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14 Things You Should Know Before You Travel to Italy

Positano beach in the Amalfi Coast in Italy with text overlay Bridges in Florence Italy with text overlay Beach umbrellas in Cinque Terre Italy with text overlay Italian flag flying in Portovenere Italy with text overlay Procida island in Italy with text overlay Lemons in the Amalfi Coast Italy with text overlay Furore beach in the Amalfi Coast Italy with text overlay

Visiting Italy for the first time? Here are some tips you must know!

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.

Riomaggiore marina in Cinque Terre Italy

Since my first trip to Italy nearly 15 years ago, I’ve been back at least once a year (and gained a few pounds from all the mouthwatering food) and have put together this list of important things you should know before going to Italy. The goal is to help you understand what to expect in Italy, to minimize any unavoidable misunderstandings, and prepare for a smooth and stress-free journey.

If you’re visiting Italy for the first time, make sure you read all these travel tips and pieces of information ahead of your trip!

1. The coperto charge is not a scam

Coperto charge in Italy

The coperto is a per-person fee due in the majority of restaurants and bars across Italy and it basically means cover charge. Most of the time it will appear on the bill as “coperto”, but might be in English at particular restaurants and bars.

This fee is typically between 1 to 5 Euros depending on where you go, and usually includes bread for the table, though water is charged additionally.

La Terrazza rooftop restaurant in Florence Italy

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!

As a coperto is often charged, a tip is not usually expected by waiters or waitresses. If you have received extraordinary service you could choose to round up your bill or leave the change, but tipping in Italy is not absolutely mandatory. There are some minor exceptions – for example, you may choose to tip your hotel porter a small fee for helping you with your bags, or round up your taxi fare for the driver.

2. Train travel is a breeze

Frecciarossa train in Italy

Train travel within Italy is extremely easy (skip the domestic flights) and trains tend to be fairly on-time. The official websites are here: TrenItalia and Italo. Trenitalia is state-run, and Italo is privately-operated. Both operate high-speed trains across Italy, and between these two companies you are able to travel between most regions in the country with a few exceptions where it might make more sense to drive.

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. Check Trenitalia train schedules here and Italo train schedules here.

If you are travelling on a Saturday, you might be able to nab a 2-for-1 ticket offer, and if you are a group of 2-5 people you can get 30% off your national train tickets (select the “insieme” offer). Italo (the private train operator) also regularly offers discount codes on their Facebook page here.

Train ticket machines in Italy

Validate your ticket: This is one of the most important things to know about traveling to Italy and one of my biggest travel tips for Italy – 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”. The only exception is Italo train tickets which do not need to be validated – just give the conductor your booking code.

Validating your train ticket in Italy

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 – Italo/Frecciarossa, Frecciabianca, Frecciargento, Intercity, Regionale etc. The prices tend to vary across cabin classes, and I do recommend splurging for any journeys over 2-3 hours or if you are traveling with lots of luggage. 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-ish 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, but your best bet is to bring your own portable battery pack and purchase an Italian SIM card if you need a stable 3G/4G connection.

3. Get used to paying for public restrooms

Public toilets in Italy

Don’t be surprised if you have to pay to enter a public restroom when you visit Italy, even at train stations. You’re typically charged 1 to 2 Euros at the door (so make sure you have some small change on you) but the upside is that paid-for public restrooms also tend to be cleaner with soap and toilet paper.

Toilets in Italy

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.

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). Another one of my key tips for travelers to Italy: in general, a good rule of thumb to follow is that the further away you walk from a major landmark the less crappy and expensive the food will be.

In my experience, the best restaurants in Italy are often fully booked at mealtimes (especially during the peak summer travel season), and wouldn’t be caught dead hounding pedestrians to go in for a meal. A polite but firm, “no, thank you” will often do the trick if you’re being dragged into a tourist trap in Italy.

On the flip side, some of the most incredible meals we’ve ever had in our lives have been in Montepulciano, Venice, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast! You just have to be prepared to do some homework and research ahead of your Italy trip.

