Picture for The Complete Guide to Cycling Italy article

Cycling guides | Last updated:

The Complete Guide to Cycling Italy

By Daniele Fasoli

Understanding Italy

Cycling Italy is a journey through history, culture and beauty, where spectacular and diverse panoramas seamlessly blend with warm hospitality and a rich culinary tradition that has no equals in the world. In this guide, you will find all you need to know to plan your Italy cycling tour and get the best out of your experience: let’s dive right in!

Topography

Italy is boot-shaped elongated peninsula located in Southern Europe, spanning 301,338 sq. kms (116,347 sq mi). It stretches from the Alps Mountains in the north, to the heart of the Mediterranean sea in the south.

Also called the “Bel Paese” by locals (the “Beautiful Country” in English), Italy is located in the Northern Hemisphere, between the latitudes 36° and 47° N, (half way between the North Pole and the Equator), and the longitude 6° and 19° E.

While not entirely surrounded by water, about 85% of Italy’s external border is water. This translates to some 8,300 km (5157 mi) of coast vs only 1,930 km (1200 mi) of land-frontiers.

Italy’s long coastline also has excellent cycling infrastructure, with several dedicated bike paths running along the coast and offering excellent views of the sea. These include the Abruzzo bike to coast path and the Via Verde della Costa dei Trabocchi.

The two largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea — Sardinia and Sicily — are part of Italy.

About 40% of Italy is mountainous. The country is criss-crossed by two of the highest mountain chains in Europe — the Alps running from its North-west to the North-east, and the Apennine running from North to South, splitting the country into two parts.

The geographical complexity of Italy is a marvel to explore on two wheels. When cycling in Italy, you can expect to cross high mountain peaks covered in flowers, hills covered by world-class wineries and long coastal bike lanes of indescribable beauty!

Flora and Fauna

Despite being full of greenery and natural marvels, Italy is not a country of “wilderness”, but more of “organized natural beauty”.

Due to the long period of settlements in the Italian peninsula, dating back to over 3,000 years to the time of Ancient Romans and the Etruscans, the natural vegetation of Italy and most of its primordial forests have been destroyed and replaced by agricultural fields, grazing lands, decorative plants and botanical gardens.

While we can say that nature in Italy is “domesticated”, this does not mean that it is any less gorgeous — in fact, quite to the contrary, Italy is one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world.

When cycling in Italy, you have the chance to witness the results of centuries of organized beauty — from the incredible gardens of the tiny villages around lake Como and lake Garda in the North, the pine forests in the Dolomites, the vineyards and cypresses that cover central Italy and the enormous fields of olive trees that adorn all the country’s southern coastline.

Apart from the three species of plants that can be found in almost all of Italy (holly, pine, and cork oak), there is still some original flora that has been preserved mainly in peripheral areas and in Sardinia.

Just like its flora, the wild animal species were almost entirely wiped out in Italy during its long history of civilization and settlement. Only in remote peripheral territories and protected natural parks can one encounter native animals of the peninsula such as the eagle, ibex, chamois, bear, wolf, and marmot.

In recent years, a limited (but growing!) number of bears (around 220) and wolves can also be found outside protected national parks — many of them coming from nearby Slovenia. However, the population of these animals develops very slowly and is not always welcomed.

Near the coasts, swordfish, tuna, and dolphins can often be seen, and you could also come across rare species of birds and seals as well.

Climate

Being positioned halfway between the North Pole and the equator, Italy enjoys four well-defined seasons. Furthermore, due to its vertical geographical location spanning over 1200km from north to south, the regions of the Italian peninsula are characterized by different climates.

In the northern part, the Alpine arc is characterized by a continental climate with cool summers and harsh winters. Here, temperatures can reach as low as -20°C (-4°F) in winter and 30-35°C (86-95 °F) in summer. Winters are often marked by heavy snowfall between December and February, which makes it prohibitive for cyclo-tourism in this season.

