How to tour the Italian Lakes on a budget

With Insight Guides you can create a tailor-made holiday touring Italy's finest lakes, regardless of your budget. Below, our local experts have shared a few secrets for travelling on the cheap
Enjoying italian food. Photo: Shutterstock
Enjoying italian food. Photo: Shutterstock

It would be fair to say that the Italian Lakes region, with its gorgeous looks, wealthy residents and jet-set visitors, is pretty far from a cheap destination. Glamorous Milan is the most expensive city in Italy, which in itself is one of the more pricey countries in southern Europe. Fine hotels and luxury palazzos line the lakes and Italy’s designer shopping is always temptingly close to hand. However, in spite of all this, you can still enjoy a top-quality break in the Italian Lakes on a budget, without compromising on any of the things that make a trip here so special. Here is our guide to tips for travelling in the Italian Lakes on a budget. 

1. Simple sleeps

Italy’s lakes offer a surprising range of wallet-friendly accommodation choices, especially if you travel outside of the high season (July–August). For a budget holiday and making the most of the stunning surroundings, you can’t beat camping. This is hugely popular in the Italian Lakes, especially for families and groups, with countless campsites on offer, often with charming locations amidst olive groves or great views of the water. Swap hotel stays on our Enchanting Italian Lakes holiday for sleeping out under the stars to make your trip cheaper. 

The cheapest sites are also often in more peaceful locations (for instance, on the west side of Lake Garda, away from the theme parks and more touristy hubs of the east side). Chalets, mobile homes and permanent tents are often offered in addition to pitches for personal tents or caravans and sites tend to be well-equipped with restaurants, pools and supermarkets. For those scared off camping by the memory of chilly and rainy weather at home, a spell in the Italian Lakes, barbequing and drinking local wine in the sun, can be a revelationary experience. Book well ahead for the best deals, especially as campsites fill up fast with visitors from all over Europe. 

For those looking for something a little more peaceful, a stay on a wine estate or a farm, also known as agriturismi, can be a good-value option. This is a great choice for exploring the region’s hinterland and for those on active breaks who intend to do a lot of walking or cycling. Farmers may offer self-contained apartments or rooms on a B&B basis. 

2. Eating out

It is genuinely possible to eat out, eat well and eat cheaply, even in the most touristy villages. In particular, stick to classic Italian favourites such as pizza and pasta and drink either coffee or local wines/aperitifs (it’s generally the same price to have a soft drink as a glass of wine), and you won’t break the bank, yet will still be pleasantly full and possibly tipsy. Secondi, or "main courses” of meat, will invariably be considerably more pricey. But it’s probably more worthwhile to save room for a local gelato, which will probably be huge, and definitely will be delicious.

There’s no denying that Milan is shockingly expensive after spending time in the Italian Lakes, but even here there are some fantastic ways to keep costs down, with the added benefit of really feeling like a local. "Happy-hour" buffets are a distinctly Milanese tradition, where for the price of buying a drink (usually a set price, from €6–€12), you get access to a buffet set up on the counter, which may include anything from crisps and olives to appetizers, pasta salads and hot dishes, cold cuts, cheeses and pizza. While the point is not particularly to take advantage, this is a good-value way of filling up while engaging in a genuine local activity.

Verona Arena. Photo: ShutterstockVerona Arena, Verona. Photo: Shutterstock


3. Outlet shopping

As the location of one of the four major fashion weeks, Milan is a high-end style hub and home to many of the most famous and well-regarded designers. In addition, Milan is a hugely important interior design centre, with home-grown brands such as Alessi. It all adds up to a shopping wonderland, but the cheapest way to take a piece of Italian design magic home with you is to find your way to the factory stores or outlet warehouses. Many designers send their end-of-range stock to these, where savvy shoppers can snap up items for a fraction of the normal price. 

In the heart of Milan’s fashion district, good places to try include Dmagazine and Il Salvagente, or head out-of-town to outlets such as Franciacortia Outlet Village or the Armani Factory Store. Our local experts can show you the best spots to shop: get in touch today to discuss planning your city break to Milan. 

4. Sightseeing

Museums, galleries, villas and cultivated gardens will generally all charge entry, but one of the best ways to keep costs down – especially if you intend to see a lot – is to purchase the relevant city’s sightseeing saver card. In Milan, this can be combined with a day travel pass. And don’t forget to book in advance for the most popular things to do, such as to see The Last Supper in Milan and or opera at Verona’s Arena.

5. Travel

Public transport is reasonably good value in the Italian Lakes region – trains (especially the slower ones) are reasonable and frequent, while local buses are inexpensive. The transport network in Milan is excellent – a speedy Metro, buses and trams, all covered by a MilanoCard (€6.50 for a day, or €13 for three days). The main thing to be aware of are the cost of the lake boats. As a fantastic way to travel between lake villages and a quintessential experience on a trip to the Italian Lakes, you don’t want to miss out on these altogether, but go for the cheaper, more restrictive lake passes or take the slower ferry rather than the hydrofoil.

Ready to take a trip to Italy?

Simply get in touch with us to share ideas for your trip and let us know when you would like to travel. Our local experts will then create an itinerary for you based on your personal preferences, which you can amend until you're completely happy with every detail before booking. Our existing itineraries in Italy can offer inspiration, and keep in mind that all of our planned itineraries can be tailored to suit your specific requirements.


Updated 5 April, 2017