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Hiking in Italy: Five favorite destinations

Walking and hiking in Italy can be a holiday in itself or a wonderful way to spend mornings before a long Italian lunch and an afternoon wine tasting or seeing amazing art and architecture. There are hikes of every length and difficulty in Italy – for details of some of my favorite hikes in Italy check out the interactive map. Italians are serious hikers and the country is covered in trails, many of which are organized and marked by the Club Alpino Italiano.  But with so many wonderful options for hiking in Italy, how to narrow it down? Below are details about some of Italy’s most famous hiking destinations.

 

Manarola Cinque Terre Hiking in Italy

Manarola by Worlds in Focus

Hiking in Cinque Terre

When I worked as a guide hiking in the Cinque Terre in the ’90s, we practically had the trails to ourselves. The trails have gotten busier over the years but they are popular for a reason. Hike between the five (cinque) towns (terre) of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore in a day, with time left over to explore the towns themselves and go for a dip. The Cinque Terre is a great hiking destination for travelers of all ability levels because travelers who want to skip the more difficult hikes can take a boat or a train or a bus to the same destination. The local pesto, focaccia, shellfish and wine are fantastic, and while you can’t visit the Cinque Terre on a day trip from Florence, it’s not that hard to get there. The trails run along a somewhat steep cliff and will close if there are mudslides so before heading off, check that the trails are open.

Just an hour or so up the coast from the Cinque Terre, the national park of Portofino also has wonderful hiking trails, including one to visit the Abbey of San Fruttuoso. Small seaside villages like Camogli or Rapallo are a great base for an Italy hiking trip and have wonderful hotels and restaurants. The area is also a great vacation for anyone who enjoys scuba diving or fishing or white water rafting. For some longer or more challenging hiking, walk from the Cinque Terre to Portovenere and explore the Gulf of the Poets.

If you’re going hiking in Italy in the spring or autumn, the Cinque Terre and the Ligurian coast is a great destination. In the winter it can be chilly and in the summer very hot and crowded.

 

 

Hiking in the Dolomites, hiking in Italy

Hiking in the Dolomites, Cinque Torri in Alta Badia. Photo by Madeline Jhawar.

Hiking in the Dolomites

Italy’s Dolomite mountains are in the northeast corner of the country, north of Venice, and stretch west beyond the town of Bolzano. If you are looking for family-friendly hiking, go hiking in the Dolomites. The trails are extremely well-marked, and are of every level of difficulty. There are mountain restaurants with playgrounds, serving hot food from a la carte menus and offering extensive wine lists. Small alpine towns line the valleys, and ski lifts run in the summertime, taking hikers up the mountain to trails. If you are hiking in Italy in the height of summer and don’t love the heat, hiking in the Dolomites is a great option because it’s at altitude. No need to check whether your hotel has air conditioning: it probably won’t, but you won’t need it. After your day of hiking, there’s plenty to do: the Ladino culture in the Dolomites is different from anywhere else in Italy.

The Dolomites is a great place for hiking a Via Ferrata or Iron Way trail: one decked out with bridges, ropes, and ladders. These trails are usually for more experienced hikers with climbing experience, but if you hire a local guide, they can take you on an easy Via Ferrata trail that the kids will love. It’s also a perfect destination for hut-to-hut hiking: set off with just a small backpack for a few days, and sleep in mountain huts or rifugi, which are evenly scattered throughout the mountains at 3-hour hiking intervals.

 

 

What to do on Lake Maggiore, hiking in Italy

Isola Pescatore, Lake Maggiore. Photo by Sanjay Jhawar.

Hiking in the Italian Lakes

What is more beautiful than hiking with a lake and mountain backdrop? Hiking Lake Como is ideal for anyone who also enjoys villas with gardens or wants to explore the beautiful towns of Bellagio, Varenna or Tremezzo, or go for tea at the iconic Villa D’Este. Hiking Lake Maggiore is more off the beaten path, with high-end hotels at the Swiss end of the lake, and convenient access to Milan’s Malpensa airport at the southern end. Hiking Lake Lugano can be accomplished from a base on either Lake Como or Lake Maggiore as the Swiss lake lies between the two. Hiking Lake Garda means you see some of those iconic Dolomites as this lake is closer to Venice than Milan. Lake Garda is a big lake, with fantastic hiking trails for lake-and-mountain lovers in addition to small towns, local wines, and a boating culture. Stay in small lakeside towns and walk or take cable cars up for gorgeous views.