Descending from the Alpine mountain range, we find the Po Valley, the largest plain in Italy and the heart of the country's industrial activity. This plain is famous for being extremely humid, scorching hot in summer, and foggy for the rest of the year.

Moving further beyond the Po Valley, the Italian climate changes drastically. All the coasts enjoy a much milder Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and hot summers.

The farther south you go, the warmer it gets, and in the extreme southern tip of the country, on the island of Sicily, one can comfortably go without heavy clothing even in winter, with minimum temperatures reaching 10-15°C (50-60°F).

In summer, however, it's almost impossible to leave the house during the day except to go to the beach, with temperatures easily surpassing 40°C (104°F).

During summer, the main refuge for those seeking relief in central-southern Italy are the Apennines, the mountain range that divides Italy in half between east and west, with peaks exceeding 3,000 m (9,842) of altitude.

Economy

With a GDP of USD 2.33 trillion (2023), Italy is the 8th largest economy in the world, just behind France and ahead of Brazil and Canada.

The GDP per capita though, is much lower at USD 39, 000, placing the country in the 29th position globally.

While this might seem surprising at first, it’s important to consider that even today in Italy, the underground economy is estimated to be more than 10% of the total GDP, and salaries in reality might be higher than what they look on official papers.

As has happened with several European countries, over the last two decades the economy of Italy has shifted towards the service sector from manufacturing and agriculture.

Despite Italy’s proud culinary tradition and culture, agriculture in Italy accounts for only about 2.1 % of the country’s GDP.

Industrial production, on the other hand, contributes 23.9% to the GDP.

The remaining 73.9% of the Italian economic output is due to the services sector, which also includes tourism which generates roughly 10% of all the country’s GDP.

Last but not least, a fun fact — the cost of living in Southern Italy is about 50% of that of Northern Italy, an important data to keep in mind when budgeting your trip!

DREAMING OF CYCLING IN ITALY?

Design a private trip to Italy now!

Why Choose Italy for Cycling?

Cycling in Italy isn't just about moving from point A to point B, but an adventure that allows you to explore the alphabet of surprises hidden between departure and arrival.

You get to savor its world-renowned architecture, its art, its "organized" beauty, the Italian bella vita (aka “the good life”), and the delicious food.

1. Rich and Variegated Landscapes

From the Mediterranean Sea to the Alps, Italy is synonymous with a variety of landscapes. A climb up the Alpe di Siusi with snow-covered mountains and primroses is an entirely different world compared to a bike lane along the bustling Gulf of Naples

2. An unending and Delicious Variety of Regional Foods

Pretty much every survey of global cuisines held has ranked Italian cuisine as the world’s most favorite cuisine. Pizza, pasta, Spaghetti, lasagna, bruschetta, tiramisu, risotto, ravioli, and several other iconic foods originated in Italy. And we haven't even started on the wines yet. There is simply no better place on earth to enjoy divinely delicious cuisine than Italy.

3. The History and the Architecture

Some of the finest buildings ever built in history are in Italy. From the Colosseum and the Pantheon in Rome to the leaning tower of Pisa to the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Italy is a treasure for lovers of architecture. Each building comes with hundreds, and often thousands of years of history behind it.

As you cycle in Italy, you will be surprised by the casual beauty and ancient heritage scattered all around, such as Roman aqueducts and old churches in quaint little hamlets.

4. Plenty of Lanes and Facilities for Cyclists

Italy is a paradise for cycling lovers. It has excellent cycling infrastructure with dedicated bike lanes, and pretty much everybody in Italy loves cycling and cyclists. The ciclovia del Po is one of the longest cycling paths in Italy, stretching for nearly 125 kms along Po, Italy’s longest river.

The Sentiero Valtellina or the Valtellina Cycling Path is another breathtakingly beautiful route that is shared by both cyclists and hikers in north Lombardy.

