Firsthand Italy Travel Tips and Advice for Planning Your Italian Vacation

Planning a trip to Italy may seem a little overwhelming for first timers. This is a unique country with interesting and sometimes surprising cultural differences. Therefore, we wanted to share our firsthand Italy travel tips and advice on understanding and embracing Italian customs.

Italy travel is rewarding particularly if planned in advance. Here a list of things you should know including when to go, what to take with you, where to stay, what to do, Italian culture and more to help you have the best travel experience ever.

At Nancy Aiello Tours, we have an in-depth knowledge of traveling in this welcoming country and as a result, we have a huge collection of insider travel tips for Italy to share! We hope our first-hand advice and recommendations introduce you to our home country and help you on getting ready for your journey.

Start Planning Your Trip to Italy

Check Visa Requirements
One guaranteed way to ruin your trip is being denied entry into the country you are visiting because you do not have a tourist visa. As of June 2019 US-Americans do NOT need a visa for Italy and can travel within Europe/Schengen area for 90 days without issues. And if you want to get documents to travel to Italy, consult the Italian Embassy in your home country.

Consider Vacation Insurance before you Travel
Travel insurance is one of the most important aspects of trip planning. Protect your travel investment. Between missed connections, lost or delayed luggage, or medical emergencies, you want the peace of mind that your vacation investment is well protected.

Travel in the Off Season, If You Can
Traveling during the off-season is the best way to avoid the crowds and save money on accommodations, airfare, and train tickets. Main tourist attractions such as museums and art galleries are open year-round; just make sure to check times as some might have shorter opening hours during the off-season.

Make Reservations in Advance
Making reservations in advance is the best way to secure accommodations and tours, especially during peak travel season. Booking airfare and train tickets in advance also ensures that you are getting the best deals.

Read Books before you Leave for your Trip to Italy
Prepare yourself before you leave home reading books related to the country’s history and culture. It can make your trip so much more meaningful when you have some connections.

Learn Basic Italian Phrases
Now that you are ready to go to Italy, be sure you learn a few key Italian phrases, and always greet in Italian first!

Stay Longer in One Place – Do Not Try To See It All!
Traveling to Italy for the first time will be so exciting and you are going to want to see as much as you can. Italy is filled with so many bucket list sights screaming to be visited! Unless you are staying in Italy for a month or two, do not try to see it all in one trip!

Staying in one place longer can allow you to experience the city or neighborhood like a local. It always feels more rewarding to stay in one place for a few days rather than city hopping every other day. Not only does that mean less packing and unpacking, but you will also have the chance to get to know a neighborhood, find a favorite cafe, and even make a few friendships.

Even though it is so easy to travel around Italy, do not spend all of your time on a train or car! Trust us: On a week long vacation stick to two or three cities. Minimize one-night stays. Do not underestimate how exhausting it can be to change hotels every night. Travel burnout is a thing. The best way to travel Italy is slowly! Take your time and trust you will come back.

Do not Over-Plan – Do Not Plan to See It All!
This is your first to Italy trip and we know you want to see as much as possible. However, that is a common mistake. While it is important to plan your trip, do not to overload it trying to pack everything in. Instead, leave some unscheduled time in your Italian itinerary! Do not feel pressured to see and do everything. Chances are you will not be able to fit in EVERYTHING you want to see even more so if you are traveling as a family. Simply put less is more. When it comes to memory and travel, it is more about quality than quantity.

Where to Stay in Italy

Stay Central – Walk Everywhere
Before booking your hotel/apartment check whether the area is close to the places you want to visit. If you are in for a very limited time do not choose a place on the edge of town, as you definitely do not want to spend hours on commuting in order to save a few bucks.

Where to Go in Italy

Get Off the Beaten Path
By all means seeing the popular attractions in Italy is a must. While you might be set on visiting the most popular attractions, you should make it a point to visit lesser-known sites to get a better understanding of the local culture.

Most first-time visitors plan their Italian holiday around the three major iconic cities of Rome, Florence and Venice. And there is no doubt that these amazing places have a lot to see and do. However, yet, much of the country remains relatively unexplored. Italy is made up of 20 regions, each one with its own history and traditions. Besides, Italy’s classic “big three” there are other wonderful towns, beautiful beaches, breathtaking mountains, and an amazing variety of landscapes.

For instance, everyone knows about Pompeii but you do not hear much about Ostia Antica excavations in Rome. Similarly, you hear a lot about the Florence’s Academia Gallery, but not much about Naples’ Archaeological Museum. Go off the beaten path and consider the walled town of Lucca, the medieval village of Matera tucked away along the cliffs of the Basilicata region, the traditional fisherman town with colorful houses of Camogli, and the delightful town of Bologna. To name just a very few.

Check out the Museums – Again Go Off the Beaten Track
The Borghese Gallery in Rome is of the most popular museums in Italy, but there are so many other inspiring museums to add to your travel list! In Rome alone, there is the lesser-known Capitoline Museums that boasts an excellent collection of Roman sculptures and a formidable gallery with masterpieces by the likes of Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens and Caravaggio. Also in Rome, do not overlook the Barberini Palace that features over 1400 works of art of renowned artists from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century. Both have much shorter admission lines, if any!

Packing Tips

Pack Light + Bring a Suitcase You Can Carry (Easily)
Navigating the train station and walking on cobblestone streets do not get along with huge suitcases. Need carrying your luggage up several flights of stairs because centrally located apartments and B&B in Italy usually do not have elevators? Packing light in a suitcase you are comfortable carry is a must! Trust us you will not need as much stuff as you think and laundromats are readily available throughout Italy.

