More and more people today want to visit Chernobyl and the new HBO series is bound to make it an even more popular tourist destination.
I visited Chernobyl 2 years ago, when it was not even trendy yet, and truly enjoyed it. I went on a 1-day tour that departed from Kiev and that took me to all the most interesting sites, such as the DUGA, the Kopachi Kindergarten and Pripyat, which used to be the biggest town in the area, and the most lively and affluent.
In this post, I will explain everything you should know to visit Chernobyl and will share a few tips to make the most of your time there. Before I do that, however, let me share some background information on Chernobyl and tell you why you should visit.
In a rush? Go straight to the point and book your guided tour of Chernobyl. Here is a selection of the best ones:
Cyrillic characters announce visitors that they have arrived to Chernobyl
A Bit Of Information Before You Visit Chernobyl
Chernobyl Power Plant is located in Ukraine at about 130 km north of Kiev, close to the border with Belarus. In 1986, when the biggest nuclear incident in history occurred (400 times more the radiation of the bomb of Hiroshima, to give you an idea of the deep impact the explosion had), this was part of the USSR (it currently is Ukraine). Back then, there were four nuclear reactors in the power station, two of which where still under construction.
The power station is located at 18 km north of Chernobyl, which (I admit to not knowing this) is a really ancient town, funded over 1000 years ago and famous for being a center of Hasidic Judaism in the 19th century.
In April 1986, before the incident occurred, Chernobyl counted around 20000 inhabitants. It was not the largest town of the area. That was Pripyat, which was funded in the 1970s to accommodate people who worked in the power station, and which at the time of the disaster counted 50000 people. This was an avant-guard model Soviet town with lots of parks, as well as the closest city to the power plant, at about 5 km away.
On the early hours of April 26, 1986 one of the reactors of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant experienced an unexpected surge of power, that caused a series of explosions and a fire in the core of the reactor, with the result that a large cloud of highly radioactive particles spread in the atmosphere and was blown from Ukraine across Europe.
36 hours after the nuclear disaster, the Soviets enacted the 10-kilometers exclusion zone which meant that the all people and their animals living in the area were evacuated. It is said that the delay in the evacuation was due to the favorable wind direction, which meant that it was actually safer to wait rather than evacuate. However, this may well be what was said in order to justify the delay in the evacuation.
Subsequently, the exclusion zone was extended to a radius of 30 kilometers, which meant that a further 68000 people were evacuated from the area, including from Chernobyl itself.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is actually much bigger than you would expect: 2600 square kilometers, an area that is actually larger than Luxembourg.
Hardly anybody lives in Chernobyl today. A few years after the nuclear accident, 3000 people returned to the exclusion zone. Nowadays, only 400 of those 3000 that returned are still alive, and other than these people, the only ones around are those who are still employed in the clean-up and who work at Chernobyl Power Plant, which is currently under decommissioning and scheduled to end in 2065.
Against all odds wildlife is still present and actually thriving in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone: wild horses, bears, dears, foxes, lynxes and wolves live in the Red Forest, which you will drive by during your Chernobyl visit. There are even many stray dogs and a few cats – apparently (well) fed by the people who work in the exclusion zone.
Why You Should Visit Chernobyl
Each one of us may have a different reason to visit Chernobyl. I visited the exclusion zone because this is one of the first clear memories of a big (sad) event I have since my childhood, and I wanted to see with my eyes what the place I heard so much about when I was a child really looked like.
You should visit Chernobyl to grasp the real damage to this earth man can do, and to also know how nature, in the end, will claim everything back. You should visit Chernobyl if you are attracted to eerie places that have been completely abandoned (dark tourism is quite a thing, nowadays). You should visit Chernobyl if Soviet Era architecture fascinates you. And it honestly is a great addition to a trip to Ukraine.
A tour of Chernobyl usually starts with a visit to the city. Chernobyl today is almost completely desert.
5 Things To Know To Visit Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
Is it safe to visit Chernobyl?
The first question you should ask yourself before you visit Chernobyl is whether it is safe to visit. The short answer is yes: 34 years after the disaster it is safe to go to the exclusion zone. You won’t be exposed to much radiation during the visit, but keep in mind that, according to research, it will take at least 20000 years for the area to be finally radiation free.
Upon visiting Chernobyl, your tour guide will explain that the level of radiation people are exposed to during a day tour of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is the same as that of a long haul flight – in other words minimal and without any real impact. Of course, it’s important to pay attention to what the guides say – ie not touching anything (first and foremost the soil, which may be radioactive, but even not throwing snow balls), not eating anything, no sitting on the ground, wearing closed shoes, etc.
As visitors leave the exclusion zone, they have to go through an old soviet radiation control checkpoint where they are requested to place their hands while the device checks the radiation levels.
The best time to visit Chernobyl
Most people would recommend visiting Chernobyl in the spring or summer months, when temperatures are good and the area is in full bloom. I actually suggest going in the winter for an even more eerie experience.
I visited Chernobyl Exclusion Zone on 11 February 2017 – the temperatures in Ukraine were freezing compared to Sardinia, where I live. There were 30 centimeters of snow and more on the ground. That gave the whole place a surreal aura.
The main reason why I suggest to go in the winter is that the radiation is carried by particles like dust and soil. Snow acts as a blanket, and makes sure that these particles don’t fly around. On a spring or summer day, a little bit of wind may cause the radiation levels to triple.
Can you visit Chernobyl independently?
The short answer is no. You definitely need a guide to visit Chernobyl, and this is for obvious safety reasons. A guide will tell you the paths where you can walk and will keep you out of trouble.
Throughout our tour of Chernobyl, we carried a geiger – photo courtesy of Margherita Ragg, The Crowded Planet
Guided tours of Chernobyl
Guided tours of Chernobyl are now a thing. They cost around €90 and can be bought online. Most of them depart from Kiev. They typically last a day but some even go on for two days. Tours usually take you to see Reactor 4, the amusement park, Chernobyl town, the Duga radar, and the nuclear power plant. Last year even the control room was opened to tourists, as a result of decree signed by the Ukrainian government upon wishes of President Zelensky to design the area as a tourist attraction.
There is a tour company that even includes a visit with the self-settlers.
This is a selection of the best guided tours of Chernobyl:
By all means, make sure to read the reviews before you pick your tour company.
As I have already said, you can only visit Chernobyl on a tour group, because it is necessary to follow some strict rules, for safety reasons: eating, drinking and touching anything in the area is strictly forbidden (for obvious reasons); it’s necessary to follow specific paths and some buildings are completely off limits – and only certified guides will be able to point which ones.
Read more about guided tours on my post “Ten reasons to take a guided tour at least once in life.”
In order to enter the area, you will have to go through several checkpoints. When leaving, you are checked again for radiation and should your clothes or shoes appeared contaminated, you’d have to leave them behind. Throughout the visit, guides carried a geiger, which measures the levels of radioactivity. It is interesting to see how these varied dramatically even in the space of one or two meters.
A tour of Chernobyl also shows a yard with vehicles that were used in the decontamination
Visiting the best sights
Tours of Chernobyl usually start in Chernobyl town itself. Chernobyl today is completely empty: empty apartment buildings with shut windows; empty shuttered shops; what appears to be a school or a library, and on the other side a statue representing a winged angel.
There’s a yard where decontaminating vehicles have been abandoned – their bright colors at odds with the blinding whiteness of the snow; and a monument built in memory of the firefighters who helped put out the fire of the nuclear plant and died of acute radiation-related sickness a few days after Chernobyl disaster.
The DUGA Radar
One of the most incredible sights in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is that of the DUGA. This is an enormous over-the-horizon radar (of which apparently nobody knew: only in 2013, when the area was opened to the public, people learned about it) that the Soviets used to detect potential missiles coming from the US airspace, as part of an early-warning and reaction system of defense. It’s 500 meters long, 90 meters high, and you will see upon visiting that is hardly possible to catch it on camera. It’s rumored that it was in order to provide power to such a massive radar that the Chernobyl Power Plant was built.
The DUGA has been nicknamed “the Russian Woodpecker” because of the constant tapping noise it made.
The DUGA is one of the most impressive sights of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
The Kopachi Kindergarten is another interesting sight. It is one of the few accessible buildings. The village – which was 7 km away from Reactor 4, was so badly affected by the radiation that it was completely buried. The kindergarten is one of the very few buildings that are a testimony of its existence.
I am not sure whether what you end up seeing is real or if it has just been staged for visitors. Either way, it feels like you are walking through a horror themed park. It looks like this place has been abandoned in a rush: there are old dolls, books and other toys scattered everywhere; the small bed frames of the dormitories left to rust; broken windows and glass everywhere.
Scattered books at the kindergarten – one of the eeriest sights in Chernobyl today
The tour of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone continues to this reactor, which can be seen from a distance. A huge concrete structure similar to an arch was built around the reactor to prevent radiation from escaping. Apparently, the radioactive material inside is so toxic that it can’t be removed and that’s why a sarcophagus structure was built around it immediately after the explosion. The entire area is currently under decommissioning – there’s still people who work there. It is not possible to take pictures of the area (besides the arch).
A new sarcophagus has been built and placed on the site in October 2017, thanks to EU funding. This is meant to limit the radiation for another 100 years.
The saddest ferris wheel I have ever seen: those who visit Chernobyl remain impressed by it – photo courtesy of Margherita Ragg, The Crowded Planet
Pripyat generally is the last stop during tours of Chernobyl exclusion zone. The now-abandoned town is the perfect symbol of a life that could have been, but never was. It is such a reminder of the damage man can cause – to nature, to other human beings, and to life in general – for the sake of power and control.
This ghost town used to be a happy city, as the old pictures showed: its young inhabitants (the average age was just 26) walking along the boulevards; shops; schools; beautiful homes; stadiums; a park; playgrounds and swimming pools. To celebrate the happiness, an amusement park was built: bumper cars, a ferris wheel, a shooting range. It was meant to be inaugurated on 1 May 1986.
Life in Pripyat stopped on that sad day of April 1986, when the city was completely evacuated. Nowadays, the ferris wheel is a sad reminder of a happiness that was never fully achieved. Nature is claiming back the city – though as it was covered in snow when I visited, this wasn’t nearly as visible as it would be during the spring and summer months.
