Essential Things to Know Before Traveling to Italy

What You Need To Know Before Traveling To Italy – A First-Timer Guide

Italy has been one of our favorite countries to visit thus far! Seriously though, the food and history had me wishing I never left! During our vacation in Italy, there were definitely some things I wish I knew beforehand! Therefore, I have created this detailed guide of what you need to know before traveling to Italy, especially for first-time visitors!

Forum of Augustus in Rome, Italy full of Roman ruins.
Forum of Augustus near Trajan Forum

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Must-See Cities in Italy

Italy is full of amazing Cities from the North to the South! Unless you are visiting for over 3 weeks, I would recommend doing the North of Italy in one trip and the South of Italy in another.

In the North of Italy, some beautiful places to visit include the Dolomites, Milan, Venice, Cinque Terre, Genoa, Bologna, Florence, and ending in Rome.

On the Southside of Italy, check out Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi, Pompeii, Ravello, Salerno, Capri, Ischia, Puglia, and Sicily.

Capri Island ocean view in Italy
Capri, Italy

Crossing The Street in Italy

For those of you who have either read or watched Eat, Pray, Love, I always think of Liz learning the Italian word, “attraversare” meaning to cross over. What they fail to mention is what it’s like actually crossing the street in Italy!

So, to cross the street in Italy, just simply cross. It’s scary at first, but this is just how it’s done. The cars/scooters will stop or go around you. If there are crosswalk signs (not many) follow them!

And people think we New Yorkers are crazy for jaywalking with no cross sign!

Sorrento cute alleys

Public Transportation in Italy

The best way to get around is public transportation, even though many times they are running late.

There is very limited Uber or Grab (depending on what city you are in) and taxi’s/private cars can be quite pricey and could even think of ripping you off. 

Another thing to know before traveling in Itlay is that the bus and regular (regional) train tickets (biglietto) can (and sometimes must) be purchased at Tabaccheria (tobacco shops).

When purchasing them at the Tabaccherie make sure to validate them at the train station/on the bus! You will see a little yellow machine to put the ticket in. If you don’t see it, just ask someone! It is incredibly important to validate your ticket, or else you could get a hefty ticket!

One other thing to keep in mind is being wary of your belongings on public transportation in Italy. Pickpocketing is very common in Italy.

When traveling, I use my Lowpro backpack (seen in the photo below) that has an attached rain cover. I always keep the cover on to deter pickpocketers from trying to get me, since no zippers are exposed. My Lopro holds all my camera gear and more. You can check out my Lopro 250 Fastpack here!

Walking Your Way Around Italy

Another piece of advice you should know before visiting Italy is to walk as much as you can! It’s one of the best ways to see Italy in my opinion. We walked almost everywhere we went, especially in Rome!

This will also help with all those extra carbs from delicious pasta and pizza!

Rome is full of Instagrammable streets including the Jewish Ghetto
Streets around Jewish Ghetto

Driving in Italy

If public transportation is your best friend while vacationing in Italy, driving will be the complete opposite. In general, it is pretty difficult to drive in Italy. Especially on the Amalfi Coast where there are very sharp turns. 

However, if you are planning on driving through wine country, driving a car is not as difficult. 

Altar of the Fatherland with 4 Days in Rome

Tipping in Italy

Wondering if you need to tip in Italy? When eating at restaurants, tipping is not necessary but appreciated. Usually, you can just a round-up of the bill.

If you see Coperto on your bill, it is for the “cover charge”. Basically, this is a fee that restaurants charge for you to sit at a table.

Eating Italian Food As An American

One thing I didn’t know before visiting Italy, was that the Italian food I was used to was not
“real” Italian food. Therefore things like chicken parmigiana or penne ala vodka will not be on the menu.

If you do see these things, RUN. These kinds of places serving American-style Italian food are directed at tourists. Many times it will even be more expensive for mediocre food.

And if you think you can’t get bad pizza in Italy, you are mistaken!

While we are on the subject of eating at restaurants in Italy, some other things to watch out for are pictures of food on their menu display. This is another sign of a tourist restaurant.

The best food is usually found at those holes in the wall places. A good restaurant does not need to advertise what its food looks like.

Pasta in Rome, Italy

Getting Breakfast Like the Locals in Italy

While in Italy, don’t expect a “normal” American breakfast. Breakfast usually consists of a pastry and an espresso/cappuccino.

