En español | The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Italy as a country of “high” risk (recently downgraded from “very high” or “do not travel”). Its advice for visiting such regions: “Make sure you are fully vaccinated before traveling to these destinations.”
Just a few months ago, the possibility of a summer tourism revival for Italy appeared remote. COVID-19 hit here particularly hard, beginning in March 2020, when the country went into a national lockdown. From a tourism perspective, that meant that for more than a year, the great cities of Rome, Florence and Venice — along with the rest of this beautiful country — remained essentially off-limits to most Americans (who’ve faced their own trials with COVID-19, of course).
Nearly 88 percent fewer Americans visited Italy in 2020 than in 2019, when the country received 5.6 million arrivals from the U.S., according to the Italian government.
But now, as the number of Italian COVID-19 cases has fallen dramatically, Italy has emerged from its most recent lockdown and is welcoming U.S. leisure travelers for the first time since the pandemic began. As of June 21, Americans are allowed to visit without a 10-day quarantine, provided they can show that they are fully vaccinated, recently tested negative for COVID-19, or recently recovered from COVID-19 (see details below).
That’s a big change: Before June 21, travelers from the U.S. needed to show that their visits were essential, book special quarantine-free flights requiring a few rounds of COVID-19 testing, or leap complicated bureaucratic hurdles to enter the country.
What it’s like to visit now
Italian life is gradually returning to normal, as restaurants are again permitted to serve meals inside and out, cafes can offer up cappuccinos at inside counters, curfews are dropped, and almost everything else is open again. Boutiques and outdoor markets are back in business, and Italians are already escaping to the country’s many beaches to beat the heat. Since June 28, the Italian government has placed all of the country’s 20 regions in the “white” zone, or low-risk, category — which means they have recorded fewer than 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants for three consecutive weeks.
But with the restrictions lifted so recently, there are still far fewer tourists than you’d see in a normal summer season.
In early June, I visited Rome from my home in Venice, and found the city much quieter than usual. At the typically buzzing Piazza Navona, the historic public square built on the site of an ancient Roman amphitheater, only a handful of people were milling about. (They wore masks, as was the rule a few weeks ago, but face coverings are no longer required outdoors unless social distancing isn’t possible.)
At the Vatican’s famed St. Peter’s Basilica, a guard checked the temperatures of the small group of visitors waiting to enter. We were then free to wander across the cavernous church, along with two dozen or so priests, nuns and guards. I stood alone in front of Michelangelo’s Pietà, which usually attracts crowds of tourists angling for a good view of the famous statue.
There were modest crowds at Italy’s most-renowned sites, such as the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Yet the scene was nothing like it was pre-pandemic, when these places would be swamped by massive tour groups struggling to follow their umbrella-hoisting guides. Without those groups, iconic spots such as Florence’s Uffizi Gallery or Venice’s Piazza San Marco feel remarkably accessible and calm.
They may not remain uncrowded for long, however. Just this week, tour companies have started touting trips to Italy for this summer. The high-end travel company Tauck announced seven different Italian itineraries available in August. And the cruise ships are arriving. In early June, the port of Venice had its first big ship departure since the pandemic began — signaling, to some local dismay, the return of megaship tourism in the architecturally vulnerable city.
That’s why, some argue, now may be a golden time to visit this wonderful country.
“The museums and theaters are all open and active, and there are no lines,” Florence’s Mayor Dario Nardella said to AARP. “To Americans I say: This is Florence as you have never seen it. Don’t miss this opportunity if you can.”
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Considering a trip to Italy? Read this.
Get vaccinated for COVID-19. As noted above, the CDC recommends that only fully vaccinated people travel internationally. And keep that vaccination certificate — and a backup digital copy — close at hand.
Know the rules for entry. To enter Italy, Americans must have completed their COVID-19 vaccinations 14 days before arrival, tested negatively for COVID within the past 48 hours, or recovered from COVID. You will need to confirm the above through the EU Digital COVID Certificate system. Arriving visitors also have to fill out the European Union’s passenger locator form online.
The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a useful short online questionnaire for visitors. After you say where you’re from, the site will explain how the current rules affect your visit. The U.S. embassy in Rome also maintains a page with COVID-related travel information, as does the Italian tourism board.
Don’t expect hassle-free border crossings. American visitors are now allowed to travel between different European Union countries — in theory. You’ll want to check each country’s ever-changing requirements while planning your itinerary.
Always have a mask handy. Italy requires everyone to wear masks in indoor public spaces, though you can remove them when eating inside a restaurant or enjoying a coffee Italian-style at the counter. You are also asked to wear them in crowded outdoor spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. Remember that the U.S. government requires passengers to wear masks during air travel — it’s a long flight across the Atlantic.
Consider travel insurance. Life is unpredictable, as the pandemic has made abundantly clear. Travel insurance can help protect your trip investment in case cancellation is necessary. Travel health insurance provides coverage for medical care outside the U.S. if your own health insurance plan doesn’t offer it or you don’t have one.
Plan ahead for sightseeing. Many Italian museums and monuments have reopened, but often with limitations on the number of visitors. Check their websites for requirements before you visit. Some, such as the Vatican Museum and the Doge’s Palace in Venice, require advance booking. (That’s not a bad idea in any case for popular sites, as you will have a timed ticket that allows you to skip the line.) Other destinations, such as St. Peter’s Basilica, welcome you without any advance planning.
Be prepared to be tested before returning to the U.S. Current CDC rules require that all visitors and returning Americans two years and older need to be tested within three days of departing for the U.S., including those who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 (unless you have a doctor’s confirmation that you recovered from COVID-19 in the 90 days preceding travel).
Adam Tanner is a Consumer Reports contributing editor and has written for Scientific American, Forbes, Fortune, Time, MIT Technology Review, and the Reuters news agency. He lives in Venice.