TRAVEL TIPS FOR ITALY: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOUR VACATION
When your travel plans take you to Italy, be prepared for some serious beauty and genuine Italian culture!
Some would argue that Italy is one of the best countries to visit in Europe, and I would have to agree.
Just the warmth and vitality of the Italian people alone is well worth the trip.
From the incredible cities of Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice, to stunning Tuscan villages, to the gorgeous Cinque Terre, there is nothing in the country that won’t surprise or completely delight.
Read on for some of the best travel tips for Italy and things to know before embarking on a holiday there.
North and South Italy – Almost Like Two Different Countries
The north is more industrialized and akin to other countries in continental Europe.
The weather is a bit cooler and the terrain more mountainous.
The southern region is warmer; the people are more laid back and in tune with the relaxed Mediterranean vibe.
Overall, Italy’s climate is temperate and dry.
North Italy sees more extreme weather – where the summers can be hot and humid, and the winters can be cold and even frigid.
That said, the skiing and other winter sports in the mountainous areas of the Italian Alps are excellent!
Here you will also find the fashion capital of Milan, the exquisite canals of Venice, and the architectural beauty of Florence.
One great thing to do is to base yourself in Florence or Pisa, then rent a car and tour Tuscany on your own.
There are so many breathtaking road trips to take in this area.
But probably one of the most spectacular is the Cinque Terre in Northern Italy.
Once you get to the Cinque Terre and its five picturesque towns, there is a train going to all of them, making it easy to tour.
South Italy is the place to kick back and explore the history of Rome, walk the endless beaches, and go island hopping around the Mediterranean.
The weather here is less extreme, but the diverse array of landscapes in the Italian countryside will continuously surprise you.
Do It Like The Italians Travel Tips
Once you’ve spent any length of time here, you will realize that the Italians are by and large not rushed!
Especially when it comes to meal time.
It is the perfect time to linger over your food, and to spend time relaxing with your family and friends.
It is not uncommon for mid-day meals to last a couple of hours.
So take your time and savor!
One of the great things about Italy is the hearty Italians themselves.
You will instantly feed off their welcoming energy and vivaciousness.
This makes for a wonderful cultural experience and your heart will be lifted by the many wonderful Italians you will meet.
As with any foreign country, the locals will be very appreciative that you know at least a few choice phrases, as it shows that you are truly interested in their culture.
But this is all the more true with Italians – you don’t have to speak fluent Italian, but just a simple conversation with them in their native tongue is sure to put a wide smile on their face!
When visiting religious sites, such as churches, basilicas, and especially the Vatican (which is not technically Italy), it is required that you cover up!
No exposed shoulders, knees, and in a few cases, ankles.
Plan ahead when visiting any of these sites and be prepared, clothing-wise.
This goes for men, as well!
When visiting any large city, taking a guided tour is always a good idea.
Your guide will have intimate knowledge of the area and be able to take you to off-the-beaten-path locations.
Italian Food and Drink
Italy is a veritable playground of delectable food and drink.
You will be hard-pressed to come away with an unsatisfying meal.
Here are a few tips on your Italian gastronomical experience:
- For steak lovers, head to Tuscany. Their Steak Florentine is one of the best you will ever have.
- If you are a wine lover, you will be in heaven, as there is no shortage of high-quality and very affordable Italian wines to sample.
- The pizza is unbelievable. And it should be, as Italy is ground zero for the almighty pizza pie. Pro tip: get a slice at any of the food stalls on more quiet streets, away from the tourist areas, for the best slice.
- Experience fare la scarpetta. This is the heavenly act of using your bread to mop up the remaining sauce on your plate. Italians are serious about their sauces and they make them to perfection.
- You can’t throw a stone in any direction in the cities without hitting a gelato place. So be sure to indulge as often as you can! It can be a great mid-afternoon treat.
