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Visiting Italy | A Brief Guide

Travel Tips
Italy has so much to offer that it’s no wonder many people want to visit! And there’s no time like the present to plan a trip to Italy.

While traveling to Italy is relatively straightforward, there are always ways to make a trip easier. One of these is that travelers should know what to expect before they get there. Here’s what they should know so they can have an amazing time traveling in Italy.

What to Expect: Entering the Country

Travelers are responsible for having the proper travel documents in place before they try to enter Italy. These will vary based on the visitor’s country of origin. Travelers  who need a visa will need to have this in place. Other travelers may need to get a Schengen visa.

COVID-19 travel rules and restrictions are constantly being updated and changed. Visitors to Italy will need to make sure that they know what the rules are at the time of their trip and that they are completely in compliance with them. Travelers who do not comply may not be able to enter the country or may find that they are not permitted to move about as they had hoped.

What to Expect: Travel

Many visitors choose to travel by train when in Italy. After all, the trains are relatively fast, usually on time, and they allow travelers to see the countryside without having to drive. Trains run frequently and even locals use them to get around. Just remember to validate all tickets before boarding the train. There’s a little machine on the boarding platform that will print the date and time on a ticket so it’s considered valid.

There are slower, regional trains and faster, high-velocity trains. Visitors who want one or the other should make sure they purchase a ticket for the right option. The slower trains make more stops and allow for more sightseeing, while the faster trains get travelers to a destination quicker.

Taxis are a great way to get around in cities and other urban areas. Travelers need to make sure that they use regular taxis, though, and never fall for a “private taxi service” scheme. These can end up costing a lot of money and can lead to even more regrettable situations.

Traffic can get bad in Italy, and it may seem to some visitors like no one follows the rules of the road. The truth is that most people do follow a set of driving rules, but they aren’t always the ones that are posted and visitors may struggle to determine what they are. Outside of cities, renting a car can be a great idea, particularly for travelers who want to get off the beaten path. Inside the city, though, driving can be stressful. 

Ferries, buses, and domestic airlines are all options for getting around in Italy. However, these are all less commonly used than the ones listed above. Beyond these, walking is a great way to get around in Italy and, in fact, many locals use it as their primary form of transportation every day.

What to Expect: Lodging

Italy offers a wide variety of lodging options. From renting a villa in the countryside to staying in luxury in a city center to camping beside a mountain lake, there are options for every traveler and every budget. Visitors should choose the type of adventure they want to have, then look for accommodations in Italy that will help them achieve their goals.

It’s best to plan ahead when it comes to lodging in Italy, especially for travelers who want to visit during the high season (summer) or over religious holidays like Christmas and Easter. In the mountains, ski towns fill up fast in the winter, as well.

What to Expect: Weather

The weather in Italy can vary based on location and time of year. However, Italy is generally a good place to visit no matter what the season is.

That said, Italy, especially southern Italy, can get very hot June-August. Beach towns also get crowded during these times because that’s where all the locals go to cool off and take their own holiday. On the other hand, these warmer months can offer a superb chance to visit northern Italian cities, like Milan or Florence, when they aren’t as busy or crowded.

Autumn is the harvest season in wine regions. If wine is a big part of the reason why a visitor wants to see Italy, this can be a fun time to experience winemaking in a brand new way.

Travelers research the cities they are visiting and the time of year to find out what they can expect regarding the weather. Most of the time, they should find at least a few comfortable, pleasant travel days.

What to Expect: Safety

Overall, Italy is very safe for tourists. However, it suffers from pickpockets and purse snatchers, just like any major urban area. Tourists need to take normal precautions to protect their belongings. These include:

  • Not hanging purses or backpacks on the backs of chairs or benches while sitting.
  • Storing passports or other travel documents in a hotel safe whenever possible.
  • Keeping bags between the legs or feet when sitting, rather than leaving them lying around.
  • Storing money and credit cards in zippered inner clothing pockets.
  • Having caution if people approach unsolicited to offer help.

What to Expect: Social

Italians are generally friendly and often gregarious, though many will seem rude to those who have offended them. While there are not too many unusual social rules in Italy, it’s best to avoid the following actions:

  • Being too loud. Contrary to popular belief, Italians are not always loud and do not appreciate loud tourists.

  • Putting feet on tables or chairs. This is considered dirty and means that the items must be cleaned before anyone else can use them.

  • Ignoring people. In Italy, acknowledging the people who are around is polite. Even if tourists just say, “Hi” or “Buongiorno”, it can go a long way.

Italians care about clothes and about how they look. This doesn’t mean dressing to the height of fashion, though. Instead, it means wearing appropriate clothing for a place. In churches and other holy sites, travelers need to cover their legs and their shoulders. A similar dress code is required in many restaurants, where entry is not permitted to those wearing sandals, shorts, and other casual items.

Italians are serious about their rest. Many places close for about two hours, sometime between 1:30 and 4 in the afternoon. This can seem inconvenient, but it’s a great way to add rest to travel days and make a trip seem more luxurious. 

If travelers get invited to eat with an Italian family or if they want to visit a non-tourist restaurant, they need to be ready to eat late. Most restaurants don’t even open until 7:30 or 8 pm, and it’s not unusual to sit around the dinner table until 10. People with small children will need to plan accordingly or find tourist-friendly places to feed their kids.

Italian Cultural Tips

Here are a few more things that travelers should know before visiting Italy. 

  • Restaurant bills may end up much higher than travelers expect. Many restaurants in Italy charge a small, flat fee per person for sitting at a table, in addition to a service charge that is included in the bill. The upside is that tipping for meals is not required.

  • Plan on paying for the bread. Most restaurants in Italy will put bread on the table without asking. If travelers eat this bread, it’s assumed they don’t mind paying for it. The cost isn’t usually high, but it can come as a surprise when the bill arrives.

  • Take the time to ask advice from locals. Many Italians will be happy to share their favorite places to get coffee, have a glass of wine, or eat dinner. Travelers may find places that they otherwise would have missed if they simply take the time to stop and chat with a local for a few minutes.

  • Learn some Italian before traveling. Visitors don’t have to be language experts to make an effort. Simply learning how to say, “Hello,” and “Thank you,” can go a long way towards making a trip to Italy easier and a lot more fun, too.

  • Enjoy aperitivo hours. In northern Italy, many restaurants or bars will offer what seems to many travelers like an extensive buffet of food in the hours leading up to dinner. Simply order a few drinks to get access to this food. Beware, though - these are meant as snacks but it’s easy to fill up before dinnertime!
  • Plan on getting lost. Even the best map apps may not have all the tiny roads that travelers will find in Italy. Getting lost can be stressful, but it can also be fun! Whether travelers are driving between cities or wandering around one on foot, getting lost offers an opportunity to see things that are off the beaten path.

  • Don’t plan on Wi-fi. While wi-fi is available throughout Italy, it has some of the slowest speeds in Europe. Plan on using a mobile phone with network access or just know that internet access may not always be the same as it is at home. Italians don’t value this access as much as people in other countries do, so the technology is still developing there.

  • While many places in Italy take credit cards, not all of them do. It’s polite to ask before purchasing anything, if the plan is to use a card. This is especially true in rural areas, small towns, and in small restaurants, coffee shops, or bars. If cards cannot be used, locals can usually guide travelers to an ATM that they can use to get some cash.

Plan Travel to Italy Soon!

Armed with these tips and tricks, there’s no reason not to plan a trip to Italy soon. For visitors who have long dreamed of seeing Italian vineyards or historical sites, there’s no better time than right now to make that dream come true. If travelers start planning now, it won’t be long before they are experiencing everything Italy has to offer for themselves.

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