If you are considering moving to Italy and aren’t sure where to start, our “Best Places To Live In Italy” list will definitely help you gather ideas and start your research.
Although we think of Italy as a wholly blissful country, there are big variations in lifestyle and environment.
You will find that the north and south are hugely different. Even neighbouring towns can feel different in their variations of dialects, customs, food, festivals, etc.
Life in provincial places will, of course, be different from big, modern Italian cities. Coastal towns might be spectacular but they’re pricier than inland. There’s a lot to take into consideration when choosing your perfect location.
1. Milan – much more than a fashion capital
Milan is very diverse and is as lively and cool as a fashion capital should be. However, Milan is primarily a working and business city, so offers all the perks and drawbacks that come with this.
As with any big European city, Milan is chaotic, overpopulated, polluted and features too much concrete. However, for urban fans, it offers a great lifestyle. There are museums, exhibitions, cultural activities, entertainment all year round. The restaurants and cafes offer food from all over the world.
Milan might be industrial, but it’s still Italian. This means Roman roots and tons of ancient history. You can still find the Roman walls that used to surround Mediolanum (Milan’s name when it was a Roman capital).
Nowadays, Milan is a city with a huge cultural heritage, but it’s also an important centre for finance, fashion, and technology.
Milan is extremely walkable, so many residents don’t own a car. In the city centre you can walk anywhere in the time it takes to find a parking space.
It’s easier to cycle or walk or use public transport. An annual public transport pass will cost you around € 330. Also, if you want to travel out of town on the weekends, it’s easier to take a train for that too.
Milan has a very developed network of car-sharing. The best thing about Milan’s car-sharing services is that many of them will accept international and non-EU driving licences. Also, all car-sharing vehicles are allowed to operate without a fee within Milan’s central city ecozone, Area C.
Milan is well connected not only internationally but also to other areas of Italy. Lakes Como and Maggiore are easy to reach and ski slopes are not too far away either.
If you don’t want the 24/7 chaos of city life, but still want to be within easy reach of Milan, try looking at some nearby towns: Monza – 10 minutes by train, Varese – 54 minutes by train.
Alternatively, you have the option of living on Lake Como in places like Lecco or Como and enjoying the beautiful scenery while still being within a 40-minute train journey to Milan.
2. Lake Como – the best retirement destination in Lombardy
If you are after a quieter and more serene life not too far from the buzz of Milan, head to Lake Como to find your ideal location.
There are quite a few really lovely towns around the lake that you can choose from, with Colico, Lecco and Como being the most popular. Several other towns like Varenna, Menaggio and Bellagio are also located along this deep blue lake.
Como city and the nearby towns such as Cernobbio, Torno, Blevio and Moltrasio are becoming more popular with older expats. The whole area is bliss for retirees.
The main advantage of living in Como or nearby is that you live in a beautiful and scenic area while all the major services are 15 min away by car. You are also quite close to Milan (40 minutes by train) and 5 km away from Switzerland.
Train connections to Milan, Varese, Lugano, Zürich, Basel and Leccoare are good and reliable. However, local services (buses and ferries) are reduced, so you might consider having a car for convenience.
As a stark contrast to Milan, daily life in Como is simple: you can always take a walk on the lakeside and go to cafes downtown. Don’t count much on entertainment, events or exuberant nightlife, although the town centre is full of lovely cafes, restaurants, and shops.
Do you like walking? Como provides the most amazing and scenic walks you can ever find: the town’s narrow streets lined with colourful buildings lead you to an amazing promenade that wraps around the southwestern tip of the lake. What’s more, it’s surrounded by nature parks, which are all free of charge.
The mountains surrounding Como are stunning. If you are into hiking, this is just the place. There are also spectacular mountain bike trails, sailing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing.
- Living in Como, Italy As An Expat – a detailed expat guide to living on Lake Como
3. Bolzano – not very Italian but charming
Bolzano, together with Trento and Belluno, took the top three places for quality of life in the 2018 survey carried out by the Italia Oggi. They had been the top destinations before, and rest assured they will hold the title for many more years.
Bolzano is a lovely medium-size city in South Tyrol. You might guess from the name of the region that it has strong connections with Austria and Germany.
Many natives of Bolzano still have strong German and Austrian heritage. You can see it in architecture, food, lifestyle, and the fact that German is spoken alongside Italian.
