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  • Georgina D'Angelo

21 Things to Know Before Going to Italy

Updated: Apr 25

Breathtaking views, mouth-watering food, rich culture and history, charming streets, and friendly locals. This is Italy. Imagine waking up to the sun slowly seeping into cobblestone streets, the smell of espresso and freshly baked pastries filling the air.

Welcome to Italy, where life slows down, and you can truly savor all the small moments. There is such a diverse scene of nature, art, food, and more in this country.

things to know when traveling to Italy

If you enjoy history or art or food or exercising, there is bound to be plenty of things you fall in love with while traveling in Italy.

It is the perfect place for you to begin your world travels. However, if you’ve never been before, there are several things to know when traveling to Italy. Some of these tips are especially helpful if you're an American visiting Italy (hey that was me too!).

Pre-Trip Planning

Before we dive into the things to know when traveling to Italy, here are some basics to help you plan your trip. There's so much to see in Italy, so you definitely want to make the most of your time, prioritize the things you really want to do, and prepare for your adventure before you leave.

What to Pack for Italy: Here's what to pack for Italy in the fall and in the summer

Best Time to Visit: The busiest season is summer. Fall and spring are often quieter in Italy, and the winter is the cheapest time to go. I recommend April, May, and October.

How to Get Around: The cheapest and easiest option is to travel Italy by train.

Where to Go: Need travel inspiration? These are some of the best places to visit in Italy.

Currency: Euros; Most places accept card, but having a few euros is handy for things like gelato, some restaurants, or visiting small towns.

Language: Italian, many people speak some English, especially in larger cities

Holding two cups of gelato - Things to Know Before Going to Italy

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21 Things to Know When Traveling to Italy

Before you hop on your plane to the land of La Dolce Vita, here are some helpful things to know when traveling to Italy. From customs to learn to mistakes to avoid, these tips for visiting Italy will help you make the most of your trip!

No One Is in a Rush

There is no such thing as a strict schedule in Italy. Are you waiting for a train? Chances are it will be a little late. Meeting someone at 6 pm? They’ll probably arrive around 6:30.

But this just means every little moment can be truly enjoyed to the fullest. Take time to slow down and enjoy the small things while traveling in Italy.

Dinner Starts Late

If you’re a fellow American, then dinner time in Italy will seem very late to you. While we typically eat dinner around 5, in Italy, dinner begins around 8. Restaurants are typically at their busiest from 8 to 10 pm.

Mozarella and other bites at Obica Rome - Things to Know About Traveling to Italy
Obica Mozzarella Bar - Rome

Water is Not Free at Restaurants

You don’t get a complimentary glass of water with every meal in Italy. If you want to enjoy refreshing water while you eat, you’ll have to buy a bottle. You can choose either still or sparkling water; “con gas” or “sin gas."

Or save money and help the environment by bringing a reusable water bottle! Fill it up at your hotel or one of the many safe water fountains found throughout most Italian cities.

Tip is Included

When you dine in at a restaurant or cafe, the tip is always included as a "service charge". This is nice when you’re eating a full meal as it's about equivalent to a decent tip in the US.

But the service charge is a flat fee per person, so it’s the same no matter how much food you order. If you dine at a higher end restaurant or your service is phenomenal, it is courteous to leave a little extra tip on top of the service charge.

Coffee is Meant for the Morning

You can get coffee nearly everywhere and anytime in Italy, but generally speaking, it is to be ordered before 10 am. If you like having an afternoon coffee, you can still order one at a cafe or restaurant, it’s just not very common among locals.

You'll find that coffee with milk, like a cappuccino, is what you drink in the morning, and espresso is what you'd have in the evening if you want coffee.

Cappuccino and Cafe Latte - things to know before going to Italy
Italian coffee is unbeatable

Dinner Lasts Longer

As mentioned above, dinner starts a lot later in Italy, but it also lasts much longer. If you want to go out to a restaurant for dinner, plan on staying for a couple of hours. This is a social hour in Italy; people enjoy their long meals with family and friends.

It is also expected that guests will ask for their check, "Il conto, per favore?" when they are ready to pay. It is deemed rude for a waiter to bring it to you without being asked.

Drivers Are Frantic, But Will Always Stop

Drivers might not stop if you’re standing on the curb, but if you begin to walk on the crosswalk, it is very highly likely that they will stop, possibly even slam on the breaks, wave, smile, and gladly let you cross. Don’t let busy crosswalks deter you. TIP: wait for a local to cross and follow!

