Unspoken Rules for Visiting Italy

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Advisor - Allen Bartimioli
Curated By

Allen Bartimioli

  • Italy

  • Arts & Culture

  • Couples Travel

  • Food & Wine

  • Architecture

  • Sightseeing

  • Foodie

countryside
Curator’s statement

Being full-blooded Italian raised in the US, it was a lifelong dream of mine to visit Italy. It took me about a half-century, but after many years of putting it off, my wife and I decided we would take the plunge. Since there were decades of dreaming prior to going, the first fact that was hard to believe was that I was actually there.

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Where to stay in Italy

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Things to do in Italy

a plaza at night
  • We rented a car. For some reason I thought it would be hard to drive there. However, because I had done some homework, I found it really enjoyable — with the exception of Rome. Rome is not for the weak of heart as far as driving goes. In fact, I think I peed twice while navigating the multi-lane roundabout in the center of Rome. And I did get a ticket in Florence because my GPS took me right through a Zona a Traffico Limitato (ZTL, limited traffic area). Driving through the country or the autostrada was extremely enjoyable. The $300 ticket — not so much.

  • They really don’t expect you to tip. Please understand, for conscientious Americans (I promise we do exist) not tipping could actually cause us to have the shakes. We tip everywhere. Heck, the other day my wife cooked such a good meal, I gave her $5 — which she gladly accepted by the way. All kidding aside, it is true. No tipping is normal.

  • I had already been to Paris so I was ready for it in Italy. Meals are expected to be deeply enjoyed. Sitting at a table for an hour-and-a-half to two hours seems like a waste of time for people from the US. Trust me on this one, Italians have it right. Slowing down, being present with my wife, enjoying the sights and atmosphere of wherever we were eating was actually a gift from Italy (and France) that I have come to cherish. Don’t overbook yourself. Leave at least three hours between places you “have to be at”. In fact, after being there a second time, I suggest not “having to be” anywhere. Let Italy slow you down. It may afford you your fondest memories.

  • The food itself. It really is different. Yes, Americans have had almost everything you can eat in Italy in the US, but fresh produce and no preservatives really makes the food different.

  • Gelato. While it looks like ice cream, it is its own thing, and it really is worth having every single day — maybe twice. And if you listen closely, you can hear baby angels singing and notice a tear running down your cheek the first time you try it.

  • Finally, it’s nowhere near as expensive as we thought it would be, especially if you stay away from tourist hot-spots. To have a half-carafe (quartino) of wine and a pizza could cost as little as $12 for two people, and it will be as good as anything you’ve ever had. Hotels and car rentals are also not very costly. Walking down an alley with buildings and streets from the 1300’s is free. Try that at Disneyland.

I could go on and on. The land, the people, the history, the sea (Mediterranean), the cobblestone roads — Italy is a smorgasbord of the unbelievable.

Places to eat & drink in Italy

Must not forget to have when in Italy.

Eating Thoughts

  • Ask a local where their favorite restaurant is.

  • Make dinner reservations.

  • Italians eat dinner late (like 7pm and later).

  • Plan on at least 90 minutes for dinner. Slowwww downnnn.

  • Don't expect the server to be coddling you. In their mind they are interrupting your experience.

  • It is common to order a pizza per person.

  • Tipping isn't expected. They are paid salaries to serve tables. You can leave a little loose change. It certainly doesn't need to be 20%.

  • House wine is less expensive than soda.

  • Don't forget to go get a gelato.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Deb Swacker’s guide, Family Trip to Italy: A 10-Day Itinerary.

Advisor - Allen Bartimioli

Travel Advisor

Allen Bartimioli

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Italy.