The Best Way to Travel in Italy: Tips and Tricks from the Experts

Written by Rem Malloy, since 1995 Rem has been guiding and designing trips to Italy and all of Western Europe and is considered an expert in his field for over 30 years.

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Italy is a nation of delectable food, ancient history, and stunning scenery. It’s a beautiful country to explore, but with so many tourist attractions and big crowds throughout much of the year, it can seem impossible to travel around and uncover authentic Italian culture.

But from traveling with expert, specialist tour guides to uncovering the local spots across the country, there are many great ways to really get under the skin of Italy.

To help you to make the most of your Italian getaway, here are the best travel tips and tricks from the experts.

RENT A CAR

One of the best ways to explore Italy is to rent a car and road trip across the country. Nothing beats the feeling of a summer drive, as you roll down the windows – or better yet, rent a convertible – and feel the wind in your hair.

Renting a car removes the need for using public transport, and you’ll easily be able to escape the tourist trails and discover lesser-known parts of the country. You can escape the crowds and find local and authentic experiences on the way.

Of course, if you’re road tripping, you’re on your own out there and you’ll need to brush up on the rules of the roads in Italy – these can vary even compared to other European countries – and you’ll need to be confident navigating your way around.

Italians are also somewhat regarded as aggressive drivers, and the rules you just tried to learn might just as quickly be thrown out of the window. You’ll want to brush up on basic Italian too, to ask for directions when you inevitably get lost in the maze of rural lanes and countryside roads.

Cars aren’t a great idea for cities though. If you try to drive into the center of Rome or Milan, then you’re going to have a nightmare experience in the process. The large cities are best visited on foot or by metro – or perhaps on a classic Vespa!

A rental car comes into its own in the countryside though, where there are few local transport connections, and where you can find solitude and rural charms.

TRAVEL ITALY BY TRAIN

 Train travel can be a great way to see Italy because the country is well connected by a network of high-speed intercity trains and slower regional trains.

Italian trains can be super fast too, with the journey time between Rome and Milan taking just under three hours and the time between Rome and Venice taking just under four hours.

Fares can be super cheap too, but to get the best prices you need to do as the locals do and book your tickets far in advance. If you try to reserve on the day, then you might be left with a rather high price tag.

Getting those cheaper fares can be tricky online too unless you know Italian, but you can always get a tour operator to help you out as part of a wider itinerary if you want to travel as the locals do.

While it’s a more authentic way to see Italy, you do need more time than if you were to join a group tour or to have a specialist, private tour organized for you. You’ll need to be flexible in case of cancellations and you’ll need a basic knowledge of the fare systems and how to validate your tickets.

Validating tickets is incredibly important, because failure to do so can land you a hefty fine from the fare inspectors, which is sure to dampen the holiday mood.

FLYING IN ITALY

Italy has become a major hub for European airlines, and there are loads of great connections if you’re flying domestically or internationally.

Domestic flights in Italy can be cost effective and quick, but once you factor in the time needed to get to the airport and then through security, it might be much more relaxing to take a high-speed train. Ultimately, you’ll probably get to your destination at the same time.

If you’re traveling to islands such as Sicily or Sardinia, flying can be the quickest way to get there, and if you don’t like sea travel it’s the only option.

If you’re short on time and need to hop from one place to the next then flying is a great option, particularly if you’d like to see both the north and the south. Italy is a very long country after all.

Major hubs for international flights in Italy include Rome, Milan, and Venice, but most cities have their own airport too with domestic connections and regional flights with airlines within Europe.

TRAVEL WITH A LOCAL TOUR GUIDE

While you can make local friends on trains or experience rural life on a road trip, there’s no better way to see Italy than with the help of a local tour guide.

This is our top travel tip from our Italian experts, because no one knows Italy better than an Italian!

For starters, your local tour guide will speak excellent English, which automatically nulls any problems if Italian isn’t your strong point. Importantly, they’ll be able to not only translate basic things such as menus, road signs, etc., which can be problematic if you were on your own, but they’ll be able to help you to make connections.

Experiential travel is all the rage right now and being able to form those relationships and connections on the road is a great way to delve head first into the culture.

Local tour guides can help you to meet that old winemaker in the Tuscan Hills that no one else knows about. They’ll be able to show you that secluded beach along the Amalfi Coast that the tour groups have yet to discover. They’ll also be able to recommend the best restaurants and pizzerias and, of course, help you to order the best food and drink while you’re there.

While independent travel can be an adventure and a challenge, a good local tour guide can turn a holiday into a truly authentic local experience that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy.

LEARN THE LANGUAGE

Even if you do have the talents and knowledge of a local tour guide to show you Italy’s most secretive and treasured spots, it’s never a bad thing to learn some of the local language yourself.

