39 Italy Travel Tips From People Who've Actually Been There
What to do, where to go, and most importantly, what to EAT.
1. Always give the house wine a try! And drink the local varietals.
No matter what, eat local and if you enjoy drinking, ALWAYS GET THE HOUSE WINE! I guarantee it will be great quality, local, and unique to every location that you can’t get anywhere else.
Drink the local wine (Falanghina for Rome, Chianti for Tuscany, Prosecco for Venice).
2. Try the local cuisine, too!
Try the LOCAL food. Going to Tuscany? Try maybe panzanella or crostini. Going to the Amafi coast? Try something with fresh fish or crustaceans. Going to Naples? Definitely get pizza. Believe it or not, spaghetti and meatballs and alfredo aren’t actually Italian.
3. Check for free days at the museums.
If you’re interested in museums, try to look up when they do free days. Usually they do a free day like once a month.
[Editor's note: If there's a holiday on a day that's usually the free museum day, it might be rescheduled! For example, if a free day was supposed to be on Easter Sunday, it might be on the Monday after instead.]
4. If someone in your party is disabled or otherwise has trouble standing for a long time, ask (politely, and preferably in Italian) if there's a disability line at the major sites.
This goes for the elderly, people who are pregnant, people who have bad knees...if you think you'll have trouble standing for that long, it never hurts to ask!
6. Learning some basic Italian will go a long way.
Learn your basic italian, locals are very grateful of you trying to speak their language and they'll be more friendly and kind.
If you're not sure where to start on learning Italian, just aim for learning some "transactional" phrases, like how to order food, buy tickets, or ask where the restroom is. Even just asking in Italian if someone speaks English will go a long way!
7. Wander around! If you're able to walk, it's usually the best way to experience a city/town.
Don't take a taxi! Walk as much as possible, getting lost usually ended up being a highlight of my trip.
8. If you don't like crowds, you can still see amazing things in smaller cities.
Don’t underestimate the amount of tourists that go to Italy! Consider the season you’re going and consider incorporating smaller, less popular cities into your trip.
This summer we did Florence, Cinque Terre, and Genoa and LOVED Genoa because it felt so underrated and gave us space to breathe at the end of the trip. There weren’t selfie sticks in our faces at every turn, locals seemed more apt to befriend us, and we had the best food of our entire trip on one of their recommendations (Cavour 21 — the best pesto you’ll ever eat!). We also had a breathtaking rooftop apartment with full view of the city that cost less than accommodations in other cities.
9. If you want to be able to use data on your phone, consider a portable router instead of getting a new SIM/phone for everyone in your group.
Instead of buying a phone number with internet, it is much cheaper and smarter to buy a router with internet and share that with your travel buddies. I traveled with my aunt, uncle, and cousin, and we shared one Vodafone router for the week. There was more data than we knew what to do with, and so much cheaper than buying individual SIMs!
10. Remember the rules for finding good restaurants:
Rules to finding good, authentic restaurants:
- Don't eat anywhere that advertises multilingual menus, free wifi or air conditioning
- Don't eat anywhere that advertises a fixed tourist menu
- Don't eat anywhere with picture menus
- The further away from squares and big tourist attractions, the better
- Often, the older and crappier the place looks, the better
- Eat where the locals are eating (so nowhere where everyone looks like obvious tourists)
- The fewer things on the menu, the better
- Ask locals for recommendations
11. As always while traveling in big cities, keep your belongings secure.
Be wary of pickpockets! Make sure your bag is zipped up, and use cross-body bags if you can. They have a ploy where one guy tries to distract you (often by giving you something free like a bracelet) while another comes up behind you and tries to take your bag/something from it. Be extra conscious when in touristy spots especially!
12. Keep the season in mind when choosing to travel.
Don't go in August. It's really hot, super crowded and all the Italians are on vacation. So you'll be surrounded by pretty much only other tourists and many shops and restaurants are closed, because the owners are on vacation. The best time to visit Italy is May/June or September/October.
