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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
- Seven Smart Ways To Get Tickets To The Colosseum And Skip The Lines
- How To Get Tickets To The Sistine Chapel And The Vatican Museums And Skip The Line
- 7 Ways To Get A St. Peter’s Basilica Ticket And Skip The Line
- A Complete Guide To Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica Dome
- Seven Smart Ways To Get Galleria Borghese Tickets And Skip The Lines
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.
- 30 Unmissable, Fun And Cheap Things To Do In Rome
- A Great Itinerary For A Fabulous Week In Rome
- A Wonderful Itinerary For 5 Days In Rome
- A Fantastic Itinerary For 4 Days In Rome
- The Perfect Itinerary For 3 Days In Rome
- The Perfect Itinerary To See Rome In 2 Days
- The Perfect Itinerary To See Rome In A Day
- 20 Great Day Trips From Rome
- 31 Incredible Places To Explore Rome Off The Beaten Path
- A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia
- An Excellent Guide To The Best Beaches In Sardinia
- A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Cagliari
- A Complete Guide To Alghero Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To Bosa Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To The Island Of Asinara, Sardinia
- A Local’s Guide To Costa Rei, Sardinia
- A Fantastic 8 Days Sicily Itinerary
- A Great Guide To The Things To Do In Catania, Italy
- Everything You Need To Know To Visit Mount Etna
- Everything You Need To Know To Visit Vulcano Island, Sicily
- Everything You Need To Know To Hike Stromboli Volcano
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.
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).
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
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:
- The 19 Best Movies About Italy You Need To Watch
- How To Order Coffee In Italy: The Best Italian Coffee