10 Things to Know Before Going To Italy

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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The food, the history, the people, the architecture – there’s nothing like Italy. No matter where you go, you’ll find hidden surprises that will leave you in awe. It’s no wonder that when you head home, you’ll already be thinking about booking your next trip to the Bel Paese (the “Beautiful Country”). However, there is much to keep in mind before traveling so that you can make the most out of your stay. Here are ten things you should know before you head out on your adventure.


1. Make Restaurant Reservations

The Italians are known for their home-cooked family recipes that have been passed down over generations. Although you’ll find plenty of walk-in restaurants, it’s still ideal to make reservations in advance to some of the more popular trattoriasristorantes, and osterias. That’s because they tend to book up quickly, especially during the busy seasons. You may be used to booking online, but most places in Italy are still very traditional and don’t have this option, so it’s best to give them a ring. If you’re unsure where to eat, Italy4Real can use their expertise to provide you with some good options.

2. Study Up on the Process for Booking a Car

What type of car is best for vacationing in Italy? It depends on several factors: How many people will you be traveling with? Where are you going? How long will you be there? If you’ll be spending most of your time in a major city and only traveling with one or two other people, you may want to consider a more compact car, but if you’re planning on taking longer trips across multiple cities, a larger car might not be a bad idea. Usually you must be twenty-one or older to rent a car in Italy, but there are certain companies that may allow you to rent one if you are eighteen or older and have had a license for at least a year. This is something to keep in mind when choosing the right car for you, as you wouldn’t want to go to pick one up on a whim and not actually be able to rent it! You may also want to use a GPS device, as not all roads are clearly marked, especially when you’re in rural areas.

Also did you know you can rent supercars like Ferrari and Lamborghini by the hour, day or you can go on an Italian Supercar Racing Experience where you drive a production supercar on a real racetrack with a professional driver instructing you?

Italy4Real can help you book the best car for you, as well as help you find the right auto insurance to avoid damage or theft.

Did you know you can even rent a Ferrari at Italy4Real?

3. Research Length of Travel

Italy is a large country – it’s about two sizes bigger than Florida and roughly the same size as California – so you won’t be able to see the whole country in one trip. This is important to note, especially if you don’t want your whole vacation to consist of plane rides. For example, the flight from Milan, which is in the northern part of the country, to Palermo Sicily, which is far south, is almost a two-hour plane ride, but driving time would be over 15 hours! The flight length isn’t that bad, but you won’t have much time to explore the sites that each city has to offer if you’re spending too much time in transit. We understand wanting to see everything – how could you not? Italy has so much to offer, but you’ll want to narrow your focus on the type of trip you want to take. Which leads us to our next point…

4. Decide Where You Want To Go

All the regions in Italy are vastly different. If you want to immerse yourself within the hustle and bustle of a city, you might consider places like RomeMilanVenice, or Florence. In fact, Florence is a good option if you want to get out to the country for a few days but don’t want to spend your whole trip in a rural setting. Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region located in central Italy, but the Tuscan area consists of many small towns that give you the countryside feel. You could spend a few days in Chianti, which is filled with mountains and vineyards, or head to Cortona, nestled in the hills. If you prefer the snow to the sun, there are plenty of ski resorts, as some of Europe’s highest mountain ranges (the Dolmites and the French, Swiss, and Savoy Alps) border Italy from the north and west. Try to picture what type of surroundings you want to be a part of, and that’ll help you decide what regions to visit.

5. Plan for the Time of Year You Want to Travel

Italy’s climate attracts tourists all year round to a varying degree. Most of the popular destinations don’t have rain or snowstorms during the fall or winter, but summers can be very hot and humid, and air conditioning is uncommon. Because of this, August is a pretty slow season, although June and July still tend to be busy. The best time to visit Italy are Spring and autumn (April, May, September, and October) because the weather will be warm during the day and mild at night. Hotel rates are also a bit lower. However, if you do decide to go in the early summer during the busy season, be wary that the heat will be more intense the farther south you go. On the plus side though, all the cities will feel alive, with many crowds strolling the streets at night. If you want to go in August despite the humidity, be prepared for many shops and restaurants to be closed, especially in large cities, as locals may be travelling to cooler areas to escape the heat. The winter months of November through March are fairly mild with modest rainfall, and accommodation prices are at the lowest of the year. Christmas, on the other hand, tends to be busy. With all this in mind, think about how much you want to spend and how many other tourists you want to be around in order to decide when to go. As long as you’re prepared for the weather, Italy is beautiful all year long.

