14 Things You Should Know Before You Travel to Italy
If you were to ask me what country I could picture myself moving to one day, it would have to be Italy. The food, the people, the culture, the views – there’s no place quite like it which is why I find myself going back time and time again. Since my first trip to Italy nearly 10 years ago, I’ve been back approximately a dozen times (and gained a few pounds from all the food) and have put together this list of 14 things you should know before going to Italy. If you’re visiting Italy for the first time, make sure you read all these travel tips and pieces of information first!
1. The coperto charge is not a scam
The coperto is a per-person fee due in many restaurants across Italy and it basically means cover charge. This fee is typically between 1 to 5 Euros and usually includes bread for the table. If you look at the bill and see an extra charge that you don’t recognize, don’t assume that the restaurant is trying to pull the wool over your eyes; more likely than not it is just the coperto!
2. Train travel is a breeze
Train travel within Italy is extremely easy (skip the domestic flights) and trains tend to be fairly on-time. The official website is here: TrenItalia.
Purchasing your ticket: Trains don’t tend to be fully sold out especially if you are paying for a premium cabin seat, if you’re feeling extra wary about missing a train then head to the station a little bit early or purchase your ticket online ahead of time. Tickets can also be bought at the station from the counter or self-service machine.
Validate your ticket: Make sure you validate your ticket before hopping on the train! You can do this by inserting the ticket into one of the validation machines scattered along the train platform. In general, you have to validate if a seat is not assigned, but if you want to play it safe just validate every. single. ticket. We have been fined in the past for having a perfectly valid and legit ticket – it just wasn’t “validated”.
Not all trains are created equal: There is a pecking order for the different types of trains in Italy. From fanciest to least fancy, it goes something like this – Frecciarossa, Frecciabianca, Frecciargento, Intercity, Regionale etc. Click here for more details on what the trains in Italy are like.
Facilities on board: Depending on what class you are in, you may be offered a snack and tea or coffee. There are also clean toilets on board and wifi (though the log-in process is patchy in our experience). There are also outlets for you to plug in your devices if need be.
3. Get used to paying for public restrooms
Don’t be surprised if you have to pay to enter a public restroom, even at train stations. You’re typically charged 1 to 2 Euros but the upside is that paid-for public restrooms also tend to be cleaner with soap and toilet paper. A unique feature of most toilets in Italy is that they won’t have a toilet seat – I’ve asked around as to why this is, and people tend to say that they remove the seats for hygiene and broken toilet seats just never get replaced. It’s weird.
4. The food isn’t always incredible
Much like other popular tourist destinations around the world, the food isn’t necessarily tasty everywhere you go (but if you do your research ahead of time it can be out-of-this-world). In general, the further away you walk from a major landmark the less crappy the food will be. On the flip side, some of the most incredible meals we’ve ever had in our lives have been in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast!
5. You don’t have to book a hotel in the city you’re visiting
During the peak season, hotel rates can be extremely expensive, especially if you’re visiting popular cities and regions like Venice, Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast. Here’s one of the best-kept secrets for traveling to Italy: sometimes you’re better off booking accommodation in the next town over to save on costs and more importantly, avoid the hordes of other tourists.
Heading to Cinque Terre? Stay in Levanto or La Spezia instead. Visiting Venice and don’t want to pay a fortune for your hotel room? Stay in Verona or Padua! Want to visit Positano and Capri? Sorrento and the surrounding towns are the perfect place to base yourself for a few days.
6. Loud, angry speech does not automatically = an argument!
Italians are extremely passionate people – speaking loudly does not mean they are mad! It took some getting used to when we saw bus drivers yelling at each other in the Amalfi Coast and shopkeepers practically screaming at deliverymen. The stereotype is true – you will see lots and lots and hand gestures in Italy. We once saw drivers yelling at a poor couple whose car had broken down on a one-way street and was blocking the traffic, only to be confused because they were smiling and laughing at the same time. The other drivers quickly rallied and helped push the car out of the way so that others could get through – again, still speaking with incredibly raised voices but chuckling all the way.
