Italy Travel Tips: 6 Things to Know Before Visiting

Despite the language hurdle some travelers face in Italy, it's still an easy country to visit. Here's what Italy is like, why it's so worth visiting, and expert travel advice to make the most of your trip.


Photo © iStock/jenifoto

Planning a trip to Italy? Here are five things to know, courtesy of Jessica Spiegel, a Portland-based travel writer for BootsnAll Travel, and author of

There's no such thing as “Italian food”

We all know what to expect when we go to a typical Italian restaurant back home – the usual array of pasta dishes, maybe a couple pizzas, and, of course, a tiramisu on the dessert menu. Would it surprise you, then, to learn that in some parts of Italy you'll be hard-pressed to find tomatoes in the local dishes at all?

Italy is a relatively young country, formerly made up of independent city-states  – now called regions – with which most residents of those regions still primarily identify. Each region has its own personality, its own dialect (sometimes its own language), and its own cuisine. Moving from region to region – and sometimes from town to town – introduces travelers to new local specialties, and it can be a shock to those of us who think we already know what Italian food is.

Get to know what's produced locally and what's in season, and you'll be eating the freshest and best of what that area has to offer. Steer clear of so-called Italian food that's not typical of the region you're in, and you stand a much better chance of avoiding touristy (and overpriced) restaurants.

Cash vs. credit in Italy

Most Italians pay for things on a day-to-day basis with cash – from their morning coffee to dinner that evening and everything in between. While businesses are now required to accept credit cards by law, as of November 2022 they are not required to accept plastic for purchases under €60, and many still prefer cash.

Be prepared to be refused electronic payments for small purchases, and also keep some cash on hand for taxis, buses, or outdoor food stands and markets.

And don't worry – almost every hotel in the country (and certainly all the big ones) takes plastic, as do train stations.

But watch out for the dynamic currency conversion fee. Shops or restaurants may ask if you would like to be charged in your home currency. Avoid this, since you'll likely be given an unfavorable exchange rate, plus be hit with fees from their bank as well as yours.

Train travel in Italy isn't always punctual

There's that great line about how “at least Mussolini made the trains run on time” – we've all heard it, and it's funny, but it's not true. It's an urban legend (one that some older Italians still repeat – don't try to argue with them).

Today, the trains in Italy are notorious for being a bit late, or for occasionally not running at all due to periodic labor strikes – and yet they remain, in my mind, the best way to get around most of the country. There are certainly places where you'll want to have a car, or where a bus might serve your needs better, but in most cases I still recommend trains as transportation – especially if you're sticking to bigger cities and towns.

I should note that while people will complain that trains are always late in Italy, that's not license to show up late for your train and then be annoyed when it's already left the station. In my experience, trains in Italy are more often on time than they are weirdly delayed.

Restaurant etiquette in Italy

This phenomenon isn't unique to Italy, but it bears mentioning because it catches so many off guard.

Where I live in the US, waiters come check on you 90 seconds after depositing a plate in front of you, wondering if everything is okay” before you've had a chance to even take a bite. They'll check on you a few times during the meal, and then when it looks like you're close to being done, they'll leave your bill on the table for you to take care of at your convenience.

In Italy, after your meal is delivered, you may not see the waiter at your table again until it's time to clear your plates. And when you're done with your meal, after coffee or dessert or whatever your final course was, no one's going to come by with a bill without you specifically asking for it.

This is not the waiter being rude. This is the waiter letting you enjoy your meal and your dinner conversation for as long as you want. Restaurants in Italy are not looking to “turn over” tables every 1.5 hours – once you sit down, that's it, that's your table. It's yours as long as you'd like to stay. There's a reason the Slow Food movement begain in Italy, after all.

So, when you're ready to leave, you just flag down your waiter the next time he passes by and say, "Il conto, per favore." You'll get your check, and you're not being rude for asking for it. Oh, and don't forget to bring cash. (See point 2)

In Italy, an empty restaurant doesn't mean the place is bad

I can't tell you how many times I've gone into restaurants in Italy, at what I thought was dinner time, only to find the place nearly empty. This is usually a good reason to leave a restaurant, because if the locals won't eat there, why should you? In Italy, however, you need to check the time before you make that judgement call.

Italians eat late – not as late as the Spanish, in most cases, but the dinner hour in many cities doesn't start until at least 8pm if not later (in Milan, restaurants don't get busy until 9pm, even on weeknights). Many restaurants in bigger cities and towns (especially if they're even relatively popular with tourists) will be open earlier than that, but the earlier opening time isn't for the locals. It's for visitors.