5. The Art and the Culture

Italy is the home of the Renaissance, of Michelangelo and Raphael, of Leonardo da Vinci and Botteclli. It’s also the home of Roman Catholicism and of the Pope who lives in Vatican City. Every corner of Italy is permeated by the most beautiful art and sculpture man has ever created. When cycling in Italy, not only do you get a chance to see some of the most famous works of art, but also see the place and the people that inspired such supreme human achievement.

Which Are the Best Regions to Cycle in Italy?

1. Trentino-Alto Adige

Also known as South Tyrol, this is the northernmost region of Italy, bordering Austria and Switzerland.

Trentino is a paradise for cyclists and mountain enthusiasts alike, with over 70% of the region's territory reaching altitudes beyond 1,000 meters (3,280 ft) and boasting over 700 mountain lakes.

With an extensive network of bike lanes, including both roads and mountain trails, along with cozy rural agritourism retreats for overnight stays, Trentino offers one of the most picturesque and peaceful settings for a cycling getaway.

Lastly, Trentino is home to the Dolomites, one of the most stunning mountain ranges in the world, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009.

2. Tuscany

With more than 400 wineries, 16 DOCG zones (denomination of controlled and guaranteed origin), and 32% of its regional area covered by vineyards, Tuscany offers the quintessential Italian experience.

Visitors can indulge in some of the finest Italian wines, explore production sites, and savor authentic versions of iconic Italian dishes such as the giant Fiorentina steak.

Additionally, Tuscany is home to several captivating art cities, including Florence (renowned for Brunelleschi’s Basilica of St. Mary), Siena (famous for the Palio horse race and its city quarters' rivalry), and Lucca, known for its medieval walls ideal for cycling around.

3. Abruzzo

Situated on Italy's eastern coast, Abruzzo is a region of remarkable diversity. Its coastline, known as the Costa dei Trabocchi, features small uncrowded beaches and traditional fishing structures called "Trabocchi”.

The western side of Abruzzo boasts expansive sunflower fields and some of the highest peaks of the Apennine mountain range.

A must-visit for cyclists is the ascent to Campo Imperatore, an upland plateau at 2,200 meters (7217ft) above sea level, offering breathtaking natural landscapes.

Despite the challenging route, cyclists are rewarded with panoramic views of the rugged Gran Sasso mountain and the opportunity to sample locally renowned "Arrosticini" skewers cooked at kiosks along the way.

4. Sicily

Sicily is both an island and a world of its own, where time seems to move slower, and life is more natural and untamed.

As the southernmost region of Italy, Sicily enjoys warm weather year-round, making it an inviting destination for travelers.

Its rich history, marked by numerous conquests, is evident in its diverse architecture and cultural influences, ranging from Spanish to Roman and Ancient Greek.

The island's Mediterranean coastline is stunning, dotted with lemon and orange trees, while Sicilian hospitality is renowned for its warmth and generosity, often resulting in invitations to locals' homes for food and conversation.

5. Sardinia

Sardinia is Italy's wildest and least-known region, offering more than just its famous luxury enclave of Porto Cervo.

Much of Sardinia remains untouched, with shepherds tending their flocks amidst uncrowded, Caribbean-like beaches and sleepy villages inhabited mostly by elderly residents.

Vehicle ownership in Sardinia is among the lowest in Italy, and outside of the peak summer months, prices are among the most affordable in the country.

PLANNING A CYCLING HOLIDAY IN ITALY?

Write to us to start you Italy cycling adventure!

Which Are the Best Cycling Routes in Italy?

1. Val Pusteria (Sudtirol) and Valle dell’Adige (Trentino)

Trentino-Sudtirol or South Tyrol is a paradise for cyclists of any level as mountains and lakes here are breathtakingly beautiful.

The path that starts from Lienz (Austria), and crosses to San Candido and the entire Pusteria Valley is one of the most famous Italian routes for cycling for both dedicated cyclists and families alike.

