- We travelled to Italy on a spontaneous week holiday and were not prepared at all.
- Make sure to learn from our mistakes.
- Here are some top tips for travelling to Italy.
Somewhat spontaneously and mostly out of sheer exhaustion, my significant other and I booked a nine-day trip to Italy. Partly due to the fact we had booked our tickets a few weeks before our trip, we didn’t prepare ourselves the way we normally do before travelling to another country.
Here are 12 things that you absolutely need to know before travelling to Italy if you’ve never been before.
Know the basics of the language.
Prior to trips abroad, I typically take a few moments to educate myself on the basics of the country’s dominant language. This trip, however, I was ill-prepared to navigate the basics of conversations in Italian. Thankfully almost everyone I met spoke either English or Spanish as a second language. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to arm yourself with the basics of any language.
For Italian, I’d recommend taking the intro courses on Duolingo. If you’re travelling to less touristy parts of the country, it’s especially important to be able to order your food, ask directions, and find the bathroom – for emergencies, of course. For those of you with good allergies, it’s good to know that “latte” is “milk” in Italian. “Cappuccino di soya” means “cappuccino with soy [milk],” and “senza gluten” means “without gluten.”
Buy tickets ahead of time.
Italy is home to a lot of history and with that history comes some of the best museums in the world. Don’t be like me and risk not getting into a museum because you didn’t buy tickets ahead of time.
Other popular tourist attractions like the Vatican and La Accademia usually have long waiting lines. Buying tickets in advance will allow you to skip part of the lines, walking past suckers like me who decided last minute to try to get into some of the most famous places in the world. No, seriously, there was a three and a half hour wait for the Uffizi Museum in Florence that could have been avoided had I purchased my ticket ahead of time.
Be prepared for the off-season.
During the off-season, you can expect most restaurants to be closed, a lack of people in general, and even early and unpredictable closing times. On the plus side, you won’t have to deal with crowds of tourists or wait in lines for the few restaurants that are open during this time of the year.
Double check when off-season for these locations are so you’re not stuck with a semi-abandoned town with too-few restaurant options.
The weather can also affect coastal towns.
In addition to having relatively long off-seasons, coastal towns can be significantly impacted by bad weather.
If you’re headed to the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre, be prepared to have flexible plans. Hiking is nearly impossible if there’s by an influx of rain or snow, for obvious reasons. Bad weather can also cause unpredictable landslides, which can be particularly unsafe on hiking trails, and unexpected flooding.
Make sure to check local hiking sites before you head out on a hike.
Express passes can be beneficial.
If you only have a few days in a particular Italian town, it might be worth your money to invest in an express pass.
For example, Florence has the “Firenze Card” that grants you ticket admission and priority access to most, if not all, of the most popular attractions and museums in the city for 72 hours.
As of 2018, the card cost 72 euros, which is worth the money if you’re already planning on tourist-hopping across the city’s famed spots. Rome has a similar pass called the “Roma Pass” with various packages and the OMNIA Vatican and Rome Card for 113 euros.
Learn the right way to say “grazie.”
The typical American way to pronounce “thank you” in Italian is “grat-zee,” but this is far from correct.
The correct pronunciation of “grazie” is “grat-zee-eh” with an emphasis on the last “e.” It’s better to know the right way to say this word as you’ll use it a lot while travelling. Note that the typical response to “grazie” is “prego.”
Reconsider non-official ticket vendors.
Skipping a long line for a tourist destination sounds like a dream, but make sure you walk to the location and scout out the line to see if negotiating with vendors outside is worth risking your money.
Typically one of two things will happen if you trust on non-official vendor outside of a tourist area. The first is that you’ll lose all your money. The second is that you pay a premium to skip a line only to form a new line for security – or skip a non-existent line.
A friend of mine recently paid a non-official ticket vendor outside the Vatican and paid 35 euros for to skip the line, even though St. Peter’s Basilica is free to enter and the museum is less than 20 euros to enter.
Meanwhile, on my second trip to the Vatican museum, a non-official ticket vendor stood in front of me telling me that the line was an hour and a half long. I politely told them I’d like to double check before purchasing anything and walked straight into the museum. There was absolutely no line, but it would have cost me 50 euros to skip a non-existent line if I hadn’t checked.
There are very few toilet seats.
Don’t be alarmed if you head to the “bagno” and find that there is no toilet seat. Apparently, this is a completely common practice that originated as a result of repeated breaking.
The story goes: toilet seats were apparently filthy so people stood on them to avoid sitting on the seat. As a result, the seats would keep breaking and instead of forking out money to keep replacing them, bathroom owners simply removed the issue, according to The Florentine.
The Roman transit system is challenging.
From the horror stories I was told by a friend living in Rome, the city’s transit system is very challenging.
You might recall the escalator incident from earlier this year, but apparently, the city’s buses have a habit of bursting into flames. In 2017, there were 22 reported bus fire-related incidents, as of May 2018, nine buses had succumbed to spontaneous combustion. As for the subway system, after hearing a few horror stories about pickpockets and the total sparsity of train stops near the area I was staying, we walked absolutely everywhere we needed to go. Rome is surprisingly walk-able if you have the right shoes and about thirty to forty minutes to kill.
Sorry, drip coffee isn’t a thing.
In lieu of your favourite morning drip coffee, ask for a double espresso with a side of hot water. Sure, technically this is called an Americano, but not all places know how to make a good one. If you’re desperate for drip coffee, this will do the trick.
According to Eataly, Italian coffee culture is extremely important. They typically drink milky coffee drinks only before 11 in the morning with an espresso and other forms of the espresso drink saved for afternoon energy boosts. An Americano is the closest thing you’ll come to drip coffee in most, if not all, of Italy.
Don’t expect an omelet for breakfast.
If you want eggs for breakfast in Italy you’re going to have to hunt for them and, if you find them, you’ll pay a premium.
The typical Italian breakfast is a delicious hot coffee drink with a pastry of some sort. This is my preferred breakfast order, so you could say I was pleased with my morning routine of espresso shots and chocolate-filled breakfast pastries. My significant other, however, hunted up and down for eggs until he settled on buying a plate of shockingly priced scrambled eggs.
Sundays are interesting.
On the first Sunday of every month, you can get into most museums in Rome for free – except the Vatican museum which is only free on the last Sunday of the month.
The first time I visited the city, I went to the Vatican Museum for free, the only catch was that I had to go at six in the morning and wait in the world’s longest line to get in. But, it was worth it. Of course, as of 2016, Sundays in Rome are car and scooter free, kind of. The eco-Sundays were created to help reduce air pollution in the city. Only vehicles that are eco-friendly, like hybrids and electric vehicles, are allowed to operate during this time. But, don’t worry, if you’re looking for a taxi, you’ll be able to find one as they are all eco-friendly and ready to drive you to your destination sans pollution.
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