What to Pack for Italy: Summer Travel

by Jessica on May 30, 2011

by | May 30th, 2011  

After you’ve bought your Italy airfare and sorted out an itinerary, the next stumbling block for many is what to pack for your trip. To help you sort that out, here are some suggestions for what to pack for a summer trip to Italy.

It’s not possible for me to create one packing list that will apply to every Italy traveler. There are simply too many variables – different kinds of people, different itineraries, etc. What I can do, however, is offer a few suggestions for things to bring that you might not have thought of – things I’ve found handy on my trips, or that I know frequent Italy travelers never go to Italy without.

>> What to Wear in Italy in Summer

What to Pack for Italy in Summer

Summer in Italy means sun, so the things you should pack that are specific to summer are sun-related. Even if you don’t plan to lie by a pool, you’ll need to be prepared for hot weather.

  • Sunglasses – Can you buy cheap shades from a guy displaying his wares on a sheet spread on the sidewalks of most Italian cities? Yes. And if you get caught buying a designer knock-off, you could get stuck with a hefty fine. Unless you’re planning to buy a real designer pair of sunglasses in Italy, bring your own.
  • Sun Hat – Many sights are outdoors (Roman Forum, Pompeii), some attractions require long waits outdoors (St. Mark’s in Venice, Vatican Museums), and just walking from place to place means you’re exposed to the often-brutal sun. There are great packable wide-brimmed hats that will help shield you from the sun and still look nice. Find them on Amazon.com
  • Sunblock – Bringing sunscreen is important for the same reasons listed above regarding bringing a hat. Sunburns are no fun at home, and they’re less fun when you’re on vacation. Remember that if you’re traveling carry-on only, that means you’ll need to limit yourself to a 3oz bottle of sunblock and buy more in Italy if you run out. You’ll find sunblock at the farmacia. You can also avoid the liquid question by getting a solid sunscreen instead. Find it on Amazon.com
  • Swimsuit – Whether you’ll be hanging out at the hotel pool or you’re visiting some of Italy’s beaches, a swimsuit is a must-have for summer trips to Italy. Luckily, they take up very little room in a bag. Of course, if you’re absolutely certain you won’t need a swimsuit, then skip it – but be aware that if you change your mind, buying a suit in an Italian beach town won’t be cheap.
  • Reusable Water Bottle – Just as it’s important to protect yourself from the sun, it’s also important to stay hydrated. Rather than contributing to the purchase (and later discarding) of lots of plastic water bottles, why not bring your own refillable bottle? You can fill it after you go through security at the airport, and then keep refilling it as you walk through whatever Italian city you’re in. Many have public water fountains with water meant for drinking – it’s cold and fresh and delicious – making it easy to refill your bottle as you sightsee. Find them on Amazon.com
  • Paper Fan – This is something I bring now to any warm place, especially if that place is also humid (which much of Italy is during the summer). These paper Chinese fans are cheap, fit easily in even a small purse, and offer lovely relief from the stale hot air of an Italian train or bus. Find them on Amazon.com
  • “Church Appropriate” Clothing – I’m not suggesting that you need your “Sunday best” for going to mass, but you do need to plan on covering up before going into many of Italy’s religious attractions. Some will have stricter attire rules than others, but it’s just respectful to be covered up whether there are guards at the door or not. “Church appropriate” means no exposed shoulders, knees, midriffs, or (for the ladies) cleavage. Bringing a light pashmina or shawl to wear over your shoulders will work, but remember to bring long pants or a longer skirt you can wear on any day you’re planning to visit a church. Find them on Amazon.com

What Not to Pack for Italy in Summer

Here are a few things that you might think of bringing for a summer trip to Italy, but that you might want to think twice about:

  • Shorts? – Shorts are part of the uniform of summer, but it probably won’t surprise you to learn that fashion-conscious Italy hasn’t embraced the khaki short. I have seen more young people wearing shorts in recent years than I used to, but they’re long shorts – usually falling below the knee, especially for guys, and they’re not usually denim or khaki. They’re the same kind of fashionable, colorful trousers Italians usually wear in summer… They’re just not full-length.
  • Flip flops? – The other part of summer’s uniform these days are flip flops, borrowed from the beach. Italians wear flip flops, but only at the beach or gym or pool – they aren’t considered shoes to wear out in public generally. Sandals are thought of as perfectly acceptable summer footwear, just so long as they’re not the rubber/plastic sort.
  • Baseball cap? – This is another bit of clothing that the Italians, for the most part, haven’t removed from its original purpose: for use in sports. I’ve seen some young men wearing (fashionable) baseball-style caps in more recent years, but I’ve not seen women of any age wearing them. Remember that any hat you do wear needs to be removed (out of respect) when you go into a church, too.

Okay, really? No shorts?

Does this mean you should absolutely not bring any of these things to Italy? No, it doesn’t – if you are most comfortable wearing denim shorts and flip flops, then that’s worth thinking about. You just need to realize that wearing that “summer uniform” will make you stand out more as a tourist – and that could mean more potential for being a target for pickpockets or “tourist prices.” In addition, some churches will bar you from entering if you’re wearing shorts (even if they’re nice shorts).

Italians, on the whole, dress more formally – even in hot weather – than most people do when we’re on vacation, so the things you’ll see Italians wearing in the summer include lightweight trousers, shirts, and sun dresses. Use your own judgment for the clothing you choose to bring, it’s just good to be aware what the Italians will be wearing.

