Italy is a land of sea, stunning scenery, and plenty of foodie experiences. A quintessential European bucket list destination, here’s your guide to Italy 101! From the best time to go to what kinds of food you should order, here are 20+ Italy travel tips you need to know before your first visit…
A boot-shaped country in the South of Europe, Italy is best-known for is fantastic foodie scene, ancient history, and wealth of beautiful countryside that encompasses both beaches and snow-capped mountains. Among some of the top regions to visit for travellers include the towns of Tuscany, the region of Puglia, the fashion capital city of Milan, and the gorgeous Positano coastline.
- #1 Don’t try and see everything in one go!
- #2 Italy is much more than Rome, Tuscany, and the Italian Riviera
- #3 Italy has plenty of islands worth exploring too!
- #4 Know some Italian before you visit!
- #5 Validate your tickets prior to travel
- #6 Italian food is some of the best cuisine in Europe!
- #7 There’s an art to ordering coffee in Italy
- #8 … And never order a cappuccino after breakfast
- #9 Card isn’t always accepted
- #10 Don’t use ‘Ciao’ to greet people you don’t know
- #11 Water fountains can be found throughout cities and towns
- #12 Tap water isn’t usually readily available in restaurants
- #12 Trains are a great way to get around
- #13 Dinner is late and laid-back
- #14 There’s usually a tourist tax in each place that you visit
- #15 Rome is worth spending a few days in
- #16 The shoulder seasons are the best time to visit
- #17 Purchase skip-the-line tickets for popular attractions
- #18 Siestas are common in the afternoon
- #19 Many restaurants charge a cover charge
- #20 Italian wine is fantastic
- #21 Traditional Italian breakfast may not be what you’re used to
- #22 Don’t rent a car in major cities like Florence and Rome
#1 Don’t try and see everything in one go!
Italy is not a small country by any stretch of the imagination and so when you’re planning a trip to the boot-shaped country, you should be sure to create a realistic itinerary. Focus on a particular city if you’ll only be able to visit for a weekend or a specific region if you’re going to be travelling for a few days to a week.
#2 Italy is much more than Rome, Tuscany, and the Italian Riviera
Instead, be sure to spend some time getting to know Northern Italy. After all, between delights such as the secret city of Bergamo, the Lombardy capital of Milano, there’s no shortage of stunning destinations you won’t want to miss off your Italian bucket list.
Particular highlights of Northern Italy I particularly love include the many little towns scattered across Lake Maggiore and the often overlooked city of Turin, which is famous for being the home to the Turin Shroud and is known in Italian as ‘Torino’.
More recently, I was lucky enough to spend just over a week exploring the ‘heel of the boot’ region of Puglia in the very South of Italy. Home to quaint medieval towns, some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen, and delightful cities, there’s no shortage of delightful attractions and landmarks to discover in the region.
#3 Italy has plenty of islands worth exploring too!
In the same vein as the previous Italy travel tip, many visitors to the boot-shaped country don’t know this, but there is actually a whole wealth of islands off the coast of Italy, all of which are worth exploring.
Some of the more famous islands include Sardinia and Sicily, both of which are well-equipped with all of the amenities you would expect to find in such a frequented tourist destination. Meanwhile, more ‘hidden gems’ when it comes to Italian islands include Elba and Levanzo.
#4 Know some Italian before you visit!
Though you’ll soon discover that most people in more touristed places speak a good level of English, it’s always polite to learn a few words of the local language of where you’ll be travelling. Simple words and phrases such as ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘hello,’ and ‘sorry’ will help you go a long way.
If you have any dietary needs, it’s also a good idea to learn the phrase to communicate this in order to help you order in restaurants. For further ideas on what to learn, check out our easy Italian phrases guide to help get you started with your Italian language learning journey.
#5 Validate your tickets prior to travel
Although you may have purchased the correct ticket, you can still get a fine! The reason for this is that tickets are not generally timed and do not expire. On the plus side, this also means that, with some tickets (be sure to check with staff at the station), you can take a train at a different time than you had previously anticipated, meaning more flexibility within your travels if you decide you want to stay at a destination earlier or later.
#6 Italian food is some of the best cuisine in Europe!
Pizza, pasta, and all the carbs: food in Italy is well worth sampling on any trip to the boot-shaped country. What’s more is that each region of Italy has its own unique foodstuffs which are well worth testing out on any visit.
Those looking for sweet treats will love testing out gelato (prevalent all over the country) and tiramisu. For those who are vegetarian, Puglia offers particularly delightful food on account of the fact that most traditional food from the region is vegetable based.
#7 There’s an art to ordering coffee in Italy
Don’t make the Italy mistake that I did in Milan and only purchase a latté if you’re looking for a warm glass of milk! In other parts of the world, a latté is typically a drink made with both coffee and milk. Meanwhile, in Italy, it’s purely a glass of hot milk. If you want to know more about how to perfect that caffè order, check out our guide on how to order coffee in Italy.
