We know that visiting any country for the first time can come with a feeling of great excitement, and 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 Italy travel tips and suggestions for visiting the very first time.
Here are ten tips to for planning and success of your first trip to Italy. If you are interested in more suggestions, like where to visit, check out more of our posts. We have all the information you need!
Tourists, especially from the United States, are used to having escalators and elevators in every building. If this is your first trip to Italy, it is very important to note that there are many places that have only stairs. Consider this when you’re packing! I suggest packing only a carry-on if you can manage it, but if not, be 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 quick stops, so you need to be able to quickly grab your suitcase/or bag and get off quickly. Just imagine how difficult this might be if you have to drag a heavy suitcase!
DON’T TRY TO SEE EVERYTHING
Since it’s your first time in Italy, 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 want to see all the tourist sites that you have read about, but in reality, you are more likely to enjoy your trip by taking you time and moving at relaxed tempo.
Let’s say your first time in Italy is only 10 days, we suggest limiting your itinerary to three places. Trying to visit more places will force you to spend a large amount of your time in transit, which can be exhausting, especially if you boarded a long-haul flight to Italy and factoring in your recovery from jet lag.
It’s best to blend some relaxation and sightseeing, which always makes up a quality itinerary. 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 relaxed, is a good way to be sure 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, Milan or Bergamo in Lombardy, are also great choices! It’s all about finding the perfect balance without missing too much. Not putting too much into your plan will ensure a more fantastic first time in Italy.
IS YOUR TRAIN TICKETS VALIDATED?
Chances are you will be taking a train at one point or the other during your trip. If this is your first time in Italy, this is one of the most important travel tips: keep in mind that whenever you are going to take the 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 riders 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, be sure to find a worker immediately when boarding and let them know. They will punch a hole in your ticket for you beforehand so that they remember. 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. And people always want to know whether renting a car is necessary or not. The advice to people traveling to Italy for the first time is that they should plan on transiting the country using the train system. It can be quite a real challenge driving in Italy, especially in the cities. In the city centers, you typically need a permit 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, lay back and enjoy it!
The Italian train system is very well-connected, so without a doubt, you can almost anywhere by train. The trains in Italy run frequently and are easy to use(remember to validate your tickets). For example, visiting cities like Venice, Rome, Lake Como, the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, etc. are all easily reached by train from many other cities. Check out individual train costs depending on where you would like to go or the EuroPass, which allows a certain amount of trips regardless of the cities. Either way, rest assured, you don’t need a car to experience all the wonder of Italy.
WATCHOUT FOR PICKPOCKETS
Any city that has busy areas such as train stations and markets tend to be popular areas where pickpocketers thrive. Tourists, usually so overwhelmed enjoying their trip, usually don’y pay as much attention to this but it’s a very real issue and you should proceed with caution in many areas. Pickpocketers typically work in pairs or groups, with one person serving a distraction, while the other takes your wallet. If you are going to be visiting Rome, be extra cautious, as they are very active in this area.
Pickpocketers can get really creative in their distraction strategy. There are plenty of stories such as, a woman asking a tourist to help her hold her baby while she tries to fix her shoes, while her partner slips the wallet or phone of the tourist out of their pocket or bag. Several Italy travel tips blogs will suggest using a money belt, but just be watchful of who comes 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. For many Italians, summer is that time of the year when they move away from the city to the beautiful beaches. Cities like Florence and Rome tend to record even higher temperatures during the summer.
Many US tourists will find that there are many 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 heat 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.
YOU NEED A POWER ADAPTER
This applies generally to packing for trips to Europe – you need a power adapter, never forget it! It is not a dire situation should you forget to bring one along as you can typically find adapters in stores in Italy, but it does pay to have one packed so you do not have to start your trip by scrambling the city 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 a few hours set aside in the afternoon when Italians take a mid-day rest.
You should keep this in mind for your first trip to Italy. In South of Italy many museums, churches and stores close for a few hours in the afternoon and is most common is smaller towns. Usually, it can be anytime between 1pm and 5pm. You can check online to confirm siesta times for sights you plan to visit, so that 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 or not you eat. Typically it is only about 2 to 3 Euros per person, but may vary depending on what area you visit in Italy.
As it is your first time in Italy, 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 seriously, wine is cheaper than water in Italy. If this is your first time in Italy, is the perfect time and opportunity to enjoy several glasses without breaking the bank! 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 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 of glass of wine, just the right amount to enjoy over dinner.