Italy travel tips, everything you need to know to prepare yourself before visiting this wonderful country.
“When you go to Rome, do as the Romans do.” If you’re visiting Italy for the first time, that’s easier said than done.
Italy is home to some of the best cuisines the world over, charming beaches, awe-inspiring architecture, historical monuments, elegant art galleries, fashion, vino, vibrant hospitable people, and a laid-back culture. These and more make it a top destination on the bucket list of countless holidaymakers, many of whom are clueless regarding life in Italy, and the etiquette of the Italian people.
If you love to have early dinner at 6 pm and you’re visiting Italy for the first time, then you’re in for a rude shock. Dinner in Italy starts to be served from 7.30 pm in restaurants, and it’s usual to see locals flocking eateries for dinner as late as 9 pm.
Italy Travel Tips: Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting the Bel Paese
Things You Should Know When Travelling to Italy for the First Time
If the language barrier is not a big enough challenge, Italy could spring a few unexpected surprises that could take the shine from your once-in-a-lifetime holiday. Here are handy tips to help you make the most of your trip to Italy.
1. Sample Regional Cuisines; There’s no “National Italian Dish”
We can’t blame you for thinking that pasta and pizza are Italian national dishes. After all, that’s what “Italian” restaurants around the world are most famous for.
Italy is made of regions that have distinct identities and subcultures, and often feature cuisines unique to those regions. Sampling these regional specialties on your tour of Italy can be an extremely rewarding experience for your palates…and your waistline if you stayed longer.
It’s not just pizza and pasta that flourish in Italy. It’s the regional culinary kingpins that dominate dinner tables across different regions. When you’re in Milan, don’t miss a serving of Ossobuco with risotto. In the city of Lazio, try out pasta or Bucatini all’amatriciana. A visit to Fiorentina will be incomplete without Bistecca Fiorentina, with cicchetti topping up your Venice experience.
All in all, don’t fail to try out Tiramisu arguably the most popular dessert in the country.
2. Can you Stomach Dinner from 8 pm? Dinner is Served Late in Italy
If you walked into a restaurant at 6 pm and found the place deserted, do not begin to cast aspersions on the quality of their food. You arrived too early.
Dinner time for locals is usually a late item on the menu starting from around 8 pm. Don’t be surprised to find locals flocking to food joints at around 9 pm even on a weekday. Milan and other cities in the south particularly have their dinner late.
3. Italy Travel Tips: The Coperto Charge; A strange Item on your Bill
Typically, servers at a restaurant or bar will not be expecting a tip. Coperto, a strange item on your bill might just explain why this is so. It’s essentially a charge levied on the number of people sitting at a table. It’s a legal requirement that it’s indicated on the menu and could be somewhere around a tenth of your total bill or in the neighborhood of 5 Euros.
However, if you feel sufficiently philanthropic and would wish to tip a waiter for exceptional services, just round off the bill and let them keep the balance.
4. Italy Travel Tips: Did you know that Trains are the Best Way to Get Around Cities?
The best way to get around cities in Italy is by train. They’re generally on time and the connection is fast as the high-speed trains by Trenitalia and Italo can hit speeds of over 150 miles per hour. Trenitalia, the government-owned train service, and Italo that’s privately owned can connect you to more than 200 cities in Italy.
You can book a train at the station over the counter or from self-service machines. That would mean you need to get there in good time so that you secure your ticket well ahead of the train’s departure time. Alternatively, online booking offers more convenience. Here’s how you can book an online train ticket in Italy.
You can travel in a luxurious first-class coach or in a standard cabin. Moving between Florence and Rome, a distance of 187 miles, will take slightly over 90 minutes with a high-speed train and over 3 hours with a regional train. Prices vary from $30 on the cheapest intercity trains, while a first-class ticket costs close to $90.
Night trains too are cheaper. But why rob yourself the privilege of sampling the beautiful outdoor scenery by traveling at night?
Getting around by these trains is a breeze so you can rule out domestic flights. You might only consider renting a car for sites where it’s reasonable to drive to. But if your itinerary restricts you to large towns and cities, train transport will serve you adequately.
But before you board your train, remember to…
5. Validate Your Ticket
This is an extremely crucial tip when traveling in Italy. Before you can catch your train, ensure you’ve validated your ticket using the validation machines that are found on the boarding platforms, and on the trains.
You risk a fine of up to 50 Euros if you get caught with a train or bus ticket that’s not been validated. Ideally, only tickets that have not been assigned a seat should be validated. It’s however advisable to just validate every ticket to be on the safe side.
Nonetheless, you do not need to validate your tickets if you use the privately-owned Italo trains.
6. Language Barrier
It might surprise you that despite Italy being a European country, a vast majority of Italians do not speak conversational-level English. Though you’re not expected to master the Italian language, an attempt to communicate in the local dialect can impress. Even if you don’t get all the words right, it would be a gesture that you’re putting in some effort.
Armed with basic courtesy words like “Grazie” (thank you), “per favore” (please), and basic greetings, you’re ready to roll.
Common greetings include “ciao” (hello), “Buongiorno” (good morning), and “Buona sera” (good evening). Suppose you want to ask for the bill at a restaurant, you’ll say, “Posso avere il conto”. All you need is to inject a little bit of an Italian accent, and voila you’re good to go.
Italian communication is incomplete without the accompanying hand gestures. Some of the gestures are pretty common. Others have specific meanings and could even vary from one region to another. Screwing an index finger against your cheek means that the meal is absolutely delicious, and you’re enjoying every moment of it.
7. Choosing the Sites to Visit
Italy boasts a generous Mediterranean shoreline, ancient ruins of the Roman Empire and subsequent civilizations, architectural masterpieces, the Vatican, and a plethora of attractions that would confound one on just where to begin.
The legendary cities of Rome and Florence are a must-visit, but the lesser-known towns such as Naples are not a pushover. Milan, the fashion capital, and Venice, “the floating city” should also feature high on your itinerary. There are numerous lesser-known cities, and attractions tucked away from the “touristy” landmarks that can prove just as fascinating.
When visiting the Vatican or religious sites, dress to cover up shoulders, and upper arms. Skirts that go above the knees, shorts, and low-cut tops are prohibited.
Discover some of the best tourist destinations in Italy and where they’re located so that your visit is well organised.
Pro tip: Ask your hosts to suggest the best places around to visit and dine in. You may be surprised at what rich treasure gems they could propose given their intimate knowledge of the locality.
8. Carry Some Cash with You
Some restaurants, gift shops, or taxis in Italy may not accept plastic money. Be ready just in case you bump into a beautiful art piece you’d like to purchase or a stop at a rooftop bar for Italy’s classical vino, and credit cards are not accepted. Fortunately, train stations and major establishments accept plastic money.
With these handy travel tips before visiting Italy, you’re now better placed to make the most of your heavenly getaway into “Bel Paese”, the beautiful country.