Italy offers so many incredible experiences, from food to architecture. Apart from the main, well known attractions like Rome, Florence, Venice, or Milan, there are many tiny charming villages. Wherever you go, just know you won’t be disappointed. If you’re traveling here for the first time, there are some things to keep in mind. We know you’ll be back multiple times after getting a taste of Italy.
YOUR TRIP IN ITALY IN THE RIGHT TIME OF YEAR
The great thing about Italy is that it’s a year-round destination. Whether spending vacation over the Christmas holiday or in the Spring/Summer months, there is a place for you to be. No city is not worth seeing if the weather doesn’t seem to match but there’s beauty in Cinque Terre even in December. That being said, the best time to go to Italy in general is in autumn or spring. Many cities can have drastic weather changes in summer and winter. So visiting during the in-between seasons will allow you the best of many places. Plus, the more “off-seasons” mean less tourists so you’re able to enjoy a less crowded, more authentic view of the destination.
Southern Italian heat and even in mid-country cities like Milan can get pretty unbearable in the summer months of June and August. So, be sure that your accommodation has air conditioning. Venice is best to visit during the early winter. Because the stagnant water in the canals can develop a particular smell in the summer. Also February is a good time if you want to experience the famous Carnivale Festival! In August, aside from the heat, the big cities can be less crowded because Italian’s go on holiday during this month. Places along the coast are typically very crowded with tourists and also Italians escaping from the city heat.
BOOK POPULAR TOURS AND EXCURSIONS IN ADVANCE
As said, Italy is a year-round travel destination which means, you’ll typically have to queue for the main attractions. However incredible they may be, standing in line is a huge waste of time during your trip. When you’re here for a limited amount, it’s best to use your moments wisely. The Duomo di Milano and ancient sites in Rome can bring about very long queues. It’s simple to buy these tickets online before and well-worth it. Our advice would be to check the main sites of the city before and decide what you really don’t want to miss.
Buying tickets to see the Last Supper is a must if you want to make it part of your trip as it can be booked months in advance and is only a 15 minute allotted slot of time but if you would rather wait until you are there for the duomo, it will not make or break your trip. The Roman Forum, Colosseum, and Palatine Hill are all included in one ticket which can be very convenient and not very expensive. Tours of the Vatican and Vatican Museum are an absolute necessity to book beforehand. They even offer a special ticket that allows entrance into the museum before opening hours, includes buffet breakfast and the Sistine Chapel.
It’s a very popular site for tourists so expect the Sistine Chapel to fill up quickly once the museum is open to the public. You must go through the Vatican museum to get to it and the museum itself is an easy 3 or 4 hour activity. The line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica can be very, very long. Although you don’t need a ticket to enter the church, there are ones you can buy to skip the line. If you get there early enough, you don’t need a ticket but if you would like to go up to the dome, you do which you can easily buy on your way into the basilica. The Uffizi museum in Florence is another site you want to consider buying tickets to beforehand but we’ll say again, it really just depends what you really want to see during your trip.
TAKE THE TRAIN!
Italy has an incredible train system, allowing for a quick trip from Milan to Rome in just 3 hours on the high-speed trains. Connections to all major cities can be reached by regional trains and the national or private trains companies. The fast trains can be more expensive so it’s best to book these in advance. However, shorter distances and also regional trains are quite inexpensive so no need to pressure yourself to book dates and times for those. Keep in mind when booking in advance that you are typically not able to buy more than four months in advance, sometimes less. Also check out the Eurail and Interrail for large train packages.
USE REGULAR TAXI SERVICES
We are not here to scare you by any means but it is important to be aware of what type of offers and kind gestures you experience traveling are safe and which may not be. You’ll most likely be approached at the train station or airport by someone saying they offer taxi services. It’s best to just go to a designated area with official taxis of the city.
