To be honest, when I think of Italy, I think of pizza, pasta and gelato. Luckily, I was exposed to so much more than that like years of history, amazing architecture, and gorgeous views of the various cities within the country. I did a lot of research and through one and a half weeks of experience, I want to share:
Random things to know before visiting Italy
- We went in early October was a good time to go. Even though there was still a lot of tourists, there was definitely less than the summer. The weather cools down a lot too from the extreme heat and for most cities, it’s a nice comfortable 75 degrees (and a couple of rainy days).
- The currency in Italy is Euros and it was cheaper to exchange for them at a bank in Italy rather than at the airport. It’s also cheaper to get euros from an ATM as well, but let your bank know you’re traveling or else you might not be able to get get your money. Always exchange some money before your trip for emergencies or in case the ATM doesn’t work.
- Unless you REALLY care about how you look, don’t bother with any other shoes but your most comfortable sneakers. The roads are built on cobblestone and even if you’re use to walking around a lot, you will not be able to survive a whole day of walking if you don’t have comfortable shoes. Don’t even bother with heels. If you’re going to dinner, just bring them in your purse. But if you can do it, major props to you.
- If you’re going to be visiting any churches, make sure you dress more conservatively. Shoulders and knees must be covered. Carry a scarf if needed.
- There are a lot of pickpockets in Italy – especially in the tourist areas. Luckily, I was able to survive the trip without getting anything stolen. I would suggest a money belt if you’re paranoid and if you’re wearing a backpack, wear it in front instead.
- Bring a reusable water bottle. There’s free water from water fountains everywhere and it’s great! The only downside is that they don’t have that much public bathrooms.
- Italians eat pretty late. Unless it’s a cafe, restaurants don’t usually open until noon for lunch and around 7 or 8pm for dinner.
- Italians like to take their time when they eat. Don’t expect super quick service. Take your time, enjoy, and ask for the bill when you’re done because they won’t bring it to you unless you’re ready.
- If you go out to eat, they usually charge for water (even tap water). I would get a glass of wine instead. It’s more than half the price you would pay in the U.S. and it’s really good!
- If you go out to eat, some places include a service charge (sometimes it includes bread or chips). The good news is that you don’t have to tip!
- Personal opinion: as much as their other carb items are delicious (pizza, pasta), their “free” bread does not taste good. It’s usually hard, lacking in salt and does not come with butter. I usually skip the bread so I have more room for other carbs (like a whole bowl of pasta).
- If you’re going to drink a coffee, drink it at the bar. That’s what Italians do. Although you technically can, no one really sits down and drinks their coffee. If you’re American, don’t expect large portions or to-go cups. You typically go up to the bar, order an expresso or cappuccino, drink it, and then go. If you do drink it at a table, they will charge you more (the price usually more than doubles!). Also, don’t drink a cappuccino after 11am. Italians believe that dairy slows you down if you drink it in the afternoon.
- Get gelato every day! It’s so good and they are really generous with their portions. For a small cone or cup, you get to choose up to 2 flavors! You can find a gelato shops everywhere!
Assuming you’re from the US, you don’t need a Visa to visit Italy as long as your stay is under 90 days and your passport is still active 3 months after you come back.
- Within cities: the metro/subway is the way to go if traveling within the major cities (Milan, Rome, Florence). Their bus system is pretty reliable as well. We found taxis and Ubers to be pretty pricey. If it was walkable (which a lot of places are depending on where you stay), that was what we usually did. See my note above about comfortable shoes.
- Between cities: take the train for the fastest and most affordable mode of transportation if you’re going from city to city. Book on TrenItalia up to 90 days before your trip. The earlier you book, the cheaper the rates!
- For the most part, you can wear whatever you feel comfortable in. They frown down upon active wear if you’re not going to the gym and flip flops if you’re not going to the beach.
- If you’re going to Rome, they don’t like clothes that are too revealing.
- If you’re going to visit/tour any cathedrals, make sure that you are dressed more conservatively and that your shoulders and knees are covered.
What to Pack
(Besides from the obvious)
- Converter – our hostels/airbnbs were not international plug in friendly. I’m sure some might be, but just in case. We were glad we had one.
- Portable battery pack – if you’re using your phone a lot.
- Super comfortable walking shoes
- Nicer outfits for nice dinners (Italians like to dress up a little for nice dinners)
- Reusable water bottle for free clean water
- Money belt for your money and passport if you’re paranoid about pickpockets. I like this one. It was really convenient and comfortable.
Check out my other Italy posts
Cinque Terre: One day in Cinque Terre, Italy
Lucca: What do to in Lucca, Italy
Pisa: Day trip to Pisa, Italy
Florence: What to see and do in Florence, Italy
Rome: What to see and do in Rome, Italy
Milan: Half a day in Milan, Italy