The only week my family could get together to travel was Easter week, so Rome was especially packed. On the plus side, we got to see lots of cool stuff (the explosion of the cart in Florence was pretty neat, albeit super crowded) but tourist sites and museums had longer lines than usual.
13. Consider taking a cooking class as an activity.
Wherever you go, take a cooking class. It's such a fun experience and you'll have a recipe to take with you. That way you can relive the vacation in the comfort of your own home whenever you're missing that beautiful country.
14. If you're planning on visiting a lot of churches or other holy sites, consider taking a shawl or scarf to cover up.
I would suggest carrying a large scarf with you that way you can tie around your waist or drape over your shoulders when visiting churches and other sites. Also good for keeping the sun of your shoulders! I did this in Italy and other parts of Europe.
15. To save money at museums and other sites, consider downloading free audio guides and booking tickets/passes in advance.
Definitely get the Rick Steves Italy guide! You can get it on iBooks and use it on your phone during your trip. It has great walking tour guides and a ton of interesting information about the stops along the way. I went to Italy as a student with very little money, so it was great to be a sort of free tour guide for my friends and I.
I also recommend getting a Firenze card in Florence if you’re going to see a lot of the art and museums. This will save you a lot of money rather than paying for each individual museum or venue. [Editor's note: This can be great if you're visiting a lot of venues, but be sure to check regular ticket prices as well to make sure it's worth it for you!]
16. Don't buy fluffy gelato. Look for the stuff that has a lid on it.
You can tell the gelato is done properly when the pistachio flavour is a pale brownish green and is covered with a lid. Look for artisanal gelato and don’t buy from ones that fluff it up like clouds — it means there is a lot of air whipped into it.
I was born in Northern Italy and I have family in Rome and Palermo. Both places are so full of rich history. If you want beaches, go to Palermo or Conca dei Marini. The Sicilian beaches are rivaled only by those on the Amalfi coast. If you go to Conca there is this charming little town on the cliffside leading to the beach, its on a bunch of google image searches for the area but not a touristy place like you would think. There it a little taxi boat service to take you from there to other little coves on the coast. Make sure you eat the seafood pasta!
Verona is one of Italy’s most underrated cities. The historical north Italian city served as a setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, so you can imagine how much beautiful architecture there is to explore and take pictures of!
Visit Sardinia! it has the country's most beautiful beaches and the friendliest people, also the seafood is great and, because of it being an island apart from the country, it has a lot of different traditions and typical costumes and food but just as beautiful and delicious!
For a affordable "tropical island " feel visit Sardinia! It hasn't been discovered by tourists yet. Sardinia has the most beautiful beaches in Italy and the people are among the healthiest in the world due to the healthy yet delicious food.
20. Arezzo, Lucca, Cortona, and other Tuscan towns
Florence is great, but don’t forget about other great Tuscan towns like Siena, Arezzo, Lucca, Cortona, so many good cities that at are cheaper, more charming, and still have extensive Italian history. Best place to eat in Arezzo is Miva, or if you missing American food I recommend Alo burger. Want some Japanese? Head to Tao which is just outside of the train station.
21. Dimaro and Fanano
I lived in Italy for three months and saw all the high-tourist spots (Rome, Florence, Sicily), but every single bit of Italy is gorgeous. My best memories were at a northern ski town called Dimaro, and another northern farm town called Fanano, where I stayed at a stunning Agriturismo (basically a farm-to-table airbnb with cows, horses, dogs, cats, hiking, waterfalls, and anything else you could want). These places had either the architecture or drop-dead gorgeous countryside of Italy without any of the crowds, I met more people and tried more authentic Italian food, and I felt like I learned much more about the culture than if I would’ve stayed in a larger town.
Visit the smaller towns! I went to Orvieto when I was there, a small town up on a rock cliff and it was one of the most memorable parts! Way less crowds with all the beauty and good food that Italt has to offer.
