Traveling to Italy: Essential Things to Know Before Your Trip
Are you planning a trip to Italy? It’s a beautiful country that’s very easy to travel in, but it certainly has some unexpected customs that are helpful to know about in advance. From ordering coffee in a restaurant, tourist taxes, and how to dress to see the sites, you’re bound to run into a few surprises. Sure, those cultural differences are what make traveling fun, but there are some tips that will make traveling to Italy a little smoother, especially if it’s your first time there. Here are the most important things to know before your trip.
General Travel Tips for Visiting Italy
- Italy is a very popular travel destination, and the Italian Consulate gets very busy. If you need a visa, you should try to schedule your appointment for two or three months in advance. If you’re short on time, expedited consulate of Italy visa appointments can be made in as little as one or two weeks.
2. Each city you visit will require you to pay a tourist tax. Tourist taxes are collected by all hotels and many Airbnbs/private rentals. The fee is required by law, and it varies a bit from city to city, but expect to pay around 2 Euros per person per night. This fee is supposed to be paid in cash at check-in, although many places will work with you as long as it’s paid before you check out. (This fee is not included in your hotel fees, so you should still expect to owe it even if you paid for your hotel in full before your trip.)
3. Public bathrooms aren’t free in Italy. You can expect to pay half a Euro or one Euro to use a public bathroom, so get into the habit of using the restroom at places like restaurants, museums, and coffee shops/bars when you’re a customer there.
4. If you plan to visit any religious sites (such as historic churches or the Vatican), pack accordingly. Some religious sites will turn you away if you’re not dressed appropriately. That means no bare knees, no bare shoulders, and no cleavage.
5. Be cautious of scammers and pickpockets, especially in busy train stations, on crowded buses, and in touristy areas like St. Mark’s Square and the Colosseum. Never take flowers or friendship bracelets from anyone, even if they tell you it’s free. These are two of the more common scams, and they’ll try to get money out of you the moment the item is in your possession.
Italian Hotels, Apartments, and Airbnbs
- Most places you stay in Italy will make a photocopy, take a picture, or make some other record of your passport. They are required to do this for tax purposes, and it’s totally normal.
2. It’s common for hotels in Italy to ask you to leave your key at the desk when you head out for the day. Just plan to stop by the front desk to pick it up as you head back to your room.
3. Beds don’t always have comforters, especially in the summertime. Don’t be surprised if your bed only has a sheet and a lightweight blanket on it. And, the beds are often tiny, especially in rental apartments, so be sure to inquire carefully if that will be an issue for you.
4. If you’re going to be traveling to Italy in the summertime, check ahead to make sure your accommodations have air conditioning. Many places don’t, and you will be sorry if yours doesn’t.
5. People who have mobility concerns should choose their lodgings carefully. It’s very common to have to climb a steep, narrow staircase to get to your room. If you’ll be staying in a private apartment or Airbnb, elevators will be especially unlikely.
Eating Out in Italy
- Food is exceptionally regional in Italy. You’ll have the best experience if you choose local specialties. Every region you visit will have new dishes and foods to try, so eat as the locals do. Food tours are widely available, and they’re a great way to sample fabulous local foods, so be sure to put one or two on your itinerary during your trip. Italy food tours are widely available, and they’re a great way to sample fabulous local foods, so be sure to put one or two on your itinerary during your trip.
2. In Italy, only children use a spoon to eat pasta. Practice twirling it on your fork neatly and never cut it, or you’ll stand out as a tourist.
3. Ask for the house wine, even if it’s not listed on the menu. Most places will have it, and it’s usually excellent. It will be sold by the quarter, half, of the entire liter, and you’ll have your choice of red or white.
4. Don’t be surprised to see a 1-3 Euro per person cover charge when you eat out. The breadbasket or antipasto isn’t always free either (even if the waiter brings it without you ordering it), but it may be included in your cover charge. Be on the lookout for a service charge on your bill, too. If you see one, that’s the tip, so don’t leave another one on top of it. If you have questions about service charges, cover charges or anything else, ask before you order to avoid paying for something you could have done without.
5. You won’t find garlic bread in Italy. Or, fettuccini alfredo. In fact, don’t expect to find chicken served on top of any kind of pasta. These are Italian American foods, but they’re not Italian, so they’re only served in tourist restaurants. And don’t try to order a different noodle in your pasta dish, pasta shapes are meant to be served with specific sauces.
6. Coffee customs are very different in Italy. Cappuccino is served at breakfast, but after 10 AM, you’ll want to stick to espresso if you don’t want to be pegged as a tourist. When you order coffee, you’ll be given an espresso. If you want regular drip coffee, be sure to specify that you’re looking for an Americano. Many places will automatically bring you an espresso after your meal, even at night.
7. The typical Italian breakfast usually consists of an espresso and maybe a pastry that’s consumed standing at the bar, not generally sitting down at a table. If you do sit down, expect the cost of your coffee and pastry to be higher than it would be if you stood at the bar. If you see omelets on the menu, you’re probably at a tourist restaurant. Many Italian bars also serve breakfast, and they’re a bit like a coffee shop/bar combo. They usually stay open all day, although the best pastries are gone by midmorning.
8. Italian sparkling wine is called prosecco, and it comes from the prosecco region of the country. It’s delicious, so be sure to try it while you’re visiting.
Italy is a beautiful travel destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Being prepared for Italy’s customs ensures that you’re not hit with any unexpected surprises that might put a damper on your vacation.