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How To Live It Up In Italy Without Breaking The Bank

Think you need to smash your piggybank to go old holiday? Put down that hammer and check out these things you can do in Italy for next to nothing, all in places that British Airways can take you.

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1. Try out several beaches just because you can

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Genoa has more free beaches than you'll know what to do with AND a budget-friendly public transport system. You can get a single ticket for €1.50 that's valid for the next 100 minutes on any number of buses you want, or a daily one valid for 24hrs for just €4.50 per person or €9.00 for four people traveling together. Jump on the number 15 and head out to nearby beaches Quarto, Quinto or Nervi. With your leftover money, spend it on a boat to San Fruttuoso (€18.00 return) and visit the 12th-century abbey by the bluest bay you ever saw.

2. Go urban rafting through medieval canals

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For just €12 (€8 concession) you can go on an urban rafting adventure through the canals of old Bologna. What, you didn’t know that Bologna used to look a lot like Venice? True story.

3. Climb a leaning tower (not that one)

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Pisa? Nope, we're talking about the Asinelli Tower, the tallest one in Italy, right in the heart of Bologna. For just €3 you can climb to the top of this 12th century tower, almost twice the size of Pisa's more famous one, and look out at the city below. When you're done, head down into the town for some free nibbles. Most restaurants open their doors at about 6pm and if you order an aperitivo (spritz or sparkling wine) you can eat for free. Depending on where you go, you might end up with an entire pizza. Just keep your glass topped up.

4. Look an active volcano in the eye

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Mount Etna on Sicily's east coast is open all year to tourists (as long as it's not erupting!). In the winter it serves as a fairly basic no-frills ski destination, but if you go in summer you can see the black lava sand and crunchy volcanic rocks right up close. Jump on a bus from town (tickets cost €5.90) and hop out at Rifugio Sapienza, the peak's southern gateway. From there you can get a cable car (€27.50) that connects with a 4x4 bus and a guide (€57.50) who'll walk you around the peak. It's a two-hour round trip, costs about as much as a fancy dinner — but how often do you get to see a live volcano? Head back into town early enough to order an aperitivo and get amongst the free bar buffet.

5. Go to a free summer music festival right on the actual beach

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For two nights in July you can catch a free pop/rock music festival on the beach just outside Cagliari in Sardinia (free buses run from Piazza Yenne in town). Mondo Ichnusa draws upwards of 100,000 people and if you hang around after the show you can watch the sunrise on the beach with everyone else who laughs at the idea of a bedtime.

6. Check out the birds

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Too much pizza in Cagliari starting to weigh you down? Take a walk through Parco Molentargius-Saline, a nature reserve with 180 different species of birds just wandering about, including some staggeringly beautiful pink flamingoes. It's free to drop in between 7.00am and 8.00pm.

7. Visit the original Father Christmas

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Right at the heel of Italy’s boot is Bari, which — if you’re a fan of winding maze-like lanes — is a Medieval town worth your time. Take a stroll through Bari Vecchia (as the locals call it) then stop in at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas (no one does churches like the Italians do churches) to check out the glorious gold ceiling and the crypt where the real life St. Nicholas is buried. Grab some cheap lunch at the markets on Ferranese Square and when when you’ve had your fill of history, go swim at the beautiful Pane e Pomodoro Beach, just 10 minutes from the city centre. You don’t even have to fork out for a cab.

8. See a free jazz show, or some people singing like angels

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From mid-June to September in Florence you can catch free jazz concerts at piazza della SS Annunziata where they've got chairs and tables set out and a weird and wonderful collection of musicians on the stage (plus dinner if you fancy it, although that's less free). Jazz not your bag? Catch free concerts and opera performances in one of the numerous churches in town, like St Mark’s English Church, or pay a small admission charge for the grander ones like Chiesa di Orsanmichele or Chiesa di Santo Stefano al Ponte Vecchio.

9. Scale the third largest church in Christendom

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You can't go to Milan without visiting the Duomo, which took 500 years to complete (and they're still tinkering with it). You won't be short of statues to look at (it boasts 3,500), or spires (135), or fancy bronze doors (five, all carved by different artists). It's free entry, so take the lift to the roof and if you're lucky you might even get to see the Alps. Try not to get overwhelmed and faint, it'd be a long fall.

