Sicilians on the other hand are more stoic, conservative, with a typical darker sense of humor. It’s where the Italian mafia comes from, after all! Head over for the culture.
1. When to visit
Venice, Verona and Padua will entice you with their romance. Gondola rides galore, Romeo and Juliet, frescoes and cafes!
And there you have it. You are up to speed on the basics for your Italian trip. Remember that everywhere in the world, you will also be appreciated by locals if you learn a basic phrase of two in their language. So maybe hello, goodbye and thank you will be fantastic. If all else fails and you can’t remember the formal terms for greetings, ciao always works!
2. Choose a region
Moving down a bit south will give you the Renaissance birthplace, Florence, and perhaps Pisa with the leaning tower. Arguably the best food in the entire country is found in Bologna and the surrounding area. Even the Italians agree with this, which is saying something in a country that seems to always be disagreeing about who is better at what!
If a gladiator comes up to you – run! Just kidding. But if you happen to cozy up and take a selfie with him, you are expected to pay him for it. The same thing goes for anyone trying to give you a flower, a charm or a bracelet. They will shove it into your hands and say you took it.
Very often, eating inside a restaurant costs you a small fee (as opposed to getting take out), as does eating at the outside tables. There is also usually a built-in fee for that nice bread and oil you get before your meal is done. And check your bill before you tip – the gratuity may also already be added, and paying more on top makes you an obvious tourist.
Food is revered in Italy and so you don’t go asking for changes in the food from the menu. The chef knows best and changing around ingredients is only going to insult whoever is cooking. Also, the shape of pasta isn’t just for fun – each sauce or topping goes best with a specific shape, so no, you cannot have tagliatelle instead of spaghetti! The audacity!
Tuscany, Bologna and the riviera
The more south you go, the more adventurous the traffic gets.
Espresso in Italy is like beer in Germany – a staple. Italians like their coffee short and strong. Generally if you ask for “a coffee”, you get a tiny espresso shot that you are expected to drink standing at the bar and be on your way. But you aren’t Italian, so make sure to ask for a lungo if you want your espresso watered down a little bit, or an Americano if you want a mug of brown water.
Rome and Naples and coast
Pickpockets are a thing, and they’re good! The centers of larger cities can get really crowded in peak seasons, and the more people there are, the easier it is for someone to slip your wallet or phone out of your pocket. Just be mindful of your things even when you feel like you would know if someone’s hands were on you. You wouldn’t.
Weather in Italy, being the long country that it is, can differ quite a bit from the north to the south, depending on the time of year. While the south stays relatively pleasant in the winter temperature-wise, it gets rainy. The north gets cold and snowy in the winter (hello Alps!). It can snow as far south as Rome, but it is rare.
The big islands
You can move even further south to Naples for some pizza and head over to look at the ruins of Herculaneum (much better preserved as in Pompeii!). From there, it is not far from the picturesque Amalfi Coast.
Italy is not known for its orderly drivers, that’s for sure. The traffic, especially in bigger cities, can be a bit crazy. The Italian temperament shows on the roads, so if you are driving (or even just crossing the street), keep calm and enjoy the cultural experience of speed, ignoring rules and honking.
3. Tips for eating and drinking
Alright, grazie for reading and have a great trip!
And for you cappuccino lovers, know that cappuccinos are considered a breakfast drink in Italy. But they will make you one in the afternoon too, with a little smirk when you aren’t looking.
Ciao! Are you heading to Italy for the first time and don’t want to come off as a complete tourist newbie? We put together the very basics every visitor to Italy should know. Let’s dive right in:
Taxi drivers in almost all parts of our planet often deserve their less than great reputation, and in Italy, it is no different. Make sure the meter is on and that it doesn’t start on a strangely high number. You can follow along a map on your phone to make sure you aren’t being taken for a scenic ride when your destination was supposed to be just around a couple of corners.
Read up beforehand and download city apps so you are set when you arrive at your destination.
4. Driving is a mess
Sardinia is known for the turquoise waters of its beaches and the locals make sure you know they aren’t like the mainland Italians! They are proud, friendly and prefer beer over wine!
Add visits to lakes Como or Garda for a nice change of pace.
5. Safety tips for Italy
Of course there is skiing in winter, but summer in the Alps with its hikes and scenery, what’s not to love? Livigno, Cervinia or the charming Bolzano, there are many options to choose from.
In summer, the south will be downright hot and the north can be too, just a little less than the south. If you’re trying to avoid the crowds, think shoulder season – May/June or September. Since school is in session in most countries, you will run into less people.
Most big cities offer a city pass that can be a good option for you if you like visiting galleries, museums, attractions and use public transport. Some offer tickets for tours or free drinks at bars, others let you skip the line at tourist attractions as well as get you a discount on entrance fees.
6. Check out the city passes
We don’t know what Italians are known for more – the food or their love of coffee. So let’s go over a few rules here, just so you don’t get yourself into a faux pas!
Unless you are a lucky ducky with more than a week or two of vacation time, you won’t be able to squeeze in seeing the whole country in one trip. Sure, you could visit Milano here and then jump to Rome there if that’s what you’re after, but consider experiencing more there is to a region than the main cities. Consider the different options:
At the seaside, head to Cinque Terre with delightful villages perched high above the sea. Hiking in the area is fantastic as well.
You can spend days in Rome and not be done taking it all in. The history, the buildings, the atmosphere, it’s really something!