Public Transportation is Reliable

The Italy rail system is highly functional, and most larger cities have reliable metro and bus systems. Public transportation in Italy is great for traveling around the country, but also for getting from place to place in one city. You really don't need a car while visiting, unless you're going well off the beaten path.

Validate Your Train Tickets

As mentioned above, the rail system in Italy is a great way to travel, but there's one important thing to remember. Always validate your ticket! There are little machines on the platforms or in the train station lobbies where you can scan your ticket.

If you're caught with an invalidated ticket, it can cost you a hefty fine. I also recommend purchasing tickets in advance on Trainline. It's the best place to buy all of your Italy train tickets.

Cinque Terre Train Card - first trip to Italy advice
Public transit is your bff in Italy

Avoid Restaurants Near Tourist Attractions

If you’re visiting lots of tourist attractions while exploring an Italian city, try to avoid eating at restaurants located right near them. Chances are they charge a much higher service fee, and often for worse food and service.

They are tourist traps, don't fall for it. Or check out reviews to see what others think! (Tip: A waiter shouldn't have to beg you to dine at their restaurant; that probably means it's not very authentic.)

Book Tickets in Advance

If you want to tour the Colosseum or climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, you should book tickets at least a day or two in advance. Many popular tours like these sell out the day of, or they require a specific time slot to be chosen in advance. So if you can, booking in advance will save you some stress.

Use this site to book your tours.

Italy is Very Dog-Friendly

As one of the most dog-friendly countries in the world, Italy allows dogs in many places that other countries do not. You’ll often see dogs dining with their owners, on trains, and sometimes in stores. Get ready to see lots of cute Italian pups!

dog sitting on bench in Rome - things to know when traveling to Italy
It's a Dog's World in Italy

Cash and Card are Both Used

You can get around bigger cities easily with just a credit card, but having a little bit of cash on hand is a good idea. Some smaller towns will have shops or vendors that prefer, or only accept cash. Plus, smaller bills in your pocket mean you can easily grab a gelato!

Covered Legs and Shoulders are Often Necessary

There are many cathedrals and various religious sights that are well worth seeing in Italy no matter what religion you are. The architecture is incredible, and many places have breathtaking murals.

However, you will need to cover your shoulders and down to your knees to enter most of them! Men included.

Not Everyone Knows English

Surprise, you’re in Italy. Everyone speaks Italian. However, don’t let this scare you. I didn’t know any Italian before I visited.

If you learn some language basics (like hello, thank you, where is the bathroom), you shouldn't have any issues. While not everyone speaks English, many people do. Especially in larger cities, like Rome.

The Food is Delicious... and Mostly Carbs

It's no secret that Italians know how to cook really well. Be aware that most dishes in Italy consist of meat, dairy, and carbs, which is incredibly delicious if you don’t have any dietary restrictions.

As a vegetarian, finding meatless options was no issue for me. However, dairy and gluten are in nearly everything. Honestly, we didn't eat a single thing we didn't love while in Italy.

Pizza and wine in Florence - things to know before going to Italy
A classic Italian dinner - pizza and wine

Gelato is a Must-Have

You cannot visit Italy without trying several flavors of gelato. It is so much better than ice cream, and the flavors you can find in Italy are amazing, like passion fruit, pistachio, and stracciatella. You can usually find a dairy-free option or two as well!

Italians Love Their Country

From personal experience, Italians are very proud of their homeland and want to share it with others so they too can see how amazing it is. Italy is split into 20 regions, and the locals in each one will tell you theirs is the best. And honestly, they're all right.

I don't think there's a region not worth visiting here. I recommend looking up local foods and trying your region or city's most famous dishes to truly embrace where you are.

View of the coast from Ravello on the Amalfi Coast - things to know about traveling to Italy
Beautiful Views in the Amalfi Coast

Everything Closes Between 2 and 4 PM

In Italy, siestas are taken very seriously. People enjoy their downtime, their time to slow down, totally relax, and recharge for their busy evenings.

Because of this, almost every store and restaurant closes between about 2 and 4 pm. So plan your day around this! You likely won't find an open restaurant or store during this period.

Tabbachis Are Your Friend

These little convenience stores are great for any little needs you have. This is where you can buy city bus tickets, snacks and water, small necessities, and often a cappuccino!

