The Traveler’s Guide to Packing for Italy, Plus What to See in Rome & Venice

Shawn Forno

Whether you’re flitting off to Rome for a long weekend or cruising from Florence to Venice on a Vespa, packing for Italy is surprisingly simple. All you have to do is travel light and look fantastic all the time. No sweat, right?

After living in Rome for a year, and traveling back to Italy several times since then for extended trips from Sicily in the south, to Lago di Como in the north, driving a rental car through Tuscany, and a Vespa across most of the country, our writers have ridden the rails to Pompei, hiked Vesuvius in Sicily, driven over the alps, waded through flooded streets in Venice, and hiked Cinque Terra. And, of course, taken our fair share of Leaning Tower of Pisa photo(bomb)s. If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from our many trips to Italy it’s this—less really is more.

Bring the bare minimum you think you’ll need. After a few days, you’ll be grateful you kept your packing list to a carry on.

What to Pack For Italy: Packing Rules

We all know there are no rules, right? Except those applied to the size of your carry on bag by the airline. But if there were rules, and I could write them, there would only be three:

Choose the Right Luggage

And what, pray tell, is the right luggage? I’m glad you ask.

Nothing with wheels: Venice threatened to outlaw wheeled luggage a few years ago. They didn’t, but they should have.

Nothing bigger than a carry on: I’ve you’ve stepped off a train in Termini Station with a big-ass roller bag, a carry on, and your daypack, you know what I’m talking about. No. Just no. Big, drag around style luggage is not for Italy. Leave it at home. Travel lighter.

A travel backpack is really the best way to travel in Italy. You’re going to be on and off of trains and wandering streets of very beautiful, but very roughly paved, villages.

Packing in a bag that is properly designed to make the weight you’re carrying comfortable, is weather resistant, and has a sleek, low profile design is going to improve your carry experience immensely.

 

The Outbreaker Travel Backpack

The Outbreaker 45 organized neatly with packing cubes is perfect for a luxurious trip to Italy with plenty of space left over. If you’re planning to fly around Europe on budget airlines, then the Outbreaker 35 is a better choice.

The fully adjustable harness, waterproof sailcloth contstruction and superior internal organization ensure a comfortable carry in a bag that’s a joy to pack.

 

The Setout Travel Backpack

This bag is “just right” for most travelers on their first trip to Europe.  Because it’s a maximum sized carry on, with hideaway straps, you’ll have plenty of room to pack what you need and flexibility in how you carry it.

It packs like a suitcase, is water resistant,and has a sleek, low profile design that doesn’t scream, “I’m a tourist!” Perfect for Italy.

 

The Wet/Dry Bag

The wet/dry bag will take care of any damp clothing or dirty laundry from splashes on the vaparetto or gelato spilled down the front of your shirt.

This is my new favorite travel accessory. Truly.

Leave Room for Souvenirs

I’m not a “souvenir” person, yet every time I visit Italy I bring home a backpack that’s bursting at the seams. Why? Because Italy is amazing. You absolutely don’t want to cram your bag full of your own clothes, because you’re going to bring stuff home with you. If you don’t, I’m not sure you did Italy right. Leave room in your bag for Italy to fill. 

Worried about packing in a carry on and still having room for souvenirs?

The Outbreaker Duffle

Pack the Outbreaker duffle, flat and empty, inside your carry on and use this as your overflow bag, it’s the perfect size for a personal item on your flight home, so you should still be able to get home without checking a bag.

If this is your first trip to Italy, you absolutely must allocate space for cheesy souvenirs. Buy that apron that makes you look the statue of David. 

Get that “penne” pasta for your roommate (you know what I’m talking about). Ship back a few bottles of your favorite wine and open them at your next dinner party. You can regale your friends with your best Tuscan sunset story as you bury your nose in the bouquet of tannic flavors.

Even, if you’ve been to Italy a few times, you’ll still want to bring back mementos of your time there—in fact, you’ll likely bring back even more stuff than a first time tourist. And that’s ok. No matter what time of year you visit, why you’re there, or how many times you go back, Italy is always incredible. You will never get tired of this paradoxical country that’s both firmly rooted in the ancient world yet so hip it almost hurts.

