Monday, October 24th, 2016

40 Tips for Visiting Italy


I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy.  I studied abroad in Florence, traveled up and down the peninsula, and seem to keep returning.

In that time, I’ve acquired a lot of knowledge about what to do and not to do in Italy.  Here are my best tips for having a great time in Italy!

Italy in General

  • Italy is great and much more tolerable outside peak season.  Try not to visit in the summer, especially August, when Italians go away.
  • Drivers in Italy get crazier the further south you go.  City driving is for expert drivers only.
  • Be prepared to cover up at churches — don’t wear shorts, and bring a scarf to cover your shoulders if necessary.  If not, you might have to wear the dreaded paper shawl.
  • Buy tickets to the most famous museums in advance, and don’t even think about not doing this in the high season.
  • Know that everyone will be dressed MUCH better than you.  If you want to blend in, wear lots of black, designer sunglasses, and great shoes.
  • Ladies, if you need a self-esteem boost, go walk through a market.  Every man will be telling you how beautiful you are.

Food in Italy

  • Want to blend in?  Don’t drink cappuccino after 10:00 AM.  
  • Don’t eat at any restaurant named after a monument, city or famous artist.  These are usually geared toward tourists.
  • For the best food, head for the source: Parma for prosciutto, Capri for ravioli caprese, Umbria for truffles, Tuscany for steaks, Liguria for pesto genovese.  Beyond that, every town has its own specialty.
  • Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s best food region, and Bologna, its capital, is Italy’s best food city.
  • Drink the house wine — always.  It’s delicious and almost laughably cheap for the quality that you get.


  • Visit the Jewish Ghetto (Ghetto di Roma) for some Roman Jewish food the likes of which you won’t find elsewhere in Italy.
  • Don’t visit the Vatican on a Monday — you get the overflow tourists from Sunday, when the sights are closed.
  • Don’t expect to grab lunch around the Trevi Fountain — there is a surprising dearth of decent restaurants in this area.
  • Bring an umbrella to the Forum if you’re sensitive to the sun — there’s very little shade.
  • Go to Trastevere at night to experience typical Roman life, away from the tourist crowds.
  • The best sunset view is from Castel Sant’Angelo, overlooking Saint Peter’s Basilica.  Unreal.


  • For a great view that nobody knows about, go to the department store across the street from Piazza della Reppublica and climb to the very top, including the unofficial-looking staircase on the top floor.  There is a cafe up there with an amazing panoramic view of the city next to the Duomo.
  • Get great shots of the Ponte Vecchio and the river from the Ponte delle Grazie, the bridge east of the Ponte Vecchio.
  • Everyone goes to see the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo, but go a bit further to San Miniato al Monte for an even better view at one of the city’s oldest churches.
  • Go to Il Latini for the best Tuscan meal of your life.
  • Some of the best restaurants are in the winding streets between Piazza della Reppublica and Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
  • The best tiramisu is at Le Collinine, around the corner from Santa Croce.
  • Florence is where you should buy quality souvenirs — buy gold (the city only permits 18k gold and up!) on the Ponte Vecchio and leather in the boutiques near Santa Croce.
  • There is surprisingly good shopping in the basement of the train station!
  • Don’t admire the statue of Neptune in Piazza della Signorina — Florentines consider it the worst art in the city, and it’s often debased.


  • Visit Pisa, but don’t make a day of it — you don’t need to spend more than an afternoon.
  • Pisa and Lucca, with the bulk of the time spent in Lucca, make an easy Tuscany day trip from Florence.
  • Tuscany is still a great place to rent a villa for a week.  The best Tuscany villas are the ones in towns that aren’t mentioned in your guidebook.
  • The Chianti region is part of Tuscany, and October is harvest time.
  • Fiesole is the easiest Tuscan day trip from Florence — just a 20-minute ride on the public bus!
  • To see the most of Tuscany, rent a car — that way, you can hit up five towns or so in one day.


  • Consider visiting Venice in winter.  It’s far less crowded and the city gets an ethereal feel.
  • If you’re going to ride in a gondola, just show up and wait.  The gondoliers will do the bargaining for you.
  • It may be less romantic, but cram as many people as you can into the gondola (up to six people) — the price is supposed to be the same, no matter the number of people.
  • Get lost.  Venice is a great city in which to wander the streets and end up in somewhere totally random.
  • Don’t waste your money on a Bellini at Harry’s Bar — unless rich old people and package tourists are your kind of crowd.
  • Take the boat to the island of Murano for a glassblowing demonstration — it’s definitely worth it.