They all have a large “Tabbachi” sign out front, often with a large “T” sign as well. In small towns, this is often the only place you can buy bus tickets.

Nudity is Common at Beaches

Remember you’re in Europe. You will find that nudity is much more common in Italy than in the US. There are still beaches that don’t allow nudity, but there still are plenty that do!

But don't fret, remember they're just body parts and everyone has them. No biggie. You'll also find that everyone keeps to themselves at beaches. Don't be a rude tourist and stare. Also, do not assume being nude is allowed on every beach and just strip. You could get fined.

People on the beach in Atrani, Italy - things to know about traveling to Italy for the first time
Enjoying the beach in Amalfi

Things to Know Before Going to Italy FAQ

What do I need before traveling to Italy?

Most importantly, you will need a passport before going to Italy.

The above tips are all also important things to know before going to Italy like dinner is late, churches have a dress code, and tourist trap restaurants must be avoided.

As you get ready for your trip, packing is something to think about. Check out what to pack for Italy in fall and what to pack for summer so you can stay stylish and comfortable, and make the most of your trip.

What do Americans need to enter Italy?

Americans need a passport to enter and exit Italy. Your passport must be valid for at least 3 months after your intended departure date; 6 months is recommended to be safe.

You can enter Italy for up to 90 days without a visa as an American. You must also have proof of departure in order to be allowed in.

Do I need to carry my passport at all times in Italy?

For safety reasons, it's a good idea to keep your person on your person at all times in Italy (and when traveling internationally in general). You don't want to risk losing it or getting it stolen so make sure you carry it in an RFID antitheft waist pouch to keep it safe from scammers.

You may also need your passport to show proof of ID. Occasionally, police will stop tourists at a train station or tourist attraction. As long as you show them your ID and let them know what you're doing in Italy (you're on vacation!) you'll be fine.

Things to Know Before Going to Italy

Italy is a great country for any type of traveler to visit: budget backpackers, luxury vacationers, adventurers, city lovers, and nature lovers. After spending a month in Italy, I learned a think or two about Italians, their culture, and societal customs.

If you’re coming from the United States, the difference in cultures, lifestyles, cuisines, architecture, etc. might be quite surprising to you. But don’t let this scare you away!

These are all important things to know before going to Italy, so now you can pack your bags, and have the trip of a lifetime! There is so much to see and do in Italy, I hope you fall in love with it.

If this is your first international trip, remember that pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will teach you so much about yourself and open more doors.

Leaning Tower of Pisa and fallen angel - Things to Know Before Going to Italy
The iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa

Experiencing life through another culture is the best way to learn about the world and how people function in it. Enjoy your trip to Italy, dive into its history, eat all the mouthwatering food you can, explore the charming streets, and meet new people.

What is on your Italy itinerary? Rome, Cinque Terre? Let’s chat in the comments below, we love reading and learning about the beautiful country of Italy!

Where are you going next?

Florence | While in Italy, plan a couple of days in Florence, admire the Duomo, see Michelangelo's famous David statue, and eat at some of the best restaurants in Italy. Don't skip Boboli Gardens!

Sicily | Check out some of the best things to do in Catania for a city adventure in Sicily, then head to Mt. Etna, the famous volcano, for the ultimate adventure of mountain biking.

The Amalfi Coast | Visit one of Italy's most stunning coastal regions for beautiful beaches and breathtaking views. It's one of the best in Europe if you ask me. Amalfi is a great base with tons to do and access to transportation.

Rome | You can't visit Italy without going to the capital, Rome! Explore the best of Rome with my 1-day itinerary or see more with my 3-day Rome itinerary.

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Hi, I'm Georgina, adventure enthusiast and creator of Alpacka My Bags. I'm here for all of your travel and adventure planning needs! 


I've been exploring this beautiful planet since I was a child, so I decided it was time to share my travel tips with others to enjoy. After college, I knew the "traditional career path" was not for me.


I needed to travel and explore what this world has to offer. It sounds cliché but you do only live once. So I made going on adventures a priority, and soon realized that I wanted to share them with others so you can enjoy them too! 

My passion is spreading the travel bug and showing others that travel is attainable and so worth it. From itineraries to camping tips to packing lists, Alpacka My Bags has you covered!

Join me, and often my partner and my dog, as we find exciting adventures and travel recommendations for you! If you've been bit by the travel bug just as I have, I hope you find my tips useful for all of your future travels.

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