Italy is a country of great beauty, great culture and most importantly, great gelato! Seeing a place with fresh, naïve eyes is often a brilliant way to soak up your surroundings and experience the wonderment that you may have left behind in your childhood years. However, it is wise not to go into it completely blind, thus we have compiled a list of the 10 things you need to know before visiting Italy so that your trip is as seamless as possible!
Tipping is not required:
In fact in the South of Italy it is often considered offensive to leave one! There has been controversy recently regarding the fact that tourists may often be preyed upon for extra tipping whereas locals very rarely tip! It is important to know the difference between service or cover charge which is mandatory in many restaurants, and tipping, which is always voluntary and not customary in Italy at all.
Coffee is cheaper at the bar:
In typical Italian restaurants there is always a different price for drinks ordered and enjoyed at the bar, and drinks ordered to the table, so order your latte al banco (at the counter) with the rest of the locals! Although beware of the word latte as well – as latte means milk in Italian, so make sure you order a caffe latte!
Be aware of Riposo:
Riposo refers to the extended lunch hour, usually between noon and 3.30pm, that many businesses and stores respect, meaning that they are closed between these times. Although it does vary, remember not to allocate souvenir buying to these times as you may be left disappointed!
Get a train/bus ticket PRIOR to boarding:
, you must buy your ticket before boarding public transport. Though this seems simple enough, there are not always ticket machines at every stop and most ticket offices are closed on Sundays. You can buy tickets from most of the corner, tobacco shops and this should be done ahead of Sunday should you wish to travel on this day of rest to save yourself frantically rushing around looking for an open corner shop. Remember to validate your ticket (ie. Getting the date and time stamped on it to ensure it cannot be reused) before boarding if you want to avoid being fined.
Book tickets for major attractions online or via your hotel:
This is particularly important to remember during high season where urban myth has it that people can queue up to two hours to buy tickets. Although you don’t need to outline an itinerary with military precision, it is worth thinking ahead a day or two if possible so that visiting some of the fascinating places in whichever city you are in, is as efficient and seamless as possible. Not all attractions have online ticket purchase available however many do, so it is worth speaking to your hotel if you are planning to visit a particular museum or site.
You CAN drink from the water fountains:
Unless it specifically says it is unsafe to do so, drinking from fountains here is fine so take advantage! It is easier, and lighter, then carrying round big bottles of water wherever you go to make sure everyone is sufficiently hydrated!
Do not touch things on market stalls:
There are a plethora of great markets in Italy, with delicious meats and cheeses to locally made arts and crafts, however it is not a ‘touch and taste’ experience. You should ask before you touch anything, including food and clothing, and the stall owner will help you. They are usually very attentive so finding help won’t be an issue but it is considered rude to treat the produce as your own personal buffet, and vendors take pride in selecting the best produce for you so try not to pinpoint specific items and let them do the choosing!
Cover shoulders and knees when visiting holy sites, such as churches:
If you plan on visiting St Peters Basilica in Rome, or St Marks in Venice or any of the plethora of interesting religious sites around Italy then it is important to dress respectfully – no bare shoulders, knees or midriffs. If you are wondering in from a day of casual strolling, then it may be best to bring a scarf of a cardigan along that you can quickly use to cover up.
Keep your wits about you:
Pickpocketing in Italy can be a problem, particularly if you are flaunting your expensive new camera or keeping your wallet in your back pocket! Make sure you keep an eye on your things and try to avoid carrying passports!
Last, and perhaps most important on our list of 10 things you need to know before visiting Italy, is:
How to spot authentic gelato:
When you go to Italy – you expect good gelato, in fact you expect the best and you expect it everywhere! But beware the imposters! High quality gelato is only good for a few days and is made via time consuming and meticulously carried out process, so certain shops choose to buy in industrially produced gelato instead. So it’s worth knowing what the good stuff looks like so you can avoid the siren call of the fluorescently coloured mass produced stuff! The counterfeit gelato is usually the high piled, brightly coloured versions which signal that they were created using an artificial mix. True gelato is usually a muted colour!
What are your travel tips for visiting Italy? Did you learn the hard way or were you locally educated? Let us know!