If you have the chance, try to get to the coast. The Puglia region is so beautiful. The Adriatic coast will also be cheaper to visit compared to the Mediterranean cities like Naples. You could take the train or a coach bus, it is pretty inexpensive.
Go to the island of Capri, it's gorgeous! Sure, it is known to be a "ritzy" place, but while studying abroad I was able to get great food and wine, and found some jewelry that I am in love with all on a college kid budget.
One of my favorite cities in Italy was Genoa. It's an incredibly overlooked destination with a lot of history and personality. The food is also amazing, and since the region is known for its pesto, that's a must-try! My favorite restaurant there was Il Genovese. Another great food option is the Apertivo, which is when restaurants or bars offer an early-evening deal where if you order a drink you get access to an unlimited buffet. It's a great way to try a bunch of local dishes at once, as well as being very budget friendly! On top of all that, Genoa is a great place to stay if you're interested in visiting Cinque Terre, one of the most beautiful regions in Italy, and it's definitely one of the more affordable cities in the area.
26. Emilia Romagna (Bologna, Parma, Modena, Ravenna, Ferrara)
As an Italian living in Italy I recommend visiting my region: Emilia Romagna. Food is great: in Bologna there is Fico (a theme park about food and wine), Parma with ham and Parmigiano, Modena with balsamic vinegar, on the coast you will have great fish and of course the wine everywhere is simply great. Art and monuments are all over, for example Ravenna is the capital of mosaics (where you can also attend a mosaic class from one of the artist living and working in Ravenna) or Ferrara with the wonderful Duomo and the great exhibition in the Palazzo dei Diamanti. And we can talk also about cars: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati... or the great spas we have, the mountains and the hills with castles, the welcoming coastal cities — all in one region!
27. Rent a luxury sports car and drive through Tuscany:
Test Drive Firenze in Florence was the highlight of our trip. My husband drove a Ferrari through the countryside of Florence to an exclusive hidden hotel overlooking the city where we received some hors d'oeuvres to enjoy in the most beautiful garden I have ever been in. Not to mention the whole drive was recorded for us on a CD.
28. Book a Tuscan wine tour! Sure, it's touristy, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun:
We did a Rome/Florence/Venice trip but while in Florence, we took a day trip to Tuscany with a tour group called TuscanyOnABudget. It was only 60 Euros and they took us to two wineries where we got to taste a ton of different wines and snacks. It was a perfect tour for three grad students backpacking on a budget. And we got to meet some really cool travelers on our tour that I still stay in touch with! Highly recommend it for anyone who's trying to get an authentic experience without spending a ton of money!
29. Have some antipasti right on the Arno river or eat at a restaurant with a panoramic view:
If you like antipasti, check out Alimentari Uffizi in Florence. It’s close to one of the entry points to Ponte Vecchio — probably the best cured meats I’ve ever had or ever will. We got a very generous platter with delicious red wine, just the BEST.
Also not too far from there is where had the best meal I’ve ever had, hands down. It was at the Panorama Restaurant in the Hotel La Scaletta. Book the top terrace if you can! Simply beautiful view with THE BEST food.
30. Take a moment to sit outside the Duomo at night and enjoy an Aperol spritz (or another drink of your choice):
When in Florence, sit outside of the Duomo at night and enjoy a spritz or two. It is a beautiful memory I’ll never forget. It’s so beautiful lit up.
31. And here are just a bunch of suggestions from a Florentine local:
Hi, Florentine girl here!
When in Florence make sure to eat at local restaurants, not the ones on the main streets (high prices, low quality), look for hidden restaurants. Otherwise, street food is great, if you have some time to stay in line, I recommand Antico Vinaio (via de' Neri), it makes "schiacciate" with traditional Tuscan food, but every shop in that street is great! Also Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo is great, so many types of food in one location.