- Take a food tour. There are so many to choose from, no matter what part of Italy you are visiting. You will get magical insights into the best food and drink available. Eating Europe is a good tour company to check out.
Don’t Forget Italy’s Islands!
For a taste of real Italy, the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Elba and Ponza are just a few of the many Italian islands to explore on the Mediterranean.
Sicily is the largest and probably most well-known of the Italian islands, and with good reason!
Not only is it large and diverse, you will need at least 4-7 days to fully explore it.
But if you don’t have that kind of time, definitely visit Palermo and its eerie catacombs.
And then take a hike up to Mt. Etna.
Sardinia is also large, so you should carve out at least 2-3 days to explore much of it.
Many people spend a full week here.
But whatever you decide to do, strongly consider Neptune’s Grotto, Cala Goloritze beach and the cliffs of Capo Caccia.
There is even a little city life to be had in the coastal towns of Cagliari and Alghero.
Elba is another gorgeous gem located between Corsica and Tuscany.
For some major rest and relaxation, grab a boat from Piombino on mainland Italy to Elba, and be sure to bring your beach towel.
Notable beaches here are Laconella, Biodola Bay and Sansone.
Ponza, about 50 km off the mainland between Rome and Naples, is another main Italian island.
Must-sees are the Grotte di Pilato and the Punta Incenso Natural Park.
These are just a few of the great Italian islands to explore.
Regular ferries service all of the popular islands, making them easy to get to from the mainland.
Ferryhopper is a good resource for the Italian ferry schedules.
Transport To and Around Italy
When flying to Italy, it is most affordable to fly to a major city, even if you will be exploring mostly rural areas.
As soon as you arrive, airport transfers are easy, and there are many different ways to get around, depending on your plans.
Both bus and rail options are efficient and good value.
And for the ultimate in flexibility, renting a car to explore the countryside is the most desirable. (More on cars below.)
Train travel is widely used, and Italy has an impressive train system.
Their high-speed trains are an affordable and easy way to travel in between cities.
Just remember to stamp your ticket on the validating machine at the platform – you will get fined if you are caught by a train inspector without a validated ticket.
Both travel between the cities of Turin, Milan, Bologna, Florence, Rome, and Salerno.
Booking online is easy and you can get all of the updates you need from the two websites mentioned above.
There are other regional trains, but they can be much slower, and no reservation is necessary.
For those planning to visit more than one major city, also look in to internal flights, as these may often be more affordable (and take less time!) than the trains.
Bus terminals (called autostaziones) are conveniently located next to most train stations, and in smaller towns and villages, they pull right up to the main square.
Just know that on Sunday and public holidays, public transportation can be greatly reduced, so be sure to plan ahead.
You will not need a car in any of the major cities, as the public transportation is very good.
But if you are exploring the countryside, renting a car is ideal and granted, it is the most expensive form of transportation, but it does allow for more freedom.
The majority of roadways are toll roads, so you will need to take a ticket as you join the motorway and then pay on exit, usually with cash.
For those who are a bit more adventurous, there are a few rental places for motorbikes and scooters.
This can be a wonderful way to explore big cities as well as zipping between scenic towns and islands.
Italy Gear and Packing Guide
Italy is so diverse.
Depending on where you go, what you do, and the time of year, your packing list can be different.
Don’t start your packing list until you have fully planned your trip.
To get started, here are the essentials:
- Day backpack to carry essentials for day tripping (preferably waterproof)
- Good camera (or just your smartphone if it has a good camera!) and extra memory card/batteries
- Sunglasses, hat and sunscreen
- Raincoat for any sudden inclement weather
- Only your essential toiletries, makeup and medications
- Small first aid kit
- Travel adapter – get for European plugs Type F, L or C. Look for an adapter that allows you to plug in a Type A/B device into a Type F or L outlet. (Check out Power-Plugs-Sockets for further information.)
- Quick-dry travel towel
- Italian Phrasebook. There are several apps you can download, in case you don’t care to walk around with an actual book!