Trails in the Lakes districts may not be as well-marked as those in the Dolomites, and not as busy as those in the Cinque Terre, so either hire a local hiking guide or get a good map and compass. Bring food and water because you cannot depend on arriving at a hillside restaurants every few hours, though if you plan for it you can include a hot lunch on your route.

For travelers planning an Italy hiking trip in the spring, summer or fall, the Italian Lakes are a great destination. In the hotter months, the breeze off the lake will keep hikers cool, and you can swim or boat on the lake.

 

 

Hiking in Sicily, hiking in Italy

Hiking in Sicily’s Madonie Mountains. Photo by an Italy Beyond the Obvious client.

Hiking in Sicily

Sicily offers off-the-beaten-track everything, and hiking in Sicily is no exception. There are not one but two options to hike up an active volcano: climb Mount Etna near Taormina, or take a ferry to the volcanic island of Stromboli and book a hiking tour up the volcano. For hikers who prefer forested trails, both the Madonie and Nebrodi parks are criss-crossed with trails, though I recommend hiring a local guide as many of the paths are not well-marked. Some of the prettiest trails in southeastern Sicily are in the flat and easy Vendicari Nature reserve along the coast. The nearby Pantalica Gorge offers hikers an archaeological experience in addition to pretty trails. If your Sicily itinerary includes Palermo, take a day or two and hike the one-way 3-hour seaside trail in the Zingaro Reserve.

If you are hiking in Italy in the spring or autumn, Sicily is a wonderful hiking destination, though mountainous areas such as Mount Etna and the Madonie and Nebrodi mountains are chillier at the top — a great thing in the heat of the summer, but shoulder season travelers should bring extra layers. Hiking the Stromboli volcano depends on the ferries, so schedule it between about April and October.

 

What to see and do in Tuscany, hiking in Italy, hiking in Tuscany

Val D’Orcia countryside in Tuscany. Photo by Sanjay Jhawar.

Hiking in Tuscany

If you’re going to Italy and want to get a little off the beaten track but not too much, then spending some time hiking in Tuscany is ideal. If you want to do some hiking near Florence, the Renaissance Ring trail that circles the city is ideal. Or for a wine-themed itinerary, walk between medieval villages in Chianti or on hiking trails in the UNESCO World Heritage area the Val D’Orcia, in the Crete Senesi. If you’ve got a rental car and are looking for hiking trails in Tuscany on your way from Rome, pick one of the many wonderful hiking trails in the Maremma Park or walk the Etruscan Via delle Cave. Or, if you are heading from Florence to the Cinque Terre or Lucca, spend some time hiking near Lucca in the mountains near Pistoia or in the gorgeous mountainous Garfagnana.

If you are hiking in Italy in the summertime, Tuscany is not ideal. It gets hot, and there aren’t mountain or seaside or lakeside breezes to keep you cool. But, it depends on your definition of hot: if you are okay hiking in 90 degree weather then you might be happy hiking in Tuscany in July. But if you are hiking in Italy in the spring or fall, both are wonderful times of year to go hiking in Tuscany. In the autumn, just check the sunset time before you set off.

 

Let Italy Beyond the Obvious Plan your Italy Hiking Trip

If you’re reading this and already starting to stress with information overload, contact us. We’ll plan your entire trip for you: soup to nuts, route instructions and maps for your hikes, a written Italy itinerary, and on-trip support. See our list of Italy Trip Planning Services here.

