Italy Travel Tips
Italy’s great food, beautiful countryside, fabulous wine, and long history make it an excellent country to visit. No life 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.
Destination Guides for Italy
- Accommodation – Accommodation in Italy isn’t cheap, especially in large cities. Hostels are quite expensive with dorm rooms ranging from $30-70 per night. Private rooms cost around $75-100 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 to start at $60 USD south of Rome. Renting an apartment or room from a local is getting to be the way to go these days.
- 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 by the slice, paninis, and light snacks will cost between $3-4 USD. Fast food (i.e. McDonalds) will cost $10 USD for a value meal. At all restaurants, add $3 USD for the “coperta” (sit down fee) that covers service and the bread at the table. Cooking your own food here will be about $50-70 USD per week.
- Transportation – The best way to get around Italy is via their extensive train network. Fast trains (Eurostar) cost between $40-70 USD 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 at most $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 between $15-20 USD to enter. Expect more if you’re hoping for a guide in places such as the Vatican or Colosseum. Wine tours will cost between $65-80 USD.
Money Saving Tips
- Pass on the bread – Some restaurants will charge you extra for bread or breadsticks on the table but not tell you about it until the check comes. Send it back if you don’t want to be tempted.
- 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.
- Buy lots of wine – You can buy a great bottle of wine for $4 USD. 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 by the slice for just a few dollars, and save a lot of money.
- Couchsurf – Accommodation is quite expensive in Italy, even in the hostels. Use Couchsurfing and Airbnb to stay with locals who have extra beds, rooms and couches for free or an affordable rate. I use the service a lot and find it not only saves me money, but I meet great people too.
Top Things to See and Do
- See the Venice Carnival – Ten days and nights of masquerade madness in February before Lent is quite the party. 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 attend a traditional masquerade ball. Make plans early though – the entire city becomes packed and very expensive, so it will definitely change your Venice experience.
- 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.
- Wander through Pompeii – Pompeii is the ancient city that was destroyed by a volcano but persevered by a blanket 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. The city has so much to see and do, you’ll need to make several trips to even scratch the survace. Make sure you explore the Trastevere student neighborhood 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).
- Hike the Cinque Terre – This region consists of five dramatically located villages on the west 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 that range in difficulty, incredible fresh pesto and seafood, and great local wine. Each city has it’s own unique personality, so visit all five. 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 in which to cool off.
- Relax on the lakes – The beautiful lakes up north, such as 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.
- Drive 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.
- Eat in 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.
- Attend 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.
- Visit Alberobello – A Unesco World Heritage Site, this is an interesting and picturesque little town, which is 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.
- Admire the Vatican Museums – If you have the patience to wait through the lines, this is one of the most grandeur collections to see while in Rome. Founded in the early 16th century, it is a complex of museums on over five 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. Consider getting a guide to make the museum come to life.
- Enter 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 it was actually built over the saint’s prison site.