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What to Pack for Italy: Winter Travel

While most people travel to Italy in the summer, serious budget travelers are more likely to take advantage of the sales available during the winter. The problem with that is packing – bulky winter clothing takes up way more room than breezy summer duds. I can’t solve the problem of making more stuff fit into the same size bag, but I can tell you some of the things I always pack for winter trips to Italy.
It’s just not possible for me (or anyone) to create one master packing list that will work for every Italy traveler. There are too many variables to take into consideration. This list, then, is a set of suggestions for things that you might not have thought of bringing with you – things I’ve found useful on my trips, or that I know frequent Italy travelers never go to Italy without.
>> What to Wear in Italy in Winter

What to Pack for Italy in Winter

Winter in Italy is, for the most part, cold and wet – so the stuff you should think about bringing is primarily about keeping you warm and dry. As mentioned, cold-weather clothing is far bulkier to pack than warm-weather clothing, so if you have the budget for it this may be one place to splurge on travel clothing in those high-tech fabrics that keep you warm without being enormous.

  • Warm & Water-Resistant Coat – Almost without exception, you’re going to want to have a coat that’s both warm and water-resistant. You probably won’t need something that’s as impervious to water as Gore-tex, but having a jacket that will shrug off the rain as you walk from museum to museum is good. Something with a hood is helpful, even if you do have an umbrella, for short walks, times when it’s really windy, or in areas where there’s no room to put up an umbrella anyway (find them on Amazon).
  • Water-Resistant Shoes – I mention this because I’ve brought the wrong shoes before, and it’s really annoying to find your socks are instantly wet the second you walk out the door of your hotel for the day. Again, you aren’t likely to need rubber rain boots, but it’s important to bring shoes that will protect your feet from water when you’re walking around on a wet day. I tend to avoid white tennis shoes because they stand out too much and show dirt easily; plus, it’s nice to have one pair of shoes that’s both functional (comfortable for walking around in) and looks nice enough to wear to a restaurant.
  • Scarf – No matter the weather, I tend to bring a pashmina-style shawl (find them on Amazon) with me when I travel. They’re great on planes now that every airline seems to charge for a blanket, and in the winter they double as a scarf to keep me warm. Any sort of scarf will do to keep you warm, however.
  • Gloves & Hat – If you’re prone to being cold or you know you’ll be spending more time outdoors, bringing things like gloves/mittens and a warm hat may be worth it. I usually make do with sticking my hands in the pockets of my down coat, but I also try to limit my time outside when it’s really cold.
  • Small Collapsible Umbrella – In much of Italy, it rains more than it snows during the winter, so bringing a small collapsible travel umbrella (find them on Amazon) is a good idea. I almost always pack a little windproof umbrella (find them on Amazon), no matter the season. You can, of course, buy a cheap umbrella in Italy if you get there and realize it’s too rainy for your not-quite-water-resistant coat, just know that the guys selling them outside Metro stations aren’t selling umbrellas designed to last more than (in my experience) a few days.
  • Slippers – I admit, this sounds like a luxury item (especially when you’re trying to travel light), but for me it’s a must-have. My feet get cold almost year-round, so having a packable pair of slippers always makes me happier. There are plenty that pack down to nearly nothing, including classic Isotoner ballet flat style slippers (find them on Amazon) or down slippers that can be compressed (find them on Amazon). After a day of walking around, when my feet are tired, I’m usually quite pleased to slip into a pair of cozy slippers when I’m back at the hotel for the evening.
  • Sunglasses – Yep, sunglasses in winter. It may be chilly and wet some days, and it may be sunny on others. You can buy a cheap pair of shades from the guys selling knock-offs on the sidewalk, but buying fake designer goods can lead to being fined (if you get caught). If you can fit them in your bag, you might as well bring your own sunglasses.

What Not to Pack for Italy in Winter

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

  • Heavy-duty winter coat? – Winters in Italy are definitely cold, but unless you’re planning to spend all your time in the mountains you’re more likely to run into rain than snow on a daily basis through much of the country. You can sometimes get away with dressing in warm layers (long underwear, shirt, sweater) and then focusing on a water-resistant jacket instead of bringing a big down coat, but I tend to bring something that’s both warm and water-resistant – without being the best version of either of those categories.
  • Snow gear? – Again, unless your itinerary will have you in the mountains for much of your trip, you’ll probably see more rain than snow. Of course, if you’re going on a ski trip in Italy, that’s a whole different kind of packing list and that definitely includes snow gear!
  • Jeans? – This is a tricky one, and I almost always do wear jeans when I travel in Italy, so it’s not even one I follow all the time. The truth is, however, denim is bulky and takes forever to dry – two things that count against jeans when traveling in wet weather. If you’re going to bring jeans, I do recommend wearing them on the plane (so they don’t take up too much room in your bag) and bringing non-denim pants to wear occasionally so your jeans have a chance to dry out if they get soaked.

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: Arianna_M, Pamela 01, Ed Yourdon