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The Ultimate List of Italy Travel Tips
Going to Italy for your first time?
You’re going to love it! It is one of my favorite countries to visit and I’m sure it will be one of yours too.
My parents are currently planning a two week trip to Italy. It is their first time visiting Europe. And they don’t really like to be out of their comfort zone.
They asked me: “Is there anything we need to know? We’ve never been to a country where they speak another language.”
So, I made them this list of essential Italy travel tips. Keep reading for everything you need to know before your trip to Italy!
Italy Travel Tips – Before Your Trip
1. Know a little Italian
Learn these basic words and phrases. English is pretty widely spoken, especially in the bigger cities. But, knowing a few common words and phrases like these will get you tons of respect (and pleasantness) from Italians.
Please – Per favore (per fah/VOH/reh)
Thank you – Grazie (GRAHTS/yeh)
One espresso/cappuccino – Un (OON) espresso/cappuccino
Two espressos/cappuccinos – Due (DOO/eh) espressi/cappuccini
Hi/Bye (informally) – Ciao (tchow)
Good morning (formally) – Buongiorno (bwohn/DJOHR/noh)
Good evening (formally) – Buona sera (BWOH/na SEH/rah)
Click below for additional useful words and phrases from Walks of Italy.
2. Learn a little more Italian
Understanding Italian will enhance your trip by giving you some confidence and peace of mind.
If you have a few months before your departure, I recommend checking out the Living Language online courses, books, and CDs. I have used the book and CD packages (available here) for both Italian and French with great success.
Another fun option is Duolingo. Download this free Duolingo app on your phone, tablet or computer and pick Italian. You can create a group and compete against whoever you are traveling with to see who can get the most points before the trip.
3. Visit in the Spring or Fall
August is the big month to avoid since it is the national holiday month. Much of the country shuts down to go on holiday.
I would take it one step further and avoid the summer altogether. May, September, or October are ideal to avoid the crowds, but still have warm weather.
4. Know that most Italian cities are easily walkable
Walking is our preferred method of transportation while we travel. Conveniently, most Italian cities are very walkable.
Plan to explore a city by walking between must-see attractions and stopping at eating and drinking establishments. Choose a central location for lodging accommodations or near your arrival/departure location (near the train station, rental car desk, etc.) so you don’t have to walk too far with your luggage.
5. Plan to go for a hike
Italy is a lush, beautiful country. Venture out of the main tourist cities to explore the lush Tuscan countryside, vineyards of Barolo, or mountainous Dolomites, to name a few.
Explore the beauty of Italy by going for a hike. Check out the ideas below from Italy Beyond the Obvious.
Part of the hiking trail between the towns of Cinque Terre. (Cinque Terre, Liguria, Italy)
6. Venice is beautiful, but consider how long you want to stay
Ask yourself: “Why am I visiting Italy?”.
Is it to see as many museums, galleries, cathedrals, and pieces of history as possible?
Or, is it to experience the food, wine, and culture while taking advantage of the relaxed pace?
If it leans to the latter (like me), then I suggest not staying in Venice for more than a night or two.
The historic floating city of Venice is simply beautiful. Every step through the streets is a picture worthy sight with tons of history spitting from the buildings.
But, there are so many tourists that pack the streets, vendors, and tourist trap establishments that it felt different than the rest of Italy that I love so much.
If you go, check out some of the nearby islands such as Murano and Burano to escape some of the tourist bustle. You can find more information about each island in this post from It’s All Trip to Me.
7. Visit Bologna if you love food, history, and a large Italian city that is less traveled by tourists
As opposed to my feelings on Venice, Bologna is amazing for food, wine, history and authenticity. The city was a centerpiece of the Renaissance and a major economic, transportation, and education hub. Its historical importance offers many great cultural attractions.
But the main reason you should go to Bologna is the food. It’s awesome – maybe the best food city in the entire world?!
It is the capital of a region (Emilia-Romagna) that is home to Parmigiano Reggiano, Cutello ham, Proscuitto di Parma, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, tortellinis, mortadella, and other delicious foods. All of those amazing delicacies are abundant around town.
And don’t forget about the fizzy, easy to drink Lambrusco wine that perfectly washes down all of the fatty goodness.
Want to see some more of what Bologna has to offer? Here are 15 things to do in Bologna from the Crazy Tourist.
Italy Travel Tips – While You’re There
Food and Drink Tips
8. Follow the eating schedule (or travel hungry)
Meal times vary a bit by location and establishment, but the below time-frames can be used as a general guidelines. Restaurants are closed outside of these hours, so plan accordingly.
