I was BLESSED to be able to visit the wonderful country of Italy back in November 2016. And I’m so happy to share some of my Italian travel tips with you now!
That April we happened to be cruising around Groupon at dinner awaiting a Bill Burr show and BAM… We saw a 9 day, flights included, trip for $999 out of NYC. So, we obviously looked into the fine details. It was 3 different cities, 3 different hotels, transportation between cities and walking tours in every city – ALL INCLUDED. Myself, John, my sister & her boyfriend were like holy crap we need to do this. We left dinner and went out to the show that night (it was a Thursday) and come Sunday we were on Groupon booking the trip for the week of Thanksgiving. BOOM BAM DONE. The 2 boys had to get their passports but otherwise we were good to goooo.
The trip came SO FAST and before we knew it, we were at the Syracuse airport ready to go. We did do a $70 upgrade to fly from Syracuse to NYC. First Pre Tip – ASK THE AGENCY FOR OPTIONS, UPGRADES or anything else that resembles those words because I would have killed someone if we had to drive from NYC to Syracuse on the way home after a 9 hour flight.
This was all of our first times overseas. We didn’t exactly know what to expect but we took the time to do some research. Come to find out, there just wasn’t anything super comprehensive for Italy travel tips. So after our 9 wonderful days I thought I’d share a few travel tips that I think other first or second timers should know about traveling to the epicenter of pasta.
1. Water is NOT FREE
This was a killer for us. Water was not free and it was not given in plethora like we get it here in the States. Water came in 1L amounts and we were given whiskey size glasses to drink it out of. 1L was about €3. We spend easily €50 on water at lunch and dinner for the entire trip. There were multiple times were we had to order 3 or 4 bottle of water because when you’re walking all day, you’re thirsty!!! Also, if you don’t specify, they will sometimes provide sparkling water. Regular water is know as STILL WATER. Say still water to avoid confusion and terrible tasting water.
2. Don’t plan on breakfast filling you up
It’s known that Italians loooove coffee, cappuccinos, lattes and everything else coffee related. Well, they love it so much that’s it’s the only thing they have for breakfast. It felt impossible to find a breakfast place that served eggs, waffles or anything diner related. It was all pastries and donuts and croissants. I need about 30 croissants to be full so we all were hungry for lunch pretty early on. The hotel breakfast we had at each hotel was eh, okay. I didn’t try the eggs because they just looked different. And I’m not kidding when I say they serve deli meats at breakfast, on a platter. We did however fall in love with toast and NUTELLA!! That was a our saving grave. Everything else was a dessert pastry (which you’d think is great because you’re on vacay, but after the 3rd day a bagel was all we could think about).
3. You’ll get scammed on exchange rates no matter what
We had the opportunity to exchange our dollars for euros through our bank before we left. But we sadly didn’t do it because it had to be done close to a month beforehand and we had about 2 day notice before the deadline. I actually did some research and decided to opened a credit card through Capital One that had a 0% foreign transaction fees. We put a lot on there to avoid carrying large amounts of cash and also to have that extra layer of security if anything was to happen. Well people in Italy still like cash and we ended up using the card way more than anticipated. When my sister did her exchange, she exchanged 1,000 US dollars and got back 720 euro. It was so sad. So if you have the chance to exchange your money before hand, do it. And don’t plan on putting everythingggg on a card, you WILL need cash.
4. Tipping is just not a thing
Tipping is how servers survive in the US. Well, we did some research before hand and found out that people don’t really tip in Italy and when they do it’s only a few euro if that. When the time came at our first dinner out we felt SO AWKWARD and just didn’t know what to do and felt like we should be leaving a tip of some sort so we did. Throughout the trip we did what the article said and at most places we left a few euro (handful of coins). We were set. We finally asked a server a few days before we left and she said if someone leaves a buck/euro then that’s more then enough. We still left weird and when we had great service (and OH WE DID) we left like 10€. Just make sure you do your research and don’t be afraid to chat with your server if they are being friendly 🙂 Be aware, there are certain “fees” you’ll see on your receipts — those are services charges that most likely are a “tip”, they’re on everyones receipts so don’t panic, use Google to look up a translation if need be!
This post explains it great – http://www.msadventuresinitaly.com/blog/2010/06/09/10-tourist-mistakes-when-visiting-italy-tipping-tickets-and-more/
5. The travel company walking tours with the headsets are NOT OVERRATED
I do not know what we would have done if we did’t take part in the walking tours in each of the 3 cities. They were fantastic. Otherwise we would have ZERO clue what we were looking at. You NEED the history and you need someone teaching you as you walk through hundreds of thousands of years of human history. Many of these tours have these one ear headsets so you can hear the tour guide at all times (brilliant idea actually). It was our first time so this was amazing, we would have been so lost and not seen any of the amazing things we saw if it wasn’t for the tour. Also big thing we learned (that offsets my last point) – TIP YOUR TOUR GUIDES! I think on our last tour we were the only ones to tip, I felt terrible. I think people forgot but these people actually do live off the tips.
6. Eating times
Okay this one was tough for us because we’d be walking all day and be starving for a delicious meal. Well, Italians eat at very specific times and we didn’t know this!! Us Americans were looking to eat lunch at noonish but most don’t eat until 1pm there. They really eat lunch from 1-3pm and many restaurants will close promptly at certain times. Then there was dinner. Every place we went to did not open their doors until AFTER 7:30pm. Eating lunch at 12 and then not eating until minimum 7:30 was tough. We haaaad to snack. After a few days we got used to this schedule though. We also called all our dinner places and made reservations for certain times. We really looked to try out local hot spots as they were sometimes busy with real italians, not the tourists. PS – being served (free) prosecco while we waited was a something we could get used to 🙂
I repeat, do not eat anywhere that says ristorante!!! It’s a tourist trap and not authentic. Our first day in Venice we found this out the hard way. We were like shaking hungry and ate at some ristorante and it was just a tourist trap that was €5 overpriced. The server seemed as if he could care less about us – that was our first clue. Do your research. To be honest, after this I looked up top restaurants in each city on Trip Advisor and it 100% gave us THE BEST dinners we’ve had in our entire lives.
Here is a list of places we ate at that I would HIGHLY recommend:
Moro (THE BEST gnocchi I have ever had in my entire life. I continue to dream about it)
Soul Kitchen (This was in our hotel – VERY, VERY good with cheap, amazing prosecco)
Fuoco MAtto (my FAVORITE restaurant of the entire trip – get the Steak Florentine. end of story)
Yellow Bar (very cool, hip. Served us family style right in of the pans they were cooked in!!)
Cantina e Cucina (I can’t even explain this food and atmosphere, I would fly back just to eat there 5 days in a row)
Alfredo alla Scrofa (They claim to be the birthplace of Fettuccine Alfredo – definitely not the dairy filled American version)
Hard Rock Rome (We were craving an American meal aka a burger and fries. Great service and just plain fun)
Traveling to Italy was one of the coolest things I’ve done to date and I can’t wait to share more about the trip. Between the food and the sightseeing, it was a totally different world (seriously the gnocchi was out of this world). We had to learn a few things along the way but as first timers we did a pretty great job! If you’re going to Italy soon or maybe in the future, I hope you find these travel tips helpful!! There were things that stuck out to me that I wish I had read about before I went so I hope this could be a resource for someone. Let me know if there are any tips you think should be included, I’m happy to keep this updated!
Enjoy your travels and stay tuned for city specific posts from our trip 🙂