10. Go sunbathing with the locals

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Idroscalo was originally Mussolini's idea back when he thought seaplanes were going to be a big thing. These days the huge man-made lake to the east of Milan is for barbecues, sunbathing (topless, obvs, this is Italy), kayaking, canoeing, sailing, swimming, horse riding and water skiing. Remember to pack your bathing suit.

11. Find out what Neapolitan ice cream is supposed to taste like

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Remember the Neapolitan tub that hung around in the freezer with just the vanilla and strawberry stripes left? We're not talking about that. No trip to Italy would be complete without sampling proper gelati in its natural home, and there's no better place than Naples, whose name has been unfairly used on the labels of ice cream disappointments the world over. Gay-Odin is the icy off-shoot of the much revered chocolate factory of the same name which means you have to have at least one scoop of something chocolatey. Them's the rules. It opens at 9.30am and we won't tell your mum if you have it for breakfast.

12. Take cheesy tourist photos of yourself trying to fix the landmarks

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Okay, so it's the rules that if you're anywhere near the Leaning Tower of Pisa you have to take a picture of yourself trying to hold it up. No, sssh, just do this thing. All the cool kids on Instagram are doing it.

13. Walk along a candlelit river in Pisa

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June 16 is the eve of San Ranieri's feast day, the patron saint of Pisa. 70,000 lit candles are placed along the river, buildings and churches, and even floated on the River Arno. The Leaning Tower joins in with some oil lamps and at 11.30pm the city sets off its fireworks display.

14. Visit the world's classiest cat sanctuary

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Amongst the ruins of Torre Argentina in Rome — a far cry from Battersea Cats Home — live hundreds of cats waiting to be patted or adopted. Excavated in 1929, Toree Argentina contains the remains of four temples as well as the theatre where Julius Caesar is said to have been assassinated. The cats started the sanctuary themselves: stray and abandoned felines just started hanging out there and local cat ladies would come to check on them (including Italian filmstar Anna Magnani who would spend her breaks from the nearby theatre feeding them). It became an official thing in the 1990s, and you can see some of the cats that live there on their website. It's open daily and free, but donations are welcome.

15. Watch a film for free

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The Casa Del Cinema (located in the public park Villa Borghese, Rome) transformed a derelict pavilion into a state-of-the-art cinema experience in 2001. They now put on special screenings (attended by fans and filmmakers alike) and tend to skew their regular showings towards classic Italian films. The City of Rome subsidises screenings every afternoon and evening which means you get something far greater more memorable than the Vue for exactly zero pounds. Check their website to see what's on.

16. Try a drink in the place it was invented

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If you're in Turin, forget your regular morning coffee and opt for a bicerin at Caffè Al Bicerin in Piazza della Consolata, the historic cafe that dates way back to 1763 and is filled with dark wood and marble tables. It's a mixture of coffee, hot chocolate and frothy milk served in a tulip-shaped glass for just €5. It's not your regular on-the-way-to-work mocha.

17. Visit a hospital but for fun reasons not A&E reasons

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The Ospedale Civile is not your regular hospital. Not only is it housed in the outrageously grand 15th-century Scuola Grande di San Marco with its marble floor, ancient cloister and gardens, but recently opened to the public is its vast collection of historical medical instruments and illustrations by the likes of Renaissance painters Bellini and Tintoretto. It's free and it's kind of gruesome. Don't let it put you off your tea.

18. Tell the truth under a dangling whale rib

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For a concentrated dose of Verona history and atmosphere, head to the Piazza delle Erbe at any time of day. Early for the market, evening for an aperitivo, but be sure to leave via the Arco della Costa (briefly hang around under the dangling whale rib — legend has it that it will only fall on the head of someone who has never told a lie) and then have a look at the Arche Scaligeri, a group of five elaborate Gothic funerary monuments for the Scaliger family who ruled Verona in the 13th and 14th centuries. None of this costs a penny. Except for maybe your aperitivo, if it's your round.

19. See Romeo & Juliet in the city of Romeo & Juliet

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Verona is one of the best cities in the world to fall in love (according to people who have not read Romeo and Juliet, presumably). In the summer the opera burst out of the theatres and move to the 2,000-year-old Roman arena where they are performed under the stars. With seats starting at just €21, it'd be rude not to.

Discover Italy with British Airways.

BA flies direct to 10 destinations across Italy from London Gatwick. Flights start from £39 one-way. Find out more and book at