Lunch: 12 PM – 3 PM
Dinner: 7:30 PM – 12 AM (but, the kitchen most likely closes around 10 PM)
9. Light, often sugary breakfasts are the norm
The typical Italian breakfast is made up of a sweet pastry like a cornetto (Italian croissant) and a caffeinated espresso or cappuccino. This is very different than other countries like the U.S., so plan accordingly.
Instead of entirely adjusting to this eating routine, I typically pick up oats from a local market that I make each morning. This way I can supplement the light breakfast with additional food that aligns with my usual breakfast intake. It helps me adjust to the eating habits of vacation (e.g., eating a bunch of food and drinking wine every night).
10. A “Bar” is a Cafe
A bar in the U.S. is where you go to get a Coffee Stout beer. A bar in Italy is where you go to get a coffee (well, you’d actually get an espresso or cappuccino), but you get it.
11. Know that there will be a cost to sit down at a cafe
If you sit down at a cafe, it will probably cost more. This is why you see Italians drinking their espressos and eating their breakfast standing.
Here is a more detailed guide from The World Pursuit on drinking coffee the Italian way.
12. Don’t order a cappuccino past 11 AM
Not ordering a cappuccino past 11 AM is an unwritten rule in Italy. Italians believe the milk affects digestion. Instead, opt for an espresso with no milk.
Here is an interesting take by Italy Explained on the history of this rule which, to be honest, is still a little puzzling to me.
13. Enjoy aperitivo – the Italian happy hour
Aperitivo is the Italian ritual of having a pre-dinner cocktail (apertifs) and small bites to whet the appetite. Taking place between 6 or 7 and 9 PM, bars will often serve complimentary snacks that go with your apertif.
Stop in for a traditional bitter cocktail like a Negroni or Aperol spritz before your dinner. Below are some more details and the history of aperitivo in Italy from the Roman Guy.
14. Eat Local
Italian cuisine varies between regions (there are 20), cities, and geographic areas (northern, central, southern, etc.). As you are planning your trip, learn about the cuisine of your destination.
There will be specific dishes and products that the region is known for – think Proscuitto di Parma in Parma, Ragu Bolognese in Bologna, and Cacio e Pepe in Rome.
Below is a nifty food map from Eating Europe that displays some more regional delicacies.
15. Drink Local
Similar to eating local, drink the local wine. Italian wine was developed in tandem with its local cuisine over time. So, as a general rule, the local wine is a great pairing for the local food.
The most well known wine regions in Italy are Tuscany and Piedmonte, but amazing wine is made throughout the country. Check out the below Italian wine map from Wine Folly to see the regional wines of your destination.
16. Drink red wine with meats, pizza, and hearty or tomato based pastas
One of the reasons I love Italian wine so much is because it enhances food. Stick with Italian red wine (Barolo, Chianti, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano, Brunello, to name a few) when eating meats, cheeses, and hearty or tomato based pastas.
Try a full-bodied Barolo or Barbaresco with a piece of steak. Chianti or Brunello (made from the Sangiovese grape), Dolcetto, Barbera, and Montepulciano are versatile, medium bodied wines with high tannins that go great with tomato sauces, meats, and cheeses.
17. Drink white wine with seafood and lighter fare
Full disclosure: I rarely drank white wine during my trips to Italy because there are just so many great red wines produced in the country.
But, if you are staying near the sea, it is safe to say that plenty of seafood will be consumed. White wines like Pinot Grigio, Vementino, and Trebbiano will be a better pairing for the sea fare.
18. Take advantage of “house wine”
I’m a huge fan of “house wine” (vino della casa in Italian). This is an affordable, often local wine option offered at most restaurants.
House wine may be served by the glass, carafe, or bottle. If served by the bottle, the wine should be all good for ordering and drinking. Depending on the quality of the restaurant, some caution should be taken with glasses and carafes as the wine could have been sitting out for a while.
19. Ask for the check at your meal
Generally, Italian waiters and waitresses do not bring the check once you are finished with your meal. You need to ask for it when you are ready.
You can ask for “the check, please” by saying “Il conto, per favore” (eel KOHN/toh per fah/VOH/reh).
Speaking of paying for services, use the super handy Italy travel budget calculator below from Town & Tourist so you can start saving for your trip!
20. No tipping is necessary
Italian service professionals generally make a living wage and pay nothing or little for healthcare. So, don’t feel bad about not leaving a tip.