It’s a 44 km (27 mi) journey in the heart of the Dolomites, served by a train service which offers the option to come back without needing to bike the same path twice.

Towards the end, the bike lane connects to the Valle dell’Adige Lane, a 98 km (61 mi) route that follows the Adige Adige through vineyards, apple plantations, green plateaus and wineries.

Optional Detour: Garda Lake.

2. Food Valley Bike (Emilia Romagna)

The region of Parma is recognized as a UNESCO Creative City for Gastronomy, and the Food Valley Bike is a 70 km (43 mi) bicycle-only dedicated lane, which connects all the major foodies’ destinations from Parma to Busseto in Emilia Romagna.

On the way, you can expect to try some of the most typical Italian meat products (like Spalla Cruda, Culatello and Ciccioli), pastas and cheeses. All this, in addition to Parma’s world renowned Parmesan cheese and Prosciutto di Parma (cured ham)

The scenic bike lane follows the Po river’s banks and is an incredible route for pedaling while discovering the beauty and the taste of Italy!

3. Climbing to Campo Imperatore (Abruzzo)

For those who love hard climbs, the route to Campo Imperatore is a 8-hours long mountain road that starts from Chieti (Abruzzo) and stretches for 131 km (81mi) until L’Aquila (Molise). Enroute, it passes through Campo Imperatore, an otherworldly mountain plateau located at 2,200m (7,217ft) above sea level.

This epic road has become famous as one of the most challenging of the Giro d’Italia cup, but also one of the most iconic and scenic.

Optional Detour: Costa dei Trabocchi

4. Amalfi Coast and the Sorrentino Ring

This is 106 km (65 mi) route across sun-kissed bays and creeks on the sea coasted by lemon trees.

The highlight of the ring are the popular towns of Amalfi, Atrani, Sorrento and the world-famous Positano, the fjord of Furore and the Sorrentina Coast in front of the island of Capri.

The Amalfi coast is one of Italy’s most visited regions, so cyclists should expect some traffic here. This route is also physically demanding because of the altitude. However, the rewards are well worth the effort.

While this itinerary is definitely challenging, it can be split easily into a greater number of days days thanks to the vast convenient accommodation options on the way (and don’t forget, here you are in the Campania region, which is just another synonym for incredibly-tasty food!

Optional detours: Naples and the Vesuvio Vulcano.

When Is the Best Time to Cycle Italy?

Best Season

The best time for cycling in Italy is spring (February to June), when the snow melts, the fields are filled with flowers, and the temperatures rise to become pleasant without being hot. Expect average temperatures of around 14-25°C (57-77°F).

In addition to the great weather, springtime isn't as crowded with tourists as summer, making it possible to still find good quality at a lower price.

That said, there are minor variations between northern and southern parts of the country.

In the south, the ideal period for cycling is from February to May, while in the north spring arrives a little, typically from late March to June.

Peak Season

Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world. Given its geographical diversity, it receives a steady influx of tourists year round. However, the following times of the year are the busiest:

  • December for Christmas, New Years Eve and winter holidays
  • January and February for the ski resorts
  • Spring for the art Cities such Florence, Milan, Venice, Rome
  • Summer for beaches and the coastline.

Cyclists can thus take advantage of the milder weather in the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn to explore Italy's picturesque landscapes and scenic routes without encountering heavy tourist crowds. This allows for a more tranquil and enjoyable cycling experience while still being able to appreciate Italy's cultural and natural attractions.

Off Season

From November to Mid-March in Northern Italy: The weather is cold, rainy, windy, snowy and foggy, and definitely not recommended for an enjoyable bike trip.

December-January in Southern Italy: The weather is cold in the southern regions (0-10°C / 32-50°F), and most of the shops, agritourism structures and hotels will take a break and close during the low season.

Summer in Southern Italy (June-August): It gets scorching hot with temperatures above 40°C / 104°F and high humidity, it’s neither safe nor enjoyable to cycle.

