Italy is one of the most beautiful countries to visit in Europe, nay, the world! My love for this country goes almost as deep as my love of chocolate-flavoured-anything, which I feel no remorse about and no reason to apologise for!
Some favourite, off the top of my head, is the stunning Tuscan towns, the gorgeous Cinque Terre and the charming canals of Venice to name but a few yet beyond the awareness and excitement of wanting to see it’s famous cities, there’s so much to consider and see when planning a trip, which made me want to share my very own tips worth knowing before you galavant off to Italy!
1.) You’ll get lost
And no, getting lost in Italy (especially when you’re driving through treacherous mountain tops like in Cinque Terre) is not always as fun as you’d think! 🙂 Even if you quite fancy the idea of getting lost in Italy, its always worth downloading an offline map on your smartphone (or use Google Maps offline feature). It’ll save you lots of time when trying to navigate the twisty turny streets of Venice, Firenze and pretty much any Tuscan village you visit.
2.) Italy is more than just the mainland
There’s so much to explore within ‘the boot’ that is Italy (this is what Italy looked like to me like as a child and it’s kinda stuck now) but don’t forget about the many small (and big) islands that you can discover too! Head to Sicily, Sardinia, Elba and Levanzo to name but a few of the many Mediterranean islands waiting to be discovered.
3.) Gelato is too delicious to ignore
The ice-cream in Italy is the best in the world! (Bold claim but true!) I’ve yet to find a place (or country) that makes it better. There is gelato available on most streets and it’s relatively cheap and a delicious treat that’ll perk you up after a hearty lunch!
4.) Drink for Free
Cities like Rome, Florence and Venice all have perfectly safe, clean and free drinking water in town squares. Take a reusable bottle, or fill up your store bought bottle (shhhh, don’t tell the water brands) and save yourself lots of $$$.
5.) Dinner isn’t rushed
In Italy, even more so in the south, dinner is never rushed – it’s a relaxed affair to enjoy with family and friends. Fall into the culture and take it into your stride.
6.) Card Payment are okay
Card payments are accepted almost everywhere. Just keep a few coins and small notes incase you want small items – some stores have minimum spends.
7.) Italy’s got some impressive beaches!
There’s more to Italy than the cityscapes of Florence, Milan and Venice! Don’t forget to check out one of the thousands of beautiful beaches that line its impressive coastline. Head to places like Terracina for some beautiful white sand beaches.
8.) Trains are great!
If you want to travel between cities, try taking the train! Italy has an impressive high speed railway between the likes of Rome-Florence-Venice (to mention but a few).
9.) Validate train/bus tickets
Talking of trains, don’t forget to stamp your ticket in the little machines onboard buses and trains when you travel. You will get fined if the inspectors catch you… even if you didn’t know or weren’t told. A ticket validating machine is on all public trains, buses and (usually) at the start of the platform.
10.) The north and south are very different
The north and south of Italy are almost like different countries! The north is an ‘industrialised’, continental European region, whilst the south has a much more laid-back Mediterranean feel – both are great and very different!
11.) There are volcanoes in Italy
Yup, there are some pretty epic (and still active) volcanoes in Italy to explore. You can even hike the top of them too, just like Mt. Etna on Sicily!
Talking about volcanoes – do you know about Pompeii? The ruined city which was destroyed by a volcanic eruption many years ago? You can visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site and discover one of the most famous Volcanic eruptions in history (after the Iceland ash-cloud of 2010 of course). 🙂
13.) Learn some basic Italian
No one expects you to be fluent when visiting Italy – though it is a major plus if you are! Remember a few sayings and phrases that’ll help you get by. A few words in the mother tongue is bound to put a smile on any face!
14.) Cover up in religious sites
Many sites ask ladies to cover their shoulders and legs when entering some of the churches. Take this into account when visiting religious sites, especially in the Vatican (technically, not Italy, I know, but still…)
15.) Truffle Hunt
Truffles are big business in Italy, they are prized ingredients in many Italian dishes and often found in certain areas of the country. If you’re heading out truffle hunting (learn more on truffle hunting here), make sure to get it straight to the market, they can fetch thousands of pounds (price is size-dependent, of course).
