Whenever you explore a new country, there are a few essential things that you should know. Here are our top tips for visiting this incredible country and experiencing it like a local.
Don’t order a cappuccino after 11am. In fact, avoid all milky coffee in the afternoon unless it’s a macchiato. Cappuccino is a breakfast drink and ordering one at any other time may see you met with a raised eyebrow.
Also, to keep costs down, drink it at the counter. If you sit down for your drink, then you will be charged table service. Having said this, if you want to sit down and people watch as you enjoy your caffeine hit then, by all means, do so.
When the sun starts to set, it’s Aperitivo time!
Between lunch and dinner (because who can wait that long between meals for your next tasty treat) Italians gather for an Aperitivo. The typical drink enjoyed during this ritual is an Aperol Spritz, however wine or beer is also a good option. Drinks are typically accompanied by small snacks such as crisps, nuts, meats and cheeses, and bruschetta.
Purchase queue jump tickets
When you’ve travelled all the way to visit a city, the last thing you want to do is spend all of your time stuck in long queues waiting to get into the museums. You can avoid this travel pitfall by booking your tickets in advance and purchasing the skip the line option.
Early entry tickets are a fantastic option
If you want to see certain museums before the crowds assemble (and you’re ok with an early wake-up call) then you can purchase early entry tickets. The Vatican Museums, for example, are famous for their large throngs of crowds so booking onto an early entry tour can see you step inside the Sistine Chapel and gaze at the fantastic frescoes in relative peace and quiet.
Search for hidden gems
Look for places that aren’t on the typical tourist to-do list. These aren’t always the easiest to find, but they can offer you a more authentic Italian experience away from the large tourist crowds. If you’re travelling around the Bay of Naples, then we have an article to help you explore this region off the beaten track.
Choose when to travel
Summer is very hot, very busy, and very expensive. Of course, avoiding the busier months isn’t possible for everyone, but if you can avoid the summer holiday crowds, then do. The temperatures during spring and autumn are pleasantly warm and travelling at this time may be an all-round nicer experience.
Talk to people
Ok, your Italian may not be perfect, but if you really want to know where to go in Italy then it’s best to ask a local. They’ll know where you should eat, drink, visit, and how to get around in the best, most authentic way possible.
Know what to drink with your meals
Only drink water, wine or beer with your Italian meals. Not only are these the most common drinks on the menu, but they are most likely to compliment your food. Cocktails or juices are thought to mask the flavour of the dishes, so if you want to do your dinner justice then stick to the essential beverages.
Abandon your old schedule
Things happen later in Italy. Dinner doesn’t begin at 7pm, that’s Aperitivo territory. Think about starting your evening food rituals at 8pm at the earliest. With dinner so much later, so is everything else. Expect to wake up later, have breakfast later, and approach every activity as though you have all the time in the world. Italy is not about rushing and stressing, so enjoy this new pace of life.
Churches and cathedrals have a dress code
If you’re visiting on a hot day, then you’d be excused wearing shorts and sleeveless tops; however, these aren’t accepted at many religious sites. Most churches and cathedrals ask that you cover your shoulders and knees and that you wear shoes. Always carry a light layer to cover yourself with just in case.
Gondolas can cost a lot!
If you’re visiting the floating city of Venice, then you’ll no doubt be familiar with the image of gondolas floating along the canals. You may have pictured yourself indulging in one of these rides but unless you plan ahead, you could see yourself parting with tens (or hundreds) of euros. Thankfully, there is a cheap way to board a gondola! Tours and experiences booked in advance will allow you to see the city from the water on a group or private tour without breaking the bank.
Try local food and wine
If there is one thing that Italy is famous for, it’s the food and drink culture. Countless wineries and markets scatter the country, offering you the best of Italian produce. Each area of Italy grows different types of grapevines, sells local meats and cheeses, and proudly displays its delicious Mediterranean fare. The only question is, what do you try first?
Eat the right pizza!
Wherever you go in Italy you will find pizza, but with so many places to choose from, how do you find the best slice? Firstly, if you want the absolute best pizza that Italy can offer, you need to head to Naples. Famed as the birthplace of pizza, this city boasts the best examples. But even here, there are things to consider. Avoid restaurants with large menus catering to tourists; you’ll find no authentic pizzas here. Look for smaller, family run establishments that cook every dish with care. And if you are in Naples, then look for restaurants with the Pizza Vera sign that hangs above the door. This means it has certification from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the regulatory body that determines whether the establishment adheres to Neapolitan traditions.
Related article: Take a Food Tour of Italy