Pripyat is now completely dead. The silence is deafening. There is nobody around, except for other visitors on guided tours and the odd dog who follows you around. On the main square, the Hotel Polissa – once the best hotel in the city – stands next to the Palace of Culture, where there used to be a boxing ring, a gymnasium, a cinema and a swimming pool.
A phone booth reminds me of what life must have been like in Pripyat before Chernobyl disaster
On the other side of the square, standing alone in one corner, there’s a phone booth: who was the last person to call from there? Who was he or she calling? What were they saying to each other?
Needless to say, my question – and many others I didn’t really ask out loud – is left unanswered.
Those who visit Chernobyl should make sure to spend some time in Kiev
Other Useful Information To Plan Your Trip To Chernobyl
What to wear when visiting Chernobyl
Whether you visit Chernobyl in the winter or in the spring months, the key is to make sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes. You are also advised to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants even in the summer, to minimize the risk of contamination. Here’s a list of essentials:
- Comfortable walking shoes. If you are visiting in the winter, you really need a good pair of waterproof hiking boots to walk on snow.
- A rain jacket in case of bad weather.
- If you are going in the winter, you need the thickest parka you can find – something that keeps you warm for the many hours you will spend walking around.
- Again, if you are going in the winter you will need thermal underwear – pants and shirt; multiple layers of fleece and thick wool socks.
- If you have them, you may want to wear ski pants – they are guaranteed to keep you warm and dry in the cold winter of Ukraine.
- Gloves, scarf and a hat are a must. You may even want to take some hand warmers. Use a pair for your hands and one for your feet.
- A good camera – mirrorless if you want something compact, or a good smartphone if you want.
Using Kiev as your starting point to visit Chernobyl
The best starting point to visit Chernobyl is Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, which has a very good selection of hotels and restaurants. I recommend spending a few days there to make the most of it, as there are a lot of things to see in Kiev: churches, touching monuments (such as those dedicated to the famine and the Ukrainian genocide), street art and much more. I particularly loved observing people fishing in the frozen Dnepr river.
If you are planning to spend a few days in Kiev, make sure to check out this 3 day Kiev itinerary.
Where to stay and eat in Kiev
With regards to hotels, the Ukrainian capital has a great selection. Here are just a few places:
Possibly one of the best desserts I have had in years
The choice of restaurants in town is fantastic. I ate at Ostanya Barykada, which is a secret restaurant that can be entered through a gift shop in an underground shopping mall. You even need a password to get in. Unfortunately, I can’t remember! What I do remember is that the place is incredibly quirky: the name (which translated means “the last barricade”) is a reminder of the struggle for independence from the Soviet Union. When I visited, there was a live band playing some fine jazzy tunes. The food is simply delicious. I had the traditional chicken Kiev and a mouthwatering dessert of apple tart, meringue, and home-made ice-cream.
Another fantastic restaurant is Shoti, which however focuses on Georgian cuisine. I tried the Georgian style ravioli and they were so full of flavor!
How to get to Kiev
Direct flights are available from several European capitals, as well as from the United States. Several budget airlines also have flights from European cities – so if you are flexible about dates, you trip won’t cost you a fortune.
One of the most interesting sights in Chernobyl is the people fishing in the frozen river
Other useful information
I always recommend getting travel insurance for any of your trip – and this definitely applies to a trip to Chernobyl. Make sure to also get a good travel insurance before you visit Chernobyl. Get yours here.
Check out my post “Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”
For more readings about Chernobyl, you can check one of these books:
Final Thoughts On Visiting Chernobyl
When I shared the pictures of my trip to Chernobyl to some family and friends, some of the comments I received were of the sort: “It doesn’t exactly look like a merry place;” “it truly looks like the set of a post-apocalyptic movie;” and “that would not be a fun trip.” They were right, in a way. A tour of Chernobyl isn’t exactly a lighthearted kind of experience, and it leaves visitors with lots of questions and doubts. I wasn’t sad though – I didn’t feel the same kind of sadness or anger I felt when I visited the War Remnants Museum of Saigon, in Vietnam, or the Corner House in Riga, Latvia.
I am glad I had a chance to visit Chernobyl
In any case, I don’t think that we only ought to travel to have a good time. Traveling is also an incredible eye opener: it is a way to learn more about cultures and histories that are different from ours. It gives us the possibility to know what humans are capable of, in their constant struggle for supremacy.
Chernobyl is just that: a strong reminder that disasters can happen that may affect the entire world, and that we should strive to make this world a better place for all.
Yes, I am glad I had a chance to visit Chernobyl, and I think it is really worth going.
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One of the reasons tourists love Israel is the many beautiful beaches. Running parallel to the city, Tel Aviv beaches are perfect for a few hours in the sun, to swim, to play sports (don’t miss a game of matkot, Israel’s favorite sport) and relax.
Whether you plan to visit Israel in the summer months or in the winter time, you will find a reason to hang out at Tel Aviv beach, much like the locals do. Go in the summer, and you will enjoy the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Travel in the winter and Tel Aviv beach is perfect for a walk, the best place to catch sunset and charming even on a stormy day. This long stretch of fine sand is divided in various beaches, each of them with their own perks.
What’s best is that Tel Aviv beaches are all incredibly easy to access from the city (you can literally walk there from downtown, and several buses run along the waterfront too); they are usually free; most are equipped so you can rent beds, umbrellas and whatever else you may need for the day. And there are several nice restaurants where you can grab a bite and a drink if you feel like it.
Top this off with a fabulous waterfront that is perfect for running (I have done that myself a bunch of times), biking, skating or even simply walking) and you will see why a day in one of Tel Aviv beaches is a must!
In this post I highlight the best beaches in Tel Aviv, starting from the south of the city and going all the way to the north.
15 Fabulous Tel Aviv Beaches
Givat Aliya Beach
This Tel Aviv beach is located south of Old Jaffa and close to Bat Yam. You can get there via a couple staircases that you will find on Bat Galim Street. It gets a mix crowd of both Jews and Israeli Arabs, and of young people who hang out there on weekdays and families with children who go mostly at weekends.
The promenade above it is truly gorgeous, with ornate arches and palm trees. Not far from it you will find the Peres Center for Peace. If you are the sporty type, you will find a volleyball court on the beach.
Manta Ray Beach has gorgeous views of Old Jaffa
Ha’ Maravi Beach (Manta Ray Beach)
Ha’Maravi Beach is known locally as Manta Ray Beach and it is the last stretch of sand before you get to Old Jaffa. There is no doubt that Jaffa Beach is one of the best beaches in Tel Aviv – it surely is one of my favorite beaches in town. First of all, you get impressive views of Old Jaffa and that is a major bonus, especially if you go at sunset.
There are no wave breakers here, so this is a favorite spot for a younger crowd who is keen on surfing. Keep in mind that the lack of wave breakers means the current can get quite strong. Add to this the fact that there is no lifeguard on duty and you get the picture: don’t go in the water unless you are a very good swimmer.
Not far from Ha’ Maravi beach and right before Dolphinarium beach, Alma Beach is a nice stretch of sand where you won’t find sunbeds or lifeguards on duty. As it is close to Jaffa, this is a favorite hangout for people living in that neighborhood, who often come on weekends to barbecue and party in the park right above it.
This is one of the best beaches in Tel Aviv for dog owners, as there is a specific area designated for them to roam about undisturbed.
Tel Aviv beach as seen from Jaffa
Dolphinarium Beach (Hof HaTofim)
Despite the lack of any proper facilities (there’s not even a kiosk), the presence of a surfing club right on the sand is enough to make this one of the best Tel Aviv beaches for a younger crowd. It’s the kind of place where you can expect to see people playing hula hoops, belly dancing, playing drums (there is a drum festival every Friday!) and the like – so not exactly a quiet place. But it has a really cool vibe, so it is definitely worth checking out.
This is one of my favorite Tel Aviv beaches. It is next to Dolphinarium in case you want to catch some action there, but this one is a bit quieter. You will find a beach volleyball court as well as sunbeds and chairs to relax; there is a restaurant and a bar where you can catch a drink (Clara Beach Bar is actually known to be one of the best party places in Tel Aviv) and it is just about the best place in Tel Aviv to catch sunset. It’s easy to see why it is a favorite of both locals and tourists.
Jerusalem (Geula) Beach
Jerusalem Beach well deserves a mention among Tel Aviv beaches. It’s easy to reach and easy to access from the promenade (there even is wheelchair access), it’s located in front of the hotel strip and since there are wave breakers it is one of the best beaches in town if you enjoy swimming. It’s also a popular place to play matkot.
The fitness area, lifeguard and supervisors on duty, showers and lockers are all added bonuses to ensure you have a perfect stay.
GOOD TO KNOW: As this beach is meant to be for swimmers, surfing is not allowed.
Catching the sunset from one of Tel Aviv beaches is a must!
Right by Trumpeldor Street you will find this lovely beach which has a truly relaxed atmosphere. You won’t really find any sort of services so you have to bring your own towel and drinks – but keep in mind the nearby beaches are well equipped.
You will recognize Bograshov Beach by the cool buildings right on it. It is one of the most popular Tel Aviv beaches, especially at weekends. So, if you want to get an idea of what the city is all about, be sure to go there. It can get extremely busy – but busy also means fun in this city. Close to the beach there are many nice restaurants and bars where you can grab a bite and a drink.
TIP: If you are after some delicious food, head to the Thai House on the corner of Bograshov. Be sure to book in advance as it is always packed.
This beach is right next to Bograshov and also in front of Dan Tel Aviv Hotel, the colorful iconic building you may have seen in many photos, which is one of the best hotels in town (the views are truly unbeatable). As it is right in front of the hotels, this beach can get really busy in the summer months.
The beach is fully equipped with anything you may need for a perfect day.
You don’t have to worry about carrying an umbrella as you can rent that directly on the beach, together with sunbeds. There also is a lifeguard on duty, and first aid if you even get stung by a jellyfish. Bathrooms are available so you don’t have to walk into one of the nearby restaurants.
For the sporty ones there is a beach volleyball court and a fitness trail, not to mention the chance to play matkot.
The water is nice and shallow to begin with, so it is the perfect place to go if you have small children.
