Italy is a must-visit, over and over again, kind of destination. It’s one of the most beautiful countries to travel to in Europe, if not the world. The history, culture, food, wine, and hearing Italian being spoken are all reasons why this is a traveller’s dream destination.

If Italy has long been on your bucket list and you are planning a trip here, keep reading. In this guide, I share important things to know when travelling to Italy. Everything from the best places to go, the best time to go, and tips for travelling to Italy. Italy is one of those countries with a strong cultural heritage and traditions so knowing what to expect in Italy, especially for your first time, is key. I am sure this post will help. (Updated August 2022)

Best Places to Go in Italy

As a holidaymaker, Italy offers it all to travellers. From the canals of Venice to the Arno river running through Florence to the gently rolling hills of Tuscany to the cobblestone streets of Rome and to the pastel-coloured houses in Cinque Terre perched high on cliffs of the Mediterranean sea. The picture-postcard list of destinations goes on and on. 

italy at night, bridge and water

A great way to look at Italy is in two halves. The northern half, from Rome up, or the southern half from Rome down. Another way you may consider planning your trip may be to follow your passions – whether it be eating or drinking your way through Italy or seeing the ancient ruins and historical sites or relaxing and soaking up the sunshine in many of the coastal villages. The list is endless, all you have to do is choose what’s right for you.

Italy Guides for your Trip Planning

Best Time to Go to Italy

Like most European destinations the best time to visit Italy is during spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November). The shoulder seasons are when temperatures are pleasant, costs are lower and there are fewer crowds. It’s not just Canadians and Americans who love visiting Italy, it’s also a popular destination for other European countries. 

green landscape and blue sky in italy

Best Things about Italy

There are a lot of good things about Italy. Known for its art, architecture, fashion, and food, there are endless things to see and do. One of the best things about Italy is its lifestyle. Italians practice dolce vita, or living a good life. That means each and every day they slow down, relax, and enjoy the scenery, good food, and wine. That includes the post-lunch riposino which is the sacred time of day that spans from 1 to 4 pm. Embrace it. Try dolce vita, trust me it’s the best thing about Italy. 

building in italy with green shutters

Things to Know Before you Go to Italy

Italy’s Food Culture

Breakfast in Italy

Italians eat a light and quick breakfast, usually standing up at the bar top and it only consists of a coffee. A caffè means an espresso (there is no such thing as dripped coffee in Italy). You could also order a cappuccino (espresso with a good dollop of foamed milk) or caffè latte (it is not as strong and has a lot more milk) – but no later than 11 am. Italians believe that adding milk to your espresso is reserved only for the morning.

Going to Italy? This travel guide shares things you should know when traveling to Italy, including the best places to go in Italy and best time to go.
When to eat in Italy

Lunch is served between 12:00 to 2:30 pm. If you happen to miss it, you are out of luck as many restaurants close and don’t reopen until 7:00 pm. Italians, like most other European countries, eat late, well maybe not as late as the Spaniards. They usually start to dine at 8:00 pm, and any earlier than that you will likely have the restaurant to yourself. The best time for dinner reservation is 8:30 pm.

Fun Food Facts: 1. Pasta dishes date as far back as the 4th century. 2. Pizza was first made in Naples in 1860. 3. 14 billion espressos are consumed each year. 4. Italy is the world’s largest exporter of wine.

Order like an Italian

A typical Italian menu is divided into sections: Antipasti, or appetizer, Primi, or pasta first course, Secondi, or meat second courses and Dolci, or desserts. Don’t worry, this type of dining is usually saved for special occasions and most Italians don’t eat all those courses at every meal. Feel free to pick, usually a Primo for lunch and Secondo for dinner. But if the restaurant offers a daily special, ignore the menu and trust your server.

Eat like an Italian

In Italy, being too fast is considered rude. Italians are passionate about life’s simple pleasures, food being one of them. So, take things slowly, enjoy your meal, and don’t rush. Servers don’t bother you while you are eating, if you need something, you’ll have to make eye contact and that includes asking for the bill (Ill conto, per favore) when you are ready to leave. Otherwise, you have the table until closing.