Bolzano is brilliant for families or retirement. It’s peaceful, safe, quiet and surrounded by the most beautiful mountains.
Being inland in the north, the region has distinct seasons. In summer Bolzano can be the hottest city in Italy. In winter it gets cold and snows a lot. If you like skiing, it’s the right place for you.
Around Bolzano, you can find small picturesque mountain villages, seemingly endless vineyards that produce a very delicious local wine (some say it even beats Tuscany), a few castles, and the main feature – Italian Dolomites.
Bolzano itself has everything you need for a comfortable day-to-day life: shops, cafes, restaurants, doctors, pharmacies, open markets, etc.
If you live in the town itself, you will have little need for a car. You can bike everywhere and move faster than if driving. When you do need a car, it’s easier to use carsharing services than keep your own car for such occasions.
4. Trento – a quiet urban lifestyle
As the capital of the Trentino region, Trento is bigger and a bit more urban than Bolzano. It is also in South Tyrol and so has quite a similar climate and environment.
On the whole, the area boasts a great quality of life. The province is autonomous and has the right to make its own decisions regarding management and governance.
Trentino offers levels of wellbeing and quality of life that are among the highest in Europe. It has an excellent educational system, a top-level health service and a naturalistic heritage of extraordinary beauty.
Trento is nestled within the River Adige Valley – a stunning setting that’s home to one of the most picturesque cycling holidays in Europe. The Adige Valley Cycle Path passes right through Trento. It is an impressive 300 kilometres (186 miles) long and runs from Reschen am Reschensee all the way to Verona in the south.
When it comes to expat hotspots, despite its picturesque location Trento so far has managed to stay somewhat under the radar. This is partly because the name doesn’t sound as glam as Naples or Bologna, and partly because it’s somewhat worse connected internationally than the neighbouring regions.
Trento doesn’t have a dedicated airport. However, by no means can the city be considered “in the sticks”. It’s just an hour train journey from Verona and less than three hours from Milan. Trento’s train station is practically in the city centre.
Do you like active nightlife? Then Trento is not for you. Despite the fact that the city has a university that comes with a sizable youth population, it is well known for not having any nightlife after 8:00 PM. This, of course, may be very appealing if you want a quiet urban-style retirement.
5. Brescia – young and vibrant
Brescia is basically an industrial hub with everything you’d expect to come with this. It’s quite big on financial services and there is a pretty sizable expat population living and working there.
The city is well connected, both internationally and within Italy. The airport of Milano Bergamo is very close, around 45 minutes by car, 1 hour by direct bus, or you can take a direct train that will cost you from €7.30 (£6.47) and be in Brescia in 45 minutes.
When you are in Brescia, you are pretty well-positioned for travelling around the whole country and beyond. It will take you less than 1 hour to travel to Mantova and Verona, less than 3 hours to Venice and Padua, 4 hours to Firenze, 6 hours to Rome and Munich.
Brescia has a beautiful promenade, lots of shops and boutiques, clubs and discos, and bars and cafes where Pirlo (a typical Italian aperitivo made with white wine, Campari and seltzer) is a must before dinner.
Speaking of wine, Brescia is quite close to Franciacorta, where they make Prosecco.
You cannot get bored in Brescia, it has everything one needs for an active urban life. There’s even a miniature La Scala-type theatre.
If you wonder about the climate, it’s more continental, with cold winters and hot summers. The lakes provide a beautiful retreat during the hot season while in winter you can enjoy skiing, sledging, snow tubing, etc.
6. Liguria – mild weather all year round
Liguria, Italy’s western coastline stretching to Monaco, is an amazing location with its own microclimate thanks to the wall of mountains in the north and the sea in the south.
The gulf stream sends in warm weather, which is then trapped by the mountains. You will never experience harsh temperature changes and will enjoy mild winters with warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine. Liguria is one of the 5 European destinations with great weather throughout the year.
Liguria is the only Italian region to have the Alps, Apennines and the sea all quite close together.
Portofino is probably the most famous destination in Liguria. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and scenic. It’s uber-glamorous too and very expensive, just like the renowned Cinque Terre, a pretty area featuring five old seaside villages.
