Do you believe in magic? If you travel to Italy at some point in the near future, you might. Italy is the master of magical transformations. From the Renaissance paintings to the Futurist sculptures, and from Versace to Missoni, and even from your Italian grandmother’s secret pasta recipe to the new and ever more inventive flavors of gelato, Italy has perfected the changing-a-bouquet-of-flowers-
into-a-dove formula. The most magical thing about it is that no matter how Italian culture changes over the years, it still retains that distinct Italian charm that enchants travelers from all over the world year after year.
We can’t quite figure out how Italy pulls off this elaborate magic trick, but we have managed to compile a few Italy travel tips for dealing with some of the smaller, day to day mysteries you might encounter if you travel to Italy.
Visit in the afternoon when the museums are less crowded.
In popular cities like Florence, the lines at museums can get pretty long. Ask your hotel concierge if he or she can purchase tickets for you.
Many hostels offer discount coupons for museums and other attractions. Ask at the main desk before heading out to explore.
Europeans call the restroom a “toilet,” so if you ask for a restroom, they will think you’re looking for a room in which you can literally “rest.”
Many public restrooms in Europe cost a euro or two to use. Put your money towards a cup of coffee instead and make use of the cafe’s facilities while you’re at it.
Speaking of coffee, it’s useful to know about the different pricing options. If you dine in at a cafe, you’ll be paying a higher price (usually a tourist-specific price). If you choose to take your drink at the standing bar area instead, you’ll pay a little less. Most of the time, the locals choose the standing bar, finishing up their espressos in two sips before heading on their way.
Winter in Italy is pretty chilly, and summer can get extremely hot. A down coat may be a good idea for traveling in the colder months, and light dresses or loose shirts are the way to go in the summer.
If you don’t want to have plan your wardrobe around the weather, a change of itinerary might be a better option for you: try May or September if you want the warmth without the intensity, and try October or November if you’d prefer the cold without the numb fingertips.
Plan ahead with your Christmas shopping. If you travel in the fall, save some room in your suitcase for presents — everyone will be excited to get something exotic from Italy and you won’t have to worry about last minute shopping.
The Italian eating schedule is slightly different than ours across the pond. Lunchtime in Italy lasts from about noon until 2:30 or 3, and dinner time starts around 7:30. Certain “tourist trap” restaurants stay open and raise their prices, hoping to catch travelers who are unfamiliar with the local schedule. With that said, though, don’t worry too much — wherever you eat, it will probably be delicious.
To find those perfect little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, follow the locals. Pass on the “menu turistico” and ask for the “menu del giorno” — the daily specials.
Europeans seem to enjoy dining (i.e., eating slowly and socializing at the table long after the meal has ended) more than we do, so generally it will take a while for the check to come. If you’re in a hurry or just ready to leave, you’ll probably need to ask for it.
There is no need to tip after a meal, as the gratuity is usually included. If you found the service to be exceptional, however, the server always appreciates an extra euro or two.
Many travelers like to fly into Florence because it is centrally located, which makes it easy to continue on in any direction once you’re ready. Milan is also a great place to start because it is a large international airport with a lot of flights, and once you arrive you can work your way down to all of the other cities on your list.
Once in a city, try public transportation rather than taxis. It’s a great way to mingle with the locals and save some cash.
Train ticket kiosks can be confusing, and occasionally someone may take advantage of this — sometimes scam artists will offer to help you with your ticket and then try to convince you to let them keep the change from the transaction once you’ve finished. This isn’t to say that everyone is out to get you, but it’s probably best to ask train station officials for help should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
All of Italy’s major cities are connected by train (and many of the little towns are too, especially in the Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast regions). The train stations are all located in the city centers, unlike airports, which are usually located on city outskirts.
None of the cities in Italy are too far apart, and the Italian landscape is fairly flat, so traveling by train is quick and easy.
If you take one of the new Italo trains, you’ll be able to receive e-tickets instead of paper tickets.
Trains in Italy tend to fill up pretty quickly, particularly during the summer, and so it is always recommended to purchase tickets in advance. This is especially true for overnight trains, since often there will only be one overnight train running between cities per night.
Smaller, regional trains only offer “open tickets,” meaning travelers are not assigned specific seats and can choose to sit anywhere once on board. All high-speed and premier trains will issue tickets with specific seat assignments.
A rail pass is issued in first or second class and allows a traveler to hop on and off as many trains as she or she likes for however many days the pass is valid for. A day on the pass lasts from midnight to midnight.
The pass covers the ticket price of the train, and so for regional trains that only require tickets and not seat reservations, you’ll only need your rail pass to board. For high-speed or premier trains that require both tickets and reservations, however, you’ll need to purchase the passholder reservation supplement. Like regular tickets, passholder reservations can sell out quickly, and we recommend purchasing them in advance.
Rail pass tip: Don’t forget to take advantage of the free airport transfer on the Leonardo Express, available for first class rail pass holders. This 30 minute ride between Fiumicino Airport and Roma Termini station will require the use of a day on your pass (but remember, you can still take more trains in that same 24 hour period).
We hope you enjoy your trip to Italy, and if you happen to figure out how the Italians pull off their magical transformation trick, you’ll let us in on the secret, right?