Most often, the questions I get are all about how to making the best out of your time in Italy. This is why I’ve made up my mind to bring all my different pieces together in this comprehensive list, which you will definitely find very useful.
Nothing’s ever perfect, however, so if you see something inaccurate or missing, be free to update me!!
Let’s start with the most important part – booking.
- NEVER make bookings via third-party agencies or websites. After all, why would you spend a fortune using companies such as TickItaly when you can do so directly on official or officially-sponsored websites of the museum?
- If you’re one of those who is travelling in the spring during the middle of March, or in the middle of May and July, it is best that you plan your itinerary and make bookings for major sites in advance.
- Don’t move around with your original passport; make a copy and carry that while keeping the original tucked away somewhere safe in your room where no one but you can find it.
- Always keep your credit and debit cards separate. In this way, even if you lose something or get pickpocketed, you will always have something to depend on – the one thing I never fail to practice, wherever I am.
- Try to keep sufficient cash with you at all times: Restaurants in Italy do not split bills and most places won’t even allow you to use your credit/debit card for small purchases.
- Make sure that you inform your bank that you are leaving the country before you actually do so.
- You should also find out whether there are any affiliates of your bank in Italy, such as BNL or Bank of America. This will help you avoid unnecessary service charges.]
- Use your debit card to draw cash from the ATM, since this is one of the best and easiest ways to obtain euros at the best of exchange rates.
- Always keep a copy of your health insurance card with you
- When you are in Italy, it is recommended that you use a local SIM card (i.e. one from Italy). Not only are they cheap to buy and use, they will help you avoid roaming and other unnecessary charges. Also, this is much easier to do your iPhone’s contract has expired (which means that it is over 2 years old).
- Keep your prized possessions at home: The more expensive stuff you wear, the more vulnerable to are to getting robbed
- Wear shoes that are easy and comfortable – after all, you are here to enjoy your trip!!
- Never step out without your sunscreen.
- Be warned: airlines are extremely serious about the weight of your bags. So if you’re one of those who are traveling on those discounted European lights make sure you travel as light as possible and keep a portable luggage scale to keep your baggage in check.
- Do not allow to people help you load or unload your luggage to or from the train. This is an elaborate scam made by gypsies so that they can force you to tip them. So unless you are OK spending your money tipping shady characters, avoid them.
- Keep track of your bags and their arrival and departure from the station. Sometimes, things can – and do – get stolen in the last minute.
- Travel light: This is a vital factor, since you will have to lug it all yourself down the streets and up and down the stairs and on and off trains at the stations. As taxis cannot go down certain squares and streets and elevators are not available in many places, you might find yourself navigating your luggage through these places on your own!
- Speaking of taxis, remember that in Italy, you can’t flag a taxi down – you will have to call one.
- Thinking of signing the petition against drug use? Don’t, because it is a scam to procure your email, only to sell it.
- When looking for restaurants, avoid those that have too many pictures of food. Chances are they are not so forthcoming on the quality front.
- Put your cheese where it belongs (no pun intended). Yes, Italy does have some of the best cheese in the world, but remember that you can’t put cheese on EVERYTHING, for instance seafood pasta.
- Don’t miss taking the taste of house wine- not only is it wonderful to taste, it is also very cheap.
- Speaking of wine, always hold your wine glass by its stem. If you hold it by the glass, the heat from your hand can change its character.
- Remember that bread is never served with oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Keep a check on skin-showing. While Italians have some serious fashion sense, they do not show a lot of skin. So it is only wise that you follow suit, especially for visiting places like churches, where it is not highly regarded.
- In Italy, it is considered rude to put your feet on chairs and seats on the train – so refrain from it.
- Become best friends with the train. The high-speed train takes a mere hour-and-a-half for a Florence-to-Rome or Florence-to-Venice trip, and just 30 minutes to travel to Bologna!!
- These super-fast, comfy and very reliable trains are my go-to means transport here in Italy. Not only are tickets affordable and available online, if you happen to be in Florence, you can get some serious discounts from the lovely guys at FlorenceForFun. Win-win!!
- Try to get up early – at least on some days. You’ll find the city a totally different places without tourists swarming it – and trust me, that’s one experience you must have, especially if you’re here in the summers.
And now for the cities: Let’s start with Rome…
- If you are visiting during the summers, don’t forget to get your hat or umbrella. This is because the Roman Forum has absolutely no shade.
- Eat at a place that is far away from the major places of interest.
- Drink the spring water from the fountains. Coming from ancient aqueducts, this free source of water is absolutely delicious and free. Drink it to believe it!!
- Jump the queue at the Vatican Museum. If you are one of those who didn’t make the reservation and are waiting endlessly in the mile-long line, just pay double and skip it. There must be a shady character nearby – he is the one who will supply you the “jump the queue” pass. Yes, you will have to pay double, but at least you will be spending the rest of your day visiting other places instead of standing in a line for hours.
- Try visiting the Vatican Museum at night. Yes, you heard that right – the Vatican Museum offers night-time tours that you can easily book on the official website.
- Want to visit the Basilica without waiting in the three-hour line even when you are not on the tour? Try “sneaking in” (shhh!!!) through the door in the right back corner when your back is facing the Last Judgment and you will head straight to the church without ever exiting the complex. Since this is the way the guides use, you must blend in so that it looks like you’re on tour.
And now, some tips for Florence:
- Walk: Not exactly a very big place, the best way to explore Florence is on foot
- Get a Florence Pass: Also known as the Firenze Card, this helps you jump long queues while saving money
- Don’t forget to climb the Duomo’s Cupola!!
- Try all the new and unfamiliar delicacies: While chicken liver or cow stomach may not sound very appetizing, they are indeed delicacies which are very delicious and are worth a try (at least).
- Instead of taking dinner, try an apertivo. Served between 7 and 9, it involves a drink that you buy for 7-10 euros with a complementary buffet that is enough to keep you full and interested. Not only do you spend much less than what you would at a proper dinner, you also get to try some great new Tuscan dishes!!
- Just wander off: You will ultimately get lost anyway, it is only better that you enjoy the experience while you’re at it.
- Use the Venetian gondola: Remember that one gondola seats six, and the charge is per gondola. So if you want to save some money, try taking in as many as you can!!
- For a cheaper touring experience, go down the Grand Canal on the Vaporetto.
- Explore Venice during the night: Most tourists only come to Venice for the day. Spend the night and you may see a totally different side of the city altogether!
Now, the one tip that you can never, ever ignore in Italy:
- Don’t leave Italy without learning to drink coffee like an Italian!!