We’ve gathered the best Italy travel tips to help you plan your next trip; here’s everything you need to know before visiting Italy!
Table of Contents
Italy Travel Tips
1.) When you book an overnight train, make sure you specify Mr. or Ms. on your ticket
Our last overnight train experience made for a funny story, but we don’t recommend following in our footsteps.
Scott had accidentally booked my ticket under the Mr. salutation. The employee almost did not let us on the train since all of the compartments are separated male and female (unless you book a private compartment). Even after we convinced the train employee to let us on, our bunk mate was not happy and we couldn’t communicate with him since we didn’t speak the same language!
2.) Don’t order insalata verde and expect anything more than a bowl of lettuce
Take it from us and learn from our mistakes. Normally, house or green salads in the States have varied vegetables included, so I was not prepared for just a bowl of romaine lettuce..
3.) Don’t make special requests when ordering at a restaurant
Italians usually take things as listed on the menu and you don’t want to be the annoying foreigner who asks for special items. However, they are becoming more accustomed to vegans and vegetarians, so this shouldn’t be an issue when ordering at most of the restaurants frequented by tourists.
Read more: 20 Best Things To Do In Italy
4.) Prepare to eat late
Many restaurants, especially the fancy ones, don’t open until 7pm or later.
5.) When browsing menus and deciding where to eat, pay attention to the “Il coperto” (cover charge)
The cover charge varies from restaurant to restaurant (usually a few Euros). This charge is often listed at the bottom of the menu. This way you won’t be surprised when you get the bill.
6.) ATMs & Money
It’s a good idea to exchange some money before you leave your home country. ATMs are the most economical way to exchange money while you are in Italy, but the airport ATMs may be empty when you land (especially on a weekend) and you don’t want to be forced to exchange your money at one of the expensive currency exchanges.
7.) Transportation strikes are common in Italy, so give yourself plenty of time if you need to catch a flight
One of our best tips for traveling to Italy: don’t be shocked if there is a strike of some sort that may affect your travel plans! It’s not uncommon for Italians to have train strikes, taxi strikes or bus strikes.
Strikes have become a part of the culture and way of life in Italy. Most strikes are announced ahead of time so you can usually plan around them. Just be sure to pay attention to signs in the local train stations about any upcoming strikes.
8.) Book accommodation outside of big cities to get the best deals and avoid crowds
If you don’t want to pay full price for your accommodation or if you prefer to avoid major crowds, oftentimes you can find a hotel, hostel or campground in a nearby town.
This came in handy during our travels in Cinque Terre. (To learn more about The 5 Villages, read our Cinque Terre travel tips and our guide on the best hotels in Cinque Terre.) There was a train strike and if we had stayed in any one of the 5 villages, we wouldn’t have been able to get a train out. A fellow traveler said it cost him 50 Euros for a taxi to the next town so he could catch his train!
A trip to Italy is not complete without visiting one of this country’s most beautiful wine regions. Villa Cozzano is set in Pozzuolo in the Tuscany Region — in a restored 17th-century building surrounded by 28 hectares of olive groves and vineyards.
9.) Train travel tips
Book your tickets at the train station with an actual person whenever possible. Some of the booking options are not available online or in the station kiosks. Tren Italia’s website is also notorious for not working correctly.
If you want to book ahead of time to get the best price, but you don’t know your exact dates or time of departure, then get an “Ordinary Ticket.” You will have the flexibility of open ended dates and times. Just keep in mind that it does have an expiration date, so make sure to ask the customer service representative before you purchase.
Also, one of our best tips for Italy is to REMEMBER to validate your ticket before you hop on the train to avoid fines!
Read more: Essential Guide To Train Travel In Europe
10.) Don’t stand in lines
Most visitors to Italy want to visit the iconic sites like the Colosseum, which means the lines can get VERY long — especially in the summertime. You have a few options for booking skip-the-line tickets to many attractions in Italy; you can either book a tour, book online (book here), or call the attraction once you are in Rome to inquire about booking tickets ahead of time. Trust me, this is a HUGE time saver!
11.) Don’t visit in summer
I realize many people only have limited vacation time and you may want to travel when your kids are out of school, but if you can avoid it, I don’t recommend visiting Italy in the summertime. Spring and fall are my favorite seasons — for both the weather and the lack of crowds.
12.) Wear comfortable shoes
This is not the time for stilettos, ladies. You can easily find a pair of stylish, yet comfortable shoes. Italy’s cities are best explored by walking and you don’t want to be uncomfortable your entire trip! My go-to shoes are cute white sneakers. I can wear them with almost anything — even long and and short summer dresses.
13. Italy is more than just the mainland
Don’t forget that there is plenty to see in Italy that is not on the mainland. Italy has 350 sea islands! You have probably heard of Sicily and Sardinia, as they are the most popular visited of the many islands. Though they are both Italian islands, they each have their own distinct charm and appeal and are both worth a visit!
14. It’s safe to drink from the water fountains
Throughout Italy — as well as many European cities — you may come across various water spouts and fountains. These are completely safe to drink from!
Not only will this save you some money by not purchasing water at stores and restaurants, but you’ll also be partaking in part of the Italian culture. There should be no trouble finding these fountains as Italy is full of them. To put it into perspective, Rome alone has over 2,500 fresh fountains!
15. Learn some basic Italian
You don’t need to be fluent by any means, but learning a few common phrases will aid you in your travels. Simple phrases such as ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’, ‘do you speak English?’ And ‘you’re welcome’ will go far!
