Hey everyone! This is Bailey Menne, Travel Designer at CARE Travel. As you know, I went to Italy last fall and had an amazing time. I did tons of research before I left to prepare, but still learned new things while in the country. Below are my top tips for you before you travel to Italy.
1. Don’t order a cappuccino after 11 am, order espresso. This is a true statement. Cappuccinos are filling, so Italians usually do not drink it after 11. After their meals they usually order espresso. Be careful if you do this at dinner. I tried this the first evening I was there so I could have the whole “Italian” experience. I ended up waking up in the middle of the night wired and wasn’t able to go back to sleep. Let’s just say I didn’t do this again.
2. Speaking of cappuccinos and espressos, standing at the bar is cheaper than sitting down. Some cafes have a service fee if you sit at a table. Keep this in mind when you order.
3. I keep going on about cappuccinos, don’t I? You can tell I’m a tad of a caffeine addict 😉 Anyways, my last tip for your caffeine fix is DO NOT go to cafes near main sites. I cannot stress this enough. It’s way overpriced. On our last day in Rome we were exhausted and needed to rush to the Colosseum. My husband and I wanted a jump start before our tour so we went to a café near the Colosseum. 2 small cappuccinos ended up costing us 15€. I like to blame spending this ridiculous amount on us letting our guard down and being exhausted, but it still frustrates me to talk about. Just don’t do it.
4. Do a food tour on one of the first days you’re in a city. Italy is known for its food so you can’t go wrong with this. If you do a food tour you learn about the food AND the culture. It’s a great way to be submersed into the culture, learn about the area you are in, and an opportunity to eat where the locals do.
5. Carry cash! Always. This was something that was hard for us to get used to since we always use our card. A lot of shops and restaurants in Italy do not have a credit card machine so be prepared and have cash on you. If you only have a card, make sure the restaurant you choose to eat at accepts them before eating there.
6. Dress appropriately. If you plan to visit any churches make sure your knees and shoulders are covered. If you are in the heat of the summer, ladies can always wear a long skirt and carry a light scarf to cover your shoulders. I never saw anyone outside of churches checking for this (only the Vatican), but you should show respect and follow these rules.
7. Do not touch while you are shopping unless you plan to buy it. This is oddly something we do so much here wherever we go. This is a tip I read about before going to Italy that I didn’t share with my husband, so of course at the first market we stopped at, he got all handsy and the gentleman at the counter gave him a look. It’s funny to think about now. We learned this was totally a legit hidden rule.
8. This is my all-time favorite food so I was beyond excited to try it in Italy. The Margherita pizza is the original, so definitely give this one a shot first. I had pizza at almost every meal until the end, and then switched to pasta. My advice is order pizza maybe once or twice, then move onto the pasta.
9. Do your tours at the beginning of the day with either a small group or a private one. You may be thinking, “Why would she say that? I don’t want to wake up early on vacation.” Trust me, you do. Crowds and selfie sticks are everywhere in Italy. To actually see the sites and get the full experience, you need to do so with less people. Hence, the waking up early and beating the crowds. I truly think you will appreciate your experience more with this tip.
10. Buy a “skip the line” pass anywhere you go. It’s worth it even if you are the one to wake up early to see the sites. Just follow my advice on this one and you will totally understand once you walk past the line at the Vatican.
11. Location of your hotel is SO important. I felt like I walked more in Italy than I have in my entire life. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic here, but I definitely got my steps in. With all of this walking the last thing you want to worry about is getting back to your hotel that is miles away from where you are during the day. We made this mistake while staying in Rome. At the end of every day we had to make the long trudge to the bus stop, and after getting dropped off had to walk even more to our hotel. Be smart, don’t be like me, and stay in a good location.
12. Learn to spot the real gelato. When I say “real”, I mean without the artifial mix. You do this by looking for gelato that doesn’t have a neon color (it should be more neutral), usually fewer flavors, and not mountains of gelato heaped in bins (it should be almost flush with the top of the bin).
13. Learn a few basic words of Italian before you go. English is widely spoken, but if you show you are trying to speak their language they will appreciate your efforts and work with you even more when communicating
I think that about covers it! As I said, I learned so much while in Italy but I by far am still no expert. I don’t think anyone can be when they only visit a country for 10 days, but these tips will help you be more prepared before you travel. Italy is a beautiful country with such amazing hospitality. You will have a wonderful time and fall in love with the country I’m sure, as I did.