Italy has long been on the top of many travelers list for decades. The country is majestically beautiful, has world-class food, and a spoken language that will instantly make you drool and fall in love.
I have had the pleasure of spending time there on a few different occasions, and I found that there are many things to know before going to Italy.
Things to Know Before Going To Italy
1. Italians Take Riposo Very Seriously
Riposo is Italy’s midday siesta. From 1-4 p.m. you can expect to find many shops and restaurants closed.
Italians like to take time in the afternoon to go home, have lunch, and relax with family before heading back out to do business again. Life before work, love it!
2. Plan to Eat Late
That being said, most restaurants won’t open until 7 or later. Plan your meals accordingly to avoid any hangry moods.
3. There is No Tipping, but…
Many restaurants have a cover charge called “coperto,” so unless specified as “no service charge” you may as well get used to having to pay a fee when you sit down at a restaurant.
This can be anywhere from 1 to 5 Euro, and no it is not just because you are a tourist. Italians and foreigners alike have to pay the charge to sit at the table. Read more of our tips on tipping in restaurants throughout Europe.
4. Your Salad Has a New Best Friend
And her name is Olive Oil! You will not find anything but olive oil and maybe some vinegar for your salad.
Not in a cafe, upscale restaurant, or a grocery store – trust me, it’s not there. Buh bye ranch dressing – hellllooo bikini season! Italy, my waistline is thanking you.
5. €1.50 is the Price for a Cappuccino. Period.
Cappuccinos and espressos are everywhere in Italy, and it’s WONDERFUL. Our day in Italy wasn’t complete unless we had about three cups of foamy goodness. Italy isn’t known to be the cheapest country, but espressos are meant for everyone and are therefore very affordable.
We usually pay €1.50 for a Cappuccino and €1 for espresso. Anything more than €1.50 and you are getting the straight up tourist fare.
6. The WiFi is…Developing
For a developed nation, accessible WiFi in Italy is seriously lacking. In most of the Airbnb’s, hostels, and hotels we stayed at the WiFi was less than adequate. This surprised us, and then we found out that more than 30% of Italians have never been online. So 1999.
7. The New Cafe Culture is Non-Existent
There are no Starbucks in Italy. Not surprising, and actually very endearing. This doesn’t bother me as I have come to hate that seductive green Siren, and tend to only use their facilities for a free bathroom in Europe.
However, we didn’t find any cafes in Italy where we could go sit and work on our computer. A simple concept that has become so popular back home is virtually non-existent in Italy. Perhaps this correlates to the developing WiFi. Hmm.
8. “Ciao,” “Grazie,” and “Non-Capisco” Will Go a Long Way
The Italians are amicable and polite people, but I still found that learning a few words in their language will get you a long way. It’s easy too! “Ciao” can be used for hello and goodbye, “Grazie,” is used everywhere to give thanks, and when a local mistakenly make you out for an Italian say “Non-Capisco” (I don’t understand). Or just pick up an Italian language book! Read my full list of what to bring to Italy here.
9. Always Validate Your Train and Bus Tickets
Just buying your tickets at the bus or train station is not enough. You must validate them at the little machines nearby to prove that you are using the ticket right then and there. Not doing so will result in a hefty fine and an unhappy inspector.
10. All Roads Lead to Rome
We found the best way to get to many Italian cities, was through Rome. Termini station in Rome is a major transport hub linking the rest of Italy. This became kind of a pain, as a lot of time we had no desire to pass back through the city just to head somewhere else.
However most trips to Italy will likely start in Rome, I would suggest taking at least three days to explore the city. It’s one of the oldest in the world and one I keep finding myself back in. To make the most out of your time you can get a “Skip the Line” three-hour tour into the Vatican, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter’s.
11. Get to Naples for the Best Pizza Pie
Hands down the best (and cheapest) pizzas are in Naples. It’s honestly worth making a trip to the city just for the €3.50 Margarita Pizzas. It may have ruined all future pizza for me, but bringing that perfect pizza to my lips just once was worth it.
12. Pickpocketers, Schmishmocketers
For a country that has two cities listed as the top 10 pickpocketing places in the world, we never once felt like our possessions were in danger. Maybe it’s the New York mentality in us, but we found Italy to be incredibly safe. Just use some common sense and try not to look like a complete tourist and there is nothing to worry about.
13. Throw Everything You Know About Italian Food Out the Window
Spaghetti bolognese is not everywhere and cannolis are only popular in Sicily, also you will never ever see pepperoni. Instead, you will find the real Italian staples like bruschetta al pomodoro, delicious prosciutto layering a pizza, and spaghetti alla carbonara instead of fettucini alfredo. And the cheese!