A sunny day at Tel Aviv beach
Gordon Beach is where you will find the legendary Gordon Pool – truly one of the coolest pools you can ever hope to swim in. It’s a 50 meters long open air pool with salt water, perfect for swimming and with an abundance of umbrellas and sunbeds and an international as well as local crowd.
The beach itself gets quite busy in the summer, as it is very central and located right in front of the strip of hotels. It is well equipped with sunbeds, umbrellas and whatever else you may need for a relaxing day. There is a lifeguard on duty, a volleyball courts and a fitness trail. You can rent SUP and kayaks on the nearby marina. And if you want a bite, there are plenty of eateries nearby.
Hilton Beach (dog)
Known to be the best gay Tel Aviv beach, Hilton Beach is a cool place to spend your day whatever your sexual preferences.
Located in front of Hilton Tel Aviv Hotel, the beach can be accessed from Metzizim Beach and it is wheelchair accessible too. You will find sunbeds and chairs, volleyball courts, and a lifeguard on duty. It’s popular among surfers and it’s one of the most dog-friendly Tel Aviv beaches, as dogs can roam around freely and even get in the water as they please.
The Sea Center Place on Hilton Beach is the place to go if you want to learn how to surf, windsurf or want to go kayaking.
A fantastic sunset on Tel Aviv beach
How ironic that a religious beach is found right next to a gay one – this is the beauty of Tel Aviv, a fabulous melting pot of peoples and cultures.
Religious Beach is the only Tel Aviv beach entirely meant for the most religious communities in town. It is surrounded by walls so that nobody can spy on whoever is inside, and designated days for men and women use. Religious people won’t go to the beach on Shabbat, so others can enjoy the beach then.
Mezizim Beach has the same name of one of the restaurants you will find right on it. This is one of the best beaches in Tel Aviv located close to Tel Aviv Port (one of the most fun places to hang out in town, in both summer and winter), right after Religious Beach. You will find a playground and shallow waters, which make it perfect for families with children; toilet facilities; sunbeds and umbrellas; a bar serving food; and a very chilled atmosphere.
A winter day at the beach
Tel Baruch Beach
Tel Baruch is one of the best beaches in Tel Aviv for families with children – which is a nice welcome change considering this part of town was burdened with criminality and prostitution until not long ago. It’s located a bit north of the center, so unless you have a car it’s not the easiest one to reach. The good news is that there a lot of parking space nearby. You will have to pay a small fee to get in – though the beach is completely free for Tel Aviv residents.
The beach is equipped with a fitness area and a nice restaurant.
Similarly to Tel Baruch, this beach is only free for Tel Aviv residents and you will need a car to get there. The lack of wave breakers make it a great place to catch some wave (the other side of the coin is that it is not ideal for swimming).
A Few Tips To Enjoy Tel Aviv Beaches
The sun can be really strong in Israel and the last thing you need is getting sunburnt as that will ruin your vacation. Make sure to apply sunscreen before going to the beach – dermatologists usually recommend to apply it around 20 minutes before sun exposure and to reapply it every couple of hours and any time after you swim. I recommend a high factor one and – if you hate getting all sticky from the lotion like I do – something that as a dry finish such as this one.
Pick up your garbage
Things have improved a lot in recent years and Tel Aviv beaches are much cleaner than they used to be, but you will find the occasional trash here and there. Make sure to do your bit and use the many trash bins scattered along the beach or – if you can’t find any – pack up your trash and bring it home with you. The same goes for cigarette buts – hey, have I told you that you should quit smoking already?
Tel Aviv beaches are perfectly equipped with anything you may need for a perfect day
Don’t bring any valuables
Tel Aviv beaches are the favorite playground of local pickpockets. I can’t even remember how many of my friends have had their phone, wallet or bag stolen. You need to be especially careful if you go to the beach by yourself. So, here are two tips:
- Don’t bring anything valuable to the beach;
- Befriend your beach neighbors and ask them to look after your stuff if you decide to go for a quick swim;
- Use the lockers – most of the beaches mentioned in this post have lockers where you can store your valuables.
A friend of mine goes as far as actually burying his stuff in the sand whenever he goes swimming (he packs it up in a plastic bag, digs a whole and then place his towel above it) but I honestly don’t recommend doing this!
Watch out for jellyfish
Jellyfish (medusot in Hebrew) are a real issue in Tel Aviv beaches, especially in July and August which are the hottest months. You really can’t do anything about it, and I certainly do not recommend fishing them out of the water and killing them as some still like doing: that is an irresponsible practice. The only recommendation I have is to simply stay out of water then there is jellyfish. For more recommendations on what to do in case you get stung or to prevent it, you may want to read this.
Be respectful of other people
Tel Aviv beaches can get very crowded in the summer months and there will be people who listen to loud music, play ball games and lift a lot of sand or hit you with the ball and in general be annoying. Just make sure not to be that kind of person!
Further readings about Israel
If you are planning a trip to Israel, make sure to read my other posts
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Take my word for it: planning a trip to Italy is easier said than done. First of all, Italy is actually larger than you may imagine. Secondly, moving from one place to the other isn’t always as easy as you’d hope. Add to this the fact that, condensed in its surface, there is an incredible amount of beautiful places to visit (Italy is the country with the largest amount of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world) and voilà, you start panicking, not knowing how to plan your holiday.
Are you still unsure whether Italy should be your next destination? Read my post “17 Reasons To Visit Italy As Soon As Possible” and you will definitely change your mind.
If you feel like you don’t know where to start from, worry not! I am here to help. In case you don’t know it yet, I am Italian – born and raised here. I also have a *mild obsession* (read: I am completely addicted) with trip planning, so I know what I am doing when I put together a trip itinerary.
Though I don’t want to take the joy of planning a trip to Italy from you, I am happy to give you some pointers that will definitely help.
In this post, I will give you some tips that will come really helpful when planning a trip to Italy, and I will also tell you which mistakes you should avoid.
Make sure to also read my post “67 Extremely Useful Travel Tips For Italy” as it contains precious tips for when you are actually finally here.
Shoulder season is perfect for planning a trip to Italy
10 Things To Do When Planning A Trip To Italy
Checking visa requirements
Before planning a trip to Italy, you need to check what your visa requirement are. Italy is part of the Schengen Zone, so if you already have a Schengen Visa, you can use that to travel to Italy too.
If you are a citizen of the United States, Canada, Australia or New Zealand you don’t need a visa to travel to Italy and you can stay for up to 90 days. Your passport needs to have at least 6 months validity.
If you are a citizen of the United Kingdom or of other European Union countries, you can travel freely.
To check if you need to get a visa for your trip to Italy, you can look at the website of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Deciding when to visit Italy
The first step when planning a trip to Italy is deciding when to go.
My tip is to go when you can. So, if you are traveling with kids who are in school, you probably want to come in the summer time or when they have a break from class.
Having said so, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First of all, Italy does have 4 distinguished seasons. It can get quite cold in the winter, and terribly hot in the summer. However, the weather varies a lot from place to place so for example winters are really mild in the south, and summers are not so hot in the Alps.
Another thing you need to keep in mind when planning a trip to Italy is that peak season (from May to September included, and around Easter time) means larger crowds at tourist spots, as well as higher prices. August is by far the busiest month, as that is when Italians take their summer holidays usually.
So, when should you plan your trip to Italy for?
If you want a beach holiday, go in the summer. Yes, it will be more crowded, but that’s when you can really enjoy the beaches and the clear waters. The water is too cold to swim after October and until May – like seriously cold.
If you want to ski in the Alps, you need to visit in the winter – between December and the beginning of March, when the Alps get the largest amount of snowfall.
Finally, if you want a more traditional trip with lots of sightseeing, the best time to visit is shoulder season as attractions will be significantly less crowded.
Plan to travel between the end of September and the end of November (though beware that 1 November is a national holiday and depending on the year it coincides with a long weekend, meaning it can get busy); or between February (especially if you want to see Carnival parades) and May (save for Easter holidays, and keep in mind that 25 April and 1 May are again national holidays and may result in a long weekend and at times even a week off for many Italians).
If you are planning a trip to Italy in the summer, you can definitely enjoy the beaches.
Deciding how long to travel for
This is the trickiest question ever when planning a trip to Italy, and it is tied to a million other questions, such as budget issues or the number of days you can take off work.
I can’t really recommend how long to stay and in general I think that the longer the better as there really is a lot to see. If you are crossing the Atlantic, you want to make the amount of money spent on the flight and even the hours sitting on it worth it, so try to plan for a minimum of 10 days, especially since chances are you won’t be able to come again within the same year.
If you are coming from Europe and can count on budget flights, a long weekend is probably a good amount of time to breathe in as much of Italy as possible until your next visit.
Establishing a budget
Italy isn’t the most expensive country you may travel to, but it certainly isn’t the cheapest either – and you have to keep this into account when planning a trip to Italy.
Keep in mind that you need to book your transportation and accommodation in advance; as well as many attractions which are otherwise impossible to visit. This is actually good news, because you will know how much you will be spending well ahead of your trip.
To this, you need to add something between $30 and $70 USD per day for food and other small expenses (that gelato you are craving, a museum ticket you didn’t pay for in advance, a bus ticket, etc). If you intend to buy small gifts and souvenirs (by the way, check out this guide on the best souvenirs to buy in Italy), the budget will definitely need to be a bit higher! Read further below in case you are renting a car, as there will inevitably be some extra expenses.
GOOD TO KNOW: All tourists have to pay a tourist tax when visiting a city. This is between €1 and €3 euro per person per day, it has to be paid in cash and it will be collected by your hotel receptionist.
Booking your flights
A very tricky question I keep bumping into when I hear of friends planning a trip to Italy is when the best time to book a flight is.
Take this from a very seasoned traveler: there is no actual science into the best timing for booking flights. Some say that the best deals on long haul flights are found between 6 and 12 months early, whereas deals within Europe pop up at any time. I tend to dissent with this, as I know that you can score a really good deal even a couple of weeks before traveling.
My recommendation is first of all to be as flexible as possible with your travel dates, as there may be a big variation in prices even between two dates that are close to each other.
Also make sure to use your good judgement. If you see a deal you think is good, just grab it before it goes. If you think a flight it too costly, wait a while to see if prices drop. You can monitor price deals through Skyscanner by subscribing to their price alerts, so you will know when something good comes up.