Bring a Few Pieces of Quality Gear

A few items of well made gear can transform your travel experience to Italy. Invest in a nice outer layer that keeps you warm without taking up a ton of space, at least one good pair of travel pants, and shoes that you can rely on. If you build your packing list around three or four foundation pieces of travel gear or attire, the rest is easy. Plus, you can cut corners on stuff like t-shirts an tank tops if you know you’ve got a great jacket for chilly nights, or one pair of travel underwear that can take the place of three budget pairs.

No need to break the bank, but a few good pieces can go the distance in Italy. Now onto the Italy packing list.

Italy Packing List: The Basics

Here are a few non-negotiable items that should always find their way into your backpack for practically any Italian excursion.

Outbreaker Daypack ($99)

Spoiler alert: The theme of this Italy packing list is “You will walk a lot.”

Every day of your Italian vacation will be a scrambled version of this:

  • Wake up
  • Gather your camera, jacket, money, passport, and snacks into your day bag
  • Walk around for hours
  • Eat
  • Walk
  • Drink
  • Walk
  • Eat
  • Selfie
  • Walk
  • Sit
  • Walk
  • Sleep

You’ll have your daypack with you most of the time in Italy, and that’s totally ok. A great daypack makes all the difference between a miserable tourist and a competent traveler, so find one that actually fits you, that can take a little rain, and that packs down into your carry on (for traveling on trains etc.).

Lightweight Jacket or Travel Blazer

Italians really do look good all the time, and a large part of that is their outer layers. Your performance fleece won’t cut it in Italy, and honestly, the weather is mild enough most of the year that you don’t really need to insulate against extreme conditions. Your best bet is a stylishly cut lightweight jacket or travel blazer.

Comfy, (yet fashionable) Shoes

Expect to walk in Italy. A lot. One of the best parts of visiting Italy is roaming the streets and exploring out of the way cafes and bistros. Pack a pair of shoes that fit well, match most of what you’ve packed, and can take a pounding on cobblestones. Seriously, the streets are rough. A nice pair of flat sneakers is a great choice, and boat shoes look and perform well. As comfortable as they are, espadrilles (aka “Toms”) and sandals don’t travel particular well in Italy. Get something with a little sturdier sole.

Travel Pants

Obviously you don’t need to pack five pairs of pants for a trip to Rome in July, but you should always pack at least one, preferably two pairs, of nice travel pants for any Italian trip. Italians dress well when they go out for dinner, drinks, or even just grocery shopping. 

A nice pair of slim fit travel pants, like Bluffworks Travel Chino (Harvest Gold looks so dang fresh) can seamlessly transition from a museum tour to sophisticated happy drinks and dinner without having to head back to your hostel or hotel to change. Spontaneity is the name of the game in Italy. If you always look good and feel comfortable, you’ll be prepared for your plans to change at a moments notice. And they will.

The same goes for my female friends. Pack that pair of pants that makes you feel like you belong in Italy. Or, pack a long, elegant skirt that can be dressed up or dressed down. The power of the classics isn’t lost on Italy. Elegant will blend right in.

In the winter, Venice can be cool, but Rome will be warmer, pack layers. In the summer, you’ll find it warm and sometimes a little sweltering, but you’ll still want a jacket or wrap for the chill of evenings. Unless you’re planning to go to a play or an orchestra performance (or Carnival!) you’ll find casual clothes adequate. Pack one nicer outfit for evenings out.

  • 2 pair of pants, shorts, or skirts
  • 4 tops three short sleeve, one long sleeve
  • 5 pair underwear
  • 1 light jacket or wrap
  • 1 pair solid walking shoes
  • 1 nicer dress or dress shirt
  • 3 pair of socks
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Small daypack that’s comfortable to carry
  • Water bottle
  • Anti-Nausea meds (if you’re prone to motion sickness, you’ll be on and off of boats daily)

Italy Packing List: Summer

Despite the Mediterranean breeze, Italy gets hot in the summer. In fact, I don’t recommend that people visit in July and August, but hey—that’s just me. If you plan a trip to Italy in the summer, make sure you’re prepared for the elements or you’ll be worn out before you see even a tenth of what you planned.

