Last year I had the pleasure of staying in Italy for a month and it was so much fun! In fact I’ve always had a thing for Italy and would love to spend more time there. Anyway, I’m happy to announce I’m going back in September, which I am so excited about! It got me thinking though about my first experience in Italy and so I thought I’d write an article on 10 things you should know about Italy before travelling there.
Italy is a country renowned for its rich history, vibrant culture, mouth watering cuisine, and stunning landscapes. It’s a dream destination for many travellers, myself included. From the breath taking architecture of Rome to the picturesque canals of Venice and the rolling hills of Tuscany, Italy offers something for everyone. Before embarking on your Italian adventure, here are few things you should know about this enchanting country:
1. The Art of Aperitivo
Italians take their pre-dinner ritual seriously. Enjoy an Aperitivo, a drink and small bites, to unwind after a day of exploring. This is the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture, sip refreshing spritz cocktails, and savour tasty finger foods. Italians don’t really drink without having a nibble, and might find it odd if you order drinks without food.
2. Embrace the Slow Pace
Italians value the art of “dolce far niente,” the sweetness of doing nothing. So, don’t be surprised if things move at a leisurely pace. Instead of getting frustrated, take this opportunity to soak in the atmosphere, indulge in lengthy meals, and engage in meaningful conversations. Also, if you visit out of season like I did, expect shorter opening hours or for things to simply not be open. Italians are busy in the Summer and unwind in the winter.
3. Language Barriers
While English is spoken in major tourist destinations, if you travel to a region that isn’t as touristy, you might struggle without knowing any Italian. It is always helpful to learn a few basic Italian phrases. Locals also appreciate the effort, so it can go a long way in enhancing your travel experience. Buongiorno (hello), grazie (thank you), and scusa (excuse me) are a great place to start. Being polite is a sure way to break the language barrier.
4. Choose Appropriate Attire for Churches
Italy is home to magnificent churches, such as St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and Florence’s Duomo. Remember to dress modestly by covering your shoulders and knees to show respect when visiting these holy sites.
5. Cash is King
While credit cards are widely accepted, especially in tourist areas, it is always handy to have some cash on you. Many smaller establishments, local markets, and street vendors prefer transactions in cash. Just ensure you keep your belongings safe while carrying cash. It is also required to have an ID card to shop in places like supermarkets or use cigarette machines. If you can make friends with a local they are likely to let you borrow theirs. Some supermarkets accept passports.
6. Regional Cuisine
Italian cuisine varies greatly from region to region. Each area has its specialties, such as Neapolitan pizza in Naples, tagliatelle al ragù (Bolognese) in Bologna, or the gelato of Florence. Embrace the diversity and taste the local flavours wherever you go. Make sure you sample traditional dishes of the area.
7. Public Transportation
Italy boasts an efficient transportation system, including extensive train networks connecting major cities. Taking the train not only offers picturesque views but also allows you to cover long distances quickly and cost-effectively.
8. Validate Your Train Tickets
If you opt in for train travel, don’t forget to validate your ticket before boarding. The validation machines are usually yellow or green and can be found on platforms. Failure to validate may result in hefty fines, so ensure you stay on the right side of the law. You may also be required to show ID as Italians show their ID everywhere, make sure you take your passport so you can prove your idenity.
9. Tipping Etiquette
Unlike some countries, tipping in Italy is not obligatory. However, it is customary to leave a small gratuity for an exceptional service. A standard practice is rounding up the bill or leaving a few extra euros as a gesture of appreciation.
10. Cultural Sensitivity
Italy is rich in religious sites, traditions, and cultural heritage. Respect local customs, traditions, and religious practices. Be aware of dress codes, avoid public displays of affection in churches, and follow local guidelines while visiting sacred places. Be careful of what you wear. For example it is okay to wear a bikini on the beach, but not a bikini top while shopping. You could get some funny looks and it is regarded as highly inappropriate.
Italy’s charm undeniably lies in its ability to delight and surprise visitors at every turn. By familiarizing yourself with these ten essential aspects and adopting an open mindset, you’ll be better prepared to fully immerse yourself in the enchanting beauty and captivating culture of Italy on your journey. Buon viaggio (Have a good trip)!
Thanks for reading.