5 places to escape the crowds in Italy for summer 2024

written by Liz Carr May 7, 2024

With the summer travel season fast approaching in the northern hemisphere, the scramble to secure a spectacular European vacation has officially begun. And booking a trip to Italy, one of the most in-demand tourist destinations on the planet, can seem like a bad idea if you’re wary of crowds. 

There’s no getting around it: Italy is popular. So popular, in fact, that cities like Venice have started imparting a cover charge for day-trippers in order to minimize the number of visitors during the warmer months. 

So, does that mean Italy is a no-go? Absolutely not! Beyond the hotspots you’ll see on Instagram and in the guidebooks, there are plenty of lesser-known (but equally enchanting) places to soak up Italy’s culture that are just a little less… congested. 

Here are the top 5 destinations to avoid the crowds on your trip to Italy this summer:

  1. Emilia-Romagna
  2. Alberobello
  3. The Aeolian Islands
  4. The Dolomites
  5. Matera

Get inspired

Eat your way through Emilia-Romagna

This destination is for the real foodies – the ones who won’t be satisfied solely by Rome’s famed carbonara or the pizza margherita in Naples. Although these two iconic cities did serve as the setting for the Eat portion of Eat, Pray, Love, the narrow streets can become unpleasantly packed during the steamy summer months. So we’re gathering up our appetites and heading north to the Emilia-Romagna region, a hidden gem otherwise known as Italy’s ‘food valley.’

With a notable agricultural history and abundant farmland, it’s no wonder food is at the heart of Italy’s culture. And with more small towns than I can list (I’m talking well over 300) and plenty of open space, you won’t have to worry about beating the crowds here. 

A shop display is stuffed to the brim with different types of cheeses. Black and red signs advertise the name and cost of the cheese.
Eenie, meenie, miney… parm.

Emilia-Romagna is home to some of the country’s most famed exports, like Parmigiano Reggiano and Balsamic Vinegar di Modena, as well as plenty of lesser-known specialties, like mortadella, castagnaccio (chestnut flour cakes) and Lambrusco, a light-bodied, sparkling red wine.

After you taste your way through 300 or so trattorias, don’t miss the opportunity to stroll around the town square. Good eating requires good digestion, and a post-meal passeggiata is not only a great way to soothe the stomach, but to get to know the locals as well.

Feast like a local on Intrepid’s Italy Real Food Adventure

Visit postcard-perfect Alberobello

Italy is a photographer’s dream, but when a dozen selfie sticks clog up the perfect shot, it can be anything but. So we’re trading in overcrowded, overphotographed landmarks like the Trevi Fountain and heading to the southern region of Puglia to visit Alberobello. 

This little town of just over 10,000 people is known for its curious-looking limestone dwellings known as trulli. From a distance, the whitewashed walls and cone-shaped roofs of Alberobello look a little bit like the Italian version of a hobbit village. 

A row of five white houses with conical rooftops is decorated with bright green foliage.
Some of Alberbello’s iconic trulli have been converted into restaurants, shops and hotels.

But Alberobello is more than just aesthetic; the whimsical trulli date back to the 14th century and have only ever existed in this part of the world. Legend has it that locals created the conical (and easy to remove) roof structure as a ploy to skirt the tax collectors and avoid paying for a “finished” dwelling. But whatever the purpose, this UNESCO World Heritage Site, set among a backdrop of olive groves and rolling hills, is easily one of the most picturesque places in Italy.

Tourism to Alberobello has increased over the past few years, so while it’s not entirely off the beaten path, it’s worth noting that there are still plenty of quiet backstreets and hidden nooks outside the town centre to explore in solitude. Leave the souvenir shops of the main drag behind and head for the Rione Aia Piccola neighbourhood, a more authentic side of Alberobello where trulli still serve as family homes. If you want the full experience, many of the town’s 1500+ trulli have been converted into restaurants and accommodations for visitors.

Explore the Puglia region on a Rome to Southern Italy trip

Island hop in the Aeolians

Coastal Italy is undoubtedly the place to be in the summertime, but sitting shoulder to shoulder on the beach with thousands of other tourists isn’t exactly the recharging summer vacation we dream about during the ol’ 9 to 5. So why not break from the norm and swap the Amalfi Coast for Sicily’s Aeolian Islands, an archipelago known for its laidback vibe and unspoiled terrain. Think: all the best parts of a trip to the Med without the crowds, noise or long waits for Aperol spritz. 

A rugged green stretch of island dotted with homes intersects an expanse of blue Mediterranean sea.
The perfect place to unplug.

The Aeolians are a chain of 7 UNESCO-protected volcanic islands, all relatively easy to access from the mainland. Serene Salina is best for those looking for charming boutique hotels, spas and vineyards, while Filicudi is an excellent choice for swimmers, divers, floaters and boaters. Adventure-seekers can get their thrills climbing Stromboli’s namesake volcano or taking a night-time cruise by the Sciara del Fuoco (Stream of Fire) to see the glowing lava slide toward the sea. 

Cruise the Aeolian archipelago on Intrepid’s Highlights of Calabria trip

Discover the dramatic peaks of the Dolomites

You know what they say about crowds: if you can’t beat ’em… climb above ’em. Summer is a great time to escape the major cities and head for the Italian Alps to trade an air-conditioning-less accommodation for a cool mountain breeze. 

The Dolomites are a paradise for active travellers, with an abundance of hiking trails, mountain biking routes and climbing opportunities. And it’s not just any hiking… it’s hiking with some of the most spectacular views in the country. Picture quaint mountain huts and crystal-clear lakes nestled against a backdrop of jagged peaks and impossibly green alpine meadows. 

A lone hiker holding a set of poles stands in the middle of a trail taking in a view of the dramatic peaks of the Dolomites in the distance.
Crowds? Where?

But don’t worry, you won’t have to summit the peaks to get the epic views; there are lookout spots and photo ops around every corner. For those who like a vacation with a little less adrenaline and a little more R&R, consider a picnic lunch with some of the local delicacies, like apple strudel, local cheeses and speck ham. Food in this region has both German and Austrian influences. 

Although the peak season in the Dolomites does see its fair share of visitors, it’s nothing compared to Venice or Vatican City. Trust me, when you’re standing on the summit of Monte Elmo, taking in the jaw-dropping views below, the crowds will feel a million miles away.

Check out Intrepid’s range of walking & trekking tours

Peek into the past in Matera

In need of an ancient history fix, but Rome is just a little too crowded? Try the city of Matera, one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited human settlements, instead.

Matera’s Old Town sits atop an impressive plateau and contains two Sassi, or communities, of over 3000 cave homes, frescoed churches, monasteries and amphitheatres dug from the soft limestone cliffside. What began as a collection of natural cave dwellings and grottos grew into a man-made labyrinth of alleyways, staircases and underground tunnels that snake through the limestone ravine. The Sassi extends 12 levels high because the inhabitants built dwellings one on top of the other. 

The old town section of Matera is a jumbled puzzle of stacked homes and businesses built into the side of a plateau. The town is a uniform light brown dotted with bright green trees and the occasional flag.
New structures sit atop old cave dwellings in Matera’s Old Town.

Unfortunately, a large portion of the population in the Sassi lived in poverty, and rampant disease and unhealthy living conditions forced the government to relocate many residents in the 1950s. Today, the Sassi are undergoing continuous renovations, with museums, underground exhibits and tours giving an authentic peek into life in ancient Matera. You can even have dinner inside a 9000-year-old cave dwelling.

So as you plan your Italian adventure this summer, remember there’s more to this passionate country than the bustling tourist hubs. Whether your trip to Italy is about appreciating ancient history, admiring art, or just practising the Italian philosophy of “Il dolce far niente,” straying from the mainstream sites will allow you to explore a side of Italy the crowds haven’t quite reached.

See a more authentic side of Italy on a small group tour with Intrepid. 

Explore Italy's hidden gems in 2024

You might also like

Back To Top