Best gelato is not in the main squares or street! Look for Gelateria la Carraia and Gelateria in Piazza della Passera.
If you want to drink, go to San Frediano, the left side of Arno River. Quiet at day, full of pubs and bars at night!
Speaking of churches, visit Santa Croce, you'll find memorials of Galileo Galilei, Michelangelo, Rossini and many others.
Boboli Garden is literally one of the best places in the world, you'll feel like a dame in Renaissance Florence walking there.
32. Visit the nearby towns of Burano, Sienna, and Assisi:
Getting lost in Venice is magical and amazing. Nowhere is too far away to walk, except I recommend making a visit to neighboring Burano. No tourist restaurants, beautiful photo opportunities. Also, Sienna and Assisi are these fairytale-esque villages that are insanely beautiful and slow paced. I went in May when the weather was perfect no matter where we were (though Vatican City was warm midday because of all the concrete). Best food I had in the entire country was in San Giovanni Rotondo. Amazing. I dream about the sheep’s cheese I had there.
33. Avoid scams like gondola rides and just walk around instead:
I spent a week in Venice and it was absolutely beautiful. The best tip I received while there was to not spend any money on gondola rides. It’s extremely expensive and a huge tourist trap.
In the squares, there are a lot of scammers who are trying to sell you stuff such as roses or flying toys, don’t buy it.
Tour the cathedrals, they’re absolutely breathtaking.
And walk the city at least once at night. It feels as if you’re transported back in time.
34. Eat at Antica Trattoria Bandierette, Bistrot de Venise, or La Zucca:
When in Venice go eat at Antica Trattoria Bandierette. It is hard to find and doesn’t look like much but the food is amazing! I had one of the best squid pastas ever, looked terrible but the flavour!
The best meal I had in Venice was here: https://bistrotdevenise.com/?lang=en. It's definitely a splurge, but it was incredibly worth it! If you want to go big on one meal in a city that has too many restaurants to choose from, I highly recommend Bistrot de Venise.
La Zucca in Venice - get one of the lasagnas, you won’t ever be the same.
35. Try a food tour in Trastevere:
Rome is fabulous! Book a food tour in Trastevere — you won’t regret it. If you stay near the Pantheon, all the major sights are within walking distance so you can burn off all that pizza. Don’t eat at the restaurants in the piazzas, but do grab a glass of wine or an Aperol spritz because they are great places for sitting and people watching.
36. If you're checking out the Trevi fountain, try to go early or late.
When it comes to the sites, go see the Trevi fountain but do it in the early morning or late afternoon, those alleyways can get very crowded. Piazza Navona is another favorite from my childhood. It is much too expensive to sit down at a restaurant for dinner there but if you grab some pizza nearby and sit in the square it is the pest place to people watch. Il Colosseo, la Bocca della Verita, and other classics are always nice to see as well but they are always crowded.
37. Check out the archaeological site of Ostia Antica to avoid the big crowds and expensive tickets:
Visit Ostia Antica, the old seaport outside of Rome. You can basically walk among the ruins and see and do whatever you want because there's no tour guides. Not many people go, so you won't have to fight the crowds. Great place if you want to see the historical sites.
38. Take a stroll at night (but be sure to stay safe and go with a group!):
Walk around Rome at night! Little or no crowds at all the monuments you want to see. Plus, it’ll feel very ~romantic~ to walk in the street light (regardless of who you’re with, went with three of my best friends and it was the best time).
39. Eat at Roma Sparita and Rifugio Romano:
Roma Sparita’s Cacio e Pepe, which is Anthony Bourdaine approved and insanely delicious.
I went to Rome over spring break and had the best meal of my entire 21 years of life at a restaurant called Rifugio Romano near the Termini train station. They have an extensive vegan menu and my friends and I were able to get a full three course meal. They also have a big non vegan menu as the restaurant isn’t vegan. I highly recommend the vegan spaghetti carbonara, it was delicious and I still think about it to this day.
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.