What To Do And What To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy

Take my word for it: planning a trip to Italy is easier said than done. You see, Italy is actually larger than you may imagine, and moving from one place to the other isn’t always as easy as you’d hope. Besides, there are so many beautiful places to visit (Italy is the country with the largest amount of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world) that picking which ones to visit is easier said than done.

If you feel like you don’t know where to start from with your planning, worry not! I am happy to give you some tips that will definitely help. I will also tell you which mistakes you should avoid.

planning a trip to Italy
Shoulder season is perfect for planning a trip to Italy

10 Things To Do When Planning A Trip To Italy

Check your visa requirements

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, browse the website of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Decide when to visit Italy

My humble advice is to actually travel when you can. If you are traveling with kids who are in school, you probably want to visit in the summer or when they are on a school break.

Having said so, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

ITALY HAS FOUR 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: winters are really mild in the south, and summers are not so hot in the Alps.

PEAK SEASON = CROWDS – Peak season in Italy goes from May to September included, and Easter time. With peak season come larger crowds at tourist spots, as well as higher prices. Italians take their summer holidays in August, so that’s by far the busiest month.

So, when should you plan your trip to Italy for? 

If you plan to do lots of sightseeing, visit in the shoulder season as attractions will be significantly less crowded. The best time is 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. Alternatively, visit between February, when Carnival starts, and May (but avoid the Easter holidays and the week between 25 April and 1 May which are both national holidays). 

For a beach holiday, visit 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. 

If you want to ski in the Alps, travel in the winter, between December and the beginning of March, when the Alps get the largest amount of snowfall. 

planning a trip to Italy
If you are planning a trip to Italy in the summer, you can definitely enjoy the beaches.

Decide how long you want to stay

This is the trickiest question, and it is tied to a million other factors such as budget or the number of days you can take off work.

Ideally, the longer you can stay 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 stay at least 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 will allow you to breathe in as much of Italy as possible until your next visit. 

Set a budget

Italy isn’t the most expensive country in the world, but it ain’t the cheapest either.

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. 

Add something between $30 and $70 USD per day for food and other small expenses – things such as gelato, a museum ticket, a bus ticket etc. If you intend to buy small gifts and souvenirs in Italy the budget will definitely need to be a bit higher!

Renting a car will add to the expenses too. 

All tourists (including Italians) 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. 

long haul flight tips

Book your flights

How long in advance should I be booking flights? I come across this question all the time, and I never have an answer.

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. The truth is that there is no actual science into the best timing for booking flights.

Try 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. 

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. If you are flying from a smaller European Airport, check the prices of budget flights to – among others – Bergamo Orio al Serio, Venice Treviso, Rome Ciampino, Pisa, Cagliari, Alghero, Catania. 

planning a trip to Italy

Plan how to travel from the airport to the city

This may seem 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. 

Landing in Rome? Check out my post How To Get From Fiumicino Airport To Rome City Center.

Get travel insurance

The health care system in Italy is accessible to all, no matter their status in the country. However, I recommend getting a good travel insurance that covers medical costs as well as other typical travelers’ issues. 

Read my post Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance. Get your travel insurance here.

renting a car in Italy

Rent a car

If you are planning to move from one place to the other, 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, flexibility and reach than public transportation.

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.

Beware of the ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato), parts of the historical center of many cities where only residents can drive through at certain times of day.

The average price for a liter of gas in Italy is €1.45. The highway is not free in Italy – in fact, some tolls can be very expensive. Make a note to yourself to add tolls to your daily budget considerations!

Winter weekend
Walking into a nice hotel be like…

Book your accommodation in advance

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, opt 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 opt for an agriturismo – a farm stay where you can also eat traditional local food.

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. 

The best accommodation booking site is Booking.com: has an incredible array of options for all budgets and tastes. 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.

I have accommodation guides for Rome and Cagliari.

Colosseum tours

Book the most popular 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.

Attractions for which advanced bookings are necessary include the Colosseum; the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums; St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peters’ Dome; Borghese Gallery – all in Rome; the Last Supper in Milan; St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge Palace in Venice; Uffizi Gallery and the Baptistery in Florence.

When it comes to booking attraction tickets and tours, I swear by GetYourGuide. It’s a third party booking engine that allows you to select the best ticket and tour options, read other travelers’ reviews, and that has incredibly flexible cancellation policies. 

Dolomites
The Dolomites of Trentino are stunning – make sure to include them in your itinerary

Plan your 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, stick to the classics. If you are an Italy pro, 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.

Check out my post The Best Italy Itinerary for more inspiration.

packing for Italy
What you pack depends on the kind of trip you are planning – and on the season

Pack wisely

What you pack 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 cubesthey 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.  
  • A light jacket or pullover – remember you need to dress modestly when visiting churches, even when it is 35°C 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.

Learn some basic Italian

People working in the tourism industry in Italy all speak English, and even those who don’t will be able to mutter a few words. In any case, Italians have incredible communication skills 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. It will make your trip more fun!

Start with the most basic phrases:

  • Buongiorno – good morning;
  • Buonasera – good evening;
  • Ciao – hello / bye;
  • Arrivederci – goodbye;
  • Grazie – thank you;
  • Prego – please / you’re welcome;
  • Per favore – please (ie when making a request);
  • Mi dispiace / Mi scusi – I’m sorry;
  • Non parlo Italiano – I don’t speak Italian;
  • Non capisco – I don’t understand;
  • Parla Inglese? – Do you speak English?

Check out my post 20 Useful Tips For Learning A New Language.

things to do at home
Italy is all about food

Read about Italian food

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 what you’ll eat in Italy. Food in Italy is very regional, and some of the dishes that are commonly eaten in Rome, are unheard of in Sardinia, for example. Try to familiarize yourself with the cuisine of the regions you are visiting and prepare your tastebuds!

planning a trip to Italy

10 Things To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy

Not joining 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. 

But 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. 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.

Booking last minute

Italy really isn’t a last minute destination, especially if you are keen on seeing the most famous places. Things get booked up pretty quickly – hotels, attractions and even restaurants all require advanced bookings.

St. Peter's Dome

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.Forever isn’t an option, really, as you will have to go back home at a certain point. Having said so, a day in Rome is not enough to explore it properly. 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. If you only want to see the most popular attractions, 3 days in Rome are enough.

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 actually seeing anything. 

Average 3 days and 3 nights in each city / place you intend to visit. If you are spending a week in Italy, visit 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; and you won’t blow your budget (because really, moving from one place to another is costly in terms of transportation).

Only seeing major cities

There is more to Italy than Rome, Florence, Milan, Naples and Venice.

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.

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

Credit and debit card payments are quite common in Italy (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.

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.

American Express is not widely accepted in Italy. 

cities 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, 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. 

TIM is probably the most efficient provider, with reception pretty much everywhere, as well as Vodafone, which is a bit cheaper. 

Not using public transportation

Despite the many local complaints, 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.

Check out the train timetable and prices here

You should also use public transportation within cities, instead of taxis – it’s 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!

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. 

italy

Not reading TripAdvisor reviews with a pinch of salt 

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: anybody can write reviews on TripAdvisor – even people who haven’t actually been to the place.

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. Here are some common scams you need to be aware of:

THE OVERLY FRIENDLY STRANGER – This scam typically occurs at transportation terminals. A stranger appears eager 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: 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, common in busy places such as train or bus stations.

Further Readings

Make sure to also read these posts:

For detailed city guides, these posts may come in handy:

ROME

SARDINIA

SICILY

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Discover how to plan a trip to Italy - via @clautavani

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