5. You don’t have to book a hotel in the city you’re visiting

If you are visiting Italy during the peak season, hotel rates can be extremely expensive, especially if you’re heading to popular cities and regions like Venice, Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast. These destinations in Italy receive millions of visitors from around the world each year, and can command some pretty high-end rates for accommodation.

Here’s one of the best-kept secrets for traveling to Italy: the best places to stay in Italy are sometimes in the next town over! It’s often much cheaper, a lot quieter, and the rooms are likely to be more spacious. Click here to check out some of the top hotels in Italy for your upcoming trip or check out the hotels I’ve personally stayed at in Italy and would wholeheartedly recommend.

Heading to Cinque Terre? Then you might want to 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! Siena is a fantastic base in Tuscany if you don’t want to stay in Florence, and if you are planning on visiting Positano and Capri then consider Sorrento, Massa Lubrense or other surrounding towns to base yourself for a few days. You just need to consider the various public transportation options and schedules ahead of time.

Booking tip: not 100% certain of your travel dates? Use to find accommodation that allows you to change your arrival and departure dates, free of charge! You can also read detailed reviews of various properties left by guests who have stayed there in the past so you know what to expect. Click here for current hotel prices and availability in Italy!

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 of animated hand gestures in Italy.

Traffic in the Amalfi Coast 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 loud and raised voices but chuckling all the way. You will experience some of the most incredible hospitality from people in Italy.

7. There is so much of Italy to explore

There’s more to Italy than Rome, Venice, Milan and Florence! I have been to Italy more than 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; experience the regional cultural differences, traditions and specialties; and find new neighborhoods to explore.

Orvieto Umbria Valley

There are also hundreds of little towns in Italy that you may never have heard of before, like Orvieto in Umbria, Portovenere in Liguria and Ischia or Procida in Campania. Venturing beyond the iconic Italy destinations is one of the best ways to the explore the country; 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.

Italy travel tip: Your hotel or B&B will most likely be your best source for information on hidden gems that most tourists don’t know about. If our host in Tovere (high up in the hills in the Amalfi Coast) hadn’t mentioned Furore or Ravello we might have never visited these stunning towns. Ask them where the best places are to visit and where the locals eat! Click here to check hotel prices and availability in Italy!

8. Prepare to eat. A lot.

Lemon ravioli in the Amalfi Coast in Italy

If you are a food lover, here is one of the most important things to know about Italy: 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. Mealtimes are elegantly choreographed affairs, with purpose behind each step of the food journey.

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! Another one of my tried-and-tested tips when traveling to Italy: always say yes to an authentic tiramisu or gelati, and finish your meal off with a refreshing shot of homemade limoncello.

9. Beware of the odd scam here and there

Trevi Fountain crowds in Rome Italy

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 or nefarious – a charity “volunteer” asking for donations or asking you to sign a petition, 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. You’ll also want to be cautious of anyone who isn’t an official station attendant approaching you at a train station ticket machine offering to help. If you need any assistance, head to the ticket booth and speak to a member of staff.

10. Get ready to visit tons of amazing viewpoints

Almost every city in Italy has a bell tower, castle (or two) or Duomo, 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.

Some viewpoints in Italy have been modernized and offer (paid) elevator access, but most do not – you should therefore make sure that you’re dressed to hike up hundreds of stairs. Trust me, you won’t regret it once you get to the top and find yourself losing your breath at the sight of the city from above!

There are also plenty of fantastic (but pricey) rooftop bars like the Minerva Roof Garden in Rome, ToscaNino in Florence, Aperol Bar in Milan and Franco’s Bar in Positano where you can pair the incredible view with a refreshing cocktail or glass of vino.

Reservations are recommended if you want a guaranteed seat by the window, otherwise you can always try your luck at the door.

11. Most cities are extremely walk-able

If you are going to Italy you will want to bring your comfortable 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, you can wander around Siena’s UNESCO-listed center, 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! For any longer distances you can often hop on a bus or tram to get from A to B.

