Italy is one of our favorite destinations with beautiful cities, stunning landscapes, and of course Italian food. We’ve been traveling to Italy for 20 years and have been to almost every region. With all this experience traveling to Italy, we thought it was time to share our advice on traveling to Italy. I’m sure we have more, but for now, here are our 15 top tips for Italy travel.
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What To Know Before Traveling To Italy
Though Europe is a popular tourist destination, there are a few things you should know about traveling in Italy for beginners. When to go to Italy? Where to go in Italy? What to bring to Italy? All important decisions to make.
Did you know there are countries inside Italy? Yes, there are real countries inside Italy. The Vatican and San Marino are independent countries. They are also impressive and worth a visit.
Another thing to consider when planning to go to Italy is that it is more than just the mainland. There is so much to explore, including numerous small and big islands. You can head to Sardina, Sicily, Levanzo, or Elba.
Card payments are accepted almost everywhere in Italy. However, you should carry a few notes and coins when visiting Italy because some stores have minimum spending. Such cash will come in handy when you need small items.
Driving In Italy Is An Adventure
Driving on Italian roads is fun. It lets you explore the hidden gems in large cities like Pisa or Florence. Furthermore, driving allows you to tour the Italian countryside, villages, smaller towns, and wineries where no trains exist.
But driving in Italy for tourists can be a curse too. Getting lost when thriving through the treacherous countryside or mountain tops is not as fun as you’d think. Even navigating the twisty turns on large cities’ streets may be challenging.
But don’t worry, here are a few Italy travel tips if you intend to drive.
A navigator plays an important role in advising you as you drive. Using a GPS will help you save a lot of time. You can get one from your rental car company. Alternatively, you can rely on google maps.
You should follow all the road signs and take your time around roundabouts. More importantly, watch out for other drivers.
Taking An Italian Train Is Not Scary
One critical tip when you travel to Italy is to understand that trains are great, especially if you want to travel between cities. The country has an impressive high-speed railway system, the most cost-effective and efficient means of transport.
However, don’t forget to validate your ticket by stamping it in the little machines on the train. You will be fined if the inspectors get you, even if you did not know.
Be on the lookout for pickpockets who create a little commotion to distract and steal from you. Some will offer to help you with your luggage only to disappear with it.
Store your luggage on the racks above you or in front of you, where you can monitor it. Never store it on the big luggage racks at the end of each car; you may never get it.
You Must Eat Gelato In Italy Once A Day
Gelato, an Italian ice cream, is too delicious to ignore. Most people claim it is the best in the world, and it probably is.
Gelato is available on almost every street and is relatively cheap. You will most likely treat yourself to a schmear of gelato after every hearty lunch. Or like us, sometimes for breakfast.
But gelato is not only an ice cream; there is Gelato University and Gelato museum outside of Bologna, in Emilia-Romagna. Carpigiani, an ice cream machine maker, set up the university in 2003 to spread the culture of Italian artisan gelato.
Carpigiani also operates the museum, which hosts information about the history of ice cream and displays historic memorabilia related to gelato.
Slow Food Means Long Lunches And Dinners
Learning to be patient is great advice on traveling to Italy because lunches and dinners are never rushed. Dining is a relaxed affair to enjoy with friends and family. If you go to Italy, do what Italians do.
The slow food movement began in Italy in 1989 and was in response to the fast-food system growing globally. Members are typically activists, chefs, farmers, fishers, producers, and anyone passionate about food.
Slow food involves eating seasonally and sustainably, which supports small-scale local farmers and lowers carbon footprint. It entails cooking and eating delicious meals consciously and pleasantly with ingredients straight from the farm.
Pizza Is The Best In Naples
Italy is the country you can eat freshly baked pizza from nearly every small stall in any town. But one of the best tips for travelers to Italy is to buy pizza in Naples.
Napoli pizza is simply the best. It is inexpensive and very tasty; it tastes like nothing you will ever find anywhere else, even in the fanciest restaurants in the United States. Naples is the pizza home, so you should expect to find the best there.
When you get to Naples, you will be spoilt for choices on where to find the best pizza. There are numerous pizzerias offering the best. Have a look at our Where to Find the Best Pizza in Naples article to learn about some of our favorite spots for pizza in Naples.
Enjoy A Proper Italian Coffee
In Italy, ordering coffee is not as simple as in other countries. Often, you won’t find an actual menu in most coffee bars; most Italians know what they serve. But we have a few tips for travelers to Italy.
One of the most important tips for Italy travel is to understand that Italians drink their coffee at certain places, times, and in a certain way. For example, cappuccino is usually drunk for breakfast but not dinner. To live like an Italian, you don’t order a cappuccino after about 11 am.
Another piece of Italy travel advice for coffee lovers is that latte translates to milk in Italy. If you walk into a bar and request a latte, you will get a cup of milk. If you are heading to Italy and love Italian coffee like Amber and me, have a look at our How to Order Coffee in Italy guide for more tips.
Enjoy An Aperitivo Before Dinner
Knowing what to drink in Italy is an essential travel tip. There are two main categories of Italian beverages; alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Though there are many Italian alcoholic drinks, aperitivo is the most common pre-meal drink.
The word aperitivo was derived from the Latin word ‘aperire,’ which traditionally means ‘to open’ the stomach before dinner. In Italy, drinking an aperivito before dinner is a cultural ritual.
