Hi. My name is Kate and I’ve been traveling solo in Italy for 14 years. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world. Even though I’m trying to visit new countries, I keep getting drawn back to Italy again and again!
And you’ve landed here because you’re looking to do the same. You want to travel in Italy, and you’re considering going on your own. And you probably have some well-meaning loved ones who insist that it’s not safe for a woman to travel alone in Italy. You’re not sure whether or not to believe them — so you’re seeking advice from an expert.
And I’m here to tell you the truth. There are few countries that I know better than Italy. I’ve been more than a dozen times. I lived in Florence for four months. I’ve been to 10 of Italy’s 20 regions. I studied Italian and still speak it, though my command of the language has dwindled in recent years. And my career is teaching women how to travel around the world safely.
In short, when it comes to solo female travel in Italy, I know what I’m talking about. I know Italy is a dream destination for so many women, but they’re held back. Is it a good idea? And most importantly, is it safe?
Why Travel to Italy Solo?
Italy is a wonderful place to travel solo as a woman. What makes it so good?
It’s a destination most people dream about. Haven’t you always thought about taking a gondola through the canals of Venice as your gondolier sings to you? Italy has a magic that we’ve been dreaming about since we were kids.
The food is exquisite. Each region has its own style and specialties (hell, in Italy each town has its own signature dish!). In my opinion, the best food in Italy is in the Emilia-Romagna region, followed by Tuscany.
The towns and cities are absolutely beautiful. And not just the churches, palaces and piazzas — even regular buildings are beautiful in the old towns of Italy!
It’s easy to get around. You can hit most of the major destinations by train, and several high-speed lines have been added in the last decade, making it faster to get from city to city. If not, you can get around by bus or even car.
It’s a generally safe destination. There’s crime everywhere in the world, but generally speaking, Italy is as safe as your hometown. More on that below.
The art is unparalleled. I once had an art history professor who claimed that an estimated 50% of the world’s artistic treasures were in Italy, and 50% of Italy’s artistic treasures were in Florence. While I can’t verify that claim, you can’t deny that Italy has some of the most magnificent works of art in the world.
The scenery is stunning. Italy might not be as famous for its landscapes as, say, Norway, but you’ll find yourself swooning over the hills of Tuscany, the mountains and lakes of the Dolomites, and the rugged cliffs of the Amalfi Coast.
Beautiful fashion and excellent shopping. Italians take their style and grooming very seriously, and in Italy you can find all sorts of classy and fashionable brands. Florence in particular is good for gold and leather goods.
The Instagram factor. Sure, you can get yourself holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but that’s not all — there’s also the sunset over St. Peter’s Basilica from Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, the cliffs of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, and the postcard-perfect towns of Cinque Terre.
Learning about your heritage. If you are of Italian descent, it can be moving to come to Italy and see the country that your ancestors called home. If you can track down the town that they left, like I did in Sicily, even better!
If you’re country-counting, you could add add three. Two countries are completely surrounded by Italy: the Vatican, within Rome, and San Marino, near Rimini and an easy day trip from Bologna. They’re also wonderful destinations in their own right. A trip to Italy could turn into a trip to three countries for you.
Is Italy Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?
Many travel experts recommend that first-time solo female travelers start in an English-speaking country, but I actually think Italy can be good for first-timers. There are three primary reasons for that.
1. Travel infrastructure. Italy has been a major tourism hotspot for centuries. You can find all kinds of hotels, all kinds of resaturants, all kinds of tours. There is an extensive train network and if not, there are buses. English is spoken throughout Italy, especially by young people and in the most popular tourism destinations.
2. Well-worn tourist trail. If you stick to the beaten path, there will be plenty of tourists there along with you. You never have to worry about being the only foreigner in a town. Not unless you want to! And Italians are used to dealing with tourists and their needs.
3. Familiarity. Italy is a more familiar and accessible culture than in lots of other countries. You’re probably familiar with the art, the architecture, and definitely the food. At the very least, you can always find pizza, pasta, and tiramisu. (Just don’t order fettuccine alfredo. It’s not a thing.)
If your trip to Italy is your first solo trip ever, you may be more comfortable sticking to the tourist trail. Luckily, there are plenty of tourist trails all over Italy.