If you don’t have deep pockets but cannot part with the dream of living in Liguria, head west from Genoa and have a good look at the stretch of coast from Imperia to Genova. It is also a resort area, but a bit less discovered so you might have a chance to acquire a lovely coastal home without breaking the bank.
7. Padua – close to Venice and less expensive
Venice is one of Italy’s brightest stars, no doubt. However, as we all know, it’s a flood risk, it’s overwhelmed with tourists and it’s expensive.
So, taking the negative points into consideration and weighing them against your love for Venice, what would you say about moving to a smaller city 40 km away inland?
Padua (or Padova in Italian) is a quaint and beautiful city just west of Venice in the Veneto region. A short description of Padua is “affordable, walkable, livable and most importantly welcoming”.
Compared to many other Italian cities the rent is cheaper and so is life in general.
The city is full of craft beer places as beer is a big thing in Padua. There are also lots of wines from the surrounding Colli Euganei and other Italian regions. And of course, there’s spritz!
You will also be able to enjoy various concerts and special events. The Geox Stadium and Theater attracts big-name performers from all over the world and there are always shows or events taking place.
Padua is quite compact and it is easy to move within the city. Everything that you might need is within walking distance. Bicycles and public transport are the main means of travelling if you don’t want to walk.
Padua is still well connected though. It’s close to Venice, just half an hour by train. This makes Venice Adriatic beaches your closest seaside. When you arrive in Venice, take a 20-minute ride on a vaporetto (water bus) to Venice Lido Beach and enjoy a day at the seaside.
For Padua residents, Venice is the main international gateway. The Marco Polo airport in Venice is just 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Padua. It is conveniently linked with all major European airports.
Padua gets quite cold in winter and is usually warm in summer. It’s also partly cloudy almost all year round and can rain even during the driest months, but not a lot.
8. Pisa – Tuscany’s beautiful gem
When it comes to living in Tuscany, there’s disagreement as to whether the best location is Florence, Lucca or Pisa. All three are amazing cities, and there’s little that can make one better than the others.
There is, however, one consideration that might put Pisa at the top of the list – the cost of living.
The overall cost of living in both Florence and Lucca is higher than it is in Pisa, especially when it comes to property. Both renting and buying a home are a bit more affordable in Pisa than in Lucca, and much more affordable than in Florence.
Pisa is well connected – it actually is home to Galileo Galilei Airport, the largest airport in Tuscany.
Lucca and Livorno are just 20 – 30 min by car, and a high-speed train to Florence takes 49 minutes.
Pisa is much closer to the sea than Lucca or Florence. It’s also next to the gorgeous Migliarino – San Rossore – Massaciuccoli Nature Park.
If you fancy a splendid day at the seaside, there is a wonderful place called Marina di Vecchiano 16 km away. It’s a part of the Nature Park with sand dunes, pinewoods and clear water.
The beach of Marina di Vecchiano is four kilometres of golden sand and low dunes and is an absolute joy to visit.
Yes, Pisa is not as grand or big as Florence. It’s actually quite small for a city, so you can easily get around on foot or by bike. Cars feel obsolete in Pisa as everything is within walking distance and the historic centre of Pisa is a car-free zone anyway.
9. The Chianti area for a laid-back lifestyle
Tuscany is one of the most charming regions in Italy. It is quite well connected for both national and international travel, which adds to its popularity with expats.
If you love the feel of Tuscany but are looking for a more tranquil life than what cities like Florence, Lucca, and Pisa can offer, there are plenty of pretty little towns and villages between Florence and Siena in an area called the Chianti.
Yes, this is exactly where Chianti wine, one of the most famous and appreciated wines in the world, comes from.
The Chianti is all about vineyards, olive groves, forests, medieval castles, and cosy hilltop towns, which provide peace and tranquillity for its residents.
Surprisingly, this rural type of living doesn’t scare off expats. In the Chianti area, you can find foreigners living happily, even in the smallest remote villages.
Such popularity comes with a price, however: there is no really “affordable” location in the Chianti. That said, many expats think it’s worth paying extra to enjoy the area’s natural and cultural riches.
Being a part of the famous wine area, many towns organise annual festivals to celebrate the vendemmia (the harvesting of wine grapes) – wine and food celebrations that attract visitors from all over the world.
Greve, a busy town in the Chianti area near Florence, is quintessentially Italian and very attractive. Its quaint triangular square and beautiful hills make it the perfect home for those looking for a calm and serene lifestyle.