16. Leaving your room key at the hotel is common
Many hotels in Italy give you an old-fashioned type room key (sometimes even attached to an object or block) which can make it bit of a hassle to take around with you. If your hotel provides you with a new-age swipe card for your room key, feel free to take it out and about with you; however, if you have a large key and the front desk is staffed, don’t be afraid to ask them to hold it for you until your return.
17. You’ll need to pay a tourist tax in each city you visit
A tourist tax in Italy can loosely be compared to a hotel facility fee. It is a tax (fee) that is paid per night of your stay at all types of accommodations. This not only includes hotels, but B&B’s, hostels and even campsites. This tax is usually quite minimal and ranges from about 1.5 Euros per night to 7 Euros per night.
18. Check that your hotel has air conditioning if visiting during summer
Like many European cities, air conditioning is not always the norm. If your plans take you to Italy in the summer, check your hotel’s website in advance to see if they offer air conditioning. Italy can get quite hot so plan accordingly.
19. Don’t cut your pasta with a fork
When abiding by pasta etiquette it is imperative that you only use a fork — with the exception of pasta broth, which requires a spoon. Italians never cut their pasta. This includes long pasta, which is supposed to be rotated and wrapped around your fork. The pasta naturally entangles itself and keeps it snug against the fork.
20. Order the house wine
Don’t be afraid to stick to ordering the house wine throughout your trip. The house wine will often be a local wine — which Italians prefer to drink — and it will also pair well with your meal. The house wines also tend to be low cost and give you more ordering options. Typically, you would order by the glass or by the bottle, but house wines will usually come in carafes of 1/4, 1/2 or a full liter.
21. Make dinner reservations in busy locations
Err on the side of caution and make your dinner reservations in advance. You can always call the restaurant and make a reservation on your own “Vorrei fare una prenotazione, per favore” – “I would like to make a reservation please”, use an international booking platform such as Opentable (though it may not include the smaller local favorites) or you can speak to an associate at your hotel.
Even if you choose to make the reservations on your own, it is always great to ask for recommendations from the hotel staff or any other locals you may run into.
22. Specify what kind of water you want
Not all dining establishments will ask you what type of water you want as it is not typically included; however, if you want to order water, be sure to specify what type you would like. The options are usually still water, sparkling water, mineral water, and tap water.
23. Your car insurance may not cover Italy
If you are considering renting a car, take a moment to review your car insurance policy. Typically, your personal policy will not cover you internationally. You will need car insurance in order to rent a car in Italy specifically basic collision damage waiver car insurance.
Your rental company may offer insurance or you can look into getting international insurance while getting everything in line for your international driving permit.
24. You may not know if you get a ticket while driving
Italy has many roadside cameras to catch traffic infractions. If you are visiting and using a rental car, the fine will end up being sent to the rental car company and then passed along to you.
Your infraction may be caught on camera and there may not even be a pull over involved, so you usually won’t know that you acquired this ticket. Rental car companies may automatically charge you for this fee without authorization as the car was in your name on the date of incident.
25. You need an international driving permit to rent a car in Italy
Thankfully, it shouldn’t be too difficult to obtain your international driving permit. This is something that can be done at your nearest AAA. Plan to bring your valid U.S. driver’s license, 2 passport photos, a completed international driving permit application and be prepared to pay a $20 fee. The process should only take about 10 minutes.
26. Know how to drive a manual if you plan on renting a car
The vast majority of vehicles in Italy are manual transmission so be prepared to have a manual rental car. You can try reserving well in advance if there is an automatic available, but you should be comfortable driving a manual to be safe.
27. Always have Euros on hand
You will definitely be able to use credit cards in Italy but have some Euros on hand for peace of mind and to make things easier. Having 40-50 Euros per person should be enough of a cushion to stop you from needing to run back and forth to the ATM. Keep in mind that ATMs in Italy typically have a withdrawal limit of 200-300 Euros per day.
28. Bring a Visa or MasterCard (AMEX & Discover are not widely accepted)
Visa and MasterCard are your safest bet when traveling, AMEX and Discover are not widely accepted at this time. Before you leave, read up on your credit card to see if there are any foreign fees attached to your cards and plan accordingly. This is especially important with ATM cards as you may be charged a fee from your card as well as the ATM.
29. Bathrooms aren’t free
Though bathrooms aren’t free, they’re not expensive either so don’t worry. It usually costs between 50 cents and 1 Euro.
30. Fall is the best season to visit
Italy is beautiful all year round but fall has to be the best season to visit. The temperature is warm yet comfortable and the crowds and prices from the summer have started to die down. Because fall is also the time of harvest, there tends to be many festivals celebrating local food and/or wine all over the country.
Packing Essentials for Italy
In addition to the usual Europe packing list, make sure to bring these essential items:
Travel Umbrella: It’s always a good idea to pack a small travel umbrella — especially during the winter and spring.
Mosquito Repellent: I did not experience too many mosquitos, but mosquitos are not uncommon during the spring/summer months in many areas of Italy. This travel size spray pump won’t take up much room in your suitcase.
Earplugs: Bring your earplugs just in case you end up in a noisy location.
Nice Clothes: Many Italians are stylish, so don’t be afraid to bring some nice clothes. For the women, jeans and a cute pair of boots will be fine. For more travel packing tips, visit our guide on how to stay stylish while traveling.
Daypack: You’ll need something to carry around your camera gear and souveniers. Ladies, fashion backpack is stylish, comfortable, and it can be worn as a purse! Plus, it fits everything I need for a day of exploring Italy.
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Do you have any Italy travel tips to add?