Is Italy Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?
Absolutely. Don’t think of Italy as “amateur hour” — if you want to avoid the tourists, go ahead and get off the beaten path! There are so many regions that are beautiful and interesting but not discovered by the masses (and particularly the North American masses). Think Calabria, Abruzzo, Friuli.
If you’re already an experienced solo traveler, you’ll probably have an easier time in cities like Naples, which can be intimidating to women who aren’t as street-smart. If you’re used to hiking on your own, you might enjoy regions like South Tyrol.
And if you want to throw all your expectations of Italy out the window, head to Sicily. As well as I know Italy, I found Sicily to be quite challenging, especially once you get off the beaten path. Consider it Italy on hard mode!
Is Italy Safe?
Most women who want to visit Italy are held back because they’re not sure whether it’s safe. Many of these women have well-meaning relatives and friends who tell them that they shouldn’t go to Italy because it isn’t safe.
Those well-meaning relatives and friends are wrong. They’re coming from a place of love and concern, but they’re wrong.
I always tell travelers to consider the source. Who is giving you this advice? Ask yourself the following questions:
Does this person travel?
Does this person travel in my style of traveling (i.e. backpacking as opposed to resort travel)?
Has this person been to this destination?
Has this person been to this destination recently (in the past 3-5 years)?
If the answer is yes to all of these, chances are you have an accurate source and should listen to what he or she has to say. But if the answer to one or more of these questions is no, you should seek out opinions elsewhere.
A lot of people who claim that Italy is unsafe have never traveled solo and are remembering something bad about Italy they heard on cable news a few years ago. Some of them remembered a bad anecdote about Italy from a friend decades ago and it’s colored their opinion of Italy ever since.
The truth? Generally speaking, Italy is as safe as your hometown. Violent crime is rare; you’re far more likely to be murdered by your romantic partner than a random stranger on the street, just like anywhere else. The crimes that make headlines, like the Amanda Knox trial, do so because they are so rare.
The main risk you face is petty theft. The best way to guard against that is to protect your belongings in your room and on your person. Lock up your belongings in a portable safe and lock it to something sturdy in your room. When you’re out, use a crossbody purse that zips shut (see more here on what kind of handbag is best for travel) and you may want to try a Speakeasy Travel Supply Scarf, which has a hidden pocket for your valuables that no pickpocket will know about. Use a good day bag that locks if you’re carrying your camera and lenses; I use this one.
READ MORE: Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women
The other major risk for solo female travelers in Italy is intoxication. Getting drunk lowers your inhibitions and leaves you susceptible to theft or assault. This can especially be challenging in a country like Italy where wine is part of life.
Try to limit your consumption to two glasses or fewer. Italians tend to drink in moderation. Keep in mind that vino della casa, though cheap and delicious, is often homemade and can have a higher alcohol content than normal. Especially be careful if you go on a wine-tasting trip or a tour where unlimited wine is served.
What About Italian Men?
This is the one aspect of traveling in Italy that deserves a warning. Italian men can be quite aggressive to women, especially foreign women. This can take various forms — incessant compliments and flirtatious overtures, saying “Ciao Bella” whenever you walk by; mild to loud catcalling; and sometimes following you or grabbing you.
The best thing that you can do is ignore it. Don’t react to the “Ciao Bellas”; if he grabs your arm, shake it off and keep walking. Italian men are used to local women ignoring them. 95% of the time, their behavior does not escalate if you do not give them a reaction.
In the event that the behavior continues without abatement or escalates, go into a shop or restaurant. Ask for help. Locals are familiar with this behavior and know how to defuse it.
I don’t tell you this to scare you. Most of the behavior of Italian men will cease if you ignore it. And that’s not to put the onus on you — it’s THEIR problem that they’re bothering a stranger, and your feelings about it are valid, no matter what they are!
I will add that while I used to get constant harassment while in Italy, I get very little harassment today. I chalk that up to three reasons: I’m no longer very young-looking (neither innocent nor as easily manipulable); I dress and act Italian; and these days I primarily travel in parts of Italy that don’t see as many tourists.
