordingly.
What to buy in Italy: Shopping
The problem with Italy is the overwhelming need to spend money the moment you step off the plane.
How can you avoid it, surrounded as you are by name brands, outstanding workmanship, and extraordinary design, not to mention delectable foods and wines? I do my best to avoid shopping but… oh, the shoes and the bags. I have never succeeded in leaving Italy without a bag. However, I never buy shoes because the sizing is all wrong for my feet – few half-sizes and no width variety (Italian women must all have perfect, narrow feet). Bags and purses, on the other hand, fit everyone.
You can buy in the major designer stores, of course, but I’ve always found it worthwhile to head to one of the two dozen outlet malls in Italy. If you happen to be in the North, head to the Serravalle Outlet, Italy’s largest, less than an hour from Milan.
You can also shop in original boutiques and markets, where you can bargain and where the choice is so overwhelming you may leave empty-handed because you can’t cope.
That said, if you’re not buying from major outlets, look at your items carefully before you buy and make sure you really are getting the quality you think you are.
In areas frequented by tourists, it’s very common for street vendors to sell knock-off designer bags. If police come by, the vendors will scoop up their wares and run off before you can blink. If you happen to be in the middle of a transaction and haven’t yet received your change or the item you were purchasing, you’re out of luck!
Italy is no different from other countries. If that Gucci bag costs $100, it isn’t a Gucci.
Be aware that customs officers are highly trained to detect fakes, however good. If you buy something and try to carry it into France or Switzerland, for example, you might be facing a hefty fine, possibly into the thousands. Not worth it!
Solo travel to Italy: Getting around
There are so many places to visit in Italy that it’s hard to generalize.
Still, it is by and large a safe country and its cities are safe as well, made for walking, and full of bustle until later than we’d be accustomed to in northern Europe or North America. Italians often have a passeggiata, a stroll in the evenings, and it’s wonderful to watch piazzas come alive with several generations arm in arm.
Traveling Italy alone can be confusing but it tends to be efficient and not too expensive. If you can figure out the various transport systems – and people are usually willing to help – then do yourself a favor and leave city driving for the daredevil brigade, unless you like the stress of avoiding manic drivers and pedestrians at high speeds on narrow, crowded downtown streets. Parking, too, is for the brave but if you want an experience to talk about back home, then, by all means, rent a car in Italy.
On highways, two lanes may mean three to Italians, with a car trying to squeeze in down the middle or on one side. I’m still talking about my own driving experiences on the Autostrada and in Rome – several decades later.
I gladly use a car is for drives into the countryside, however, where you’ll actually need one. Catch a bus from downtown Rome, and then rent a car from Fiumicino airport to avoid the city altogether – I did it recently, and it was seamless. Once out of the city, driving is far more relaxed.
Public transport in Italy is inexpensive. You can buy public transport passes in major cities like Rome, Milan, and Florence, and they often include entrance to attractions. One thing to remember is that in Italy, trains may often be late but they do go everywhere.
The best time to visit for solo travel to Italy is – almost all the time, depending on where you go. I dislike summer because it’s impossibly crowded and, in many places, unbearably hot (and not everyone appreciates catering to a solo woman when they can fill a table with a family). If you’re headed for a specific event, the Biennale or Carnevale, then you know when to go. But if you’re taking your time – and when it comes to slow travel Italy reigns – then you’ll have more choices. I personally love the shoulder seasons, the April-May (when fruits and vegetables are in their prime) and the September-October periods (think grape harvest), when the weather is wonderful, the crowds are gone, but the country still feels festive.
Can’t decide where to go or can’t travel right now? Here are some great virtual tours of Italy for your armchair pleasure.
Italy at a glance
Here is a quick look at the top things to see, foods you need to try, and things to do while you’re in Italy:
Top 5 solo travel: Italy must-sees
- Vestiges of the ancient Roman Empire: These include the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and many more archaeological sites scattered throughout the country.
- The Vatican: It is technically a separate country, but no trip to Rome would be complete without a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the rest of the Vatican Museums
- Food: Everyone thinks they know what Italian food is, but you’ll be surprised by the regional variations.
- Fashion: Milan is one of the most influential fashion capitals of the world, and Italians love to look stylish and keep up with the latest trends. Check out this Milan travel guide.
- Art: Italian artists have dominated the European art scene for hundreds of years. While Florence is the place to go for Renaissance art, you can find breathtaking examples of Baroque, Byzantine, and Rococo styles in other parts of the country too. Check out my Florence independent-women travel guide for more on this.
Top 3 off-the-beaten-track Italian sights
- The Basilica di San Clemente in Rome is actually three churches built on top of each other. The top one was built around 1100AD, and below that is its 4th-century predecessor as well as an ancient Roman house that served as a place of both pagan and Christian worship.
- Lying below ground underneath the notorious Sanità neighborhood of Naples are the Catacombs of San Gennaro in Naples, which date as far back as the 3rd century BC.
- Cefalù, Sicily is a laidback coastal town near Palermo that is dominated by its Norman Cathedral, built in the 12th century and filled with glittering Byzantine mosaics.
You can’t leave without trying these three foods
- Pizza in Naples. Stick with the traditional options, either pizza Margherita or pizza marinara. Some places serve only these two types anyway. My favorite pizzeria in Naples is Pizzeria Di Matteo. Go early or be prepared to wait for a while.
- Pasta. Italy has hundreds of different pasta shapes and sauces, and each town has its own local specialties. Two worth seeking are Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa in Puglia and Pesto Alla Trapanese in Trapani, Sicily.
- Gelato. The best ice cream in the world, bar none. My favorite gelateria is CamBio Vita in Rome.
You can’t leave Italy without buying…
A bottle of extra virgin olive oil. If you’re passing near Modena in the north, you’ll want to complement this with a bottle of balsamic vinegar.
Updated by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan