Italy is a dream destination for many travelers. The country is regal and beautiful to behold, it’s known for its culinary delights, and it has a language made for romance. That being said, as a traveler it’s always a good idea to familiarize oneself with a destination before heading to parts unknown.
The most important thing to know when travelling to Italy is that everything will be shut down for a few hours around the middle of the day. In Italy, this is called a riposo, or midday siesta. Don’t be surprised when tourist locations, shops and even restaurants close. Most Italians will go home during this time to have lunch and relax with family. It is not an exact science, so opening hours around Italy can vary. Some tourist sites might be open from 11 am to 1 pm two days a week; others may be open every day from 7 am to 11:30 pm. Most restaurants will close around 2:30pm and won’t open again until 7pm or later, so it’s important to plan snacks and meals accordingly. Once open, restaurants will stay open until well after 10, possibly to midnight.
Wireless internet in Italy is still a developing technology. 40% of Italians have never even been online. Their internet speed is one of the slowest in Europe. Less than 1% of the population has access to a fibre optic connection, and it is not uncommon for one hotel modem to be shared among all guests. You won’t find any chain coffeehouses in Italy, so you can’t really rely on cafés to get wifi. However, many major cities now offer free wifi sponsored by the local municipality. After registering, you will have access to over 1000 various ‘hotspot’ locations around town.
It’s important to note that the Northern and Southern parts of Italy are extremely different. There are 20 different regions, each with their own wines, foods and traditions. Although Italians are naturally friendly everywhere you go, it’s always helpful to make a good impression by learning a few Italian expressions. “Ciao” can be used for both hello and goodbye. “Grazie” is used everywhere to say thank. If someone starts speaking to you in fluent Italian and you can’t figure out what they’re saying, you can politely say “Non-Capisco,” which means I don’t understand.
It sounds like a cliché, but all roads do lead to Rome. Visiting Rome is also one of the best ways to get to many other Italian cities, because the Termini train station in Rome is a major transportation hub. Since most trips to Italy will likely involve Rome, it’s a good idea to give yourself at least three days to explore the city. One way to save time is to pay for special skip the line tours through the Vatican and Saint Peter’s Basilica.
If you are traveling by bus or train, it is very important to always validate your ticket after purchase. This is a two-step process: buy a ticket, then get a stamp. There are little machines all around the stations to get your ticket stamped. Validating proves that you are using your ticket at that exact time. By skipping this step, you will risk hefty fines and unhappy ticket inspectors.
It’s impossible to give sound travel advice for visiting Italy without mentioning food. Pizza is something that you should sample throughout your journey, and award-wise, the best (and cheapest) pizzas come from Naples. The cheese in Italy is also like nothing you will have ever experienced or found in your average supermarket at home. If you’re a coffee lover, you’re in luck because cappuccinos and espressos are served everywhere. While some things in Italy can be pretty pricey, coffee is something that is typically very inexpensive throughout the country.
Keep in mind that some Italian food you might used to eating, might not be readily available. Spaghetti bolognese, fettuccine alfredo, and pepperoni are examples of items that are hard to find. Common dishes are bruschetta al pomodoro, prosciutto pizza, and spaghetti alla carbonara. Not all gelato is created equal either. It’s important to do your research and read reviews online, as well as try out different shops. Another surprise will be Italy’s salad dressing options — don’t expect to find a wide array of them. Oil and vinegar are really the only salad toppings provided in cafes, supermarkets and upscale restaurants.
Lastly, when dining out in Italy, tipping isn’t necessary. Most restaurants have built-in charges called “coperto,” which means cover charge, and “servizio” which means service charge. These can range anywhere from 1 to 5 Euro and they apply to everyone, tourists and locals alike.