Best 15 Travel Tips For Traveling to Italy
Read our 15 travel tips for Italy before you go on your ultimate dream vacation. If you have never traveled to Italy, you must read our tips for Italy so you can be prepared. Our travel tips will help you during your advance planning and when you are in Italy.
Not only will the weather be a bit more pleasant (fall or spring), but in the fall, a lot of the crowds will have gone home. In the spring a lot of the crowds will not have arrived yet. Flights and accommodation are generally about 20 percent cheaper, too.
Fly Into Rome
Fly into Rome – then train to your final destination. There has been only one instance where we did not fly in and out of Rome. Airfares are usually cheaper when flying into the major cities in Europe, and Italy is no different. Airfares to Rome are usually a few hundred dollars cheaper than to Florence, Naples, Milan, etc. The fast trains from Rome to those cities only take from 1.5 – 3.5 hours and cost about 25 to 50 € each way. The trains are comfortable, and if you book early, you can travel first class for the same price as second class.
I also recommend you download the Rome2Rio app on your phone before you travel to Italy. Rome2Rio will help you find the best ways to get from city to city and will list many bus routes for smaller towns. This app is very useful, and you can purchase local train tickets through the app as well.
Don't Rent A Car
Don’t rent a car — Italy is one of the cheapest places to rent a car in Europe and it is relatively easy to rent a car and easy to drive on the highways. BUT it is difficult to navigate the city streets, and especially in the old towns. You also have to deal with parking, which is also a huge challenge. There are parking lots but they are often full, which means you are likely to spend a lot of your valuable time driving around to find parking. Besides, Italian drivers often drive fast on highways and they are aggressive in the cities, so it is just best to avoid driving altogether.
Most larger cities have great public transport so you should easily be able to get around by light-rail, tram, or bus. The Rome2Rio app will help you find tickets. In the larger cities, the bus routes are usually on google maps. Smaller cities…not so much. You can ask your hotel or a local tabacchi for bus information.
Travel By Train
Do use trains whenever possible. Italy has an abundance of trains that will get you to most cities. And the ones you can’t get to by train have buses or coach. Trains are comfortable and there are fast trains for longer distances. It is much nicer to relax on the train – you can sleep, read, surf the internet, with very little stress about getting lost, finding parking – you get the picture…
There are two main train services in Italy. Trenitalia, which is the national train system, and Italo, which is a private train (and coach) provider. Both Italo and Trenitalia have high-speed trains from Naples up to Milan. If you fly into Rome, you can purchase rail tickets to just about any major city. You can search for rail tickets on our website. Book early and save.
Stay in Centro Storico
Book your hotel or apartment in the Centro Storico (Italian for town center or historic old town). You will be closer to most of the major attractions in the city and you likely can walk or bike everywhere. You can also walk to your lodging from the central train station. In addition, restaurants, markets, shopping, and attractions will probably be right outside your door. If you travel by train to the main train station in the city, use the Google Maps app to determine how far of a walk you will have to your lodging.
Experience La Passeggiata
Take Part in La Passeggiata – the evening stroll. In many cities and towns, Italians flock to the major vias (streets) in the Old Towns to participate in the charming Italian tradition of La Passeggiata – the evening stroll. From 5pm to 8pm you will find the main street(s) to the piazza are crowded with young, old, families, teens, locals, and tourists, taking a leisurely walk and stopping to visit with friends and neighbors. They often stop in for an appertivo or gelato before heading home or out to dinner.
Discover New Wines
Discover New Wines – Italy makes some of the best wines in the world. The country is divided by wine regions and surely you can find a wine from each that you like. Do a quick search on wines, or take a look at our favorite wines to put on your list to sample while in Italy. You can buy your wines at wine shops, but the grocery stores always carry a variety of local wines for just a few Euros. We always keep a bottle of wine with us and will break it out if we are in a beautiful spot in town, or on the train after a long day of sight-seeing. It is perfectly acceptable to drink in a quiet spot in a park or in a beautiful piazza.
Before we travel, we often look for wineries to visit. Sometimes in the winter they are not open for tours in the quieter regions so I recommend using a tour company, such as GetYourGuide, or Viator to book in advance. In some cases, we have booked a tour with a tour driver and a small group – which makes it all the more fun.
Visit Outdoor Markets
Visit the outdoor markets, the food markets, or both – This is where you find local products – bread, cheese, olives, produce, sweets, cured meats, and other specialties. We often research the open markets before we travel so we know where we will find them. We buy meats, bread, cheeses to keep with us so we can have a light snack (with our wine) while relaxing or traveling on the train after a long day. We often research the cities we plan to visit to see if they have an open market during the days we are visiting and if so, we make that our first morning stop to grab some fresh food and have fun engaging in people-watching. Typically, the market vendors are a lot of fun as they chant and sing to get your attention. You can read about some of the best markets we have found.
