There is no place on earth quite like Italy. Most countries have one or two things for which they are famous. Maybe they have spectacular countryside or some well-known galleries. Italy, however, is pretty much famous for everything. Art? Check. Culture? Check. Nature? Check. Food? Double check. From the ski resorts in the North right down to the beaches in the South, Italy is a goldmine of beauty and excitement.
Thinking of traveling to Italy? There are a few things you should know before you go. Check out these handy travel tips for first-timers and you’ll find your tour to Italy goes down smoother than that first sip of Aperol spritz.
1. Meals are huge and they don’t start ‘til late
Typically meals in Italy are a big deal and carb-heavy, which might make you wonder how those Italian women keep their figures. Your first course will be pasta, followed by a second course of meat (or a vegetarian alternative) and finally a dessert. You don’t have to eat everything but you will probably want to. Generally dinner won’t start until around 8:30pm but try and avoid the temptation to snack, as you will need an empty stomach to conquer an Italian dinner.
2. Validate your bus, train and tram tickets
God knows how many tourists have been caught out by this. In Italy it is not enough to buy a bus, tram or train ticket – you must also validate it. This usually consists of sticking one end of it into a machine that will stamp the time and date onto your ticket. If you do not do this you will be fined quite a hefty amount and suddenly your tour to Italy will be significantly more expensive. The reason for this rule is to stop people using the same ticket for multiple journeys.
3. Keep one eye on the sights and one eye on the roads
Italian drivers are not what you are used to back home. For many, road signs are mere suggestions. Make sure you pay attention when you cross the road and be confident or you might never get across. Check and double check before you step out and once you start to cross, commit to it and plough through. Cars will stop for you once you are already in the road (although you might end up crossing to a symphony of impatient honks).
4. Drinking is a normal part of life – not an excuse to go wild
It might surprise you to see people drinking in public in Italy but don’t worry – it is completely legal here. Alcohol is a very normal part of Italian life and for this reason drinking to excess does not have the same appeal. Feel free to take your vino into the main square but don’t get out of control or you will get into trouble and, worse, be branded an ignorant tourist. Also be aware that Rome has special laws about consuming alcohol in the streets at night-time.
5. Tipping is at your discretion but look out for the ‘coperto’
Unlike in the U.S., tipping in Italy is not usually expected. Leaving a euro or two is fine if you have enjoyed the service but the manager won’t demand an explanation if you don’t leave anything. However, be aware that many restaurants charge ‘il coperto’, which means cover charge. This charge includes a basket of bread and is usually stated at the bottom of the menu somewhere. Bear this in mind if you are on a budget!