Going to Italy? This travel guide shares things you should know when traveling to Italy, including the best places to go in Italy and best time to go.

Bread will always be on your table at every meal, and it is meant to be an accompaniment to your meal and not eaten before your meal. No pasta-based meal is complete without fare la scarpetta, which means you use your bread to mop up all the leftover sauce on your plate.

TIPPING IN ITALY

There is no expectation to tip in Italy. In restaurants, you will receive a coperto servizio which acts like a cover charge and is almost always added to the bill when dining out. This is normal and applies to everyone. This fee is typically between 1 to 5 Euros. If service was exceptional you could round up your bill.

In hotels, when you receive exceptional service you can tip the porter and concierge 1 or 2 Euros. In spas, it would be no more than 10%. Your tour guide would be 10 Euros for a full day and per person.  Taxi drivers don’t receive tips, but you should agree on a fare upfront. If they are extra helpful, then you could tip 1 to 2 Euros.

HOW TO GET AROUND ITALY

Renting a car in Italy

An international driving permit in Italy is required by law to drive a car. However, car rental agencies only ask to see your home country driver’s license. 

Going to Italy? This travel guide shares things you should know when traveling to Italy, including the best places to go in Italy and best time to go.
Validate your ticket

Train travel is so easy, inexpensive and incredibly fast, especially the high-speed trains, so why not ditch the car rental or the short domestic flight and take the train instead? The most important thing to know about travelling by train is to make sure you validate your ticket before boarding. Validation machines are scattered all along with the train platform, if you don’t you will be fined if do not have a “validated” ticket. The same applies to bus/tram transportation. 

Driver’s beware

If you are renting a car in Italy, especially needed if you are in the countryside, watch out for the Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL) signs. It means it’s limited traffic and in most cities and small towns, especially in the centro storico (historic center), you will see them. A special permit is needed to drive in these zones, and car rental companies do not provide them. There’s a camera that takes a photo of your license plate as you enter and you will get a fine in the mail, even tourists. It’s not really a problem, ditch the car in big cities, and when touring small towns, look for a parking lot outside the city center—you’ll often find one within walking distance to the center of town.

PROTECTING THEIR ANCIENT SITES

In 2019, Italy has started to put in measures in place to protect the overrun of tourists and its historical sites. No longer are you allowed to sit on the Spanish Steps in Rome? Or overcrowd the bridges in Venice, where many stop and take selfies. Almost all eating and drinking while sitting near the main cities’ historical sites are now banned. 

Going to Italy? This travel guide shares things you should know when traveling to Italy, including the best places to go in Italy and best time to go.

Italy has 55 designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, and that puts them at the top of the list. Interested in knowing which ones? Check out our guide 18 Best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.

WHAT TO WEAR

Going to Italy? This travel guide shares things you should know when traveling to Italy, including the best places to go in Italy and best time to go.

Italians care about their appearance and this is a country where first impressions count. Even for occasions for just “popping into shops” you will find most Italians will be dressed immaculately. Generally, they wear the highest quality, coordinated clothing with simple make-up and accessories; and always sunglasses. 

And yes, most religious sites do enforce covered shoulders and legs.

Cash or Credit or Debit

Credit cards are most commonly accepted in restaurants, hotels, and shops, although Italians still love paying with cash, especially for those small expenses. Generally, for items under 30 euros, cash is more commonly used and preferred. In bigger cities, debit and credit are preferred. But going to smaller towns and villages and markets will be where cash is still preferred.

Travelling tips to Italy

Going to Italy? This travel guide shares things you should know when traveling to Italy, including the best places to go in Italy and best time to go.

Visas required for Italy

Visiting Italy for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes can be done without a visa.

Travel restrictions

As a result of the evolving Covid restrictions around the world, it is always best to get the most up-to-date information. Click here, for entry requirements and travel restrictions to Italy.

Travel Insurance

Travel is so unpredictable, especially during a pandemic. That’s why I use SafetyWing Travel Insurance. They are the best option for affordability and coverage against Covid circumstances. To find out more about this company or get a free quote click here SafetyWing Travel Insurance.