If you are unsure where to fly to, depending on what places you want to visit you can check the price of flights to Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa and Venice Marco Polo – they are all served by intercontinental flights. For short haul flights you will have a much larger selection of places to fly to, including Milan Bergamo, Venice Treviso, Rome Ciampino, Pisa, Cagliari, Alghero, Catania.
Getting travel insurance
The health care system in Italy is accessible to all, no matter of their status in the country. Whether you are a resident, a tourist or a migrant you are guaranteed medical assistance if necessary. However, I do recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Italy – one that covers medical costs as well as other typical travelers’ issues.
Make sure to read my post “Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.” Get a good travel insurance here.
Deciding how to get from the airport to the city
One of the most important things to do when planning a trip to Italy is establishing how you will get from the airport to your hotel once you arrive. It seems to be pointless, especially as in big airports such as Rome Fiumicino or Milan Malpensa you will have many options, but trust me: the last thing you need after a long flight is having to fiddle with money or having to enquire about the prices of one option vs. the other.
The best place to look for information on how to get from the airport to your final destination is usually the website of the airport where you are landing. Otherwise a basic google search with keywords such as “how to get from X airport to X city center” will bring out the most relevant results with the best instructions.
If your flight is landing in Rome, you can check out my post “How To Get From Fiumicino Airport To Rome City Center.”
Renting a car
If you are planning a trip to Italy where your itinerary requires you to move from one place to the other, and where you are not only seeing big cities but also smaller villages, countryside and natural sites, you may want to consider renting a car. Although Italians have (and deserve) a reputation for being terrible drivers, driving here is quite fun and incredibly scenic. And a car gives you way more freedom than relying on public transportation, especially if you are the kind of person who enjoys taking sunrise photos, or if you are trying to get to a hidden beach.
My advice is to rent a small car so that you don’t have to panic when winding the narrow city streets, and it will be much easier to find a parking spot.
Check out the prices of car rental here.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you plan to rent a car, you need to beware of the ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato), which means that in many historical centers only residents in that particular area are allowed to drive within certain time periods.
GOOD TO KNOW: The average price for a liter of gas in Italy is €1.45.
Another thing to keep in mind in case you are renting a car is that the highway is not free in Italy and some tolls can be very expensive. Make a note to yourself to add tolls to your daily budget considerations!
Booking accommodation in advance
One of the most fun things to do when planning a trip to Italy is booking your accommodation. Italy is very well suited to receiving tourists so you will find an incredible range of accommodation options in all the locations you intend to visit, to suit your budget and needs.
A luxury or boutique hotel is the perfect option if you have the budget to splurge. If you are traveling on a smaller budget, go for a bed and breakfast, family run guest house or even a hostel.
If you are staying for a prolonged period of time in the same place, you may want to consider a holiday apartment or villa that is equipped with a kitchen.
Finally, if you like the idea of staying in the countryside you should consider staying in an agriturismo – a farm stay where you can also eat traditional local food.
My recommendation is to book well in advance, especially if you are planning to travel in peak season, so that you will have more options to pick from and better deals.
In terms of sites to book you accommodation, I swear by Booking.com as it has an incredible array of options for all budgets and tastes.
I have accommodation guides for Rome (check it out here) and Cagliari (here).
TIP: Always look for a place that has a very flexible cancellation policy (ie allowing you to cancel up to 24 hours in advance), just in case. It’s worth paying a few extra bucks for that.
CHECK OUT THE BEST HOTEL DEALS HERE
Booking attractions in advance
One thing you absolutely need to do when planning a trip to Italy is booking your tickets for attractions in advance. Cities such as Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan can get really busy and unless you get your tickets before, you may either be stuck in an endless line at the ticket counter, or – worst case scenario – find out that that attraction is sold out and you can’t visit. If you care to visit certain attractions at a specific date, you really must get tickets well in advance. You can do so here.
When it comes to booking attraction tickets and tours, I swear by GetYourGuide – a third party booking engine that allows me to select the best ticket and tour options, read other travelers’ reviews, and that has incredibly flexible cancellation policies.
These posts will tell you how to get tickets for the most crowded attractions:
GET YOUR SKIP-THE-LINE TICKETS HERE
The Dolomites of Trentino are stunning – make sure to include them in your itinerary
Planning an itinerary
This is probably the hardest thing to do when planning a trip to Italy. With so many places to visit, limited time and a limited budget, there is only so much you can see. If it is your first time in Italy, my recommendation is to stick to the classics. If you are an Italy pro, you can push yourself to places that are perhaps lesser famous internationally but just as (if not even more) gorgeous.
The most popular places to visit in Italy are by far: Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Naples and the Amalfi Coast, Milan and the Lake Region in the North, Venice.
If you don’t have time to plan your trip, you may want to consider joining a guided tour. G Adventures has some incredible packages, from the most classic tours to adventurous ones and suitable to all budgets. You can check them out here.
I will soon be publishing a series of itineraries for Italy. Meantime, you may want read my city itineraries and posts.
What you pack depends on the kind of trip you are planning – and on the season
Knowing what to pack
Planning a trip to Italy also means deciding what to pack, and that really depends on the season of your trip and on your itinerary and activities. Here are some generic tips on what you always need to have with you:
- Packing cubes – they will come enormously handy when packing your suitcase.
- Comfortable shoes – no matter the season, you really need something that doesn’t make your feet hurt especially as you will be walking around all day. I am a massive fan of walking shoes such as Tropicfeel – they are perfect to walk, lightweight and quite fashionable too as they come in different designs.
- A light jacket or pullover – remember you need to dress modestly when visiting churches, even when it is 35 degrees Celsius outside!
- Sunscreen with high SPF.
- Hand sanitizer.
- A good compact mirrorless camera. A smartphone with a good camera sometimes does wonders too!
- A power bank – to charge your phone on the go.
- A universal plug adapter
- A refillable water bottle – tap water is safe to drink in Italy and you will find lots of fountains to refill your bottle.
- An umbrella – you’ll be glad to have one, trust me.
Learning some basic Italian
You honestly have nothing to worry about in terms of communication: people working in the tourism industry all speak English, and even those who don’t will be able to mutter a few words. In any case, Italians are great at communicating and will make sure you understand them, regardless of their (and your) language skills.
However, I still recommend learning some basic Italian before your trip. Not only it will come in useful, but it will make your trip more fun!
Check out my post “20 Useful Tips For Learning A New Language” as it will give you some useful to improve your language skills.
Italy is all about food
Reading about Italian food
One thing you really need to do before you actually travel to Italy is reading about Italian food. I can promise you there is a huge difference between the Italian food you may have at your local restaurant (which I am sure is actually quite good) and the food you will have in Italy.
Food in Italy is very regional, and some of the dishes that are commonly eaten in the north, are unheard of in the south. Try to familiarize yourself with the cuisine of the regions you are visiting and prepare your tastebuds!
Check out these two posts for more:
10 Things To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy
Deciding not to join a guided tour
I know, planning a trip to Italy is almost as much fun as the actual trip – provided you are a pro at planning, and you have the time and skills to do it.
Honestly you guys, nobody is going to look down on you if you decide you can’t do it and you want to leave the planning and organization stuff to the expert. There is absolutely nothing wrong in joining a guided tour, especially if it is your first time visiting the country. G Adventures has some really good tours for all ages, styles and budget, so you may want to consider joining one of their tours. You can check them out here.
CHECK OUT THESE GUIDED TOURS OF ITALY
Booking last minute
Italy really isn’t a last minute destination, especially if you are keen on seeing the most popular attractions. Things get booked up pretty quickly – hotels, attractions and at times even restaurants all require advanced bookings. Don’t do this mistake, unless you are very very flexible with your itinerary and the activities.
Spending too much or too little time in Rome
One of the most common questions when planning a trip to Italy is how much time to spend in Rome. Ah, the big dilemma! So – forever isn’t an option, really, as you will have to go back home at a certain point. Having said so, it really is a matter of personal interest and even of the duration of your trip.
A day in Rome is certainly not really enough to properly get to see it – but if this is your plan, check out my post on how to see Rome in a day. If you only have a week or even 2 weeks in Italy, on the other hand, you certainly don’t want to spend a full week in Rome.
In general, I think that if you only want to see the most popular attractions, 3 days in Rome are enough. After that, move on to another destination.
Trying to see too much in a short time
This is one of the most common mistakes I see when people are planning a trip to Italy. They have 10 or even 7 days, and they plan to see 7 different cities.
DO. NOT. DO. THIS.
If you cram too much in your itinerary, you end up spending most of the time moving from one place to the other without really properly seeing anything.
My recommendation is to average 3 days and 3 nights in each city / place you intend to visit. So, if you are spending a week in Italy, you should limit yourself to two destinations. If you have 10 days, you will visit 3 cities and so on. This way, you won’t burn out; you will actually experience the places rather than just seeing them; you will get a proper flavor for what they have to offer and you won’t blow your budget (because really, moving from one place to another is costly in terms of transportation).
Lecce is not as famous as major cities in Italy, but it is a real gem
Only seeing major cities
Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice; Naples perhaps – they are all beautiful cities but I promise you there is more to Italy than just these cities.
Places like Lecce, in Puglia; Viterbo, at less than 2 hours from Rome; Siena in Tuscany; Verona in Veneto; Bergamo near Milan; Cagliari in Sardinia; Matera and oh so many many more smaller cities and villages all deserve to be visited and will be 100% worth your time and effort to get there. Not to mention, as they are not as popular with international tourists, you will get much more of a local feel.
So, when planning a trip to Italy, do your research and check for smaller places near the major ones you intend to visit, and add them to your itinerary,
Not checking your credit card or ATM withdrawal fees
You don’t need to carry a massive amount of cash for your trip to Italy. First of all, credit card and debit card payments are quite common (though for small amounts cash is preferred). ATMs can be found in all cities and villages, but since Italy’s currency is the Euro, depending on where you are from you may incur in foreign currency charges, to which you have to add ATM withdrawal fees.
Make sure to check out what your cards fees are before traveling, and always take more than one card. You never know you may lose one, or it may get demagnetized and impossible to use.
GOOD TO KNOW: American Express is not widely accepted in Italy.