Other Destinations

  • In Capri, the best things to do are in Anacapri — hike the island and take the chairlift up to Monte Solaro on top of the island.
  • In Assisi, climb Rocca Maggiore, the tallest mountain in town, for an unspeakably scintillating view across miles and miles of the Umbrian countryside.
  • In Orvieto, check out the instruments of medieval torture displayed in the middle of the town.
  • In Santa Margherita, skip the beach and head to the art-selling markets instead.
Have any questions about Italy?  Leave them in the comments!


87 Responses to “40 Tips for Visiting Italy”
  1. Great post Kate, I am thinking of heading back to Florence in the next couple of weeks to just hang about…

    I’ll be putting my Cinque Terre posts up in the next week or so, s keep an eye out. Have a safe trip to Europe!!


    • Maxine Murphy says:

      I look forward to your blog on Cinque Terre, I have been meaning to go for some time and now I’ve finished teaching. Thought I’d fly to Milan and get the train.

    • i.m john says:

      There is a poem “how do i love thee let me count the ways” in Italy is should be “how can i rob thee let me count the ways”

      i Posted here a while back about people getting robbed in Italy. Since then i have received hundreds of emails of people who agree with me and send me the technique that was used when they got robbed.. So far there are 96 different ways.
      The latest Italy “how can i rob thee” scam is the people put their valuables and money in the safe that was in the room. When they returned to the room they noticed the safe was missing. When they went to the manager at the front desk they were told that the hotel does not provide safes in the room and the manager did not know what they were talking about.. Trust me when i tell you that calling the police in a situation such as this is a complete waste of time.. I said it before and i say it again.. When there are some many other more civilized places in the world to visit why go to a place where their main source of making money is stealing from the tourists

  2. Danielle says:

    Great post! I’m definitely going to bookmark this for when I visit Italy.

  3. This is an excellent post! I just came back from Tuscany, and the memories are still fresh and vivid. I was surprised by the fact that Florentines consider the statue of Neptune the worst–it was my favorite actually =). Oh well, tastes differ. If you want to check out my favorite views of Florence and Tuscany, swing by my blog: Thanks =)

  4. Emanuele says:

    It looks like you haven’t visited Sicily – Shame on you Kate!!! 🙂

  5. Great post! But I have two semi-disagreements…

    Sacro e Profano is an excellent restaurant and just a two minute walk from the Trevi. Great Calabrian restaurant (lots of seafood) and great pizza!

    The Bellini at Harry’s Bar is far better than any I’ve ever had. And at €10 for a shot glass size, it better be! If you can afford it, I think it’s worth dealing with old rich people and tourists for a little while. Though, I do prefer picking up a bottle from a shop for just €3 and sipping it outside.

    • Maxine Murphy says:

      I quite liked Harry’s bar, the Bellinis were delicious. I’m not rich but perhaps classed as ‘old’ by Kate. It’s a pity if younger people are put off as the experience is a nice one, just imagining all the legends who have frequented it in different eras and an hour out of our travels isn’t a huge time to ‘waste’. October is a good month to visit Venice, I recommend staying on the Lido, a quiet retreat away from the hustle and bustle and a very interesting island.

  6. I definitely agree! =) Harry’s Bar had the best cocktails I tried in Rome. Really cute and cozy place too.

  7. Irene says:

    Great post Kate! I would only add Cinque Terre as another must-see destination in Italy – the hiking wasn’t easy, but the views were well worth it.

    I saw the Harry’s Bar in Rome and thought I remembered it from an old film, but I’m glad I didn’t bother going in.

  8. I can’t stress how useful this is! I’ll make sure to come have a look when I plan a trip to Italy.

  9. Kris Koeller says:

    Interesting list. I had been told that you pretty much can’t go wrong with the food anywhere.

    • Oh you can go way wrong with food tourist traps! On rare occasions it’s worth compromising a little bit for location. Dining on Piazza Navona on a fall evening is worth a pricey and ‘just okay’ meal, in my opinion.