Enjoying Italian Cuisine

From a culinary perspective, every region…no, every Italian province…no, every Italian town and village is a micro-cosmos!

Italy enjoys one of the most diverse and incredible cuisines in the world, so much so that even for Italians it is almost impossible to try everything this country has to offer!

To put this

  1. Italy has over 300 types of different pasta (each one with its own sauce)

  2. 20+ ways of drinking coffee

  3. 5000+ traditional food specialties cataloged nationwide, which gave Italy the Guinness for the largest variety and breadth of agro-food heritage in the world!

As of 2024, three Italian cities are recognized as UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy. These include:

1. Alba

Located in the Piedmont region of north-west Italy, Alba is recognized for its white truffles, vineyards, and its annual truffle festival. It is also the headquarters of the global slow food movement, started in 1986 as an alternative to fast food culture. Slow food emphasizes local ingredients, sustainable growing practices, and small businesses.

2. Bergamo

Located in Lombardy in northern Italy, Bergamo is renowned for its award-winning cheese and cheese products.

3. Parma

Located in northern Italy, Parma is the home of Parmesan cheese and Prosciutto di Parma. More than 30% of Parma's population is employed in the sustainable food industry.

The best way to try authentic Italian cuisine, is asking in restaurants or agricultural retreats for the “local dish”: you’d be surprised by how every single time, you’d find something completely different!

The cuisine in Italy is also very localized.

You can expect to find a great Pasta Carbonara in Rome, deer meat in Trentino, arancini in Sicily, sospiri cakes in Apulia and the Fiorentina meat in Florence…but you cannot usually find those same foods in the other regions!

That’s why, a cycling holiday in Italy is also a journey into the culinary world itself, which accompanies the changing landscapes, local customs and traditions.

Italy Visa Requirements

Italy is a member state of the European Union (EU) and part of the Schengen Area.

If you’re not a citizen of a member state, you can apply for a Uniform Schengen Visa which will allow you to stay in the country for up to 90 days.

You can find more information on the official EU page for Schengen application

Handy Info

Currency

Italy’s official currency is the Euro. As of April 2024, 1 Euro = 1.10 USD.

All major credit card circuits are accepted (Visa, Mastercard, Maestro, American Express) in Italy, and all merchants are obliged by law to offer the possibility of paying by card.

This makes carrying liquid cash quite optional in Italy, although having a little amount with you is always a clever idea as sometimes you might find vendors that won’t give you a receipt for their services.

Transport

Public transportation in Italy is vast and capillary.

Buses are cheap, fast and frequent. The main companies operating in the country are Flixbus, Marinobus, and Itabus. All three offer the possibility to carry bikes.

Trains are the best way to reach the villages and cities in Italy.

However, the Italian national company Trenitalia is one of the worst rated companies in Italy, and if you’re short on time it’s a wise choice to avoid it (it is famous for trains running very late, getting canceled at the last minute etc.).

If you’ve got time and patience on your hands though, most regional and high-speed trains accept bikes and might bring you to your destination (eventually).

Language

The official language in Italy is Italian. Few frontier regions in the North also recognize German (Alto Adige), French (Piemonte and Val d’Aosta) and Slovenian (Friuli) as official languages.

The Italian dialects are languages of their own, and people from different regions have a tough time understanding one another if not speaking proper “High” Italian.

While elders still struggle with English, most people under the age of 30-35 can easily communicate, although not fluently.

Fun fact — hand gestures are a shared language among all Italians. They originated in Naples after the city had been conquered by different populations over and over during the centuries, as a means for different people to trade and communicate with one another while not knowing each other’s language.

Culture and Religion

Italians are world-famous for their hospitality and sociability and are mostly very welcoming toward foreign visitors.