Make sure to also explore the lesser known cities, such as Cagliari
Not getting a local SIM card
Don’t break your head around it. No matter how good your international plan is, it will be enormously cheaper and way more efficient to just get a brand new Italian SIM card once you get to Italy, with a basic plan that gives you data which you can use to Skype or Whatsapp call or chat with your family and friends. You will obviously need to make sure your phone is unlocked.
With regards to the best providers, TIM is probably the most efficient one with reception pretty much everywhere, as well as Vodafone, which is a bit cheaper.
Not using public transportation
Despite the many complaints you will hear from us locals, public transportation in Italy is actually cheap and reliable, and you should certainly use it. Unless you planning a road trip, you really should rely on the train to move from one city to the other – you can check out the train timetable and prices here.
You should also use public transportation within cities, instead of taxis – it is way cheaper and a lot more fun. In major cities such as Rome, Milan and Naples you will have the metro as well as the buses. In smaller places you will have a good web of public buses. Then there is Venice, where you can hop on the vaporetto!
GOOD TO KNOW: You can get bus and metro tickets from the vending machines directly at the bus stop or at the metro station. However, the best place to get bus tickets is usually a Tabaccheria (tobacco shop) or the newsagent.
Not reading TripAdvisor reviews with a pinch of salt
I must admit that I occasionally fall for this mistake too when traveling. But here I am, telling you not to fall for it.
When planning a trip to Italy, you will likely research good restaurants in the places you want to visit. Try not to rely solely on TripAdvisor when deciding where to eat and what to avoid. The issue with TripAdvisor reviews is that anybody can write them – even people who haven’t actually been to the restaurant.
Oftentimes you will only see reviews written by tourists and while the reviews may all be good the fact that only tourists wrote them gives you a precious bit of information: that restaurant only targets tourists, and if that is the case you probably want to avoid it.
Not getting acquainted with local scams
Italy is a touristy place, and with that come the scams. One thing you really need to do when planning a trip to Italy is reading about the most common scams. If you know what to expect, you also know how to react!
Here are some common scams you need to be aware of:
THE OVERLY FRIENDLY STRANGER – This scam typically occurs at transportation terminals. You will see a stranger that is way too friendly and willing to help you – to get your tickets, to carry your suitcase, etc. Yes, Italians are kind. But hardly that eager. If they are too persistent, that should give in that they are looking for something. A firm no usually works.
THE FRIENDSHIP BRACELET – A common scam around major tourist attraction in Italy and elsewhere sees a stranger walking towards you to then tie a so called friendship bracelet around your wrist or finger. He’ll demand money for sure. The same may happen with flowers. Again, say no!
TAXI SCAMS – There are two kinds of taxi scams in Italy: unlicensed taxi scams (you can recognize them by the fact that they don’t have the taxi sign) and the scam by which the driver takes the longest route to your destination. The second one is trickier to discover if you don’t know your way around, but having Google maps may help.
You also need to beware of pickpockets, who are common in busy places such as train or bus stations.
Further readings about Italy
Make sure to also read these posts:
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Coffee in Italy is a serious thing. First of all, there are various kinds of Italian coffee you can drink – either at home or at a “bar” (AKA, an Italian café). Secondly, there is a certain – though unspoken – etiquette to drinking coffee, which establishes what to drink when, how to order coffee, how to drink coffee, the amount of time and even space you take to drink your coffee, and so on.
Italians consume copious amounts of coffee. To us, coffee is as much a pick me up as it is a social thing. There is nothing better than meeting friends for coffee – especially when the weather is nice and you can sit outside, with great views.
Now, before you panic, I have decided to come to your help so that you can go to Italy well prepared. Being the coffee addict that I am, I though I’d put together a post about the various kinds of Italian coffee and give you some tips on how to order coffee in Italy.
Let me start by giving you some pointers on the various kinds of coffee you can expect to taste.
An Italian coffee pot – we call it “moka”
Coffee In Italy: 15 Different Kinds Of Italian Coffee
Caffé literally means coffee. It is the generic word we use to refer to coffee when it comes plain, with no milk. If you are at home, chances are that your coffee will be made with a “moka” – the Italian coffee pot. If you go to a bar café and ask for a coffee, you will most likely get an espresso.
Espresso is the most famous kind of Italian coffee. If you go to a café and order “un caffé,” you will get an espresso. Come to think of it, we normally just say caffè to refer to espresso and I don’t think I have ever heard anybody specifically order an espresso.
GOOD TO KNOW: There is no such thing as a double espresso in Italy. If you want a longer shot, just order a “caffé lungo.” You will probably get a dirty look by your barista – I know it very well because that is how I like my coffee.
If you want your espresso with a drop of milk, make sure to order a caffé macchiato (pronounced mah-kyah-toh). You can opt for macchiato caldo, in which case you get a drop of hot frothy milk; or macchiato freddo, which gets you a drop of cold milk.
Caffé al vetro
There really is no difference between a regular espresso and a caffé al vetro, other than the kind of cup it is served in. Vetro in Italian means glass, so this kind of coffee will be served in a small glass cup.
A proper espresso machine
I bet you will love this coffee. It is a shot of espresso, spiked with your choice of liquor – it usually is either grappa or sambuca.
Decaffeinato literally means decaf – you can pair the word with cappuccino, macchiato, etc. But if you just say “un decaffeinato” you will get an espresso in its caffeine free version.
One of the strongest Italian coffee is ristretto, which is like a super short espresso.
INTERESTING FACT: Contrary to common misconception, ristretto or espresso don’t have more caffeine than other kinds of coffee. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Caffeine dissolves in water, so the more you leave a coffee to brew, the more caffeine you get. If you really do need a good wake up, opt for a French Press where you leave the coffee to infuse for 4 minutes.
A cappuccino, just as it should be served
Together with espresso, this is the most famous coffee in Italy and what many Italians will have for breakfast, together with cornetto (this post explains a lot about Italian cornetto e cappuccino breakfast). It’s made espresso, steamed whole milk and milk froth. Cappuccino in Italy only comes in one size – unless you are at an airport, where you can order a pint of it if you care. The foam is just enough to get to the brim of the cup. Anything more than that, and it would spill – which we’d hate.
It is traditionally made with whole milk – so there is no such thing as a skinny cappuccino here.
GOOD TO KNOW: In recent years, it’s become more common to find lactose free milk or soya milk at bars in Italy, so even vegans or lactose intolerant people like myself can enjoy this delicious Italian coffee.
FUN FACT: I love my soya milk cappuccino piping hot. Baristas think I love making a fuss.
This is one of the best coffee in Italy, a heavenly invention. A Marocchino (pronounced mah-row-keen-oh) would be the equivalent of a mocha, but in a much smaller cup, and usually glass. It is made with espresso, steamed milk and cocoa powder, with an added sprinkle of cocoa powder on the foam. No such thing as whipped cream will ever go in a marocchino. So don’t ever dare asking for it – unless you want to be laughed at.
A good caffellatte is a perfect breakfast drink
Also called caffé latte, this is another popular drink in Italy, and the most common breakfast drink. If you make it at home, it literally is a combination of hot milk with coffee. For a real Italian homemade breakfast, dunk your breakfast cookies in it.
If you order caffellatte at a bar, you will get a large glass of steamed milk with some froth on top, and an added espresso shot. The main difference between a cappuccino and a caffellatte is the proportion of the ingredients (caffellatte has way more milk) and the size (caffellatte is much larger).
GOOD TO KNOW: Latte in Italian means milk. If you order a latte at a bar in Italy, you will get a glass of milk, either hot or cold.
Steamed frothy milk served in a glass with literally a drop of espresso.
Don’t order an Americano coffee in Italy thinking you will get a typical American style drip coffee, because you will get enormously disappointed. Our Americano is a shot of espresso in a large (usually a cappuccino) cup which is served with a small pot of hot water on the side, which you can add to taste. Honestly, it is an insult to Italian coffee. And, if I may add, to American coffee too.
Caffé shakerato or freddo
One of the best ways to enjoy Italian coffee in the summer is to have it cold (freddo). A good caffé shakerato or freddo is prepared by pouring cold espresso over ice cubes in a shaker, and giving it a good shake until it becomes frothy. The only thing better than that on a hot summer day is a cold beer, but a shakerato is definitely more acceptable, especially before lunch time.
Caffé al ginseng
I fail to see what’s good about ginseng coffee, but it is one of the most up and coming coffee in Italy so I ought to mention it. It is espresso prepared with ginseng extract and a good dose of cream, so it ends up being very milky and truly sweet.
Roasted barley apparently has a very similar flavor to coffee, so if you want something mild that is 100% caffeine free you should opt for a caffé d’orzo (ohr-zow) instead. Italian mothers give it to children as they grow up, to get them accustomed to the flavor of coffee.
Cappuccino is strictly a morning drink
How To Order Coffee In Italy
Now that we are all clear on the Italian coffee department, let me give you some pointers on the etiquette that surrounds coffee in Italy.
What to drink when
This is the biggest question of all, because if you order the wrong kind of Italian coffee at the wrong time, you will get the dirtiest look by the waiter, you will be recognized as a tourist on the spot by any local walking by, and end up feeling like a fool.
The main rule here is one: cappuccino is strictly a breakfast drink. Having it up until 11:00 am is perfectly fine. Drink it in the afternoon and people will think you are weird. Order cappuccino after lunch, and you’ll be frowned at. Order it with a meal, and most likely the waiter will pretend he didn’t understand and – if you insist – he’ll tell you that you are making a big mistake. Italians think drinking anything milky with or after a big meal is gross, and it doesn’t help digestion.
If you don’t like straight espresso, which is what we’d have after lunch here in Italy, go for a macchiato. That is perfectly acceptable, though not as common.
Don’t expect to see a menu
So you walk to your Italian bar, but have no idea about coffee in Italy and don’t know what to get. You hope to see a menu, much like in a Starbucks or Costa. Tough luck you guys! You won’t ever find a menu at a proper Italian bar. So, memorize your favorite Italian coffee from the list above and be prepared to place your order.
Enjoying a good cup of coffee, some time ago
The average cost of a coffee in Italy is €1 euro for an espresso and €1,30 for a cappuccino. Prices vary slightly between north and south, large city vs. village and even within a city, depending on the location.