Greve is positioned conveniently close to public transport, main roads, and is about 32 km away from Florence. There’s also a bus that takes 51 min and costs €3 – €5.
18 km south of Greve you will find Radda, another beautiful medieval town enclosed in large defensive walls.
Radda used to be the capital of the Chianti. It is close to major sites. It isn’t far from Florence to the north and Siena to the south.
Just like any other location in the Chianti, Radda is a paradise for foodies. Every dish you try is designed to feature the local produce and complement the local wine.
Southern Italy for more sun and affordability
The southern regions of Italy, the ‘Mezzogiorno’, are sometimes dismissed by northern Italians and expats alike. And yes, maybe you as an expat wouldn’t want to live in certain areas of Naples, Palermo and southern Calabria.
However, there are a lot of absolutely charming places around the south of Italy. And although they might lack the northern sophistication, they more than make up for this with their natural beauty, warm climate and historic charm.
Those expats who have chosen southern Italy as their home say it has an energy and authenticity of culture that makes it so enticing. Plus expats choosing the south of Itlay can benefit from a 7% flat tax rate for 9 years.
The south is also more affordable than the north, including in property prices.
It is a great region for retirement or working as a digital nomad.
Check the available internet connection in your chosen location to make sure it’s what you need. You might be surprised, but as one of our readers pointed out in the comments, sometimes you can find better internet quality in a small fishing village than in a big northern city.
10. The Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast is a stunning 50-kilometre coastline along Sorrentine Peninsula, in the Campania region. It stretches all the way between the port city of Salerno and the clifftop town of Sorrento. The Amalfi coast features dramatic cliffs, tiny pebbly beaches, lovely fishing villages, impressive villas, terraced vineyards, and cliffside lemon groves.
The Amalfi coast is truly stunning and for that reason, it’s a very popular tourist destination, with all the pros and cons that come with this.
In the winter season (from November until Easter) the coast is very quiet and sees hardly any visitors. Hotels, bars and restaurants are closed and the streets, squares and beaches become quiet.
Even in the midst of the winter, the weather is fairly mild; it gets warm for you to enjoy a lazy beach picnic.
The coast comes back to life at Easter, however. All the shops, restaurants and hotels start reopening and the visitors start arriving in droves.
The most popular towns of the Amalfi coast are Positano, Sorrento, and Amalfi.
Positano, Sorrento, Amalfi
Positano is a tiny town with quite an exclusive feel to it. It’s known as a vertical city, as it clings to the side of a steep mountain. You may find that you can only reach your house from the road by climbing hundreds of steps up the hill.
Positano is extremely popular among the rich and famous. It’s centrally located, has a beautiful – if small – sandy beach, and glamorous seaside bars, restaurants, and clubs. It’s also one of the few towns on the Amalfi Coast known for its upscale shopping.
Spectacularly positioned at the top of the cliff, Sorrento boasts magnificent views across the Bay of Naples. On a gorgeous sunny day, you can see all the way across to Naples itself, with Vesuvius looming over it.
Sorrento is a transport hub with railway, bus, hydrofoil and ferry connections. It can be a perfect base if you plan to explore the surrounding territories. It is an easy drive, or bus ride, to Positano, Amalfi and Ravello, and the journey itself is stunning.
Sorrento has all the services and amenities you need for a comfortable life. But it comes with a hefty price tag.
The property is pretty expensive, as are rentals. Don’t discard the location based on Sorrento’s property prices though, look at the surrounding towns instead. They offer lower prices, or at least better value for money.
Amalfi is the biggest town on the Amalfi Coast. It is located at the foot of Monte Cerreto, surrounded by steep cliffs and a spectacular coastline.
The degree of exclusiveness is noticeably lower here than in Positano. It’s also somewhat cheaper and less crowded.
And yet, it’s stunningly beautiful. If you love arts, architecture, and glamorous events, then Amalfi is the right place for you. You will find all the extravagance and magnificence of Positano without the VIP costs.
11. South Sardinia – retirement paradise
Sardinia, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, offers its residents the most hours of sunshine and least rain in the whole of Italy.
Intrigued? Rightly so.
Sardinia has everything you want for a happy retirement: mild climate all year round, beautiful beaches, lower cost of living compared to major European cities, good healthcare, nature that encourages you to remain active, and great food.