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38 Comments

  1. jan
    November 20, 2014

    I am feeling stressed trying to figure out my itinerary!!
    I want to hike and ride my bike…somewhere in Italy. I want to be like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love!
    jan

    Reply
    • Madeline
      November 20, 2014

      Jan, let me help you plan your trip! It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all the options, I completely understand. I sent you a separate note via email.
      Best,
      Madeline

      Reply
      • Denise
        August 9, 2016

        Would love some information on hike and bike.
        I myself are overwhelmed.

        Thanks,
        Denise ,

        Reply
  2. Ikram
    April 26, 2015

    Madeline, I saw your message and thought you sound like the right person to help us as well pls! My friend and I are looking to spend 2 weeks in northern Italy in May. We are looking for hikes, preferably with at least average difficulty, hoping to combine it with some wineries and cooking classes in Tuscany – thinking Tuscany, Alps and Dolomites are wonderful spots but not sure of the time of year or how to go about planning this- please can you help?

    Reply
    • Madeline
      April 26, 2015

      Ikram, I’ll send you a separate email just in case you don’t see this. I would love to help you but currently we are completely booked and not able to accept new trip planning commitments for departures prior to August. Sorry about that! Madeline

      Reply
  3. Josephine
    May 23, 2015

    I will be in Sicily for July 22 to August 31 and want to take a hiking trip. I am able to take the train anywhere. I am a single woman so need something safe with a group. thanks

    Reply
    • Madeline
      May 25, 2015

      Dear Josephine, I’ve sent you information in an email.
      Best , Madeline

      Reply
  4. Karen
    July 24, 2015

    Hi Madeline,
    I am a Canadian wanting to travel to Italy and perhaps work as a hiking guide, do you have any suggestions of companies to talk to or any kind of recommendations for me?
    Thanks 🙂

    Reply
    • Madeline
      July 24, 2015

      hi Karen, You could submit your CV to Backroads, Butterfield & Robinson, Abercrombie & Kent, Country Walkers. I’m sure you can identify many more through simple google searches.

      Those companies hire tour leaders, so you’d be with one group of travelers the whole time, handling logistics, customer service etc – it’s a lot more than just hiking 🙂

      You need to speak Italian of course but if you speak additional languages and if you can do bike tours or bus tours as well then you have a better chance of getting hired with more skills.

      The hiking guides I hire for my clients are always local guides – Italians who live there who have all the proper guiding certifications. It’s a huge amount of work to earn those (they know about all the flora & fauna for example), so I would opt for the “tour leader” approach rather than the local guide approach – although I’m sort of assuming that’s what you meant.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  5. Nimet
    October 19, 2015

    Hi Madeline,

    First thanks for sharing such artical on hikimg in Italy. Very informative! I have a question you may help me: which area in Italy would be the best with a 4 month old baby for hiking? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Madeline
      October 19, 2015

      Hi Nimet, I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

      So, for hiking you will be carrying the baby, ie a stroller is not an option on hiking trails. Since you’ll be carrying him/her, it’s all about mom & dad!

      It’s about the weight of baby + baby stuff, and therefore about how much weight you can/want to carry for how long.

      But beyond that, you could go anywhere — this is a very portable age! I would recommend a destination that has lots of trails nearby, first so that you can go out and come home for a rest if needed, then go out again. And second so that you don’t have to change hotels very often. One base would be ideal.

      Because of the sheer number of trails that would be out your back door, I would probably vote for the Dolomites, and if you want to avoid renting a car (and adding a car seat to your luggage) then stay in Bolzano.

      If you are bringing a car seat anyway, then rent a car and go to either the Val Gardena (Ortisei area) or the Val Badia ( Corvara area).

      These areas are very child-friendly but at 4 months your baby will not even need a high chair and certainly will not be able to take advantage of all the children’s play areas which are everywhere, so you might want to save this for another trip.

      OTOH it might be nice to be around lots of families and children.

      I would recommend going not earlier than end of May and not later than early October. End of June to end of July is ideal. I hope that helps!!

      Reply
  6. Humera
    November 5, 2015

    Hey, I am planning to visit Italy in December for 3 weeks.. Just planning the trip is exhausting..