12. The vino is fabulous

Wine in Italy

I wouldn’t be living up to the Yoga, Wine & Travel name if I didn’t talk about Italian vino. The Italians know what they’re doing when it comes to wine – they have been producing it for over 4,000 years, after all! 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.

Italy is also home to some of the best wine regions in the world such as Chianti in Tuscany, Piedmont at the foot of the Alps, and the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. You can read more about the various wine regions in Italy here.

Vineyards in Chianti Italy

For an extra indulgent holiday plan a visit to wineries around the country for tours and tastings, but make sure you book ahead – especially if you are visiting over the peak season!

13. Many major tourist attractions have skip-the-line options

Rome Italy

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.

Check out Klook for plenty of skip-the-line and fast track entry options in Italy! Otherwise you might end up stuck in a line like this one, waiting endlessly under the scorching sun (or worse, the freezing cold rain) for your turn to finally visit a monument.

Italy is one of those destinations where it pays off to be prepared and to book tickets for popular attractions in advance. We were able to waltz right in to see the Statue of David in the Accademia Gallery in Florence thanks to pre-purchased tickets, but unfortunately left it to the last minute to purchase tickets to see The Last Supper in Milan and ended up having to give it a miss.

14. Buongiorno and buona sera will go a long way

Limoncello in Italy

If you’re visiting Italy for the first time, throw a “buongiorno” (“good day”) or “buona sera” (“good evening”) out there when you walk into a shop, hotel or restaurant, or are meeting someone new (“ciao” is usually reserved as an informal greeting for people you know well). Yes, even if you think you are butchering the language – it shows that you’re making an effort and is almost always appreciated. You’ll find that even the crankiest person will soften up, just a tad.

A few other helpful Italian phrases to know before going to Italy are:

Permesso: similar to “excuse me” and used when you need to get past someone (such as when you need to get off a train or bus or are trying to move through a crowd)
Il conto, per favore: “the bill, please”
Grazie: pronounced “grazi-eh” or “grazi-aye”, means “thank you”


Sorrento swimming hole in Italy

I hope you’ve found these travel tips and advice helpful while researching things to know before traveling to Italy. If you’ve traveled to Italy before, what are some other things that first-time visitors should know before they go to Italy?

Ready to plan your trip to Italy?

Use to find the perfect hotel for your Italy trip – filter by dates, ratings, facilities, location and much much more! Pro tip: Many cities in Italy impose a city tax of 1 to 5 Euros per person, per night. Often, this charge is payable in cash so make sure you read the terms and conditions before booking. Some hotels include this in their daily rate, some don’t! Click here for current hotel prices and availability in Italy or read this article for where to stay in Italy: a list of tried-and-tested accommodation.

You might also enjoy these Italy guides:

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  1. Thank you for this informative piece Flo!! We are super excited! My husband and I are travelling to Tuscany for 14 days this October 2018! I literrally dive into to every piece of advice I could lay my eyes onto ?❤️?❤️?. Pisa, Lucca Volterra San Gimagnano, Siena, Castellina etc etc and of course Florence – the Redmans are coming!!!!!

    One question though- is the autumn colors in October in Tuscany beautiful or is it just brown and dull? We are keen photographers and we want to take beautiful warm photos of Tuscany!


    1. Hi Anne, have an amazing time! I’ve only been to Florence and Siena in October, and because they are cities you won’t get THAT many fall colours (at least, not the ones I THINK you’re referring to with the sprawling vineyards and rolling hills). You’ll have to travel into the countryside – Chianti, Montepulciano and so on for the fall foliage. You can take a look at some of my photos from Siena in October here to get an idea:

  2. It’s good to know that you might have to pay to use public restrooms! My husband and I are planning on going on a cruise to Italy sometime this summer, so I’m trying to study up. I’ll make sure to carry extra change with me when we’re out and about so that I don’t have to worry about paying the 1-2 Euros to use the bathroom!

  3. Very informative post. Your tips are very helpful to all the readers who love to explore places. I would love to share your tips with my sister as she has planned a trip to Italy with her family. Keep sharing such helpful articles.