If you wonder how expensive it is to live in Sardinia, the answer will pleasantly surprise you: it’s quite affordable.
The south of Sardinia is especially sweet because it is dominated by a vast green plain called Campidano. It is also less crowded and cheaper than the North. The coast is quite regular with a lot more sandy beaches.
Cagliari and the surrounding places
Cagliari, the capital city of Sardinia, is located right in the middle of the southern coast.
The city is less expensive compared to other similar-sized cities in Italy. It’s big enough to have everything in terms of entertainment and amenities: cinemas, opera theatres, shops, malls, supermarkets, pharmacies, clubs, bars, cafes, restaurants and other necessary services.
Public transportation is good. There are buses, trolley buses and trams servicing the city and the suburbs. Trains connect downtown to the airport as well as other main cities on the Island, and buses to beaches and villages are available.
The atmosphere is very relaxed and calm, so if you come from a big city, you might find Cagliari potentially boring.
Both to the east and west of the city there are beautiful beaches and lovely coastal locations that will take you away from the city life while still offering proximity to all of Cagliari’s amenities.
Cagliari is very close to some of the most beautiful beaches in Sardinia, such as Villasimius (40 km), Mari Pintau (around 15 km) and Chia (50 Km), famous for their white sands and turquoise waters.
If you are seeking a quieter life, consider the surrounding countryside.
You will find cleaner air and small expat communities, as foreigners generally prefer the countryside or the coast. This is also where the property is the least expensive.
If you drive northeast of Cagliari into the Sette Fratelli mountains (a national park), you will find lovely villages dotted along the first 30km. Property prices may pleasantly surprise you, and lots of new families are moving here. It is lush and surrounded by trees and hills and only about 25min by car to central Cagliari or the airport.
Out of all Italian cities, Rome, of course, stands out for its historic role.
Frankly speaking, Rome is not the best place to live in Italy when it comes to the quality of life. It’s busy, overwhelmed with tourists, suffers from horrific traffic jams and lacks efficient public transport. The cost of living, especially rent and property, is terrifyingly high.
Yet, it feels impossible to omit Rome from our list.
Rome is magnetic. It offers an exceptional atmosphere – full of historic references, arts, and beautiful buildings. But it’s far from just an open-air museum.
Geographically, Rome is in the centre of Italy, and although defining Rome as either north or south causes a lot of arguments among Italians, it’s neither. It’s a bit of everything, a melting pot of everything Italian and beyond.
Rome is vibrant, vivid, and very cool. Unlike many other cities, you don’t need to be wealthy to appreciate Rome’s lifestyle. It takes just a €2 gelato and a walk in the city centre to fully enjoy it. However, it takes much more to be able to rent or buy a property in Rome.
Like in almost any other big city in the world, living in Rome is all about compromise. Want to be within walking distance of all the coolest places in Rome? Prepare to live in the smallest apartment possible and dump your car, as you won’t have anywhere to park it.
Want a larger living space? You can find some modern and spacious (by Rome’s standards) apartments and even houses in the Parioli area or small satellite towns around Rome.
Relying on public transport, however, might be unwise. There are just three metro lines in Rome and the buses run to a pretty unreliable schedule. So, if you want to live outside of the centre, make sure you have a good tram line nearby.
Rome is well connected for national and international travel, though. Regular trains can take you to Florence and Naples. You can use Eurostar to reach Milan in 4 hours.
There are regular flights from both airports in Rome, Fiumicino and Ciampino. And you can take boats to Corsica, France and Barcelona from the Civitavecchia port, which is about 80km away.
On the whole, Rome is fabulous, but when it comes to day-to-day life, it might become tedious very soon and you will be looking for something more liveable.
The best places to live in Italy – summary
There are so many brilliant places to live in Italy that it’s impossible to include them all in one guide.
There’s Sicily if you want an island living but for less money than in Sardinia; there’s Verona that punches above its weight culturally speaking; there is wonderful Bologna and the whole Emilia Romagna – one of the richest regions in Europe; there’s stunning Umbria largely untroubled by tourism, and many other fabulous locations.
Italy can become your perfect home abroad if you do the right research and choose a location that’s just right for you. So travel around, ask local expats, and don’t rush into buying a property.
Choose wisely and you will be able to enjoy la dolce vita for a long time.