Another thing to know before traveling to Italy is that breakfast is much cheaper at the bar (like the Italians). Sitting down at a table can cost twice as much.

Additionally, you might also want to know that when ordering coffee, the Americano is most like American coffee.

Café Latte is an American latte. A Cappuccino is considered a breakfast coffee and should not be ordered after 11 am and espresso can be enjoyed throughout the whole day. If you order just a latte – you will get a glass of milk.

Italy Closes During Lunch Time

In true Italian fashion, most places close for lunchtime, including restaurants. So, if you’re hungry, make sure to eat before mid-afternoon, or you might be waiting a while for a bite to eat.

Generally, Happy Hour doesn’t begin until around 5 pm where they serve light snacks. 

Dinner in Italy

Used to eating around 6 pm? Well, in Italy, dinner starts around 8 PM. Don’t be surprised to be sitting down at dinner and indulging until past 11 pm. The portions also tend to be smaller than in the USA, so you may find yourself ordering two dinners. 

Another thing to note is when ordering water, you will always be given a bottle of water. Tap is not served. You will probably find that water can actually be more expensive than a glass of wine!

Drinking-Water For Free

While in Rome, you can actually get fresh drinking water from the fountains. Don’t you feel like a local now?!

Taking Cooking Classes in Italy

If you ever thought about taking a cooking class or food tour, Italy is one of those places you should really consider doing it! Find Italy cooking class here!

Packing For Italy

An important travel tip to know before traveling to Italy is packing light! Rolling big bags in Italy is not fun, even more so on the Amalfi Coast where the village is full of stairs!

We use Delsey Carry on bags that are light and compact. After traveling with giant suitcases in the past, we are team carryon!

 Also, Italy has some of the best Outlet shopping so make sure to leave room in your bag for your new wardrobe and beautiful Italian gifts!

Positano Italy on the Amalfi Coast is a must visit on your Sorrento Itinerary. View from the beach.

Bathrooms Come at a Cost

Need to use a public restroom in Italy? Well, don’t be surprised if it comes with a small fee. Because of this, you will want to make sure you carry some extra euros on you! 

Italy Church Attire

Visiting Italy in the summer and plan on only packing tank tops and mini shorts? Well, you might want to think again! Before traveling to Italy, keep in mind that you might need to pack some church attire.

This is especially true when visiting the Vatican. Shoulders and knees should be covered along with the possibility of needing close-toed shoes. Some churches will not let you enter without the correct attire.

Before traveling to Rome, make sure to wear proper attire for churches such as The Vatican in Rome.

Get a Guide in Rome

So hear me out on this one! We almost never use guides but in Rome, it is definitely worth it! We used a guide for the Colosseum (also included Roman Forum & Palatine Hill) and the Vatican.

The top reason we used a guide was to SKIP THE LINE! The line for the Vatican can be 3 hours long, so for a little extra money, I rather have more time to spend exploring. We went off on our own at times and the information was really insightful.

I would also highly recommend the night tour of the Colosseum. We really wanted to do this but did not book far enough in advance. I hear it’s an amazing experience and you pretty much have it to yourself! Check out tour guides here!

Before visiting Italy, consider guided tours to the colosseum

Learn Your International Cellphone Plan Before Traveling to Italy

I highly recommend asking your cellphone provider how much internet will cost for using google maps, especially in Rome where all the streets look the same! Sometimes it’s hard to even find street names!

 

Taking Fast Trains in Italy

The quickest and most efficient way to get around Italy is by fast train. These trains travel at around 200 MPH (and up) and come with a higher price as well as an assigned seat.

There are two companies that offer this service. First, there is Trenitalia and second, Italo treno. It is best to book tickets as soon as possible since you will generally get a better price and a guaranteed seat.

By booking in advance, you will have a seat and likely a better price, however, you are locked into that time, so it makes your itinerary a little less flexible (unless you get a refundable ticket).

We booked online which was fairly easy, and printed out the tickets, which are checked before boarding the train and during the ride.

Trenitalia

Trenitalia is the national train running through Italy. They have more connections, trains running, and usually are a little more expensive. When booking your train, you will need to know the Italian names of the train stations.