Sun Bum SPF 70 Sunscreen 

If there’s one thing you should take away from this packing list, it’s that you will walk a lot in Italy. You’ll walk through museums, ancient ruins. You’ll walk to get lunch. Then dinner. Or drinks. And coffee. And gelato. Walking is the national pastime, so be prepared for the summer heat. Slap a little SPF 70 on your nose, forehead, neck, and shoulders before you leave every morning and you’ll be in great shape. Sun Bum makes a great TSA friendly travel tube that you can toss in your day bag for reapplication on the go.

Buff Scarf 

If you really insist on visiting Italy in the summer, pack a Buff neck scarf. This versatile little accessory transforms into literally dozens of configurations that can be worn as a scarf, headband, hair tie, hat, beanie, bracelet, eye mask and more. In the summer I dip my Buff in the water fountains and numerous spigots that dot the streets of cities like Rome and Florence. A damp neckerchief will do a lot to keep you cool on sweltering summer days.

Bonus: If you rent a Vespa in Florence (and you should), your Buff makes a GREAT road scarf to cover your mouth. Trust me.

Any Hat (Except a Fedora)

Shen you’re out in the sun all day, you need to cover up. I’m not going to tell you which hat to wear, because you’re an adult, and everyone’s head is different, but if you can pull it off, wear a hat. Not a fedora, though. Never a fedora.

Tank Tops

People think layers are just for the winter, but I like layering for a sweaty, hot days as well. If you wear a tank top as your base layer followed by a light t-shirt or linen button up shirt, you can adjust for colder museums and dining throughout the day. Italy can be a little conservative at times, so I don’t recommend a tank top for all occasions, but tank tops are my preferred top for walking tours and long hikes.

Linen Shirt

I just mentioned a linen shirt, but it’s worth repeating. Linen shirts travel well, breathe in the heat, and look great—an Italian trifecta. You can find a men’s short sleeve linen shirts at H&M for as little as $9, and women’s linen shirts for $13. Linen rules.

Lightweight, Basic T-Shirts

T-shirts with basic patterns, simple stripes, or solid colors are the best way to blend in in Italy. Lightweight cotton blends and V-necks pack well and look great. I always pack a few generic basic t-shirts to wear during the trip, and leave behind if I find any great souvenirs. You want a little flexibility in your pack, and a great way to do that is with disposable t-shirts.

Italy Packing List: Winter

Italy can get cold, ask Hannibal. However, snow isn’t especially common outside of the northern mountain ranges near Lake Como and the Dolomites, so you don’t need to pack for the snowpocalypse if you’re visiting Italy in autumn or winter. Here are a few great items for the Italian winter.

Wool Cap

A fashionable woolen cap (beanie, toque) is all you need to stay warm and look hip as hell. I always pack a wool cap to use as an blackout curtain/eye mask on flights, but it’s great for chilly windy days walking the streets of Rome.

J. Crew Lightweight Puffy Coat

This lightweight puffer jacket is one of the pieces of “quality gear” I recommend. I swear by this little travel jacket. It’s incredibly light, yet keeps me warm. It’s water resistant, packs down to nothing, and the zip up pockets (including a handy chest zipper pocket) are great for keeping your gloves and hat organized when you step into a cafe to get out of the winter weather.

Chukka Boots

A trip to Italy during the winter is one of the few times that I would ever recommend a pair of lightweight boots. Let me be clear; I never recommend hiking boots, especially not in Italy. However, a stylish pair of chukka boots will keep your socks dry during the occasional drizzle, yet they’re light enough and comfortable enough for a day of exploring.

North Coast “Shacket” 2.0 

If you’re not hip to the “shacket” crazy, don’t panic. This hybrid travel/outdoor clothing is just what it sounds like—a shirt that’s thick enough, and warm enough to stand-in as a jacket. Shirt-jackets are usually quilted or lined with some type of smartwool fabric, which makes them perfect for fall/winter travel to Italy.

Outlier OG Climbers

I’m a rock climber, biker, and hiker, so even though I’m a huge fan of city life in Italy, I like to get out there and mix it up a little bit. These travel pants are comfortable enough for all day walking tours, stretchy enough for bouldering in the Dolomites, and yet still fashionable enough for drinks and dancing.