Pay for your coffee first
Unless you are having your coffee at the table, in which case a waiter or waitress will come to take your order, you often need to pay before you actually order your coffee.
This seems easier said than done. I mean, all you need to do is staying in a line, right? And surely you know how to stand in line, right?
Sorry to break the news, but there are lines, and there are Italian lines. It honestly got much much better in the past couple of decades and now even Italians are able to form some sort of a line, but chances are that if you are on the short side and / or a woman (like yours truly) people will try to pass in front of you, pretending they didn’t see you, or that they didn’t understand you were in line.
So, you really have to stand your ground, you have to watch intently in front of you, with purpose, and at the same time look around to make sure that nobody arrives to pass in front of you. And if they do, you have to be prepared to let them know that you are in line indeed.
Once you pay for your coffee, you will be give a paper slip – we call it “scontrino.” This is literally proof of payment. Hold on to that and go to the counter with it, and make yourself very visible to the barista to whom you will have to place your order again.
Counter or table service?
First of all, you need to know that drinking coffee in Italy is slightly more expensive if you seat down.
Most Italians drink coffee at the counter in the morning because they are in a rush to get to work, and an espresso is literally only two sips and it will take you about a minute to drink.
I honestly always prefer sitting down – first of all, because I drink caffé lungo so it takes me longer to finish it and secondly because to me coffee means relaxing, and I hate the feeling of being in a rush. Besides, I am so short that most of the time taller men or women will try to push me away to get in front of the line and get their coffee before I do.
My dad would be the opposite though: he drinks his coffee standing, and elbows in as if he was in a crowded place, even when he’s at home. Go figure!
So, whether you drink you coffee sitting or standing is totally up to you and you shouldn’t feel less glamorous one way or the other.
To sugar or not to sugar
You normally find tiny sugar bags either at the counter or at the table. You’ll have a choice between white sugar, brown sugar and sweetener.
Whether you want to ruin your Italian coffee with sugar or not is totally up to you.
OK OK, I AM KIDDING! I am not a fan of sugar in coffee so I will take it bitter, but most Italians actually put sugar in their coffee so feel free to add as much as you want.
Tipping for coffee
Tipping is not really a thing in Italy – at most, we round the bill up and leave the change. We definitely do not tip for coffee. And you should not either.
Coffee-to-go, take away coffee or whatever you want to call it: it just does not exist in Italy. If you want a coffee, you have to drink it at the bar (or at home, obviously).
My morning coffee. The froth you see is all espresso, no milk!
Making Italian Coffee At Home
If you enjoyed your coffee in Italy so much that you want to make it at home, you will need the following items:
- A good espresso machine like this one. There are many on sale for various prices, but the cheap ones tend to break easily. Keep in mind that the best coffee comes from machines that have been used for a while, so keep going for best results.
- Alternatively, if you like the idea of having home-made Italian coffee, get a good Bialetti Moka like this one. Keep in mind they come in different sizes.
- Good ground coffee or coffee beans, if you have a coffee grinder. Illy is the best coffee in Italy and you can easily buy it online here.
- A set of espresso coffee cups. The best ones have truly thick ceramic, so that they hold the heat of the coffee for longer. You may opt for these ones.
Further readings about Italy
If you are planning a trip to Italy, make sure to read the following posts:
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As a local, I regularly get asked for travel tips for Italy. There are certain things that first time visitors need to know before visiting, to make sure their trip runs smooth and that they fully enjoy it; and there are others that will help even returnees make the most of it.
Italy is the most beautiful country in the world. And although this definitely is my opinion, judging by the many accolades that Italy constantly receives and by the number of tourists that visit it every year (to which you should add the number of those that wish to visit but for a number of reasons can’t), you will see that this is very much a true statement.
It’s incredible how a relatively small country really has something for everyone – beautiful cities; archeological sites; art; countryside, mountains and beaches; unique wildlife; the best food in the world; fabulous wines and much more. A lifetime is hardly enough to get to know it all.
Make sure to read my posts “What To Do And What To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy,” “17 Reasons To Visit Italy As Soon As Possible” and “The 19 Best Movies About Italy You Need To Watch.”
Yet, chances are you don’t have a lifetime to spend in Italy, but only a few weeks. Hence it is important that you learn a few things about it and that you get enough travel tips for Italy that will certainly be useful. You can be sure to trust them – after all, who better knows other than a local?
Blogs like mine are a reliable source of travel tips for Italy
67 Very Useful Travel Tips For Italy
Rely on travel blogs
Travel blogs are a great source of travel tips for Italy. They are written by people who have traveled around the country widely, and a lot of times they are actually written by locals (like yours truly here). They are written in a way that is easy to understand and research and you will get information that is reliable, up to date, and quite importantly it will be all in the same place (so you don’t have to bounce back and forth to find the information you need).
And local tips
Although asking other travelers for information is a great idea, you are bound to get the best travel tips for Italy from Italians. After all, nobody better than us knows how things work here, right? Locals are your best bet to find off the beaten path places; to get directions to the best local restaurants, or on how to get from a place to another.
Ask other travelers for tips
Other travelers are often a very reliable source of information and travel tips for Italy. They have probably gone through the same process of discovery of the country, so they will be able to tell you what to expect. Facebook is packed with good groups that share Italy travel tips. Traveling to Italy is probably the largest one and it has a good mix of people who have a deep knowledge of the country as well as locals – bloggers and guides.
Impress the local by talking to them in Italian
Learn some basic Italian
People working in the tourism industry in Italy will speak English, but keep in mind that you can’t expect everyone to speak your language and to understand you. After all, I doubt that in your country everyone speaks Italian, right? So, one of the best travel tips for Italy is to learn some Italian before visiting, and to take a small pocket dictionary with you on your trip – you can even download an app to help you communicate when needed.
Make sure to read my post “20 Useful Tips For Learning A New Language” as it will give you some precious tips to improve your language skills.
Don’t say “ciao” to everyone
One of the first words of Italian you will learn is “ciao” (pronounced “chaw”). It means hello and bye, and we use it in informal conversations to greet friends. Now, the good news is that Italians are hardly the formal kind and nobody will get offended if you say ciao to them rather than the more appropriate “buongiorno” (good day”) or “buonasera” (good evening).
Italian is the official language, but not the only one
While everyone in Italy speaks Italian, keep in mind that this isn’t the only language you will hear. There are 12 officially recognized minority languages in Italy, and on top of those there is a plethora of dialects that vary from village to village. Just to make it all the more fun!
Shouting is common
Now, this isn’t true of every place in Italy, but – especially if you travel to the South – you will realize that people talk very loudly. My dad is from Lazio and boy do they speak loud there. I am pretty sure the entire neighborhood can hear my dad when he talks on the phone with his friends.
The fact that they people in the streets are shouting doesn’t mean they are having an argument. Most of the time it is just the tone of the voice or a cultural factor and there is nothing to worry about.
Avoid visiting in the peak season
One of the most frequent questions I get is when is the best time to visit Italy. Tricky question, that one is! Weather wise, I think any time is a good time to travel to Italy. Winter can be cold and summer can be incredibly hot, but they both have their perks.
However, one of my best travel tips for Italy is to try to avoid the peak season as much as possible. The summer months – June, July, August and the beginning of September – are just beyond busy. Easter and Christmas can be quite busy too. I find that October is a great month to visit as days are still quite long and warm and most attractions still observe their summer schedule then.
Get skip-the-line tickets for popular attractions
Of all the travel tips for Italy, this is the one you need to really note down. Attractions such as the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, the Uffizi, Doge Palace and the Last Supper get lots of visitors every day and get sold out weeks (and at times months) in advance. If you care to visit, you really need to get tickets well in advance. You can do so here.
Check out my post “A Completely Honest GetYourGuide Review.”
These posts will explain you how to get tickets for the most crowded attractions:
GET YOUR SKIP-THE-LINE TICKETS HERE
Remember to dress modestly in religious sites
This is one of the most obvious travel tips for Italy, yet so many people still do not get it. You need to be dressed modestly to enter religious sites – and this is actually true for all countries, not just Italy. This is hardly an issue in the winter, when it is cold outside. But it can be one in the summer time.
It is very simple though: both men and women must cover their shoulders and chest (so no such things as a tank top) and knees (no shorts). If you are planning on visiting churches, make sure to wear a comfortable long dress on that day and carry a shirt or light jacket to wear on top once you enter.
Ask the experts to plan your trip
There is a certain thill in planning a trip and traveling independently, but at times we just don’t have time to put together an itinerary that makes sense or we are simply too inexperienced to do that. This wouldn’t be a problem, where it not for the fact that if you have limited time you really can’t improvise. So, among my travel tips for Italy is to ask the expert to draft an itinerary for you. Feel free to email me via the contact form and we can work on something that suits all your travel needs for a really small fee.
At times, a guided tour is your best option
In fact, it may be a better idea to actually join a guided tour so you really only have to worry about what you should pack for your trip
CHECK OUT THESE GUIDED TOURS OF ITALY
A beautiful view of Rome
Spend enough time in Rome
I cringe every time I hear someone tells me they are only spending a day in Rome. There is so much to see and do in the Italian capital, that a mere 24 hours is hardly going to give you an idea of what it is all about. So the first of my travel tips for Italy is to devote Rome enough time – at least the first time you visit. If you are unsure on how to plan your time in the city, head over to my posts for more ideas. The first one you need to read is “30 Unmissable, Fun And Cheap Things To Do In Rome.” Then, consider the itineraries:
And if you really, truly can’t spend more than a day in the city, please read my post “The Perfect Itinerary To See Rome In A Day.” At least you will know how to structure your day to get to see as much as possible.
Get the classics out of the way first
One of my favorite travel tips for Italy is to start with the classic itinerary. Go to Rome, Florence, Venice, Cinque Terre and / or Amalfi. After all, if it is your first time in the country, you really want to see the main tourist attractions. I repeat as a mantra that there is a reason they are called “attractions:” they are attractive. In other words, they are beautiful!
Visiting the main tourist sites will give you a general flavor of what Italy is all about, and next time you visit (I promise you, there will be a second and even a third time, and more) you can focus on other places.
Stay tuned as I will be writing a detailed post with plenty of itineraries for Italy. Meantime, check out these posts:
Catania is one of the prettiest cities in the south of Italy
Remember there is a big difference between the North and the South
In fact, let me add the center of Italy and the island to this equation as well. After all, the current borders of Italy were established in the 20th century.
