1. Tipping isn’t expected
While in America a 15%-20% tip is expected, tipping in Italy is not required, but if given excellent service, you can leave a tip around 5%.
Note: Most restaurants charge a “coperto charge”, or per person service fee that covers extra services such as bread.
2. The wine is cheap
Wine in Italy is unbelievably cheap. I recommend ordering the house wine when going out to eat - in certain restaurants the house wine can be cheaper than a bottle of water. I also found in many cities that local markets sell bottles of wine for less than 5 euros a bottle.
3. Eat what you’re supposed to
It seems in Italy that every city has its own personalized dish - Rome is for carbonara, Naples is for pizza, Florence for steak alla Fiorentina, Sorrento for gnocchi alla Sorrentina & buffalo mozzarella, and so on - wherever you are, find the regional dish and eat it - there’s a chance it’ll be the best version you’ll ever have.
4. Don’t eat at restaurants with English menus
Places with English translations on the menu are usually meant to attract American tourists and tend to have poorly made, overpriced food. Seek out restaurants that don’t necessarily attract foreigners, it’s usually where the most authentic food can be found.
My favorite trick while traveling anywhere is finding a great local restaurant and then asking the waitstaff or chef what their favorite restaurants in the area are. By doing this, you’re able to build an arsenal of local hidden gems.
5. Travel by train
The train system in Italy is the fastest and easiest way to travel around the country. The main high speed train services in Italy are Trenitalia and Italo. You can either book your tickets online in advance (this usually grants you a discounted price), or buy your tickets at the station. Make sure you don’t let anyone help you put your luggage on the trains. If someone comes up to you and asks to assist you with luggage, they're most likely gypsies and will request money after helping you.
Note: When traveling on trains, you must validate your ticket. This is essential to traveling in Italy in order to avoid fines. You validate your ticket with a machine BEFORE getting on the train.
6. Ciao bella! - Italian catcalling; an art form.
Italian men LOVE to flirt. While this may be seen as offensive and rude in many cultures, Italian men pride themselves on their love of romance and most of all... Women. While it’s always important to be careful, this form of admiration is a part of Italian culture and is usually harmless. When living in Southern Italy, my friends and I experienced this on a daily basis and were never approached or harassed by any of these men. Just smile and say grazie.
7. Pickpockets are a major problem in cities like Rome and Naples
When traveling through Italy’s major metropolitan cities, make sure to keep an eye on your belongings. Cities like Naples and Rome have some of the highest pickpocketing rates in Europe.
I avoid pickpockets and thieves by always traveling with RFID and Travelon products that protect you from having your personal belongings stolen or credit cards scanned.
8. Visit during the off season to avoid crowds
Not only is May to August unbearably hot in most parts of Italy (likely without A/C!), it’s also the height of their tourist season. If you want to avoid crowds and over-exuberant prices, visit in the fall or early spring.
9. You must be covered up to go into churches
As the home of the Pope, the churches in Italy are among some of the strictest in Europe. Make sure to always have your shoulders and legs covered, or else you’ll likely be denied entrance. As I traveled to Italy in the summer and didn’t want to have to wear long sleeves, I always kept a pashmina tied to my purse in case we decided to visit a church.
10. Skip the tourist attractions
Finally, don’t waste your trip only seeing the commercialized part of Italy. Skip the long lines and tourist traps, and instead experience Italy like a local. Eat at hole-in-the-wall restaurants, travel outside of the major cities, and avoid spending more than a half hour at the places that you see on everyone’s Instagram.
When I first traveled to Rome, I got stuck in lines for hours to stand in the coliseum for fifteen minutes and nearly died of boredom on a three hour Vatican tour. Research things that you actually want to do, opposed to what you feel like you should be doing.
Want more advice on how to travel through Italy? Check out my blogs on Rome, Florence, and the Amalfi Coast.