#8 … And never order a cappuccino after breakfast
If you want to order a coffee at any time of the day other than breakfast, then you can expect something similar to an espresso. Indeed, Italian espressos are typically so condensed that they would be considered ristrettos in other parts of Europe. The other key thing to note is that cappuccinos are strictly drunk at breakfast time.
#9 Card isn’t always accepted
Before ordering any coffee or snack at a smaller establishment, I would also check if card is accepted as many family-run dining eateries only accept cash. The currency in Italy is the Euro, which is used in plenty of other countries across Europe.
#10 Don’t use ‘Ciao’ to greet people you don’t know
Whether you’re checking into a hotel or ordering food in a restaurant, you should refrain from using the term ‘ciao’ to greet someone. This is an informal greeting and you don’t know the person well enough to use this term of endearment. Instead, you should use ‘salve’ (hello) or ‘buonasera’ (good evening- if it’s the evening).
#11 Water fountains can be found throughout cities and towns
If you’re looking to save a little money (and stop wasting extra water bottles), then it’s worth noting that many towns and cities across Italy have free drinking water fountains in town squares (which are known as piazzas in Italian).
#12 Tap water isn’t usually readily available in restaurants
Unlike in nearby France where it’s standard practice to ask for a jug of tap water for free to go with your meal, this isn’t typically the case in Italy. Instead, you’ll have to order a bottle of water. Usually, there will be a choice between sparkling and still water.
#12 Trains are a great way to get around
If you’re looking to see some of the largest cities and towns in Italy, then the fastest, cheapest, and most convenient way to get around is undoubtedly by booking a train.
#13 Dinner is late and laid-back
If you’re used to eating dinner at an early hour, then you may well be in shock when you head to Italy. After all, dinner is typically consumed around 8pm or 9pm and is a laid back affair that takes place over the course of several hours. Indeed, many restaurants won’t even open their doors before 7.30 and 8 pm.
#14 There’s usually a tourist tax in each place that you visit
If I could give you one travel tip about Italy that you should know about in advance, it’s that the overwhelming majority of cities in Italy charge a tourist tax to stay in accommodation. This is usually just a few euros per night but should be factored into your budget nonetheless.
#15 Rome is worth spending a few days in
Don’t make the Italy mistake that I did, which was only to spend one day in Rome– though of course you should take the opportunity if 24 hours is all that your schedule allows! The capital city of Italy is also the largest city in the country and as such has plenty of activities and things to do.
From hidden gems to enjoying the marvellous artworks of Vatican city, you’ll need at least several days to even begin to scratch the surface of everything that ‘Roma’ (as it is known in Italian) has to offer.
#16 The shoulder seasons are the best time to visit
If you can, then you should avoid visiting Italy in July and August, which is peak season. This is the busiest time of the year to visit, and as such, is also the most expensive. As such, much like visiting other European destinations, the best time to go to Italy is just before or just after peak season (ie late spring or early autumn).
#17 Purchase skip-the-line tickets for popular attractions
As you might expect, the most popular tourist landmarks and attractions in Italy can get pretty busy! Luckily, if you book in advance for places such as the Colosseum, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and The Last Supper, you can pay for skip-the-line tickets which will allow you to make better use of your time.
#18 Siestas are common in the afternoon
If there’s one travel tip that you should know before visiting Italy, it’s that many Italians take a siesta (nap) in the afternoon. This means that many businesses close up shop for several hours in the middle of the afternoon.
#19 Many restaurants charge a cover charge
When you get your bill after a meal, there might be some additional charges that you weren’t originally expecting, notably the ‘coperto’. While tips and taxes are typically included in the price of your meal, the ‘coperto’ charge is the cover charge.
This will be anything from 50 cents to a few euro depending on the restaurant. In larger and more visited cities, there may also be a service charge included which will be 10-20 percent. These charges should be listed on the menu so be sure to check prior to ordering.
#20 Italian wine is fantastic
While Spain and France are famous for their wines, so too is Italy. Each Italian region has its own speciality when it comes to wine making. While Puglia in the very south of the country is known for its rosé, the region of Chianti in Tuscany is best-known for its rich reds.
#21 Traditional Italian breakfast may not be what you’re used to
If you think a traditional breakfast consists of hot cooked food such as sausages and eggs, then you should expect not to have this if you’re visiting Italy. A traditional Italian breakfast consists of a coffee with a baked pastry such as a filled croissant or brioche.
#22 Don’t rent a car in major cities like Florence and Rome
If you’re planning a trip to a major city, then be sure to not rent a car (unless it’s to take day trips from the city- and only then rent for the day you’ll be taking a day trip). Public transport in most major cities in Italy is generally safe (be mindful of pickpockets), convenient, efficient, and very affordable.
Almost all major Italian cities (and, in particular, the touristic parts) can easily be explored on foot, and to get to further away parts of the city you can get a bus, tram, or the underground. Renting a car will only incur costs, be expensive to park, and is generally not a good idea for getting around the city.
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