Yes, there are few things to know before visiting Italy. Giving up your plain coffee for the much-more-Italian latte at Starbucks and learning what ciao means is not enough to understand such an intriguing and complex culture. Over 46 million tourists visit the boot-shaped peninsula each year and they get shocked when asking for a latte gets them a glass of cold milk and the nice old lady at the market stares at them after being greeted with a ciao.
But don’t fear, this little guide will help you in overcoming the cultural shock and having a genuinely Italian experience during your trip. We have put together this list of 10 things you should know before going to Italy. If you’re visiting Italy for the first time, make sure you read all these travel tips and pieces of information first!
10 things to know before visiting Italy
1. Don’t say “ciao” to everyone
In Italy, it’s very important to use the correct greeting depending on who you are greeting. Unless the person you are referring to is a friend, use a more formal greeting like “Buongiorno” if it’s morning or “Buona sera” if it’s evening.
2. Hotels need your passport when you check in
If the concierge at your hotel asks for your passport and then says they may need to keep it overnight, don’t fret. It’s perfectly fine. Italian law requires all accommodation to register guests with local police. They’ll return your passport the following morning, if not before.
3. Plan to eat late
Dinner is between 7:30 pm and 9:00 pm. Pressing your hungry face to the restaurant’s window at 6:00 p.m. will not change that. Same goes for lunch when the kitchen will open from 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm. So, plan your meals accordingly to avoid any hangry moods.
4. Prepare to eat. A lot.
If you are a food lover, here is one of the most important things to know about Italy: there’s much more than pasta and pizza! But remember to stick to the local specialities. No bolognese sauce in Naples, no seafood in Milan and no pasta pesto in Sicily.
5. Cash is (still) the king
Most Italians pay for things on a daily basis with cash, from their morning coffee to dinner, so don’t pull out your card to pay for an ice cream, the answer will be NO.
6. Tipping at the restaurant is not required
In many restaurants, you will be charged a cover charge, coperto. It is a per-person fee, typically between 1 to 5€, and usually includes bread for the table. That being said, an extra tip is not required. If service has been especially good, Italians round up the bill leaving a few extra euro on the table. Credit cards are not widely accepted in Italy, especially America Express (they are a no go!).
7. Choose Your Gelato Wisely
There is good gelato and crap gelato, even in Italy. Here are 3 tips to recognise the best gelateria, ice cream shops. First: the containers used to display the ice-cream flavours. Look for metal containers, even better if they have the lids on them. Number two: the colour. A quality gelato is made of natural ingredients and no added colouring. Berries should have deep, muted reds rather than shocking pink, pistacchio should be brownish and lemon should be white NOT yellowy. Third secret: seasonal fruit flavours are a good sign. In a good gelateria, you won’t find any fruit that can’t also be found at local market stalls that month.
8. Stay hydrated
Tap water is drinkable everywhere in Italy. You can fill up your water bottle from the public water fountains. In Rome they’re called Nasoni, big noses, and are one of the legacies left by the ancient Romans. In Milan are named Vedovelle, young widows, due to the incessant trickle of water that resembles the everlasting tears of a widow. In Turin, Turet, thanks to the bullhead shape of the tap. These fountains can be found in all cities, towns and villages. This running water is not only safe, it’s ice-cold, and it’s fresh. Just what you need to keep hydrated on a hot summer’s day.
9. Afternoon Closings
Do not underestimate the importance of lunch break in Italy. Italians go home to relax and enjoy lunch with their family, so most of the shops close down from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.
10. Get used to paying for public restrooms
Don’t be surprised if you have to pay to enter a public restroom, even at train stations. You’re typically charged 1 to 2 Euros but the restrooms are usually cleaner with soap and toilet paper.