If you do feel inclined, simply round up to the next dollar amount.
21. Enjoy your meal and be prepared to stay a while
The ritual of eating a long, relaxed meal is one of the things that has made it into my normal eating routine. This may get some getting used to, especially if you’re an American where many restaurants are focused on turning tables over.
Refer to #19 about asking for the check above. There won’t be a rush to get you out the door, so if you need to be someplace, you will need to be proactive.
Most importantly, you’re on vacation, so just sit back and relax.
22. Don’t be surprised when you get bottled water at your meal
Italians don’t drink tap water with meals. If you get water at a restaurant, it will be bottled.
The choices are frizzante (sparking) or naturale (still). The choice is yours, but I happen to like some bubbles with my meals.
23. Avoid restaurants near big tourist sites or popular piazzas
Since Italy gets so many tourists, there are countless lower quality “tourist trap” restaurants that focus on serving them. These are more common in main tourist cities such as Venice, Rome, and Florence. In smaller towns that get less tourists, there should be less “tourist traps”.
A few other red flags to raise your suspicion for a given restaurant:
If there is a host outside trying to lure in street walkers
If you see a lot of tourists eating there
If an English version of the menu is posted outside
24. Eat in every once in a while
The restaurants in Italy are top notch, but it can be a nice change of pace to pickup your own food and have a relaxing meal in.
Some of the best cured meats, cheeses, and wine comes from Italy. You can get an awesome meal with these and some fresh bread (focaccia?) from a local market or salumeria (deli). Bonus if you have a terrace or eating area with a view.
Check out more eating in and local shopping ideas below from Euro Travel Coach.
25. Learn to order cured meat and cheese for an anytime snack or meal
To have that relaxing meal in, learn a little bit of Italian and the metric system so you can order your dream meat and cheese plate.
Ask the butcher/cheesemonger at a market or salumeria for “cento grammi” (CHEN/tow gram/ME) of the meats and cheeses you’d like (which typically have name-tags). Cento grammi is one hundred grams, which is just under a quarter pound.
Check out the guide below from Serious Eats to learn more about Italian meats.
26. Snack on gelato
Gelato is almost the same as ice cream, but a bit more dense with a silky mouthfeel. It is delicious. Some, like the Reviewed article below, may even argue it’s better than ice cream!
Late afternoon is a great time to indulge in a scoop or two. This way you won’t spoil your lunch or dinner appetites.
General Travel Tips
27. Plan around the midday break called riposo
Shops close during lunch and dinner hours so owners can enjoy riposo (the mid-day Italian siesta). Generally grocery stores, butchers, and other businesses are closed from 12 – 4PM. They will then close back down once dinnertime starts at around 7 PM.
28. Explore quiet side streets
The main through-ways in tourist packed cities like Venice, Rome, and Florence can get hectic. If you need a break from the bustle make a turn for a quiet side street. You never know what kinds of shops, eating and drinking establishments, or other interesting hideaways you will stumble upon.
29. Dress appropriately for church sight-seeing
Many cathedrals have dress codes.
For females, it is generally no showing of shoulders or legs above the knee. Bring along a t-shirt or other shirt that you can use to cover-up on warm days.
For males, it is generally no shorts above the knee.
This post from Honeymoon Always is spot on with regards to the dress code when visiting Italy.
30. Be aware that restrooms are hard to come-by
Public restrooms are rare in Italy. If they do exist, then you will probably need to pay a Euro or so to use them. Hit up the bathroom before you leave wherever you are staying and after meals.
When you can’t seem to find a restroom, try these few techniques:
Visit a restaurant, cafe, or bar with restroom. Have a snack or drink.
Visit a train station (typically these are pay for use) or hotel lobby. These are more likely to have a restroom.
Keep my eye out for a McDonald’s or other fast food restaurant like Burger King or KFC. Bathrooms are typically unlocked and accessible to non-customers. I have used this method every time I have visited Europe.
31. Bring a big water bottle with you as you explore a city
When you are out exploring a destination, start by grabbing a big water bottle (1.5 L is a nice size) from the market. Many cities like Rome, Venice, and Cinque Terre towns have public drinking water fountains. You can safely refill here as long as the source does not say “non potable”.
One more thing to remember
I let my parents know that Italians are generally extremely nice and welcoming. As long as you are kind and show respect, you will receive plenty of good vibes (and even hugs and kisses on the cheek) in return!