How To Visit Italy In Summer, Without Losing Your Sanity

Italy has seen a record number of tourists this spring, setting the stage for an even busier summer than usual.

The Vatican Museums are overwhelming with over 30,000 visitors each day. At the Uffizi Gallery, the crowds are so massive that visitors often leave within minutes of entering.

Piazza San Marco is overflowing. Popular restaurants are so besieged they no longer answer the phone for reservations.


Securing tickets to the likes of the Colosseum, Borghese Gallery, Vatican Museums, Uffizi, and Accademia has become a Herculean task.

Despite what seems like a nightmare scenario, travelers still pile into these popular Italian cities in summer. Will they be miserable?

Well, it depends. But there are some strategies for experiencing Italy’s iconic cities without undue stress.

How To Visit Italy’s Popular Cities In Summer

Here are some helpful hints for visiting this axis of tourism. I give you practical tips for the must see sites and some alternative places you might consider.

Some of these options are more expensive. But your sanity may be more important than your wallet.

Michelangelo frescos in the Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo frescos in the Sistine Chapel


In Rome, the top destination is Vatican City — St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. The main museum path is a suffocating wall of humanity without an inch of space to spare.

It’s so crowded that people have sour faces in the Sistine Chapel. They’re constantly shushed by the whisperers and told not to take photos.

How to deal with crowds this thick? Your best bet is to visit before or after hours.

If you can afford it, the VIP Key Master tour leaves at dawn. With a small group, you can open the museums and the Sistine Chapel by yourself. It’s a moving experience seeing it, at least briefly, without the crowds.

An after hours nighttime tour will also be less crowded. (But not empty!)

Raphael, Transfiguration, 1520 (Vatican Pinacoteca)
Raphael, Transfiguration, 1520 (Vatican Pinacoteca)

If you can’t swing one of these tours, in the summer, the Vatican Museums have extended hours. On Friday night, it’s open until 10:30 pm. On Saturday night, it’s open until 8:00 pm.

So, if you want to avoid major crowds, book a skip the line ticket to go late. At that point, most of the tours are over. Plus, the place is beautifully illuminated at night.

Another option is to get off the main museum path in the Vatican. Check out some of the speciality museums like the Vatican Pinacoteca, the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, or the Gregorian Etruscan Museum.

St. Peter’s Basilica is tough to get into as well. It’s first come first serve.

The lines are epic and everyone has to go through airport style security, even if you’re on a guided tour. There is no skipping this part.

I recently waited an hour (in early December) to do the dome climb after having waited 30 minutes to get inside the basilica. Imagine what it would be like in summer …

Michelangelo, Pieta,1498-1500
Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s

One trick to skip this line is to book a Scavi tour (well in advance). The scavi refers to the necropolis underneath the basilica. It’s a burial site believed to house the tomb of Saint Peter.

It’s sort of like being in Pompeii except with a roof over your head. After visiting, you’re allowed access into the basilica and you can see Michelangelo’s Pieta and Bernini’s baldachin.

The other main site in Rome is the Colosseum. It hosted over 7.5 million visitors last year. The movie Gladiator really launched the fame of this iconic landmark.

If you are planning on going in the summer, you must book a timed entry ticket online. Even with that, you will still encounter a line to get in.

Only a set number of people are allowed in at once. And, once you’re inside, there’s another line to go through security.

interior of the Colosseum

My best advice is to go as early as you can or as late as you can manage. The tour groups and cruise ship groups start plunging in around 10:00 am.

If you’re experiencing bedlam, try to remember that this is how it was in Ancient Rome when the citizens poured in to watch the gladiatorial games.

The official Colosseum website will only start selling tickets 30 days in advance. They don’t want tour operators to hoard the tickets.

So, to avoid a disappointing sell out situation, I would buy tickets on Get Your Guide or Tiqets a few months early. It will be more expensive, but at least you’ll have a spot.

You can also book a nighttime tour, which will make it less crowded.

Mithraic temple in San Clemente
Mithraic temple in San Clemente

If you simply can’t face the Colosseum crowds (and I personally wouldn’t do it in the summer), you can walk a little ways down the street and visit the fantastic Basilica of San Clemente instead.

There, you can see a church with 12th century mosaics and frescos, frescos and ruins from a 4th century church, and 1st century villa ruins and Mithraic temple.

This site epitomizes the saying that Rome is a “lasagna” with layers of history.

>>> Click here to book a San Clemente tour

garden frescos in Palazzo Massimo
garden frescos in Palazzo Massimo

There are plenty of lesser known sites to explore too — Palazzo Massimo, the Baths of Diocletian, the newly opened Archaeological Park of Celio, or other hidden gems in Rome.

Now, the third most popular site in Rome is the Borghese Gallery.

It’s one of my favorite museums in all of Europe, a treasure trove of artworks by Bernini, Caravaggio, and Venetian artists.

But the Borghese is a victim of its own success. The museum only sell a certain number of tickets in 2 hours time slots.

And when they run out of room, that’s it. So, it’s always sold out and it’s difficult to get tickets.

Try to plan ahead and book a skip the line ticket well in advance. If tickets are sold out, you can also try to get in via a guided tour.

How do you avoid the crowds? Well, you could go at night.

Starting on April 22 (through October), the Borghese will remain open until until 10:00 pm (last entrance at 8:45 pm) to allow an even greater public to visit the masterpieces of the collection.

If you just can’t score a ticket, remember there is another Renaissance pleasure palace in Rome where you can escape the craziness.

It’s the Villa Farnesina in Trastevere on the other side of the Tiber River. And it’s now open all day (not just the morning).

This small museum is home to some of the most beautiful art from the Renaissance with mythological frescos by Renaissance painters Raphael, Baldassare Peruzzi, and Sebastian del Piombo. The most famous one is Raphael’s beautiful Galatea.

>>> Click here to book a tour of Villa Farnesina

Giotto's bell tower seen from the Cathedral terrace
Giotto’s bell tower seen from the Cathedral terrace


Florence, like Rome, is a beacon for tourists. In summer, the streets are jammed and you can barely move.

The cathedral complex is the big draw. There are interminable lines of people waiting to get in.

Why? It’s free to get into, but there is security.

My advice? Skip the cathedral interior, it’s not all that interesting.

Alternatively, book a VIP tour that includes the duomo terraces. Barely anyone else will be up there.

crowds at the Uffizi
crowds at the Uffizi

Now, what about the Uffizi Gallery?

It’s the busiest site in Florence because it’s home to the best Medieval and Renaissance site in the world. This is where you come to see Michelangelo and Leonardo.

But it’s absolute bedlam inside. Unlike the Borghese, they simply let in too many people at once.

One way to avoid this is to pick the right time to visit. Get there first thing in the morning at 8:15 am or go late in the day.

Also, beginning on September 13 for a month or so, the museum will remain open until 9:30 pm.

Daniele da Volterra busts of Michelangelo in the Accademia
Daniele da Volterra busts of Michelangelo in the Accademia

The Galleria Accademia is another tough spot to visit. You certainly cannot just walk up and buy a ticket.

Lately, you have to buy tickets months in advance on Get Your Guide or Viator.

So be sure to do that. Get there early and queue up in the line designated for your entry time.

But the thing about the Accademia is that it’s kind of a one trick pony, with everyone crowding around Michelangelo’s David. Thankfully, since it’s 17 feet tall, it’s easy to see.

But you won’t die if you can’t see David. You can see a copy of it in Piazza della Signoria or Piazelle Michelangelo.

Since the Uffizi and the Accademia are closed on Monday, Tuesday is one of the busiest days to visit.

Avoid booking then, if at all possible. Try to plan your visit for Wednesday or Thursday and avoid weekends.

The only caveat to this statement is that both museums are now open until 10:00 pm on Tuesday night and the Accademia is open until 9:00 pm on Thursday in the summer. So you could reserve tickets for later on those days.

If all else fails, there’s another fantastic museum in Florence that’s full of incredible sculpture — the Bargello Museum. Upstairs, is the greatest room of sculpture you may ever see.

Donatello Room of the Bargello
Donatello Room of the Bargello

You can see some amazing sculptures by Donatello, including his famous Bronze David.

Why aren’t people lined up to see this sculpture? Probably because the museum isn’t a temple to just one piece of art.

You can also cross the Arno River and go to the other side of Florence, the Oltrarno, if you don’t want to be cheek to jowl.

The Pitti Palace will have tourists.

But the charming streets will be easier to navigate. And there are other less touristy sites to see like the Basilica of Santo Spirito and the Brancacci Chapel.

Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco


Venice presents even more logistic difficulties because it’s an island. The crowds feel more palpable.

Almost everyone is crushed in or around Piazza San Marco. Of course you need to see it. It’s one of the world’s most beautiful squares.

But if you want to experience it without crowds, you need to get up at dawn and walk around. And then leave for the day when the day trippers and cruise ship people arrive.

If you want to see St. Mark’s Basilica without crowds, I would book an early entrance tour or an after hours tour.

Indeed, if you skip the area between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, you can avoid the bulk of Venice’s crowds. Try the San Polo, Cannaregio, or Dorsoduro neighborhoods instead.

Veronse, Feast in the House of Levi, 1573 -- a massive painting
Veronse, Feast in the House of Levi, 1573 — a massive painting

If you’re an art lover, there are plenty of places in Venice to escape. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection will be packed of course. It always is.

But the Galleria Accademia will most likely be empty. Even though its collection of Venetian Renaissance is the world’s best. You’ll find artworks by Giorgione, Titian, Veronese, etc.

Other places to try if you want to escape the crowds are the Frari Church and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. They are both mini museums and contain tremendous artworks by Titian and Tintoretto.

You can also check out my guide to the best museums in Venice. Many of these are fairly empty as well.

Also keep in mind that many tourists in Venice are day-trippers. If you stay overnight, you’ll experience a quieter city in the early morning and late evening. You only get one life, and Venice deserves as many days and night as you can give it.

grand ballroom in Ca' Rezzonico
grand ballroom in Ca’ Rezzonico
Tintoretto, Gathering of the Manna, 1577 (San Rocco)
Tintoretto, Gathering of the Manna, 1577 (San Rocco)

I would also avoid taking the vaporetti, if you can, and walk everywhere. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time waiting in line and be smashed into crowded boats.

The main line, #1, is especially crowded at rush hour because that’s how the locals get to and from work.

You could also hire a private water taxi.

If you want to go to one of the Venetian islands, consider skipping the ever popular Burano and Murano in the summer. They are packed with tourists, especially between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm. Or else go extremely early to get your photos.

Compared to Murano and Burano, Torcello gets relatively few visitors. It doesn’t have the colorful houses. But it does have a 7th century cathedral and some spectacular Byzantine mosaics.

mosaics in the Torecello's cathedral
mosaics in the Torecello’s cathedral

I hope you’ve enjoyed my tips for how to visit Italy in summer. You may find these other Italy guides useful:

Pin it for later.

Pinterest pin for how to visit Italy Lin the summer without losing your mind
Pinterest pin for how to visit Italy in summer

Leave a Comment