Bring Comfortable Shoes to Walk Everywhere
When traveling to Italy, you should always expect to be walking quite a lot, whether it is through the cobbled streets of Rome, narrow alleys in Venice or the vineyards in Tuscany. Opt for a pair of comfortable sandals or sneakers, or both. After a long day of walking around your feet will thank you.

Dress comfortably
Light, loose-fitting clothing that provides comfort when exploring the sights is essential. A sun hat, sunglasses and a sturdy pair of walking shoes or sneakers are recommended for sightseeing. It is always a good idea to be prepared for any eventuality, a lightweight sports jacket and emergency rainwear are advised.

Remember that bare legs and shoulders are not allowed in churches or other religious sites. Entrance may be denied on this basis.

Getting Around

Traveling by Train
Most Italy travel guides recommend using the train when traveling from one city to another. We strongly support this advice. Traveling by train in Italy is way easier, hassle-free and economical than air travel. For instance, if you are traveling from Venice to Florence, taking a flight is difficult and quite expensive. Instead, if you will book high-speed train tickets with either Italotreno or Trenitalia you will reach Florence in about 2 hours. For the best deals, book three months in advance otherwise be aware that you can buy your ticket minutes before departure.In addition, most railway stations offer some kind of luggage storage service if you are planning to stop midway on your journey and want to do some sightseeing before your next train departs. Due to security reasons luggage lockers are no longer available but in all major railway stations there are offices with staff where you can leave your bags for a fee.

Avoid Driving in Italy – At Any Cost
With extensive public transportation, driving in Italy is truly unnecessary. Driving in Italy can be a stressful experience that requires bravery, stamina, and a lot of patience. If you insist on renting a car be aware that you will be dealing with crazy driving, expensive parking, and will certainly, receive a ticket for some road violation you did not even know you committed. Unless you have a specific reason forget driving and never drive in Rome. Really though, do not drive in Italy unless for some unforeseen reason you have to.

When in Italy

Always keep your ID on you
Italian law states you must carry your identification at all times. In general, across Europe you should always carry your passport.
Pro Tip: Carry a color copy of it and keep the original in your hotel safe.

Italian Hotels Ask For Your Passport – Is It Safe?
Upon check in you will be asked to show your passport to the hotel desk. This is because Italian laws require that all guests are registered with the police. It is totally normal. Concierge will just need to make a copy and return your passport within an hour or so.

Ignoring 24-hour Time – What Time Is It?
Italians use the 24-hour clock, known in the US as “military time”, rather than AM and PM. Hardly anyone would ever say “I will see you at 18 o’clock”, however one might say “I will be on the 17.45 train from Venice” quoting from the train timetable. Remember this or risk standing on the train platform at 7pm when your train left at 17:00. Therefore, before you leave home we recommend switching the clocks on your computer and phone to 24-hour or military time, to make sure you do not miss anything. Ignore this advice at your own peril.
Just remember: If the hour is greater than 12, subtract 12 and add PM. That way, 20:30 becomes 8.30PM (time for dinner in Italy).

Wake Up Early
The early bird. The earlier you start, the more you will get out of your day. This is especially true for Venice and Rome, which can be magical places in the morning light. It may seem obvious but this is probably one of our best Italy travel tips!

Do Not Plan on Using Credit Cards Everywhere
While most of the world now accepts credit cards, it is not uncommon for places in Italy to only accept cash. Having euros on hand for tips, taxi, coffee, gelato and daily activities will make your transactions go smoother and it will save you money on foreign transaction fees.

How to Find Authentic Restaurants – Look for Locals!
When looking for a great authentic place to eat in Italy, go several blocks away from the main tourist areas before considering anything. If you see a restaurant packed with locals and the Italian is the only language being spoken by the staff and diners alike, then you are good! Avoid restaurants that are open continuous hours and run away if the menu has pictures. Run far, far away from restaurants trying to lure you in.

Restaurant Etiquette Tip:
Do not get upset if the waiter does not bring you the bill when you finish eating. It is considered rude to bring the bill until the clients have asked for it.

Claim Your Vat Refund
If you plan shopping in Italy, you may be eligible for a VAT refund. VAT or IVA in Italian is a value-added tax on goods.
Non-EU residents may be granted a VAT refund. This refund does not cover the services supplied by hotels, restaurants, taxis or agencies. All you need to do is ask the retailer for the proper documentation. You will likely be asked to present your passport when you make the purchase. Especially if you are planning to make some large purchases, save your receipt and be sure to ask the cashier for a VAT tax-refund form. They will stamp your completed form, and you will bring it to the tax refund desk at the airport before you leave Italy. In Italy You are eligible to receive VAT cash refund on all purchases provided that the overall value of the goods purchased exceeds 154, 94 Euro (VAT included) at a single retailer.

Tipping In Italy
While tips are appreciated no matter where you travel, tipping in Italy is not automatic as in the United States. However, if you receive exceptional service, which meets or exceeds your standards, tipping would be appropriate but not the 20% like in the US. The customary tip is usually the small change if you are paying cash however, it is not mandatory.

Need More Tips for Travel to Italy?

Check out our blog written by local experts in Italian travel to help you plan an authentic vacation.

Take the Guesswork Out of Planning Your Trip to Italy