    It is a good month for Hiking?

    Reply
    • Madeline
      November 5, 2015

      Hiking in December requires some special planning Humera. In the north there will be snow, so I would focus on the south. But, there could be rain in the south, so check the conditions of the trails before heading out as heavy rains can impact the trails and they may close. Also keep in mind that the sunset is about 5 pm or earlier in December, so make sure you’re off the trails in plenty of time so you don’t get caught in the dark. I would get in touch with the local CAI (Club Alpino Italiano) and ask for their advice in the specific areas you want to hike.

      Reply
  7. Lacey
    November 8, 2015

    hi, I need some advice! I’m thinking of going to Italy in may 2016. I might be going on my own so is there a safest place to hike but still an adventure? also if there are any guides that I can go with?

    Reply
    • Madeline
      November 8, 2015

      Hi Lacey, I would vote for the dolomites and specifically Bolzano. Contact the tourist information office there to get contacts for local hiking guides. Have a great trip!

      Reply
      • Lacey
        November 10, 2015

        thank you so much! can’t wait 😀

        Reply
  8. Nupur Karwa
    January 2, 2016

    Hi Madeline,

    That is a very informative article.

    We want to visit Italy in summer 2016 and I would like to get your advice on a few things:

    We are a family of 7 — 5 adults and 2 teenage kids. We are looking for a destination in Italy that has:
    1) good hiking trails nearby – a variety of half to full day hikes with moderate intensity
    2) beautiful scenery
    3) maybe nice places we could drive to and back in a day
    4) and of course! good food and wine

    Will need 4 bedrooms. Would prefer to rent a nice villa with 4 bedrooms or 2 villas with 2 bedrooms each. One base would be ideal so no changing of hotels often. We can rent a car to drive around the area. The most imp thing is to be able to spend the days in the lap of nature.

    We could possibly look at spending 2 weeks in the country – one each in 2 separate destinations. The second destination could be again someplace that has options to do outdoor activities like cycling, walks etc.

    Look forward to hearing back from you.

    Regards,
    Nupur

    Reply
    • Madeline
      January 2, 2016

      Dear Nupur, I’m happy the article was helpful! We’d love to help create a trip for you that includes what you describe. I’ve sent you an email ….
      Madeline

      Reply
  9. Nichole
    March 12, 2016

    Hi, Great website! We will be traveling to Italy in April. Looking for suggestions on hiking/backpacking routes (likely central mountains that time of year). We are experienced hikers & love to get off the beaten path! We love big mountains, wildflowers, anything beautiful! Any input you have would be great. I’ve looked a bit on the CAI website. We have time for a 2-3 day hike between our other adventures. We will have a vehicle and will be looping from Florence, Rome, Vesuvius, Pompei then have a few days open before heading to Venice & Milan, so something somewhat in between would be awesome! What a cool job you have, keep up the great work! Grazie! ~Nichole

    Reply
    • Madeline
      March 12, 2016

      Hi Nichole, thanks for your note! With a Florence-Rome-Vesuvius/Pompeii itinerary I would stay in Campania for the 2-3 extra days you have. April can still be a bit iffy especially if you go on big mountains 🙂 There is a ton of off the beaten path amazing hiking in & around the Amalfi Coast — check out all the great suggestions and maps on Giovanni’s site here:
      http://www.giovis.com/Egiovis.htm
      He even takes groups out, if dates coincide.
      Have a great trip!

      Reply
  10. Alice
    March 13, 2016

    Hello!
    I am traveling to Italy June 26-july8 and am looking for recommendations on towns to stay where I have easy access to hiking and wine. I am flying out of Milan (MXP for arrival, LIN for departure). My first 2 nights will be in Brescia for the floating piers, and will spend the last two nights in Milan. I would like to spend the time in between hiking and soaking up culture. What is your recommendation? And do I need a rental car to get around? If possible, would like to avoid that. Thank you, Alice

    Reply
    • Madeline
      March 13, 2016

      Hi Alice, how exciting that you are going to see the floating piers! Brescia is close to the amazing yet undiscovered (by foreigners) wine region of the Franciacorta.