    • Seconded! You can’t go wrong with hole-in-the-wall restaurants, but going for the tourist trap restaurant is a losing proposition. If you get stuck in the loop, like in the route between the Pantheon and the Fountain of Trevi, find yourself a cheese shop and buy yourself a big hunk of mozzarella and a piece of bread instead. Guaranteed happiness.

  10. Sheryll says:

    Awesome post Kate! I’ll be heading to Rome and Venice this winter and I CANNOT wait! I’m so glad I’m going off season so I can experience the cities without all the hoards of other tourists!

  11. Olga says:

    This is a great post! I completely agree with everything. Venice is definitely better in the winter and I prefer visiting Italy in April or so rather than summer. The weather is still perfect then! 🙂

  12. This is a great post. Italy is probably my favorite country, I’ve been twice and still haven’t tried most of the tips listed on here… Looks like I need to make a return trip.. Esp to Tuscany. 🙂

  13. I love, love, love Italy, and I would just add a few more tips:

    1. If you’re in Italy during the summer, consider taking the train out of Rome or Tuscany for a couple of days and going to Umbria. It’s lesser-known, but there are plenty of the medieval hilltop towns that first made Tuscany so famous. I studied abroad in Perugia, so I am partial to the city, but Orvieto (home of fabulous white wine), Spoleto, Gubbio, and (of course) Assisi are well worth braving the driving or the public transportation.

    2. If you’re close to Perugia in the summer or fall: Umbria Jazz (summer) – amazing, and Perugia chocolate festival. OMG. I never got to go, but apparently the whole air is rich with the smell of chocolate. Ohhh yess. Perugia is the home of the Perugina chocolate company, which makes the omnipresent Baci chocolates and Perugina Gianduiotti and many, many more products that this chocolate lover loves.

    3. Beach lovers: Ligurian coast (NW coast, easy to drive or take the train to from Florence, Pisa, or Torino) and the Adriatic Sea. Avoid tourists in Rimini by aiming a little further south towards Ancona or Pescara. Any small town will do!

    Last but not least… enjoy! Italy, I miss you!

  14. I would have to say this is a splendid list but a lot more tips then I would ever use. You had me with the information for the foods in Italy. House wine huh I think I try that technique and I will make sure to stay away from the tourist restaurants.

  15. Lots of great information from everyone =). How much Italian do you speak?

  16. James Cook says:

    I spent 6 weeks in Florence where I was a sculptors model I love that city!

  17. Robert says:

    Hi Kate,

    I’m trying to work out the department store in Florence you enjoyed the view from. Is it Rinascente on the east side of Piazza Repubblica? Google Street View shows that as a wide grey? five-storey building with what looks like a roof terrace above the roof.

  18. maxine says:

    ‘unless rich old people and package tourists are your kind of crowd’ Kate although your blog and tips are mostly interesting, I dont think you know how pretentious some of your statements sound. There is nothing wrong with the rich and the old or ‘tourists’ in Rimini for that matter, so please don’t decry them. Plus the Bellinis in Harry’s may be overpriced but they are divine – I agree with Mountain Butorac on that score, and who wouldn’t want to experience a venue frequented by Hemingway and the like? Its the history of the place and the fascination with that that attracts people from all walks of life.
    Venice is really nice in October, still warm but not as crowded, try staying on the Lido for the best of both worlds. Villa Mabapa is a nice hotel choice and there are good deals online.. Bologna is magical just before Xmas with al the decorations in the shops and christmas trees in the street. the food is divine, try an Osteria for basic food from the area. I have a friend who is from Bologna and have visited several times. Its not a big tourist honey pot like Rome, Florence or Venice but has lots of things to do and the eating out can be amazing – Osteria Della Lanterna is really good. Young people sit on the steps of San Petronio Basilica and watch the world go by till the early hours. The porticos are many and some have frescos. You can walk right up to the monastery under the porticos but its a long hot walk in the height of summer so be warned. There are shops to buy icecream on the way though. Try to learn a bit of Italian before visiting because english is not spoken in some shops. Go to the market in bologna which sell clothes, amongst other things, you can pick up real designer items (perhaps last season but great bargains) . You might have to rummage a bit but its fun.

  19. Tiffany says:

    Love love love this post! I am currently a week and a half in my trip to Italy and wish I would have seen this sooner! I am visiting friends here but took the train to Venice yesterday solo. When my friend picked me up at the train station, she asked my favorite part about Venice. I told her the history, canals and of course, getting lost!

