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
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!
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.
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.
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.
€1.30 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 paid €1.30 for a Cappuccino and €.90 for espresso. Anything more than €1.50 and you are getting the straight up tourist fare.
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.
The New Cafe Culture is Non-Existent
There are no Starbucks in Italy. Not totally 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 just 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.
“Ciao,” “Grazie,” and “Non-Capisco” will go a long way
The Italians are extremely friendly 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 just simply 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Italy is a Vast and Different Country (so, bring a camera)
Italy is so completely different from north to south. There are 20 different regions in Italy, and each specializes in different wines, foods, and traditions. It’s amazing 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 a great 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-T10 and love it because for its small, stylish, and lightweight frame – perfect for Italy! You can see some of our favorite travel cameras here.
Plan Your Visit to Italy
- Wondering what to bring to Europe? Check out our ultimate Europe packing list.
- Accommodation in Italy: We chose to stay in Airbnb’s around Italy. Read more about choosing a good Airbnb here. Here is a coupon for your first stay with Airbnb!
- Rent a car in Italy: Compare car rental prices here.
- Best Hotels in Italy: We’ve got the most drool-worthy list of the best hotels in Italy. Check it out here!
- Travel Insurance: We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads is ideal for flexible and great plans!
- Water: We found the water in Italy fine to drink, if you want extra assurance then we love traveling with our Lifestraw Go Waterbottle
- Adapter: Remember that Italy uses both the “Type L ” Italian adapter and the Europlug. Many adapters are interchangeable, so make sure you find a good one like the one I have to keep you charged.
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