Outdoor activities in Italy: Where to go to escape the crowds

Outdoor activities in Italy: Where to go for an amazing, safe vacation


a small village surrounded by green with the Dolomite Mountains behind

If the pandemic has given you itchy feet, you aren’t alone. A recent survey found that 75% of us are planning on traveling abroad in 2022.  While the pandemic hasn’t dampened our desire for adventure, it has made us more inclined to stay outside and avoid the crowds.

Fortunately it’s not hard to stay outside and away from the crowds in Italy. Despite all the world famous museums and churches, we think that you find has some amazing outdoor vacation activities here, as well as long summer months to enjoy them. Here are just a few of our favorites:

Best outdoor locations for Sea Lovers

The Amalfi Coast

A town of colored houses on a hillside in front of the sea in Italy
Positano on the Amalfi Coast

For many travelers, the Amalfi Coast is one of Italy’s must-see locations. But while beautiful, it can get crowded in the summer months. Our advice? If possible, avoid the summer months and aim to visit in early spring or autumn. October is especially nice and still warm enough to go swimming. If you have to travel in high season, opt for boats instead of cars. The single road along the Amalfi Coast gets easily congested and you don’t want to waste your precious vacation time stuck in traffic. There is a regular ferry service along the coast and to the nearby islands or take a private boat tour with a local.

Sicily

A small island in Italy attached to the coast
Isola Bella in front of Taormina, Sicily

If you want a vacation that mixes beach days with fascinating history and fabulous cuisine, there is no better place than Sicily. If you are using public transport, there is a train line connecting Palermo and Syracuse. Taormina and Cefalu are both stops on the line and the Aeolian Islands are accessible by boat from Milazzo. For those brave enough to drive, try San Vito del Capo, between Palermo and Trapani. Or head south to Scala dei Turchi or Torre Salsa, close to the temples of Agrigento.

The Italian Riviera

A pretty Italian town close to the sea
Camogli on the Italian Riviera

Cinque Terre is the best known part of the Italian Riviera, but it quickly fills up. The single path between the villages can be busy and nobody wants to go hiking in a mask. Although people tend to focus on Cinque Terre, the area actually stretches from La Spezia all the way up to Genoa and is full of pretty towns, lovely beaches, stunning nature and delicious food. Work your way on the coast visiting Camogli, Santa Margherita Ligure or the trendy Portofino, then take a boat trip to see Cinque Terre without the crowds.

Yummy outdoor activities for Foodies

Tuscany wine tours

A vineyard in Tuscany at sunset
A Tuscan vineyard

Tuscany takes its wine very seriously and should be on the itinerary of wine lover of all levels. Most of the larger vineyards offer tours and tastings for visitors. If you are driving from Rome to Florence, stopping at one of these for lunch can be a fun way to break up your journey (just don’t overdo the tasting before you get back in the car!). Or take a wine tour to visit some of the smaller producers. Tuscany is famous for its red wines, but if white is more your thing, try the area around San Gimignano for a rare Tuscan whites, Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Emilia Romagna

wheels of Parmesan cheese
Wheels of Parmesan Cheese maturing

This often forgotten region in the center of Italy is the perfect destination for foodies. While it doesn’t have world famous museums, there are beautiful towns to visit like Bologna, Parma and Ravenna, but above all, there is the food. Emilia Romagna is home to Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Parma ham, balsamic vinegar, Culatello salami, Mortadella, tagliatelle, tortellini and lasagne. As well as plenty of opportunities to taste these delicious dishes and products, you can also see them being made. Between Modena and Parma many farms and vineyards welcome visitors for tours and tastings though booking in advance is usually required.

Best outdoor activities for Sporty Types

Skiing in the Alps

People skiing in the Italian Alps
Skiing in the Alps

Visiting during the winter? Make a trip to the Alps in Northern Italy for some awesome skiing! Piedmont, the region where the Alps sit, has numerous ski resorts open from December to April. One of these is Prato Nevoso, which is a great place for beginners and families to ski! You can also find some amazing skiing in the Dolomites.

Hiking in the Dolomites

A man hiking in the Dolomites
Hiking in the Dolomites

The Dolomites, a mountain range in Northeast Italy, are a great getaway for those looking to get in some exercise while also spending time in nature! There are many trails that overlook the scenic mountainside, offering a great way for you to fully immerse yourself in the Italian outdoors. Check out the town of Ortisei for some of the best trail access to the mountain range!

Amazing outdoor sites for History Buffs

If you like a vacation that’s fun, educational, has loads of great food options and endless outdoor activities, then split your time between Rome and Naples. As a bonus, the further south you go, the longer the good weather holds and vacationing late in the season is another great way to avoid the crowds.

Parco del Colosseo

View of the ruins of the Roman Forum from above
View of the Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill

The Colosseum, Forum and Palatine make up this big park in the heart of Rome. The Colosseum will always be hugely popular, but it has limited the number of people allowed inside and you will need to book a time slot in advance to visit.  However, the other sites are wide open spaces allowing you to keep your distance and, if necessary, looks at something else until the crowds move on. Don’t miss the nature trial around the back of the Palatine. There are no famous monuments or tour groups here, but you’ll discover a project to reintroduce the plants that grew here in Roman times.

Appia Antica

An old road with ancient tombs in a green area
Appia Antica

A visit to Appia Antica is the perfect way to spend a Sunday morning. It’s really easy to reach this ancient road from the center by bus, bike or on foot, and well worth the trip. It’s hard to believe you are still in Rome as you travel along ancient cobbles, passing catacombs and tombs, surrounded by nature. Don’t miss the museum inside Porta San Sebastiano (St. Sebastian’s Gate) at the beginning of the road. Entrance is free, but only open in the morning. Inside climb up to the top of the turret for wonderful views across Appia Antica, then go back down and walk out onto the path inside the ancient city walls where Roman soldiers used to patrol.

Park of the Aqueducts

An ancient Roman aqueduct in a park in Rome
Parco degli Acquedotti

If you happen to be near Rome, this park (also known as Parco Degli Acquedotti) is definitely worth the visit! It is particularly unique due to its extensive meadows but also its display of ancient Roman architecture: the aqueducts themselves! The aqueducts at this park, Aqua Felix and Aqua Claudia, originally brought fresh water from the mountains into the city of Rome. I haven’t been to this attraction myself, but some of my best friends went and absolutely loved the area because of its beautiful scenery and historical significance!

Ostia Antica

An ancient road with ruined buildings either side
Ostia Antica

Take the Lido train from Ostiense (Piramide metro) to Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome. Walk along the ancient streets, visit the Greek theater, the bath houses and temples of this once wealthy town. The site doesn’t get crowded, and visitors are free to explore the paths and buildings, making it a great place to come with kids too.

Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis

The ancient town of Pompeii covers about 12km, so it’s not hard to keep your distance from other visitors. Consider going in the afternoon when there are fewer tour groups and exploring some of the less populated areas. If you are thinking of popping down for the day from Rome, here’s a short guide on how to get from Rome to Pompeii.

Herculaneum can be a better option to avoid the crowds. The other town that was destroyed by Vesuvius is smaller than Pompeii as much of it remains unexcavated due to the proximity of the modern town, so it gets fewer visitors. Yet, the houses here are grander and better preserved.

detail from a Roman wall painting of a small bird eating some fruit
Detail of a wall painting from Oplontis

If you find the ancient towns are too crowded, head for the Villa of Poppea (the site is known as Oplontis), close to the Torre Annunziata train station. This Imperial Villa was damaged by an earthquake some years before the eruption, so the walls are damaged, but it is worth coming here for the colors. Unlike the other sites where the wall paintings have been removed, here they are mostly intact. It’s fascinating to see the different styles, the bright colors and the quality of the art vary depending on the use of the rooms.

Baia

ancient Roman ruins in Baia, Naples
Ruins of the ancient town of Baia near Naples

Even before the pandemic, you were likely to have the ancient pleasure town of Baia to yourself. Smaller and less well preserved than Pompeii, few people have heard of it, let alone been here. The volcanic activity in the area has changed the sea level leaving half the town under water. Spend an hour or so walking round the upper part of the town – make sure you don’t miss the echo chamber! Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and easy to miss from outside, you need to make sure you have explored inside every door to find this extraordinary place – then make noise to enjoy the effect!

There are 2 ways to see the underwater ruins: take a glass-bottomed boat tour or, and this is the more entertaining option, head to the local dive center for a unique scuba or snorkeling experience.

Paestum

a Greek temple in the South of Italy
One of the three temples at Paestum

Two hours south of Naples by train, is the town of Paestum. The town was dedicated to the ocean god, Poseidon, and was home to a Greek settlement. Little remains of the town but three spectacular Greek temples, different from anything you will have seen in Rome or Naples. The site is open and nobody will pressure you to leave. Make sure to visit the museum on the other side of the street before you leave. Although it appears quite old and severe, you won’t want to miss the fabulous painted tombs discovered nearby.

What other outdoor activities and locations have you enjoyed in Italy? Let us know your recommendations for socially distanced fun in the comments below.