  20. Giorgia says:

    Hello Kate! These are very nice tips, good job! I’m Italian, from Bologna and I’m glad to read that you find Bolognese food the best of Italy ;D finally someone who understand this ahahahahah! I’m following you on twitter, I saw you’re in Bologna right now so if you need anything (even if you look more expert than me about Italy) I can help you!
    Giorgia 😉

  21. Bobby V says:

    We’ll be visiting Italy for 3 weeks mid September to October, Rome, Milan, Florence Tuscany , Venice. Wha Cinque Terre. Best advice on what should the men wear?

  22. Truly a guide on how to conquer Italy! Can’t wait to make my visit!

  23. Meg says:

    Thanks for the tips! I do have a more specific request for tips though, if you’re wiling.

    I’m taking high school students to Europe next summer (insane–I know–but it was the only way I could get myself there cheaply/free) and as a bonus, I get to attend a training in Rome in November. I only have ONE afternoon to myself in Rome, and ONE dinner that is not provided. I’m already hitting the major tourist spots (Vatican, Coloseum, Trevi Fountain) with the training group, so I don’t have to worry about those. What would you recommend for ONE afternoon in Roma? I’m interested in eating (pizza, gelato, pasta, wine), and history (I’m a European history teacher)!

    P.S. Your blog rocks. It is partly what inspired me to take my students traveling!

  24. Kristin says:

    Great Blog with great tips! Thanks! Wondering if you can help? My daughter will be studying in Florence for the yr with time on wkends to travel throughout Europe. She leaves this week! She’ll be celebrating her 19th b-day there on Sept. 22 & she’s looking for something adventurous to do with friends – not just the typical site-seeing, which she’s excited about & will do plenty of, but she wants to DO something for her birthday. Suggestions? Thanks!

  25. Lori says:

    Kate, I’ve been waiting 48 years to go to Italy & I believe 2013 is the year. There is so much I want to see & do but I only have two weeks. I’d like to see Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscanny, Capri, Umbria & other places I have not yet discovered. I want to soak in every bit of culture. I still have family there but they are about 147 years old. I’m not really psyched on a tour bus thing & I am BAD with directions so renting a car would probably be a lot of wasted time. What do you suggest? How can I get the biggest bang for my buck? Really appreciate any advice you can give me. Lori

  26. Ila says:

    Traveling can be quite satisfying, but it may also be plenty of work and
    organizing. Irrespective, if you know what you can do and ways to traveling wiser, you could have a excellent journey.
    So, do yourself and use the above ideas to all of your long term travel strategies.

  27. One_searcher says:

    If you go to Italy there is a very large possibility that you will be robbed. I think this is their number one money making industry there. We watched a tourist bus pull up next to a cathedral and next to it was a police car escorting the tourists on the bus.. What kind of a place needs to have a police for the tourists?
    My wife and i went there we lost her purse. They actually drove up next to us in a motor scooter and opened the door and reached in and took her purse. As we spoke to other people in out group on the return trip we found out that others had their purses stolen and one man was the victim of pickpockets.. If you go online and type in “robbed in Italy’ you will see the many hundreds of ways that they rob people. Everything from the corrupt police being involved to phoney taxi drivers to groups of small children.. Someone once said “you cannot cheat and honest man” . Evidently he had never visited Italy..
    There are many nicer and SAFER places to visit.. I highly recommend someplace else.

    • Alex B says:

      This is silly. You could get robbed anywhere in the world. I’ve been robbed more times in my own country (US) than in any developing nation or busy tourist spots! Sure, maybe it happens a lot in Italy, but does that mean you shouldn’t visit a country with so much beauty and history and incredible sights to see? NO!! It means you shouldn’t carry anything valuable with you (I never bring my credit card out, just the cash that I need for the day and my drivers license that is easily replaceable) and just watch yourself. If you are avoiding incredible places like Italy because of some bad experiences, I feel sorry for you. This is the way the world works, unfortunately. You can’t hide from it!

  28. amri says:

    Hi kate :),
    I found your take on italy really useful. I wish i could leave everything behind and go on a world tour 🙁 !!
    That saying, I am planning to dump my two kids with parents and go travelling to italy for 2 weeks ( never been to europe) with hubby.

