40 Tips for Visiting Italy

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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.

Rome

  • 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.

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Where to Stay in Rome


Florence

  • 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.

Tuscany

  • 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.

Venice

  • 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.

You can find the best prices on hotels in Italy here. As with any destination, I recommend purchasing travel insurance before heading to Italy. I never travel without it and always use World Nomads.

Have any questions about Italy?  Leave them in the comments!
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