This is what I mean about dressing Italian: the day I got the most harassment in Italy was when I was 20 and wearing a denim miniskirt and a cream-colored tank top. Italian women don’t wear a skimpy top and a skimpy bottom simultaneously, and they rarely wear skirts that short; coupled with my youth and foreignness, it immediately set me apart as easy prey. I went home, changed into a long skirt, and things were better. More on how to dress below.
Travel and Safety Tips for Italy
DO NOT OVERPLAN. One of the biggest problems I see with Italy travelers is that they want to see as much as possible and plan too much into too short a time. My advice? Make peace with the fact that you won’t see everything you want to see, and plan an itinerary that gives you room for serendipity. Keep in mind that packing, moving, and unpacking every day (or even every other day) can be exhausting.
Get a SIM card. If your phone plan doesn’t work overseas (don’t roam, it’s crazy expensive), pick up a SIM card in the airport or in a shop on the street. This way you’ll always have internet on your phone in case of an emergency. I usually get a Vodafone SIM card when I’m in Italy. There are Vodafone shops everywhere. You’ll need to bring your passport.
It helps to dress to blend in with Italian women. Italians tend to be well dressed and groomed, especially in the cities; dressing this way will help you keep a low profile. Don’t wear athletic wear, shorts, baseball caps, or torn jeans unless they’re fashion items. Don’t wear sneakers or flip-flops; instead, bring nice flats, boots, or sandals. The Walking Company is my go-to for comfortable shoes that are cute; I strongly recommend black ABEO flats, which have fantastic arch support.
Italians tend to wear a lot of black, but you don’t have to restrict yourself to dark colors. In summer, I wear tailored dresses; in other seasons, I wear tall boots, nice jeans or pants, and a leather jacket. Italians tend to wear designer sunglasses; some solid black frames at any price range should do you well.
Always validate your train ticket. After you buy your train ticket, you’ll see boxes near the platform where you stick the ticket and get it stamped. You must do this. If you don’t, you could get thrown off the train at the next stop, even though you paid for your ticket.
Ignore the Roma (formerly known as gypsies, a racist term that you should phase out of your vocabulary) and try to keep your distance. The Roma in Italy target tourists for scams, whether that’s panhandling while holding a sedated baby or poking you to distract you while they pickpocket you. DO NOT GIVE THEM MONEY. You are rewarding a system where the men enjoy all the money and force the women and children to work.
You are not obligated to tip the musicians who play near or in restaurants. However, if you make eye contact or make any indication that you’re enjoying the music, they will hound you for tips until you give in.
Consider bringing a Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf. These beautiful scarves are designed and sewed by my friend have a hidden passport pocket in them. I love these scarves (I even designed my own!) and they are so good at keeping your valuables hidden. They’re also extremely chic, enough to work in a fashion-conscious country like Italy.
Driving can be challenging. Italy is famous in pop culture for crazy drivers; unfortunately, there’s a bit of truth to this stereotype. The driving tends to get crazier the further south you go. I personally didn’t have issues with the driving in Puglia, but the driving in Sicily was absolutely insane and needed multiple people to navigate around the crazy drivers!
Summers can be excruciatingly hot in Italy. Plan your trip carefully. If you’re visiting during the summer months (mountainous regions like the Dolomites excluded), prepare for temperatures into the high 90s (mid-30s celsius). Many Italians stay inside during the hottest part of the day. Be sure to hydrate frequently and wear broad-spectrum sunscreen. Many cities in Italy have water fountains where you can refill your reusable bottle.
Don’t let food allergies stop you from visiting Italy. Italians understand the severity of food allergies. Celiac disease is especially understood as all children are tested for it. Italians are used to cooking with all kinds of flours, so finding gluten-free Italian food is much easier than you may think. If you have an unusual food allergy, it helps to get it translated and bring the card to restaurants with you. My friend Jodi sells gluten-free translation cards and has one for Italy.
The Best Experiences in Italy
Walking into the Sistine Chapel. Finally seeing those Michelangelo paintings that you’ve dreamed about for years as the guards call out, “Sileeeeeencio.”
Staying at an agriturismo. Italians were doing farm homestays long before Airbnb existed! Relax in the countryside and enjoy fresh meals from the garden every night.