      Heading further east, just north of Verona is the Valpolicella, home of the famous Amarone wine as well as others. Lake Garda is fabulous for hiking – just pick up a hiking map and you have your pick!

      Heading north, you hit the towns of Trento and Bolzano, both with incredible hiking and lots of local wine producers.

      If you want to avoid a rental car, go to Bolzano. You can stay centrally, walk to the gondola and at the top you have enough trails to keep you occupied for days!

      Any of those wine areas need to be visited by car — best to book some sort of tour since you ideally don’t want to be driving anyway. Or, just order local wines at dinner.

      Have a great trip!

      Reply
  11. Mahsa
    April 14, 2016

    Hi,

    I am looking for a hiking place in italy for the first week of May .
    I have previously been to Dolomites and it is wonderful but it will be cold for this time of the year. I would like to hike somewhere that is both warm enough and is mountainous as well.

    do you have nay suggestions?

    Reply
    • Madeline
      April 14, 2016

      Hi Mahsa, If you want both warm and mountainous, you need to stay south. So, I would recommend the Amalfi Coast. Giovanni Visetti has a ton of information about hiking on his website: http://www.giovis.com/Egiovis.htm

      Or, consider Sicily, if by “mountainous” you are okay with volcanoes — Etna and Stromboli and Panarea in particular. You could also hike in the Nebrodi or Madonie national parks, which have many paths and are beautiful. Have a good trip!

      Reply
  12. Andrea Rubio
    April 20, 2016

    Hi Madeline,

    I love hiking and I’m really axcited about visitint Italy. I’m looking for some long hike that lasts more than a day. I made last summer the Camino de the Santiago here in Spain, and I would love to know if there ara something similar in Italy. I’m pretty sure there are! Thank you so much!

    Reply
  13. Mara
    May 1, 2016

    Hi Madeline,

    I’m going to Italy in the summer, spending the month of July in Florence for an academic program, and have a week in August to spend anywhere in the northern region (as my plane leaves from Milan). I’ve done some backpacking but am not comfortable enough in a region unfamiliar to me with a language different from mine, to navigate solo. Do you know of any groups that are very flexible with dates (as I have 5 free days locked in). OR, do you know of any northern cities where daily group hikes are common, and multiple separate day hikes with different people could be arranged from a base town (or town hopping)?

    I apologize if this is unclear. My priorities are to hike with others in the first week of August, and in the north west region.

    Thank you

    Reply
    • Madeline
      May 2, 2016

      Hi Mara,
      That is a very specific request 🙂 If you could get by in Italian I would recommend getting in touch with the Club Alpino Italiano but it sounds like that isn’t the best fit for you. I don’t know of any English speaking hiking groups that depart with flexible schedules in the first week of August from towns in northern Italy….. BUT I usually work on luxury trips with private guides that are planned well in advance, so this isn’t my area of expertise. Maybe someone else reading this will chime in.

      However I have some suggestions:

      – Buy the Sunflower Hiking book for the Italian Lakes. These are self-guided route instructions, and I know you said you don’t want to go solo but if you can’t find a group then this might be a decent option.

      – Contact local hiking guide Roberto Calcagno and ask him this question
      http://www.trekking-alps.com/

      You should get moving on the planning — just get an accommodation booked. August is the busiest month in Italy as it’s when Italians go on vacation. They usually start thinking about their August holiday in January or February.

      I would also advise you to spend some time on the logistics. There are only a few towns on each lake (Como and Maggiore) that are serviced by trains. Traffic on lakeside roads is terrible in the summertime so while in some places having a car is useful- especially for hiking, in other areas, it’s a huge headache. You can get around by boat of course, but you have to check the boat schedules, and pay attention to travel times — the lakes are big.

      I hope that helps!

      Reply
  14. Eric
    May 26, 2016

    Hi Madeline!