If you can't adjust your dinner hour to match that of the locals, that's fine – just remember that if a restaurant is dead quiet at 6:30 or 7 in the evening, that may have nothing to do with the quality of the establishment and everything to do with the time.

Explore Italy's alternative travel spots

I'd never suggest that Rome, Florence, or Venice aren't wonderful destinations, well worthy of their fame. But even Italy, as proud as they are of these icons, would love for travelers to branch off the beaten path.

Instead of Florence, consider Lecce in the southern region of Puglia. This exquisite city overflows with elaborate Baroque architecture (but not crowds). Instead of Tuscany, consider Emilia-Romagna, with medieval villages and vineyard-covered hillsides that easily rival its neighbor. Or head to Calabria, the toe of Italy's boot, with its mountainous, forested interior and the seaside charm you might expect from its poetically named Coast of the Gods.

Bonus 7th thing: relax

You'll note in a few of the things listed above that the concept of time may seem a bit fungible in Italy – and it is, in a way.

Breakfast may be a tiny shot of coffee and a pastry inhaled while standing at the bar, and Italian drivers may seem like they all think they're in a Formula 1 race, but generally speaking, Italians aren't wedded to the clock.

You'd do well to try to adopt this mentality while in Italy (when in Rome, etc.), as it will help you avoid frustration with things like train delays and waiting to get the bill in a restaurant. Relax. You're on vacation, after all.

Additional reporting by Ellen Hall

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  • goowai.adele said

    Very interesting. I'm not that observant, but since I've read about this then maybe I'll try to be watchful when I get back to Italy this summer.

    And with regards to the train, I have to agree with you. I even read about "Mussolini made the trains run on time" that it is actually false haha Anyway I have to see it for myself :)


  • trx said

    It's the best time to make some plans for the future and it's time to be happy. I've read this post and if I could I want to suggest you few interesting things or tips. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I wish to read more things about it!

  • EM said

    I am italian, born and mostly raised in Italy. One side of my family is canadian and I've been living in USA for a while so I understand some of your points. I even can agree with you...but well we have a saying "paese che vai, cultura che trovi". :) You did understand some relevant things, and I can tell these tips are really cool.
    You are righ about our trains, I always complain about that. It's a bigger problem than it seems...very complicated situation that involves not only the infrastructures but also the govenment way of using public's not an excuse, I become very frustrated all the times as well.
    I have to disagree at one sentence you wrote: "Italy is a young country".
    We are NOT a young country. I don't know what you mean by that...politically young? Can be. Tecnically/legally, with the denomination of Italy? Yes. But italians have been existing centuries before the unification of our territory..the cultural tradition we have now, belongs to this long past; the fact that we have "campanilismo" doens't make us a less united nation. Italians like to complain a lot, is the 2^ national sport after soccer haha :) but at the end we love our country for his warm and welcoming way of being. We had the roman empire and that makes us one of the oldest countries in Europe. Sometimes I wish we were younger so I could have studied less history in high school! Haha :D In this point I think America is way younger than we are, since you were discovered in 1492 and got the independence in 1776, but yeah, I think you have a longer political tradition than we have.
    I personally appreciate the waiter live me eating my dinner. That even depends to the places you go: in some really high quality (and super expensive) restaurants you are gonna have your personal waiter, he is gonna stand in the corner next to the table, (keeping the courtesy distance) and he is going to be there every time you want, to refill your glass of water or wine and anything else. We use the time at the restaurant to talk with the people we are hanging out with so there is nothing weird about having privacy. Food is a social thing, and yes, is very important for us. We enjoy our culinary specificities. There is no reason to be in a hurry...every clubs and bars are open until late (4/5 am and even 6am if it's summer), so why would you go at dinner at 6pm and eat in 10 minutes?! You have plenty of time!
    Would be a pleasure to read something about USA or Canada if you have time to write it!
    Greetings form Italy

  • Lillie Lewis said

    Fantastic article. Trains on time in Italy ... you can forget it :) LOL I have been only to Rome. But moving to Italy is my dream. It doesn`t matter that there are several disadvantages. There is a lot of romantic in this country, too. Best regards!

  • xD said

    I'm Italian and this article made me had lot of laughts xD.
    Here we say that the grass of your neighbor is always more green than yours Ask there :)
    About dinners, here standard is 8 pm, I would be interested to knows how is the time overseas.
    The quick coffee in the bar for breakfast was developed recently(1950 maybe - nowdays).
    About the call cat too laughts xD, go to small town in Souths babies
    About the waiter, really I know now that our kind of isn't the same as overseas, and thinking on movies, actually, there is differences. But this isn't being cute, is rude. We say pane al pane vino al vino
    Yeah, everyone here would prefer your style of waiters.
    Please consider, that like everywhere, there are people totally different each others. The classic Italian like the classic British, French or Yenkee is leaving place to most "equal" person cause globalization. Actually, probably, the more you will leave big cities, the more you will see the country.
    Now, reading it again, I'm a bit sad, it looks like we are a world of the third world. Unluckily, being totally honestly, the real situations, are even worse(and not described). I'll say just women conditions, kids conditions and even youths conditions(various people that says there isn't work but they aren't capable to find it out). Not mentioning that here the most of what you earn is taken theorically by the "state", the rest by food and primary needs.
    If I would have born American I would stayed there, want to explore? Canada.....
    Ps: here everyone is able of lieing. That's why many fucked womens cry, and why many mens(who fucked) are not the only ones. Don't think too quick one is kind or cool
    Ps 2: nowdays, Italy isn't dangerous for the mid Italian
    Good luck

  • ravi said

    I figured something about Italy after my year long stay there in Milan.

    1. Italians love to waste your time, its not intentional but they do it most of the time.
    2. Italians are most undecided people, be it Caesar not able to decide or common folks.
    3. Italians least truthful people in business, never expect them to keep their words. Germans dislike that is why doing business with them.

  • Sam said

    Enjoyed the op and some of the early comments. How bizarre and weird comments went after that though!

  • eleonora said

    I live in northern Italy, I often take a train for Milan and they're on time or just 5 minutes late, metro are ALWAYS very on time, when I take train in Veneto they're VERY on time,

  • Abdul said

    I have been to Italy, used the train to go from Piza to Florence and it was a normal experience. In terms of hospitality they are very nice. In other areas like business, I ve worked with italian and they are like any other culture. Some dress very well even and we can learn with it :))
    For the trip I booked with a travel agency called Faso travel from Uk, to find out some tips about local villages and they were very helpful
    Still want to go and explore …Rome. Yes, never been, should be an incredible experience.

  • Rowyn said

    We are just about to finish our 4th week in Italy. Like visiting anywhere you should always take precautions of course. But we have found the whole time you can relax and slot into there way of life very easily. Trains were excellent everywhere we used them a lot, eating out can be cheap too look at menus before you enter a restaurant. Italian people are helpful and friendly and speak quite good English everywhere. We have been from sicerly to Venice and have loved everything no complaints, the people are lovely.... oh just be weary of the street sellers of jewlery they re keen to take your money and sell extra stuff, these were Africans one African man actually took extra money out of my wallet trying to sell me extra stuff I didn't want while I was paying him this one was a con man, dressed very brightly, watch out for them they wait to prey on tourists.

  • Cesar Fortun said

    I just came back from Italy from a 15 day visit last month.
    Travelled to Rome, Amalfi, Venice, Ancona, Bologna, Loreto and the Vatican.
    None of these 5-whatever is true.
    I'm going back there again.
    I love Italy and the Italians :-)

  • Cc said

    I just LOVE Napoli!!!! Truly, really!

  • giovanni palermo said

    i like italy, my country of origin, i want to live in italy for real, but how can i find my fathers relatives there in italy if my italian father died when i was young in east africa where i was born.
    help me guys? advice............

  • Z.Bianca said

    I'm Italo-Australian and I spent the best 12 years of my adult life living in Italy. Sure, there was some getting used to the culture, my parents were from the South while I lived in the North. The trains never bothered me because I was within walking distance of everything I needed and I found the buses very reliable. I actually bought myself an apartment, so I wasn't constrained about where it how to live, which brings me to a funny story. I was to fly back to Australia for a vacation. At the time I was only an Australian national, but my Italian was flawless enough to confuse most people, particularly customs staff. Anyway, I arrived at the airport later than I had hoped, even though I was still on time. Bad weather, however, had delayed some flights so my spot was assigned to someone else. The check in officer wad really apologetic and offered to put me on standby, but added that my chances if getting a flight were limited due to cancellations. I told him not to worry, I'd take the next available flight that he could confirm. That was in 2 weeks time and when I said that was fine he didn't seem to accept that it was OK. He probably expected me to get irate etc etc, but hey I was home in Italy and I was going back home to Australia. I really didn't even need to pack and besides, the thought of spending another 2 "summer" weeks with my Italian girlfriend (now my wife) didn't go unnoticed either. So in Italy, do chill out, you will love the experience all the more!

