Essential Things to Know Before Traveling to Italy

What You Need To Know Before Traveling To Italy!

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 trip, however, there were definitely things I wish I knew beforehand, this way I could have been a little more prepared! That brings me to this detailed guide of what you need to know before traveling to Italy, especially for the first time visitor!

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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.

How to Get Around Italy

  1. To cross the street, 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!
  2. The best way to get around is public transportation, even though many times they are running late.
  3. There is very limited Uber or Grab (depending on what city you are in) and taxi’s/private cars can be quite pricey.
  4.  If you can walk, do it! It’s the best way to see Italy. We walked almost everywhere we went! This will also help with all those extra carbs!
  5.  While on public transportation and in general, be very careful with your belongings! Pickpocketing is very high 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!
  6. 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!
  7. If taking the ferry, tickets can be purchased by the marina.
  8.  I wouldn’t recommend driving as the streets are narrow, the coast has insane hairpin turns and the traffic is overall is crazy!

More details at the bottom of the page on what to know before traveling by train in Italy!

What to Know Before Getting Food in Italy

  1. Don’t expect American Italian food. You won’t find chicken parmigiana or penne ala vodka on the menu. If you do, RUN. You don’t want to eat at places directed at tourists. Many times it will even be more expensive for mediocre food.
  2. Never eat at a restaurant that has pictures of food on the menu. The best food is usually found at those holes in the wall places. A good restaurant does not need to advertise what their food looks like.
  3. Don’t expect a “normal” American breakfast. Breakfast usually consists of a pastry and an espresso/cappuccino.
  4. For breakfast, it’s much cheaper to have your coffee and pastry at the bar (like the Italians). Sitting down at a table can cost twice as much.
  5. Dinner usually starts around 8 PM. If a restaurant is open all day, it’s likely for tourists equaling less authentic.
  6. Many times places will be closed in mid-afternoon for lunch.
  7. Happy hour is usually from 5pm-8 and light snacks are served.
  8. Tipping is not necessary but appreciated. Usually just a round-up of the bill.
  9. When ordering coffee, the Americano is most like American coffee. Café latte is a latte. A Cappuccino is considered a breakfast coffee and should not to 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.
  10. When ordering water at a restaurant, they will always give you a bottle of water. They never serve tap.
  11. There are tons of water fountains around Rome to refill a reusable water bottle.
  12. 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.
  13. Think about taking a cooking class or food tour! What better place than Italy?!

Other Tips to Know Before Traveling in Italy

  1. Pack light! Rolling big bags in Italy is not fun, even more so on the coast where its full of stairs! We use Delsey Carry on bags. You can see me with it in the picture above at the train station. 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!
  2. Try to learn some basic Italian phrases before you go. I will put some below this list!
  3. ALWAYS ask locals if they speak English before asking a question. You will get a much nicer response than just assuming they speak English.
  4. Google translate will be your best friend. Download Italian on the Google Translate app so you can use it without cell service.
  5. Dress appropriately when visiting churches. Shoulders and knees should be covered. Some churches will not let you enter without the correct attire.
  6. There is usually a small fee to use public bathrooms so carry some loose Euros.
  7. 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!
  8. 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 you 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 its 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!

Phrases to Know Before Traveling to Italy

  • 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

Summary

With these tips, you should be off to an amazing start before traveling to Itay! Ready to visit Italy? Check out Skyscanner to find the best/cheapest flights for your dates and Booking.com for rooms! Find more Italy travel guides here!

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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.

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  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!

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  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!

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    • 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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