Rent Bicycles – Nothing is more fun than exploring towns by bicycle — that is, if the town is relatively flat. If you have a self-guided walking tour map – go by bike. The centro storicos often don’t allow cars (some are simply “walking streets”), so you won’t have contend with the danger or anger of motorists (keep in mind it can get a little less comfortable when you move away from the old, narrow streets). It will be much faster and less strenuous on a bicycle than on foot. Therefore, you will be able to see a lot more of the city by bike. Plus, you can get to places entirely by bicycle and avoid the hop on/hop off buses. Bicycling is great fun and great exercise.
We use a bikesbooking.com to locate and reserve bicycle rentals in the cities we plan to visit. If you are more daring, you can even book scooters.
Try Breakfast At A Caffe
Have breakfast in a typical Italian cafe. Italians are not known for big American-style breakfasts. They have their coffee (cappuccino, espresso, latte) and a small sweet croissant or bread with mozzarella, tomato and maybe salami. Be sure to stand at the counter while eating. It is cheaper to stand because there is an often an upcharge for sitting at a table. Cappuccino is pretty inexpensive (about 1.30€) but they are also small (about 4 ounces) so you may need to order two of them. The standard Italian breakfast is pretty inexpensive and it is fun to be part of the boisterous Italian morning rush.
You will read that Italians typically do not have a cappuccino after 11 am or never with their lunch or dinner. I do find that I start to crash midday so I need that caffeine jolt to keep me going. Sometimes in the afternoons, I opt to have an affogato (gelato with a shot of espresso) instead of a cappuccino. So far, none of the staff at any caffe has looked down on me for ordering my espresso or cappuccino later in the day.
Eat Lunch, Skip Dinner
Eat a few of you bigger meals at lunchtime. Italians eat a lot and they eat pretty late in the evening – restaurants usually open around 7:30 pm and people don’t start eating until about 8 pm — often after La Passeggiata. And dinner tends to take all evening (you will have to ask for the check – “il conto, per favore”) as it is considered rude to give you your check before you ask. But, if you are not used to eating so late in the evening, plan on having a larger lunch. Eat well and then give yourself time to walk off all of that food.
On my first couple of visits to Italy I would eat a lot (mangia, mangia, mangia!) but It was hard to sleep after such large meals so I have learned to pace myself.
Visit an Enoteca (wine bar) for an Appertivo (between 5 pm and 8 pm) to try some unique wines and eat a lighter meal in the evening. You can do this after taking part in La Passeggiata. If you have had a big lunch or snacked on street foods, sweets, gelato, etc in the afternoon, you may not be particularly hungry in the evening. You can visit an Enoteca and grab a glass of wine and affettati misti appetizer (plate of meats, cheeses, olives, etc.) which is usually a pretty substantial meal for around 10€.
Buy Museum Tickets in Advance
Buy your museum and attractions tickets in advance. Italy has some of the best museums in the world, such as Vatican Museums in Rome or Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. These museums are extremely popular with tourists — rightfully so — but you may be turned away or have to encounter extremely long lines if you don’t purchase your tickets in advance. So I advise purchasing your tickets at least two weeks before you arrive. You will still encounter crowds, but you will be able to skip the long lines.
We have used Tiqets.com to book museums and often all-in-one city passes with multiple museum entries. GetYourGuide.com and Viator.com also have ticket and tour options. I would compare all three to choose the ones that best suit your preference.
Search Tiqets for the best tickets and museum tours.
Be prepared – Bring hand sanitizer, paper towels, and toilet paper in your tote or daypack. This may seem like unnecessary but I know from experience that you can be out and about and not be able to find a public restroom (they cost 1€), I have bought a cappuccino just so I could use the restroom at the caffe. Many times the restrooms are not well-maintained. I often find no soap and no towels in the restrooms, and also no toilet paper. For your comfort, just keep a ziploc bag with a few paper towels, some toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. Now with COVID-19, I carry a facemask and a 4oz spray bottle of Isopropyl Alcohol. I even have some travel Travel hand soap (sheets).
Carry Copies of Documents
Keep copies of your travel documents – Always make copies of your passport and visa, and any other important information, such as lodging, air/train confirmation numbers in case your passport, phone or luggage is stolen or lost. It is also a good idea to have important phone numbers such as the US Embassy on hand as you will need to contact them if your passport is stolen.
Keep these documents in a safe place and never keep your passport, phone, or wallet in a pocket or pouch where pickpockets have easy access.
Read our Italy Packing List blog to ensure you don’t forget any important items in your packing list.