  • gerry said

    to the famely of cbs anchor otis livingston your son was cousing problems in russian american comune if we will catch him he will go to jail for the rest of his life.

  • Sergio said

    Right about the waiters!! I'm Italian, living in the US for over 15 years and I still don't like how the waiters here come and check on me every five minutes. Of course they are not being rude on purpose, it's their way to care, but I found it extremely annoying or actually rude from my point of view. What I mean is that I'm here at a restaurant , sitting at the table, with a date, having a conversation and every 5 minutes we get interrupted by a waiter tell me his name, asking if everything is ok, if I want another beer, wishing me a good nite, expecting our attention one way or the other. With all respect, we did not come to a restaurant to have all sort of small and fake talks with a waiter. I want to enjoy my food, my place and especially my date. Sure, I understand it's just a different way 'to be nice' from the waiter prospective, but enjoying a good mean is not just about the taste of the food, it also about the how, how you eat it, and the Italian is way is just better.

  • cis said

    Italians trains often late? You must be joking! Yes, perhaps a minute or two. Who cares?

    As someone who grew up in Italy thinking our trains were often late, I changed my mind after moving to the UK. Here the train are often VERY LATE or even cancelled (which is worse than a minute or two late) for no particular reason, or some ridiculous reason such as:
    1) too hot (ie over 20 degrees C)
    2) too cold (ie under 0 degrees C, maybe even warmer than that)
    3) leaves on the tracks
    4) some other problem with the tracks such as electrical failures (do they ever do maintenance?)
    5) someone jumped on the tracks (it IS depressing to live here after all)
    UK trains are also RIDICULOUSLY expensive, even more expensive than Denmark, when our income is nowhere comparable to DK incomes.

    Whenever someone I know here in the UK travels to Italy, they invariably tell me how impressed they are with Italian trains being so easy to use, cheap and convenient and on time!

    So please leave Italian trains alone...

  • Greg said

    Just back from 3 weeks in Italy our 4th trip. Enjoy the differences there is no bad food in Italy. Felt safe everywhere, lots of police and security.
    Enjoy, safe travels.

  • Ailton Silva said

    I love to travel to Italy, I love Italy and the Italians, the restaurants, the food and the cities of Italy, my preferable city is Roma and all landscapes from them.

  • Mike said

    How come all the comments are praising Italy, we went to Venice and Bologna 21/2 years ago and loved every minute...
    We went last year for four weeks and with the exception of Naples and down to the Amalfi coast, the rest of Italy was massively disappointing. Locals rude, won't speak English, signs everywhere in Italian so you can't read them, trying to get the last $ out of your pocket. Had instance of ticket inspectors trying to fine us for rubbish reasons, don't believe me, call and ask the Consulate how many calls they get every day, complaints about the Italian people and authorities...
    We travel the world, guess where we advise people not to go to, thank heavens we left Italy and finished our holiday in Greece, totally opposite, beautiful country, beautiful people...

  • Vincent - Nomade Photo said

    "The Waiter Isn't Being Rude When He Leaves You Alone to Eat"
    Ah ah yeah that's a normal waiter with a normal salary. Not an underpaid (or not paid, meaning a SLAVE) waiter who smiles and stay closed to you for his or her tip, like you can find in USA. When I was there i couldn't even eat with my friend without being stared at the whole meal.

  • Marcus said

    Great article. Have to say I've traveled a good Paraty of Italy by train over a 10
    Day period and they were NEVER late. Good job Musso, lol. : / As far as restaurants ...?2 things that amuses me : asking for ice is a nightmare. No matter how hot it is they will look at you and bring one or two cubes. There's no such a thing as a full glass of ice. Don't you dare asking for more. Also, be happy with a single pack of sugar for your cappuccino. Extra sugar ?! Are you crazy ? It's bad for your health. I swear I heard that quite a few times. Well..: Italians are like your grandma on health advices. Nice family advice.