There are 20 regions in Italy and they all differ one from the other. Trentino, in the North of Italy, doesn’t even remotely resemble Sicily, in the South. And Sardinia is different from anything else you can think of.
This is to say: don’t expect to visit one place and think you know everything about Italy, or that nothing will surprise you. Whenever I travel to mainland Italy from Sardinia I am in awe at how different it looks and feels from what I am used to. You won’t really be able to put your finger on it – so just trust me on this one and embrace it.
Don’t just stick to the known
One of the best travel tips for Italy that I have is to discover the hidden gems. Whether you are in a city or not, make sure to go to the lesser visited places as at times they are the most interesting once, where you really get to appreciate the local culture and way of life. Pick a place randomly on the map, and just go. Chances are that even though it didn’t make it to your guide book, there will be something worth discovering.
If you are visiting Rome, make sure to read my posts “31 Incredible Places To Explore Rome Off The Beaten Path” for the best hidden gems and “20 Great Day Trips From Rome.”
One of the best travel tips for Italy is to go to the beach
Don’t skip the islands
There is so much to see in mainland Italy that you will be tempted to stick to it. But one of the best travel tips for Italy is to actually visit the islands. Sardinia and Sicily are the most obvious choices – it takes an extra flight to get there, but it is really worth the effort and the money. Don’t forget the smaller islands too: Elba, the Aeolian Islands, Capri and Ischia are all waiting to be discovered.
For island inspirations, read these posts:
Go to the beach
One thing many tourists seem to ignore is that Italy is actually packed with stunning beaches. If you visit Italy in the summer months and especially if you go to the south, make sure to factor in enough time to enjoy the beaches. Some of them are actually worthy of tropical paradise – and in the case of Sardinia, literally all of them!
Make sure to read my post “An Excellent Guide To The Best Beaches In Sardinia.”
Beware that it actually gets cold in the winter
One of the most common misconceptions about Italy is that it is always sunny and always warm. Nothing can be more far from the truth. Even Cagliari, where I am based, can get terribly cold in the winter. I remember once a few years ago a friend from Canada visited and she would not stop complaining how cold it was – and I think she knows a thing or two about freezing temperatures!
Having said that, one of my travel tips for Italy is to visit in the winter, when it is less crowded, and to come prepared with proper winter clothing.
The Dolomites speak Italian
Check out the mountains
I know chances are you already knew this. But when a couple of years ago a friend asked me whether we have mountains here in Italy, I realized that perhaps not everyone knows.
Mountains make up for more than 35% of Italy. The main mountain chains are the Alps, which are shared (among others) with France, Switzerland and Austria), the Dolomites, which are 100% Italian, the Apennines. Lesser known mountain chains include Gennargentu in Sardinia.
Go on a hike
With all the mountains we have, it is only obvious that Italy is a great hiking destination. In fact, it is perfect for adventure sports including rock climbing, paragliding and even rafting.
For hiking inspiration, check out these posts:
Val di Sole is a great winter destination
Where there is mountain hiking in the summer, there are ski slopes in the winter. One of my travel tips for Italy is to opt for a ski retreat if you are planning to visit in the winter. My favorite place is Val di Sole, in Trentino. There are excellent slopes for all levels, good quality snow, and in case you are not in the mood for skiing, there are plenty of other things to do.
Check out my post “10 Perfectly Good Reasons To Ski In Val Di Sole.”
Stromboli is one of the most active volcanoes in the world
Climb a volcano
If you are looking for a bit of a thrill and are up for the challenge, I recommend climbing a volcano. There are several to pick from, but I recommend opting for either Mount Etna, near Catania, or Stromboli, in the Aeolian Islands. They are both active and the experience is simply incredible.
You obviously can’t climb a volcano by yourself, so here are some recommendations for guided volcano hikes:
Make sure to read these posts for more information on volcano hikes in Italy:
Travel by train
Traveling by train in Italy is great. Trains really reach out anywhere, they are quick and comfortable. For fast trains (we call them intercity or Alta Velocità, which means high speed) you need to buy tickets in advance – you can do so here. Regional trains are slower as they stop at all stations, but they don’t need to be booked in advance.
But remember to validate your ticket
If you have a paper ticket, you will need to validate it before getting on board the train. There are machines scattered around the train station and the platform. If you don’t do so and show an unvalidated ticket to the train conductor, you may end up getting a fine.
Beware of transportation strikes
Transportation strikes are common in Italy. The good news is that strikes are announced well in advance so you have plenty of times to change your ticket reservations or to make alternative plans for the day.
Plan how to get to the city in advance
Make sure to plan your ride from the airport to the city center before you actually arrive, especially if you are landing in a big city such as Rome, where taxi rip offs are always around the corner. Do a bit of research to see what options are available – the best sites to check are those of the airport, which will give you all the available options. Remember that no matter what airport you land in, taxis are bound to have a flat fee to take you to the city center so check that out in advance.
Landing in Rome? Check out my post “How To Get From Fiumicino Airport To Rome City Center.”
Buy bus tickets at Tabaccherie
Tabaccherie in Italy sell anything from tobacco to snacks, candies, lottery tickets, SIM cards and local transportation tickets. If you are planning on moving around by bus in the city you are visiting, make sure to get a bunch of tickets in a tabaccheria as not all buses sell tickets on board.
The historical center of a city can be a nightmare to drive around
Don’t rule out renting a car
Tourists are generally afraid of driving in Italy. Italians have a reputation as bad drivers – and I must say it is mostly well deserved! Streets in the city center can be terribly narrow, which is especially scary if you are used to the wide boulevards of the United States; and finding a parking spot can be a nightmare.
But, if you manage to overcome these worries, driving in Italy can be a lot of fun, a massive time savior and it can take you to incredible landscapes and unusual places. My recommendation is to pick a small car, as it will make your life much easier when driving in the city and looking for parking space.
Check out the prices of car rental here.
Beware of ZTL and speed cameras
ZTL stands for Zona Traffico Limitato, and it refers to some parts of a city that are closed to non-residents traffic at certain hours. You really, truly don’t want to get there with your car at the time it is forbidden, or you may receive a fine. The entrance of a ZTL is usually marked with massive bright signs that will warn you when you can go in (Varco Aperto) or not (Varco Chiuso). There is a camera on top of that sign, so really do not risk it!
Beware of speed cameras too – if you have a good navigator, you will usually be warned of the speed limits and of the presence of speed cameras.
Make a note of business hours
Unless you are in a shopping mall, most businesses in Italy, especially in smaller villages, close for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, usually from 1:00 or 1:30 pm to 4:00 or 4:30 pm. This is completely normal, and keep in mind that shops will stay open until 8:00 and even 9:00 pm depending on the location and the season.
Don’t be annoyed by this: just embrace it and take it as an opportunity for a longer lunch or even a nap (especially beneficial in the summer time, when it’s too hot to be outside anyways).
And of museums closing days
Most museums in Italy are closed on Mondays, so that is your chance to spend your day doing something else. Keep in mind that the Vatican Museums, however, are closed on Sundays.
Book your hotel in advance
One of the best travel tips for Italy is to book your accommodation well in advance, especially if you are traveling in the peak season, visiting a busy city, and have a budget to respect.
CHECK OUT THE BEST HOTEL DEALS HERE
Don’t be surprised by the tourist tax
Most cities in Italy now charge a tourist tax, which usually is between €1 and 3 euro per day per person. So if there is two of you spending 3 nights in Rome, where the tax is €2, you will pay a total of €12.
This tax has to be paid in cash at your hotel or airbnb so don’t be surprised if you are asked to pay it once you arrive, even if your hotel stay has already been paid in full in advance. It’s money that doesn’t go to the hotel but to the city council.
Sometimes you pay a tourist tax even on day trips and attractions
This doesn’t happen in many cases (I have seen it in Capri and in Cala Goloritzé beach in Sardinia) but it can happen so it is best to get the information in advance and to always have some spare change for that.
You need to have your ID card with you when you go out
By law, Italians are always asked to carry around a form of identification when they leave their house. If you’d rather leave your passport in the safe in your hotel room, make sure to take a valid driver’s license with you. And by all means, don’t be surprised if the police stops you and asks for your documents.
Don’t put your feet in fountains
Many Italian cities have gorgeous fountains and during hot summer days you will be tempted to sit on them, take your shoes off and put your feet in the water. Don’t do it. It is forbidden by law and the police will often be around and ready to tell you off (best case scenario) or fine you (worst case scenario).
If you ask for a coffee you will generally get an espresso
A bar is a coffee shop
In Italy, a bar is usually a coffee shop. Bars usually open very early in the morning and close late in the evening – though that varies on the place and on the location. Like coffee shops, bars serve coffee and non-alcoholic drinks such as juices and teas, as well as pastries, gelato (though not the best kind), light or quick meals and snacks. However, bars in Italy also have a license to serve alcohol so you can go there for a glass of beer or a spirit.
Learn about the different kinds of coffee
If you ask for a generic coffee in Italy, you will get an espresso. But espresso isn’t the only kind of coffee available – you can opt for macchiato, caffé al vetro, caffè corretto, caffé dek, mocaccino and much more. Get acquainted to all the different kinds of coffee available before traveling – in fact, one of my travel tips for Italy is to try them all.
Make sure to read my post “How To Order Coffee In Italy: The Best Italian Coffee.”
Take a food tour
Among the best travel tips for Italy, I must suggest joining a guided food tour or even a cooking class. These are great ways to learn about the local food culture and specialties, oftentimes starting from a local market.
BOOK YOUR GUIDED FOOD TOUR HERE
Pizza is only one of the staples of Italian food
Italian food is more than just pizza and pasta
There is a reason I have never written a post about Italian food – there is no such thing! Food in Italy is actually very regional, and while some dishes are commonly eaten throughout the country (and with local variations), others can only be found in specific locations. Keep this in mind when you go looking for ragu alla bolognese in Rome, or for a cotoletta alla milanese in Naples.
I am also pressed to add that Italian food goes well beyond pasta and pizza. Our diet is actually really varied and though we do have a love for carbs (which by the way are not the source of all evils), we also eat meat, fish and seafood, pulses and massive amounts of fruits and vegetables.
