Italy Travel Tips
Italy’s great food, beautiful countryside, fabulous wine, and long history make it an excellent country to visit. No lifetime is complete without a trip to Italy. I fall in love with it every time I visit. I love the vineyards in Florence, the ancient streets in Rome, the laid back nature of Southern Italy, the gorgeous Cinque Terre, and romantic Venice. Italy leaves no one underwhelmed. There’s so much to do in Italy that it would take a lifetime to finish. Don’t rush it in just one visit. Italy is best seen slowly - just like the attitude of the country. Relax, take in the scenery, and enjoy a latte.
- Accommodation: Accommodation in Italy isn’t cheap. Hostels are quite expensive with dorm rooms ranging from $20-40 per night. Private rooms cost around $100 USD per night. A budget hotel will set you back $80 USD or more for a double room. The good news is that the further south you go the cheaper the prices get. Expect the lower range for hostel prices and hotels for $60 USD from Rome south. There are some cheap hotels in the country – but they are tough to find.
- Food: It’s easy to have a great (and expensive) Italian meal here but it’s also easy to eat for less than $15 USD a day. Most restaurant meals with wine will cost around $25 USD per person. In tourist hot spots, add about $10 USD to that. Quick eats like pizza slices, paninis, and light snacks will cost $3-4 USD. Fast food (i.e. McDonalds) will cost $10 USD for a value meal. At all restaurants, add $3 for the “coperta” (sit down fee). Cooking your own food here will set you back about $50-60 per week.
- Transportation: The best way to get around Italy is via their extensive train network. Fast trains (Eurostar) cost between $40-70 per trip. The slower regional trains cost between $7-25 USD per trip. (Take them!) Public transport is reasonably priced with most buses and subways costing $2 USD for a single ticket. For long distances when you are short on time, Ryanair and EasyJet have cheap flights throughout the country.
- Activities: Most attractions and museums in Italy cost around $20 to enter. Wine tours will cost around $65-80.
Money Saving Tips
- Pass on the bread – Restaurants will charge you extra for bread but not tell you about it when they give it you. Send it back if you don’t want to pay for it.
- Drink the tap water – Ask for tap water or you will get bottled water and have to pay for that too. Moreover, you can refill your bottles of water at any of the drinking fountains throughout Italy. The water is fine to drink.
- Break the law – Most of the time, they don’t check tickets on trains. Use this tip at your own risk. That’s all I’m saying.
- Buy lots of wine – You can buy a great bottle of wine for $4. It’s a lot cheaper than drinking at the bar.
- Eat a panini - Eating out in the popular cities of Italy is an expensive affair. Buy paninis and pizza for just a few Euro and save a lot of money.
- Couchsurf - Accommodation is quite expensive in Italy, even in the hostels. Use Couchsurfing and stay with locals who have extra beds and couches for free. I use the service a lot and find it not only saves me money but I meet great people too.
Top Things to Do
- See the Venice Carnival – Ten days and nights of masquerade madness in February before Lent. It’s the Italian version of Carnival! This tradition goes back centuries and is one of the biggest parties and festivals in Italy. If you have the funds, you can even pay to go to a traditional masquerade ball.
- Explore Venice – Besides Carnival, Venice is just a great place to visit. While not the cheapest destination in Italy, Venice is great to see canals, experience a gondola ride, and have an amazing romantic candlelight dinner. Head to the old Jewish Ghetto for hip bars and cheap drinks.
- Pompeii – Pompeii is the ancient city destroyed by a volcano but persevered by the quick drop of ash. Walk around the city as it stood the day the volcano exploded, moving in and out of homes and businesses where pots and vases still lay. Most of the beautiful frescoes are still there with their beautiful colors. It’s a full day activity.
- Discover Rome – The city of Rome is a wonderful place of small streets and history. You’ll be able to discover Roman ruins here – more than you can see in one visit. Make sure you explore the Trastevere area, west of the river. It’s my favorite place in Rome and it offers cheap food, great little bars, and tiny winding streets few tourists venture to.
- Visit Siena – Everyone always says “I looooove Siena” and with good reason. It’s one of the best preserved medieval cities in Italy and has a labyrinth of lanes gathered around the arena of Piazza del Campo (where, during the summer, they have horses racing). I loved Siena.
- Hike the Cinque Terre – Five dramatically located villages on the east coast of Italy, backed by steep vineyards and mountains. It’s heaven here. I ended up staying a week because it was so beautiful. There are great hikes to do ranging in various difficulty. The towns offer excellent food and great local wine. Manarola has amazing seafood. This beautiful area lives up to all the hype.
- Explore the Amalfi Coast – The southern cousin to the Cinque Terre, the Amalfi coast is much less visited but equally as beautiful (some say more). You’ll find great hillside towns, beautiful beaches, and azure blue water to cool off in.
- The Lakes – The beautiful lakes up north (like Lake Como) are the summer playground for Italians, the rich, and George Clooney. Come up here, play in the lakes, see beautiful villas, and hike in the countryside.
- Explore Florence – It’s Florence. There’s no real need to explain why to go here. Everything people say about it is true. Great food, amazing museums, ancient buildings, small streets, and awesome gelato. While here make sure you take a few wine tours throughout the Tuscan region to get a feel for the countryside.
- Dive around “the Heel” – No one ever goes to the southern heel of the Italian boot. But if you have time, make it down here. This is where most of the fruits and vegetables in Italy come from. A trip down here will give you the best glimpse into rustic Italian life.
- Sicily – Sicily is famous for its mafia but there’s more to the island than mobsters. It has its own unique cooking style, amazing coastal beaches that stay warm in the summer months, friendly little Italian grandmas, and extensive wineries.
- Settimana Santa – This is the last week of lent known as Holy Week. During this time, there are several processions throughout Italy, drawing crowds of thousands. Throughout the week, there are various gatherings in Puglia, Abruzzo, and Sicily but the major event occurs on Easter Sunday, and is led by the pope.
- Alberobello – A Unesco World Heritage Site, this is an interesting and picturesque little town, well worth a visit between the months of November and April (to avoid the flocks and gaggles of tourists). There are a couple of museums to peruse through, in addition to some great restaurants, bars, and markets.
- Vatican Museums – If you have the patience to wait through the lines and the desire is strong enough, this is one of the most grandeur collections to see while in Rome. Founded in the early 16th century, this is a complex of museums residing on over 5 hectares of land. There are so many priceless highlights, you could spend hours just looking at them and glazing over the thousands of other pieces.
- Chiesa di Sant’Efisio – When you find yourself in Cagliari, you should probably wander over to the Stampace quarter to see this church. Dedicated to the patron Saint Ephisius, this is the most important church in the city and was actually built over the saint’s prison site.