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 traveling to Italy. Everything from best places to go, best time to go and tips for traveling 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.
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 Medeitrranean sea. The picture postcard list of destinations goes on and on.
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.
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.
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, 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 4pm. Embrace it.Try dolce vita, trust me it’s the best thing about Italy.
Things to Know Before you Go to Italy
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 11am. Italians believe that adding milk to your espresso is reserved only for the morning.
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.
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.
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 drivers license.
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 the train platform, if you don’t you will be fined if you do not have a “validated” ticket. The same applies to bus/tram transportation.
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 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 is now banned.
WHAT TO WEAR
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 CARD
Credit cards are most commonly accepted in restaurants, hotels and shops, although Italians still love paying with cash, especially for those small expenses. Generally, items under 30 Euro, cash is more commonly used and preferred.
Traveling tips to Italy
Visas required for Italy
Visiting Italy for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes can be done without a visa.
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Italy has a wide range of options from B&Bs, boutique hotels, hotel chains, villas, and apartments in every city and region of Italy. My go to source is always Booking.com. Click here and start your search today.
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 traveling 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.
Disclosure: As an Affiliate Associate of Booking.com if you click on the link contained in this post, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to book.