Taking the cable car to the top of Capri. Stepping up, admiring the view, and wondering whether you’re in a Greek myth.
Sitting in Caffe Rivoire on Piazza della Signorina in Florence, watching the world go by. Be sure to get their hot chocolate. It’s unlike any you’ve ever had.
Learning how to cook your favorite dishes. You can find cooking classes all over Italy!
Enjoying aperitivo in Bologna. In the early evening, order an aperol spritz or glass of wine and help yourself to the complimentary buffet.
Wearing a vintage-style dress and posing on the beach in Positano. It feels like you’re an extra in The Talented Mr. Ripley, waiting for Jude Law and Matt Damon to appear.
Being delighted by the sight of a nun speeding by on a bicycle. And it’s not a rare occurrence in this country.
Enjoying a gondola ride through Venice. It’s like you’ve always dreamed it would be.
Shopping for jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Yes, it’s touristy, but you can get some truly beautiful pieces here. And it’s minimum 18k gold.
Eating gelato at every opportunity possible. Multiple times per day! Go ahead, you’re on vacation!
Where to Go in Italy
There are so many options in Italy! No matter what kind of trip you’re planning, you can find it in Italy. (Unless you’re looking to ski in the middle of the summer. Though you can do that in neighboring Austria…)
If it’s your first time, you may want to hit up the greatest hits. That would be Rome, Florence, and Venice, and they do make a great trio. Depending on how much time you have, you can add on day trips or extra destinations. Some first-timers like to add the Amalfi Coast, often basing in Sorrento. Others add Milan, or Cinque Terre, or Bologna.
I’m a big fan of staying in one Italian city and using it as a base for day trips. This way you only unpack once and don’t have to lug your bags throughout the trip. My biggest tip is to stay in a major train hub so you have lots of options.
Florence is probably my first choice for a day trip-centric Italy trip; you can see this post for details. My second choice would be Bologna. Milan and Verona could work. All four of these destinations are major train hubs and can get you all over the region easily. I wouldn’t recommend doing this in Rome because you have to go pretty far from Rome to see a lot of the day-trippable destinations.
Tuscany is a dream destination of many travelers, and for good reason. You’ll recognize the hills from all the Renaissance paintings you’ve seen, and the hill towns are beyond charming. Another great option is the region of Umbria, which is next door and not as famous nor as expensive, but has a very similar beauty to Tuscany with delicious food, too.
Puglia, the heel of the boot, is an interesting destination and has some of the better infrastructure in southern Italy. This is a great destination to see on a road trip. I particularly loved Alberobello, full of white conical buildings called trulli.
If you’re a foodie, you must go to Emilia-Romagna. I consider it my favorite food region on the planet, and Italians grudgingly admit that Bologna is the best food city in Italy. Base in Bologna and dive into the local cuisine; take day trips to Modena, Parma, Ravenna, Ferrara, Rimini, and San Marino for more. Here are my 25 favorite food experiences in Emilia-Romagna.
If you’re an experienced traveler and looking for something different, consider Sicily. I found Sicily to be an intense and challenging destination, but very rewarding. If you’re a less confident traveler, stick to the beaten path in Sicily. Here are the best spots on the East Coast; my favorite was Siracusa.
This is just a taste of what Italy has to offer. I could list everywhere, but this post would be 10,000 words long!
Travel Insurance for Italy
One last note — it’s absolutely vital to have travel insurance before traveling to Italy. If you get sick or injured on your trip, or even have to be flown home, travel insurance will protect you from financial ruin. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Italy.
My friend once broke her foot while in Florence. Her travel insurance company not only handled all the medical expenses, but they got her a business class ticket home so she could keep her foot elevated. Travel insurance protects both your health and your finances, and that’s why it’s so important.
Don’t be afraid — Italy is waiting for you!
Italy is one of my favorite countries in the world and it has brought so much happiness into my life! I only want you to have the same happiness that I’ve known.
Consider this your blessing. Read up on travel safety, go to Italy, and have the time of your life.
Then come back and tell me all about it.
Have you traveled solo in Italy? What would you add to this post?
The post Solo Female Travel in Italy — Is it Safe? appeared first on Adventurous Kate.