Seriously, these are great sturdy pants for winter travel in the city or the country.

For more travel pants, including budget options, see the full travel pants review.

Venice What to See & Pack

From the rooftop terrace of Paradiso an afternoon stretches languorously into evening as the passenger ferries come and go, like water bugs, from the Giardini Biennale dock. Local boats of every size and shape, from row boats to giant cruise ships make their passages, as they have for centuries. 

What should you do in Venice? Whatever you want, of course, here are some suggestions to get you started:

Get Lost

I dare you to avoid this. Getting lost is a pleasure and an art form in this town. If you’re worried about finding your way home, take the card from your hotel, or write down your address before you take off walking. Don’t expect your GPS to be particularly helpful. The tall narrow spaces between buildings along the streets make it hard to get a bead on your satellite and it’s quite normal for the usually reliable blue dot of Google Maps to leap around erratically. If you’re seriously lost, your best bet is to find some open sky in a square, or on a bridge, to try to get your bearings

Eat

Pasta. Seafood. Pastries. Gelato. For heaven’s sake don’t miss the gelato. Drink the wine. Sip the various spritzes. Venice is foodie paradise.

Everyone has their favorite hole in the wall place. Yelp it if you must, but I encourage you to eat by braille in Venice. Follow your nose and follow the locals. A restaurant packed to overflowing, where everyone is speaking Italian, is worth waiting for a table at. Trust me.

Hit the Museums

The Basilica of St. Mark

Yes, the line will be long. Go early in the morning to mitigate that. Be sure that your shorts or skirt cover your knees and that your shoulders are covered too. The rules apply to both men and women. Scarves can be purchased from hawkers in the square if you forgot. The baggage room where you can leave your luggage is across the square and just down the street that runs directly parallel to the basilica’s front. The attendants will help you find it. Bags can be left for free for one hour.

Doge’s Palace

I didn’t visit this one during my first trip to Venice. That was a mistake. The most moving part of the place is the Bridge of Sighs. Crossing the stone bridge the cool breeze brushed my face while I took a photograph through the stone lattice and I became keenly aware that this was the last fresh breeze countless prisoners felt as they were taken to the prison within the palace and left to languish, and eventually die. “I wonder if this place is haunted,” a man near me mused. I did not wonder. The ghosts were still there, reaching out through stone holes with withered arms, hoary, haggard heads with sunken pleading eyes.

Correr Museum

Inside the museums I do not see the other gawkers. Instead, within these walls I see Princess Sissi, the same one who’s childhood palace I toured in Vienna, once upon the time. I hear the cadence of Franz Joseph’s footsteps echoing between worlds. In the background the stern voices of the council of ten, gathered in their chambers over a hearing, and the low murmur of women bent over tapestry hoops whisper through the ante chambers. This is the museum to visit if you want a window into the politics and imperial life in Venice during the reign of Franz Joseph.

Naval Historical Museum

Venice has never existed without boats as a primary means of transportation. That’s one of the few constants in Venetian history. The Naval Historical Museum is an unassuming building on one of the side streets up from the lagoon at the edge of the Castello neighborhood. For five euro you can spend a pleasant half an hour getting up close and personal with the boats of Venice’s past. This little hole in the wall is well worth a visit and often you’ll have the space to yourself.

Church Hop

Most of Italy’s churches are open to visitors, free of charge. Hop in and out of the churches that dot the squares of Venice for a fascinating adventure in art and architecture.

Remember that these are active houses of worship, not museums, so dress and act accordingly.

Explore the Artistry

Visit San Trovaso, and discover the workshops where the famous gondolas are made. Take a day trip out to Murano and watch the world famous master glass artists at work. Hop a ferry out to the island of Burano where lace craft has been a major industry since the middle ages. Add the Burano Lace Museum to your list of museum stops.

Venice Daypack Packing List

Once you’ve got your larger luggage safely stowed at your hotel or Airbnb, you’ll want to get out and explore. A well designed daypack with decent shoulder strap padding is what you need for long days spent getting lost in the labyrinthine streets of Venice. What should you put in it?

