Italy is my second home! Ever since I first step foot on this land I have fallen helplessly in love and nobody could make me change my mind. Not now, not ever! Since I think everyone should visit at least once, I thought I should make your life easier and create this series of articles with the best tips I have gathered about visiting Italy for the first time.
Of course, food is so different and rich, from the North to the South of Italy, from each region to the other, people speak different languages why not have different dishes? But some things don’t change no matter where you are in Italy.
I adore traditional Italian food no matter where it is from, but there are some things you want to get right.
My 14 Italy food facts to know before visiting
Oh yes, Italians take their meals very seriously, thus the first 14 facts you should know (and respect) are food or drink related.
First things first: Breakfast. If you are used to having big, hearty, meaty breakfasts, you need to forget about it.
Italian breakfast is usually made out of sweet (croissant with jam – “brioche” – or a “crostata” that is a small sweet-tart) with a small and strong coffee, served usually on the go, while standing.
And I am talking here about the way locals do it, of course, hotels offer all kinds of options and varieties of food.
Restaurants are open for lunch only during certain periods of the day (from 12 until 3 pm) so don’t wait until 3 pm to get lunch or else you risk having to wait until dinner to get a decent meal.
And you will have to wait since dinner is usually served rather late ( towards 9 pm).
That is if you are invited for dinner at a local (people are very friendly here and there is always a dinner event in place), but of course, you will find restaurants serving dinner from 7 p.m so don’t worry.
Another thing Italians take very seriously is their coffee.
Depending on the part of the country you are visiting you will find different names and types of coffee, but one thing is certain: cappuccino, the drink we all love which has been inspired by a Capuchin friar, is drank only for breakfast.
After each meal (yes, even after dinner), Italians usually drink a strong intense espresso, which will help with digestion and also you will not become sleepy after having eaten.
When looking for a place to eat, don’t go for the more touristy restaurants, having pictures in their menus.
Choose the restaurants with paper on the table, those that won’t look particularly appealing, but know that there is where you will find the best, authentic Italian food.
Try finding the places where locals eat, you’ll thank me later!
Italians like tomatoes. They like tomato paste and even ketchup.
Just DON’T add it to your pizza or pasta! They will never forgive you.
Aperitivo! The perfect time of the day, just a few hours before dinner, when you will get out and about and enjoy a nice Spritz Aperol, relax and prepare for dinner.
Italians like their pasta, a whole lot of types, sizes, and combinations. And know that you are allowed and encouraged to add as much Parmigiano as you like, just not on the seafood pasta.
In Italy, it’s never too early or too late for ice cream.
Keep an eye open for the coperto – the per-person fee you will find in many Italian restaurants they charge you for the services they provide (having people serving you and for the use of cutlery and plates).
In this case, you can forget about the tip since you already pay for the service.
That’s nothing wrong with a good glass of wine, at any time of the day.
Ok, maybe not for breakfast, but starting with lunch, you are free to enjoy some good Italian wine
The closer you will be to the tourist attractions, the more pricey food and drinks will be at the bars and restaurants. And consequently linked to my point 6, not very traditional.
They have the “Fiera del Cioccolato” (the Chocolate fair) in Perugia (and not only) where you will have all the chocolate in the world to taste. And promise me you will try the Baci Perugina!
Italy Travel Resources
- Thinking about taking a longer trip to Italy? Check out my 7 days North Italy Itinerary
- Go South and live the real Italian vibes with my One week in South Italy itinerary
- Take the perfect pictures for your forever memories in these Instagram spots in Positano.
- A region worth your attention for your next trip? Give Puglia a chance and check out my 4 days in Puglia itinerary
- Have only limited time to spend in Italy? Why not see the Eternal City for one day, eat your heart out in Bologna for 2 days, or explore Genoa in one day.
- What else is more Italian than an Amalfi Coast itinerary? That’s the dream for many and it is for a good reason that way.
- Wondering how many days are enough for Venice? I’ve been there 3 times and I think I have the answer to your question.
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Life...One Big Adventure says
I am heading to Italy next year to walk from the Swiss Alps to Rome. I look forward to trying EVERYTHING you have mentioned above! Especially the ice cream! Thanks for making me hungry, MEl
Thanks for the comment! I hope you will enjoy your vacation in Italy and you will love everything about it! Where are you heading to?
Life...One Big Adventure says
I plan to walk the Italian leg of, what is called, the Via Francigena – a pilgrim trail. The whole thing starts at Canterbury Cathedral in England, through France, through Switzerland and down through Italy to Rome. So, with the time available, I will start at Great Saint Bernard Pass in Switzerland, and walk south all the way to Rome. Just over 1000km! I am so excited I want to start walking now! Mel
Oh wow! That sounds incredible! My boyfriend would be thrilled about this plan since his biggest passion is Ancient Rome. But either way, this sounds like great plan and a great itinerary in itself with a lot of beautiful places along the way! And oh my, walking all this distance! I can’t wait to read about it!
Life...One Big Adventure says
Thanks. Your boyfriend may be interested in reading more about it here…http://www.viefrancigene.org/en/
Have a great day. Mel
Great, I’ll share with him this link! Thank you! Have a nice week!
Thank you very much! Glad you found it useful! You will love Italy 🙂 Where exactly are you traveling to? What part of Italy?
Rae Ann Nolan says
As a lover of Italian Cappuccino, I will drink it all day long. And my ulcer cannot handle espresso
I totally agree, I myself am also a fan of coffee with milk, but there is something about that strong intense espresso they brew there. Even though i totally feel you about the ulcer, my stomach does not always agree with my choices of coffee
Thank you for a mouth watering article. You didn’t mention tipping…..do you or don’t you.?
Oh yes, that’s a good point indeed and I am always confused when visiting a new country about not knowing what is expected of me to do. Since in Italy in most of the places you will find the coperto, this means that you don’t have to live a tip. Moreover, if you are planning to drink o coffee you will find that the price will be different depending on where you choose to take it (sitting at the table – more expensive because it includes the service – or standing next to the counter – cheaper). Hope this helps!
Numbers 2, 6, 9 and 11 are great advice. However I disagree with 1 and 3. Breakfast is often included for free at hotels especially if you book through booking.com. The breakfasts often have some eggs and maybe sausage but are mostly cold cut cheeses, fruits and various kinds of desert. The croissant on the run is not at all what I’ve experienced as a traveler, in the 5 times that I’ve been there, unless you’re out an about on the streets very early and grabbing something quick. Restaurants open for dinner at 7 PM and some close by 10. So I don’t think 9 PM for dinner is very accurate.
I have to agree with you with a small comment: it is indeed right that in most of the more touristic places all that you said holds true, however I have written the article from the perspective of a local (how locals might do it, if you want to put it like that). Of course, hotels offer bigger breakfasts and adapt to the needs of tourists. But thank you very much for the comment, I will edit the article accordingly.
Going to Italy in September!! I love coffee but cannot have much caffeine. Do they serve decaf cappuccino? Also, is there just coffee, not cappuccino or espresso for my husband?
Hi Dorrie! Thank you for the question. The good news is that you will most certainly find coffee without caffeine made in every way, including cappuccino. I think in some places you can find the “americano” kind of coffee but you could also go for an espresso lungo for your husband. Enjoy Italy! What will you be visiting?