We don’t yet know for sure when we will be able to travel to Italy again, hopefully it will be later this summer. Regardless of when we can go, whether it will be your first time or a return trip, the following 10 things are really important to keep in mind. In fact you can file them under things you wish you knew before you went to Italy!
10 Things You’ll Wish You Knew Before You Traveled To Italy
It took me a while to get on board with this but you really do need to pack light. I advise my travelers to pack half of what they think they need.
Most travelers will have to get their suitcases on and off trains, lift them onto train or ferry luggage racks, carry them across cobblestoned streets (notorious for breaking suitcase wheels) and sometimes up multiple flights of stairs. Your hotel or accommodation may have an elevator, but that doesn’t mean it will be working. Many train stations don’t have escalators or elevators so you can find yourself carrying heavy suitcases down one flight of stairs and up another if you are changing trains. Trust me, it’s a nightmare.
Cars are smaller over there so taxis and rental cars may not fit excess or large luggage.
Also shopping in Italy is fantastic. You will want space in your suitcase to bring things home. (Checking a second suitcase should you need to buy one while there will cost you an additional 100 euros)
Plan Your Outfits
Don’t pack any just-in-case items. Plan your outfits ahead of time. Separates give you the most options, with the ideal 4 tops for one skirt or pair of pants. Pack easy to wear, easily packable items. Sundresses and travel dresses are ideal, with a light jacket or sweater in case it gets cold.
I normally get my travelers to plan an outfit for each day. This makes the process so much easier and really helps to condense your packing.
At the moment post-pandemic there is talk of the airlines not supplying blankets and pillows inflight. I always travel with a large pashmina/shawl that can double up as a blanket. My best travel tip for flying is to wear a long sleeve merino base layer. See here and here and here This lightweight fabric is super warm but regulates temperature to keep you comfortable from sub-zero temperatures to around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It also wicks away moisture, so you won’t get sweaty or smelly.
Bring Good Walking Shoes
Italy is all walking, much of it up and down hills, most of it on uneven or cobbled streets. My average day in Italy involves walking between 8 and 10 miles, and I’ve had plenty of days when we’ve walked double that.
Really good, supportive walking shoes are essential.
I recommend one stylish pair of athletic shoes (well, as stylish as possible – try to avoid the big, clunky, ugly ones) and one pair of sandals. I typically wear the Mirabelle by Sofft see here as they don’t need any breaking in time and can take a beating. My last pair did over 300 miles of walking in Italy and are still going strong, although I have since replaced them with a new pair.
Always break in and sneakers/athletic shoes before coming, and I suggest putting insoles in as well see here.
Ideally only bring only 2 pairs of shoes, and plan your outfits around them. Leave high heels, wedges and platforms at home – the chances of you braking or spraining an ankle in them are huge.
Any time you are traveling to a country with a different currency you should bring some of that currency with you. Airports normally have ATM machines but they may be out of cash and definitely will have the worst exchange rate.
Order a small amount of foreign currency from your bank prior to leaving for Italy. I recommend bringing 100 euros cash, in small denominations. Many vendors will not have change for a larger bill and may not want to risk accepting a counterfeit bill. Your best bet is to bring an assortment of cash in 20 euro notes and smaller.
Use The Trains
The train system in Italy is fantastic. It is really efficient and very affordable. I advise taking the train across country rather than flying. On the rare occasions that I fly internally there are invariably flight delays and it would have taken just as long by train!
I recommend buying tickets for the high speed train online ahead of time. Tickets typically go on sale around 3-4 months prior to departure with the prices going up as you get closer to the date.
Intercity and regional train tickets can be purchased at the station the day of travel.
Plan Your Airport Transfers
Plan your transport from the airport ahead of time. Especially if this is your first trip to Italy you can be exhausted after the long flight and find the arrival overwhelming.
If flying into Venice you will need to pre-book passage from the airport to the city on the Alilaguna boat see here. If flying into any other major city either plan for a private driver transfer (recommended) or a taxi. Your accommodation will be able to advise you on car companies and taxi fares.
Never accept a ride from a driver soliciting business inside the airport. Taxis are required to come through the taxi stand outside the arrivals terminal. They all have the correct insignia for that particular city and will have fares posted. There is always a set fare from the airport into the city.
In Italy food is regional. Each region has its own specialties, and other than at tourist restaurants you won’t find American Italian items on the menu. Rather than trying to order pizza and lasagna everywhere you go, order the food from that area. My best seller Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy breaks down what foods to order in each region as well as which wines to order by region.
It also gives you expert advice on how to choose a restaurant, how to order coffee, what to do if you get sick, how to get your sales tax back – loads of essential information for travelers. It is available worldwide on Amazon.com
Learn A Little Italian
Before you travel learn some basic things to say in Italian. Things like hello and goodbye, please and thank you, and a few other easy bits and pieces. Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy also has a section on basic phrases and how to say them.
Don’t pack your itinerary with too many things. Plan to see fewer things in fewer cities. Don’t waste time standing in line for hours to see the major attractions. Pick one or two per city and then spend the rest of your time seeing the places the tour buses don’t go.
St Peter’s in Rome is great, but there are no end of other churches just as fantastic with no line to get inside. The Duomo is Florence is ok inside but there are so many staggeringly fantastic churches in the historic center of town that you can walk right into. St Mark’s Basilica in Venice is incredible and is worth waiting in line for.
Every city in Italy has vastly more to offer than just the main attractions. Spend your time wandering and exploring these lesser known sites, stop for a coffee or a gelato, enjoy a long lunch somewhere with a lovely view.
My second book, Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome is also an international best seller. It gives you more than 101 incredible things to see and do in Rome, all within walking distance of the big attractions, and most with very few tourists. I have a new book coming out soon with 101 Fabulous Things To Do in another famous Italian city. To get a heads up on it and when it’s coming out join my Private Member Newsletter here. You can unsubscribe at any time.
10. Buy Artisanal
Whether you are buying a gelato or whether you are buying souvenirs, or anything (and everything) in between, don’t buy from the high street shops, buy from the artisans. This post explains why you must only ever buy artisan gelato. Don’t worry, there are artisan shops everywhere and they cost the same.
Buying from artisan boutiques, shops, workshops and markets helps keep the trades Italy is famous for alive for more generations. From shoe shops to leather bags to clothing, jewelry and crafts – everything you can think of, it’s all available in cheap Made in China imitations, or as the real deal. Don’t support the made-for-tourists merchandise, support the true Italian merchandise. It is all very easy to find and centrally located.
Check blogs, ask google and ask your landlord or hotel where you can buy artisanal products. They will be happy to guide you!
Did you find this post helpful? My Private Members Newsletter comes out twice each month and is full of great information for anyone planning a trip to Italy, now or in the future. You can join the group for free here.