  4. Thanks for all the wonderful tips! I’m preparing for my solo trip to Italy this coming March. First time in Italy. Checking it off my bucket list as my Happy 60th Birthday to me. 🙂 Flying into Milan and just starting to map out my itinerary and places to visit during my 20 day trip. Train info is so helpful and am completely warned about all the walking I will be doing. Thank you!

    1. Hi Vickie, I’m so glad that you found this helpful! Italy is such an incredible country and I’m sure you’re going to have a blast. Train travel is such a breeze in Italy, and in my experience the staff at the train stations are extremely helpful so don’t be afraid to approach them with any last-minute questions!

  5. I loved this article! I have been ingesting massive amounts of information the last year as my trip is coming march $th to visit Italy, but finally some fresh info! Molte Grazie!

  6. I absolutely love this post! Italy is one of my favorite countries but sadly, I’ve only been there twice. I need to go back there and explore more of it and your tips are really great specially the first one. I think a lot of people these days are too defensive and if they see an extra charge on their bill they’ll immediately think that it’s a scam. Lol.

    1. Hi! Great post, thanks so much. Hopefully heading to Italy for a belated honeymoon this year. Taking the kids though so not quite the ‘usual’ honeymoon situation. Just wondering about the location of that last picture, swimming in the grotto (if that’s what it’s called)?

  7. Very helpful tips! I went to Italy 10 years ago but have not returned yet. It was just too awesome so I still remembered that trip like it was yesterday. You’re completely right that many cities are very walkable. In Rome, for example, we walked from 8am – 10pm. After doing it for two days, we literally can’t move for a day after flying back home. Also agree on your point about food – we ate so much cake and desserts. Really miss it now that I’m thinking of it!

  8. This is a great post! You hit many points I wouldn’t generally think about. I cant wait to visit next summer! Good to know: loudness=not always an argument, that would surely surprise me.

  9. Really nice post Flo!!
    I fell like I need to go back to Italy after reading it. Really!!
    The pictures are amazing, all of them, but I loved the Venice and people having wining in Florence.
    Ciao ragazza 😉

  10. Great tips! As we traveled Germany and Greece pay to use toilets are common, but surprising I didn’t know of the removal of the seats. We traveled to Rome, Pompei, Florence, Sorrento and Capri and were amazed of the sights, scenery, food and drinks. I would like to add for first time travelers don’t rush through meals and enjoy them like the Italians do. Be aware of pickpockets in crowded areas. Keep your passport in the hotel safe and bring a passport photocopy. Use a money belt or travel neck wallet. Thanks again for sharing.

    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?

  11. Haha, butchering the language. What a nice read. These tips are extremely useful. Religiously following these tips equates a wonderful Italy trip. Besides the ‘yelling’ aspect, I’d pretty much blend in quickly but I might be damn scared if I was yelled at on my first visit.

  12. Great post! It reminds me my road trip in Italy which I’ve done few years ago! I do agree with many of those points especially about food not being always incredible and that the wine is amazing! I remember sitting in Spanish steps in Rome with bottle of wine listening some guy playing guitar! It was one of those magical moment! I hope Ill get to go back there one day as its such a great country!

  13. I’ve been very often to Italy and do agree – your post sums it pretty much up. Just came back a week ago from Venice – where of course I did not stay in the historic center, but in Mestre, one train stop and 50% of what you pay in Venice away 😀

  14. Love the post, super informative and well written. I’ve done an interrail through Italy aaaages ago and while reading this all the memories can to me. I now have the urge to pick up the backpack and explore the country all over again 🙂
    Thanks for sharing x

  15. Love this! The no toilet seat thing is super weird and it still weirds me out every time I see it! It’s so true that the best food is away from the packed touristy areas – I still swear that the best brioche and pasta is in the tiny country town I live in!

    1. I know! Like, it’s such a pain having to hover over the bathroom, but at least my quads get a work out haha. I’d love to visit the area you live in one day <3

      1. In Italy we don’t like to touch the toilet seat where anyone could be sitted down before of you. I also remove the first 4/5 pieces of toilet paper in the public toilet before use it cause other people touched it… you see.

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