So, these are my travel tips for Italy when it comes to food: try local dishes and be adventurous. You will hardly be disappointed.
Vegans will usually have it easy
Good news vegan friends! Lots of Italian food is naturally vegan. This post, although in Italian, will give you an idea of some traditional dishes which are naturally vegan.
There now are many vegan restaurants in most medium and large cities and in any case most restaurants and now even pizzerie will have vegan options.
Don’t expect eggs for breakfast
Sorry guys, but eggs for breakfast just isn’t our thing. You will find them at larger hotels, but if you are staying in a local guest house or bed and breakfast, you will have to go by what we typically have: yogurt, fruit, cereals, cookies, bread and jam, and lots of coffee.
Italy is all about food – these are supplì, a street food typical of Rome
Don’t expect to have dinner at 6:00 pm
When it comes to dining time, one of my favorite travel tips for Italy is to stick by local times. Italians won’t ever go for dinner at 6:00 pm and if you see a restaurant that is serving that early, stay away from it – it’s probably very touristic, a rip off and serving bad food. Dinner for us usually happens between 8:00 and 9:30, depending on the season and on the location.
If you see spaghetti bolognese on the menu, leave the restaurant
There is no such thing as spaghetti bolognese or spaghetti alla bolognese in Italy. First of all, we’d refer to the sauce as “ragù alla bolognese” – where bolognese means “from Bologna.” Secondly, this is a sauce that we normally put on tagliatelle. Thirdly, if you want to have the real tagliatelle alla bolognese, you need to go to Bologna.
So, here is my tip for you: wherever you are in Italy, if you see spaghetti alla bolognese on the menu leave the restaurant.
Cutting spaghetti is a criminal offense
Ok, you won’t really get arrested if you cut your spaghetti, linguine, tagliatelle or any other kind of long pasta with a knife. And although many overseas think it is proper to roll spaghetti on a spoon, we really really do not do that – not even children. So, another one of my travel tips for Italy: train yourself to roll spaghetti properly. I am sure there must be some tutorial on YouTube.
Parmesan never goes on fish
The reason for this is that parmesan has a very strong flavor, and if you put in on top of your seafood risotto, it will cover up the delicate flavor or the fish. To my knowledge, the only Italian recipe that calls for parmesan on fish is sogliole alla parmigiana (sole parmesan).
Chicken or pineapple on pizza (or pasta) is not ok
The Italian food you got used to eating in your country is definitely very good, but most likely very different from what we actually eat here. Chicken never goes on pasta or pizza in Italy – I wouldn’t even be able to tell you why, but it just doesn’t and we think it’d be gross. Likewise, pineapple on a pizza is not acceptable (but you may see green apples or pears on pizza at times, paired with certain kinds of cheese).
Garlic bread is not Italian
Don’t expect to find garlic bread on the menu in Italy. The first time I tried it I was 23 and I was in England, and I was hardly impressed. We don’t have it in Italy – at most, we’d have bruschetta, where garlic can be rubbed in toasted bread before we add a mixture of chopped tomatoes, olive oil, basil and / or oregano.
In fact, and contrary to what people outside of Italy think, Italians don’t eat much garlic at all. We use it to flavor oil when we cook, then take it out because we find it too be too heavy on the stomach.
Not all gelato is good – not even in Italy
Learn to pick good gelato
This is one of the most important travel tips for Italy.
First, the basic: gelato is just Italian for ice-cream. Some will tell you that the recipe is different and that gelato and ice-cream are not the same thing, but to us, they are.
Now, the important bits: not even in Italy all gelato is good. Stay away from places that sell a million flavors as chances are they are prepared without using natural ingredients. The best gelato is found in places that have no more than 10 daily flavors, and not on display (so you won’t be able to see the gelato, as it will be in metal containers to be properly refrigerated).
So in short: the shinier and most colorful it is, the less good it is. Easy, right?
Water in fountains is safe to drink
You will find water fountains in most Italian cities and especially on hot days they will be a massive relief. Make sure to carry a water bottle that you can refill as that water is perfectly safe to drink.
But in restaurants, don’t ask for tap water
I can’t even explain why, as tap water in Italy is safe to drink. But this is just something we don’t do. Most restaurants still serve bottled water, and many are now switching to filtered water and will serve you bottles they can refill – which means less plastic and also much cheaper.
Don’t drink cappuccino with your meal
Ok, back to important business guys. This is one of the most important travel tips for Italy. Never, for any reason, have cappuccino with a meal. Ask for it and you will get a dirty look from the waiter – to us, it is just gross. Same thing for having it after a meal. Don’t. Order a caffé macchiato is straight coffee or espresso is too strong for you.
With regards to drinking cappuccino after 11:00 am, we are not as strict. I occasionally have it in the afternoon and haven’t gotten in trouble yet.
It’s always wine o’ clock
Wine is a huge part of Italian culture, so here is another of my travel tips for Italy for you: never miss an opportunity to have a good glass. You don’t have to become an alcoholic, really! Just enjoy a glass with your meal, that’s it.
Take a wine tour
Make sure to do a wine tour to discover the best wineries in the area you are exploring. You will learn about the local grapes, the history of the vineyard, the wine making process and have a proper wine tasting experience. Remember that pretty much all regions of Italy produce wine, and that wine varies a lot between regions. If you happen to be in Sardinia, head straight to Cantine Argiolas in Serdiana for the best wines and wine tours.
LOOK FOR A GOOD WINE TOUR HERE
There is no such thing as champagne in Italy
We have plenty of sparkling wines in Italy, but champagne is French. Don’t be tempted to refer to any sparkling wine as champagne as Italians may be offended. Ask for Prosecco for a lighter sparkling wine from the region of Veneto. Spumante can be a good option too.
Service in restaurants can be slow
One of my travel tips for Italy is to learn to be patient. Service in Italy tends to me much slower than in other countries – and you just have to make do with it. In general, Italian waiters won’t be all over customers asking if everything is good, if they need anything etc. You are expected to raise their attention if you need something (and at times, that may take a while). Add to this the fact that most food is prepared to order and that Italians see eating out as a way of socializing, and you get the idea. Instead of complaining about it, embrace it. And order more wine.
Tipping is absolutely not necessary
I will never tire of saying this. Tipping is not required in Italy. Though tips we welcome, they aren’t expected. In restaurants, a service fee will be added to your bill and that counts as a tip. Guides are paid for their job, as well as drivers and any other workers.
If you all leave large tips, employers may well decide to lower wages thinking that their employees can make enough money out of tips. This will put a strain on locals, whose wages are much lower than overseas and won’t have enough to also leave a tip on top of what they consume.
So again, do us a favor: DO NOT TIP!
Credit cards are accepted in most places
Credit cards are commonly accepted in shops and restaurants and you can use them to pay for train tickets.
But always take some cash with you
Here is another of my travel tips for Italy: make sure to always have some spare change with you. You won’t really be able to pay for a coffee or a gelato with a credit card (unless you are buying gelato for an army) and restaurants occasionally have issues with card payments and won’t be able to accept them until the machine is fixed.
Italy will bring a smile on your face
Don’t expect a dryer in your apartment
One of the things tourists like the most about Italian cities is that we hang our laundry in the sun. Well guess what – we don’t do it because it looks pretty in photos (though it certainly does) – but because laundry dryers are not a common thing to have here. It’s better for the environment, better for the clothes, and better for our electricity bills.
Bring a plug adaptor
One more of my travel tips for Italy – in fact, valid for wherever you travel. Always carry a plug adaptor with you. If you are coming from North America or the UK, or even from South Africa, you will see that electricity sockets in Europe are different. If you don’t have a plug adaptor, look for one at a ferramenta shop near you.
If you are a girl, don’t carry things such as hair straightener or hair driers. You will find hair driers are available in all hotel rooms or apartments, and in any case the voltage is different so your appliances won’t work here.
Italian health care is free for all (but do get insurance)
Italy has a public health care system, and no matter of your status in the country – resident, tourist, migrant – you will receive assistance if needed. Having said that, I still recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip. Make sure to read my post “Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.” Get a good travel insurance here.
Watch out for scams
Important travel tips for Italy ahead! Learn about the most common scams so that you know how to avoid them. Here they are:
THE OVERLY FRIENDLY STRANGER – If a person approaches you at a train station insisting to help you getting tickets from the vending machine or to carry your suitcase all the way on board of the train, chances are they want something in return. You do get chivalrous people, but not so eager.
THE FRIENDSHIP BRACELET – If someone approaches you and ties a bracelet around your wrist or finger, seemingly as a gift, say a firm and polite no and move away. That is a scam and you will be asked for money. The same goes for flowers.
TAXI SCAMS – The most typical taxi scam will either involved an unlicensed taxi (only take white cabs that have the sign “taxi” on top) or a taxi that takes the longest route possible to take you to your destination. Google maps helps you with the itinerary, so have it handy.
Make sure to also beware of pickpockets. They are common in busy train or bus stations.
Get a local SIM card
The easiest way to communicate with friends and relatives at home and to stay connected is by phone. It is probably cheaper to get a local SIM card so that you can use Whatsapp, Skype to make phone calls, and other useful apps such as Google Maps. The best companies are Vodafone and Wind.
Always carry a pack of tissues with you
This is one of the travel tips for Italy that any proper mamma will give you. Never leave the house without a pack of tissues. You never know you may need to blow your nose, wipe your face, or find no toilet paper in the toilet. Add to it a small tube of hand sanitizer and you are good to go.
Learn how to stand in line
Ah, Italians and lines! We are so bad at it that in many places there now is a number system: you walk in, pick a number from the machine and wait for your number to be called. If there are no numbers, you just have to learn how to line in Italy.
The key here is to stand your ground. Jump the line and you will be yelled at. Be too polite and people will pass you. If you see someone is trying to sneak in in front of you, swiftly push them away by moving forward and placing yourself well in the middle so that they can’t pass.
I am a pro at this – I will ask my sister to film me so that I can show you how it is done!
Italian emergency numbers
Last but definitely not least, make a note of the Italian number for emergencies. It is 112 and it pretty much is like 911 in the US. Chances are you won’t need it, but just in case!
Do you have any other travel tips for Italy to add to this list?
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