While in North Italy it’s easy to be invited to try local wines and products, the farther south you move the stronger the welcome-cultures becomes: in Sicily, it’s easy for locals to invite you also in their houses to spend an afternoon or a night if you resonate with them (let alone the food!).

In general, Italian culture is mostly laid-back, excepting in few more “international” and “industrial” cities such as Milan or Turin, where time seems to be running faster!

As for religion, after discovering that in Italy there are more than 64.000 (!!!) churches, you can easily guess that the main religion is Roman Catholicism.

That said, most churches are nowadays empty vessels of what they once were. According to some studies, more than 30% of young Italians identify as either atheist or agnostic. More than 31% of the total population declared that they never visited a church in the last year, and only 18% of all Italians today say that they visit a church at least once a week.

Because of this, while it’s still better to show respect in religious buildings by wearing clothes that cover your body at least from the knees to the shoulders, in most churches the dress restrictions have been lifted. Photography is normally allowed if not otherwise pointed out.

If you’re a passionate photographer, you’ll love Italy: there’s so much more to catch than what could possibly stay in your hard disk! Just be sure of always asking the consent of people before taking a picture of them: most Italians will be happy to take a photo with you and answer you with a direct “Si si si” (yes, yes, yes), but some might be more shy, so always better asking first!

Appliances and Devices

Electricity in Italy, as in most of the European continent, is supplied at 220-240 volts, and Italy uses a frequency of 50 Hz.

The electrical sockets in Italy are of three types: type-C (2 simple round pins), type-F (also called schuko, it has two large round pins), or type-L (three small pins).

Be careful: if you’re buying technological devices such as laptops or PCs in Italy, they will likely come with a type-L plug, which does not fit almost anywhere else in the world (except Libya) and you’ll likely need an adapter for the rest of that appliance’s life.

Mobile Coverage

4G and 5G coverage is widely available all over the peninsula. In the mountains though, both Alps and Apennine, many “dark areas” remain where both mobile service and data are not available. The main Italian phone companies are Vodafone, Wind, Tim and Iliad.

You could also think about getting an e-sim by E-travelsim, maya mobile, Airalo or Holafly.

Time Zone

Italy is typically in the Central European Time (CET) zone, which is UTC+1. However, during daylight saving time, it switches to Central European Summer Time (CEST), which is UTC+2.

Through the Notes

Read: The Confessions of an Italian by Ippolito Nievo

Listen: Vasco Rossi, Laura Pausini, Tiziano Ferro, the “Sanremo Winners Compilation” (all the best Italian song that won most famous music contest in Italy)

Watch: La Grande Bellezza (2013 – Paolo Sorrentino), Tre Uomini e Una Gamba (1997 - Giovanni e Giacomo).

Eat: Fiorentina Steak (in Florence), Speck (Trentino), Arancini (Sicily), Carbonara (Rome), Tortellini (Borghetto sul Mincio), Pizza (Naples and everywhere!), Gelato, Focaccia, Lasagna, Parmigiana, Gorgonzola, Stracciatella, Crudo di Pesce… really, to make a complete list we would need an entire blog!

Drink: Nastro Azzurro (beer), Moretti (beer), Amarone (red wine), Barolo (red wine), Chianti (red wine), Lambrusco (sparkling rosè), Recioto di Soave (golden dessert wine), prosecco (white wine) and Aperol!

Learn: Learn to communicate with your hands, learn to make pasta with your own hands and the truth about Italian culture and cuisine

Experience: climb the Dolomites, visit Venice, cycle through the rocky Cinque Terre, remain stunned by the beauty of Rome, discover ancient history on the roads of Sicily

Wrapping Up

If you’re interested in cycling in Italy, drop us an email, and we will be happy to craft a dream Italy cycling itinerary for you. Each guided bike tour we offer is organized by a passionate local trip leader who will provide you with all the support you need, world-class bikes and equipment, and plenty of tips and information on what to visit, where to eat local, and what to try.

Electric bikes are also available for all our bike tours.