    Super cool article! My wife and I are planning a 3 week honey moon in Italy. Flying into Venice and out of Rome. We are spending our first 2 nights in Venice and then want to head north for 5 days to experience the mountains. We are both moderately experienced hikers and are always looking for something of the beaten path and soaking in the culture. We would like to take in both the Dolomites and the Italian lakes. So I guess I have a few questions;

    1. Are both areas doable in 4-5 days- by train or car?
    2. Can you recommend a small town/village to use as home base in both the Dolomites and lakes areas) (is Bolzano our best option in Dolomites and lake Como in the lakes)
    3. Lake maggiore or lake Como-best option?
    4. Best half day hiking trails in the area?

    Thanks so much-so glad I stumbled upon your website!

    Reply
  15. hollie mcpartland
    July 11, 2016

    Hi-
    A friend and I are traveling to Italy in late Sept. We want to hike moderately in Tuscany and Crique Terra. We want to eat drink and experience the culture. We are retired and in good shape. There may be four of us. We do not want to be on a tour but map it out ourselves (we think). We plan to stay 12 days. What airport should we fly into , hotels or villas to stay, and transportation? Yes I’m a lil nervous.
    Thanks Hollie

    Reply
  16. Tom
    August 8, 2016

    I did Cinque Terra as a day trip from Florence. The train was about 1.5 hours each way and the hike was 5 more hours through all 5 towns.

    Reply
  17. Kelli
    August 15, 2016

    I’m interested in hiking the high country of the Dolomites and doing some of the more technical Via Ferrata’s during the end of April/ beginning of May next spring. When does the snow usually melt off? Can you access some of the rifugios during that time?

    Reply
    • Madeline
      August 16, 2016

      Hi Kelli, that’s a bit early, I wouldn’t recommend going at that time of year as ski season will have just ended. Even May is iffy — this year I did a trip for some travelers who were there the last couple of days of May and it was tough to find a rifugio that was open for them. We did, though. Maybe contact the CAI (club alpino Italiano) and get their recommendations.

      Keep in mind that the area has 2 high seasons — winter and summer. Usually in between the hotels and infrastructure take the opportunity to close for rest or renovation etc. That is usually in April and sometimes goes in to May. The lifts open for the summer season around middle of June (usually June 20th the 1st day of summer, but in Bolzano it’s earlier).

      Reply
  18. Hiking in Italy: A Guide for Beginners – Drive on the Left
    December 9, 2016

    […] Italy Beyond the Obvious […]

    Reply
  19. Guy Dupont
    January 26, 2017

    Hi!
    Have you hiked the Rennaissance Ring…?
    I’m trying to find out which segments are the best (views, history, etc.) and that be combined in a 2 to 4 multiday hike, with affordable lodging at each end of day…

    Thanks for any comment

    Reply
  20. Ryan
    February 2, 2017

    Hello!

    I will be traveling to Italy with my wife and 3 year old daughter in June or July of this year and was thinking of doing a 2-3 day hike in the Dolomites between mountain huts. We know we will have to carry our daughter for most of the trip, but was wondering if this is something that is possible if we took our time along the way? Or am I being too ambitious? Do you have a route you would recommend?

    Thanks!
    Ryan

    Reply
    • Madeline
      February 2, 2017

      Hi Ryan, you can absolutely do a 2-3 day hike from hut to hut with your daughter. The great thing is that you don’t have to carry much else since the huts provide beds and food. The main consideration I would say are the dates. Check the summer lift schedules — I know in the Alta Badia they open June 20th this year, in Bolzano it’s earlier. And if you can go in June rather than July, my guess is that you will find more availability. In terms of a specific route, I would contact the tourist offices. There are many many routes and the tourism offices are very helpful in that area of Italy. Maybe start with their website since they have a ton of great information online, and contact them if you need more. Here’s Alta Badia: http://www.altabadia.org/
      The sud tirol site is also great: http://www.suedtirol.info/en
      The other option is that you could get in touch with a local guide and ask their advice — and hire them of course.
      Hope that helps! Have a great trip!

      Reply
      • Ryan
        February 3, 2017

        Thanks so much Madeline!

        Reply

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