Aperivito is a bitter, carbonated, low-alcohol beverage. It is made with Aperol, Prosecco, and a spritz of sparkling mineral water.
Take A Cooking Class
If you are a foodie looking to travel to Italy, you will most definitely enjoy the regional cuisine. In your list of Italy tips, you should include taking a cooking course. You may want to try one of the delicious recipes when you get home.
If you are a passionate foodie eager to learn some Italian cooking, there are many ways to do it. You can enroll in a cooking school like Casa Artusi, which focuses on Italian home cooking.
Alternatively, you can choose to learn Italian cooking from a chef’s kitchen or a simple Italian restaurant. Either way, you will learn how to make Italian pasta from scratch.
Enjoy some of the best places in Italy for foodies then cook those famous dishes at home!
Stay In An Agriturismo
One essential piece of advice on traveling to Italy, especially if you don’t want to stay in hotels in the towns and cities, is to stay in an Agriturismo. The word combines agriculture and tourism and broadly means farm stay or any form of accommodation on a working farm.
It is the perfect way to have a rural Italy experience, stay close to nature, understand where local Italian ingredients come from, and eat locally-grown food.
Though you might enjoy the tranquil environment and fresh food from the farm, an agriturismo may lack WiFi. You may also find staff that doesn’t speak English.
Pack Light For Italy
One of the most important tips for Italy travel is to know what to pack. Winter and summer can be quite extreme in Italy. Winters can be bracingly cold, and summers can be very hot. It is worth arriving well prepared depending on your travel date to Italy.
However, it is advisable to pack light when visiting Italy. The top things to consider when packing include the time of travel, how much walking you will be doing, and the kind of activities you will do.
Consider the benefits of packing light for Italy, such as having better control of what you carry, having all your luggage as a carry-on, being easier to store on train racks, and having space for souvenirs.
Drink Italian Craft Beer
If you are going to Italy don’t skip on Italian craft beer. The country has thousands of breweries of different sizes producing beer. However, if beer is not your cup of tea, you can make wine your liquor of choice.
There is an interesting connection between Italian wine and beer. In the past, most people drank wine with meals, but today, Italians are no longer afraid to pair their most typical dishes with craft beer.
You can define craft beer as a small producer focusing on the local market. Italian craft beer is unpasteurized, unfiltered, and from a brewery that makes not more than 170,000 barrels a year.
A Coperto Is Charged At Dinner
One essential piece of Italy travel advice is that you should be ready to pay coperto in all types of restaurants in Italy. But what is it and why should you pay coperto?
Corperto is a per-person fee or cover charge added for each meal. It is a habit that originated in the Middle Ages. During those times, travelers would stop at inns and eat food brought from home to save money. Since the innkeepers could not sell them their food, they charged the customers for the space they occupied and the use of utensils.
Today, coperto avoids embarrassment and is a form of tipping because tipping is not common in Italy.
There Is No Such Thing As Spaghetti Bolognese
One of the most important travel tips for Italy is to understand that there is no such food as Spaghetti Bolognese. Its proper name is Tagliatelle al Ragu, one of the Italian dishes that causes the most confusion and controversy worldwide.
Most tourists visiting Italy end up looking for Spaghetti Bolognese to have a taste of the Italian version. But there is no such dish. Along with spaghetti and meatballs, spaghetti bolognese is an American invention. Unfortunately, you will find plenty of restaurants serving spaghetti bolognese but inside you won’t find Italians, you’ll find tourists, so keep walking.
If you are looking for authentic pasta dishes, then we highly recommend Tagliatelle al Ragu which comes from our favorite Italian food city, Bologna. Our other favorite pasta dish comes from Tuscany. Pappardelle di Cinghiale is a flat, wide noodle served in a ragu of wild boar.
Avoid Italy In August
Most people offering advice on traveling to Italy will tell you to avoid the country in August. This is because almost the entire country shuts down most of the month.
No tourist wants to visit a country when most of the places they want to explore are closed, and beaches are packed. You will also be unable to enjoy the local Italian cuisine because most cafes and restaurants are closed. The only open places are trains, ferries, buses, taxis, and tourist restaurants.
Most Italians go on holiday during August. But why does the entire country go on holiday in August? Ferragosto is an Italian holiday celebrated on August 15th, and August 16th is associated with the Assumption of Mary.
Cover Up When Visiting Churches And Cathedrals
There is some conservatism when it comes to dressing if you plan to visit religious sites in Italy. This includes even the most popular tourist sites like the Vatican.
Usually, most religious sites request visitors to cover their legs and shoulders when visiting churches and cathedrals. In summer, most ladies will dress in a tank top and capri pants. But always carry a scarf you can throw around their shoulders and a sarong to wrap around the waist.
Planning a trip can be tedious, especially if you are visiting the country for the first time. However, the above tips for Italy travel will make your vacation hassle-free.
Culinary Travel To Italy
Our Italy Travel Experience
Our first trip to Italy was in 2000, and since then, we’ve taken dozens of trips to Italy to almost every region. Our most recent trip was in 2022.
This is easier for us as we live in Europe. We’ve taken food tours, cooking classes, visited wineries, and dined at some of the best restaurants in Italy. We are experts at Italy travel and, more importantly, eating in Italy.
Check out Amber’s book, the Food Traveler’s Guide To Emilia Romagna, which is available on Amazon. In addition to being a culinary travel guide to the region, it walks through how many of the typical Italian food products are made, like mortadella, prosciutto, and Parmigiano Reggiano.