Hi everyone! I recently did an Instagram poll (follow me if you don’t already @adash_ofclass – I post all my travel stuff here first!) and the question that got by far the most attention was all about Italy! A lot of you were planning trips, or wanted to plan trips and were curious about what to do, what to wear, or even where to go. I’m planning a ton of posts all about Italy, especially Florence (where I studied abroad for a semester) and I will get more specific in those posts, but since everyone has a different itinerary I thought I would start with a general guide to traveling to Italy as well as getting around once you’re here. I’m also touching on the basics of where to go, what to wear, and what to eat, as well as some of the big differences you’ll encounter when you get there.
Flying to Italy can get expensive – usually the cheapest options are flying into Rome or Milan, but of course checking out multiple cities can never hurt as prices usually change often. There are multiple airports in both cities, so make sure you check out the distance from the airport to the city centre, or the train station – wherever you plan on going after you land. Taxis can get expensive, and they will upcharge Americans, so if you can help it try to fly into the airport closest to your destination. When you exit the airport there are usually buses that will take you to a train station or city centre that are somewhere between 5 and 10 euro (whereas a cab can charge you as much as 100 with luggage… Avoid cabs at all costs) that leave every 10-20 minutes. These are great options and so helpful! Take advantage of them!
Even if your destination is not Rome or Milan, you can fly into an airport here and take a train to another city easily. Rome Fiumicino airport has a train station inside of it which makes for an extremely easy transition if you’re looking to do something of that sort.
At first, I included flights in my ranking of transportations, but I took it out because I have simply never flown in country. With trains and buses you just don’t need to. Buses are usually longer, but if you’re looking to save a lot of money they can sometimes be worth it. Bus rides are also very pretty and usually you can store you luggage in the bus which is very nice considering it doesn’t always fit in the overhead area on the train.
***IMPORTANT: Always validate bus and train tickets. On a train in Cinque Terre, I watched a couple get fined 50 euro per unvalidated ticket. They had purchased the tickets just 10 minutes ago, but without the validation they were subject to the fine. Keep this in mind when purchasing and using tickets, and don’t try to sneak on for free, because that fine is even more!***
My best tips for finding the most authentic places to eat are as follows. Don’t eat by the big tourist attractions. Of course, there are a few exceptions. My all time favorite panini place in Florence is right next to the Duomo… Which leads me to my second tip, do your research! There are so many tools out there to help you find good places to eat. I am of course a huge advocate for reading blogs from experienced travelers, or asking locals (your cab driver, the host of your airbnb, etc.). Simply walking the streets and stopping in a restaurant can’t hurt either – all Italian food is delicious, but theres definitely a difference between the authentic locally made cuisine and the touristy food.
Doing research can also help you to find places to eat that aren’t crazy overpriced. The best pizza I had in Florence was only 6-8 euro! Just to put things into perspective. Italian restaurants also usually have the menu outside of the restaurant with prices next to them. This is helpful if you’re looking for specific prices or a specific dish – although most place serve the traditional meals that tourists are looking for.
In Italy, tipping is simply not what they do. There are often cover charges associated with restaurants, especially fancier ones. Sometimes, even if you sit down and have a coffee it comes with a cover. As for mealtimes, plan to eat late. I’m talking the average dinner beginning around 8 or 9 pm. There is also a period from 1-4 where many local shops may close. Prepare for this, but know you can still find places that are open to eat if you’re hungry! Last but not least, Italian cuisine is delicious, but it is not American-Italian. The only dressing they offer for salads is olive oil, and their pizzas are just a little bit off from anything that can be delivered to you back home. If you embrace it and do it right, you can experience the best most authentic food, in the best environment – all for a great price.
As for wine, drink as much as you can. It is delicious (especially the red wine) and it is very normal for it to be ordered with lunch and dinner. I personally wouldn’t spend more than 10-20 euro a bottle at a restaurant, and if you’re eating in you can get a bottle at the grocery store (Conad) for as low as 2 euro. As for the other part of the drinking scene – bars, clubs, etc. I’m going to write a post on that as well! But just to touch on the basics, Europeans overall go out a lot later. And because they go out later… They also stay out later. If you go to clubs, be ready for loud music and a late night experience. You can just as easily head to a local bar and listen to live music late into the night – whatever you prefer, make sure you order a glass of wine & get a late night pizza afterwards. 🙂
One of the big things you should know before traveling to Italy is that a lot of places only take cash. Make sure you get out euros before you leave (this usually only takes a few days at your local bank), or have a card that won’t up charge you for taking out cash. Bank of America has a sister bank in Italy called BNL, which won’t charge you extra if you use your Bank of America card to take out cash. Avoid ATMs in airports (they will charge you more) or ATMs on the street that aren’t associated with a bank. This is just to be safe, you don’t want to have no card or cash while traveling!
The water in Italy is safe to drink! Save money (and our environment) and bring a reusable water bottle! I know so many people do this nowadays, but I thought I would mention it in case anyone was on the fence. Water also costs money at restaurants, unlike in America.
My very last tip is to GET LOST! All the time. Walk and walk and stumble upon things you didn’t even know existed. Italy is exciting, and has something new around every corner. There are historical sculptures, beautiful old homes, local pizza shops, and quaint stores. You may not remember everything you see, but you will remember the feeling of losing yourself in the streets of this beautiful & historical goldmine. Soak it all in. There is nothing out there like Italy.