  • Rachel said

    Always get a receipt (even for just a postcard or two) in case the "tax police" are lurking. They have the right to see your purchases and your receipt. I've been to Italy 4 times, different parts of the country and loved every inch but I was glad to have receipt in hand the one time I was asked!

  • Debbie said

    I have never had a more positive travel experience than in Italy. Traveling from Milan to Capri and all in between, the people were amazingly friendly and helpful. For example, when looking a little lost in Roma, a Jesuit priest gave us a personal escort and history lesson while escorting us back to our rented apartment; this just because we asked a direction. Most everyone spoke English so communication was not an issue no matter where we were. We found our trains to be on time, waiters to be very friendly, (some even entertaining), food to be awesome, and I continue to communicate with a local who helped us to arrange transportation. Italy is amazingly beautiful and my experience with the people was beyond expectation. Love Italy/love the people!

  • Lisa said

    Great article with very good advice. I've enjoyed reading all the comments as well. I did think one commenter saying, " Locals rude, won't speak English, signs everywhere in Italian so you can't read them..." was ridiculous! If it's English you want (and need?), perhaps you should stay home, and out of our way, as most of us enjoy the differences and language challenges rather get upset for someone speaking their own language in their own country! Would that guy be able to speak French or Italian or Chinese to a visitor in his town, and would he have his local government change up the street signs to multilingual?
    One thing I would like to add regarding language, as a frequent traveler, at the bare minimum, I think it is only right to learn the words for "hello, please, and thank you". I've become conversational in a couple of languages, but at least knowing how to greet and thank someone can go a long way no matter where you are.

  • Youness Bermime said

    This is an awesome piece. The information here is valuable.
    I just want to add that, if you are visiting Italy, you will definitely need a lot of patience. The whole country works slow at all times of the day.
    Restaurants have a long waiting line sometimes, and so everything else in Italy. Probably even fast food restaurants will make wait a little longer than you'd expect. It'll even make you wonder what's so fast about the food they are serving.

    Italians are very patient people and it is a big part of their culture to take their time with everything they do. However, patience is only one thing about them. There is a list of other things to consider before visiting Italy for the first time. Here's a link to check it out.

    Thanks again for the nice article!

  • rick be said

    You forgot that there is no tipping in Italy,although it is sometimes on the bill.

  • marco said

    Nice post!! You should have mention Aperitivo, something that I have never found anywhere else and it's just awesome!!

  • Jay said

    Check out these awesome places when you go to Florence, Italy! These are places I visited when I studied abroad there.

  • Penelope Whiteley said

    I have spent a great deal of time in Italy, and travelled extensively throughout the country. I love the place! BUT, you have to go with low expectations of ever getting anything done; for example, if you expect a courier to drive up a huge hill to deliver a package ... don't ... it's not going to happen.
    Food is very different from region to region, as you say. For me, it's all delicious.
    Driving is a nightmare of unparalleled proportions!
    You must at least try to speak the language; you'll get so much more if you do.
    The biggest thing is to RELAX. Italy just doesn't work like other countries; different even to its closest cousin, Spain.
    As for Gelato ... what can I say? Oh, and Bufala Mozzarella. I'm heading back next week ...

  • Kyle00 said

    I also spent a really good time there with my mates during my last summer holidays. We all had huge fun there and came back with a lot of pleasant memories. I hope your shared information would be useful for other travellers. Now I am busy at <a href=>thousand islands boat tours</a>

  • vicki said

    how do you spell town/city chip o lone? I am trying to track my ancestors. also knob a lee don ? is there a town or city.

  • adam said

    Things to be in the know before going to Italy this is very helpful, thanks already provide this information to us, our vacation more regularly now and hopefully exciting

  • Ken said

    Italy is awesome.

  • Giovanni said

    I just wanted to point out that "almeno con Mussolini i treni erano in orario" means that back in the fourties trains were punctual, so it is not completly false.

  • Andrea said

    Some points are good. Though trains are not really so bad as you say.
    Italy has a great and affordable train system which has improved a lot in the last years. The south might be still disconnected from the rest of the country but where usual travelers go, in the north of Italy, the standards are high and again, the price are great compared to other European countries like Germany, Austria, France etc
    Another point is: many people ignore the fact that Italy is not only art, food and big cities. The beaches are amazing (in the south of Italy and i the islands) and in the north you have great opportunities for outdoor adventures (hiking, climbing, MTB etc ) since Dolomites and Alps provide among the most beautiful mountains and landscapes in the world.
    Enjoy Italia!

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