    1) Is Italy the best choice is there any other european city i should be considering? )
    2) How much money should I budget for? ( i am planning to travel in January during kids hols)

  29. john says:

    We got robbed in Italy. As we talk with our friends and other travelers we find more and more people saying the same thing. They got robbed in Italy and will not ever go back. There are many very nice civilized countries to visit without have to go there and worry about how soon you are going to lose your wallet or camera.

  30. kyou says:

    great post, I plan on going to Italy next year for the first time ever, what are the important things I should know?

  31. Danny Kae says:

    Hi Kate, Im so new in Europe and will be travelling to Italy this mid September with my girl friend. Thanks for the tips!

  32. Corinna says:

    Great article Kate! I am so happy you included Umbria in your list! Assisi and Orvieto are both good choices! Happy travel to Italy everyone! 🙂

  33. Celeste says:

    Any tips on where to stay in cinque terre?

  34. Janet Yeoh says:

    We are a family if 3 adults going to Southern Italy, Sicilly and Malta.

    We have booked a week in each of the RCI time share apartments in Assisi,Bari, Taormina in Sicilly and Malta.

    Like your advise whether it is best to reduce 2 days from Bari and 1-2 days from Sicilly resort to tour Naples, Sorrento and Isle of Capri. Or, if you have other suggestion.

    Like to find out if you can recommend a reasonable and central hotel around Sorrento for 2-3 nights.

    Hoping to rent a car from Rome or Venice and drive to Assisi, Bari and return in a Naples.

    Hope to use public transport in Naples, Sorrento and Isle of Capri.

    Is it a good idea to fly from Naples to Sicilly?

    Hope to use public transport in Sicilly as have read many negative reviews with the rental car company.

  35. Debbie says:

    Awesome tips! I am planning a 2 week trip to Italy in April 2015 and will definitely consider these tips. I have a few questions. I will use Florence as a base because I have a place to stay there. I’m wondering if it’s cheaper to fly in somewhere else then take a train ride to Florence? I’ve heard of flying into Switzerland and taking a train ride to Italy to enjoy the view of the Swiss Alps… I plan to stay in Italy for a whole week but wondering if I should venture out to a different country while in Italy and if so, which country would make the most sense (economically and distance)? Thank you for your help in advance 🙂

  36. vfrois says:

    Hi Kate

    We’ll be in Florence next month for 7 nights and also celebrating my wife’s birthday. Any nice local authentic restaurant to recommend?

    Thank you

  37. Delores Lyon says:

    Thanks for sharing all of these great little tips! It is good to know where to go for food when you want to have that real, authentic Italian experience. I’ll be sure to know where certain dishes originated, and then get that food in those places. If I am going to be experiencing Italy, I want to be sure I experience it in the best way possible.

  38. i.m John says:

    Going to Italy be prepared to be robbed.. it is if you wil be robbed but how soon after you arrive. This place has perfected two things.. making wine and stealing from tourists.

  39. Kate says:

    I go on holiday in Puglia this Saturday! Finally holidays, sun, sea food and Italian wine!

  40. Ann says:

    I appreciate your tips and your solo traveling. Bravo, indeed. I hope you enjoy many more adventures. Please though, don’t humiliate yourself by being ageist. You know, you might be surprised to find many intrepid old ladies adventuring in the world, just like yourself. They may even be reading your blog. You might like to know them, or get tips from them, for the day when you become an old adventurer. Old people have lived and can be quite fascinating if you give them half a chance. When you do get old, and you will, one of the things you will notice quickly, is how unkind people are to elders, especially women. Perhaps you, with your excellent public forum here, will help to change that intolerant atmosphere by shifting your way of speaking about elders, rich or otherwise. They are people too! For an interesting perspective on older people, peruse Indian Country Today, and notice how old people are spoken of there. In many cultures of the world older people are appreciated – even loved, sought for their perspectives and insights! Thank you!

  41. Belle says:

    I disagree strongly with your recommendation of Il Latini in Florence. It was the worst restaurant we tried in Florence. I just don’t understand why it gets mentioned all the time as a great Florentine institution. The service was gruff. The food was rough and unsophisticated. Screams tourist trap.

    We had much better and more sophisticated food elsewhere in this city.

  42. I agree with all of your tips for traveling in Italy. After living in Italy I began leading small tours to my favorite places and my love for the people, the cuisine, the scenery, the history and art only continues to expand.


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