  • Reusable water bottle, don’t add plastic trash to the garbage problem in Venice
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera (trust me, you’re going to want to take pictures)
  • A street map of Venice, yes really, Google’s little blue dot on the map leaps around like a frog and is hopelessly lost much of the time
  • A scarf or shawl

Remember to plan for something that covers shoulders and knees for visiting churches.

What to See & Pack in Rome

Colosseum

It’s been done to death, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be wowed by the sight of this ancient gladiator arena. The Colosseum is an absolute must for history buffs and first-time visitors to Rome despite the price of admission (€12 entry + €5 for a guided tours +€2 online reservation fee to skip the lines).

The only time you’ll find an unmolested moment and a picturesque shot is at night time after the tours and the vendors close. After dark, the Colosseum can be the backdrop for some amazing photos and even some well needed quiet contemplation amongst the marble and granite bones of the past.

The Pantheon

I don’t know why, but somehow this epic architectural masterpiece is consistently overlooked by nearly everyone that comes to Rome. People tack on a visit to the Pantheon as an afterthought, even though it is one of Rome’s oldest and most impressive structures.

The main feature is the open “eye” called the oculus at the center of the dome, where rain, sunbeams, and moonlight fill the dome if you’re lucky. Despite the raw feeling of being exposed to the elements (a.k.a. all the gods “The Pantheon”) the precise mathematics of the dome are on par with other ancient structures like the Pyramids of Giza. The distance from the floor to the top of the dome (142 feet) is exactly the same diameter of the dome. That’s insane.

Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi)

In stark contrast to the brutal history of the Colosseum and the ancient gravitas of the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain stands as a glorious monument to beauty, innocence, and hope. Equally packed as the Colosseum (sadly, no difference there), the energy at the Trevi Fountain is light and relaxed. Scrounge around in your pocket for a €.05 coin and wait patiently for your turn at the perfect profile photo. Throw the coin over your left shoulder into the fountain and wish for your speedy return to Rome.

Pro Tip: The Trevi Fountain never really gets “quiet,” but visit it on your way back home from Campo di Fiori and you might stumble upon the equally stoic solitude and frivolous exhibitionism that make this fountain one of the most beloved spots in the world.

The Forum (Foro Romano)

The Forum isn’t really one particular site, but rather an interconnected web of ancient political buildings, temples, and residential ruins. It’s awesome. Wander through the ruins at your own pace or take a guided tour and marvel at the fact that this city is so packed with history that people take these strident ruins as just another part of their daily commute. I can’t sometimes.

Piazza Venezia

Please don’t miss this grandiose monument to the founding of the Italian Republic. Seriously, there’s no way you can miss this place. The horse statues alone draw the eye from miles around, not to mention the massive flags flapping in the wind. The hub for most Roma Bus lines, and the intersection of metro lines, Via del Corso, Via Nazionale, and Vittorio Emanuele, you’ll end up here sooner or later.

Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna)

One of my favorite places in Rome, and home to two distinct, if underappreciated landmarks—Bernini’s fountain and the Keats/Shelley Memorial Museum. Bernini’s Fontana della Baraccia at the foot of the alabaster stairs (the perfect place to people watch) celebrates the routine flooding of the Tiber (a boat once washed up in the Piazza di Spagna). Freak people out by sipping from the water fountain at the end of the fountain (it’s great!)

Keats-Shelley Memorial Museum

I’m a lit nerd and history fiend, so visiting the Roman home and (final) residence of the English writer and poet John Keats fills me with all the feelings. This timeless writer of works like Hyperion and Endymion died at age 25 from tuberculosis, but left an impression that lasts through the years despite his name being “writ on water.”

The Vatican Museum (Ottaviano)

One of the few places where I paid for a tour, the Vatican Museum puts other European museums to shame. It’s just unreal how much culture and influence have originated within the Vatican’s ancient walls. The Sistine Chapel being just the most obvious example of the excellence contained within, pay attention to the tapestry halls (they’re woven with an ancient technique that makes the eyes in the rugs follow you as you walk past), and the sculpture gardens. For instance, there’s a massive purple porphyry bathtub that contains something like 90% of all the porphyry on the planet. That’s power.

