Italy, land of wonder, wine, and pizza, is one place where you’ll never run out of things to see or things to eat. It’s beautiful and will leave you breathless, probably because you’ll constantly be trying to catch a train. I visited Italy for the first time last fall and it was an incredible trip, but there are a few things I wish I had known before I went! Today I’m sharing my best Italy travel tips in hopes you’ll have arrive a little more educated than I did.
Decide where you want to go:
First things first, where will you go? Big cities like Rome, Florence, and Milan are obvious visits, but I think the true wonder of Italy lies everywhere in between. Go to Tuscany, go to the small towns, and definitely go the road less traveled. You will be grandiosely rewarded. I visited Siena and it ended up being my favorite part of the entire trip.
Get familiar with the train:
They say all roads lead to Rome, and it’s true! They all lead to Roma Termini (or so it feels like). We naively arrived for our first train transfer out of Roma Termini, the biggest station in Rome, only 10 minutes before the train. It took us 10 minutes just to figure out the station! It’s huge, and I don’t travel on trains at all in the states, so I was utterly lost. I recommend arriving at least 30 minutes before your train, especially if you’ve never been to the station and it’s a major one. The trains tend to run on time. Another big tip – make sure your ticket is for the correct day! If it’s not you’ll be fined upwards of $60 USD. If you don’t validate your ticket, you’ll also be fined. You can buy tickets online or at the station, and even if you miss a train, you can usually use it for another train within 4 hours.
Stay with a local:
I can’t think of a more perfect place to stay in an airbnb. The prices are unbeatable, and you’ll have a much more authentic experience! All our hosts were absolutely wonderful, and most provide you with a local map and plenty of recommendations. On average we spent $75 a night.
Know local routines:
Italy functions on a different schedule than the U.S. and other places. Consider everything to be a bit later! Lunch is from about 12:30-2:30 pm, and dinner starts around 8-9 pm. Depending on the area you’re in, restaurants and other businesses can have different operating hours so familiarize yourself with them if you’re counting on something being open a certain day. Certain months, like August, are also known to be when Italians travel, so several spots that are normally open may be closed.
Don’t dip your bread:
We learned this the hard way. The group we were with all asked for olive oil to dip the bread, and we were told that this is not the way it’s done! Bread is eaten on its own or used later to soak up food.
Memorize a few key phrases:
As is preferable in any country, try to speak a bit of the language. I downloaded Italian on my Duolingo app the day we arrived and also asked Italian friends for necessary phrases to know. I’d recommend knowing hello, goodbye, restroom, and how to ask for wine.
If you plan on getting euros from your bank, order them at least 2 weeks in advance. If not, you’ll find ATM’s and currency exchange spots in the airport, train stations, and throughout the city centers. Exchange rates can vary, so always make sure you’re getting the correct amount. In some instances, using a credit card can give you a better rate, depending on your bank.
Dress to impress:
Italians know fashion. This is a fact. There are no daisy dukes or Uggs here. Dress comfortably, but dress well. Exchange your fanny pack for a chic backpack and leave the white New Balances at home.
Know the coffee schedule:
Italians are pretty specific about their coffee schedule. If you drink a “morning” coffee after dinner, you may or may not be stared at. Cappuccino and milky coffee is for the morning, and coffee is not eaten with dessert, but rather after it. Also, coffee is generally in smaller doses than in the U.S., so expect to drink it at the actual cafe or restaurant instead of in a to-go cup.
Take it slow:
The absolute best part of Italy is taking it slow. They’ve mastered it. Leave a little bit of wiggle room in your day to explore and get lost. You’ll find the best experiences in the most unsuspecting places!