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.
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
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.
Credit 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.
Important Italian Words To Know
In our travels, we’ve always tried to learn a dozen or so local words. It makes communicating that much easier. And more importantly, it shows respect. I’m 100% sure that we’ve butchered more words than we got right, but to this day, I can order two beers in over a dozen countries.
Here are just a few basic Italian words that are easy to remember and important to know.
How To Book Hotels In Italy
In the 20+ years of traveling to Italy, we’ve learned a thing or two about booking a hotel in Italy. We’ve stayed at some stunning hotels like the Westin Excelsior Rome and St. Regis in Florence. And we’ve stayed at some not-so-great hotels in Italy. Do yourself a favor and avoid hotels near train stations at all costs.
When planning a trip to Italy, we use Booking.com for our accommodations. In addition to booking hotels, we’ve used them for booking apartments for longer stays or booking villas in Italy when we want something special. We’ve even found some charming and less expensive guest houses in Italy on Booking.com.
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. Go small. Do yourself a favor and rent a small car. From parking in cities to navigating narrow roads, you’ll thank me. But this will also require you to travel with smaller luggage.
Pro Tip: Be extremely careful when driving along the Amalfi Coast. The roads are very narrow, windy, and packed with cars and tour buses.
Rental Cars In Italy
You will find all the major car rental brands, Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, and Budget available in Italy. While 99% of the time things are handled in an upfront and professional manner, beware of any hidden fees or potential scams.
When renting a car in Naples, we were charged for not having a full take of gas. We purchased gas outside the Naples Airport but the attendant didn’t completely fill the tank. Was this a scam? I can’t say. But it felt like one.
Lastly, when you get home from Italy, make sure your credit cards match the price on your rental agreement.
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.
Transportation Tips For Italy
- Taking a taxi in Italy is perfectly safe. We always show the taxi driver where we are going on Google Maps and ask how much in Italian, “Quanto”. We also follow along online to make sure we are not being taken for a ride, pun intended.
- Toilet paper. If you are traveling by train in Italy, especially a local train, make sure to have a few sheets in your bag or purse. Just in case.
- Validate your train ticket. It’s required to validate all train tickets when in Italy. On every platform, there are yellow validation machines. Train tickets are inserted and stamped with the date and time.
- Similar to train tickets, bus tickets in Italy must be validated. After you buy a bus ticket, you must validate once you board the bus, and use the machine at the front or middle of the bus. Bus tickets are valid for 24 hours.
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, a gelato 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. Naples also has some of the best Italian snacks too.
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 for 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 coffee shop and request a latte, you will get a cup of milk.
Lastly, takeaway coffee really isn’t a thing in Italy unlike in the United States. Most Italians will enjoy their coffee at the counter in their local coffee shop/cafe.
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. Also, feel free to pair the coffee with one of the many famous pastries in Italy.
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.
Our favorite is the Aperol Spritz. A Spritz is a bitter orange, carbonated, low-alcohol beverage. It is made with Aperol, Prosecco, and a spritz of sparkling mineral water. During an aperitif, it’s served with some potato chips or cured meats.
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!
Accommodation Tips In Italy
- Doing an apartment rental is possible across Italy. Just be mindful of what’s around the apartment in terms of nightclubs and bars that might be open late.
- It gets hot in Italy during the Summer. And not all Italian apartments have air conditioning. Make sure you get some type of confirmation your Airbnb or rental has air con.
- Most hotel rooms are small which means beds and bathrooms are small.
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. It’s even possible to consider packing a carry-on for 2 weeks in Europe, and that includes 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.
To save money, pack a reusable water bottle. For the most part, the tap water in Italy is perfectly fine to drink. You can refill, for free, at many of the water fountains found throughout cities and towns in Italy.
Pro Tip: Leave the high heels at home. While stylish, having a pair is impractical. From cobblestone streets to getting on and off trains, they simply don’t make sense.
Drink Italian Craft Beer
If you are going to Italy and drink alcohol 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 local 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. And there’s also no fettuccine Alfredo or garlic bread in Italy.
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 tourist attractions 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 St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
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.
For men, shorts and a T-shirt are ok, but try to avoid wearing flip flops into a church or cathedral. To play it safe, we’d recommend a polo shirt with either light pants or longer shorts.
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.
Shopping Tips In Italy
- Grocery stores are great for picking up bottled water, sunblock, or other day-to-day items. Compared to tourist shops, the prices at grocery stores are far less expensive.
- If you want to bring back good Italian olive oil go to a specialty shop or market. You’ll get much better quality olive oil here than you would at a tourist shop.
- Avoid the tourist shops around tourist attractions. You will be charged the highest prices on everything from souvenirs to water.
Miscellaneous Travel Tips For Italy
- Travel insurance for Italy is not necessary. If you feel better having travel insurance, then purchase it. Most major US credit cards have some travel insurance built-in that should cover most situations.
- While cash is still King, using a credit card in Italy is perfectly acceptable. Nearly all shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants use the “tapping” payment option.
- Pick yourself up an e-Sim card before traveling to Italy. While Wifi in Italy is rather good, you just never know when it’s not. We highly recommend Airalo e-Sim cards. These sim cards are super easy to use and cheap.
FAQS – Advice On Traveling To Italy
Cinque Terre is one of the most popular destinations to visit in Italy. During the peak summer tourist season, Cinque Terre is overcrowded, hot, and more expensive. The best times to visit Cinque Terre are the Spring and Fall shoulder seasons. Most of the tourists have not arrived or have left. Temperatures are more enjoyable and prices for hotels, and car rentals, have stabilized.
Common sense says that if lots of people are visiting Lake Como then it must be worth visiting. After all, it’s one of the most beautiful areas in Italy. If you love looking at stunning Italian villas, a gorgeous lake, and great food, then yes, it’s absolutely worth visiting.
Culinary Travel To Italy
Our Italy Travel Experience
Check out Food & Drink Destinations original founder Amber Hoffman’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.