top of page
  • Writer's pictureAmy Leggett

Important Things To Know Before Traveling to Italy

When visiting a foreign country, you know things will be different from where you are coming from. Obviously you anticipate the big differences such as language, currency, and general culture. But it is actually the little differences that can catch you off guard and make your adventure in a new place feel uncomfortable. On my recent trip to Italy, I experienced several of these surprises so I compiled a list of some things you should be aware of before heading to Italy (and some of them may also apply to other destinations in Europe). Hopefully knowing these tips ahead of time will help you prepare so your travels will go smoothly and you can just enjoy the beauty of Italy with no surprises.

Here are some insider tips (in no particular order):

  • When dining at a restaurant, you will not get free tap water with your meal. If you want water you will have to buy it by the bottle (about €1,50 to €2 per bottle). You can get acqua natural (still) or acqua frizzante (sparkling).

Ravello Italy Bottled Water
Chilled bottled acqua in Ravello
  • Restaurants charge a "coperto" per person which is a service charge for the table and generally includes the bread that is served before the meal. The coperto can range from €1- €7 per person, so it can add up quickly. The coperto charged will depend on the restaurant and is usually indicated on the menu found outside the restaurant. Be sure to check this out before dining so you aren't surprised by the additional charge when you get the bill.

scenic dinner capri Italy
Scenic dinner at Panorama in Capri
  • Tipping is not required, nor should it be expected because of the coperto mentioned above. However, if you receive exceptional service and would like to tip it is always appreciated.

  • Dinner in Italy is generally late so plan accordingly if you like to eat on the early side. Have a snack to tide you over. Dinner is usually served around 8 to 9 pm and even as late as 10 pm in the summer months.

Panorama dinner sunset Italy Capri
Watching the sunset during dinner at Panorama in Capri
  • Don't plan to eat and run. Italians like to enjoy their meals leisurely and the waiters will expect you want to do the same. The waiters will wait for an indication that you are ready for your bill. I am not generally a lingerer after eating and I would get antsy trying to get the waiter's attention to grab the bill. This was a challenging difference for me, but helped me get better at just relaxing and enjoying the evening.

  • When you order a pizza it will not come cut into slices. You order an individual pizza and then cut into slices to fold and eat. Also, NEVER ask for pineapple on your pizza in Italy. They consider that a culinary offense!

pizza mozzerella di bufala Naples Italy
Margherita Pizza with Mozzarella di Bufala in Naples
  • DON"T ask for Alfredo sauce in Italy. I was advised by a server that Alfredo sauce is not an Italian creation, but an American one. If Alfredo is on the menu, the restaurant is most likely a tourist trap catering to Americans and not a place for you to get authentic Italian cuisine. The server also said that excessive use of garlic in Italian dishes is also an American thing and not representative of authentic Italian dishes. Finally, unless the server asks if you would like Parmesan cheese on your dish don't ask. In Italy, Parmesan is only added to a few specific dishes. Putting Parmesan on top of every Italian meal is also an American thing. Who knew?

Cacio E Pepe Rome Italy
Cacio E Pepe Pasta Dish in Rome
  • Most shops and restaurants will close mid-afternoon for "riposo", a mid-day siesta from about 1-4 pm. Some shops will stay open and it may be a good time to browse with less crowds, but in the smaller Italian towns most stores and restaurants will be closed during this time so plan accordingly. Maybe be like the Italians and take your own riposo! When in Rome...

  • Accommodations will charge an additional city tax per person per night of stay. This will be paid at the end of your stay and must be paid in Euros, so plan to have Euros on hand to make this payment. The amount of the tax will depend on the location and the type of accommodation. Most hotels and Airbnbs will clearly state what the city tax is and how much will be due at check out.

  • There are public restrooms around, but there is a fee to use them. You will have to pay 50 cents to €1 to access the bathroom so make sure you have spare change on you in case you need to use the public restrooms while you are out and about!

  • You can use your credit card for most purchases. When asked if you want to pay in Euros or dollars, pick Euros. This allows your bank to pick the exchange rate and will be a better option for you.

  • I always wait to get Euros until I get to the country and then withdraw from the ATM at the airport when I get off the plane or from a recognized bank ATM once I check into my hotel. Again, you will need Euros for the city tax and public restrooms, but may also want to pay in Euros for smaller purchases you make. I don't suggest getting a large amount as most places take credit cards and you don't want to have to exchange a large amount back if you don't use it all. You can always get more out if you spend all you initially take out.

  • Keep your passport and valuable close to you with a front facing fanny pack or bag. I have never had a problem personally, but everyone talks about what a big problem pick-pocketing is in crowded European cities so I take every precaution. I keep everything in a small zipped back that hangs in front of me so I always have eyes on it.

  • If you are visiting Italy in the summer, it can be very hot and you will want to be wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts. However, keep in mind that if you wish to enter some of the beautiful cathedrals you will need to be dressed appropriately. This means no bare shoulders and shorts and skirts must be knee-length. Although you may see some tourists who slip by not following these rules, they are usually very strictly enforced and you may be refused entry.

  • If you are using bus transportation to get around, know that buying the ticket on the bus will be more expensive and sometimes is not even an option. You can buy bus tickets at ticket machines or at nearby Tobaccheria shops (you will see a sign by the door indicating they sell bus tickets).

Sita Bus Amalfi Italy
Sita bus meeting spot in Amalfi.
  • If you use the local trains to get around, MAKE SURE TO VALIDATE YOUR TRAIN TICKET BEFORE YOU GET ON THE TRAIN! This is an important tip and not very well publicized. Failure to validate your ticket at the green and yellow machines in the train station (to provide a time and date stamp) will result in a hefty fine. The ticket takers on the train won't care that you didn't know you had to validate, they will issue you the fine which can be around €50!

And finally...

  • PACK LIGHT...I MEAN IT!!!! If you follow me, you know I have a packing problem. Meaning I can't pack lightly and only bring a carry on. I have never regretted this issue more than when I was traveling in Europe. Between the cobblestone streets, the narrow staircases up to some of the Airbnbs we stayed at, and the steep hills we had to walk up to get to the center of town from the ferry, I was cursing myself that I had such a big (and heavy suitcase). Nothing says you are an American tourist more than lugging a huge suitcase around from place to place. If you take nothing else from this blog, try to pack as light as possible in a small carry on suitcase. You will thank me!

Hopefully these tips will help you to avoid any unexpected surprises when you get to Italy! That way you can just relax and enjoy all of the sights and experiences Italy has to offer. You are in for a trip of a lifetime!

1 Comment

Krista Senatore
Krista Senatore
Jul 28, 2023

There are so many great tips here! Many of them apply to Greece as well!

bottom of page