We know that visiting any country for the first time can come with a feeling of great excitement. You may even feel a little bit anxious not knowing exactly what to expect or how the trip might go. Traveling to Italy for the first time can be overwhelming for some. So we have put together a number of travel tips and suggestions for your very first trip.
Here are ten tips to make the most out of your first trip to Italy. We have all the information you need!
Tourists, especially from the United States, are used to having escalators and elevators in every building. However in Italy that there are many places that only have stairs. Keep this in mind when packing! I suggest only bringing a carry-on if you can manage it, but if not, make sure your bags are not too heavy to lift.
Traveling light will make it a whole lot easier to get on and off the trains. This is important as the trains make very short stops. So you will need to be able to quickly grab your suitcase or bag and get off quickly. Just imagine how difficult this could be if you have to drag a heavy suitcase!
DON’T TRY TO SEE EVERYTHING
We understand that you want to visit all the beautiful places. But the problem is – there’s just too many! Do not try to see everything! Italy is such a beautiful country and it can be tempting to try to visit all the tourist sites that you have read about. But actually, you will enjoy your trip much more if you take your time and relax.
Let’s say your first holiday in Italy only lasts 10 days; in that case we suggest limiting your itinerary to three places. Trying to visit more places will force you to spend a large amount of your time traveling, which can be exhausting, especially if you boarded a long-haul flight to Italy and are recovering from jet lag.
It’s best to get both some relaxation and sightseeing, which always makes for an enjoyable trip. A combination of the sights in Florence and Rome with other locations like Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Lake of Como or Cinque Terre, that are more relaxing, is a good way to plan your trip to enjoy every place to the fullest. If you are looking to add in one or two other places that possess a “rich” Italian charm, then Venice or Verona in Veneto, Lucca or Arezzo in Tuscany and Milan or Bergamo in Lombardy, are also great choices! It’s all about finding the perfect balance between comfort and sightseeing without missing out on too much.
ARE YOUR TRAIN TICKETS VALIDATED?
Chances are that you will be taking a train at some point during your trip. If this is your first time in Italy, then this is one of the most important travel tips: keep in mind that whenever you are going to take a train, there are two steps in getting your tickets. The first step is purchasing your ticket, and the second step (which is very important) is validating it.
Many tourists visiting Italy for the first time assume that once they get their train tickets, they can board the train right away. But before you board the train, your ticket must be validated by inserting it into one of the yellow validating machines strategically located throughout the train stations. They are hard to miss and easy to use.
The validating machine registers the ticket and marks the day and time of the train ride; this ensures that each ticket is used just once.
Ticket inspectors carry out routine checks to ensure that people on trains have validated tickets. They don’t show and sympathy for tourists, even if it’s their first time in Italy. So if you can’t find the machine or are running late and need to jump on, make sure you find an employee immediately when boarding and let them know. They will punch a hole in your ticket for you before boarding. If you do not validate your ticket, you will be asked to pay a fine.
HOW IMPORTANT IS RENTING A CAR?
Speaking of trains, transportation is one of the most important factors when planning a trip. People always want to know whether renting a car is necessary or not. My advice to people going to Italy for the first time is travel with the train system and not rent a car. Driving in Italy can be quite a challenge, especially in the cities. You will typically need a permit to enter the city centers so you can end up with issues and fines that are just not worth the hassle. This is your first time in this beautiful country, relax and enjoy it!
The Italian train system is very well-connected so you can get almost anywhere by train. The trains in Italy run frequently and are easy to use (remember to validate your tickets). For example, touristic places like Venice, Rome, Lake Como, the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, etc. are all easily reachable by train from many cities. Check out individual train costs depending on where you would like to go or just buy the EuroPass, which allows a certain amount of trips regardless of the distance. Either way, rest assured, you won’t need a car to experience all the wonder of Italy.
WATCHOUT FOR PICKPOCKETS
Busy areas in cities such as train stations and markets tend to be popular for pickpockets. Tourists, usually distracted by the sightseeing, don’t pay as much attention to this but it’s a very real issue and you should proceed with caution in many areas. Pickpockets typically work in pairs or groups, with one person distracting you, while the other takes your wallet. If you are going to visit Rome, be extra careful, as they are very active in this city.
Pickpockets can get really creative in their distraction strategy. There are plenty of stories of a woman asking a tourist to hold her baby, while her partner slips the wallet or phone of the tourist out of their pocket or bag. Several travel blogs will suggest using a money belt. Be mindful of people who come close to you and don’t wander around the cities without a purpose.
THE HOT ITALIAN SUMMER
If this is your first time in Italy, make sure you book a hotel with air conditioning! It does get incredibly hot throughout most regions of the country in the summer. For many Italians, summer is that time of the year when they move away from the city to the refreshing beaches. Cities like Florence and Rome tend to record even higher temperatures than the seaside during the summer.
Many US tourists will find that there are plenty of hotels without air conditioning, which will often come as a shock or serious disappointment. In the summer, the buildings tend to absorb most of the heat thereby increasing the temperature indoors. This can be unbearable, especially after spending most of your day sightseeing outdoors. When you book a hotel, make sure that the rooms come with an AC.
This applies specifically if you’re coming from outside Europe – you will need a power adapter, never forget it! It won’t be a dire situation should you forget to bring one along as you can typically find adapters in stores in Italy. But it does pay off to have one packed, so you won’t have to start your trip by desperately looking for a store that sells them. You want your first time in Italy to begin with as little stress as possible.
MAKE TIME FOR SIESTA
If this is your first time in Italy, you may have heard about siesta at one point or the other. For those who have never heard about it, siesta (or pisolino, as Italians call it) is an afternoon nap after lunch.
In the south of Italy many museums, churches and stores close for a few hours in the afternoon, although this is more common is smaller towns. Usually, it can be anytime between 1pm and 5pm. You should check online to confirm siesta times for sights you plan to visit. This way you can make better use of your time during the day when some of the sights are closed.
WHAT IS A COPERTO CHARGE?
Since it’s your first time in Italy, you may not be familiar with certain terms used, especially when you are out and about. One you are likely to encounter when you are eating is “coperto” or “cover charge” in English. Many restaurants in Italy charge a coperto, which is a fee that you are charged for sitting at a table, whether you eat or not. Typically this is only about 2 to 3 Euros per person.
As it is your first time in Italy, you should be prepared to see a cover charge or coperto added to your restaurant bill. Do not mistake the coperto for tipping! Tipping in Italy typically means rounding up your bill, or paying a little bit extra.
ITALIAN WINE IS VERY CHEAP
You may find this surprising, but wine is extremely cheap in Italy. If this is your first time in Italy, then it’s the perfect time and opportunity to enjoy several glasses without emptying your wallet! Italy is considered one of the wine capitals of the world and is home to the world’s finest vino. You will find that ordering wine at a restaurant in Italy may even be cheaper than water. A large bottle of still or sparkling water can cost you between 5 to 8 Euro, while ordering a quartino of house wine may only cost about 2 to 3!
So what is a quartino? A quartino is 250ml of wine served in a small carafe. It roughly amounts to about a couple glasses of wine, just the right amount to enjoy over dinner.