Oh, don’t even get me started on the cheese in Italy. It’s delicious and fresh and nothing in your average supermarkets will ever compare. I worked at the American restaurant food chain Carrabba’s Italian Grill for 4 years. Trust me, the “Italian” food we think we know doesn’t even compare.
14. Choose Your Gelato Wisely
There is good gelato and crap gelato – even in Italy. Read your reviews online, and be sure to test out a few different shops. When you find the best, you will know. Our favorite gelato in Italy was hands down in Florence and was called Gelateria Della Passera.
15. Italy is a Vast and Varied Country (So, Bring a Camera)
Italy is so utterly different from north to south. There are 20 different regions in Italy, and each specializes in various wines, foods, and traditions. It’s impressive how one country can be the same but also so different. Rome and Florence are great cities, but there is much more to explore the boot-shaped country! I’ve spent a total of five months in Italy, and there is still so much left I have to see. If it’s your first time to Italy and you have a few weeks, here is an excellent suggested itinerary.
I never leave my Airbnb, hotel, or guesthouse without a camera so that I can collect all the memories of the beautiful country. I am currently traveling with a Fujifilm X-T3 and love it because for its small, stylish, and lightweight frame – perfect for Italy! You can see some of our favorite travel cameras here.
Transport To and Around Italy
Getting to Italy has never been cheaper with budget airlines such as RyanAir operating out of many Italian cities. If you are flying from a different continent the main hubs are Rome, Florence, and Milan.
Once in Italy, the best way to get around is via train. For long-distance routes, it’s best to book beforehand with Trenitalia and reserve a seat. If you are traveling shorter distances it’s also possible to show up at the train station a buy a ticket there. Or get around Europe with a Eurail.
We’ve rented a car numerous times in Italy and it’s a great way to get around on your own schedule. An automatic rental car can go for as low €15 a day in the low season up to €45 a day in the higher seasons and will ensure you get to all the best places in Italy. Knowing how to drive a manual car will often get you cheaper rates in Europe. If you’re traveling as a group it is worth your while to hire a car for your trip.
- RentalCars.com: Provides comparisons for car rentals in Italy.
- AutoEurope: I can often find deals here for car rentals in Europe.
- Discover Car Hire: Searches rental car prices around the globe.
Where to Stay in Italy?
Every time we visit Italy we stay in at least one Airbnb. Most apartment rentals in Italy feel very Italian and staying in someone’s home can enhance your travel experiences. To feel more at home, we use Airbnb you can check out some tips and read more about getting an Airbnb coupon code here. Or take this coupon for your first stay!
The Gritti Palace, Venice
This hotel is arguably the best hotel in all of Italy. It is an institution and occupies one of the best spots on the Grand Canal in Venice. The palace is situated directly across from Santa Maria Della Salute one of Venice’s greatest churches and an incredible sight. Via private jetty, guests can avoid the tourist crowds on their way to the hotel.
Visitors will have a hard time finding what to draw their attention to in the sumptuous palace because even the frescoed floors are masterful works of art. Once you’re able to lift your eye off the floor you’ll find marble-clad walls, priceless paintings, and original antiques from the palace of a former Doge of Venice. There is hardly a better or more fitting place to experience Venice than from The Gritti Palace. Our first time in Venice we even tracked down the hotel to see the famous interior.
Villa Cora, Florence
With all of the bells and whistles of a modern hotel, this new-comer on the Italian hotel scene places guests in their very own Tuscan dreams. The centerpiece here the 19th-century villa constructed by Baron Oppenheim, one of the principal financiers of the Suez Canal.
The villa is Italian decadence with parquet floors, large mirrors, crystal chandeliers and a whole series of reception rooms. Guest at Villa Cora will not have to worry about being pampered because the hotel also houses one of the best spas in Florence offering a wide range of services.
The services and amenities do not stop there with a free shuttle bus that will pick you up anywhere in the city and an outdoor heated pool open year round. In the summer, the rooftop buzzes with guests and outside visitors at the champagne bar there to enjoy the warm Tuscan evenings.
What to Pack for Italy
What to wear in Italy is one of the first things to consider once you plan the basics of your first trip to the country. Packing can be simple.
Generally, Italians are stylish and we recommend dressing casually that way you’re comfortable when hanging out with locals.
We love to have a guidebook when traveling. We spend enough time attached to our phones in everyday life and planning our trips. Once we reach a destination like Italy, we put the phone away and pick up a guidebook to help with our trip.
We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage.