Traveling to Italy might be an everyday business for me since I’ve visited for so many times and have lived there for almost one year, but if you are planning your first trip, there might be some things you might want to know. From how to travel between towns, what to pay attention to, how to dress, what and how to pay, I will tell you all about it and much more in all the things to know when traveling to Italy for the first time.
Things to know when traveling to Italy for the first time
The first trip to Italy – Driving or public transportation?
When I’m traveling to Northern Italy I always prefer going for public transportation because it is much easier, it is fast, and if you book trains for example in advance you will get pretty good rates.
I always encourage people not to stick only to the town they land in, but to always think about towns which are easily reached by train.
Whenever I look for plane tickets I always go on Trenitalia.com and study the train ride options.
Just always remember to validate your ticket before going on the train, especially on regional trains where you don’t have the time and date written on the ticket.
Read all about traveling to the Cinque Terre by train.
When traveling to the South of Italy on the other hand, I would go for the option of renting a car. That’s because trains are not very well linked together, and buses might not come on schedule, giving you extra things to worry about.
Check out the best prices and rent your car here!
Another thing to have in mind is that you will need an international drivers permit if you are coming from outside of Europe. If you are from the EU, your driver’s license will be good.
When traveling to big cities such as Rome, Milan or Naples, I always went for public transportation.
Want to plan the perfect Amalfi Coast itinerary?
Traffic can be hectic and finding a parking space quite impossible. Thus, using the bus or underground is the solution.
Just remember to buy the ticket from any Tabaccheria and validate it on the bus.
The first trip to Italy – Paying by card or cash?
I always prefer having some cash on hand – exchange some at home, then withdraw some more at a bank’s ATM in Italy – and pay for everything else with a debit card.
Hotels and restaurants will always accept credit and debit cards, while some supermarkets will ask you for debit cards only.
Puglia – one of the most underrated Italian destination
The first trip to Italy – when to go?
There are so many perfect times perfect for your first trip to Italy depending on the region you will want to see. But let me tell you when you shouldn’t go: during summer!
That’s when all Italian towns will be packed with tourists, especially the ones you might want to see during your first trip to Italy. Moreover, prices are higher in August and you won’t be able to enjoy the trip to the fullest.
I always prefer heading to Italy during “shoulder season”. In other words, I suggest you plan your first trip to Italy during spring or fall. More precisely from the second part of March to June, or from the second part of September to November.
However, you can stretch that a bit earlier and later when you decide to visit Southern Italy. I’ve been to Sicily in February and it felt like spring.
The first trip to Italy – Tipping – is it custom in Italy?
Another one of the important things to know when traveling to Italy for the first time is related to tipping in Italy because things can get a bit complicated.
There are various ways of approaching tipping in Italy, but the most common one (which is not actually a tip) is the coperto.
Coperto is 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). It is usually around 2-4 EUR per person.
On the other hand, you can leave up to 10% as a tip, which will not be included in the check.
Also, some restaurants (maybe the most touristic ones in larger towns or on the Amalfi Coast) will also have a service charge (servizio) of roughly 10% included in the check. In this case, you won’t have to add any extra tip.
Coperto and servizio should be both specified on the menu and on the check.
Read more about Italy food facts worth knowing.
The first trip to Italy – Electronic devices in Italy
When traveling from outside of the EU to Italy, chances are you will need an adaptor or converter for your electronic devices (phone charger, camera chargers, curling iron and so on) to work.
For example, here in Europe, we use 220-240 volts versus the North American standard of 110-120 volts, thus making it necessary to have a converter.
The first trip to Italy – Italian phrases worth knowing
While in most places, especially the tourist ones people will speak or at least understand English, there are some things worth knowing.
- Buongiorno, Buonasera – Good morning, Good evening
- Buona Giornata – Have a nice day!
- Ciao/Salve – Hello
- Grazie – Thank you
- Prego – you are welcome
- Arrivederci – see you again
- Mi puo aiutare, per favore? – Could you please help me?
- Dov’e’ il/la – where can I find the .. restaurant, supermarket etc
- Un biglietto per favore – a ticket please
- Un bicchiere di vino – a glass of wine
The first trip to Italy – Dress code
While it is normal to always try to look your best when traveling (do it for the gram haha), there are places in Italy where you will have to follow a dress code.
Catholic churches, of course, have a dress code and you will have to dress appropriately, that is to cover your legs and shoulders.
Make sure you’ll pack all your travel essentials for Italy in spring!
Certain restaurants have also dress codes, especially the more fancy ones as the famous La Sponda Restaurant in Positano, and you will see that on their website.
The first trip to Italy – Doing coffee right in Italy
Italy is where I always drink the best coffee in the whole wide world.
The taste is simply amazing, and Italians know how to treat their coffee right. And take it seriously as well.
That’s why, they have hundreds of types of coffee, from one region to the other, but also have rules in place. Here are just a few coffee things know traveling Italy first time:
- Milk in coffee (cappuccino for example) is only drunk in the morning up till lunch.
- Simple is the best way of taking your coffee in Italy – you won’t find any of the long-named Starbucks inventions
- Italians never take their coffee to go, and often drink it standing at the bar (al banco)
- When drinking the coffee at the table, the price will be higher
- Italian breakfast is normally a cup of coffee (with milk) and a pastry
The first trip to Italy – Lunch breaks in Italy
This is something I had to get used to while I was living there, but also something that you must adapt to while visiting as a tourist.
Supermarkets and shops are often closed between 1 and 4 PM, because of the lunch break.
Also, restaurants close between 3 or 4 PM and 7 PM, therefore I sometimes was left starving because I forgot to eat or the tight schedule did not allow a lunch break.
The fun part about waiting for dinner? Aperitivo!
Things know traveling Italy first time – Language
Yes, Italians speak different dialects from one region to the other. I had to learn that on my own when the first time I got to Trieste and panicked when I couldn’t understand my colleagues. It turned out they were speaking the local Veneto dialect.
From the North to the South, depending on what region you choose to see for your first trip to Italy you’ll notice that not only the accent is different, but words are too. They don’t even understand each other from one part to the other, so don’t be worried.
However, no matter where you’ll go, everyone will speak the standard Italian language, based on Tuscan, especially its Florentine dialect.
Things know traveling Italy first time – Italian food
Italian food might be one of the best in the world, and no matter where you go you’ll find at least one Italian restaurant. However, depending on the region you choose to visit, the local dishes will also be different.
One thing that holds true for any place in Italy is the many dishes they eat during each meal. In Italy, you’ll start your dinner with an antipasto, continue with a primo (pasta), a secondo (meal dish) and a contorno (side dish), and finish it off with a dessert and a strong espresso.
The first trip to Italy – Avoid tourist traps
That being said, Italy is a very touristic country, thus avoiding the crowds altogether might be hard, but not impossible.
There are some things worth knowing if you want to make the best out of your trip and reduce the costs.
- the closer you sit to a tourist attraction, the higher the prices will be
- the more rustic the place (eating on paper for example), the better the food
- go where locals go, get lost on the streets and find those traditional places
- only use official taxis, this way you can avoid surcharges
- book in advance and take the skip the line option, available for many of the tourist attractions
The first trip to Italy – book your tickets in advance
I won’t lie to you, Italy is a huge tourist destination, thus you must come prepared for the crowds. Not only the streets, squares, and restaurants will be packed when you go to Milano or Rome, but museums as well.
Thus, when you want to make the best out of your escape to Italy, make sure to book your tickets in advance when that’s possible. Because you don’t want to spend hours waiting in line to get a ticket, only to wait in line again to go inside the museum.
Where do I recommend doing that?
- Musei Vaticani in Rome
- Colosseum in Rome
- Uffizi in Florence
- The Dome in Florence
Italy travel resources
- Have less time to spend in Italy but still want to live it up? Spend one day in Genoa on your way to the Cinque Terre. Or stop for one day in Rome on your way to some other amazing destination. Or do it differently, but however, take a Cinque Terre day trip.
- Check out the ultimate Italy 10 days itinerary and plan your trip with these 2 options.
- Take the perfect pictures for your forever memories in these Instagram spots in Positano.
- How many days are just enough for seeing Venice and living it to the fullest? I’ve been there 3 times already and I think I have just the answer you are looking for, along with all the great things you shouldn’t miss in Venice.
- See a lot more with these fabulous day trips from Genoa.
- Spend an incredible 7 days in Northern Italy itinerary and see all the destinations you’ve ever dreamt of.
- Cannot travel to Italy or you want some inspiration? Check out these Italy virtual tours!
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