Traveling to Europe three times now, Italy is probably, no, make that definitely, our favorite European country. Perhaps, because we are Italian or just love the passionate culture, we will continue to visit Italy every time we venture abroad. I’m actually considering retiring there but just haven’t decided between a few locations: Cinque Terre, The Almalfi Coast, Lake Como, Lake Garda, Sicily or Capri…Decisions, decisions.
If you’ve never been to Italy, we are offering some helpful tips to ensure you have the optimal Italian experience. As we explore different regions, we will continue learning and growing, and will definitely update this list are we gain more insight on the do’s and don’ts in Italy.
From our Italian journeys, here’s what we definitely recommend at this point:
Planning and Packing Tips:
- Don’t visit in the summer–way too crowded, way too hot. Heat stroke is not fun.
2. Bring your own toilet paper and loose change-many public restrooms don’t have any toilet paper and you really don’t want to learn this one the hard way. You also have to pay to use the restroom in many cities.
3. Cover your body when going to churches–bring scarves or shawls to put over your shoulders. Your knees and torso should be covered as well.
4. Don’t fall for begging scams–don’t let people help you with your luggage, give you roses, or offer you anything. They will expect money and won’t relent–you will be followed.
5. Wear very, very, very comfortable shoes.
6.Buy tickets to museums in advance.
7. Many businesses shut down between 1pm-4pm to go home for lunch with family. Don’t expect to shop during these times.
8. Always carry cash. No exceptions.
9. Be prepared to wait in lines. There are no fool-proof ways of skipping lines – even with a ticket. Arrive first thing in the morning or late afternoon when crowds have died down. If visiting the Vatican, Tuesdays and Thursdays are your best best. And do not by any means try to take a picture in The Sistine Chapel–they will confiscate your phone/camera.
10. Don’t expect your waiter to hover–you will be left alone after you order. You will have to ask for your check when you’re ready to leave. You do not have to tip, although we always leave a little something.
11. Never ask for a doggy bag, grated cheese on seafood, anything custom made or ice.
12. Be prepared to eat dinner after 8pm and order the house wine. If you’re hungry around 5pm…gelato of course!
13. “Il coperto” is a cover charge listed at the bottom of some menus at restaurants. See if there is this charge before deciding to eat there.
14. Bring a reusable water bottle and fill up at the free water stations. The water is fresh, clean and delicious.
15. Take the train from city to city but expect some delays. Strikes are common in Italy. Boat or Ferry is a nice way to travel as well if you have the time. Driving in Italy, for me personally, is terrifying–unless you are an expert, don’t rent a car.
16. Buy your train tickets ahead of time–make sure to validate them and realize that you will be purchasing an assigned seat, like an airline flight.
17. Reserve taxis ahead of time if needed. You don’t hail cabs here.
18. Walk and wonder a lot–explore the tiny cobblestone streets, talk to locals, soak it in.
History and Language:
19. Try to speak Italian–at least learn basic phrases to initiate conversation. It is insulting if you speak English right off the bat. And don’t say Ciao! Salve, Buongiorno or Buona Sera are much more respectful.
20. Study Italian history ahead of time. Everything you experience is so much more meaningful with background knowledge.
If you have any questions about our tips, please let us know. If you’ve been to Italy, what other helpful hints would you advise?