Best Accommodations

Italy has a wide range of options from B&Bs, boutique hotels, hotel chains, villas, and apartments in every city and region of Italy.

Learn the basics

While many Italians do speak some English, especially in the larger cities, it is still a good idea to learn a few key phrases in Italian.

  • Buon giomo (good day)
  • Buona notte (good night)
  • Arrivederci (goodbye)
  • Ciao (hello and goodbye)
  • Grazie (thank you)
  • Per favore (please)
  • Si (yes)
  • No (no)
  • Prego (you are welcome)
  • Parla inglese (do you speak speak english?)
  • Non Capisco (I don’t understand)
  • Me scusi (excuse me)
  • Quanto costa questo (how much does this cost?)

As a holidaymaker…

I hope this list was helpful in sharing what to know before travelling to Italy. One last thing to know before visiting Italy – the kiss. A European custom, the meeting and leaving, is always with a kiss on the cheek when greeting acquaintances and friends. Kiss the person’s left cheek first and then the right. However, it really is just a light brush of the cheeks and making a kissing sound.

Ciao!

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44 Comments

  1. Wow great tips. Italy is certainly our favorite destination in Europe and longing to go back after finishing the other places we haven’t visited yet. Beating the lines is so very important when you have so much to do and time seems to be on a premium. Your guide will be so useful for us next time around. And Italian food is now a craze even in India and so when there we wouldn’t be having anything else like it was last time for us.

  2. I have been once in Venice and I loved it. The bridges, the culture, the kindness of Italian people. Once thing I do not like about Italy and my own country( I am Spanish) is that restaurants close for hours while in other European cities you can eat the whole day long. But that it is easily forgotten when you admire how much the country has to offer. This is an excellent guide for a first timer in Italy, thanks for sharing.

  3. Visiting Italy for me is fantastic any time and these initial tips are fantastic to understand and appreciate a visit and better stay. I love food so the concept of having fuller and more longer meals and the customs to enjoying them are fun to do and enjoy. Also, learning basic expressions like what you have shared gets you a long way to go when you visit and greet people there.

  4. This is a perfect first-timer guide to Italy. You have nailed it by adding those bits about their customs like the way to eat like an Italian, the basic phrases etc. I also, liked your tip about looking out for those smaller lanes with limited traffic signs in case we do a self-drive – I honestly did not know of it. And yes, the tipping bit – good to know before you are fleeced or worst yet, frowned upon!

  5. A great round-up of what to expect in one of Europe’s most popular destinations. It can be a real culture shock to visit Italy for first-timers. Different foods and customs may not have been encountered anywhere else in the world. This is a thorough post giving all the best advice to prepare travellers for a visit to this most beautiful country.

  6. It’s always interesting reading another perspective of things to know before visiting Italy. Living here, I agree with you on the best time to travel, and about our cappuccinos, we are very particular. Tipping here does not exist. The coperto is something you find in many restaurants but it is standard.

  7. It’s hard not to love Italy…and you’ve got so many great tiips here – it’s a very useful guide! I had to chuckle about fare la scarpetta. Growing up with an Italian grandmother in the same home, we always did this, and I thought everyone in the US did, too. (Why wouldn’t they want to sop up every last drop?!) It wasn’t until I was older that my soon-to-be mother-in-law (now ex!) gave me a scornful look that I realized it wasn’t as acceptable at other tables. Personally, I think the Italians got it right. It’s part of la dolce vita! Can’t wait to go back!!

  8. Fun and useful tips. We have traveled to Italy a fair amount, and will never forget the horror on our host’s face once when we asked for parmesean to add to our pasta — pasta with fish. Also, I like a cappuccino in the afternoon, so I always order one, knowing full well I will get eye rolls and head shakes. 😉 Yeah, I’m a contrarian.

    1. Thank you Michael for your comment! Yes, there are some habits we sometimes can’t let go of. My husband is the same, will order a cappuccino in the afternoon too.

  9. I LOVE Italy, have been several times! These are all excellent tips. I remember the first time I went, my family got ready to go to dinner around 5/5:30 and we were so upset (because we were hungry lol) when we discovered no restaurants are open that early!!