But how can I make sure to bring what’s in fashion right now?

If you really want to be in fashion when you’re in Italy, the best thing you can do is plan to buy something when you get there that’s in the color everyone’s wearing right then. You can pick up a relatively cheap shirt, dress, scarf, or purse in one of the outdoor markets that pop up in every Italian town, or you can budget a bit more for something a bit nicer – either way, it’s a fun way to add to your wardrobe and have something to wear immediately and feel very “of the moment” during your trip.

photos, top to bottom, by: Murky1, unfoldedorigami, Rennett Stowe


{ 18 comments }

Alba May 31, 2011 at 7:57 am
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Great post. I couldn’t agree more about the sun protection! Italy gets VERY hot in the summer!

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Lucy June 6, 2011 at 5:08 am
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Good tips! I’d have never thought to NOT wear shorts there in the summer. Definitely glad I checked this out before I head over in a few weeks!

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Jessica June 6, 2011 at 1:27 pm
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It’s not that you can’t wear shorts, Lucy, it’s that you won’t really see many of the locals wearing the kinds of shorts we tend to wear all summer long – so it’s more about knowing what the Italians are wearing. If you don’t mind standing out a bit, then shorts are fine! Except, of course, when you’re going into the churches – then shorts are a no-no anyway.

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Susan Van Allen June 6, 2011 at 8:37 am
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Re the swimsuits–I’m always amazed at how women of all shapes and ages wear bikinis in Italy–taking in as much sun as possible is the priority–with sunscreen and hat of course! I encourage gals to do as the Italians do and go for the bikini when on Italian beaches!

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Jessica June 6, 2011 at 1:26 pm
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That’s *such* a good point, Susan – we’re much more hung up about body image than the women on Europe’s beaches are!

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Patricia September 5, 2011 at 4:31 pm
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Very good point, particularly for the “over 40″ women. Here in North America we would never dare to wear bikinis after a certain age, or after our child-bearing years, but in Italy women don’t think twice about it. The same can be said for many European women who come to Italy (French, German, Scandinavian, Spanish).

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Mark June 24, 2011 at 6:40 pm
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So sorry I took this advice. Most everyone in Italy does dress better than Americans do, but mostly in the biggest cities. It’s just too hot to wear dress pants all the time in the summer, and we saw lots of people, young and old, dressing less formally and wearing shorts. I left my shorts at home and was miserable when I didn’t have to be. Shorts in the stores were outrageously expensive. So, do yourself a favor and pack a pair of shorts and a plain T-shirt.

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Jessica June 27, 2011 at 2:03 pm
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I’m sorry you were miserable, Mark.

I never said people *can’t* wear shorts, only that most Italians don’t. I have heard Italians are wearing very dressy shorts more often now, but these tend to be longer (knee-length in many cases) and worn with a belt and shirts tucked in – and this is still far less common than in the US or some other places.

I also want to clarify that it’s not dress pants I suggested as summer wear. Lightweight linen pants are a great summer option for men and women.

The bottom line is that these are guidelines based on what Italians wear to help people visiting Italy not stand out as tourists if possible – plus, it’s also about being dressed respectfully, the way the people in a country dress. In the end, however, we are all free to dress however we’d like (within reason!) when on vacation.

I hope the rest of your Italy experience was a positive one!

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Olivia Sorbi May 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm
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Thanks for your useful advise. I have never been to Italy myself and I would have never realized how formal Italians like to dress and how important it is to wear appropriate clothing to Italy’s religious attractions. The information about wearing shorts was useful as I often wear shorts myself all summer long. I would have never thought wearing shorts would make me stand out as a tourist and be more vunerble to pick pocketing. I hope this information will be useful as I love wearing my denim shorts in summer and will be sad not to wer them in Italy.

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Jessica May 24, 2012 at 5:33 pm
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You can wear whatever you’d like, Olivia, just be aware that going into churches you’ll need to be wearing appropriate clothing. Otherwise, be comfortable!

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Abigail June 3, 2012 at 12:10 pm
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Jessica, Hi.

Any idea how the weather is in September?? :)

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Abigail June 4, 2012 at 8:31 pm
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Never mind, I found the link. :p

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samual lory June 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm
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Are there any festivities recommended for this area at this time, and can we expect reasonable weather? What are the sites to see and things to do?

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cyd June 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm
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what about leggings or tights? does covering your knees with leggings count when at a church for example?

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cyd June 14, 2012 at 3:44 pm
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oh and how do you feel about disposable razors?

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Claudia June 23, 2012 at 7:26 pm
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I have many relatives in Northern Italy.Visted several times and are going back in two weeks.they all wear shorts-no problem.tgey do wear sundresses but also shorts mid thigh are everywhere -men and women/Italian or non

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Maria November 27, 2012 at 3:39 pm
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wearing short is perfect with all that heat. shades and sun block will definitely come in handy to protect your skin and eyes from the blistering heat. Just bring the provision you need to have a light and happy exploration in Italy.

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Jammu Kashmir tour packages February 13, 2013 at 4:02 am
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Yeah! Great post, one should chose clothes that help them to protect from sun, Darker colors absorb more UVA as do heavier fabrics, but in summer’s spl. In ital it yuck! So opt for light color clothes. Have a nice journey

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