Italy has a multitude of different dialects and accents, and things can change even as you simply travel from one town to the next. Everyone is fiercely proud of their own dialect, some even counting the Italian spoken in say Rome or Milan as entirely separate languages to one another.

But standard Italian unites the nations still and is understood everywhere. Take the time before your trip to learn a few basic phrases or even take a few Italian lessons if you have the opportunity, and you’ll find that you’ll not only endear yourself more to locals but that you’ll find it becomes a lot easier to get around and to uncover new and exciting places to visit.

If you speak a little Spanish or French, then you’ll find that Italian can be easy to understand anyway, with many similarities in grammar and vocabulary. If English is your only language then you’ll have a harder time of it, but make the effort and you can be richly rewarded when you’re in Italy.

EAT LIKE THE LOCALS

Local tour guides and language efforts aside, our Italian experts will always, always point to the food when it comes to having a great trip around Italy.

Italian food is some of the most popular in the world. But the pizza or pasta you might find in the US or anywhere else isn’t quite like the food you’ll find in Italy itself.

You can visit Naples for pizza and calzone, you can eat your way through ancient recipes such as rabbit stew in Rome, or you can chow down on the original bolognese in Bologna.

But, once again, there’s nothing that can compare to local tips and tricks from specialists, locals and tour guides when it comes to finding the best restaurants in Italy.

Often, the most authentic eateries are small, tucked away, family-run businesses that are not on the main tourist drag. You’ll never find the best restaurants in Venice on the main squares; all you’ll find there are overpriced tourist shows. But with the help of a Venetian, you might just find your way into a hidden side street where the food is cheap and wholesome and the recipe hasn’t changed in over a hundred years.

Food is one of the best reasons to go traveling and one of the best reasons to visit Italy. But without the advice of an Italian, you’re unlikely to escape the tourist trail and find that truly delectable cuisine the country is famous for.

HIGH SEASON VS. LOW SEASON

Italy is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. While it’s always busy to some extent all year round, there’s a remarkable difference in visitor numbers between the high season and the low season.

High season runs from June to September, and you can expect prices to skyrocket and crowds to be enormous at iconic destinations such as Venice and Rome. The weather is bright and sunny, and it’s a great time for a beach holiday.

Low season runs from November through to March and this is when the weather starts to get cold and rainy. On the plus side, cities such as Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice will be devoid of tourists in comparison to the summer. Head south and you can even enjoy the warm Mediterranean climate well into winter.

There can be a big difference not only in the weather but in the experience you have, depending on the time of year you visit.

Our expert tip is to travel in the shoulder seasons. You’ll miss the worst crowds of the summer high season, but you won’t yet have to deal with the cold and rain of winter. The weather can be wonderful in spring and autumn.

Ultimately though, it’s down to personal choice which season you choose to travel in. If you want to have the most iconic sights to yourself, then you’re going to have to brave the unpredictable weather of low season. If you want scorching hot sunshine and the best beach weather imaginable, then you’ll need to brave the crowds and travel to Italy in summer.

AUTHENTIC VS. TOURIST TRAPS

Italy is such a great travel destination because there’s so much to see everywhere you go. Many of Europe’s top tourist attractions are found here. For many travelers, it’s these iconic sights that are the reason the country is in their bucket list.

Many of these famous places have become tourist traps though. The thought of crowds and queues can put even the hardiest traveler off the prospect of visiting the Roman Colosseum or taking a gondola through the Venice canals.

Luckily though, while Italy is best known for the likes of the Leaning Tower of Pisa or colorful but crowded coastal towns such as Cinque Terra, there are many more destinations that have yet to be really discovered.

There are countless villages and medieval towns in the Tuscan Hills that are yet to be overrun, there is mile upon mile of coastline in the south and in Sicily and Sardinia that hasn’t yet been developed, and there is always a unique alternative to the Venice canals or the Roman ruins of Rome.

These authentic experiences are waiting to be found by those looking to escape the tourist trails, but you might need a little help from our experts to really uncover the best ones out there across Italy. After all, many remain hidden because the locals will only want a select few tourists to ever know about them.

If you want to put our expert travel tips and tricks to the test, then contact our Italy specialists at Italy4Real today to book your next adventure.  

About the Author

Rem Malloy started Italy4real back in 1995 with his mother, Deborah de Maio.

He specialises in Italian tours as well as customised tours to France, England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Spain. He was also featured in the Travel Channel show Mysteries at The Museum in 2016.

Rem has family in Italy and his mothers home town is Cava di Terrani, near the Amalfi Coast. The family has a street named after them in Sorrento, Via Luigi de Maio; a relative who was mayor of Sorrento.

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