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s is to Rome what the Empire State Building is to New York City…if the Empire State Building was the seat of power, culture, beauty, history, art, and influence for centuries. It is, however, similar in that this picturesque dome dominates the city, and is visible from practically everywhere.

Use the dome as a focal point to navigate while wandering the streets (and as a beautiful photo backdrop). If you look really hard and pay close attention, you can find the perfect shot with St. Peter’s in the background. All you have to do is find the key…. 

What to Pack

Here’s what you need in a daypack for exploring Rome:

  • Smartphone
  • Shorts
  • Linen Shirt
  • Sunscreen
  • Bandana or Small Scarf
  • Polarized Sunglasses

Coin Purse: Try to buy a cappuccino with a €50 note fresh from the arm and watch what happens. You’ll think they’re trying to break $1,000. Also, vendors love to give change in €.50 pieces for some reason. You’ll have a lot of them in no time.

Change adds up quickly, and if you don’t have a good way to keep it organized and at hand you’ll either lose it or you won’t use it.

Optional:

Pro Tip: Dressing a little like a Roman will save you hassles from aggressive hawkers at the touristy spots.

Things You DON’T Need

Water Bottle: Rome’s extensive network of fountains and faucets ensures that you’re never more than a block from fresh clean water. Use the spina (Italian for “tap”) just like the Romans do and you’ll keep cool on even the hottest days.

Selfie Stick: Stop it.

An Italian/English Dictionary: Everyone and I mean EVERYONE speaks English in Rome. By all means do your best to speak Italian (they appreciate the effort) but don’t sweat skipping your Latin homework.

General Rome Tips

Drink the Water

The aqueducts of ancient Rome were legendary, and the numerous water spigots you see along the streets are a continuing part of that legacy. Don’t buy overpriced water bottles. Drink the water like a real Roman.

Pro Tip: Plug the water spout opening to make the water shoot through the narrow hole at the top for easier drinking.

Walk Everywhere

The metro is nice for covering long distances or maximizing a short visit, but the real spirit of Rome only comes out when you wander the streets. Let Rome pass you by at a leisurely stroll and bask in unexpected finds around every corner.

Eat Like an Italian (a.k.a. Don’t Put Cheese on Seafood Pasta)

It’s obvious, but you’re in Rome to experience… Rome. Don’t pick safe menu items that you recognize. Go off book, experiment, and roll with the punches even if they’re not what you anticipated because (surprise!) real Italian food is a lot different than Olive Garden.

Pro Tip: A cappuccino is exclusively a breakfast drink. Ordering one after 11am will mark you out as a tourist. And a “latte” isn’t a coffee drink—it’s a glass of milk.

Buy an Extra Metro Ticket

If you take the Metro, buy two tickets so you have one in your wallet in case you need to ride the night bus. They don’t sell tickets on the bus, and the tabacchi shops and corner stores that sell them might be closed when you really need a cheap ride home.

TL;DR

The key to the perfect Italian vacation is a light, simple, functional carry on bag. Pack clothes that mix and match well and that layer for cool days and heat waves. As long as you look good, you’ll be more than ready for anything Italy can throw your way.

  • Clean and simple is always best
  • A good pair of travel pants goes a long way
  • Wear comfortable shoes—you’re gonna need ’em!
  • Get a day bag that actually want to use
  • Leave room for souvenirs—you can buy anything you need once you get to Italy

Venice is the one city in Europe that is an absolute must for carry on only packing. Pack in layers, and pack light! Your luggage is your biggest liability in Venice.

  • Expect to carry your bag everywhere
  • Roller bags are ill suited to the cobbled streets and bridges with many steps up and down
  • Spend enough time to explore the city, visit the museums, and eat all of the best things
  • Make time to sip a Campari Spritz on the rooftop of Paradiso
  • Take some day trips to the surrounding islands and marvel at the centuries old artistry still handed down, generation to generation

Rome is awesome. Once you visit, you’ll want to come back. The best part about Rome is that you’ll get better and better at navigating this wonderful city each time you arrive, and Rome won’t change a bit between each visit.

  • Walk everywhere
  • Stay near Termini or the Vatican
  • Visit the Pantheon
  • Drink the water
  • Stay out late
  • Take Tours: It’s ok to be a tourist