Italy, a country rich in history.. so rich that it still preserves elements from the formative Julius Ceaser’s reign to the erupting Renaissance period. More over let’s not forget the natural beauty that the Italian landscape has to offer, from the green pastures of Tuscan countryside to the blue waters of Amalfi shoreline to the shining gray Dolomites mountain range. Italy is a paradise for travelers and having spent two weeks in Italy, I can certainly say that you will be happily overwhelmed by so much that this country has to offer.
Experiences gathered when travelling to a new place can eventually turn into useful tips for the next person visiting that place. So here I am, passing along a list of 10 tips that I have gathered from my recent trip to Italy. If you have any more to add to this list from your personal experiences then please do reply in the comment section, I’d love to hear 😀 Most of these can easily be applicable to any destination, however there are a few which are only relevant to Italy.
1. Mark the holidays & hours of operation for all tourist attractions and buy the tickets in advance if possible.
You don’t want to miss out on your favorite museum, galleria or church just because you planned to be there at a time when they are closed. So better account for that and buy your tickets ahead of time (preferably online) where ever possible. For e.g. Vatican is closed on Sundays (duh!) but most of the museums in Florence on the other hand practice Sabbath on Monday instead. So guess what, if you planned to visit Uffizi, Academia Del Galleria, Pallazo Pitti or local markets in Florence on Mondays then you are out of luck.
Bottom left: Boticelli’s famous painting “Birth of Venus” in Uffizi; Right: Michaelangelo’s masterpiece “David” in Academia del Galleria
2. Learn basic Italian, not everyone in Italy speaks fluent English.
This is especially true if you are planning on taking local transportation. It’s not too difficult to pick up some basic words that’s enough to befriend the locals. However if you can’t, all the major train stations and airports will have directions and signboards in English as well so there’s some relief. Here’s a list of a few basic words to begin with that I have put together.
3. Keep your travel valuable resources (cash, credit cards, ID’s, cellphones, cameras) safely.
Since safety is a very relative term it’s up to you on how safely you travel in a country like Italy which can be somewhat infamous for it’s pick pocketing skills. Wearing a moneybelt to stash all your valuable resources such as extra cash, credit cards can be a good idea. Whenever you are outdoors keep an eye on your valuables such as cellphones and cameras and make sure you don’t keep these valuables within an easy reach of strangers. Read more about safety in Italy on upcoming blogpost.
4. Restrooms in Italy are generally never free of cost including the ones at train stations.
Always have a few coins handy (preferably 50cents or 1 euro) to enter the exact amount in the machines to access paid restrooms. And if you so spot a free restroom, such as in museums, galleries or restaurants, then make the most of it because you never know when you will find another one with no cost.
5. Tickets for metro trains and buses in most Italian big cities such as Rome and Naples can be bought at the Tobacco stores.
Commonly referred to as “Tabbachi”, tobacco stores in Italy are more like newspaper stands in the US which sell transportation tickets, cigarettes and pay phone services in addition to lottery tickets and snacks. Don’t be surprised if you do not find a ticket window (called “Bigletti” in Italian) at some smaller local metro train stations, instead look out for a Tabacchi store which is more likely to be spotted. Another way to purchase tickets at some train stations are the ticketing machine kiosks.
6. Validate your train tickets before boarding a train.
The validation machines are either mounted on the walls or bars before you enter the platform. For online Trenitalia purchased tickets for inter city trains, make sure you ask at the help desk if you need to validate the paper copy of your e-ticket or not. Most of the long distance trains have a ticket checker coming in your train car to check & validate your ticket.
7. All the major train stations have a baggage check room with lockers where you can safely keep your luggage for a few hours or an entire day if required.
You can always stow your luggage at major train stations, just look out for “Deposito Bagagli” or Left Luggage signs.
8. Indulge in food or Invest in delicacy. A “Bar” in Italy serves both coffee as well as liquor.
Italy is the mecca of flavorful food so don’t miss a chance to explore the local delicacies even if it comes with a price tag. Head to a “bar” for your morning Capuccino & Pastry/ Panini or ask the locals (bnb owners or your tour guides) for their favorite restaurants and dishes instead of just relying upon online apps.
Every city in Italy is famous for their own specialty food preparation, be it Limoncello in Amalfi coast to Sfogliatelle pastry & traditional Pizza in Naples to fresh Mozzarella cheese & Prosciutto in Rome to classic Tuscan pasta, Wine & Grappo in Florence to Squid ink pasta & Aperol Spritz in Venice or be it Gelato, Tiramisu & Panna Cotta all over Italy.. allow your stomach go on an adventure. All my vegetarian friends, need not fret :D.. you too are in good hands in Italy.. Vegetarian food options are plentiful here. I mean even the most famous Margherita pizza is vegetarian and more often than not you can get almost any dish made on the menu without meat in it.
9. No need to tip in Italy or Europe in general for that matter, they are not expecting it.
Now here’s a Tip about Tipping – Unlike the US, you do not have to tip in an Italian restaurant, Italians and Europeans don’t. There is nothing to feel guilty about as waiters and servers are paid well and they don’t rely on or even expect tips as they do in some other countries
10. Be prepared to haggle a little extra with the street vendors.
Don’t agree to pay the asking price when shopping around in Italy especially when engaged in street shopping; you will almost always manage to get a discount on the already inflated prices. Keep a target spending price in mind and haggle till you get there. You don’t want to over negotiate either and waste your time and energy. But definitely don’t take any street vendor’s sale price at face value. If you do not have a target price in mind then start with an offer to pay half of their asking price and then pretend to walk away if they are not negotiating well .. chances are you will be called back for further negotiations.