21 Things to Know When Traveling to Italy
First Trip to Italy Suggestions: What to Know When Visiting
Breathtaking views, mouth watering food, rich culture and history, charming streets, and the list goes on. This is Italy. Imagine waking up to the sun slowly seeping into cobblestone streets, the smell of espresso and fresh baked pastries filling the air. You go for a walk and admire incredible architecture, ancient ruins, and beautiful monuments. Welcome to Italy, where life slows down, and you can truly savor all the small moments.
Italy is a must visit country for everyone around the world. There is such a diverse scene of nature, art, food, and more. 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.
First Trip to Italy Suggestions
1. 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.
2. Dinner is later than average
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.
3. 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” (with or without bubbles).
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Meals last a lot longer than in the US
As mentioned above, dinner starts a lot later in Italy, but mealtime also lasts much longer. Especially dinner. If you want to go out to a restaurant for dinner, plan on staying for a couple hours. This is social hour in Italy; people enjoy their long meals with family and friends.
7. Cars will always stop when you go to cross the road
Okay, they might not stop if you’re standing on the curb, but if you begin to walk on the cross walk, 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!
8. Public transportation is quite 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.
9. Restaurants near tourist attractions are a LOT more expensive
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're tourist traps, don't fall for it. Or check out reviews to see what others think!
10. Book tours in advance
If you really 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.
11. Dogs are welcome nearly anywhere
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!
12. 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 means you can quickly and easily grab a gelato! ;)
13. 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.
14. Not everyone knows English
Surprise, you’re in Italy. Everyone speaks Italian. However, don’t let this scare you. We didn’t know any Italian before we visited, we quickly learned some basics (like hello, thank you, where is the bathroom), and we thankfully didn’t have any issues. While not everyone speaks English, many, many people do. Especially in very touristy areas.
15. Carbs are your only option…and dairy
Most dishes in Italy consist of meat, dairy, and carbs (pizza or pasta), which is incredibly delicious if you don’t have any dietary restrictions. We’re both “mostly vegetarian” and finding meatless options was no issue. However, dairy and gluten are in nearly everything. And honestly, I don't think we ate a single thing we didn't love while in Italy.
16. Learning a few Italian basics goes a long way
As mentioned above, learning a few common phrases in Italian will go a long way. If you can order politely at a restaurant, ask where the bathroom is, find out how much something costs, and say a few greetings, you’ll be golden. Your effort will be appreciated. You're the tourist, so take some time to learn the language. It's not on the locals to know your language.
17. Gelato is simply 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. You can usually always find a dairy free option or two as well!
18. 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.
19. Everything closes between about 2 and 4
In Italy, siestas are taken very seriously. People enjoy their down time, 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!
20. 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.
21. Nudity is common at beaches
Remember you’re in Europe. You will find that nudity is much more common in Italy than in, say, 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.
Italy is a great country for any type of traveler to visit: budget backpacker, luxury vacationer, adventurers, city lovers, and nature lovers. If you’re coming from the US, the difference in cultures, lifestyles, cuisines, architecture, etc. might be quite surprising to you. But don’t let this scare you away!
Now you’ve learned things to know when traveling to Italy, you can pack your bags, and have the trip of a lifetime! There is so much to see and do in Italy, you are bound to love it. If this is your first international trip, remember that pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will teach you so much about yourself.
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!