    1. Thanks for your comment Maggie! Yes, adjusting your mealtimes is sometimes a challenge. I remember we were in a tour over the main lunch hour and when we were ready to eat at 2:00, no restaurant would serve us. That day it was a stop at the grocery store for a pre-made sandwich.

  10. I haven’t been to Italy so this post are really helpful tips. Sometimes, we tend to overlook the basic must-knows and get inconvenienced by doing so. Grazie! 🙂

    1. You are most welcome Jing, I am glad they might be helpful. Hope you get to travel to Italy one day soon.

  11. A very useful post on tips to know before traveling to Italy. I have covered norther Italy and Rome but have not gone to southern Italy. Apart from historic sites, I would now love to go for coastal areas in southern part. Yes I agree the restaurants close early and they eat a very light breakfast. Covering shoulders in religious sites is quite common in other religious sites too, That is why I always carry a jacket and scarf with me while traveling to historic sites.

    1. Thank you Yukti for your comment. I found it hard to eat so light in the morning, I am used to having more for my breakfast and less of a meal at lunch time. It took a couple of days to remember that. I want to see more of the south as well, we have focused on Rome and north.

      1. I have been to Italy 4 times, once just for a day. I have gone summers and been everywhere central. I have yet to go to the north and the south. But I never found any real restrictions. I love the country, its history and food!!!

  12. Oh, I love Italian food ! And yes, you shouldn’t rush yourself through good food ! I had the best pizza and gelato in Rome ! Have been wanting to return again, hopefully soon ! =p

    1. Thank you Jeremy for your comment. Glad you agree that Italian food is delicious and meant to be savored.

    2. Italy is in my bucket list and seriously one of the most fascinating places to visit. It’s such a great thing to practice dolce Vita, the simple pleasures in life and I too believe in that. And cappuccino is my favorite coffee type and it’s nice how Italians don’t add milk to their coffee post 11:00 am and of course early lunch and dining late is one of my favorite things to do. And it’s commendable how Italy has run down on overcrowded tourist places to protect them and recommended drivung slow in the tourist spots. And dressing up for every occasion is my favorite thing to do and sunglasses with accessories is on the dot.

  13. Italy is a wonderful country that I’ve visited a few times but would definitely like to see more of. Reading your post I was quite pleased that I knew quite a lot of the info, so I must have learnt a bit on my travels. Eating late is definitely a thing as restaurants don’t come alive until later, everyone goes for pre-dinner drinks before eating. I enjoyed visiting a cafe during breakfast time and watching the locals pop in for their espressos. I’d like to learn more of the language before I return for sure.

    1. Thank you for your comment Laura. Glad to hear I hit on all the key points of information for first time travelers to Italy! Yes, definitely the morning ritual of the locals who come in for their quick stand up at the espresso bar is fascinating to watch. It only took my husband a couple of days to master the art of their coffee culture.

  14. I just returned from my 3rd trip to Italy and in fact, it was to Sicily which I have to say is different to the rest of Italy in many ways. For example, a popular breakfast for them is gelato on brioche! Not what I was expecting at all.

    1. Thank you for your message. Glad to hear you love Italy like I do to return 3 times, and likely have more trips planned for the future. Yes, every region has its slight differences, especially when it comes to food. But breakfast is still relatively light and quick, as they save room for a big lunch and then riposo (rest time) in the afternoon.

    1. Thank you for your comment Delphine. Definitely when dining out, it is a time commitment of a couple of hours, it is a great way to wind down and reminisce about the highlights of the day.

  15. Definitely pinning this one for later!

    We haven’t made it to Italy yet but I can imagine there are so many things to learn. I did italian in high school so think I’ve got the basics down pat but great tip about the ZTL zone, that’s definitely something we wouldn’t have known.

    1. Thank you for your comment Sally! I am sure if you studied Italian in school it will come back to you very quickly! I hope you get there one day soon!

    1. Thank you for your comment. Tips for beating the lines, go in the shoulder season, we toured in April, and for the main attractions we always tackled first thing in the morning leaving the afternoon free to wander and spontaneously find hidden gems.

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