7. There is so much of Italy to explore
Like, so much. I have been to Italy a dozen times and have yet to venture north to the Dolomites, Sardinia, Sicily, Turin or the “tip of the boot”, Calabria. Italy is an amazing country to revisit – with every trip you learn a little bit more about a particular city and find new neighborhoods to explore – in my opinion, Italy isn’t one of those places where you can plan a month-long trip and see and experience everything it has to offer.
8. Prepare to eat. A lot.
There’s more to Italian food than pasta and pizza! With Italian meals, there is a specific structure cultivated over centuries of eating designed to help you best enjoy the food and company. You typically start off a meal with antipasti (salads, bruschetta, cured meats and so on), followed by a first dish (primi piatti) of pasta, gnocci or risotto. After the starch comes the protein! The next serving is the secondi piatti and is usually the main course of meat or fish. Last but not least, the dolce (sweet) part of the meal: dessert! Always say yes to an authentic tiramisu or gelati.
9. Beware of the odd scam here and there
It wouldn’t be a major tourist destination without a few tourist scams here and there. In general we haven’t experienced anything too nasty – a charity “volunteer” asking for donations, the rose scam, the pigeon feeding scam, and the baggage porter scam. Just be on the lookout when you’re in tourist-heavy places like piazzas/town squares and major transportation hubs like bus and train terminals. In Naples a man posing as a train attendant offered to help carry our bags onto the train, then promptly turned around asking for 5 Euros – because the train was leaving and all eyes were on us we pretty much had to pay him to go away!
10. Be prepared to visit tons of amazing viewpoints
Almost every city in Italy has a bell tower or castle (or two), and they are always, always worth the climb! Many of these amazing viewpoints (such as the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence) are free, otherwise fork over the 5 to 10 Euros to check out the panoramic view across the city. There are also plenty fantastic (but pricey) rooftop bars like the Minerva Roof Garden in Rome and Franco’s Bar in Positano where you can pair the incredible view with a refreshing cocktail or glass of vino.
11. Most cities are extremely walk-able
Bring your walking shoes, because you’re likely going to be doing a lot of it. Taxis tend to be expensive in Italian cities, and sometimes you’re better off wandering around on foot to explore every nook and cranny. For example, Verona can easily be explored on foot in one day, and Florence’s historic center is best seen on foot. Don’t be surprised if you manage to rack up tens of thousands of steps on your pedometer each day!
12. The vino is fabulous
I wouldn’t be living up to the Yoga, Wine & Travel name if I didn’t talk about Italian vino. House wines at restaurants tend to be cheap and of a very high quality – a glass will only set you back 3 to 6 Euros! Just tell the waiter what you’re looking for and they’ll hook you up – a dry white, medium-body red, sweet dessert wine and so on.
13. Many major tourist attractions have skip-the-line options
Just check online! Don’t waste your time queuing unless it’s absolutely necessary. For example, you can easily book a time to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa online or pre-book your Colosseum ticket, and some places even require that you pre-book your visit like the Duomo climb in Florence.
14. Buongiorno and buona sera will go a long way
When you walk into a shop, hotel or restaurant, or are meeting someone for the first time, throw a “buongiorno” (“good day”) or “buona sera” (“good evening”) out there, even if you think you are butchering the language.
I hope you’ve found these Italy travel tips and tidbits helpful. If you’ve traveled to Italy before, what are some other things that first-time visitors should know before they go to Italy?
Looking for even more travel tips and destination guides to help you plan your trip to Italy? Click here for travel guides for Florence, Rome, Venice, Sorrento, Cinque Terre and much much more!
Ready to plan your trip to Italy?
This article contains an affiliate search box. If you choose to book using this search box, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my website by using these search boxes to help plan your travels!