Spring and Autumn are the best times to visit Italy

6. Know What to Pack

When it comes to packing, less really is more. Bring essentials and leave unnecessary items at home. You’re most likely going to be hitting multiple areas, so carrying an oversize suitcase on and off trains and planes or loading it in and out of car trunks will hinder your experience. You’ll also want to leave space in your bag to carry souvenirs home. Sturdy shoes are a must – many streets date back hundreds of years and are made of cobblestones and sampietrini (black basalt). These sidewalks become irregular or slippery over time. Smaller cities and villages are made for walking and some larger cities have restricted driving zones, so be prepared for your feet to be on the move. You don’t necessarily need hiking shoes – a good pair of sandals with heavy support will do fine. Comfortable layers will also go a long way – there’s no need for heavy fleeces, but bring along a lightweight jacket or blazer for the evening. And remember – sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen! There will be lots of sunshine. A sunhat will also do wonders, as will sunglasses. If you’re planning on bringing any electronics, you’ll need a power adapter so that you can plug an American device into a European socket. Our experienced team can help you with other packing questions you may have.

7. Decide What Overnight Accommodations You Want To Use

Italy boasts a wide range of travel accommodations, such as boutique and luxury hotels, villas, and agriturismos, although these options depend on the location in Italy you’re staying. There’s a star rating system for hotels, but they don’t necessarily correlate to what you may understand, and the amenities they offer will vary. Some have swimming pools, gyms, free breakfast, and bars, while some may not even have an elevator. Most buildings in Italy, which date back hundreds of years, will have no air conditioning and minimal modern amenities you may be used to, like WiFi and cable. You’ll find most hotels in larger cities as opposed to rural areas. In ancient Rome, a villa was a large, upper-class country house. However, today it’s mostly a term for a luxurious, private vacation rental, which you’ll most often see in the countryside around Tuscany. An agriturismo is a farm-stay, but more specifically, it’s an independently owned farm that the owners use partially for guest accommodations. It’s another popular option if you’re staying outside the city. Wherever you decide to stay, you’ll have a peaceful, beautiful experience. However, when planning for your accommodation, you should keep in mind our next point.

8. Book Your Reservations in Advance

It may sound exciting to take a spontaneous trip and find your own accommodations while you are already there so that you can keep your schedule flexible. However, you’ll find that most places that are top-rated and have reasonable prices will fill months in advance. Even though Italy is one of the top travel destinations in the world and there are hundreds of hotels to choose from, there are still not many that are centered in prime locations near piazzas, with sweeping views off of a private balcony but still located away from a busy street (if that’s what you’re after!) Many boutique hotels only have twenty to thirty rooms, if that many, so there might not be space for you by the time you try to request one. If you’re planning a trip during the busy season, some places book up six months to a year in advance. What’s more, you may not know how to find the best deals or how to choose the right accommodation, especially if this is your first time to Italy. Italy4Real has an experienced team that can advise you, so you can rest easy knowing you’ll get to stay in the room of your dreams.

9. Live Life the Italian Way

Italians’ daily schedules will most likely be different than your own. Shops, museums, and churches close mid-day so that locals can take their riposo (a siesta, or an afternoon rest or nap). This break usually starts between noon and 1:30pm and runs until 2:30pm to 4pm. These are prime resting hours because the heat reaches its peak and it becomes too hot to be outside. You may want to head to a grocery store earlier in the day so that you have snacks for the afternoon, as Italians usually eat dinner later than you may be used to – between 8pm and 9:30pm. Most tourist sites, restaurants, and shops are closed on Sundays, as it is the day of worship. That means any churches you were planning on visiting will also be closed that day. Also, most Italian restaurant owners are forced by law to close their establishments once a week. If you’re not sure what the status of a shop is, look for the sign that says “chiuso”, which means “closed.” Be sure to also carry change around. Although people do take credit cards, public bathrooms require euros to enter, and it’s expected for you to leave a few coins on the table after a meal, which serves as a tip. Although many Italians speak English, it’s always helpful to learn at least a few basic Italian phrases, such as:

  • Grazie (thank you)
  • Per favore (please)
  • Si (yes)
  • No (no)
  • Prego (you’re welcome)
  • Buon giomo (Good day)
  • Buona notte ( Good night)
  • Arrivederci (Goodbye)
Live life like the locals

10. Have Fun!

This goes without saying, but it’s still a nice reminder. Planning a trip can be stressful and the travel time can be long, but it’s worth it. Once you get there, remember where you are: you’re in Italy, where they are limitless experiences for you to enjoy! Get lost on the windy streets within the hilltop towns, try food dishes that you’ve never had before in the family-owned ristorantes, tour the ancient architecture of all the duomos and towers, and say ciao to the locals you pass on the street. Make the most out of your vacation, and when you come home, you’ll have gained a newfound knowledge of all the sites that you never could have imagined you’d see if your lifetime. Contact Italy4Real to help with tour, car, and flight reservations, and they can make your ideal vacation a reality.

When planning your trip to Italy make sure to take your time planning and making sure you know where you want to go and what you want to see. Start by Creating your own trip online

For the latest Coronavirus information about Italy, please see our dedicated page here

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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