These independent people that attempt to take tourists around don’t have a traditional taxi meter, do you run the risk of paying for something much more expensive than you would have with a regular service. It may seem simple to just accept help from someone, even seeming like a trustworthy or genuine offer/person which they very well might be. But traveling in a country that you don’t know, with a language you don’t understand, always brings about certain risks. It’s better to air on the side of caution and search for an official taxi.
KEEP IN MIND THE COPERTO
When sitting at a cafe in Italy, many places charge an extra fee called a “coperto.” Coperto translates to “covered” in English so this is essentially the cover charge for sitting at their table or at the counter, which could imply different charges. The charge could be about one euro to three or more depending on the location. You can save on these by avoiding the very touristic areas and always asking for the menu before deciding to sit there. The place should, legally, have the coperto charge printed on their menu or somewhere easily visible.
AVOID THE TOURIST TRAPS
Italy is a main travel destination, meaning that the country is swarming with tourists and businesses close to the main areas hike up their prices. Sometimes it’s difficult to avoid these traps and hard to know which places are more local. Don’t rely too much on TripAdvisor and if you must, look for reviews by Italians for a more reliable, local opinion. It’s even a good idea to search for places on social media and reach out to some locals you’ve seen post there about what to expect. Usually places with pictures of the dishes or menus in many languages are huge tourist traps so try to be aware of those things when selecting a place to stay for awhile.
SMALL TOWN LIVING
We keep mentioning the big cities and most popular travel destinations. But the true magic of Italy is in its small towns and local way of life. If you’re visiting the major areas, it’s good to take a day trip to a nearby town to experience a more calm, true Italian lifestyle. Ask someone during your travels what their favorite place is close by and head to the train station to grab a cheap regional train. Sometimes the sweetest, most cosy small towns are an hour or less from the big city. That will give you a completely different experience and taste of the Italian way of life.
SPEND TIME LIKE A LOCAL
Whether in the big city or the small nearby town, try to plan your day like a true Italian. You’re on vacation and you deserve “la dolce vita” (the sweet life), too! If there’s one thing Italians know how to do, it’s enjoy life and take things calm and slow. There are many differences to Italian culture and way of life and the best way to understand a new culture is to live it.
Start your day with a croissant and cappuccino. You may be able to ask for a lactose free milk for dietary concerns. Italian people have their sweet in the morning with a lighter coffee. They actually think eggs and meat for breakfast is pretty crazy and so heavy for them. Whatever they have though, it’s usually warm or room temperature. They wouldn’t think of having cold milk with their cereal; first warm the milk on the stove or in the microwave and then add. Around 1pm, they have prank (lunch).
Try an authentic Italian pizza! Whatever you do, don’t ask for a pepperoni pie. Pepperoni in Italian means bell peppers, better ask for diavola. This pizza is topped with mozzarella and some spicy salami. After lunch, this is the time for espresso. After a carb loaded pizza, you’ll need something to keep you awake. Mid-afternoon, go for gelato! That’s really all I need to say. Around 7pm, they go to have an aperitivo. This is a unique deal at many bars and restaurants in which you order a drink, typically a Spritz, and with the price of your drink, a buffet or plate of appetizers are included. This is essentially the first round of your hours of eating to come. After the appetizer round, they start with dinner, usually around 8:30/9pm. This consists of multiple courses so be prepared to eat your way to bedtime!
ENJOY ITALIAN CUISINE
Italian food culture is something very particular that sets it apart from many other countries. Regional food and wine are very important to the people. They focus on fresh ingredients and proper food pairings. Depending on the region you are visiting, your dishes will change. For example, the northern areas are better known for rice dishes rather than pastas. However, in Rome, you’ll find the best Carbonara or Cacio e Pepe, traditional pasta dishes. If you want the best Chianti, it’s best to have it in Tuscany. Check with your hotel staff or, even better, your Airbnb host, to find the best spots for local cuisines. Italian food never disappoints but enjoying the regional food may even surprise you.