For our trip, we went to Roma Termini (Rome’s main train station) and Napoli Centrale (Naples main train station). You will know it’s a fast train if it starts with an “F” such as Frecciarossa. You can also get a good idea if it’s a fast train by travel time.  Trenitalia Tickets here.

Italo treno

Italo treno is a private fast train company running through Italy. They tend to have cheaper pricing and fewer routes. Again, you can book your tickets right online which we found very easy!

For our trip, we went to Roma Termini and Napoli C. Le (another name for Naples central station). Check Italotreno here for tickets! 

Which train is best, Trenitalia or Italo treno?

Both are fine! We used Trenitalia on our way to Sorrento and Italo treno on our way back to Rome. Personally, I would book whichever is cheapest!

North and South Italy

The North and South regions in Italy are very different and that includes foods that you should try. For example, did you know that Italy had some amazing skiing or that the mountains in the Dolomites are breathtaking? 

Equally beautiful is the Italian Coast with turquoise water and the cutest fishing villages in Sorrento, Positano, Revello, Puglia, and more! 

While in the North of Italy, meat and steak are recommended along with Truffle! In the South, indulge on freshly caught seafood and Pizza in the Napoli region.

I’d also have to say that pizza is also really great in Rome! As you travel through Italy, you will notice each region does it a little differently. Rome makes square slices with a cracker crust and charges you on the weight of how big of a piece you want.

Phrases to Know Before Traveling to Italy

Try to learn some basic Italian phrases before you go and ALWAYS ask locals if they speak English before asking a question. You will get a much nicer response than just assuming they speak English.

Oh, and Google translate will be your best friend. Download Italian on the Google Translate app so you can use it without cell service.

Some common phrases to learn before traveling to Italy include:

  • Hello/Hi – Ciao/Salve
  • Good morning – Buongiorno
  • Yes – Si
  • Good night -buona notte
  • No -No
  • Good evening -Buonasera
  • Do you speak English? – Lei parla inglese
  • Thank you – Grazie
  • You’re welcome – Prego
  • How much does this cost? – quanto costa questo
  • Table for (1) (2) (3) (4) please -Tavolo per (uno) (due) (tre) (quattro) per favore
  • goodbye phrases – ciao/addio/arrivederci (see you later)
  • Excuse me – me scusi
Stop at Positano coast on 4 days to Sorrento
Views of the Positano Coast

Wrap-up: Travel Tips to Know Before Traveling to Italy

With these tips, you should be off to an amazing start before traveling to Itay! Ready to visit Italy? Find the best rooms at Vrbo and hotels at Booking.com for rooms! 

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25 thoughts on “Essential Things to Know Before Traveling to Italy”

  1. Italy is my all time favourite country and your post made me fall in love with it even more. My goal in life is to retire in a Tuscan villa…preferably with a vineyard attached!

    Reply
  2. These tips are awesome! I wish I had known about the guide for Rome as we stood in line forever! Was still worth it thought! 🙂

    Reply
  3. I love Italy so much! It was our first trip out of the country and will forever be one of my favorite places to visit. I so wish I had this post when we were planning our first trip. But I’m saving it for our next trip. Great tips to remember! Such a good post.

    Reply
  4. This was very helpful, especially the ordering breakfast & coffee tips!! I am a huge breakfast lover and this will be super useful when I get to travel to Italy

    Reply
  5. This is such a great breakdown of things to know when visiting Italy, especially for first timers! Will be sure to share your post with friends that are heading there for their honeymoon this summer!

    Reply
  6. Love all of these tips! Our first trip to Italy was 9 years ago now, and I could have used so much of this information before visiting Italy.

    Reply
  7. Great tips! I’ve been wanting to go back to Italy and see more of the country since my trip to Rome a few years back. Will keep this post in mind for when I do!

    Reply
  8. I have yet to visit Italy, even though half of my family and my husband’s family are from there! These tips are really inspiring to me! I need to get over there already! -Aireona

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    • You will make it there! When you do, shoot for the end of May/beginning of June or September =) You will love it and it makes me so happy to hear you feel inspired!

      Reply
  9. Italy is always an amazing place to road trip through, to see all of the little towns! Just be careful of those ZTL zones!

    Reply
    • Hey, good to know! We tried to use Uber in Sorrento and in Rome, but nothing came up. I will update to limited. Maybe it depends on the season. Thank you so much for adding your insight, I appreciate it!

      Reply

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