16.) Cinque Terre are the 5 towns you must see
It’s in the name really.. roughly translated to 5 regions/terrains – it is one of Italy’s most beautiful regions. Don’t forget to check it out if you’re nearby.
N.B.: Take the train between the towns… trust me on this! IT takes mere minutes by train or an hour or so by car!
17.) Make wine your tipple of choice!
Wine is inexpensive in Italy and very good quality! Take advantage of low prices and enjoy one of its joyous exports! Good wines can start as low as €3 a bottle!
18.) Summer and winter can be quite extreme here
Summer in Italy can be very hot with bracingly cold winters, – especially in the north. Seems obvious, but there is quite an extreme in Italian temperatures (unlike places like the UK) depending on the date you plan to visit so it’s worth arriving adequately prepared.
19.) Tuscany is the best place for steak
Grab yourself a MASSIVE Steak Florentine in Tuscany and enjoy one of the best steaks in all the world. It will set you back a little more than an average meal though it’s so worth it. The sizes are quite ginormous so I’d suggest you share one… unless you’ve got an appetite of a lion.
20.) A gondola can be costly
Hiring a Gondola for 30 minutes will set you back a pretty penny in Venice – there are standard rates though its worth noting that you can get it a lot cheaper if you haggle with the gondoliers. A gondola should be priced for the boat and not how many people board. You can usually sit up to 6 people in one – not as romantic maybe but just as fun!
21.) Get your EHIC Card
If you’re from the EU you should always make sure you have a totally FREE EHIC card – never pay for it! It’s issued by the government wherever you live and it entitles you to the same/similar health care benefits as you would in your country of residence, though you should never see this as a replacement for travel insurance.
22.) Eat Pizza
This is the one country you can chow-down on freshly baked pizza, guilt-free! Grab some doughy goodness from almost any small stall in almost every town in Italy. The best places to get one are usually in the quiet side streets away from the main squares and tourist attractions.
A slice is inexpensive and usually very tasty. (Like seriously, it tastes like nothing you’d get even in the fanciest restaurants in London – it’s so much better than anything you’d get anywhere else).
23.) You can ski in Italy
Not many people realise you can ski in Italy as it tends to be more synonymous with glorious long summer days. If you love a little swish down the slopes, then take a look at the stunning runs on the Italian Alps. You’ll find some great resorts here that’ll rival even some of the world renowned ones in Switzerland and France.
24.) Cappuccino is for breakfast
Traditionally a breakfast coffee, Cappuccino is usually drank in the mornings in Italy. If you can’t go without your usual cappuccino in the evening, then try a latte instead (Hot milk, instead of frothed milk like a Cappuccino).
25.) There are countries inside Italy!
Yup, there are actual countries inside Italy itself. The Vatican is its very own country and so is San Marino. Both impressive and both well worth a visit.
26.) Lots of Bubble No champagne!
Sparkling wine is very popular and a delicious evening treat for us all… right (it can’t be just me)?!? Don’t forget to try some local Prosecco and delve into a world of bubbles and glee!
27. Fare la scarpetta is essential!
No pasta-based meal is complete without the act of fare la scarpetta – meaning, you use your bread to mop up all the leftover sauce on your dinner plate. It’s almost a dinner ritual in Italy and something of a tradition in many Italian families. This is why bread is usually left on tables in restaurants too. (Put that butter down! 😉 )
28. Bread’ll cost ya!
..and not just in the widening-hips department. Restaurants will typically place bread on your table without informing you that there is a charge until you look at your bill after your meal so be aware that you might be charged a small fee (always ask if you’re not sure and don’t want the extra cost).
29.) Venice is sinking… apparently!
Apparently Italy’s beloved city, Venice is sinking!
Let’s hope this wonderful city doesn’t disappear anytime soon! *gulp*
30. Italian road trips are fun
Italy has a reputation for having some pretty ‘enthusiastic’ drivers and roads but don’t let that put you off. If you can drive, you should definitely hire a car and discover some of the many hidden gems of Italy. Especially if you’re based in a large city like Pisa or Florence as the Tuscan countryside is as exciting to explore as its major cities! 🙂