- Neck wallet or fanny pack for small items and credit cards/money
- Water bottle
- Only essential electronics that you can’t do without (for listening to music/podcasts/audio books, smartphone, laptop)
- A journal if you’d like to write down your experiences
As far as clothing, keep a close tab on the weather forecast as your trip gets closer.
Always prepare for the unexpected, as in many places the weather can be unpredictable, especially in the higher elevations.
If you are only going for a few days, up to a week, it’s entirely possible to fit everything in a carry-on and backpack.
Trust me, packing light is ALWAYS preferable.
Unless you are going in winter, you can pack lightweight clothing (even light sweaters).
Plan on bringing only 3-5 outfits that are interchangeable, so you are not taking up a lot of room in your bags.
Ladies: Bring one long stylish dress/skirt and shawl (for cover-ups visiting religious sites). One or two pairs of comfortable pants and/or shorts.
Guys: Bring one pair of nice pants, and 2-3 pairs of jeans and/or shorts.
For both men and women, pack tops that will mix/match your bottoms and will fare well in the weather that you will likely be experiencing on your trip.
Travel shoes: Bring one good pair of sneakers for day walking.
Your feet will thank you after a long day trekking around on the concrete in Rome!
If you are hiking, bring sturdy hiking boots.
Bring flip flops for the beach, and then 1-2 pairs of sandals or flats for a nice evening out.
For colder weather or for skiing – heavier clothing is essential and ski equipment can always be rented on site.
Just bring good ski goggles and waterproof ski clothing.
Last but not least…leave a little room in your bag for gifts and souvenirs!
The Italian shops will continually entice you, especially with their high-quality leather goods.
Be sure to leave some space in your luggage (and your budget) for some great shopping, no matter what you are looking for!
If there is anything you somehow forget, you will most likely be able to purchase it once there, so no need to sweat!
An exception to this would be prescription medication – that’s always important to remember.
Best Booking Resources
These are the best online platforms available today, and a great way to begin planning your trip to Italy.
Not only can you book from these websites easily, you are also able to comparison shop given your dates of travel and your budget.
- Momondo – a great resource for inexpensive flights, and endorsed by many frequent travelers.
- Skyscanner – This is one of the best websites for searching multiple destinations at the same time.
- Google Flights – A quick and easy way to search for any flight. Simply enter your departure and arrival airports, then the calendar pre-populates with prices so that you can see which dates have lower fares.
- Hostelworld – The largest selection of affordable hostels online. Many hostels these days have more amenities and options for private rooms.
- Booking.com – The best overall platform for finding budget hotels and guesthouses. They have the biggest inventory and the best deals.
- Hotels.com – They have accommodations ranging from uber-luxury hotels to small mom-and-pop bed and breakfasts. In addition, frequent members can earn a free hotel night.
- Airbnb – a worldwide online marketplace that connects people who want to rent out their homes with those that are looking for accommodations in that locale. You can browse many different kinds of properties, such as single rooms in a home with the owner, or more private apartments, houseboats, entire houses, and even castles! Airbnb offers the most variety of unique accommodation anywhere.
Italy is a truly special and magical place.
It is a large country, with an immense amount of possibility.
However, if you can, avoid the peak tourist season of July-August.
This is when you will find the highest crowds and the most sweltering weather – not a good combination!
It is also when prices tend to be highest.
The ideal time to visit is spring to early summer, or early autumn through early winter.
These travel tips for Italy will ensure your travel plans to this beautiful country leave you prepared for the vacation of a lifetime.
Do you have any travel tips for Italy? If you do, comment below!
If you are looking for a step-by-step guide to help you plan your trip to Italy, check out The Ultimate Guide to Trip Planning.
Always make sure your vacation is a life changing experience with Brillini Travels.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed, or simply do not have the time to plan your trip to Italy, why not let us help you? We will create the perfect bespoke itinerary just for you!